This Central Committee meeting comes at an extraordinarily critical moment in the struggle for peace, jobs and the social and political rights of the working class in Canada and internationally. It is also a critical meeting for our own Party, which faces huge challenges with limited resources, but also under circumstances that offer significant opportunities for the growth and development of our Party and of the fightback movement as a whole, provided we can rise to the occasion. How effectively we confront these challenges will depend not only on the thoroughness and accuracy of our collective assessment of these unprecedented circumstances, but also on the degree to which we can focus the energies of our Party, of all of our members and those we can influence and lead, in the most organized and collective manner possible.
I. On the International Situation
The most significant development since our last meeting in August 2008 is of course the deepening global economic crisis that had been maturing for several years but which erupted in force with the stock market crashes in early October and which has been unfolding in the material (goods and services) economy with ever-greater intensity and rapidity since. The early signs of the impending crisis emerged in the US financial sector in August 2007, but as predicted at our December 2007 CC meeting, it soon grew to encompass the entire US and world capitalist economies. At latest count, most of the leading capitalist countries – the U.S., Germany, Japan and Canada among them – are now “officially” in recession, but even these statistics mask the universal breadth of the global crisis.
No domestic economy will be spared its devastating impact. Even the humming Chinese economy is now sliding into a major downturn as exports plummet and factories have begun laying off workers in the millions. The latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report has recently predicted global job losses this year alone will exceed 50 million, but even this is likely a conservative estimate.
Third world economies will be especially hard-hit as commodity prices plunge, global demand for manufactured goods slump, and as advanced capitalist countries cut back on foreign aid and direct foreign investment.
In such a situation, all of the contradictions plaguing the global economy, and social disparities within each of the countries, will be further exacerbated. The working class, peasantry and the marginalized in the poorer countries will be hardest hit because the ‘social safety net’ in such countries is much weaker or virtually nonexistent.
Take for example just one aspect of the looming global crisis and its effects on the peoples’ health and nutrition. On January 21, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a most disturbing report, “The Financial Crisis and Global Health”, which is worth quoting at length:
“As a consequence of the financial crisis in OECD countries, the world risks the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s. The impact of earlier increases in the cost of food and fuel are estimated to have tipped more than 100 million people back into poverty. The challenge facing the world now is to prevent an economic crisis becoming a social and a health crisis…. A grave human crisis is already happening.
“The effects of the crisis in many low- and-middle income countries are increasingly evident: private financial flows are falling (from US$ 1 trillion to half that amount); foreign direct investment and remittances are decreasing; and exports from developing countries are down in terms of price and volume. The consequent effects of unemployment and decreasing revenues impact on household income, government spending and the capacity of other actors in the private and voluntary sector to contribute to the health effort…
“The problem is that their situation may get even worse as they are affected by the downturn, and through causes which are not of their own making…. In high- or low-income countries, however, it is the poor – and those made poor through loss of income or housing – that will be hardest hit.
“The current food crisis in particular has been estimated as being responsible for pushing more than 100 million people back into poverty – with serious consequences for health outcomes and nutritional status. Shortages of food and consequent malnutrition predispose individuals to disease and thus act in vicious concert with the economic downturn.” [emphasis in original]
The manifestations of the crisis are readily apparent everywhere; what is critically important for the working class and for our Party however is an understanding of its basic causes, its roots. Big Business interests and their governments, and even reformists from the camp of social democracy, have vested interests in keeping the real nature of the crisis well hidden, because bringing the truth to light would lead working people and other oppressed and exploited segments of the people to question the very nature of the dominant system, and ultimately to organize and fight for a fundamental socialist alternative to monopoly capitalism, to imperialism. If one were to listen and believe the recent comments of, for instance, British (Labour) Prime Minister Gordon Brown or U.S. President Barack Obama, one would be led to conclude that the real culprits responsible for the current economic meltdown are a handful of “irresponsible” bankers and investment brokers. Naming a ‘fall guy’ is a tried-and-true method to steer the working class away from making a systemic critique of the inner ‘boom and bust’ workings of capitalism.
Cyclical crises under capitalism are nothing new – they are in fact an inherent and recurring feature of the capitalist mode of production. What distinguishes the current crisis from previous ones are those features which have come to play a dominant role in the process of capital accumulation, in particular the role of speculative capital. Our comrades in the German Communist Party have noted in this regard:
“Speculation has always been a component of the capitalist economy. But in the new phase of monopoly capitalism it has become a determining element and penetrates all aspects of economy and politics… [F]inancial speculation by the large companies has become a central instrument of capital accumulation. Through large mergers in the banking and insurance branches, and with the enormous financial resources collected through investment, pensions and other funds, the financial establishment has reached a higher magnitude of power. Capital circles the globe in search of the highest profit rate. Its hunger can only be satisfied by …plundering the budgets of states and municipalities [which are in turn] driven into increasing debt and deeper dependence on the financial establishment. Speculation has expanded to include not only stocks and enterprises, but also national currencies. The international financial markets dictate the national economic policy.”
