The following articles are from the February 15-28, 2021 issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper.
Put people before profits to end the health crisis
“Capitalism a super-spreader” says Communist Party’s Ontario leadership
PV Ontario Bureau
The Communist Party of Canada’s Ontario Executive Committee is demanding immediate action in the face of ongoing governmental failure to address the second wave of the pandemic. In a statement on January 26, the Communist Party said that “Ford’s failure is a result of his government consistently siding with corporate interests whenever they conflict with human health.”
As Ontario heads into its second month of lockdown, and its third month for Toronto and Peel region, there are many indicators of failure in Ontario’s ongoing second wave. Late last year, Ford reluctantly announced a province-wide lockdown for Boxing Day, allowing residents to complete their holiday preparations and quickly intensifying community spread. The premier and various ministers hold regular press conferences at which they insist people, besides the millions of essential workers in the province, take personal responsibility and stay home. Despite declaring another state of emergency, the government has tried to play down aspects of the crisis where health experts and many others are asking them to act. For example, the government is denying the continued under-staffing of long-term care (LTC) homes, the need for paid sick days and another moratorium on evictions.
Despite assurances from Ford that the government would put an “iron-ring” around LTC homes, over 1500 long-term care residents have died of COVID-19 since September, nearly half of the 3500 people who have died in LTC since the pandemic began last March. The province had only been able to vaccinate 48 percent of LTC residents by the middle of January. The appearance of the new, more virulent UK strain in a LTC home in Barrie resulted in all but one of 129 residents and 89 staff becoming infected, with 50 of those people having now died. The province’s science table reported that 1600 cases and 305 deaths could have been averted if there had been a quicker vaccine rollout to these most vulnerable residents.
The Communist Party has called for “all long-term care facilities to be put under public ownership and operation, with funding for adequate and well-paid staff and sufficient protective equipment and procedures.” A growing number of health experts and advocates are also demanding an end to the for-profit long-term care industry.
A recent report from the science table advised the premier that for-profit homes “had outbreaks with nearly twice as many residents infected… and 78 percent more resident deaths compared to non-profit homes.” The same report calls on the government to enact paid sick leave and provide more full-time jobs for workers, to limit the use of temporary staff.
At the end of January, over three hundred doctors and researchers signed a letter calling on the province to “end the violation of people’s human rights” in LTC. The Doctors for Justice in Long-Term Care campaign is demanding an end to for-profit LTC as the first of their nine demands to contain COVID-19 in the sector.
Workplace outbreaks have also increased dramatically during the second wave. While the corporate media ignored workplaces for months, the recent outbreak at the Mississauga Canada Post facility has broken into the news cycle since it involved over 212 workers testing positive with one worker having died so far. Toronto Public Health has reported that there have been 282 workplace outbreaks in Ontario’s capital.
The Communist Party has highlighted the limited choices that front-line workers continue to face during the current lockdown, stating that “workers, especially those who work for temporary agencies, are highly racialized with no paid sick days, low wages and no benefits. If your family lives paycheck to paycheck and you don’t have paid sick days, you are more likely to ignore early symptoms of COVID so that you’ll be able to buy groceries or pay your rent. Never has the case for ten paid sick days been stronger.”
The City of Toronto, Toronto Public Health, the science table advising the provincial government on its pandemic strategy and others have agreed with the months-old demand from the Worker’s Action Centre for legislating ten paid sick days. “Yet still the province refuses; they would rather support their corporate friends who don’t want to fork out money to keep their workplaces safe and their workers alive,” says the Communist Party statement.
The provincial government has recently promised that it will strengthen enforcement through the Ministry of Labour to ensure that workplaces remaining open under the lockdown are safe. However, the Toronto Star reported that between March and mid-December last year, the ministry issued just two fines for COVID-19 violations – and one of them was to a worker.
The Communist Party calls for several concrete measures. “To really get the pandemic and community spread under control, we need a rigorous system of identifying what businesses are actually essential, enforcing safety measures through inspections and stiff penalties, ensuring that all workers have paid sick days and those that are displaced by closures have adequate compensation. In order for lockdowns to work effectively, they must be real lockdowns and working people told to stay home can’t be worrying about basics such as food or rent.”
In January, the Ontario government issued an emergency order that temporarily halted the enforcement of residential evictions for the duration of the declaration of emergency. However, eviction hearings continue at the Landlord and Tenant Board and most tenants leave without enforcement once they receive an eviction notice.
The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) describes the eviction and homelessness crisis by noting that “thousands of households are at risk of eviction in the pandemic as people have lost their jobs, had shifts reduced or have had to take leaves to manage childcare. Thousands of people have already been evicted and are forced into shelters or to set up encampments. The province and its municipal counterparts have done little to help the homeless. Shelters are hotbeds of virus spread, disrespect and overcrowding. Many feel safer in encampments but are continually harassed by police who confiscate their tents and property over and over again. Activists have provided creative measures to help those in encampments – tiny shelters and insulated domes – only to have them stolen by municipal officials who say they are ‘unsafe.’ It is the thousands of people who remain homeless who are unsafe as all levels of government twiddle their thumbs instead of stopping evictions and providing safe emergency shelters and adequate rent-geared-to-income housing.”
