Main Political Report on the current situation of the youth struggle, the way forward, and the contribution of the YCL-LJC
1. THE CAPITALIST ECONOMIC CRISIS IS NOT OVER: CAPITALISM IS CRISIS
Since our 25th Central Convention held in September 2010, probably the most important new developments have been, on the one hand, the consolidation of the austerity ‘recovery’ agenda by monopoly capitalism and, on the other hand, the uneven but dynamic uprisings and social explosions of protest. This contradiction is expressing itself internationally and across Canada with the Harper Conservative attack and the emergence of new grassroots resistance struggles.
The main target of this anti social offensive of capital is the working class. It also falls heavily on youth and students, indigenous people, women, immigrants and migrants, pensioners and the elderly, farmers, the extreme poor and marginalized sections of the people, and on all those reliant on the social functions and services of capitalist states - benefits won through many decades of hard struggle.
The abolishment of democratic rights and freedoms, like accessible education, goes hand in hand with the weakening of the conditions of our class.
The corporate media is not only complicit in this attack, but plays an important role in turning the entire reality of the economic crisis upside down and making it all seem natural and irreversible, like “common sense.” However, when these conditions are viewed through the lens of class analysis, the Big Lie of “There Is No Alternative” unravels and falls apart.
The Occupy movement, the Quebec Student Strike, Idle No More and the environmental struggle against pipelines and tankers pumping out Tar Sands oil are just the clearest examples of actions that have enlivened and reclaimed our streets in protest. While the response of these grassroots people’s movements over the past four years has been not been a sufficiently coherent and united fightback, it has produced precious volumes of popular experience and practical lessons as literally hundreds of thousands of people across the country, not least the youth and students, work together in struggle against the corporate offensive.
Despite the adverse conditions people face and the subjective weaknesses of the fightback, all these struggles show that a broad and popular mass of society rejects the new corporate austerity attack. Correctly, they are not counting on simply striking out the Harper Tories at the next federal election in 2015.
In order to reverse the attacks and shift to a counter-offensive, it is necessary that these struggles develop further and move beyond spontaneous protest towards an even broader united, militant and organized extra-parliamentary fightback with the labour movement at its core.
Nothing in nature stands still. Society cannot return to an earlier situation. Either the youth and student movement of today, with the working class and the people, comes out of the current economic crisis having made a significant advance — or we will be the generation which inherits a country stripped of its social assets and rights, robbed of the gains of 80 years of struggle, and facing the ‘scorched earth’ of climate change and ecological catastrophe. This is what is at stake for young people today.
With unity and militancy
In this framework of capitalist economic and environmental crises and the threat of war, we say that with militancy and unity we will build the youth and student fightback, helping as the YCL-LJC to give the youth struggle a sense of direction and perspective.
With unity and militancy, make a sharp break from the defensive posture and concession-style business unionism that characterizes too much of the labour movement, and turn towards mobilizing broad resistance to austerity, like the Common Front in Ontario and the Employment Insurance fight back on the East Coast and in Québec.
With unity and militancy, move the English-speaking student movement from defensive posturing to a visible and fighting force through escalating actions in a common direction, and likewise strive to bring the Québec student movement back into action.
With unity and militancy, put forward consistent anti-imperialist positions towards an independent foreign policy of peace and disarmament, while broadening and reactivating the peace movement.
With unity and militancy, strengthen the women’s movement by pushing beyond isolated struggles and academic analysis towards political demands and mass action.
With unity and militancy, expose the illusions promoted by social democracy that capitalism can be adapted to function healthily with a “human face” benefiting all people (i.e. via a Keynesian welfare state), and push for radical and progressive demands.
With unity and militancy, overcome the right-wing ideologies of racism, xenophobia and national chauvinism; sexism, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia; union bashing; and anti-communism which poison our movement.
We should bring this slogan and framework forward, through a rich and lively 26th Central Convention discussion, and into our daily analysis and strategic planning to strengthen unity and continue to help raise the level of mass struggle by youth and students.
Economic crisis, imperialist contradictions, and aggressions
The youth and students’ struggle is not identical to the class struggle of working people because it is also a democratic struggle, a multi-class struggle. But it must never be seen apart from the broader class struggle, and the main contradictions inherent in monopoly capitalism embodied in the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class. The capitalist economic crisis is the main characteristic of the global situation, and has created an emergency for the people’s forces and youth today. In this direction it is necessary to make a concise evaluation of the capitalist economic crisis that remains cardinal to understanding youth struggles today.
Six years after the onset of the economic crisis, global reports from the principle economies have been very poor, showing anaemic growth or stagnation. The economies of the U.S., the European Union and Japan, the “tripod” epicentre of this global crisis, remain stagnant or in decline. What has helped the Canadian economy can be reduced to the basic “force-feeding” which is sustaining the US economy with an 85 billion dollar injection that conjures up an image of recovery. For international finance capital, the situation is very sensitive; but it has not stopped them from openly snatching another pretext to extract major concessions from the youth, the working class and the people. As we said at our Central Committee meeting in March 2012 — the people are owed everything!
This crisis was not created by social programs or by the people. The reality is that the combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people (€217bn) exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the European Union between 2008 and 2010 (€200bn), Oxfam reported in January 2014. In fact, they said, the eighty-five richest people on the planet have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people. Consider Haiti, where the presence of U.S. military bases applies downward pressure on wages, and keeps things safe for garment manufacturers. Capital needs to shift between ‘peripheral’ and ‘core’ locations in the imperialist system in order to further the accumulation of capital.
The crisis has impoverished millions and idled a vast mass of human ability that have had no choice but to limit their patterns of consumption. Shrinkage of global demand has therefore followed. The pro-capitalist politicians have largely exhausted their current set of policy toolboxes like “stimulus spending” and “austerity cuts”. Hope that recovery would be swept in by robust capitalist economic growth in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS) seems to have melted into thin air this winter as these and other emerging economies face financial turmoil and are now re-labelled “fragile five” and “exposed eight.”
This has not prevented widely publicized super-optimistic claims by the spokespeople of the big capitalists. We can parse the major discourse of big business and this crisis and identify three basic, if not crude, allegations:
a. We are in a recovery and there is light at the end of the tunnel; i.e. just wait out the storm;
b. We are protected from the crisis and insulated from further problems; i.e. don’t worry be happy;
c. The reason for continued “recession” is social program expenditures and “low consumer confidence”; i.e. we are to blame.
Most strikingly, last fall Ireland’s Prime Minister announced the country had “exited the recession” - but youth unemployment remains at 25% in Ireland. A week later, Spain’s Prime Minister made the same statement. But January 2014 youth unemployment in Spain hit a record 57.7%, surpassing Greece.
Even Europe’s skyrocketing youth unemployment is surpassed in other regions. The highest regional youth unemployment in the world is in the Middle Eastern and North African region where youth unemployment averages at 25%. Youth make up 40% of the unemployed globally. To put a face on these statistics, this means living without access to proper meals, housing, sanitary conditions like toilets — and higher suicide.
Not only capitalism, but also social democracy seeks to stop the further exposure of its exploitative, aggressive and predatory nature — through the empty hope of a ‘Keynesian economic solution.’ Populist news announcers, late night TV hosts, movies and pop culture often recognize how bad things are, but wrongly conclude that these economic policies simply come from ‘bad policy,’ ‘poor political choices,’ ‘bad management,’ or ‘bad apples,’ or the ‘wolves on Wall Street.’ While American political satirist Jon Stewart, or French best-selling author and economist Thomas Piketty may appear to propose a radical rupture from the status quo, they are actually offering just another diluted and weak brand of reformism, endorsing capitalism. Identifying those elements, which seek to co-opt the movement toward social democracy or liberalism, to bring it back under the reign of what is acceptable to the existing regime of capital, helps distinguish between what Lenin laid out as ‘friends and enemies of the people.’ On the contrary, these ‘bad’ policies are a result of how state-monopoly capitalism objectively functions today. Capitalism is crisis.
The 2007 crisis was not simply a crisis of the banks. It was a crisis of systemic proportions. Capitalism is in a process of constantly modernizing production with automation and new technologies. This has the inevitable effect of, in the long run, reducing the amount of surplus labour time required in production and the rate of surplus value. The massive accumulation and centralization of capital seen over the last century has, relatively speaking, an enormous glut of capital. This glut has presented a major problem to the capitalists — where can it be invested? After all, the capitalists themselves can only spend a tiny fraction on luxury yachts, etc. and they want their capital to grow, reinvesting surplus value to make more profit. While the absolute amount of capital is increasing, the rate of profit is not.
It is important to remember that from the capitalist point of view, what is important is always the percentage return on investment. The capitalists maintain huge stashes of under-utilized capital. Sometimes they find somewhere to invest it with a good return. A good example is Alberta Tar Sands, and this too was speculative and has cooled down.
Other ways — like loans, so-called investment vehicles hedge funds, investment funds, asset-backed commercial loans, etc. — are another attractive place into which to pour this capital in order to get a strong rate of return. However, debt is air. Commodification of debt, and financialization is generating return from non-productive capital. In fact, there has been a growing contradiction between the actual revenue earning capacity of these investments and how much they are valued on the stock market to the point that the stock value of corporations has almost no relation to what the company actually produces. Therefore you have bubbles. Speculation on stocks has clearly moved beyond supply and demand. Wealth increased – but not economic output. Finance has become supreme as the dominant sector of the world economy. The continued relevance of Marx’s formulations is clear, like the tendency of the general rate of profit to fall, super exploitation and super profits, the process of valorising capital, etc.
For some time, neo-liberal policies artificially inflated values, helping transfer investment into such speculative activity. As the CEC said addressing a meeting of comrades in BC in 2012, “Over the last 40 years, corporate profits have skyrocketed, and big business has paid less and less taxes to the State. By eroding the tax system, keeping wages down, speeding up the working day, busting unions, privatizing profitable parts of the public sector, and breaking into new markets through trade agreements and even war, the capitalists hoped to survive systemic contradictions.” But this only forestalled the onset of the crisis for a number of years and helps explain why certain manifestations of the crisis, such as the Asian Meltdown in 1997-98, the Dot Com, and other economic events could be localized and stabilized.
Whether in the form of the velvet glove of “welfare state” reformism or the iron fist of neoliberal reaction, the policies of finance capital and its state have merely created new contradictions. For Marxists, ‘the balance of forces’ and the oscillation in popularity of different forces of opportunism – i.e. anarchism and social democracy, and where and when they dominate -- reflects the irreconcilability of contradictions inherent in capital.
Therefore, as the Communist Party of Canada said in its most recent 37th Central Convention analysis, the reason for the acute and protracted nature of the crisis is three-fold. 1) It is a crisis of overaccumulation of capital, due to the very high degree of financialization of the capitalist economy and its internationalization combined with an insufficiency of global demand; 2) it is truly global in scale, affecting all major imperialist centres simultaneously, and cascading down to the BRIC countries which are lower on the imperialist pyramid and all other national and regional economies; and 3) it merges with and further aggravates other structural crises under capitalism — i.e. food prices, environmental crises, etc.
This is why we can forecast that there is no sustainable recovery in sight.
Capitalism is a system without democratic social planning, which as Engels said produces an “anarchy of capital” which is the cause of the crisis – of misery, exploitation, unemployment, poverty wages, and environmental devastation around the world.
The kind of alternative and revolutionary vision that the YCL must continue to put forward is that youth and student unity with labour and people’s movements can defeat austerity, and push big business back onto the defensive — a framework that connects immediate struggles with the necessary broad struggle for a people’s alternative agenda. The relevance of youth unity and demands like the Charter of Youth Rights has not diminished in order to build unity around a counter-offensive program.
Through building unity around a people’s agenda, the working class and their allies build their capacity to struggle and gain the strength necessary to win socialism, putting working people in the driver’s seat for the first time in Canada. Communism and socialism are not words to be embarrassed of and we advance them proudly – capitalism is the real failed system. As Fidel once said: “They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?
In a socialist Canada, the principal means of producing and distributing wealth will be the common property of society as a whole. The exploitation of labour will be abolished. Ecological degradation will be stopped, and a planned approach to the relationship of human life with the natural environment will be implemented. Want, poverty, insecurity, discrimination, imperialism and war, rooted in capitalist exploitation, will be ended. Socialism will realize a new society based on solidarity, equality and emancipation.
As it develops, socialism will provide the real basis for communism, a classless society, in which for the first time in history, the free all-round development of each individual can be the condition for the development of all.
The growing aggressiveness of imperialism
The past period has also confirmed the relationship between capitalist economic crisis and war. Indeed, we remain in a critical moment for peace and progressive forces worldwide. As the Final Declaration of the successful 18th World Festival of Youth and Students said in December:
Imperialism continues its aggression with new means, new methods, as well as the traditional methods of wars, occupations and military interventions. The imperialist war machine has never stopped working in order to serve the interests of the monopolies for expansion to the markets of resources and energy routes. In the past few years, militaristic expansion has grown all over the world. The capitalist crisis is worsening the need of monopolies for intensifying the imperialist aggressions and expansion of wars, as it creates realignments in correlation of forces, intensification of in[t]er-imperialist contradictions and competitions. The rise of emerging forces that compete with the traditional imperialist forces is increasing the tensions.
This a process that has been on-going since the sudden, and largely unanticipated counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe tremendously weakened the anti-imperialist and pro-peace forces, “opening up” huge areas of the world to pillage by global capitalism. Inter-imperialist conflict therefore increased in this scramble, while the US was clearly prominent. A period of almost unchallenged U.S. dominance followed. Although allied to the U.S., Japan and the EU also formed influential imperialist poles. Other imperialist countries have started to become more powerful, including China and Russia. Despite this U.S. imperialism is still predominant. The increasing tension between the various imperialist states has shown itself clearly in proxy conflicts in countries like Syria and Ukraine.