Governments are not the only victims of spiralling debt. As we noted in December 2007, the prolongation of the ‘growth phase’ leading up to the current meltdown was achieved by maintaining mass consumption at artificially high levels for a protracted period through the extension of more and more paper credit. “What is new in the current situation is not the extension of credit per se, but rather the scale of that credit extension. This development reflects the increasingly parasitical character of finance capitalism in today’s world”, our Central Committee concluded.
Such objective dynamics in the development of monopoly capitalism have been in turn spurred on and exacerbated by the neoliberal policies pursued by all the leading imperialist states. While they succeeded in the short run in accelerating the accumulation of capital and overcoming the general tendency, as Marx and Engels noted, for the rate of profit to decline, the “debt bubble” and the growing gap between real and paper wealth eventually had to give way. Other structural contradictions of the systemic crisis of capitalism, such as increasing and permanent militarization and the impact of environmental degradation have combined to give rise to a “perfect storm”, as even some bourgeois economists have come to describe it.
These structural aspects of the systemic crisis of global capitalism are staggering. Take the impact of growing militarization, for instance. According to a report issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, by 2006 world military expenditures had reached $1204 billion, a 37 per cent increase over the 10-year period since 1997. The USA was responsible for about 80 per cent of the increase, and its military expenditure now accounts for almost half of the world total.
Add to this the cost effect of environmental devastation. A recent WWF study, “The Living Planet”, reports that every year 30% more resources are being consumed than the Earth can replenish, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. As a result, we are running up an ecological debt of $4 – $4.5 trillion dollars every year – double the estimated losses made by the world’s financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis. The figure is based on a UN report which calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection.
It is therefore important to emphasize that the current crisis is not the result of the implementation of neoliberal policies such as free trade, deregulation, privatization, and anti-labour employment policies, etc.; rather, it is the inevitable outcome of the systemic crisis of capitalism itself. That said, distortions wrought by neoliberal policy have certainly intensified the reach and severity of the global crisis.
Sharp debates have broken out within bourgeois circles about how to deal with the crisis – between those still ideologically wedded to the neoliberal doctrine (the so-called “Washington consensus”) such as the Harper government in Canada, and those calling for a ‘paradigm shift’ towards a revised (and vulgarized) version of Keynesianism, i.e., the advocacy of “pump-priming” injections of public funds into infrastructural and other projects to stimulate demand. In most cases, bourgeois governments are opting for compromise arrangements with stimulative measures combined with corporate tax cuts, bailouts and manipulation of monetary policy (e.g., lowering interest rates to fuel more borrowing). The magnitude of some of these packages is astronomical; in the U.S., for instance, the new Obama Administration is proposing to increase the $1 trillion already injected under Bush with almost another trillion in new spending.
What unites the ruling class is the desire to overcome the crisis at the expense of the working class – both directly through lowering the cost (price) of labour, the principal target of which is the organized labour movement, through imposed concessions (e.g., the auto industry where workers have a virtual ‘gun to their heads’ to accept massive wage cuts or else), and indirectly, through the use of public revenues (the bulk of which come from the pockets of working people) to insulate investors from losses and prop up sagging profits. The differences between the two camps revolve around tactics, not any shift in fundamental policy. Their debates centre around methodology, efficacy and concerns over political volatility – all of which are essentially directed at propping up capitalism.
From the perspective of the working class, neither prescription is acceptable. With respect to so-called “stimulation” financed by public revenues and/or deficits, the issue is not ‘stimulation’ as such, but rather what types of stimulation, and in whose interests do they serve.