Communists in Ontario are demanding more comprehensive public health policies to not only “flatten the curve” but to eradicate the disease. “Other countries have shown that it was and is possible to stop community spread of the disease, but only by taking swift and decisive action. Countries and jurisdictions that have done well have used policies such as providing free shelter to those testing positive to avoid other family members getting sick; ensuring everyone quarantining has access to food; providing universal income supports to those effected by lockdowns; canceling rent, mortgage and debt payments and mobilizing mass testing and contact tracing through major expansions of health care. Most of these policies were not on the table as neoliberal ideology constrained politicians’ imaginations at both the federal and provincial level.”
The Communist Party also points to the success of socialist countries and governments in fighting the pandemic. As of January 24, Vietnam has had 0.4 deaths per million, Cuba has had 17 deaths per million and China has had 3 deaths per million. This can be compared to the Canadian death rate of 503 per million, the UK rate of 1438 per million and the1291 deaths per million inhabitants in the US. “Socialism has shown itself as a system capable of rising to the pandemic’s challenge. Capitalism has revealed itself as a ‘super-spreader’ of the disease.”
The Communist Party calls for “a common front of trade unions; Indigenous, Black and racialized people; women and gender oppressed folk; students; unemployed workers; tenants and all others who are objectively opposed to the Conservative government’s ongoing inability to meet the peoples’ health and economic needs.”
Visit communistpartyontario.ca for more info.
Laurentian University bankruptcy: neoliberal policies get the failing grade
The February 1 announcement that Sudbury, Ontario’s Laurentian University had gone bankrupt made front page headlines and sent shock waves across the country. There’s good reason for this – universities are public institutions, and they are supposed to be funded and regulated for the specific purpose of guaranteeing their resilience and longevity as critical centres of education, research and scholarship. Laurentian, we are told, is the latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the noble image that most people have of higher learning is belied by the facts of neoliberal government policies over several decades. Viewed from this angle, Laurentian’s crisis is not surprising or isolated. Far from being the result of COVID-19, this is the outcome of years ofdeliberate underfunding and privatization.
Laurentian University was created as part of the huge postwar expansion of post-secondary education (PSE) across Canada. Through much of that extended period, Ontario’s funding model for PSE included generally stable government funding based on student enrolment and program mix at the specific institution, combined with provincially-regulated tuition rates (the largest source of private funding). As a result of this model, individual universities relied on student enrolment for a large part of their revenue from both public and private sources.
Starting in the 1970s, however, the stability of university funding was weakened through a combination of slower economic growth and shifting government funding policies. In 1977, for example, the federal government of Pierre Trudeau introduced sweeping changes to the process of transfer payments to the provinces, which led to reductions in PSE funding. In response, universities gradually became more reliant on privatized funding, most notably through increased tuition fees.
Research shows that as neoliberal policies took hold, Ontario government grants to universities dropped from about 80 percent of operating revenues in 1980 to about 50 percent in 2004 and to just over one-third in 2017. This decline has been made up by tuition and other student fees. In 1980, these revenues provided around 15 percent of operating funds, increasing to 45 percent in 2004 and nearly quadrupling to 56 percent in 2017. Fees paid by students, both domestic and international, are now the largest source for university operating revenue. This marks an enormous shift from public to private funding.
These funding policies have been developed and maintained, albeit to different degrees, by successive Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments in Ontario. At present, Ontario provides less public funding per student than anywhere in Canada and has the highest tuition fees in the country.
Within this shift are other developments, including deregulation and huge increases for international student fees and tuition for professional undergraduate programs. These trends have further distorted university funding, making it more dependent on specific programs (especially ones that are closely tied to corporate interests) and on generally racist profiteering from international students.
Taken together with other dynamics in capitalist society (such as urbanization and the resulting depopulation of rural and northern regions) this comprehensive change in PSE funding has severely undermined the stability and quality of smaller and less prestigious universities, particularly those in Northern Ontario and other areas outside of major urban centres.
In a nutshell, elite universities in the largest cities are better able to compete for students and the revenue they bring. Offering higher prestige, an expanded range of programs and a cosmopolitan setting, institutions like the University of Toronto (U of T) can attract a steady stream of students and ride out wave after wave of government cuts. On the other hand, universities like Laurentian face static or even declining enrolment, leaving them increasingly dependent on government funding. For example, while less than 30 percent of U of T’s operating budget for 2016-17 relied on public funding, the figure was over 46 percent for Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and over 55 percent for North Bay’s Nipissing University. Put another way, privatization of university funding provided University of Toronto with roughly 35 percent more operating revenue over its Northern Ontario counterparts.
The problem doesn’t stop there. Reliance on government funding means vulnerability to government austerity measures. Smaller and northern universities have come under enormous pressure to cut “unviable” programs (usually liberal arts) and limit their focus to key areas of specialization (usually with a corporate or “labour market” connection). In turn, this further limits their ability to attract students and results in greater dependency on the government, making them even more susceptible to demands for program cuts.
It’s an accelerating, ever-tightening spiral that university workers and faculty have been warning about for years. Far from an isolated case, Laurentian’s bankruptcy should be seen as the point at which the crisis broke into the open.
