2011 was an historic year of revolt. Revolutions spread across the Arab world, general strikes across Europe, a massive campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, student strikes in Chile, huge demos against land seizure in China, and big working-class fight backs in Wisconsin and Ohio. It was the year of the Orange Wave, catapulting the NDP into the Official Opposition in Parliament. The Occupy movement captured world attention, spreading to over 1,700 cities.
In 2012, the ruling class shows no sign of departing from its austerity agenda. But workers and students are continuing to fight back. From the deepening revolution in Egypt to the battle against austerity measures in B.C. and Ontario. And something special is happening in Quebec, rich in lessons for every one of us.
On April 22 over 250,000 people marched through Montreal in Quebec's largest ever Earth Day demonstration. They raised many demands: an end to tar sands and shale gas development, opposition to the Quebec government's Plan Nord mining expansion (which many critics in Quebec call "Plan Merde"), support for radical measures to protect ecosystems, and other causes. Many wore the red felt square, as we do here tonight, to show support to students fighting the Liberal government's 75 per cent increase in post-secondary education fees over the next five years. The Earth Day march was the largest mobilization to date in a growing wave of province-wide protest.
In the vanguard are the students. Now in the eleventh week of a strike that has effectively shut down Quebec's universities and junior colleges, they have battled court injunctions and mounting police repression. Their resilience has astonished many Quebecois and inspired wide support.
Many students demand more than a tuition freeze. They demand free education. When asked by the media "How would you pay for that?", one student leader answered with the following statistics:
Annual cost of Canadian monarchy: $49 million (Monarchist League of Canada, 2011)
Harper's financing of oil companies since 2009: $3.5 billion (Suzuki Foundation, 2012)
Tax evasion of the five biggest Canadian banks (1993-2007): $16 billion (Lauzon and Hasbani, 2008)
Canadian military expenditures: $490 billion (Canada First Defence Strategy, 2008)
So, what is the lesson from Quebec so far? The lesson is that social protest movements should exercise their autonomy. It is that the student movement, by taking a bold initiative in action, can act as a detonator to explode submission to the ruling class agenda. Did the students wait for Quebec labour or NDP or PQ approval? No. And because the students took the initiative, they were able to appeal to unions and win enormous support. It also shows the power of Quebecois national aspirations.
On Saturday, April 21, about 15,000 union members and their supporters rallied in front of the Ontario Legislature at the call of the Ontario Federation of Labour and 80 community groups. We rallied to condemn the Liberal minority government's austerity budget. The banner 'Defeat the Budget By Any Means Necessary', produced by Socialist Action, was possibly the most photographed banner at the rally. Our slogan 'Vote it Down' was repeatedly chanted by the crowd, including during the speech by the Ontario NDP Leader.
On April 24, Andrea Horwath and her 16 NDP MPPs abstained in favour of the Ontario budget, thus preserving the Liberal minority government. The NDP supported a budget that slashes services and jobs, freezes wages, attacks pensions and curtails collective bargaining rights in the public sector - in exchange for a paltry 1 per cent increase in welfare, and a minuscule tax increase on incomes above $500,000 (with the new tax money going to reduce the debt, that is, going to the banks). This is seen by bourgeois pundits as a brilliant maneuver, as smart parliamentary gamesmanship. But how is it seen, and felt, by poor people, by workers now, or soon to be, unemployed, by workers who will have reduced pensions, and by students heavily in debt? It is widely seen in progressive circles as a big betrayal. The question now is: Will workers and their unions challenge the cuts and fight the attack on labour liberties in the work place and in the streets? Who should we follow? Andrea's NDP caucus, or the Quebec students?
The recent federal and Ontario NDP conventions are rich with lessons too. They show that the NDP's ruling faction does not want to merge with the Liberal Party. It wants to become the Liberal Party. But the top brass has a problem. The NDP is still a labour-based party, a working class party, despite its programme. And labour wants to resist pro-capitalist measures. We saw that in Hamilton two weeks ago when OFL President Sid Ryan approached the Socialist Caucus for assistance. Together, we successfully changed a resolution that praised Andrea and was soft on the Liberal budget. Our win set the tone for other Socialist Caucus gains at the convention. We are sure to see more labour-socialist cooperation in the fight against capitalist austerity, and against violations of democracy in the NDP. Deep down, the NDP ranks know that socialism is not an anchor - it's a rocket!
Keep in mind that we are still in the worst economic downturn since the 1930's. Despite all the business media hype about recovery, it's not happening. Despite some modest stock market blips, there's ongoing mass joblessness and misery for working families and the poor.
The chief economist for Moody's recently said "what capitalists need to do is restore their declining rates of profit." "It'll take years of savage spending cuts, wage cuts and welfare and pension reform to eventually grow out of the debt situation in Europe." Those are the words of an honest bourgeois economist. (Is that an oxymoron?).
Where did the cutbacks money go? It went to the bailout of the big banks, investment firms and auto giants. From where is the money coming? It is coming from the squeeze on workers' wages, health care, trade union liberties, social services, public education, and pensions. It is coming from cuts to corporate taxes, and also from just printing more money (which is called 'monetary easing'). The permanent loss of good jobs at home flows from the bosses' conscious decisions to move production to low wage countries, to speed-up production here, to use temporary or contract workers or migrant workers, to out-source unionized work to non-union cut-throat contractors, to push for mandatory overtime, and more. All of these measures are designed to counter ever-declining profit rates at home.