Our Party wholeheartedly concurs with the position of the Greek Communists (KKE), which was summarized in their intervention at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties (IMCWP) this past November:
“In our opinion, what the bourgeoisie considers a threat to its economic and political stability is a hope for labour and the people’s forces, as long as the communist parties and the anti-imperialist movement do not lose sight of the only way out… We should utilize this situation to the maximum in order to promote the process of unity among the working class as well as its social political alliance with other popular strata…. Workers should follow the line of irreconcilable resistance and struggle and not the line of conciliation, compromise and ‘consensus’ that will enable capitalists to heal their wounds and recover”. We need to draw a clear distinction here between compromises per se, and the “line of compromise”. All Marxists understand that in the course of the class struggle some compromises or retreats are unavoidable. It is important here to recall what comrade Lenin wrote on the subject in an article entitled “On Compromises” on the very eve of the Great October Socialist Revolution: “The term compromise in politics implies the surrender of certain demands, the renunciation of part of one’s demands, by agreement with another party. The usual idea the man in the street has about the Bolsheviks, an idea encouraged by a press which slanders them, is that the Bolsheviks will never agree to a compromise with anybody…. The idea is flattering to us as the party of the revolutionary proletariat, for it proves that even our enemies are compelled to admit our loyalty to the fundamental principles of socialism and revolution. Nevertheless, we must say that this idea is wrong. Engels was right when, in his criticism of the Manifesto of the Blanquist Communists (1873), he ridiculed their declaration: ‘No compromises!’ This, he said, was an empty phrase, for compromises are often unavoidably forced upon a fighting party by circumstances, and it is absurd to refuse once and for all to accept ‘payments on account.’ The task of a truly revolutionary party is not to… renounce all compromises, but to be able, through all compromises, when they are unavoidable, to remain true to its principles, to its class, to its revolutionary purpose, to its task of paving the way for revolution and educating the mass of the people for victory in the revolution…. Now the question [at issue] is not [one] of a forced, but of a voluntary compromise.” This distinction is by no means an abstraction. For instance, new CAW head Ken Lewenza signaled earlier this week that – before negotiations with Big Three automakers have even begun – his union is prepared to reopen union contracts to grant wage and benefit concessions because “we can’t ignore the precarious financial state of these companies, the extraordinary government offers of aid and our need to remain fully competitive for future investment”. This statement, issued before any democratic consultation with the CAW membership, not only gives a ‘green light’ to the companies to extract concession after concession from Canadian autoworkers; it also undermines the position of unions in other industries which will soon confront similar corporate pressures to retreat. It’s like throwing in the towel before the opening bell for the round has even sounded!
On the contrary, Canadian workers need to build to and surpass the levels of fightback seen recently in Europe where millions have taken to the streets across Greece, France, Germany and elsewhere with one unifying message: “We did not create this economic crisis… and we’re not going to pay for it!”
Our Party also shares the views expressed in the Sao Paulo Proclamation “Socialism is the Alternative!” issued at that same meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties which states (in part):
“As other moments in history have shown, the workers and the peoples, if united, can determine the course of economic, social and political events, squeeze important concessions out of big capital in the interests of the masses, curb advances towards fascism and war and open the path to deep transformations of a progressive and even revolutionary character. …Certain of the possibility of another world, a world that is free from class exploitation and the oppression of capital, we declare our commitment to continue the historical path to building a new society free from class exploitation and oppression that is Socialism.”
Of course, this doesn’t at all mean that we should sit back, content in our advocacy of socialism as the only alternative to this rotting system. As comrade Miguel Figueroa said in our Party’s intervention to the previous year’s IMCWP in Minsk in November 2007:
“It requires on our part a two-sided approach. On one hand, we must intensify the ‘battle of ideas’ on the ideological front, to combat anti-communism and resolutely defend and advocate socialism as the only viable alternative to capitalism and imperialism (and its crisis). And on the other hand, we must continue to forge every possible alliance we can to oppose aggression, to defend national sovereignty, and to prevent the imperialist assault on the democratic rights and the social and economic interests of the working class and the people. Obviously, this means working with political and social forces with whom we may have serious ideological differences and disputes on certain matters. We must not concede a centimetre of ideological ground or compromise our revolutionary world view, but neither must not we allow our firmness on principles to stand in the way of forging alliances and unity – no matter how temporary or vacillating – or slide into sectarian positions.” [emphasis added]
One of the other important lessons about the nature of the capitalist system which must be drawn from the current crisis relates to the role of the “State”. While details vary from country to country, the overall orientation and response of the ruling class confirms two fundamental Marxist theses about the State: (1) that it is not an independent or neutral actor, but rather an instrument of class rule – to preserve and protect dominant class interests, especially during periods of crisis, through all possible means, including the use of violence (attacks on labour and democratic rights, state repression, etc.); and (2) that contrary to the views of so-called post-structuralists and others on the broad “left”, the national State continues to play the primary role in such class rule, and has not been supplanted by international instruments of imperialist domination and plunder (e.g., the IMF, WTO, etc.)
Indeed, as the economic crisis deepens capitalists are increasingly turning to their ‘home’ States for salvation, and despite efforts to broker agreement around coordinated strategies among the leading imperialist States, inter-imperialist rivalries are intensifying, especially around access to oil and other vital resources, and to secure respective influence and control of various regional markets. In such circumstances, pressures toward protectionism will increase which will further dampen down global trade, sharpen inter-state conflicts, increase the militarization of states, and threaten world peace. It will also intensify the attack on the labour and democratic rights of the people, especially the right to dissent, as states act to preserve the ruling order and the privileged positions of the dominant class.
It follows therefore that in all of our theoretical and agitational activities, we need to clearly connect the ‘way out’ of the economic crisis with both the struggle to defend democratic rights and the struggle against imperialist aggression and war.