The Cold War military alliance of NATO — imperialism’s “visible fist” — acquired a renewed direction and orientation especially in the crucible of the early years of the NATO occupation of Afghanistan (now in its 14th year), weakening and distorting the United Nations to provide much needed moral and political cover for, in fact, illegal aggression.
In particular, the justification of “Responsibility to Protect” or R2P has become justification for violation of sovereignty and international law. According to the Canadian Peace Congress:
While expansion and violence are constant features of imperialism, the current sharpening economic crisis has compelled capitalists to increasingly pursue military-based solutions. In part, this is related to the massive profits that can be quickly derived from a military economy. Beyond that, this increased aggressiveness also has the aim of co-opting and coercing popular movements, establishing new intelligence bases in strategic regions of the world, facilitating blockades and direct military involvement in foreign countries, and seeking out new pretexts for interference and war.
In Africa, imperialism’s renewed interest has been very clear with the establishment of the US military command structure AFRICOM, the French-led intervention in energy-resource rich Mali and the NATO / US bombing and “Regime Change” overturning the Libyan government and throwing Libya into chaos with its vast oil wealth open to be looted. China is also an increasingly powerful imperialist power in Africa, with huge investments in resource extraction and large-scale 'development aid' to African states tied to Chinese economic priorities. The U.S. and China are now competing for influence in many areas of Africa. Meanwhile, Western Sahara remains the Kingdom of Morocco’s prisoner with an occupation supported by the US, France and Spain that has forced tens of thousands of Sahrawis into refugee camps. We met with many anti-imperialist and progressive forces from across the continent at the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students in Tshwane, South Africa, in December 2010, which honoured revolutionary Nelson Mandela (whose freedom the YCL campaigned for, despite his official status as “terrorist” in Canada during the years of Apartheid).
The Canadian delegation had just returned from the 17th WFYS when the mass mobilizations in Tunisia and Egypt began. As we said at the time, “the Arab Spring uprising has been an inspiration to not only to the Arab National Liberation movement but to all political activists and working people across the globe.” Since then, North Africa and the Middle East have seen a concerted effort by imperialism to co-opt the forces of the Arab Spring
US imperialism maintains massive political, economic and military support of Zionist Israel, an apartheid state, a nuclear power, and the key ally of United States. Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine remains one of the greatest barriers to peace both in the region and internationally. In the face of an even sharper pro-Israel turn in the Harper Conservative’s foreign policy, the YCL continues to call for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the complete withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories, dismantlement of the settlements and the Apartheid wall, lifting the siege on Gaza, respecting the 1967 Green-line boundaries, the full right of return for refugees, the release of all Palestinian prisoners, and a de-nuclearized Israel guaranteeing peace and security with neighbouring Arab states. The YCL respects the self-determination of the Palestinian people themselves and will continue to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement until Palestinians achieve their full liberation.
In particular, imperialism is seeking to destabilize the Middle East and to continue to fragment states as with Iraq, expressed through its “New Middle East Policy” to seize oil routes and energy resources. This is what is behind the frequent sabre-rattling towards Iran. As we said in our March 2012 Central Committee, “Iran has an official policy of ‘no first strike’ and hasn’t started a war of aggression, unlike the US and Britain – or Israel. It is these countries that are failing to fulfil their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty - which requires them to scrap their own nukes.” The YCL calls on all states to find a peaceful, negotiated solution to this problem and for Canada to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. This in no way confers support for the Iranian fundamentalist regime, which has committed numerous and on-going violations of the human, labour and democratic rights of the Iranian people, and the YCL expresses its full support for the democratic, secular and progressive forces of Iran in their struggle for a just and democratic transformation of their country.
The United States, Canada, and other imperialist powers, as well as Turkey and the Gulf States, have been fuelling a bloody civil war in Syria arming thugs, militias and other opposition groups to destabilise the country. At first, the basis for broad non-violent protests in Syria was created by neo-liberal reforms implemented by the government in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as very long-lasting limitations on democratic expression imposed with justification of the constant threat of war from Israel. Shortly after these protests emerged, imperialism successfully co-opted sections of the movement and started arming sectarian groups. On the one hand, the failure of this tactic of imperialism using proxies to overthrow the government has been set back not only militarily, but also because of “the rebels” deepening isolation from the Syrian people, and their international exposure as foreign mercenaries and terrorists. On the other hand, the US-led drive towards a direct military strike has been forestalled through a combination of global public opposition, commitments by Russia and China to block UN Security Council approval for a strike, and the international isolation of the US and its relatively small group of allies, including Canada.
The US position about chemical weapons was always pretext and hypocrisy. The US has produced no more proof since August that Sarin Gas was deployed by the Syrian government. It has about 8,000 active nuclear warheads, is arming Israel with nuclear programme likely more advanced than Britain and France, and since 1945 has used chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons against other states, nations and peoples at will. Sanction and arms sales to the militias must both be stopped, an immediate ban placed on arms sales to states sending arms to Syrian right-wing paramilitary groups, Syria’s right to self-defence recognized, and a diplomatic resolution found.
In the imperialist centre of Europe, the vicious assault on the people in the form of austerity continues in the wake of the capitalist crisis with no end in sight. In Greece, the Communist Party and PAME (the All Workers Militant Front) have led mass mobilizations in opposition to EU and IMF austerity policies, which have drastically reduced people’s wages, social services and living standards. In Spain, where youth unemployment is now 50%, there has been a mass fight back including the birth of the “indignants” movement. The Eurozone as a whole now has an official youth unemployment figure of 24.4%, which is showing more and more people that there is no future under capitalism.
The unequal effects of crisis in the capitalist centres (i.e. Germany, France) and the so-called "periphery" (i.e. Greece, Italy, Portugal, etc.) are the result of the uneven regional and national development. The EU itself is not a homogeneous imperialist bloc but has its own inter-imperialist contradictions that have become exacerbated by the crisis, with the German pillage of Greece as perhaps the starkest example.
Where Communist and progressive movements are united and militant the fightback has been successful in turning back some of the worst austerity measures. However, ultra-right nationalist, fascist and neo-Nazi forces have grown in strength and threaten to retain capitalism through force and violence directed at the European people. Capitalists have shown once again that they will support fascist movements when it furthers their imperialist interests. The most recent example of this is EU and US support for fascist organizations and parties in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian crisis will only continue to escalate between the imperialist powers, foreshadowing perhaps more conflicts in other regions. We must thwart imperialist agendas; highlight their contradictions, particularly between Canada’s military budget and the attack on education. We must make Canadians avert their eyes from nationalist causes and turn them inward—convert the imperialist conflict into a civil conflict. As the YCL-LJC, we must commit to Ukrainian solidarity activism, while promoting other demands, such as the right to education.
We demand that:
a. The Canadian government withdraw our troops, jets, and warship from Eastern Europe.
b. Canada renounce its membership in NATO.
c. Canada change its focus of budget spending from the military to education.
The Asia-Pacific region, home to the two most populous countries in the world and therefore gigantic markets, is also of great interest to imperialism. The vast majority of container ship traffic now transverses the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The US “Pivot to Asia” strategy is repositioning its Navy so 60% of its warships, virtually all equipped with nuclear weapons, are assigned to the Pacific. Its proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to create the world’s largest free trade area. A key site of resistance to the Asia Pivot is the Philippines, where a wide range of revolutionary and anti-imperialist struggles are taking place and large numbers of people are being mobilized through organizations like the National Democratic Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The US encirclement of Russia, and especially China, is the key geopolitical objective. China is a particular strategic enemy for imperialism. US insistence on denying even a peace treaty to the DPR Korea and crushing the country through sanctions, the intimidation and provocation of war games, and other aggressions were never just strategies in a local conflict. Despite the presence of tens of thousands of US troops on its borders with terrifying military equipment including nuclear weapons, despite regular, provocative joint military exercises with its South Korean client state, despite the vivid memory of the carpet bombing, napalming and germ warfare against the DPRK during the war and the loss of five million lives, the leadership of the country has consistently called for a peace. This peace treaty would formally end the war, reunify the country divided by the US in 1945, end the US occupation of the south and the joint military exercises, and it would support bilateral talks to ease tensions between the US and the DPRK. The YCL supports these just demands.
At the time of our last Central Convention, we said that Latin America is heading in the opposite direction than imperialism. This process, with socialist Cuba, Venezuela, as well as Ecuador, Bolivia and other countries — including soon perhaps Chile — has deepened over the past four years despite the great loss of revolutionary Comandante Hugo Chavez.
One of the shining lights is socialist Cuba, which directly suffers from an anti-communist economic blockade by the US, with extra-national impact including on Canada-Cuba trade. Just 45 minutes of the blockade stops the equivalent in funds to purchase all the materials needed to build a school in Cuba. In striking contrast with the capitalist austerity budgets, Cuba has recently undergone an intensive countrywide discussion involving hundreds of thousands of people about their difficult situation. We said at our July 2011 CC that “the Cubans are cognizant of the uniqueness of their history and current situation, and aware of what went wrong in the Soviet Union. They are avoiding sweeping, unfocused, top-down, divisive changes, keeping the reform process democratic, measured and focused on improving economic performance.” In 2012, we sent a comrade to Cuba as part of a Communist Party of Canada delegation. Her conclusions were that the economic reforms were part of a policy of struggle against existing economic conditions and contradictions — imperialism, the blockade, the effects of the world recession — and were being done within a web of regulations, limitations and taxation.
Perhaps the most recent positive news from Latin America has been the Havana talks, and the peace process in Colombia. Negotiations have been a long-standing demand of FARC-EP. Already the outcome has lead to agreement on land reform, which, although far from perfect, will hopefully next lead to democratic reforms and ultimately a constituent assembly and curb further US influence in the region.
The magnificent mobilization by the students of Chile, which saw hundreds of thousands of students, workers and other social groups, has now defeated of the right-wing government at the polls, replacing it by a centre-left government which includes our comrades in the Chilean Communist Youth Karol Cariola, their General Secretary, and student leader Camila Vallejo.
In Venezuela and Ecuador, as well as several other countries across Latin America, the anti-imperialist process is both asserting the country’s sovereignty and breaking with US domination. The process is most advanced in Venezuela, and that is precisely why US imperialism is trying desperately to destabilize the country through another coup attempt. In Ecuador the economy is modernizing in a framework that is anti-neoliberal and anti-monopoly while still capitalist. These processes are contradictory; reforms that have enacted major gains in labour and democratic rights, enshrined in a new constitution, have helped to unleash and strengthen the people’s forces including the communists.
It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students be convened this time in Latin America, at Quito, Ecuador, home of the “citizen’s revolution.” The festival encapsulated this spirit of resistance across Latin America and the world, again successfully bringing together the largest and most diverse international action by progressive youth rejecting and condemning imperialism.
Canadian imperialism supports the interests of Canadian capital and enhances US imperialism. Canada supported the war in Libya to supplement US imperialism and also increase profits for Canadian companies like Suncor, Canada’s largest energy corporation. Canada joined the USA and France in supporting the coup in Haiti in 2004 and continues to occupy Haiti to protect the interests of Canadian capital, including the Canadian garment corporation, Gildan, and its conditions of sweatshop labour. In Afghanistan, Canadian corporations are exploiting a country rich in natural resources, with mineral deposits estimated to be worth one trillion dollars, after the Canadian military occupied Afghanistan for 12 years. This occupation supported a brutal warlord regime, devastated a country that now has the worst rate of infant mortality in the world, and with along its NATO allies, killed uncounted thousands of Afghans.
Three quarters of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. Canadian mining corporations operate thousands of mining operations outside the country, violently displacing communities and destroying the environment. There are almost 50 Canadian mining companies in Colombia displacing thousands of people and propping up a repressive regime that has killed over 3,000 labour activists over the last 25 years. In 2011 Canada signed a free trade deal with Colombia and has increased military ties with the country.
The desperation and violence of the imperialist system is a feature of its weakness. The peoples of the world, in the majority, actively reject war, militarism, aggression, and colonialism. They are demanding instead peace and solidarity, sovereignty and social transformation. In its most advanced form, this is the revolutionary struggle against capitalism and socialism.
Environmental crisis and climate change
Environmental problems are increasingly urgent crises that are impacting the struggles while operating on a global level. In every region of the world human beings are intensely more affected by environmental losses and pollution, with the poorest citizens being most adversely affected. In imperialist nations and more relatively affluent areas, pollution is driven forward by the hyper consumption that the capitalism encourages. The March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is one tragic example, which lead to 500 disaster-related deaths, and released a large amount of radioactive material into the Pacific. Some of this radioactive material is now is the massive oceanic trash vortexes — gyres of floating garbage, toxic sludge and tiny plastic debris, with two in the Pacific, two in the Atlantic and one in the Indian Ocean — are poisoning marine life and the food chain. All these pollutants are sources for major health problems like cancer and death, especially in children. Industrial and urban discharge, runoff and spills, and air pollutants affect the health of hundreds of millions of people, equivalent to a global disease epidemic. Water pollution alone causes an estimated 14,000 deaths a day, which is equivalent to the city of Peterborough dying each week. The poorest countries by far have the worst crises.
Pollution is that which is disposed of into the environment by human activity. The economists call this disposed of material “externalities”. That is to say, “an externality is that which an economic agent creates by its production which causes an effect external to it for other people, without monetary compensation, utility or some other gratuitous benefit – on the contrary, a disutility or damage without compensation”.
The existence of "externalities" is due to the fact that the production of goods is private. Not being socialized, the sole impact of production that is considered is profit. The rest – the waste, the destruction of the environment, the deaths of workers, and the fish stocks of the oceans - are seen only in relation to individual and disembodied profit. Production is social, the consequences are social, and the recipient of production is society as a collective, but the direction of production is private. For capitalism itself the consequences of human production are external to it. But how can human activity be external to humanity? They are not, of course. It is here that there is a contradiction between capitalism and the environment.