Why a declining profit rate? Pundits say we aren't 'productive' enough, that we are too greedy, living foolishly beyond our means. The Greek working class is their dart board. So are the workers of Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, etc. But those are lies, and the resistance is sharpening. This week the Dutch government fell and French President Sarkozy is on his way out.
The main means by which the system strives to cope with the overproduction of useless things, and maintain the rate of profit, is the generation of waste in the form of military spending and advertising. Debt also can mask these contradictions, even delay a crisis, but it cannot eliminate them. Add highly toxic debt, criminally sold and re-sold, and it leads to the crash of 2008.
The capitalist 'solution' is to slash the cost of labour and shrink social benefits. Expect their class struggle 'from above' to intensify. There is simply no other way for Capital at present. And in the age of austerity, democracy is just an obstacle to recovery - recovery of capitalist profits, that is - so democracy must go too.
The Harper Conservatives have taken us pretty far down that road. Robo calls and electoral fraud, the trashing of collective bargaining rights, de-funding of progressive organizations, gutting environmental protection, lying about wasteful spending on jets and jails. This is the new normal. And don't forget, Tory rule was preceded by a decade of savage social cuts, environmental treachery, a stepped-up war drive, and nauseating corruption. That was courtesy of the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin Liberal majority governments. 4.5 million voters said 'enough is enough'. Let's try something new. Let's give the NDP a chance as the Official Opposition.
Now that presents us with a challenge. With the election of Thomas Mulcair as NDP federal leader the challenge is to prevent another Bob Rae moment in history. Remember when the NDP betrayed its base, making workers pay for a crisis we did not create?
The labour leadership has failed us too. In January 2011, ten thousand workers marched in Hamilton to oppose the plans of U.S. Steel to wreck pensions. But there was no follow up, no general strike, no demand for public ownership. So the union gave major concessions.
It came on the heels of a year-long strike in Sudbury where Brazilian-owned Valle Inco got similar concessions. Last summer postal workers said No to Canada Post demands. But the Harper Conservatives ended the rotating strikes and legislated wages lower than management offered. The NDP filibustered in Parliament, but the CLC did not call for mass job actions to defend collective bargaining.
As revolutionary socialists we actively urge a vote for the NDP. We do so without illusions, painfully aware of the party's limitations. We understand the task we face as workers, poor people, students, seniors and youth. That is, to replace the Liberal-look-alike policies of the NDP with socialist policies to meet the needs of the vast majority.
To that end, Socialist Action advocates a number of concrete measures, policies in the interest of working people and the vast majority of NDP voters. They include public ownership of big business under democratic workers' and community control. Phase out nuclear power and tar sands. Convert to green energy. Repair our disintegrating roads, bridges, sewers, railways and port facilities. Steeply tax corporations, speculators, and the rich. Abolish the HST. Uphold aboriginal land claims and local self-governance. Abolish the Senate and the monarchy. Demand direct Proportional Representation in Parliament.
Stop the deportations. Full rights for migrant workers. Impose boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. End the occupation of Afghanistan and Haiti. Hands off Syria. Defend revolutionary Cuba. Free the Cuban Five. Free Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Reduce the Canadian military to a disaster-relief and rescue force. Get Canada out of NATO now!
There is no market solution to the recurring crises of capitalism. The capitalist market created the problem. Only a social revolution can solve it. Only by taking control of the major means of production, like the Cubans did 50 years ago, only by instituting democratic planning, fully in tune with nature, does humanity have any hope of survival.
Clearly, the right has made gains by moving to the right. The left, to make gains, must move to the left. We should fight for a Workers' Agenda and a Workers' Government, and organize to win that programme inside the unions and the NDP. It means fighting for freedom for oppressed nations, for eco-socialism, for feminism and LGBT liberation.
That's what Socialist Action is all about: educating, agitating and organizing for fundamental change. That's why SA hosts Rebel Films, public forums and conferences. That's why we organized a demo on the 10th anniversary of the NATO occupation of Afghanistan last October, and led it directly to Occupied St. James Park. That's why we invite you to join us at City Hall on May 1 and to join in the next Occupation. That's why you don't want to miss 'Socialism 2012 - Fighting for the 99%", June 1, 2 and 3 at OISE U of T.
Central to our strategy for workers' power is the building of a class struggle opposition in unions and the NDP. SA aims to remove the pro-capitalist bureaucrats and to lead the fight against the bosses' agenda, and for socialism. In this process a mass revolutionary workers' party will be formed. Such a party is the key to a future with freedom and dignity. But it cannot be done without you.
So, please don't wait for the next economic crash. Don't wait for the next environmental catastrophe. Rebellion is in the air, from Egypt to Quebec, from Venezuela to Palestine. Join Socialist Action today. Join the Youth for Socialist Action. Together we can make the world a place truly fit for humanity.
Have a wonderful, festive, red May Day!