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Israel’s savage and criminal attack on Gaza, which started in late December, finally ended under the terms of a shaky ceasefire on January 18, exacting a heavy toll in human suffering with over 1,300 Palestinians – mostly civilians – slaughtered and thousands more injured or left homeless amidst the rubble. No less deplorable were the repeated and intentional attacks on UN facilities in Gaza, displaying once again Israel’s utter contempt for international law and institutions. As we stated at the time, Israel’s aggression is nothing less than a crime against humanity.
The role of the Harper government during the course of this tragedy was appalling. With the full backing from a well-organized pro-Zionist lobby, Harper and his Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon parroted the line of U.S. imperialism that Israel was the ‘victim’ and had every right to protect itself from Hamas’ aggression, while remaining completely silent about Israel’s inhuman policy of strangulation of Gaza through its blockade. Indeed, Ottawa’s policy throughout the crisis – like that of the other imperialist powers – constituted a form of collusion with Israel’s bloody aggression, blatantly indifferent to its impact on the residents of Gaza, the rule of international law or the dangerously destabilizing effect it had on peace and security in the Middle East as a whole.
At the same time, we welcome the massive and broad-based mobilizations which erupted across Canada and around the world in opposition to Israel’s aggression. Particularly noteworthy was the increasing involvement of labour and the broad peace movement in various demonstrations and actions.
The present situation remains extremely volatile. The Israel’s unilateral “ceasefire” alone will not end the crisis. Only with Israel’s complete withdrawal and the lifting of the blockade of Gaza will there be any hope for peace and stability.
Of course, the long-term solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict must be based on the implementation of U.N. resolutions, including Israel’s complete withdrawal from all lands it has illegally occupied since the 1967 war, the dismantling of the Apartheid wall and removal of all Israeli settlements, the formation of a viable and genuinely independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, the guaranteed right of Palestinians to return to their homelands, the certifiable de-nuclearization of Israel, and mutual security guarantees for all states in the region.
We note in this context the growing debate among Palestinians (at home and abroad) and among their supporters over the option of a one-state or two-state solution to this longstanding conflict. This is fundamentally a question for the Palestinian people themselves to resolve. Our Party continues to support the two-state approach, still backed by the majority of Palestinians, as the only realistic option at this point of time, while recognizing that a single, secular state is also a possible (and preferable) option in the longer term. One way or another, for genuine and enduring peace to reign in the region, the current expansionist and racist orientation of Israel’s state superstructure must be defeated and dismantled.
Until Israel ends its criminal behaviour, abandons its expansionist aims, and no longer serves as the local gendarme for U.S. imperialist interests in the region, Canada should consider Israel a ‘criminal’ state, and impose comprehensive sanctions – economic, military and diplomatic – against it. This should start with the immediate abrogation of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement. The Communist Party also extends its full support to the “Boycott Israeli products now!” campaign.
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Another significant event in the recent period was the election victory of President Barack Obama and the election of Democratic majorities in both Houses of the U.S. Congress. The election results were a stunning rebuke to the far-Right Bush/McCain camp and an important victory for the working class, democratic forces and national minorities in the United States. The election of an Afro-American as President was a landmark achievement in a society still plagued by class and racial oppression. Furthermore, the fact that record numbers of Hispanic-Americans, organized workers, youth and women turned out at the polls and rejected the far-Right is of undeniable significance.
There have been some encouraging steps taken by the new Administration in its first days, including among others the announcement of the closure of the detention/torture camp at Guantanamo. Nevertheless, it is important to guard against false expectations – the Democratic Party remains a capitalist party in the most powerful imperialist state on earth, a party still committed to neoliberal dogma and imperialist policy, and one in which corporate interests continue to prevail in its hierarchy and around all major policy matters. The decisive task for the U.S. working class continues to be breaking the stranglehold of the two-party system through the establishment of a genuine labour/people’s mass party.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the glorious Cuban Revolution. In our letter of greetings to the Cuban Party, we noted that socialist Cuba’s many great social, economic and cultural achievements and its internationalist solidarity with peoples and nations around the world are truly unparalleled, especially in the face of such unremitting hostility and aggression from U.S. imperialism. We commit to strengthen our solidarity with the Cuban people, with the struggle to free the Cuban Five and with the Communist Party of Cuba, whose wise leadership and fidelity to revolutionary ideals and principles continue to propel Cuba’s transformative process forward.
We also express our militant solidarity with the struggling people of Colombia who are withstanding increasing repression at the hands of the fascist Uribe regime and the oligarchic and imperialist interests it represents. These stepped-up attacks are directed primarily at the FARC and the armed insurgency, but are also aimed at the Colombian Communist Party, militant trade unions, peasant organizations and activists, and other democratic forces. This reactionary offensive is being actively support by the regime’s imperialist allies, and justified by the corporate-controlled media – including here in Canada – which is covering up these state terrorist atrocities and spreading outright lies about the popular resistance movements and the armed insurgency. We call once again for the cancellation of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade pact and for the removal of the FARC and all insurgent forces from Canada’s notorious “terrorist entity” list.