For a capitalist, there will never be a reason to preoccupy oneself with industrial waste outputs. Despite the multiple interventions by governments, most capitalists have done the simple calculation that it is more worthwhile to pay a fine (or a bribe) than to conform to already far too timid emissions laws. This was the case with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico with the oil company BP in 2010.
There is no advantage in capitalism to produce durable goods, because perpetual consumption is essential to the continued circulation of the system. The constant transformation of production towards increasing waste is actually a positive trend from the point of view of the capitalist. Our iPhones will always be broken and replaced. Repairing an object will always be more expensive than replacing it. Planned obsolescence is a gold mine. But who deals with the waste? The capitalist is no longer responsible for an object once an individual has purchased it. And yet, the dumping grounds are public resources, as are the soil and the air where these leftover products go to rest. The destruction of the environment in this way is nothing but another “externality” for capitalist system.
Certain reformist ecologists will see in government regulations the ultimate solution to this question. But how many inspectors must the governments employ to adequately supervise and regulate global production? How can we envision regulation as a solution to these problems of “externalities” while the capitalist states devastate us with their austerity measures making highly urgent reforms more difficult to be maintained? Socially planned production – which is in itself already social – is the solution.
Scientists are also warning of the steady erosion of species and biodiversity caused by habitat destruction, invasive species, overexploitation, genetic pollution and climate change. We are talking here about the results of millions of years of evolution being wiped out in an irreversible catastrophe that has significant impact on humans.
If youth and progressive forces had needed further proof about the relationship between social-economic crises and the environment, the world food price crisis of 2007-2008 clearly showed
The way in which food production is handled under capitalism is typical of the waste and abuse of this moribund system. Not only is a vast amount of food simply junked while billions either starve or struggle in both rich and poor countries, the very framework for its production is irrational, chaotic, and enormously environmentally destructive. The reason for this is, of course, what lies at the heart of food production under capitalism: the creation of profits rather than the satisfaction of human need in a sustainable manner.
The meat industry, in particular, currently embodies all that is destructive, abusive and exploitative about food production under capitalism. It is an industry that not only over-utilizes a vast amount of precious fresh water resources, but also produces a potentially unmanageable amount of pollution, as well as contributing to species depletion, habitat destruction and deforestation (particularly in central and south America). It is an industry that has perhaps the very worst record of worker abuse, low pay, and the super-exploitation of migrant workers.
The ever-intensifying, industrial scale of “factory farming” is compounding all these extremely serious problems, and is also resulting in the horrendous treatment of farm animals. All this in the name of profits for a few, and misery for the rest.
A planned, democratically controlled system of food production built along socialist lines is the only way to manage the needs of a growing global population in an equitable manner and correct the abuses of this industry.
News headlines are replete with climate change-related events like super Typhoon Haiyan last winter, or that Australia has experienced such extreme heat that it had to add a new colour, purple, to its temperature map last January. In fact, last autumn a UN scientific body, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), announced they now had ‘unequivocal’ evidence that linking climate change to “human activity” and that the world faced a catastrophe in two or three decades if there are not drastic cuts in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.
Around the same time, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii announced atmospheric levels of the main GHG, Carbon Dioxide or CO2, are now at 400 parts per million up from less than 350 ppm just fifty years ago and approaching the danger zone of 425-450 ppm and a potentially deadly increase of global temperature by more than 2° Celsius. CO2 levels were last this high about 3-5 million years ago; a long-term record that shows how sensitive the earth’s climate is to CO2 levels. As temperatures rise, unpredictable feedback loops could begin such as what scientists call the “Arctic Methane bomb” when ice sheets melt releasing that powerful GHG in huge quantities.
The crisis we described four years ago as “one of the foremost pressing environmental problems” has thus gotten much worse.
Drastically, the IPCC is floating proposals such as keeping two-thirds of known fossil fuel resources in the ground. Corporate economists figure such government implemented climate change reforms could trigger another economic crisis as the now-inflated value of such stranded oil, gas and coal resources would collapse. This “carbon bubble” is both a pretext for fear mongering and foot dragging, and an objective contradiction the capitalists resolve the climate change crisis, which is reflected in the complete failure of negotiated agreements so far.
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of a groundbreaking 1988 international policy conference on ‘the changing atmosphere’ in Toronto, which stated, “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.” That conference recommended a drop of 20% below 1988 levels of GHGs by 2005. However, four years later, the UN Rio conference would put into motion the “Conference of the Parties” or COP process leading to the Kyoto Protocol, which set a much lower objective: only 6% below 1990 levels by 2012 and commodified GHGs, introducing the mechanism of carbon trading.
Yet even these levels have not been met and carbon trading has now been proven as totally ineffective. The 2009 fifteenth Conference of the Parties or COP-15 in Copenhagen forecast that Kyoto was not being achieved, proposed yet again lower targets, and sharply brought forward questions like can developing countries can afford to forgo industrial development? Could they control the big transnationals even if they wanted to? How would legally enforceable agreements actually be enforced? And, how can a treaty be reached when the big imperialist countries have not only violated past agreements but done a backslide?
Those youth who have found the resources to attend the COP meetings and tried to engage with the process (civil society groups and NGOs have a 1 minute speaking time allocated to participate at certain points) have found themselves not only excluded but sometimes banned for several COP conferences for their remarks. At COP-19 in Warsaw last December, 800 members of environmental groups walked out in protest as the meeting refused to set a target schedule, and adopted “nationally determined contributions”, instead of “commitments” to reduce GHGs.
The promises of reduced admissions or “mitigation” by the rich countries have not materialized while so-called “climate aid” funds have either never came or have now dried up.
These “adaptation” plans, trying to deal with the problems created by climate change like rising water levels, were supposed to be funded by the large imperialist countries for basically the rest of the world. China’s own GHG emissions have been over 20% since 2005, when it surpassed the US as first in the world, although both on an historic and per capita basis China at of 6.2 metric tonnes per capita and 30 years of industrial growth is far behind the contributions of Canada (19.8), the US (17.6) and Japan (9.2) which have all been major industrial polluters for almost one hundred years. China is also the fourth largest producer of wind power globally and the first largest maker of wind turbines and solar panels.
On the environmental crisis and climate change, scientists and scientific research are enormously important for making people aware of the issues and combating the crisis. In the Canadian government’s agenda to move forward with environmentally unsustainable resource extraction, like the Tar Sands, they have put forward policies that actively work against scientists doing research to keep the public informed. Severe federal budget cuts to programs increasingly prevent scientists from doing research or even having a job.
The research cuts include programs that examine climate change, oil spills, food safety, water quality and countless others; this puts the public at risk. Even scientific libraries are not safe with the shutting down of 7 out of the 9 Department of Fisheries and Oceans research libraries, hundreds of books thrown into the trash or taken for private collections. Decades of priceless research collected for public use forever lost. In an environment where “90 per cent of federal scientists do not feel they can speak freely about their work” the attack on scientific research for the public good is clear.
From our perspective, the way forward has to recognize that capitalism created this crisis and that a clear and deep change in paradigm is necessary — not rhetorical but revolutionary in scope. The attack to the sustainability of the environment will never be truly stopped under a capitalist framework. Instead, forms of “market regulation” have resulted in a transfer of GHGs rather than any meaningful reduction. Climate justice means Canada, the US, the European Union, Japan, and major capitalist countries have the first obligation including the unrestricted transfer of eco-friendly technologies and even climate reparations.
These major aspects of the environmental crisis and climate change cannot be resolved under the capitalist system, making the question of socialism so urgent! As we said in the editorial of the December 2013 Rebel Youth magazine, “given the global character of contemporary capitalism, struggles waged in each country must be combined to an ever greater extent with coordinated regional and global forms of struggle. An international democratic and anti-imperialist front is urgently required ... based on the principles of peace, non-aggression, and global disarmament; respect for the sovereignty of all states; for the equality and rights of all nations, large and small, the peaceful coexistence of different social systems, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; fair and balanced trade and economic cooperation; respect and promotion of cultural diversity; and protection of the environment.” This should act as a framework for understanding our work with international youth coalitions and federations.
2. THE CORPORATE ATTACK ON YOUTH IN CANADA
Young people searching for a concrete example of the attack by big business in Canada have to look no further than the last three budgets of the Harper Tories: liquidating basic labour and environmental regulations and offering in exchange the promise of further privatization, precarious work, unemployment, inaccessible education, and the shackles of prison or cannon-fodder in new imperialist wars.
In many ways, our claim as the YCL-LJC has been confirmed: every problem confronting the youth is connected with the serious political problems in Canada, the Harper government’s anti-people and anti-environment austerity agenda, and the capitalist economic crisis. The way the problem is presented is either / or: it’s accessible education or health, either money for youth or money for seniors. This is a false paradigm.
Attack on organized labour is an attack on youth
As the Communist Party wrote in its May Day statement last year, from the perspective of the ruling class, the weakening of the trade union movement is the key to reducing the cost of labour power, and not only among organized workers. They know that such reductions will put tremendous downward pressure on the wages and incomes of all workers, most of whom have no union protection. Finance capital realizes that the labour movement — because of its size, resources, ability to take job action, and organization — is the only social / class force capable of uniting broad sections of the people against its offensive.
The first target of the new Harper majority after the 2011 election was organized labour (CUPW, the Air Canada and CP Rail workers, etc.). The second target in 2012 was Employment insurance. The Harper Conservatives “war on labour” in the federal jurisdiction gave a green light to right wing provincial and municipal governments to demand that workers yield concessions or face the legislative hammer, such as Ontario’s attack on the bargaining rights of teachers. Since 1982, federal and provincial governments in Canada have passed 199 pieces of legislation to restrict, suspend or deny collective bargaining rights. What is qualitatively new is the speed, ferocity and punitive nature of these legislative attacks.
At its core, this offensive aims at crippling and ultimately destroying the organized labour movement. The federal passage of C 377, requiring unions to disclose salaries, time spent on political activities and expenses, was only the beginning. There are now ominous signals that the Harper Conservatives are preparing to impose “right to work” legislation on all workers under federal jurisdiction. “Back to work legislation violates the basic rights of working people by subverting the rights of their unions to fair collective bargaining and the use of legal strike action,” we said when Harper’s first waves of attacks came against CUPW.
The shift to the use of temporary, non unionized workers, paid minimal wages and benefits, is part of a wider reactionary agenda which the Harper government, and its pro corporate counterparts at the provincial and municipal levels, are carrying through on behalf of finance capital. Their goal is to accelerate the accumulation of capital through every conceivable means (privatization, state-restructuring, corporate tax cuts, etc.), and to weaken and suppress working class and popular resistance. Positively, temporary workers can now unionize — at least in theory. There are three-times more temporary workers in Canada since 2002, and immigration from temporary workers has outpaced immigration on a route to becoming citizens.
At the same time, right wing forces fan the flames of racism, blaming migrants for high unemployment and declining living standards. The enemy of Canadian workers is not our sisters and brothers from other countries, but rather the anti worker policies of the federal government and the big corporations.
The other attack on workers outside of the organized labour movement is in cuts to Employment Insurance. These are not simply a cut in federal funding to a social program. They are cuts to a system into which all working people must directly pay into, no matter who they are, and which is intended to guarantee employment. The working class majority, whose sweat and toil by ‘hand and brain’ has produced all the wealth in this country, are being robbed.
The federal government has built up a huge surplus of $57 billion since the mid-1990s, the result of deep cuts in benefits paid to unemployed workers and rules that prevent most unemployed workers from qualifying for benefits at all.
In rural and coastal areas, like the homelands of the Acadian people, the government has never shown any interest in building infrastructure so that there can be work all year long. It is the work that is seasonal, not the workers, who are not to blame for the structure of the economy. Rather, EI is an essential subsidy to big capital in these regions to keep their work force afloat on “the pogey”.
The economic system imposed on us has brought with it a reduction in secure employment and a massive increase in precarious work
Mass unemployment benefits the wealthy by holding down wage rates. Marx called it ‘the surplus army of labour.’ This basic truth is behind the Harper government’s move to reduce access to Employment Insurance, by forcing jobless workers to apply for any available opening, regardless of qualifications and the conditions of the job.
Young Workers facing worse future than their parents
Young workers have been violently sucked into this economic ‘storm vortex’ which continues to sweep the world. To be sure, one line of thinking out of the capitalist class flat-out denies this reality. Consider the following headlines: The myth of the unemployed university graduate (Macleans, May 17th 2013), Youth unemployment could present opportunities (Sun News, July 10th 2013), The youth jobless recovery: good news at last? (Globe and Mail, July 3rd 2013).
This is a kind of un-reality for both young and old. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected economic growth in Canada for 2014 at a tepid 2.2%, receiving a lower than usual boost from the slightly better growth in the US. Job creation is so poor that employment is not keeping pace with the rise in the population, (which in Canada is driven by about 65% from immigration). The average jobs created per month between January and July 2013 was 14,000 while population growth per month is about 34,110.
The federal government’s Youth Employment Strategy, in place since 2006, barely touches the tip of the iceberg for struggling young workers in Canada. Just 1.5% of the 15-24 age group actually benefit from the job subsidies provided through the federal Youth Employment Strategy which is supposed help young people gain some work experience. The new 2014 budget reallocates existing Youth Employment Strategy funds to create a couple thousand paid internships, in small and medium sized businesses and industrial research while the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program – is about for profit and non-profit organizations mentoring young entrepreneurs.
Reports by Statistics Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives show that employment of youth aged 20 to 24 has actually got worse since the trough of the recession in July 2009. About 420,000 youth aged 15 to 24 — or nearly one in 10 young Canadians — are neither employed nor enrolled in school. More than 1 in 5 youth are still looking for work and can’t find it. In Ontario, it’s closer to 1 in 4. But the unemployment rate actually presents an overly positive picture when compared to the employment rate (graph 1). Those youth who are working, almost by half, have only found part time jobs (table 1).