The university has applied for creditor protection under the federal Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), claiming that it owes $91 million to three Canadian banks and stating that it was unable to pay its workers in February. The CCAA is notoriously anti-worker, providing no explicit protections for employees and placing their claims (including to pensions and unpaid wages) at the very bottom of the priority list. Since the 1990s, the legislation has been used increasingly by companies seeking to use financial difficulties as a conduit for reducing wages, eliminating pensions and busting unions.
Notably, the provincial government’s statement on the Laurentian bankruptcy only made mention of supporting students and did not reference faculty or other university workers.
Rather than defend public education and fight for adequate PSE funding, university administrations have typically done the government’s bidding. Last summer, Laurentian chopped 17 programs across 13 academic departments. These cuts came just a few months after the university cancelled its entire Theatre and Motion Picture Arts program. A very large proportion of the cuts in the summer were in French language programs, leaving the province’s Franco-Ontarian community (which makes up one-quarter of Northern Ontario’s population) with vastly diminished academic opportunities. Interestingly, Laurentian’s presidentRobert Haché said that the cuts were “not spur of the moment decisions” and have been in preparation “on an ongoing basis over many years.”
In a joint press release on February 2, the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) and Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) noted that the current crisis is rooted in deliberate policy decisions. “Perhaps Laurentian University’s move to claim creditors protection isn’t as surprising as it first seems. This is what happens when public institutions are not properly funded and when collegial governance gets eroded, with important decision-making processes moved behind closed doors.” The two bodies called on the provincial government “to step in immediately and provide long-term funding to secure the future of Laurentian University so that no student’s education and no person’s job is needlessly lost. Laurentian University’s senior administration and its Board of Governors, including its four government representatives, should stop hiding behind closed doors, respect the university’s constitution and bylaws and start working with the university community so that important decisions are made in a transparent, accountable, and responsible manner.”
In November, the Communist Party’s Ontario Committee issued a statement noting that the provincialgovernment is “using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to fast-track legislation that grants university status to three private institutions.” The party is calling for the defense of post-secondary education,warning that the Ford Conservatives’ policies will exacerbate a crisis that already exists.
“The government has also indicated it will move ahead with previously announced plans to introduce “performance-based” funding, in which public funding would be pinned to labour market needs. Under this scheme, post-secondary institutions would no longer receive funding based on enrollment – an arrangement that is already inadequate, especially for smaller institutions and those in areas outside major urban centres – and would instead be financially supported according to student outcomes such as hiring rates and employment earnings. Without a doubt, this will benefit professional programs and those that are linked with specific industrial entities, at the expense of a huge range of liberal arts, humanities and languages programs, and critical intellectual inquiry such as Marxism, feminism, anti-racism and anti-colonialism.”
Building a movement to defend and expand PSE is critical. The immediate task is opposing any effort by the provincial government or Laurentian University’s administration and creditors at gutting jobs and incomes, cutting programs or further privatization.
Communists in the anti-apartheid movement
Thirty years ago, in June 1991, apartheid was legally abolished in South Africa. While it would be another three years until the country’s first democratic election – years that included violence like the Bisho massacre and the assassination of Chris Hani – the fact that the apartheid government had been forced to vote away its racist legislative architecture was an enormous victory of a long struggle.
The fight against apartheid, the brutal systemic racism which had been enacted into law in 1948, was the central commitment of the South African Communist Party (SACP) for decades. The main organizational vehicle was the African National Congress (ANC), which had been formed in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress. Initially organized to uniteAfricans in defense of their rights and freedoms, particularly voting rights, in 1948 the ANC turned its full attention to defeating apartheid. The Congress included several allied groups, key among them the trade unions and the SACP.
The communist commitment to fight apartheid had a global dimension. All over the world, communist parties helped form – often as the initiating organization – coalitions of unions, faith groups, social movements, parliamentarians and many others, with the goal of supporting the democratic struggle of the South African people.
This was also true in this country, where the Communist Party of Canada assigned several members to help build and mobilize the anti-apartheid movement. People’s Voice spoke with two of them, Jeanne McGuire and Domenic Bellissimo, who worked in the movement at different times in Toronto.
How did each of you get involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in Canada?
Jeanne McGuire: There was an ANC representative in Toronto, who met with several of us in the late 1970s and encouraged us to specifically help build support for the ANC as the legitimate representative of the South African people’s struggle. At the time, there was an anti-apartheid movement in Canada but, due to straight up anti-communism and anti-Soviet sentiment, key groups in that organization were quite anti-ANC. I’m thinking of groups like the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa (TCLSAC)who always proclaimed “critical support” to the ANC. So, we formed a group called Canadians Concerned about Southern Africa (CCSA), which included a lot of people from the South African community here. It meant we had a lot of people who were already ANC supporters. We also involved people from progressive, socialist-oriented groups, and we had a lot of Communist Party members who were assigned to CCSA. It’s important to note that, due to the concrete link with the ANC, the CCSA had quite a broad reach.