II. Political Developments in Canada
The political situation within our country since our last full plenary session in late August has been correspondingly tumultuous. It has included the October 14th federal general election, the Parliamentary crisis in late November, a general election in Quebec in December, and the run-up to the current budget debate, among many other developments – all of which must be seen through the prism of the ever-deepening and expanding economic crisis which has taken hold here and around the world.
In our post-election commentary, we noted that the election had settled nothing, and predicted continued political volatility:
“Despite their claims, the [minority] Tories have no mandate to impose their right‑wing agenda on the country…. The Conservatives will most likely attempt to ‘bulldoze’ legislation through the House as if they indeed had a working majority, as they did during the previous session. …The political terrain is now quite murky as the country enters into a deep and likely protracted economic crisis and recession. The post‑election battle lines will most likely centre around the struggle to block the attempts of finance capital and its big business parties – in the first instance, the Conservatives – from foisting the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the working class and working people. The challenge now for the labour and democratic movements will be to move the struggle back into the streets, workplaces and communities across Canada.” [CEC Statement, October 15, 2008]
The decision by the Harper Tories to call a snap election was a cynical attempt to grab a majority before the economic crisis – which by that time was already hovering on the horizon – burst with full force. They also wanted to take advantage of divisions and weaknesses among the ‘opposition’ parties, especially the Liberals under Stephen Dion.
The Conservatives’ opportunist gambit almost succeeded but in the end fell short. The stock market ‘meltdown’, which erupted less than two weeks before Election Day, severely undermined Harper’s credibility over his oft-repeated claims that “the fundamentals of the Canadian economy are sound”. That, together the Tories’ anti-social and pro-war polices – and Harper’s personal arrogance and his close political identification with the Bush Administration – were sufficient to deny the Conservatives a majority.
We characterized the electoral outcome as a “victory for the [62%] majority of Canadians” by blocking a majority government, thus preventing the Harper Tories from having a completely free hand to implement their far-right political agenda. Was this assessment warranted? Subsequent political developments confirmed the correctness of our assessment at the time – namely that the failure of the Harper Conservatives to gain their coveted majority would open fresh possibilities to derail Tory agenda, and to ultimately defeat Harper et al.
That defeat was almost realized in late November when the Parliamentary crisis came close to unseating the government through a non-confidence vote – one which would have passed with the support of all three opposition parties – were it not for the anti-democratic proroguing of the House until just this past week. The crisis erupted because the Harper Conservatives, arrogantly overconfident that they could survive yet another round of parliamentary ‘chicken’, tried to press ahead with a number of their right-wing, neoconservative economic and political objectives.
When confronted with the very real possibility of defeat, the Tories were forced to retreat and regroup and then to launch a massive propaganda campaign casting themselves as “victims’ of a conspiracy by the Liberal/NDP coalition, together with a viciously chauvinist tirade against the “separatist” Bloc Québécois and – by extension – the national rights and aspirations of the people of Québec as a whole. At the final hour, they moved to suspend Parliament altogether in order to head off defeat.
The Liberal/NDP coalition itself was a highly unstable formation which likely would have had a rather short life-span, given the rivalry between the two parties, and especially the sharp cleavages within the backrooms of the Liberal Party itself. The dominant section of the Liberal leadership, represented by Michael Ignatieff, John Manley and others, were hostile to the Coalition concept from the outset because they were fully cognizant of the vehement opposition of finance capital – both in Calgary and on Bay Street – to any manoeuvre to dump the Harper Tories. The primary objective of the Ignatieff camp is to get the Liberal Party back into the good graces of Big Business, and position itself once again as the reliable ‘government-in-waiting’ if and when the opportunity arises to regain power.
While not formally supporting the Coalition, our Party recognized that a coalition government (no matter how short lived) was the only practical alternative to continued Tory rule, one which would have opened prospects for the labour and people’s extra-parliamentary struggle to win certain concessions and set the stage to shift the political balance in Parliament in a future election.
Dion’s forced early departure as Liberal leader and the imposition of Ignatieff as new (interim) leader signalled the death knell of the Coalition long before the January 27th budget was brought down.
Earlier this week, the Central Executive presented a sharp critique of the Flaherty budget, noting that it “prioritizes bail-outs for the banks and other lenders, and tax hand-outs to business, while ignoring the urgent needs of workers and the unemployed – further proof that the Harper minority government remains a trusted tool of the ruling class and a bitter enemy of working people across Canada”.
Among the Budget’s worst features is the almost complete government inaction on (un)Employment Insurance (EI). Instead of extending coverage to all of the unemployed, and increasing benefit levels and claim periods, the budget keeps virtually all of the current miserly and exclusionary regulations firmly in place. The $2 billion for retraining jobless workers is a tiny fraction of the $54 billion stolen from the unemployed over the years through Liberal and Tory cuts. The federal minimum wage remains unchanged, and the budget does nothing to protect and raise pensions, or to improve social assistance.