At the same time, real wages for youth have fallen considerably. If we take the years 1981 to 2012, which is basically a generation and a half, employment rates for men under 25 not attending school full time have dropped from 72% to now 57%, with a change in median hourly pay rates (constant dollars) of -13%. Employment rates for women under 25 not attending school full time has fallen from just under 58% to 46%, with a change in median hourly pay rates of -8%.
That the prospects of the current generation, for the first time in Canada’s recent history, are be worse than their parents is a shameful indictment of the capitalist system. Moreover, these statistics show that the small progress in closing of the pay gap between young men and women is not because women’s incomes have been going up. Young people wind up stuck with their families, unable to start their own independent lives, and their parents wages effectively subsidize the capitalists.
Meanwhile, according to the CCPA the top 1 per cent of earners in Canada amount to just 275,000 individuals with an average income of $450,000 compared to only $36,000 for the whole Canadian population. Just as most Canadians are wrapping up lunch break on the first official work day of the year — 1:11 p.m. on January 2 — the average of the 100 highest paid CEOs will have already pocketed what it takes the average Canadian an entire year to earn.
It is therefore appropriate and positive that the struggles facing young workers are becoming a greater focus of the YCL, and is also a current campaign of the World Federation of Democratic Youth. In the past year, the YCL has focused on raising the minimum wage, especially in Ontario, and Employment Insurance.
As the YCL Ontario said in a statement on this question, “the main goal of the capitalist class is exploitation for profit by obtaining commodity labour as cheaply as possible. Our poverty is their profits.”
The current poverty minimum wage rates on the provincial and federal level are, in fact, a weapon directed at precarious workers and marginalized communities. They are tools reproducing the inequalities of racialized and gendered labour, disproportionately affecting women, immigrants, youth and workers of colour. Moreover, this pressure on the wages of the most marginalized sections of the working-class has a depreciating effect on the whole working-class.
Big business has always resisted rises in living standards and wages, and this can be seen in their opposition to any proposals to increase the minimum wage rates. Often bogey arguments like “prices will rise” and “we’ll lose small business jobs” are the favourite talking points of the ruling class.
In the first instance, we must acknowledge that the relation to wages and prices are not that simple. Wages to a strata of the working class in Canada (albeit a large one) aren’t the only purchasers of consumer goods. Furthermore, if we don’t fight, which is what the capitalists want, we have no chance of even keeping up with price hikes, which are increasing faster than wages.
As for the plea on behalf of small business (usually on the part of big business) the principal threat to small business is from monopoly capitalism, that over 50% of minimum wage workers work for businesses with over 100 employees, and that no-sized business should have the right to pay poverty wages.
Can you live on $10.25 an hour? Less than $330 a week take-home? That’s what most provincial governments are offering. But you wouldn’t be able to eat and pay the rent (unless you live in a rooming-house). Could you live on $14 an hour? $548 a week take-home? This is why the YCL demands that the federal minimum wage no longer be indexed to provincial rates and be set at $20 an hour which should be universal.
Federal and provincial austerity policies have had a crushing impact on people with disabilities. Discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities has long been called ableism. Historically, people with disabilities have been subject to confinement in oppressive institutions, impoverished, and even subject to forced sterilization. At least four million people in Canada have disabilities; half a million are of working age and have developmental disabilities. About one in twenty youth have a disability. In 2010 the Canadian government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Among other principles the Convention asserts respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy, and independence of disabled persons; non-discrimination; full and effective participation and inclusion in society; respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity; accessibility; and equality of opportunity.
However, while ratified the Convention is far from implemented. Youth with disabilities are more likely to have left high school early, and/or be unemployed. In general, people with disabilities who cannot work are subject to some of the worst conditions of poverty of any group, forming the largest number of people in Canada on social assistance. Currently the only Federal income program for workers in this situation is the Canada Pension Disability, which maxes out at $13,000 annually; most Canadians on disabilities and CPP are receiving less than $10,000 a year. The latest Conservative budget provides people with disabilities with tax benefits and continues the Registered Disability Savings Plan. For disabled students the government offers small loans and no more than $250 a month to help with expenses and even this small amount is complicated to access. Relatively few public services are accessible; even the Tory Minister responsible for disabilities was exposed to have an inaccessible office. Privatization and defunding programmes makes the situation worse, like in Ontario the freezing of the Ontario Disability Support Payment.
Capitalism reinforces ableism because it is incapable of organizing society in such a way that recognizes people’s different needs before the accumulation of capital. 'Disability' is a social construct, reinforced by capitalism. Physical or mental impairments only become 'disabilities' when social institutions operate in ways that prevent people with these impairments from participating in them. The capitalist system helps create these impairments through workplace injuries and imperialist wars. Capitalism requires human bodies and minds that function in particular ways, shaped by the requirements of production and accumulation. Those who do not fit these needs are marked out for stigma, harassment, discrimination and violence; in the most reactionary capitalist regimes they have been massacred. Even the welfare state, which has provided some benefits for people with disabilities, has put them in a position of dependence and made them vulnerable to cuts in these services. Only in a socialist society, dedicated to meeting everyone's needs, will people with disabilities achieve the autonomy, dignity and full participation in social life they have struggled for. The struggle against ableism and for the rights of persons with disabilities is a democratic struggle under capitalism, which advances the struggle for socialism. The YCL-LJC needs to continue to develop its policy in this area.
Xenophobia and Racism
Part of the political agenda of the Conservative government has been to harness and expand racist and xenophobic views. This can be seen in the Harper government’s sweeping immigration reforms. The path to citizenship has not only been closed further to migrant workers, but also to refugees. Refugee claimants are now told that their claims are invalid based on their country of origin. Immigrants facing violence based on sexual orientation and domestic violence are considered illegitimate. Health care coverage has been stripped away, leaving many with the choice of returning to violence or facing serious health consequences in Canada. The changes to the refugee policies have been accompanied by rhetoric about ‘bogus’ refugee claimants and fanning the xenophobic flames.
Non-status immigrants have absolutely no rights or protections and are left vulnerable to extreme exploitation and violence. Canada remains a country where the indefinite detention of immigrants is commonplace, with some detainees spending years locked-up before deportation, despite recent public outcries and detainee hunger strikes like those in Lindsay, Ontario.
There were more than 330,000 migrant workers were in Canada in June 2013 under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, and the conservative government aims to recruit more migrant workers who will have minimal labour protections and minimal chance of gaining permanent residence status. Migrant workers face hyper-exploitation by Canadian capitalists, face terrible working conditions, and make lower wages than Canadians with employers allowed to pay them 15 percent less than the average wage. They are tied to one employer, unable to take other jobs, allowing employers to further take advantage of them. They also are more at risk of workplace injuries and many live in terrible housing conditions. Many migrant workers who come to Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker’s Program (SAWP) do not have the right to unionize and collectively bargain, face exposure to pesticides, and work 12 to 15 hour days, six days a week. Migrant workers recruited by the Live-in-Caregiver program face extreme isolation from communities and no protection, resulting in high rates of physical and sexual abuse.
Racialized people face severe police repression and police brutality. Victims of police brutality include Sammy Yatim, an 18-year-old Toronto man who was recently shot 9 times and murdered by Toronto police causing outrage, and Fredy Villanueva who was shot and murdered by Montreal police in 2008. The number of visible minorities in Canadian prisons has increased by 75 percent over the past decade as the Harper government has intensified police repression with “tough on crime” policies.
Islamophobia is now becoming governmental policy with legislation such as the Charter of Values in Québec. The Harper government’s pro-war policies in the Middle East and South Asia, often justified in Islamophobic language wrapped in “humanitarianism”, as well as their close friendship with the racist-Zionist right-wing of the Israeli state, have certainly helped fuel Islamophobia across Canada.
Racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are convenient tools of the capitalist class. These forms of chauvinism divide the fightback, they create scapegoats by working to divide the working class while helping to justify imperialist ambitions abroad. For these reasons the struggle against racism and xenophobia are inseparably linked to the struggle against monopoly capitalism.
Attacks on Indigenous peoples and youth
For years, the ruling class has painted Canada as a happy and unified country where everyone gets a fair deal, including Indigenous peoples. But a new wave of Indigenous struggle has made it clear that Canada was built on the theft of Indigenous people’s land and resources, and that only genuine equality of all nations in this country, large and small, can begin to overcome this on-going genocidal policy.
Today, state power is in the hands of big business in Canada, facilitating the oppression of Indigenous nations, the plundering of natural resource wealth while leaving Indigenous people in poverty. The federal government has long denied Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination or self-government.
Recent policies of the Harper Conservatives have made matters worse. Budget bills C-38 and C-45 prompted mass united resistance in the form of Idle No More in the Winter of 2012-2013. Bill C-45 included changes to the Indian Act that makes it easier to lease out reserve land for economic development without adequate consultation with First Nations. Bill C-45 also, strips protections from 99 per cent of lakes and rivers under the Navigable Waters Protections Act. Many of these bodies of water are on First Nations land, and changes will allow it to be easier for capital to put pipelines across bodies of water. The Omnibus bills also replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with new laws that will limit First Nations involvement in environmental assessments on their own lands.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has recorded that there have been 1186 missing and murdered Indigenous women reported in the last 20 years. The Sisters in Spirit campaign across the country has demanded justice for these missing and murdered women whose cases have been shamefully ignored by the Canadian government. The United Nations has called upon the Canadian government to form an official inquiry, but the Harper government has continued to ignore this crisis. As we said in our 2011 solidarity statement with the Sisters in Spirit campaign:
Forced to act as increasingly broad number of people in Canada have been outraged by violence against Aboriginal women, the Harper Conservatives allocated $10 million “to address the issue of missing and disappeared Native women,” but re-directed it in November of last year away from the Sisters in Spirit and instead towards repressive policing efforts. This is also consistent with the government’s anti-women approach...
Indigenous women and girls remain more frequently subject to gendered violence, human trafficking, and other forms of abuse.
Indigenous peoples are more likely to be unemployed, paid lower wages, and earn less than the Canadian average. In 2006, the median income for Indigenous peoples was just below $19,000 - 30 per cent below the cross-Canada median of around $27,000. Indigenous unemployment is almost double the Canadian average.
Indigenous populations in Canada on reserve are also experiencing a clean water crisis: over 116 First Nations do not have clean water and 75 per cent of water systems are at medium to high risk. 40 per cent of First Nations homes are in need of major repair with an 85,000 home backlog. Indigenous peoples off reserve also often live in poor quality housing.
Life expectancy is 8-20 years less for Indigenous peoples due to extreme poverty. On average, 50 per cent of First Nations children live below the poverty line. Teen suicide rates are much higher among Indigenous youth. In Nunavut, the rate of death by suicide among Inuit is currently 10 times the Canadian suicide rate.
Many young Indigenous women and men also wind up in jail or on the streets. While 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population identifies as Indigenous, 20 per cent of the male prison population and 32.6 per cent of women prisoners are Indigenous.
The Harper government has continued to ignore treaties, give mining and oil companies blank cheques, continue unequal funding for education and housing, bury land claims, and in general exacerbate this crisis. In short:
A war has and continues to be waged against all Aboriginal peoples. A slow and steady genocide has been committed against First Nations, the Metis and Inuit peoples. We are all on Aboriginal land, and the idea of the treaties was to share and share alike what this land has to offer. Now it is time for the state and corporations to pay the rent! The concept of land ownership was unheard of, until colonial governments forced it upon Aboriginal peoples. Sharing and co-operation were trampled by capitalist values of exploitation of land, profit from misery and feelings of superiority. (Solidarity statement with National Aboriginal Day, 2009).
All these policies amount to genocide and can only be reversed by respect for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.
The attack on young women
After over a century of the women’s rights movement, Canadian women still make just 75 % of male salaries in Canada (which is not far from the global average of 70%). Likewise, women make up the vast majority in part time and precarious jobs (80% of part time workers in the world, 67.5% in 2009 across Canada). Since 1980, the number of women having part time jobs around the world has more than doubled, which is also true in Canada. Because of this situation, the 2013 Employment Insurance reforms of the Conservatives will most likely have a greater negative affect on women who in general have less access to programs based on the number of hours. Therefore, the job losses due to the economic crisis have especially affected young women through unemployment because of this gender divide but also increased violence against young women.
As women celebrate the 2014 International Women’s Day, many struggles they face are still long-haul demands. Large sectors of the economy and jobs are still closed to women, while other sectors have a very high concentration of women workers. The jobs are perceived as “women’s work” and it is no surprise that these jobs are overwhelmingly low-paid and precarious. Gendering labour is necessary for the continuation of women’s inequality.
Moreover, the responsibility of children and domestic tasks are still in majority done by women. Marxist-feminists call this the “double burden” of women. It is a reality which has become much more difficult as privatization shifts caregiving work more and more back into the home. Single-parent families are still mainly lead by women, especially young women.
The Conservatives have followed the lead of the federal Liberals (who abolished the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women and cut funding to the National Action Committee on the Status of Women NAC). On coming to power, the Harper Conservative also cut the proposed federal program for child care, at that point had not been only a demand of the women’s movement for decades but also a paper demand of most political parties for fifteen years, and replaced it with a system of tax credits inaccessible to working poor and unemployed women and men. A system of tax credits is not a childcare strategy and does nothing to create much needed spaces and provide support to parents who cannot afford it. The Tories then closed 12 of 16 offices of the Status of Women Canada, eliminated the funding of any women’s organization involved in advocacy, and amended the Act on Equitable Compensation to prevent the use of courts to advance pay equity.