Domenic Bellissimo: I was doing anti-racist work alongside communists who were involved in the Committee for Racial Equality (CRE). This was before I joined the Communist Party, and I saw how it organized its members around principled support for national liberation. I’m thinking of the Palestinian struggle, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, as well South Africa, and the party never wavered on the question of the ANC as the legitimate representative of the movement inside South Africa. I compared this to other organizations in Toronto which wanted to study South Africa and write about the struggle, but not engage in it. As Jeanne mentioned, there was a lot of anti-communism around, so there was very little space to say anything positive about the ANC or about the Soviet Union, despite decades and decades of material and political support to the liberation struggle. I think that communists working in the anti-apartheid movement brought the vision and ability to build broad coalitions through unity and action regardless of which solidarity group we worked in.
We should make the point – Where would the liberation struggle have been without the Communist Party of Canada? I’m not sure the ANC would have gotten the same roots in the country. The NDP wouldn’t speak to them, the Liberals saw them as terrorists, there was no Green Party to speak of, and everyone else was sort of fragmented on the ground. Some members of the United and Anglican churches were different – they were better at demonstrating solidarity than the NDPand didn’t fear working with the ANC people here. They and some other ecumenical groups worked alongside us in the struggle, not because they agreed with our analysis as the Communist Party’s but because they agreed with the broad unity we were working to build.
As the movement grew and other allies came on board, how did the dynamics change?
DB: Some of the allies that emerged worked with CCSA, but another organization got formed to reflect the growth and breadth of the movement. This was the ANC Mandela Support Coalition (AMSCO). It was a later group, and it was aimed at building support in Canada for the ANC’s electoral victory. By that time, all kinds of people were anti-apartheid – they didn’t all agree with what they wanted to see as the final project, but they coalesced around efforts like fundraising, material aid and voter education. And this was important, because it continued to build solidarity and support for the ANC as the legitimate representative. When you look at the huge vote the ANC got, it was a clear indication of the positive role that the liberation movement had played in the Alliance.
Thinking of the friction you mentioned in the Toronto movement, from anti-communist voices, was this generally reflected across Canada?
JM: In general, yes. I recall a fairly active group in Edmonton that had similar positions to TCLSAC, but they weren’t central enough to the movement to be able to exert those views the same way. So, when CCSA called a conference, they came. They were always slightly uncomfortable because there was no criticism of the ANC – I mean, we didn’t even discuss that!
DB: And I think, as well, that we had won some fairly significant battles which made a pretty strong voice out of our approach toward the ANC. Those other groups had broader funding reach, to be sure – they got government grants, rented offices, hired staff. And here we were with no money and volunteer labour. But we were organized on a country-wide basisand with a clear analysis, and that made a big difference.
What was the impact on the Communist Party of Canada of this engagement in the anti-apartheid struggle?
JM: The work on apartheid, as well as the other work on anti-racism, was really critical to the Communist Party. I think a lot of people’s must have come popping up as they noticed this group of people who were right front and centre, taking action and not backing down. It was quite a militant struggle and the planning that we had to put into it was really important for our development. Besides that, this work helped us to make stronger connections with the Black community, and other racialized communities, which was important. The same is true for the Communist Party’s increased connection with young people, a lot of whom were moved by the fight against apartheid and against racism generally.
DB: This was the same period as a lot of struggles in the Caribbean – think about the US invasion ofGrenada, for example – and our work against apartheid and racism helped propel our solidarity work to those countries and communities. Whether or not the people we worked with joined the Communist Party, and many did, it was a big step forward in terms of our engagement with progressive people and movements here in Canada. And that’s an important aspect of our mass democraticwork.
JM: It also helped give us a broader platform – not in an opportunistic or sectarian sense, but in a movement-building way. I mean, because of our work we got to speak when there were rallies. This meant we could put forward our political and tactical analysis on a broader range of issues.
DB: Yes. It gave us the chance to build a movement that made the links between “race” and class, including an understanding of capitalism and exploitation. That, I think, was kind of unmatched at the time. Jeanne is right – the more we approached mass struggles, with our analysis and discipline and good assignments, and with the goal of building unity, the more we grew as a party and a movement.We also developed many wonderful friendships!
Four years after the Québec mosque shooting, Islamophobia remains a powerful tool for the ruling class
Parti communiste du Québec
Four years after the Québec City mosque shooting, the Communist Party stresses that the fight against Islamophobia, xenophobia and systemic racism is still as relevant as ever and must be a priority for all progressive Québecers as well as for the labour, democratic and popular movements.
Four years after the murders, too many people still believe that this was an isolated,individual act without a social context. Yet, in recent years, the fascist extreme right has consolidated itself and represents an increasingly important threat in Québec and elsewhere in the world.
In Toronto, far-right polemicist Faith Goldy came third in the last mayoral election. In New Zealand, a young man inspired by the Québec mosque shooter and Marine Le Pen, among others, committed a copycat in Christchurch. In the United States, Trump supporters are forming white supremacist militias organized enough to storm the Capitol in a coup attempt.
Closer to home, François Legault – who refuses, despite the evidence, to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism – used closure to impose the truly Islamophobic Bill 21 [the ban on religious symbols]on Québec workers. Even before this law was proposed, François Legault and other members of the Coalition Avenir Québec had made statements that seduced activists from extreme right-wing groups such as La Meute.