The failure to act on EI reform is no accident or oversight; on the contrary, it is quite purposeful. As unemployment rises (the latest figures for January 2009 show that another 129,000 jobs have been lost, resulting in a spike in ‘official’ unemployment to 7.2%, from 6.6% in December), so does what Marx described as the “surplus army of labour”. This “army” – especially when insufficiently-protected through unemployment coverage or other forms of social assistance – is an invaluable tool in the hands of the capitalist class, used to increase the fear and insecurity among those still working so that employers can more easily extract wage and benefit concessions from the workers.
That is why the struggle around EI and other direct improvements to the real incomes of the working class is such a central question in the overall fight to prevent the cost of paying for the crisis from being placed on the backs of the people.
Although the Tory budget will now breeze through Parliament with Liberal support, the battle over much of its content and direction is far from over. As the full weight of the recession/depression comes to bear on the socio-economic conditions of the Canadian people over the coming months, and especially on the lives of millions of workers, the staggering inadequacy of the budgetary measures to address their needs and demands will come ever more sharply into focus, and will engender increasing resistance and united mass struggle. No amount of bobbing and weaving by the Harper government or their accomplices on the “Opposition” benches will be able to avoid or subdue that rising tide of people’s anger for long.
The political crisis in the country also takes place against the backdrop of the imperialist war and occupation of Afghanistan, which continues to go from bad to worse – both for the suffering masses of that country, as civilian deaths caused by indiscriminate US/NATO bombings and atrocities on the ground mount, and also for the occupation forces themselves, who now openly admit that their efforts to crush the insurgency and extend ‘security’ are a dismal failure.
Public opinion across Canada has now tilted decisively against the war, and a majority want the troops brought back home now, not in 2011. Ending this imperialist occupation is more urgent than ever, as there are growing signs that the ‘field of combat’ has now extended into Pakistan, and may develop into a regional conflict.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the new Obama Administration considers the Afghan war to be ‘front & centre’ in its “war against terror”, and is planning to increase U.S. troop levels there. Washington will likely pressure Canada to extend its combat mission, and possibly even increase its troop deployment as well.
This is all the more reason why peace activities must be stepped up across the country through the Canadian Peace Alliance and a network of local anti-war coalitions. We welcome the fact that the Canadian Peace Congress, with its explicitly anti-imperialist perspective, has now been officially re-launched across the country. It can and should play a pivotal role in building the broadest possible opposition to this war. We should invite from comrade Dave McKee, who was elected Peace Congress President at its inaugural re-founding convention, to tell us more about the Peace Congress and its work.
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III. The Economic Crisis in Canada and the FightbackPRIVATE
The economic ‘meltdown’ in the U.S. domestic economy began ostensibly in August 2007 in the mortgage/real estate/financial sector. The meltdown gradually spread to embrace all sectors of the national economy, to a resulting slump in world trade, and to a collapse of many world commodity prices (especially for oil, minerals and other natural resources – with the notable exception of gold), finally came home to roost in the Canadian economy in late fall 2008. The latest GDP figures from StatsCan show that the national economy contracted by 0.7% in November 2008 which, together with earlier quarterly reports and estimates for the last two months, cast no doubt that the Canadian economy is now officially in recession.
But this is old news for workers and their families who have been suffering the effects of the economic crisis for some time. Production has slumped in all sectors and reports of mass layoffs and plant shutdowns are being announced on a daily basis. Housing prices and construction of new homes went down over 20% in the fourth quarter of 2008 alone. Business and personal bankruptcies and foreclosures are soaring, and workers’ retirement savings – especially those lured directly or through private pension schemes to invest their lifetime savings in market‑based portfolios and hedge funds – have seen much of those savings evaporate overnight. Unemployment, insecurity, homelessness and poverty, along with all their social consequences, are spreading like a ‘prairie fire’ across the country. And many of those still working have already seen their wages slashed by self‑serving employers.
This is the sad reality for millions upon millions of working people, particularly those in the manufacturing sector which had already shed more than 400,000 Canadian jobs even prior to the ‘official’ onset of the recession. Those most negatively affected already by rising unemployment include Aboriginal peoples, women, and people of colour. Working people are both worried and angry about the worsening situation afflicting their families and communities, and they are looking for answers and remedial action from governments.
In this respect, the January 27th budget stands as a dismal failure – a budget from a reactionary government that is primarily concerned with using public monies to bail out the bad loans of the banks and financial institutions, and to prop up other ‘struggling’ corporate interests, not to safeguard existing or creating new jobs for workers, or to extend EI coverage for the millions of already under‑ or unemployed, or those on the verge of joblessness. In effect, the budget declares that protecting the spending power of wealthy debtors is the priority, not the consuming power of workers and the poor. This politically self‑serving budget, at best, offers some short‑term stimulus but provides absolutely no direction or plan to address either the immediate concerns of working people or the chronic structural problems plaguing the national economy.