The Tories have also continued the attack on both reproductive rights of women and women’s control over their own bodies. Since 1988 when abortion was decriminalized, about 40 motions were introduced in parliament. In 2012, the Woodworth motion, a Conservative MP’s so called “private member’s bill” was asking Parliament to declare a foetus a person under the law. If in legal terms women have the right to abortion, in really, a large number of women don’t have any access to abortion. For example, in Prince Edward Island, there is literally no clinic or any medical offices providing abortion services. Last year, at the 25 anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion, journalists were reporting in La Presse, “Discouraged, some women will go as far as thrashing and beating up their bellies or ingesting chemical cocktails to cause miscarriage.” Then last year, it was exposed that lobby groups against abortion had open access to the Prime Ministers office!
In the same trend, in some part of Canada, like in Quebec, sex education is cut from the curriculum of high schools.
Shelters for survivors of gendered violence continue to see their funding cut. Certain forms of violence are affecting in greater proportion women, such as harassment and sexual violence. In the last few years, the phenomenon of cyber intimidation against women has increased. Internet bullying is just one form of violence against women, with numerous high profile cases of Internet sexual bullying against young women, where even some have lead to suicide.
There has been an increase in reports of rape on campus and a systemic denial from university administration. Last fall CBC news exposed rape-chants on university campuses by Fraternity and Business students in BC and Nova Scotia. Rape is not, in most cases, committed by strangers in the street, but by men the women know and trust. Rapes do not only happen when a woman fights and says no; rape is any sex without consent. One of the most notorious incidents recently was the Steubenville High School rape case, where a young woman in the US who was raped and videoed by members of her high school football team while she was incapacitated by alcohol. This is a clear example of rape culture (see Infographic 1). After that terrible act, social and mainstream media went into overdrive defending the boys, talking about how the rape victim was cute, dressed sexually, was drinking, etc. (victim blaming) and was therefore responsible for her rape; while the story of the boys focused on their great future hopes now dashed by this mistake (apologizing). This kind of rape culture is lived by women every day, and it is also experienced on street with harassment. There is also real problem for women to report rape to police, difficult process for denunciation and throw the justice system, suspicion of false rape accusation.
The Quebec Charter of Values is another attack on women, but this time against Muslim women. The charter is a highly polarized bill launched by the PQ claims to defend and strengthen the secular state by prohibiting ostentatious religious symbols by all state employees (although Christian imagery in public places, like the gold cross in the National Assembly planted by ultra-right Quebec premier Duplessis, is protected in the Bill as heritage). The charter specifically targets Muslim women in a context of Islamophobia, which is shown through the various manifestations of racism, repeated attacks and intimidation of Muslim women wearing the veil. Despite the fact that no part of the Canadian state has a monopoly on racism, the corporate media has also used the Bill to whip-up anti-Quebec sentiment, again labelling the people of Quebec as backward. Although the Bill is happening in Quebec using narrow nationalist sentiment, a common rhetoric is heard all across Canada — for example to justify the war in Afghanistan — claiming that white Christian men must take on the burden of saving oppressed women from other nations or cultures. The YCL-LJC and the LJC-Q are strongly opposed to the Charter of Quebec values and support the fight by women to liberate themselves. Voices pretending to “save” women by imposing to them a code of dress are actually part of the attack on women that we describe earlier.
Attack on queer youth
Sexism importantly expresses itself in homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia. Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are often violent, confirming news of more gay-bashings in recent years. Despite the “It Gets Better” campaign, most LGBTIQ* students still report feeling unsafe at school, and prosecutors are often unwilling to prosecute vicious gay bashings as hate crimes. Transgender issues are gaining greater social understanding but as we said in our 2013 pride statement:
The cost of delaying full equality for trans people would be tragic. This is not a “marginal” issue; trans people are 10% of the LGBTIQ* population, and face huge medical costs, higher unemployment, less access to housing, widespread intimidation at work, and lack of legal protections.
Those who spread fear and bigotry are also not giving up. Despite attempts to hide their destructive social agenda, the Harper Tories aim not only to reverse queer rights but also the decades of hard fought gender equality gains by women. Right wing forces continue to scapegoat the LGBTIQ* community and racialized groups.
The situation of the young women and young workers in the context of the capitalist economic crisis in many way shapes the battles of the student movement today. Women, at least according to the 2006 Census, now account for about 60% of university graduates. And students are increasingly forced to take up part-time work in response to skyrocketing tuition fees and personal debt — all at the cost of their grades and extracurricular education, (including campus politics).
Vast and growing numbers of students and recent graduates are also being forced into super-exploitation with unpaid internships (The University of Toronto Students’ Union believes more than 300,000 students are “illegally misclassified” each year as interns, trainees and non-employees).
Tuition fee increases disproportionately impact the access of women to education, an example of social policy perpetuating gender inequality; on a life average, women will make $863,268 less than a man for the same diploma. This inequality is even greater for women from racialized and new immigrant communities. Greater barriers to post secondary education result in fewer women instructors and tenured professors, which can be reinforced by racist and sexist hiring practices.
“Behind the scenes,” the neo-liberal restructuring agenda of PSE is directly related to the capitalist’s class conceptualization of education not as a right and tool of emancipation but a commodity, which is integral to the production of a trained modern workforce. Simply put, the capitalists have decided they are paying too much for public education; not only has the burden of funding been directly shifted to the students and their families through user fees (i.e. tuition fees) but moreover a fundamental restructuring of so-called “superfluous” education, like liberal arts programmes, is taking place.
Thus, the debate about implementing the lessons of Europe’s Bologna process (and now attacks like France’s Fioraso Law in Canada and Quebec) which has produced ideas such as the Ontario Liberal’s albeit short-lived proposals like “three-cubed” of three-year degrees, increasing online education, now supplanted by “differentiation” of institutions which means academic restructuring towards privatization and corporatization, etc. This has nothing to do with better education nor is it driven by shortfalls in public revenue. “Integration of education with the labour market,” integration of research with corporate for-profit schemes, re-framing curriculum to be tailored to big employers interests, “slashing-and-burning” arts, humanities and women’s studies, etc. is a total redefining of education as an individual privilege, not a social right.
For Indigenous youth, the struggle for quality accessible education is linked to self-determination and sovereignty. After over 100 years of genocidal residential schools, Indigenous students’ demands include authority over the curriculum and the education process, including reinforcing traditional languages, culture, and identity. For many First Nations students’ education is not only a human right but also a treaty right, denied by the federal government. Although education funding for Indigenous students is a Federal treaty right there has also been a racist-funding cap imposed for many years, which continues to erode access to post-secondary education. The Harper government’s retooled First Nations Education Act, while critically supported by the Assembly of First Nations, has been criticized as basically amounting to the government again deciding what’s best for Indigenous people in schools. The attack on First Nations University in Saskatchewan is another one of many struggles, which was fortunately reversed.
High school youth also face severe underfunding while the bargaining rights of teachers across the country are under sharp attack. Underfunding of school boards, important structures of local autonomy and democracy, has lead to a push back from communities. In response, reactionary political parties are now proposing the complete elimination of local school boards, which would not be positive for education. Some school boards like Vancouver are under such funding pressure they are trying desperately to recruit international students. The Toronto school board has gone as far as establish a recruitment office in Beijing.
High schools are implementing user fees and fundraising to make up for severe underfunding. In Ontario, 91 per cent of high schools reported to charge “student activity fees” from $10 to $350 at the start of the school year in 2012. It is becoming more regular for courses to charge fees for course materials that are essential for the class and student athletes are forced to pay fees to play on a team. Meanwhile, Parents Councils are fundraising for essential school services, like musical instruments, renovations, and even computer labs. Ontario school boards reported in 2010 that their schools raised over half a billion dollars in, “school-generated funds.” User fees, course fees, team fees, and the increasing role parents are playing in fundraising for education is creating a system of “have” and “have not” public schools and the first step towards creating a two tiered, private and public, education system.
3. IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THE CURRENT YOUTH & STUDENT FIGHTBACK
Literally seventeen days after our last convention adjourned, Occupy Canada actions began in over thirty cities and again proving, as we said at the time, “that young people in Canada are not complacent and apathetic but can audaciously take on the 1%.” Occupy’s greatest strength was its message that Big Business was the enemy, not the so-called “high-paid” union worker or “job stealing” immigrant living next door.
The occupation camps were evicted — basically illegally — after a few months. But the empowerment of youth associated with the rallying call “we are the 99%!” contributed to ensuing struggles, like the Quebec Student Strike and Idle No More. Young people are still critically reviewing all these struggles as future actions are planned.
It’s tempting to try to search out one single solution for the challenges of movement building, like identifying structural weaknesses in union or campus organization; ignorance, inertia or apathy by membership; the lack of a particular tactic or slogan; or poor leadership lacking political will. Magic silver bullets, however, don’t exist.
The labour movement remains the key ally of youth
It is sometimes said that class consciousness is knowing who is with you on the barricades and class analysis is understanding why. The new social movements have reaffirmed how young people make up one of the most progressive, radical and dynamic forces in society – but we do not have the same place in the people’s struggle as the working class majority and its most organized expression, the labour movement.
This is the reason that the YCL resolves that the youth movement, consisting of youth from a variety of classes, takes a stand and joins the working class and the labour movement. Allying ourselves with the labour movement is essential in the struggle against capitalism. Solidarity must be expressed in a variety of forms, whether it be on the picket lines, organizing the un-organized in workplaces, or spreading awareness and building solidarity with labour struggles within our country. Linking hands with other struggles is vital and important. For its part, the working class benefits from allies like youth and students to take on and defeat the immense, coordinated power of the 1%. It is the duty of young people to support labour struggles, or else we will face a future of low-wage jobs that have no security.
Right now, as our Convention comes into session, issues regarding the labour struggle should be present in all our minds. Our policy needs to be updated to fit the urgency of the recent attacks on organized labour and incorporate a plan to expose and combat the exploitation of unorganized workers. Concretely, it means winning support among the youth for the Canadian Postal Workers Union against 8,000 job layoffs, service cuts, and the pending fire sale of Canada Post. With recent bitter strikes and labour disputes at Caterpillar, Alma, Teamsters in Vancouver, the BC and Ontario teachers, and elsewhere, one of the real lessons of recent working-class struggles in Canada is that working people do have the strength and understanding to conduct tough battles for their rights, despite scabs, police brutality, corporate media slanders, and relentless political attacks. As an organization of young workers, action needs to be taken to expose these attacks, while implementing further action to combat them.
Most youth, however, are not members of unions while academic culture can sometimes distract students from labour struggles around them. It is important for us to remember that most youth are very much a part of the working class. Positive though limited drives have recently seen labour and youth organize with barista workers in Nova Scotia, and the hard struggle going on in Québec to organize Couche Tard. A related gain was “Grants Law” in BC protect night workers in gas stations, won through a labour-led campaign, but now under attack once again as gas station attendants have lost protections while the cash interests of franchise owners are protected. As we said in 25th Central Convention, “At a time when union density is eroding and deindustrialization is in full swing, organizing the unorganized is a task that can only be ignored by a movement which is suicidal.”
Of course the labour movement today has its own subjective weaknesses. One side of labour wants to organize resistance. Another side, however, has been ideologically captured by capitalist ideology and favours appeasement. It is anti-communist and reluctant or even opposed to building broad community/labour solidarity campaigns around strike battles or wider social issues, unwilling to engage in the type of movement building which would rally millions into action against the corporate agenda.
One factor here is the direct engagement of the capitalists, another is right-wing social democracy, which in Canada is represented by the New Democratic Party. Historically, the period from the beginning of the Cold War to the early 1970s, marked by McCarthyism, by the attack on the left and left-led unions, can be looked at as a period of attempted pacification of the working class, replacing resistance with class collaboration. One reflection has been the long-term decline in strikes in Canada (see graph 2) and lockouts are now starting to equal strikes in length (graph 3).
If anything, the biggest subjective weakness restraining the fuller and all-round development of the fightback is not limited to the youth and student resistance, but is a political problem reflected in the inaction from the top levels of the trade unions. The now-clear rejection of extra-parliamentary forms of political struggle by the NDP leadership has weakened and divided the fightback, paralysing sections of the labour and people’s movements. The inadequate response of labour, especially the Canadian Labour Congress leadership, has been brought into ever-sharper relief by the continued corporate austerity attack of the Harper Conservative government. The recent election of a new leadership and the historic defeat of Ken Georgetti at the CLC is a promising sign that labour is reaching towards a solution in overcoming these subjective weaknesses.
Worryingly, the right-wing section of the social democratic leadership has identified the main problem as a backward anti-union mentality in its own membership, to be solved with correct internal marketing. Media campaigns like “Together, fairness works” only try to better outreach to union members to teach them about the benefits of union membership. The CSN’s “Merci à vous” ads, intended to create support for public sector workers, have similar limitations. The right wing of the labour movement’s underestimation of labour’s willingness to fight has been used, time and again, as an excuse to avoid launching a fightback. It reinforces the doomed strategy of relying on an NDP victory at the polls as the only way to turn-back the onslaught at the federal level. For example, the CLC is focussing on organizing ‘political action’ conferences to line up labour participation in the NDP’s electoral machine for the 2015 general election.
But even recent history has shown, that when workers are in motion their capacity for struggle and their consciousness grows. An audacious organized resistance, with an independent political program, will demonstrate to all members of the labour movement that it is possible to win real gains that benefit working people. Seeing labour’s membership as the principle subjective weakness instead of recognizing all-round problems as part of a broader historic class struggle where working people are currently stuck on the defensive, is short sighted and won’t help to turn the tide.
There is an increasing need to democratize labour unions from top to bottom. Members must be able to call for reform within their union. This means moving from informal stage-managed discussion on political action documents, to having open political debate. Labour needs to learn to have open discussions about “controversial” issues like environmental struggles (tar sands, pipelines, etc.), migrant workers, and equity-based structural changes.
