The Harper Attack
Almost everything we are fighting for – peace, jobs, education, equality, democracy, environment, sovereignty, and culture – comes back to the main obstacle, the Harper Conservative agenda, in some form.
Harper’s Throne Speech in mid-October was a weather forecast of the immediate and mid-range political storms they will try to advance. We must recognize these storms, hear the outrage of young people over the dirty war in Afghanistan, crushing student debt burdens, and poverty minimum wages, and help energize the resistance.
Just five years ago, the new US Bush-appointed ambassador to Canada publicly announced his main goal as ambassador was to increase Canadian military spending. This year, Canada’s military spending will also rise yet again, to $19.418 billion by 2010, putting military spending at a higher level than during the imperialist Korean war. Canada now bumps up from 16th to the 13th highest military spender in the world and the 6th highest military spender in NATO!
This country also has the ‘honor’ of now being the sixth-biggest supplier of military goods to the world, according to a recent report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service.
Through the throne speech the Tories made clear their intention to lock Canada into the dirty war in Afghanistan until 2011 at a minimum. And yet contradictorily, just days after this announcement, a former United Nations High Representative and British Lord added his voice to those staying NATO has already "lost in Afghanistan," showing there are at least some divisions within the imperialist ruling class on this issue.
All these developments make the demand of the pan-Canadian peace movement for “Troops Out Now” pressing, and adds more importance to the YCL aim to grow broad opposition to the war, especially helping mobilize youth to create visible, vocal support for the withdrawal of troops and against the Harper Conservatives.
Harper’s neo-liberal policies have again driven forward the decade-long tax-cut train with more mega tax-cuts that are a wet dream for the capitalist class. They call this “a tax system that rewards hard work.” Translation: the top one percent of Canadian families now pay a lower total tax rate than the bottom 10 percent of families.
It is tuition fees, not corporate taxes, that must be reduced. But the Throne Speech’s only comments about education (“The bedrock of our workforce is middle-class Canadians and their families. These families worry about the rising costs of higher education”) make it clear that there will be no action by the Harper Tories – other than more regressive loans which will be the likely outcome of their fall 2007 review of the Canada Student Loans Programme.
In fact, the only comments about youth in the Throne Speech were in connection to crime, which with the practice of police racial profiling largely means criminalization of youth of colour and aboriginal youth. Social policies for youth, including raising minimum wages, job creation and funding for equality, sports and cultural programmes are not on the table – in fact the cost of 2007 summer training for five cadets equaled federal governments entire annual subsidy to the Canadian Girl Guides, not to mention federal subsidies for progressive youth organizations!
From this meeting we must take this message back to our membership, or friends, our allies, and the youth: Harper continues to view the youth as little more than petty criminals and cannon fodder for his war machine.
Lastly, indicating that further profound neo-liberal economic reforms are in the works for the country, Harper said that “Canada still has a long way to go to establish free trade among our provinces.” This means more agreements like TILMA, the free trade agreement between BC and Alberta that allows corporations to sue municipalities and even school boards to overturn democratic local rules about environmental, labour and other regulations.
It also means that more secret corporate-directed arrangements are on the horizon – like Atlantica, which threatens to rip a de-regulated ‘union-free’ economic zone through the Maritimes.
Clearly, the need for building political alternatives is pressing. It is our job to keep the objective of booting out Harper front and center in every discussion. Young people are not happy with the direction of the Harper regime, but the strength of that opposition can waver. We need to engage our League maturely and more actively into the ideological struggle, alerting young people that Harper is dangerous, and convincing youth that we need to build peoples alternatives.
Building Peoples Alternatives
There are differences between the Liberals and the Conservatives, not in terms of fundamentals in terms of the struggle for a socialist Canada, but in terms of the aggressiveness by which they push the neo-liberal agenda.
Still, however, the Liberals have failed to produce a real alternative agenda to the Tories on crucial, economic and social issues – for example, against the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). They have also failed to convince the ruling class that they could win a majority government in the next election – in fact, the opposite.
The Tories are happy to play Russian Roulette with the election starter pistol because the gun is not pointed at their head – but that gun could backfire on them as well.