What is really required today is a comprehensive action plan – an economic and political solution to the crisis which serves the interests of people, not profits. In late November, our Party brought forward such an immediate “anti‑crisis action plan” which called for the following: protections for Canadian working people through the immediate introduction of plant closure legislation to stop the exodus of manufacturing jobs; substantial public investment in auto, forestry and other vital manufacturing industries on a full financial equity basis (no corporate hand‑outs), along with iron‑clad guarantees preventing layoffs, job cuts, wage or pension reductions, and requiring reinvestment in the domestic economy; the expansion of EI to cover all workers for the full duration of unemployment (including the elimination of the waiting period), with benefits at 90% of former earnings; a moratorium on evictions and mortgage foreclosures and utility cut‑offs due to unemployment; an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $15/hr., along with legislation to protect and improve wages, benefits and pensions for all workers, to help raise incomes and stimulate domestic consumption; emergency action to improve the social and economic conditions of Aboriginal peoples; a massive public investment program to construct affordable social housing, to rebuild Canada’s decaying infrastructure, in environmental protection and conservation, and in job creation programs for youth and the arts; sweeping progressive tax reform based on ability to pay, and the revocation of all corporate tax breaks, write‑offs and deferrals at every level – measures that will shift the tax burden from working people onto the corporations and the wealthy; emergency measures to protect and extend our public healthcare, education and other social programs, including the establishment of a publicly funded and administered system of universal, quality, affordable childcare with Canada‑wide standards; and Canada’s immediate withdrawal from the disastrous war of occupation in Afghanistan, and a 50% cut in military spending.
We also pointed out that the longer‑term security and effectiveness of these immediate anti‑crisis actions would in turn require more transformative measures to safeguard the jobs, incomes and services for the Canadian people, including (amongst others): the democratic nationalization of the big banks, insurance and other financial institutions in Canada; the nationalization of the energy industry, to guarantee domestic supply, and to provide the material basis for the economic rebuilding of Canadian industry and the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, especially in projects such as renewable energy, mass transit, and the mass production of a more fuel-efficient Canadian car. Canada’s immediate withdrawal from NAFTA, a halt to the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” (SPP) negotiations, and the adoption of a much more diversified, multilateral trade policy based on mutual benefit; and the introduction of a liveable, guaranteed annual income (GAI), as well as a shorter work week with no loss in take‑home pay.
Such a plan would take great strides in addressing the immediate crisis, and move our country in a qualitatively new direction – placing the needs of working people and our environment before those of corporate profit, establishing a foreign policy based on peace and disarmament, and reversing the erosion of our sovereignty.
Now go back and take another look at the Harper/Flaherty budget. Does it signal any significant movement on any of these urgent anti‑crisis measures? The answer is clear for all to see.
Nor should that be surprising, given the class interests represented by the Harper government and its “loyal Opposition”, including the Ignatieff Liberals who are now effectively part of a Tory-Liberal coalition. And yet this is precisely the kind of far‑reaching set of demands around which the organized labour movement and its allies in the broad people’s movements – Aboriginal peoples, youth and students, women, farmers, seniors and all those democratic forces engaged in the struggle for peace, for the preservation of the environment, for equity rights, etc. – need to unite and fight at this crucial moment.
Workers and their organizations need to take a clear and consistent position with regard to corporate handouts/bailouts. The desire to avert job losses – especially by those workers most directly affected by corporate downsizing or complete collapse – is understandable. But without abandoning these vulnerable workers, our Party and the broad labour movement must also take a stand on behalf of the best interests of our class as a whole. Rescuing corporations at public expense (the bulk of which is paid by workers, or will be paid by workers in the future), takes precious resources away from other vital spending. Instead, we should demand that threatened industries be nationalized and placed under democratic control. Under no circumstances should such arrangements include the imposition of mandatory wage concessions from the workers.
The Ontario Committee of our Party, for instance, has recently brought forward a comprehensive program to save the troubled auto industry in this country, the core of which is to place the Big Three automakers under public ownership, not only to save this industry from collapse but to provide a firm basis for transforming the industry and the transportation system in Canada to address the environmental and social needs of our society. This is a critical question not only for the workers and communities directly affected, but for the future of Canada and its economy as a whole. Our Committee welcomes and supports these proposals, and we should work to develop similar detailed proposals for other threatened industries as forestry, steel & other manufacturing, mining, oil and petrochemical, etc.
But such a comprehensive alternative would be hollow and meaningless were it to remain on paper alone, mentioned occasionally in convention resolutions or briefs to government. Only united action on a mass scale – drawing millions of working people into struggle – can breathe real life into such an anti‑crisis plan. That is why it is more urgent than ever for the leadership of the labour movement – the Canadian Labour Congress, the labour centrals in Quebec, and all of their key affiliates – to come together along with its allies in the social movements in an emergency conference to articulate such a unified program of demands, a fightback strategy based on escalating mass action, and with committed resources to see it through.