Young workers must be welcomed into labour beyond speeches. This means but is not limited to: adopting resolutions that create space for young workers at all levels of decision-making, allow resources for young workers to organize collectively, and look beyond union membership when organizing the rank-and-file.
The tendency on the part of the leadership to underestimate its membership also has a reflection in the student movement. Often leadership will see themselves as the only progressive force within a mass organization, and will be afraid of strategies that include member mobilization. This view also has an expression in the ultra-left, which sees mass organizations as backward or “inherently reformist” and sees the solution as the formation of small revolutionary groups, whether in labour or the student movement. These mistakes have been created by a sense of desperation created by the unrelenting assault on people’s forces, but they remain mistakes and must be rejected in favour of a broad, mass fightback beginning immediately.
For us as the YCL-LJC, it is imperative that we explore new ways of engaging in the labour movement and in organizing the unorganized. The Labour Commission needs to evaluate ways to ensure that all members who are able to join unions, whether or not they have strong progressive leaderships. A strong initiative should be taken by clubs to recruit union members and non-union young worker activists. We need to make sure that we make time to organize our workplaces, which some of our members are already engaged in. We should experiment with new ideas and with “salting” workplaces (infiltrating unorganized workplaces with the intention of organizing a union).
It is easy to forget the importance of unorganized labour in an era of its decline, but as youth who have to face the rest of our lives as workers, it is vital we take action now to ensure we have a future.
The labour fightback and the youth fightback
While the CLC and the leaders of some important unions have avoided drawing the entire labour movement and its social allies together to map out and launching a broad labour-community “common front” to fight back against austerity, there are some positive developments that show that a renewed sense of urgency is emerging within labour.
The Ontario Federation of Labour has launched a Common Front with social movements in Ontario and has started organizing large-scale demonstrations. In Québec, a similar anti-austerity Coalition Main Rouge or “Red Hand” coalition was established that helped lay the groundwork for popular support of the Québec student strike. A renewed interest in social unionism was reflected in the founding documents of the “New Union Project” which brought together Unifor. A series of smaller initiatives like the student-labour Port Elgin declaration and the Common Causes coalition appear reached important conclusions but have failed to become an organized force around a common program; the only meeting which comes close to a general assembly of labour, youth and social movements is the positive drive for a pan-Canadian People’s Forum, although it appears to be still more a project of Quebec labour and social movements and does not have a mandate to formulate an action plan.
The lack of a united and militant fightback has serious impacts on the youth movement. Within labour, young workers are facing increased pressure to give into business unionism and focus on personal advancement within the union. Only through commitment to the working class and a renewed participation in the Action Caucuses or similar but less permanent formations in Québec — will young workers overcome such temptations. We must also be wary of ultra-left forces that refuse to participate in labour and only work to divide the left within labour.
Young trade unionists within the League must be able to rely on the experience of comrades in the Communist Party. As such, it is also important for the Young Communist League to work closely with our allies in the Communist Party of Canada’s Trade Union Commission, especially in instances that pertain to labour bodies beyond the local level.
The tepid approach advocated by right-wing social democratic leadership has also contributed malaise within the English-speaking student movement which most sharply evident in the fact the CFS has not held its annual cross-Canada Days of Action for several years now.
Inaction opens up a space for actions that while often courageous, are impulsive, unplanned and too often disconnected from existing mass organizations. The sentiments of the “in your face” approach to struggle are appear lofty and brave. If we break the widows of the Hudson Bay Company, it will force Canadians to stop and think about the essentially genocidal history of that corporation. But if that were enough to defeat the capitalists, or even eliminate tuition fees, both would have been gone long ago.
Tactics are not, after all, just a question of individual courage or instant results. In fact, spontaneity is to be expected in any struggle as an objective process. But the youth movement needs to always resist the pressure to separate a tactic from its goal, and take into account the current objective and subjective factors of the class struggle before deciding on tactics.
Inaction lays the groundwork for some voices in the youth and student movement to completely reject mass movements, embrace sectarian attitudes towards mass organizations and mistake adventurist tactics as objectively more radical. Lenin said that ultra-leftism was “infrequently a kind of penalty for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement. The two monstrosities complement each other”.
“Marxism,” Lenin said, “does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation changes” and sharpens. The litmus test for evaluating tactics is to identify what tactics move the greatest number of masses into the struggle, in the strategic direction. As Bolshevik trade unionist Lozovsky said:
The importance of direct action lies not only in the immediate results, but mainly in the fact that it unites the mass of workers. The working class is not uniform; it includes numerous intermediary strata with bourgeois conceptions. By involving different groups and isolated strata in a common struggle, direct action brings them closer together, like the links of a chain, and in this way the working class becomes more united. Unity can only be forged in the heat of the struggle and is the most important condition for proletarian victory.
Unity is not simply a question of power in numbers, although obviously that is important. Tactics that fit with a strategy of mobilizing people on mass issues have a number of advantages. They increase the material strength of the working people. They show that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’ They teach working people to learn how to work with other classes and groups. And they show the relationship of classes and groups to one another – and the state.
Ultimately, the strategy of mass action is truly the most dangerous to the ruling class because of the unity of the people’s forces. Massive political action outside parliament. Massive campaigning to eliminate tuition fees, to withdraw from imperialist war plans, to prevent global warming, to win childcare, to save Medicare, to save our resources and create jobs. A social dynamic that will swell the ranks of movement, bring in thousands of new activists and raise the level of social consciousness of the entire non-corporate population, while recognizing the central importance of labour.
The capitalists realize this challenge to their hegemony and are putting up a big fight in the ideological arena — but have little problem ripping away the thin façade of bourgeois democracy they usually tolerate and use force.
We saw this very clearly when Elsipogtog First Nation and Acadians blocked a highway protesting fracking gas in their traditional territories last fall, several hundred riot police and armed paramilitary police were brought in. But the heavy hand of the policy was evident during the mass arrests at the G20 protests in 2010, the sweep of the Occupy movement and then again with Bill 78 in Quebec. As the YCL-LJC commented at that time, “True democracy is actually an anathema to capitalist domination.” Protesters are still receiving fines from the 2012 student strike. For example as of January 2014 the 80 feminists arrested Quebec City at a women’s mobilization against fee increases still have not been cleared of charges they face under the highway code of $500 per protester.
Police repression has only increased in recent years. Murders like that of Alain Magloire in February 2014 continue to be perpetrated by police with impunity. The brutalities of police actions follow the same trends as during the student strike of 2012. (Some protesters have permanent physical scars of violence, including a one young demonstrator who was blinded.) The police are more and more numerous at demonstrations, to the point now that it is not uncommon to see as much or more police officers mobilized in the repression of a demonstration than protesters themselves. Civil liberties groups have long criticized Mass arrests by the police. Since 2006, even the UN has denounced these practices and is concerned about the political profiling by police in Canada, particularly by the Montreal police. Yet bylaws such as P6, which allows the police to shutdown protests on the pretext that no route was provided, allows a deepening in these crackdowns and protesters are now arrested even before have started marching.
This police repression is combined with increased monitoring of social movements and the criminalization of dissent generally. We must remember the creation of the GAMMA police squad, ”Anarchist and marginal movement watch” in 2009. The increasing surveillance of youth and student organizations, revealed by Edward Snowden and others, as well as the exposure that not only the RCMP and CSIS but also the new Communications Security Establishment Canada is hacking cell phones, emails, server logs, and many other forms of meta-data is becoming a new area of the repression of democratic rights.
The G -20, with its mass arrests, violence and "preventive" arrests is a significant marker of the emergence of a police state in Canada.
Although in theory there is a complaints system to denounce police abuses, the reality is that this opaque process rarely works. This is still the police investigating the police. The function of the police force will always be in favour of capital in a capitalist state and it will always be fundamentally racist and sexist because it reproduces systemic violence.
The YCL-LJC strongly opposes the P6 Regulation in Montreal and other similar legislation in Canada. Protest is a fundamental political right!
The YCL-LJC is also in favour of the disarmament of the regular police as an immediate reform (which is already a reality in many other countries), for training in social interventions of police, and for full civilian oversight of the police.
The new social movements therefore face new problems. Yet their uneven but very positive change in youth action and attitudes — away from a kind of agnosticism towards struggle and towards the realization that we the youth can make politics. It is a sentiment that has to audaciously go further, broadening and strengthening, drawing together the threads of resistance with youth and labour as part of the warp and the woof.
Quebec spring: student’s strike, people’s struggle!
The issues students were fighting over were not a specific amount of money, but the place of education in society. What began as a student strike over access to education became a broad social battle against austerity and, with Bill 78, for democracy itself. As the Quebec students themselves said, in the CLASSE manifesto “Share Our Future”:
Free access [to education] does more than simply banish prices: it tears down the economic barriers to what we hold most dear. Free access removes the stumbling-blocks to the full flowering of our status as humans. Where there is free access, we share payment for shared services.
By contrast, the concept of price determination – the so-called “fair share” – is in truth no more than veiled discrimination. [...] This burden is one that we all shoulder, each and every one of us, whether we are students or not: this is one lesson our strike has taught us. For we, students, are also renters and employees; we are international students, pushed aside by discriminating public services. We come from many backgrounds, and, until the colour of our skin goes as unnoticed as our eye colour, we will keep on facing everyday racism, contempt and ignorance. We are women, and if we are feminists it is because we face daily sexism and roadblocks set for us by the patriarchal system; we constantly fight deep-rooted prejudice. We are gay, straight, bisexual, and proud to be. We have never been a separate level of society. Our strike is not directed against the people. We are the people.
Our strike goes beyond the $1625 tuition-fee hike. [...] This is the meaning of our vision, and the essence of our strike: it is a shared, collective action whose scope lies well beyond student interests.
The Quebec student struggle, arguably the most magnificent, powerful and united youth movement battle in decades, also quickly inspired all of English-speaking Canada and showed the validity of the YCL’s approach for the need of an escalating, united action plan, and our understanding of the national question. The LJC-Q was active in the daily life of the strike, joining as many rallies as they could with banners and literatures, putting forward the call that “United mass mobilization must continue to grow with the labour movement fully involved [including] organizing a general strike, social and political.” This appeal, put out in concert with the Parti Communiste du Québec (PCQ) resonated with many thousands of student and labour activists.
We made these kinds of points also around the Quebec student strike and on the ten-campus Student Solidarity tour in which the LJC-Q and YCL Ontario actively participated in, together with other allies. The solidarity tour came at a crucial time when Thomas Mulcair had just said the tuition hike “is first and foremost a matter of provincial jurisdiction... Our fight is not with the Charest government... Violence is not the right way to do things.” This was a betrayal of the students and was followed by the Georgetti leadership of the CLC and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) trying to block collection of solidarity funds. Behind the scenes, the Solidarity Tour became an additional vehicle to confront that attempt at isolation.
The time that has elapsed since the end of the strike has therefore not reduced the Quebec spring’s significance and the necessity for analysis. The strike remains the most significant social struggle of the current period. What lessons can we learn?
The militant student union ASSÉ has not been alone in emphasizing the question of democratic structure [especially the general assemblies] while other voices have romantically claimed that economic disruption forced Charest’s hand. As with all struggles, the Quebec student strike had its own individual life, including the national character of Quebec and its unequal position within Canada; but within that particular reality was also the universal experience of the student movement, especially these three points:
1. The movement has to have a programme;
2. In whatever form it takes, mass participation and empowerment are essential;
3. The interconnection of unity and struggle.
Therefore Quebec student struggle powerfully showed the importance of mass struggle and resistance. It proved that mass mobilization is possible and does work, as Bill 78 was torn down and, albeit for a very brief time, it seemed the PQ government was willing to enact a better tuition framework.
The Charest Liberals’ narrow defeat was seen as a clear rebuke of Charest’s position during the strike and a victory for the student movement in Quebec. After over eight months of campaigning, students returned to class with a tremendous sense of empowerment and political consciousness, but divided over how positive their achievements were. However, in the time since the Québec student strike there have been some serious setbacks. In conditions of a minority government and facing a majority right-wing opposition, the new sovereigntist and pro-business Parti Québecois lead by Pauline Marois quickly manoeuvred to drop its populist and seemingly anti-austerity rhetoric.
Very quickly all of the more progressive demands, like reducing and eliminating tuition fees, were rejected by the PQ who now will continue with an increase, less rapidly than under the Charest plan but, dangerously, on a much longer-term basis. The new Marois Pequists have cut over $124 million dollars in funding from all Quebec universities, and are “indexing tuition fees to inflation” at a rate of between $46 and $83 per year. This message was hammered home at the Quebec Summit on Education in early 2013, which the ASSÉ subsequently boycotted.
This has helped shatter illusions young people might have about the character of the PQ. The 2012 election saw a surge of support for the left-wing coalition Quebec Solidaire (which called for free tuition among other things and currently includes the Communist Party). It elected, however, only two members to the National Assembly. The fact that a member of the LJC-Q and know communist ran as a candidate for QS, winning over 5,000 votes in the riding of Acadie was an important contribution. With continued mobilization, new conditions for much greater success by QS can help be achieved.
The Quebec student’s struggle is therefore far from finished. By and large the two Federations have given some form of support to the Marois government, and have seen a number of student unions quit their ranks, especially the college student federation FECQ which has lost almost half its membership. The ASSÉ has regrouped with a few new member unions and is now running a general anti-austerity campaign.
The struggle for unity in English-speaking Canada
Inspired by the Quebec student strike, student mobilizations sprung up across English-speaking Canada in the summer of 2012, leading to renewed action on many campuses. Among the positive examples has been the work of the YCL in Guelph and Hamilton with yearlong student mobilization committees, rallying behind the Canadian Federation of Students to have a united plan for action.