These groups are becoming increasingly organized and Islamophobia is at the center of their ideological arsenal. They are infiltrating different sectors of society and, through the tabloid press and with the help of Donald Trump's four-year presidency, their ideas are becoming more and more commonplace. Make no mistake. Conspiracy theorists are not just anti-maskers. Most of them have already been or are in the process of being won over to Islamophobia and racism.
Communistsrefuse to see the attack on the Québec mosque as a marginal action. From the massacre at the Bataclan in Paris to the one in Christchurch, it is the product of the ideological offensive of the ruling class. By refusing to recognize the extreme right for what it is, the Conservatives, Liberals, Social Democrats and even the Greens share responsibility for these massacres. By their complicit silence or open support for the imperialist wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, by their refusal to debate Canada's immediate withdrawal from NATO, by their refusal to repatriate Canadian soldiers posted outside the country or to reduce the military budget, by their inability to condemn in the strongest terms and detach themselves from US foreign policy, yes, they have some of the blood of the victims of the mosque shooting on their hands.
To be clear, racism benefits the ruling class by dividing workers and undermining class solidarity. In the name of "civilization" and the struggle against a "retrograde and feudal religion," it also justifies the ransacking, plunder, massacre and bombingof countries like Iraq, Libya and Syria. Through similar logic, Indigenous peoples have been dehumanized to justify genocide, the theft of their lands and the plundering of their resources. The same thinking also dehumanized Africans and Black people, to reduce them to a commodity to be purchased, and justified colonialism and its crimes. Today, these ideas are still at work and serve the very interests of imperialism in its quest for cheap and servile labour, roads and access to raw materials and natural resources to plunder, for outlets for its goods and to guarantee the greatest profit for the monopolies.
The struggle against racism and Islamophobia is also a struggle for international solidarity and against imperialism.
The WEF agenda needs a working class “reset”
The agenda for January 2021 World Economic Forum (WEF) was couched in classless liberal language. The working class can answer each agenda item, in its own interests and with a ringing militant reply.
Monday 25 January: Designing cohesive, sustainable and resilient economic systems
The agenda item speaks of economic “systems.” There are only two economic systems today, one capitalist and the other socialist, and neither is static. Capitalism is in historic decline and socialism in historical ascendency. Only the latter has the ability to design the economy in the interests of the vast majority, those who labour and create all wealth.
If the organizers of the WEF had the courage they would state the agenda item as a question – “Can capitalism be redesigned to be cohesive, sustainable and resilient and in whose interest?” Capitalism has been redesigned, reformed, reworked, reconfigured and always in the interest of its oligarchs and monopoly power. In all its configurations, from state monopoly capitalism and its most extreme form of fascism, to all variants of bourgeois democratic economies, it remains the same system of exploitation of wage labour for profit. To be redesigned, concessions must be wrung from monopoly and its governments, and to do that the working class must have its own program that leads to socialism.
Tuesday 26 January: Driving responsible industry transformation and growth
Industry in capitalism is privately owned and merged with banking and private investor capital. Each capitalist state, including Canada, that has arrived at the imperialist stage of its development upholds as a sacred right and freedom the buying and selling of industry as any other commodity on the international market, distorting national economic development as it suits oligarchic investor interests. The sacrifice of entire economic regions and communities in Canada is the result. There is no responsibility to the people of Canada that any capitalist investor, domestic or foreign, recognizes. Their “nation” is the global market, and their loyalty is to maximum profit.
Industry to be transformed must be in the hands of the people who created it – then it can be planned to grow to serve the needs of society. That is when society can be said to be civil.
Wednesday 27 January: Enhancing stewardship of our global commons
The stewardship of the global commons is an invitation to a discussion of why people’s sovereignty and the right of nations to self-determination and to choose their own path of economic development, including the control of the development or non-development of their own natural resources, is considered by finance capital to be barrier to profiteering from the exploitation of the planet, the oceans and outer space. The WEF absolves the representatives of capital of any such accountability.
Canada is a G7 and NATO state and member of the United Nations, and its finance capitalist class has never voluntarily respected much less acknowledged any limitations on its exploitation of the country’s or the planet’s resources. The history of successive Canadian governments from its colonial beginnings to the present time is a history of reorganizing the commons, by force, into private property and, where that was not done, to consider the commons (“Crown Lands”) to be open to the penetration of private capital as a right.
The WEF agenda item demands a discussion of the restraints and limitations to be placed on investor capital and, above all, its use of military threats and interventions that accompany its goals to seize and exploit natural resources of sovereign states, the oceans and outer space. This must include a discussion of international agreements regarding the Arctic and Antarctic and the 1963 UN declaration banning the stationing of nuclear weapons in outer space. The appearance of arrogant nouveau riche billionaires such as Elon Musk, who declare private capital is not bound by international treaties, has resulted in an international discussion of the need to reinforce the provisions of the 1963 declaration and the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty which developed from it. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the implementation of the Paris Agreements on global warming also cry out for a discussion as to which states and private investors routinely violate and ignore the welfare and sustainability of the “commons” and to insist they be held accountable.
Thursday 28 January: Harnessing the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The transformative effect of new technologies and science integrated with production can lift up all of impoverished humanity, and quickly. The WEF speaks eloquently about this but has no answer as to why it isn’t happening.