The Bloc Quebecois sustained a historically low vote in the recent political election. The ultra-right ADQ Party made
In Ottawa, the NDP caucus’s voting performance in Parliament has generally been good, with the exception of their lack of criticism of an Islamophobic rule against ‘Burqa voting’ (consider the long standing practice of allowing oversees mail-in ballots) and the Liberal motion on Afghanistan.
Rather than support the Liberals, they rejected a proposal to set the date for troop withdrawal and joined with the Conservatives. This shows the NDP approach is still sectarian. They are opposing the Tories only because they can get away with it, and not only is that opposition is quite tepid, they are confusing their main opponent with the main opposition of the people.
Moreover, the NDP defeat by the pro-Harper Saskatchewan Party in that province just a few weeks ago brings home the real lack of a social-democratic alternative to neo-liberal policies. The social democrats’ defeat here is a significant setback for the people.
At the same time, NDPers have potential to be very good allies in the struggle against Harper at the rank and file level. Many, many active rank and file NDP youth are activists in the movements for peace, education, jobs, and international solidarity – if our League has not already found common ground, can we allow this to continue?
As Communists, our job is to help deepen and broaden the fight-back, and help sharpen up the critique of the Tories, so that all the opposition parties are emboldened and/or pressured to pull the plug, and bring down the Harper Tories. While the realization of that victory will be electoral, the conditions for that change will not come from within Parliament.
This means is that the fight will have to be in our schools, in workplaces, on campus, at community centers, at the mall, online, and in the streets and directed at the Harper government’s weak points. Massive public pressure can be decisive. It is the mass movements of people’s organizations that will embolden the opposition parties to fight the Harper Tories.
What we are talking about here is not “anybody but the Tories.” We are talking about a dialectical relationship between the corporate assault on the one-hand, and on the other hand, the struggle to advance alternative policies for the people.
The leaders of the Communist Party always remind us about the struggle to defend and expand the democratic rights of the people, and its dialectical connection to the class struggle for socialism and we need to reflect this in all of our tactics and strategies in mass work.
People’s agenda policies would have to include asserting the popular, democratic sovereignty of Canada – by getting out of NAFTA, stopping the SPP deals, and pursuing an independent foreign policy of peace and disarmament. Funding education. Raising minimum wage above the poverty line. Reversing the assault on democratic and labour rights.
A powerful movement of labour and working people, women, youth, and all the people can defeat the Harper government and its policies, turning the country in a new direction – a direction that puts the issues of people and the environment first, and breaks the monopoly of the big corporations in favour of peace and against imperialism.
That is the key point. It is not just the man we’re after – we’re out to defeat the political, economic, and military agenda of what lies behind Harper.
The stakes are high. Youth activists have choices. Join the growing opposition... or else... You can be the hammer or the anvil.
There is good reason for youth across Canada to have real sense of urgency today because of what is going on in the fights for education, jobs, and peace.
Our March Convention’s Political Report noted that the “Troops Out Now” campaign was perhaps the most significant peace action across the country. The peace movement has recently held a series of protests across the country to mark the anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, and just conducted a successful tour of Afghan MP Malalai Joya. Peace forces in Quebec and English-speaking Canada are now building for demonstrations in March to mark the anniversary of the occupation of Iraq.
We need to have a constructive, frank discussion about the YCL and the anti-war movement today, learning from the report-back about the peace conference call, and committing to help build the March demos. Although this years protests are smaller than in the past, it is important to remember that went the actual invasion occurred, the pan-Canadian peace forces were less well organized.
There has been some impact from the aggressive pro-war ideological campaign “Support Our Troops” coordinated by the Department of Defense with the media, suggesting “our boys” couldn’t be as bad as the American troops in Iraq. This spring a major controversy hit Harper’s regime when they refused to stop Canadian troops handing Afghani’s over to dirty collaborationist Abu Grabi-style prisons.
One obstacle we also seem to be facing is the idea that Bush is the main enemy and Harper doesn’t count, or that elections don’t matter. Some also seem to believe that the protests will have no influence on Harper, that we have nothing to show from five years of protesting.
However, imperialist foreign policy can and has been stopped by mass-protest. Further when the Troops do withdraw, it will be by an act of Canadian Parliament, and that could be the fault line for an election.
At their root, ideas that either down-play ‘the long hard slog’ that is struggle, or advocate for extra-parliamentary action that does not have a parliamentary reflection are unscientific at best and at worst defeatist, reflecting a loss of faith in the people, not least the working class.