Idle No More, discussed more below, has also brought forward important and necessary debate about the illegal funding cap for Indigenous students. The cap has not been resolved by the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNEA) and already a blue-dot campaign has emerged on social media against FNEA. Indigenous students in First Nations student centres and associations, established at most universities across the country, are part of the fight for better education funding. The racist policies against Indigenous students must be understood to hurt the entire student movement.
The line in the sand between the right and the left in the student movement remains how you answer the question of access to education: is it a right, or a privilege? We addressed this question in our 2nd annual Winter 2013 YCL student conference hosted by the Hamilton club. The analysis, published later in Rebel Youth issue 13-14, concluded the main subjective obstacle is the right wing or reactionary camp active on campuses:
This reactionary trend understands student organizations as “student’s governments” and focuses on provision of services (like a health plan or entertainment such as music concerts) for students. It seeks “caution” and “respectability,” exclusively limiting the demands of students to immediate economic questions of students and minor goals. The student movement is about “building your resume.” Education not understood in humanist terms, but individualistically as a way to get ahead in the rat race. Time and time again, life has shown that right-wing student councils can be tossed-out by their own members because they do not speak for their campuses. The vast majority of students, even though they are still learning about social and class interests, have a strong sense of justice, equality and the post-secondary education as a beneficial social value.
The YCL, together with the broad range of progressive students, view the student movement in this different, positive direction. The progressive, democratic outlook recognizes that the students have interests that align with the interests of the people – the non-corporate majority population. ... It correctly sees access to education is a democratic right of the people. This is the most broad and fundamental basis of unity within the student movement and is most commonly expressed by the demand – freeze, reduce and eliminate tuition fees.
In the English speaking student movement the later agenda is carried by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS); while reactionary student organizations like the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations or, in Ontario, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance continue to play a detrimental role, neutralizing campuses from action, injecting right-wing ideas into the movement justifying tuition increases, and acting as a conveyor belt for their cadre to a career path in the reactionary political parties. Although these groups have had limited success expanding their base, the right has had better luck acting as a wrecking crew. Liberal and Conservative staffers and even elected MPs have no problem helping directly coordinate a motley crew of right-wing students like campus Tories, anti-choice activists, tea party-style libertarians, men’s-rights misogynists, homophobes, and Zionists — all in the name of snatching away the few dollars students pay to a Public Interest Research Group or de-federating the student union from the CFS.
Confusedly, some on the left have sided with these demands to disorganize the student movement based on this or that structural or strategic problem with the CFS.
Despite both these attacks and the jump in tuition fees, the fact the Canadian Federation of Students can’t seem to find the confidence and sense of urgency it had back in the 90s and early 2000s when it organized regular cross-Canada days of action and launched visible, vocal and broad campaigns has led more than a few progressive activists to cynically dismiss the Federation. The ‘bunker mentality’ that has replaced the Cross-Canada Day of Action with a quite lobby day on The Hill is partly a reflection of trepidation and fear and partly the influence of right-wing social democracy on key sections of that organization. So to is the idea that a cross-province or country action plan is in contradiction with local student union autonomy — in fact, the opposite is true. The CFS, at least in Ontario on policy papers, is again raising the question of free education, which is positive.
Combating ideological pressure from the NDP, winning support behind policies of action cannot be done mechanistically, such as turning actions like a general assembly, faculty union, or even strike from a tactic into a principle, or broadside petitions for strike-votes really directed at calling-out leadership. Again, as our 2nd annual student conference discussed:
The student movement, like all people’s forces, will create leadership depending on the circumstance because leadership is an objective necessity in struggle. It’s easy to fall into a trap and over-simplify this process. Good, militant student leadership is collective, grasping its duty, listening to students and also advancing unifying positions that helps the struggle move forward, informed. But it doesn’t have a magical power to overcome objective reality.
Likewise, the dichotomies of rank-and-file vs. officers, or top down vs. bottom are often inflated and even false. Movements have more than one layer of activists and leadership that are omitted with these kinds of shorthand notes. Top vs. bottom can also re-orient the movement into a kind of naval-gazing search for perfect democratic structures. So-called direct democracy is not totally incompatible with representative democracy, however. Even the CLASSE incorporates both structures.
The way forward lies in winning the students themselves to the path of unity and struggle, and through struggle carrying out their own decisions. Searching for the perfect decision-making structure can distract from confronting anti-struggle trends within the movement.
It is also easy to write-off an inactive campus as rancid with apathetic, privileged or ‘bourgeoisified’ youth. Some ‘left’ critics go further than this ‘blame the victim’ approach and announce that there are ‘proletarian’ and ‘bourgeois’ students and, throwing unity to the wind, advocate an internal struggle within the movement. This might appear to be a logical application of Marxist analysis: identify the working class forces within a movement, and propose that they be pitted against the non working class elements. The mistake, however, is to confuse the class with the movement. Today, it is difficult to find a people’s struggle, other than the labour movement, which is not in some way a class mix. As big business dominates all aspects of social life, and attacks even basic democratic rights, many social strata are drawn into action. Extending the “class war” into the student movement would be disastrous, undermining the fighting unity of student forces, orienting the struggle inward instead of against the main enemy. This amounts to, unfortunately, empty posturing about the pure revolutionary student line and helps the right-wing agenda, including defederation. Instead of drawing firm lines in between students and student organizations (‘bourgeois’ vs. ‘proletarian’ or ‘revolutionary’ vs. ‘reformist’), unity needs to be built on seeing education as a right and as a force for social good. This view of education is in direct contradiction to the corporate view of education as a commodity available to the elite.
Some on the ultra-left view the lack of mobilization (especially in English Canada) in subjective terms and put forward structural critiques of student unions and the Canadian Federation of Students. This leads them towards sectarian positions that reject mass organizations and student unions as ‘bureaucratic’, or ‘inherently reformist’. Debates on inner-movement democracy and effective organizational models have their place, however limiting the main focus to debates on structure, disconnected with political action, ignores that democratic reform is connected to the level of political consciousness of students which can only grow through experience in political struggle. So the most immediate question becomes what is the best way to mobilize students against the attack?
What we said at the 25th Central Convention still rings true — broad, united fronts are needed such as in the form of local campus mobilization committees, drawn together into a common, Canada-wide strategy. Grassroots forms of mobilizing, which are not necessarily dependent on student unions, can play a key role in this strategy by involving students as deeply as possible in decisions around organizing. They can also help bring wider coalitions together, including faculty and other workers on campus. And the success of the student’s response will is determined in many respects by our ability to set aside differences and act together. Many students in English-speaking Canada are demanding just such a strong movement, more militant student unions and a much more active Canadian Federation of Students. As we said in Hamilton last year:
The fight for free education can open up a broader question about social transformation – although affordable education is not the same as accessible education because there are other barriers in society than just tuition fees. For education to be free it would require a federal role. But it is a common mistake to forget the federal role in post-secondary education and to fall into the trap of accepting the current flawed Canadian Constitution’s designation of education as a provincial matter. If education is only a provincial matter a cross-Canada student movement is not necessary. ...
There is no contradiction, in our view, between advancing socialism as the only genuine alternative to the current capitalist system, and our principled commitment to work to further the immediate and basic interests of students. This finds expression, for example, in the YCL’s campaign for a Charter of Youth Rights.
It is absolutely necessary today that students across the country organize and mobilize to demand significantly more funding to universities; to link up with labour and community groups to take back governments from the grip of finance capital and start building the kind of accessible post-secondary education system that makes quality, universal, public, free, accessible, and democratic education a fundamental right, and that in its educational content, serves the proletariat.
While access to education for everyone is important, we must also recognize the fact that education will never be truly liberating under Capitalism, where it does not support individuals to realize their full potentials but rather merely trains them to become the next generation of exploited workers. While we must acknowledge the barriers to education, such as high tuition fees and astronomical debt, that are present, we must also be actively aware that even if these barriers to education are obliterated, it will still be education under Capitalism: an education that is not liberating. We must remember to fight for a proletarian education, not simply access to education on its own; and above all, it should be part of the struggle for socialism, where education will truly be “free”.
High school students, while often isolated from the rest of the student movement, are a force for struggle. The resistance of BC and Ontario students against the attack on teachers and their unions has been a great example of class-conscious struggle. We fully supported these kinds of actions, as we said in our statement against Bill 115:
When injustice becomes the law, resistance becomes a duty. The teachers are bravely fighting back against Bill 115. Many students are joining them. Students are setting aside their differences because they see that now is the time to rise up. If Bill 115 is stopped, we will be stronger and the struggle for fundamental change will continue. Organizing a walkout can be done quickly and successfully using social media, word of mouth, defiance, courage and unity. Convince your friends. Convince your class. March through the halls and into the streets! You can suspend one student, but you cannot suspend hundreds.
High school students have also taken up the struggle against user fees and for free, public education. The YCL supports struggles in high school against user fees, which need to continue and expand to defend one tier, public education. It is also important for post-secondary students fighting against user fees to connect with high school students and help them in their organizing efforts.
The struggle against user fees and for public education is connected to demands for democratic curriculum, which includes equity studies, labour studies, progressive history courses, and native studies. The Miss G Project, which was launched in 2005, has successfully advocated for gender study electives in the high school curriculum for Ontario, and the YCL supports further efforts for progressive curriculum in high school education.
Idle No More exposes festering issue of national inequality in Canada
With the dust not yet settled from Quebec’s student uprising, another new social movement burst on the scene after four Indigenous women in Saskatchewan began the Idle No More campaign.
Their courageous example helped inspire a number of chiefs to take their case directly to PM Stephen Harper, only to be barred from entering Parliament. Chief of Attawapiskat, Theresa Spence, launched a six-week hunger strike.
In a relative short time, flash mobs and marches, drum rallies in malls, and railway blockades developed into mass rallies putting considerable pressure on the government.
The Harper Conservatives, their allies in the corporate media, and all sorts of other racists and chauvinists holed up on basement blogs and in anonymous corners of the internet made a vicious and nasty effort to discredit and divide the movement, which ultimately proved unsuccessful.
What could not be hidden was the reality that, in Attawapiskat and on many other reserves as well as urban Indigenous communities, hundreds of thousands live in housing conditions which are an emergency disaster. Despite centuries of broken treaties promising fair treatment, and decades of protests and reports, this situation has not improved.
Idle No More tore-down the curtain hiding an ugly sight: the festering issue of national inequality in Canada. The brilliant achievement of the grassroots protest has been to make it absolutely clear that Canada was built on the theft of Indigenous lands and resources, and that only genuine equality of all the nations in this country, large and small, can begin to overcome this genocidal policy.
The fact that broad sections of the youth and student movement are warming to this perspective, although sometimes oversimplified as a power struggle between settlers and colonized, is all the more reason for the YCL to speak out on these issues and advance our position, deepening and reinforcing the unity of the youth and making the connections with our common enemy in the ruling class.
Queer struggles and the women’s movement
The powerful movement for full gender and sexual equality continues to break down old barriers and prejudices. The number of Gay Straight Alliances or GSA’s in schools and school districts with explicit LGBTIQ* policies continues to increase. Working with the queer community, Newfoundland and Manitoba have become the most recent provinces to ensure schools are safer and more welcoming places for all students. In the traditionally homophobic arena of male professional sports the “you can play” campaign is sending a powerful message that gay athletes must be treated with respect. The vote by the Ontario Legislature to enshrine “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the provincial Human Rights code, the defeat of attempts to deny civic funding to Pride Toronto, the adoption of Vancouver Pride as a civic event and other legal, political and cultural victories are the hard won results of decades of efforts by the LGBTIQ* community and allies. This fightback is very positive and the YCL needs to find ways to engage as it continues.
Women’s leadership in recent struggles, especially the Quebec Student Strike and the Idle No More movement (founded by Indigenous women), is significant and notable. Women in teachers unions and in the public sector have fought to combat job discrimination and pigeonholing by capitalism. Women have been on the front line as union leaders; strike captains and stewards, and grassroots activists.
The fightback of the women’s movement continues with much work to do and despite difficult conditions. In Quebec, the women’s movement includes the FFQ, immigrant women’s groups, and Indigenous women. The establishment of the “Janettes” is an attempt to break this unity of the feminist movement on a racist basis in the context of the debate about the Charter of Values. Unfortunately, the former leader of the FEUQ has joined this coalition. The Janettes are a fringe of the feminist movement linked with right-wing media personality Julie Snyder and has even gone as far as calling to fire Muslim women who do not comply with the proposed law. Behind the claim to be feminist lays a coarse racism and a new attempt to control women’s bodies.
In English-speaking Canada, having no common coalition voice weakens the women’s movement. As we said in the YCL-LJC message to the Winnipeg RebELLES conference of young feminists in May 2011:
The hard work of women made the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, a major coalition of equality-seeking groups in English-speaking Canada, into a powerful political force. The pro-corporate Chrétien Liberal government of the ‘90s slashed NAC’s funding. This attack continued and led to NAC’s demise and has weakened the fight back.
The coming together of the RebELLES, the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights, the growing Marche mondiale des femmes, the Sisters in Spirit campaign, No One Is Illegal, and the recent mass outpouring of women (especially youth) saying no to violence against women in the SlutWalks (responding to a police officer telling students that the best way to avoid getting raped was to avoid dressing like a “slut”) – these are all welcome new developments and must go further.
We must bring together these threads of resistance. The needs of the broad majority of the young women can never be divided from those of the working class, aboriginal people, (im)migrants, students, seniors, queer people, farmers, and all the people on the road to a better world.