Science and technology are categories of human activity present in all class societies, that profoundly affect the growth of the productive forces. Defining the effects of the discoveries of the digital era as a Fourth Industrial Revolution is specious. Science and technology under the system of capitalism regularly outpaces the ability of capitalist governments to control its anti-social effects because the “geniuses of high finance” appropriate such developments and subvert it to the service of maximum profit.
To harness the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution means to “Put Monopoly Under Control,” as the 1964 Communist Party of Canada publication by Tim Buck was titled. Politically it means to reject passivity and to organize mass intervention by the working class and its organizations, advancing demands for public ownership and control of domestic and foreign corporate power and subordinating it to a defined country-wide democratic plan that serves the people’s interest. Such intervention accords with the principle that the people will not be the victims of science and technology, but its rightful beneficiaries.
Friday 29 January: Advancing global and regional cooperation
Global and regional cooperation is relevant to the extent that it is based on the principle and practice of peace, respect for sovereignty and political independence of states, and their right to choose their own path of political and economic development as the only firm basis for friendly relations between nations.
There are historical precedents and ample experience for such a vision of human relations. In the modern era it was carried to its highest point in the anti-fascist alliance of states, led by the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain. After great sacrificethis alliance defeated Hitlerism and laid the basis for the most advanced expression of the will of humanity for global peace and security, the founding of the United Nations, the adoption of its Charter and all of the provisions and agencies that were devised to uphold it.
The Cold War competition during the post WW2 period, between the US-NATO alliance and the alliance of the Soviet Union and European socialist states, was defined at various stages as peaceful coexistence, détente and relaxation of tensions. It described the actions of diametrically opposed social systems interacting without world nuclear war and deciding all economic relations by competition and all political differences by negotiations.
A discussion of regional and global cooperation today occurs in the context of rising and declining economic powers. The imperialist US is in decline and socialist China is ascendent. Global realignment is the reality of our time, arising from the centrifugal political developments compelling all lesser developed states to be attracted or repelled by either pole.
Global and regional cooperation is not recognized by contending finance capitalist investor classes. Such interests do not subscribe to any form of global or regional cooperation that is based on any consideration other than the supremacy of financial and military power to impose its will. What is recognized and practiced is the formation of competitive trading blocs, military alliances, competition for global and regional economic and political supremacy, and to consider all opposition to such power as manifestations of unacceptable restraint on the export of capital.
The supremacy of international finance capital over alleconomic development in the modern era is an anachronism. The struggle to oppose and overcome it has risen to the top of all agendas of any international forum, capitalist or working class.
It is the purpose of the organizers of the WEF to evade the essence of that struggle and to divest it of any sense of historical materialist reality.
It is the task of the working class to engage in that struggle and to uphold its vision of a new and better world, socialism.
Investigate PH calls for international action on Duterte’s rights abuses
More than 200 people participated in an online press conference on January 26, to launch a global independent probe into rights abuses by the government of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Participants included representatives from lawyers’ organizations, faith communities, human rights groups and international solidarity movements.
The commissioners of the probe, called Investigate PH, expressed the urgent need to hold perpetrators of rights abuses to account and bring justice to victims and their families. They will prepare three reports for submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and call for immediate action.
The commission is composed of ten eminent personalities from several countries:
“Investigate PH is a critical space of solidarity and accompaniment of the people of the Philippines as it investigates the blatant violation and violence related to the basic human rights of people,” said commissioner Rev. Michael Blair.
Investigate PH was created in response to inadequacies in Resolution 45/L.38 at the UN Human Rights Council session in October. The resolution on the Philippine rights situation fell short of creating an independent probe into the country, something the victims and many international bodies had demanded.
International lawyers’ organizations, political leaders and global church groups formed Investigate PH to gather evidence on crimes against humanity in relation to Duterte’s “war on drugs” and his campaign of violence against human rights defenders and social movements.
Commissioner Lee Rhiannon told the press conference, “The gravity of the violations underlines why the world needs to know about these human rights abuses and to act to stop the crimes. I put it to everyone at this event that if we were Filipinos, we would surely have suffered under the Duterte government. The evidence is overwhelming. The testimonies [are] tragic.”
Jeanne Mirer, another commissioner, vowed that the probe will “bring these violations to light” internationally.
The commission will release two preliminary reports for the 46th and 47th UNHRC sessions in March and July 2021, and a final report in time for the 48th UNHRC session in September. At the September meeting, the High Commissioner for Human Rights will deliver an update on the implementation of Resolution 45/L.38.
Rhiannon said the commissioners “are preparing a submission on these crimes to go to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. What is happening in the Philippines amounts to crimes against humanity. These crimes must end.”
Commissioner David Edwards noted that the Duterte government marked Human Rights Day by arresting 17 trade unionists and other social activists, under the “anti-terror and anti-insurgency campaign.” He noted that educators have been a particular target and that there were 7 assassinations in classrooms last year.
Rev. Michael Blair spoke of the longstanding work the United Church of Canada has done in solidarity with the Philippines and said that the church “has mobilized from the national office to the members.”
Jan de Lien stressed the international aspect of commission, noting that “human rights are not national, but global.” He described Investigate PH as “an independent, scientific investigation working across international borders to engage international community. Addressing human rights in the Philippines opens up to investigating them around the world.”