Our convention political report also put emphasis on Operation Objection, which has taken some positive steps and step up shop in Toronto since March. We should address the question of how we can help to block the growing militarism of society and youth at this meeting as well, in light of October’s developments at the University of Victoria, where pro-recruitment forces mobilized to defeat a motion banning recruiters from campus at the UVic AGM.
Certainly the Harper crew is not letting up on militarization of Canadian society. “I believe that military service is the highest calling of citizenship,” Prime Minister Harper told a group of young soldiers this spring. Already seventy two Canadian’s have died in Afghanistan. What kind of future does this hold for young people?
Consider Major General Andrew Leslie’s bizarre but revealing justification for why Canada must be in Afghanistan for at least 20 years: “Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating 15 more who will come after you.” Military service in the today’s Canadian army is not the highest calling of citizenship, it is the lowest calling of humanity, the calling of imperialism.
As November’s media headlines are all pumping-up Canada’s current great economic boom. But you don’t have to look very far too see youth aren’t benefiting very much from this so-called boom.
Partly, the latest employment numbers are inflated. One third of the new jobs were hires from October’s provincial election. The biggest employment gains are from workers 55 and over. Their employment rose almost 7% since January. But for workers 25 to 54, the increase is just 1.2% as Canada’s economy continues to kill well paying, unionized manufacturing jobs.
Similarly, youth 15 to 24 have only seen a 1.6% employment rate gain. None of these jobs are full time, full time youth jobs are actually shrinking. Many of the new part-time, jobs are also low-paid and dangerous.
One in every four injured workers in Canada are youth. One in every four jobs in Canada pays less than $10 an hour. And two out of every five jobs is somewhat precarious. This is the legacy of a policy cocktail mixing Free Trade and social service cutbacks. Harper is lacing that cocktail with Meth, in the form of Deep Integration.
It may seem like with Deep Integration that the ship is about hit the iceburg, we’re all stuck below decks on the Titanic. But taking action now can prevent social catastrophe. To wait is to court disaster.
Although ‘don’t just do something – sit there’ is the more prevailing approach among some so-called leaders, a number of our allies and friends in Labour and community groups aren’t waiting. Importantly, there is broad public support behind the demand for a better, $10 minimum wage. Campaigns have been launched by the BC Federation of Labour, Calgary Low Income Coalition, Manitoba Just Income Coalition, Ontario Federation of Labour (with the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice), Newfoundland and Labrador Make Work Pay Coalition, as well as the National Anti-Poverty Coalition and the Canadian Labour Congress. However, some affiliates of the OFL, BCFed, and CLC have been moving on these campaigns, the ‘leadership’ has been sitting on its hands.
We need to talk in more detail later on in the agenda about how these campaigns have somewhat stalled, why, and what we can do to help change that.
Although decision by the Canadian Federation of Students to not hold a Day of Action in English-Canada was a tremendous disappointment, the demonstrations in CEGEPs across Montreal and the arrest of over a hundred students just this week, including some of LJCers who are active in the strike organizing, shows there is real anger by Quebec students towards neo-liberal policies.
The YCL continues to deepen our analysis of and engagement in the student movement, the most organized segment of youth movement. The publication of a number of reports also allows us to make some general comments that we didn’t get to during the convention. If English Canadian students and their parents weren’t convinced already of the urgency to address skyrocketing tuition costs, recent reports should.
Although it is true that the general effect of tuition hikes is to makes school elitist, over the last decade, youth participation in universities has steadily increased, up from 17 to 21 percent of the 18-24 year olds. Today, about two thirds of Canadians that age bracket are enrolled in post-secondary or have completed their studies. This has to do with the Scientific and Technological Revolution in Canada’s economy. It is hard to think of a good-paying job these days that doesn’t require post-secondary education on the resume.
The bottom line is that corporations are demanding a university-educated workforce, but it’s not the corporations who footing that bill through their taxes. The recent 2007 Canadian Association of University Teachers Almanac underscores the continued and accelerating general trend of declining federal and provincial expenditures on post-secondary education, and the rising significance of tuition fees in university budgets.
This means two things. More students work today than perhaps ever before, and more students are in debt. About half of these students today work, 46% of university students and 62% of college students. The 2007 Auditor General reports that almost a million Canadian students are in debt, with $800 million in defaulted loans. Interest rates are 2.5% above prime for variable rates and 5% above prime for fixed rates.