Bringing labour and the other democratic forces and social movements together in united mass struggle around an anti‑crisis program potentially has the makings of the kind of broad “people’s coalition” which our Party has long advocated – one which can have a compelling impact on political life in this country and begin to move Canada in a new, progressive direction. At the outset its focus would naturally be in the realm of extra‑parliamentary struggle, fighting in the workplaces and on the streets to defend the people’s vital interests. The seeds of such a coalition are being sown already through united action at the local level in communities across Canada, and through popular rejection of the dangerous anti-Quebec chauvinism used by the Harper Tories to attack the concept of a Liberal/NDP coalition backed by the Bloc Quebecois. As it matures, such a “people’s coalition” can become Canada-wide in character, moving the mass struggle onto the offensive. This can and should take on an electoral expression as well. This is the kind of “Coalition” our class and your country really needs, and one which our Party should work tirelessly to help forge.
The leadership of the labour movement also needs to implement a real solidarity strategy within its own ranks, to mobilize the entire movement to support any and all groups of workers or affiliates fighting to defend their jobs, wages and benefits when under attack, around the principles “An injury to one is an injury to all!” and “No one left behind!”. This should include efforts to organize the unemployed as was done quite effectively in the 1970s and ’80s across the country and campaigns to help organize and support non‑union workers in their struggles to defend their jobs and incomes.
Is such a fighting initiative possible? Our comrades in the PCQ report encouraging signs that the three main labour centrals in Quebec are now moving to set aside past differences and work more closely together in defence of workers’ rights, jobs and social programs. An anti‑crisis coalition is coming together in Winnipeg, and the recent B.C. Federation of Labour convention was characterized by a much more militant mood among delegates.
Indeed, workers from coast to coast have repeatedly shown that they are ready, willing and able to organize and fight, provided there is real leadership from their elected leaders. It is only when there is a lack of leadership that workers feel abandoned, isolated, and compelled to retreat, to yield concessions.
Within the working class movement the issue of leadership is not only a matter of organizational talent or even political will. It is also, and perhaps most importantly, a matter of ideological orientation and conviction. In order for the leading bodies of Labour to shake off their lethargy and provide real leadership to the labour movement – and by extension to the broad people’s forces as a whole – the debilitating influence of class collaboration must be confronted and defeated. It is particularly during times such as these, when capitalism is undergoing deep convulsions and a class war rages over who will pay for the crisis, that this question comes most sharply into focus. Those who constantly search for accommodation and compromise with the employer class, and long for a return to the ‘social contract’, act like a wet blanket suffocating the entire movement and sabotaging any real progress toward building the fightback.
Such collaborationist positions are not only resident within the ranks of leadership in the labour movement; they are also injected into our movement from without – primarily from the ruling class itself through its ramified apparatus of propaganda, the mass media. These views also permeate from the ranks of social democracy and its various political expressions.
Take the recent comments of NDP leader Jack Layton, who delivered a speech earlier this month to a luncheon sponsored by one of the foremost bodies of monopolists, bankers and financiers in this country, the Toronto Board of Trade. “It’s that courage of the Canadian people which makes our country strong. Let’s match that quiet courage with smart investments for the future… It’s that kind of courage workers will need to take a pay cut so your friends at the plant can keep their job.”
It is no accident that Layton felt it necessary to transmit his sell-out message to workers in front of such an august gathering of bankers, CEOs and various other fat‑cats. It was his way of telling the ruling class that the right‑wing leadership of the New Democratic Party will use its influence to ensure workers in this country don’t ask for a second bowl of porridge; in fact, it will try to convince them to give back a spoonful or two (or three!) of the thin gruel they already enjoy, all for the ‘greater good’ of economic recovery and social peace. Some ‘courage’ indeed, Mr. Layton.
Given the longstanding record of passivity and retreat which has characterized the top leadership of the CLC, and with political ‘allies’ like the right‑wing leadership of the NDP, it is clear that turning the labour movement into the kind of dynamic force capable of initiating and leading a united mass fightback will not come about without a sharp political and ideological struggle within the labour movement itself.
Here the “Action Caucuses”, bringing together the most advanced and militant trade union activists, have a most crucial role to play. We have spoken often of the need to build these caucuses, and to strengthen them where they already exist. But if there was ever a pressing need for their revitalization, it is most certainly the case today. It is simply not good enough to convene these caucuses on the eve of federation or CLC conventions; they need to be organized and functioning on an ongoing basis, digging deep into the ranks of the trade union movement at every level possible. Our comrades in the labour movement need to give this task the highest priority, and the whole Party needs to play an active role in assisting in this vital work.
The full report from this meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada is available online at: http://www.communist-party.ca