Trump exits, Biden enters, Cold War continues
Biden’s first week or so in office proved eventful. He began to aggressively undo much of what Trump undid of the Obama presidency. In essence, he is returning US politics to 2016. For those who longed only for the exit of Trump and a return to what they saw as the comforting past, the Biden victory is cause for celebration.
For those who want an answer to a raging pandemic that has taken more US lives than World War 2, for those who fear for the future of the millions newly unemployed by the pandemic, for those millions in arrears on their rent and eventually facing eviction and for the nearly three million households forced into forbearance on their mortgage payments, there is little yet to celebrate.
Despite the formal changing of the guard, the distance between the haves and have-nots in the US continues to grow. And more and more working people are pressed into the army of the have-nots. The catastrophic pandemic year has further brought mass insecurity and fear, prompting a strong pullback in consumer spending over the last three months.
It is doubtful that 2016 answers will solve 2021 problems.
Biden’s Obama redo is not absolute, however. There are elements – arguably, some of the worst elements – of Trump’s policies that the new administration plans to keep. For example, Biden will continue and even intensify Trump’s xenophobic “Buy American” campaign.
Biden shows no stomach for undoing Trump’s encouragement of Israeli apartheid and aggression.
In addition, the Biden team seems inclined to continue Trump’s war-by-sanctions emphasis. Where Obama waged war by surrogates and drones, Trump, and apparently now Biden, enforced US policy through – equally destructive, but seemingly less depraved – economic and political sanctions. Biden has not indicated that he will remove or loosen the noose that the US maintains around the economies of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Cuba or other states defying US leaders.
To his credit, Biden has shown a desire to extend the important START treaty with Russia, a treaty limiting nuclear weapons. This is a big deal.
At the same time, Biden has shown a frightening escalation of belligerency against the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Hostility toward the PRC took a leap in the Obama administration with his euphemistically named “pivot to Asia” which redirected military attention to the PRC.
In his inimitable fashion, Trump further stoked this hostility, following up with massive tariffs and punitive sanctions. With a subservient media, popular approval of the PRC sank dramatically.
Now, Biden has promised to get tougher on the PRC, an ominous and dangerous threat against the world’s second or third greatest military power.
It takes only a glance at recent history and at the relevant economic data to understand the source of the reaction to the PRC on the part of the US ruling class. The economic collapse of 2007-2009 nearly brought down the US and European economies while the PRC barely faltered. Quick stimulative action restored a vibrant Chinese economy. In fact, it could be argued that the Chinese “bounce” was a necessary if not sufficient condition of the global recovery.
A little over a decade later, with a raging worldwide pandemic, the global economy is again in a deep funk with the PRC economy showing resilience and growth. In both cases and in the interim period, the Chinese economy has made remarkable gains against its Western rivals (PRC consumer spending has grown by 171.2 percent since 2010 compared to 35.2 percent growth in the US).
Since 2016, the PRC share of global GDP has risen from 14.2 percent to 16.8 percent while the US share has dropped slightly to 22.2 percent. And in the pandemic year, Chinese GDP grew by 2.3 percent against a global economic performance estimated to drop by 4.3 percent and a US GDP sliding by 3.6 percent. As the PRC economy gains, one can understand the frustration in US ruling circles as they witness a rival growing in strength and global influence.
Despite the aggressive tariff policy of the Trump administration, Chinese exports (and imports) expanded dramatically in late 2020. Exports grew by 21.1 percent in November and 18.1 percent in December over the prior year, assuring the PRC an even bigger slice of global trade.
But perhaps the most alarming statistic for US policy makers reveals that the PRC has for the first time passed the US in new foreign direct investment. While the US has accumulated far more foreign direct investment, the new data show that investors now look at the PRC as a better haven for profit taking than the US. This surely sends a shock wave through the US capitalist class.
It is not the alleged Chinese human rights violations, Chinese income inequality, Chinese belligerency or aggressiveness that drives US hostility, but the PRC’s challenge to US economic and political hegemony. With global economies so intertwined and with a growing dependence on Chinese supplies and Chinese domestic demand, foreign obeisance to US capitalism is threatened. The US cannot so easily dictate the foreign policy of others nor force open the doors for US capitalism. Put simply, the PRC presents a growing challenge to US imperialism.
History shows that rivalries and challenges to imperialist powers create the conditions for war. All the great wars of the era of monopoly capitalism began as wars over markets, resources, capital expansion and capital penetration. From the wars of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, through two world wars and wars of national liberation, to NATO’s encirclement of Russia and the US “pivot to Asia,” all major wars and warlike confrontations are imperialist wars.
The fact that both US political parties concur on policy toward the PRC (and Russia) only underscores the degree of danger posed by US aggressiveness. The consensus extends to the media which failed to force even a minimal discussion of policy toward the PRC into the presidential debates or their election coverage.
Sadly, with the election of Biden, much of the left and the New York Times-addicted liberal set may return to their slumbers as they did during the Obama administration, entrusting foreign policy to their elected leaders.
This will be a tragic mistake.
We desperately need a mass anti-war movement – vigilant and independent – to stave off the dangerous machinations of US imperialism and its death-dealing war machine.
Housing now, housing for all!