Is it any surprise a spring Decima research poll indicated almost 40% of Canadians (!!) share the demand championed by the Young Communist League, to eliminate tuition fees?
While student campaigns have won tuition freezes and roll-backs in some provinces, slowing the rise in undergraduate fees to 2.8% this year – special fees are now dramatically climbing. The average student now pays $663 in special fees, StatsCan says. And in the final analysis, this does have an effect on the class composition of the student movement.
While 46% of the wealthiest students attend university, only 20% of those in the lowest income brackets ever even enter. And while 80% of children of university graduates will attend post-secondary by the age of 24, only 53% of children of high school graduates will do the same.
As we’ve noted before, the student movement is clearly a multi-class movement although it has steadily rising working class component.
This does not entirely explain why in English-speaking Canada, the leadership of the Canadian Federation of Students has opted to miss the 2008 Cross-Canada Day of Action, despite a good showing in 2007. There appears to be a general unwillingness to gamble with dates that might interfere with a Federal election, or perhaps even discouragement.
Other voices, including some anarchists, argue that making connections with other issues than just tuition hikes is very important, like direct action outside banks over student loans. This factor, it is claimed, is a key difference between today’s actions and the much larger student demo’s in the mid-nineties. But that analysis completely ignores the objective conditions – especially the labour-led Ontario Days of Action – and misses the mark by turning choices of tactics into points of principle.
In English-speaking Canada, it is not just a question of militant tactics: either we protest, or we betray our cause and lobby. No! While lobbying alone is clearly inadequate, both protesting and lobbying should be on the table together. The question is to find a comprehensive approach – lobbying, protests, petitioning, strikes, occupations – that moves the greatest number of people forwards on concrete issues.
One of the most pressing concrete issues is Harper’s review of education loans and the growing farce of the Millenium Scholarship Fund, and we should have some more detailed discussion on this review if at all possible.
We should make some brief observations about youth and the international situation, bearing in mind that we will also discuss these matters in more detail later on. It may seem someone backward to comment lastly on the international situation, but comrades should know that this will be a component of the Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party in early December, which will present a far more detailed analysis than we can here.
This summer the YCL learnt our entrance into WFDY is very likely to be approved at general meeting in Portugal this January. It is unfortunate we can not attend the CENA meeting in Cyprus which is actually taking place at the same time at this meeting, but our presence at the 60th anniversary of WFDY in Venezuela was very positive. This was the first international meeting at which comrade Marianne represented the YCL-LJC and we should compliment her for the work she did there. WFDY passed a declaration that is worth reviewing at wfdy.org/statementvenezuela.htm
One point WFDY’s statement made clear is that US imperialism’s increasingly bellicose approach towards Iran is extremely dangerous. We should keep a close watch on this situation, as with imperialisms recent destabilizing approach towards Pakistan.
Although in late October Bush announced new and more aggressive policy towards Cuba, the ensuing vote in the UN proved that the US was tremendously isolated on this policy. The recent conference on the Cuban Five in Toronto was also significant for Cuba solidarity. Cuba solidarity is becoming an important part of our small league’s work. As the challenge of building the Che Brigade shapes up, we should try to have at least some Cuba solidarity action going on wherever we can.
Lastly we should note the continued anti-communism in Europe, now directed towards the Communist Party of Hungary. This was condemned at the meeting of International Communist Parties in Belarus last week. It is worth noting that China joined and contributed to this meeting, a historic first that and follows on their Party’s 17th Congress.
Conclusions – a busy YCL Central Committee
What we are really hoping to do in this meeting is not have an idle discussion about the latest political machinations, but to get our entire league mobilized from the inside out about the core issues – Harper, and the fight for peace, jobs, and education as well as international solidarity.
This will require a sober reflection on our mass-work that begins with a real assessment of our forces on the ground.
We’ve been working hard – organizing new clubs in BC, holding a school in Alberta, support campaigns and running candidates under the Communist Party’s banner in both Manitoba and Ontario’s elections, and also getting active in the student politics in Quebec.
But we’ve got a lot of work to do – including discussion of schools and cadre development, YCL electoral work, recruitment and club building since convention, CEC administrative tasks, and Rebel Youth.
So lets get down to it!