PV Manitoba Bureau
Cold weather and pandemic-related restrictions have made Manitoba’s increasingly dire housing crisis more difficult to ignore. Public spaces that in previous years would have provided respite from the elements have been locked down, shelters have been pushed beyond capacity, and scores of Winnipeg’s 1500 unhoused people have been forced to huddle inside bus shelters to survive. But even this temporary and insufficient cover is not safe from the invasive and threatening intervention of Winnipeg Police Service and their proxies.
As of October 2020, more than 9000 households sat on a waiting list for Manitoba Housing while 1770 units remained empty, many awaiting assessment for future commercial sale. Despite the glaringly obvious housing crisis in this province, Brian Pallister’s government continues its aggressive drive to absolute privatization, letting publicly-owned housing depreciate in value to the benefit of potential buyers. Instead of utilizing available funds to house people during a pandemic, the recent “investment” of $4 million into Manitoba Housing was allocated to boosting security, for the express purpose of curbing a rise in “trespassers” seeking shelter.
Many commentators have pointed out that it is cheaper to house people than it is to pay for the social services that they require to survive without permanent housing. But this simple statement of fact does not take into account who pays and who collects. Provincial programs such as Employment and Income Assistance Program (EIA), Rent Assist and the newly initiated Canada-Manitoba Housing Benefit transfer public money to the pockets of property management firms and private landlords. Meanwhile, the City of Winnipeg’s decision to sell publicly-owned land at subsidized prices to non-profit housing providers will expose a public need to market forces. This is not a long-term solution when rents keep rising and funding keeps getting cut.
Like many social crises that have seeped to the surface over the past eleven months, the housing crisis is not a result of the pandemic but is exacerbated by it – and COVID-19 is only one among many serious threats to the health of unhoused people. Cases of trench fever, a bacterial infection that killed millions of people during the First World War, have been found in Winnipeg’s shelter system. This is an appalling development in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, and the direct responsibility of a system that would rather police people than house them without condition.
The province could have collected money from the federal Rapid Housing Initiative to convert existing buildings into emergency housing, but it refused to act. The city could take similar action but has long since divested from housing altogether. Tonight, thousands of lives are threatened – not only by COVID-19 or the punishing cold, but by the passive violence of city bureaucracy.
People need housing. They need it now and they need it in perpetuity. The only way to guarantee this human right is through publicly-owned housing – anything else will only prolong this crisis.
We need a working class climate plan, not capitalist greenwashing
“They took all the trees / And put them in a tree museum / Then they charged the people / A dollar and a half just to see 'em”
So wrote Joni Mitchell in 1970. She, of course, meant this as irony – a slap-down to the “chop it – pave it – sell it” economy, as well as to the hyper-consumerist culture that emerges from (and supports) it.
Based on his government’s shiny new climate plan, it doesn’t seem like Justin Trudeau gets irony.
Announced to much fanfare in early December, the new plan isn’t new at all. Instead, it’s a rehash of the same old capitalist logic, focused on pricing carbon emissions rather than decisive action to cut emissions in the sectors producing them. Turning pollution into just another cost of production will not only transfer the burden to the working class but will also facilitate the growth of huge corporations, as they absorb smaller companies that can’t efficiently adapt.
Of the 693 megatonnes of carbon emissions produced in this country last year, 37 percent were from industry, including the oil and gas industry. The 25 largest carbon emitting facilities produced 118 megatonnes – more than 17 percent of the total. Of these, eight are coal fired electricity generating plants. The other 17 are tarsands, steel, refining and a pipeline.
Faced with this “low hanging fruit” you’d think that governments would want to go on a bit of a harvest and photo op – after all, closing 8 coal plants to knock out one-third of the biggest polluters seems like a no-brainer.
You’d be wrong, of course. Alberta’s Jason Kenney seems convinced that coal is a good thing – much better than forests. His government recently delisted 164 provincial parks from protected status and slated 60 of them for coal mining. Yes, the government is strip mining parkland.
You’d also expect governments to be looking seriously at green economic transition. Recovery from the COVID-induced economic crisis will require a huge infrastructure program, so it’s the perfect opportunity (in an otherwise pretty horrible situation) to plan for a comprehensive shift in areas like energy, construction and transportation. Statistics show that demand for renewables has increasedglobally, while demand for fossil fuels has decreased. For the first time in US history, renewables are projected to produce more electricity than coal. Even capitalists get this – it’s one reason multinational energy corporations are pulling out of the Alberta tarsands.
But you’d be wrong on that score as well. Joe Biden’s completely unsurprising decree halting the Keystone XL pipeline became, amazingly, the rallying point that united Trudeau and Kenney. Federally and provincially, governments in Canada are doubling down on the tarsands.
What we need is for labour to weigh in with a radical, working class vision for climate justice. The "Justin and Jason Big Oil Bonanza" should be met with a strong campaign for public takeover of the energy industry, as part of a radical green transition that protects the environment, workers and communities. And while we’re at it, the auto giants and transportation corporations (looking at you, Bombardier!) should be nationalized and converted to producing electric vehicles, including mass transit and light industry and agriculture.
As workers approach the Canadian Labour Congress convention, let’s push for this kind of vision and action. Otherwise, we’ll all watch the Trudeau-Kenney bromance “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”