Much of this analysis holds true today. Despite the fragmentation of the women’s movement in English-speaking Canada after NAC’s dissolution, women trade unionists have maintained structures like the Canadian Labour Congress’s Women’s conferences, which help keep the pan Canadian fight for women’s rights alive. As we said in the joint YCL-LJC CPC International Women’s Day statement last year, we welcome the development of Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada, a research based initiative that is doing important work in identifying barriers and current issues relating to women in the labour movement. Moving these findings into actions is a most important next step in reinvigorating a more democratic and equity driven labour movement. There are also important community campaigns, like Sisters in Spirit (demanding justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women), the Miss G Project (fighting for a gender studies class in Ontario curriculum), the One Billion Rising (opposing violence against women and girls), and growing outcry against the Tory attack on reproductive rights. While positive, this is not enough. The re establishment of an organization like NAC, to bring together women from labour, young Rebelles women, women in organizations that fight for legal rights, reproductive rights, disability rights, child care, organizations that represent Indigenous women and racialized women, would be an important advance.
The debate around how our society should treat sex work has become extremely polarized. As Jane Bouey, chair of the Communist Party’s Women’s Commission noted recently, the Bedford case was hailed as a great victory by some feminists, and denounced by others. “Even whether one uses the term “sex work” or “prostitution” is seen as a sign of where one stands, i.e. whether one views sex workers as members of the working class. There is wide agreement with striking down the law against communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution, and agreement that some (if not most) women are forced into sex work because of conditions of economic, social and racial inequality. Most agree that many women engaged in sex work face disproportionate levels of horrific violence and even murder. However, there is a sharp division over taking legal steps that would allow those in sex work to better organize themselves: does this increase or decrease the security of those sex workers?”
In December 2013, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down the existing prostitution laws. These laws were regarding the keeping of a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution and street soliciting. The Canadian government is now formulating a response to the Supreme Court decision by drafting new legislation regulating prostitution; the Conservative government has introduced Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Person’s Act. The YCL rejects this proposal as an insufficient and misguided attempt to deal with the problems inherent in prostitution and sex work.
As Communists, we reject the commodification of female bodies and of sex work. However, we recognise that prostitution and sex work is likely to continue under the conditions of a patriarchal capitalist society. It is imperative to have in place a legislative framework that not only ensures the safety of sex workers but also precludes their exploitation by pimps and the kind of “mega brothel” model of sex work found in some countries.
The YCL recognizes the limitations of the existing models that are used around the world that deal with prostitution and sex work; models of decriminalization, legalization, abolition or variants in between, all exhibit weaknesses in meeting the needs and safety of sex workers. Fundamental to any successful model dealing with this issue must be extensive and comprehensive social services. A priority must be placed on the facilitation of easy exit from prostitution and sex work, and also the development of support systems that economically and socially protect sex workers. As well, work needs to be done with vulnerable youth and adults by way of preventing the necessity of entry into this field. Also, there is a longstanding problem with police incompetence and abuse in this area. The involvement of police services should be limited to providing protection from exploitation and violence for those involved in prostitution and sex work, and never in their harassment or criminalization.
As Communists, we recognize that, ultimately, no satisfactory solution to this issue exists within the framework of capitalism, which is inherently exploitative and misogynist; but it is incumbent upon us to formulate some kind of response to the immediate conditions faced by those involved in prostitution and sex work. Our preference is to ensure that any legislation gives sex workers the full benefits of their work by excluding exploitative capitalist ventures and focusing on the facilitation of sex worker co-operatives and collectives. We also recognize that the scourge of trafficking, pimping and violence toward those involved with prostitution and sex work must be confronted and eradicated.
Prostitution and sex work disproportionately affects Indigenous women, and as Communists in Canada we call for this to receive priority attention. Among Indigenous women raising children by themselves in urban Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon, 80-90% were living below poverty level according to Statistics Canada 1991 Census, RCAP 1996. This is a direct correlation to higher prostitution rate as well as the trafficking and murder of aboriginal women. The YCL recognizes this vastly higher rate of trafficking and violence toward Indigenous women in Canada as an ongoing aspect of genocide.
Many youth groups have positively started anti-oppression training to counteract systemic problems like sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia, seeing the importance of equality and equity in strengthening a united fightback. Recognition of the personal/political experience of diverse identities of youth — as women, racialized youth, trans/genderqueer, disabled, etc. — is growing, perhaps most dynamically in the student movement but also among young workers and other community activists. This framework of lived-experience based politics has helped many young people to speak and act with greater personal authority, confronting and challenging grievances they experience. As the YCL said in 2009, “Being born non-white and/or a woman is not a crime. But under capitalism, it usually means you are sentenced to a lifetime of systemic gender or racial oppression. This cannot be understood as simply a matter of individual prejudice. In the grand sweep of our country’s history, genocide, colonization, national oppression, racism, sexual assault and sexism, discrimination against immigrants, homophobia and other forms of oppression have and continue to play a major role in the functioning of Canadian capitalism. There can be no peaceful co-existence with sexism and racism and with the violence they invariably spawn.”
The new critical awareness by more progressive youth about the forms and ways discrimination takes place also helps start to recognize privilege and transform individual behaviour. They are both the result of and a new step forward in the long and brave struggle in Canada to win, protect, enforce and expand basic rights which are denied by capitalist society — like living in a world free of harassment — of which Communists and the YCL have played an important part. Fighting sexism, racism and other social poisons requires going beyond individual awareness and self-reflection to forming broad and powerful movements. Many, if not most, young people who are engaged with lived-experience based politics see such mass struggle as, while not without problems, very necessary. Nevertheless, some voices within the framework of anti-oppression refuse the notion of shared experience across different identities. More generally, there can be emphasize or sometimes unknowing promotion of the idea that capitalist society is not a system where one class exploits another but rather a collection of individuals. Our main class adversary thus becomes lost in abstract and ahistorical power relations, while liberation is limited to the creation of new perceptions of others and ourselves. Far from being “new” and “radical” such liberalism is an old, tired and reactionary warhorse. The YCL-LJC sees the elimination of oppression as inseparable from the fight against capitalism. Systemic oppression is a function of capitalism so a mighty united struggle that recognizes and respects different experiences is necessary. Power and privilege, colonialism and imperialism, etc. are real and never exist outside of class struggle.
While these groups insist on their 'freedom of speech', they must not be allowed to spread their toxic misogynist message on our campuses on in our communities, and should be countered whenever they try. The so-called Men’s Rights Movement, which has quickly engendered counter-protest from the internet to campuses, cloaks itself in some of the language of Identity Politics while inciting hatred against women or misogyny, as the YCL said in our statement on MRM in 2012:
The claim of these groups is that men and boys are facing equity issues due to ‘misandry’. In fact, the main danger young men face is not at all from pro-women policies and feminists – which help young men – it is from big business and the Harper Conservatives, whose capitalist system has created mass unemployment, rising tuition fees, environmental crisis and poverty — while spending billions on wars and corporate tax cuts. What is needed is solidarity and for the youth to reinforce the links between their struggles and those of the labour movement and the working class. We must not blame the victim.
The attack of the MRAs is a symptom of social problems women’s activists confront daily. For everyone it can at some point seem overwhelming; and there is pressure to take a different path, retreat into spaces that are more rigorous about anti-oppression, focus exclusively on cultural activism or personal improvement over political demands, over-emphasize language or interpersonal relationships, or even organize within ever-smaller or unique identity combinations.
The promise of equality under capitalism has never realised itself. Fundamentally, the capitalist system is a patriarchal system. Often, feminists who are not socialists understand the Marxist concept of a “main” or “primary” contradiction as a moral evaluation of women’s oppression, which puts women’s struggles in the second place — to be remembered “after the revolution.” But this is not the case. Capitalism feeds itself through patriarchy, not only because this system use sexism like other form of discrimination to divide the working class, but more fundamentally because it requires the patriarchal system to maintain the relations of private property. Both system need to be fought.
The positive efforts of men in community campaigns such as the White Ribbon Campaign and Men Can Stop Rape must be recognized, but they are not enough. A renewed commitment to make all spaces safe for women-identified/socialized comrades, fight against rape culture, gender-based violence, and workplace discrimination is necessary to address gender disparity in our movements. Accountability and a commitment to solidarity with women-identified/socialized comrades is key to ending patriarchy and sexism.
YCLers have a role to play winning support for gender and equity struggles, engaging with problematic ideas in a productive way, making alliances and helping get these local campaigns and communities into focus as part of the whole horizon the youth and student movement. While the women’s movement should certainly be lead by YCL women-identified comrades, commitment must be carried forward by all members and the League itself must win the youth movement to adopt their demands. That includes avoiding repeating stereotypes, jokes and behaviours we fight against, while supporting equity-based approaches — which for members of the YCL is a Constitutional duty of membership. We remain committed to joining with all those fighting immediate struggles today, while championing a better future for young women. History is not on the side of patriarchy and capitalism. It is on the side of freedom, equity, peace, ecology, and the people.
Other new grassroots environmental struggles
Occupy, the Quebec Spring and Idle No More were new social protests and movements but the were not alone. There is also considerable popular outrage against the Senate and corruption in municipal politics across Canada, especially in Toronto and Montreal. While these scandals give opportunity to harness opposition to right-wing politicians they are no substitute to organized resistance.
Perhaps most significant in the last four years has been the explosion of struggle against destruction of the environment and people’s neighbourhoods, especially Indigenous communities and land, through oil tankers, pipelines and fracking.
These battles have been framed by something of an intellectual shift in the youth environmental movement, most clear when over a thousand youth, students and young workers gathered at the University of Ottawa at the end of October for a busy weekend of presentations, workshops, seminars, and protests about climate change and social issues, under the banner of “Power Shift 2012.”
Conference organizers said that “economic and climate crises we are facing have the same roots — the relentless drive to put short-term economic profits over the interests of our communities and the environment.”
Two years later this direction linking anti-capitalist sentiments with pro-environmental ideas continues as indigenous communities and activists in British Columbia confront the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that proposed to run from the Alberta tar sands to the northern BC coast, as well as the TransMountain Pipeline system down to Burnaby. And almost weekly media attention has been gathered by public opposition in the US and Canada to the Keystone XL pipeline.
Indigenous people, workers, and community members in Ontario and Québec are also concerned with Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the flow of Line 9 and send tar sands bitumen from Sarnia all the way to Montréal, and then a port in Maine, USA.
These were important issues we helped bring to the table at the 18th WFYS, finding common struggles with the youth against these dangerous pipeline developments, oil tankers, non-renewable energy and mining projects, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and against policies of environmental racism.
The YCL was one of the first pan-Canadian youth organizations to take a stance against the fracking gas. We have condemned the Alberta Tar Sands as the largest industrial project in human history, which releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production and is slated to become the single largest industrial contributor in North America to Climate Change.
At their most advanced, these movements are insisting upon sustainable planning and a precautionary approach, Indigenous sovereignty, as well as local autonomy and democracy, and general public control. These demands are complementary to the YCL and Communist Party’s call for public control over energy and natural resources in the interests of the people, future generations, nature and sustainability, not corporate profits.
We need to build here and develop a strategy to make a bigger contribution.
Peace, solidarity and other international issues
The critical situation of world peace and disarmament means the anti-war, pro-peace and anti-imperialist solidarity forces across Canada have a seemly overwhelming set of tasks. These movements continue to work to mobilize Canadian people and youth on a regular basis against intervention in Syria and Iran by affiliates to the Canadian Peace Alliance and Échec à la guerre, in solidarity with Palestine in particular through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses, as well as exposing the bloody policies of Canadian mining and energy corporations around the world. The YCL must never abandon the principle of working-class internationalism, the principle that working people of the world must stand united against capitalist wars and for the class struggle.
While the anti-war and pro-peace movements are smaller in the streets compared to the mid 2000s, increasingly the battle of ideas around these questions has sharpened. Initially, the Chretien-Martin Liberals and then the Harper Tories hard to intimidate many sections of this movement into silence. In 2009, Minister Jason Kenney abruptly and without warrant cut funding to the Canadian Arab Federation, a decision which was upheld by courts this January. In 2011, Minister Bev Oda’s inserted her now-infamous hand-written “NOT” into a recommendation to allocate $7 million in federal funding to KAIROS, a social justice coalition of eleven established churches. These two examples are both linked to the support by these mass organizations for Palestine.
Many liberal anti-war groups have curbed their criticism, or even expressed support for, the policies of “regime change” confused by the dangerous mantra of Responsibility to Protect. In fact, the war in Libya was unanimously supported by all parties in Parliament (including the Bloc) until Green MP Elizabeth May cast the sole vote against extending the bombing. Unfortunately Mulcair’s NDP increasingly supports policies complimenting NATO’s plans rather than resolution of conflicts through diplomatic means and especially the UN. This approach (as well as such things as the NDP’s mute response to death of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez while eulogising for Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon) has disappointed many of their own supporters.
This all has influenced groups like Échec à la guerre and the CPA, which are leading few mass protests on the streets. Positively both groups came out against the bombing of Libya although neither rallied sustained mobilizations. The real need to grow and make much more visible the main campaign of the CPA, Peace and Prosperity not War and Austerity, was an important topic of discussion for their January convention. The complimentary necessity for a genuine anti-imperialist voice in the peace movement has become clearer. In our view, the Canadian Peace Congress of which the League is a member and held an anti-NATO tour last year best represents this. The Peace Congress is affiliated to the World Peace Council, which is a friend of WFDY.
While young people always fill the crowd at any large anti-war action, in the absence of stronger organization and coordination in which young people can plug into, the youth movement sometimes has an honest but ultimately superficial tendency to skip from issue to issue depending on what appears to be the most pressing emergency according to the Western corporate news. Sometimes the level of analysis is simply to oppose whatever, or whomever, the US or corporate media appears to be supporting. While this is one yardstick, channels like Al Jazeera, RT news, and various websites have their own agendas and imperialism works very hard to distort even the way the problem is presented.
Sweeping criticisms by so-called leftist voices of the immediate targets of imperialism on the eve of a war can appeal to youth activists who desire what they think is “a clear consciousness” in the face of demonization campaigns against these governments. On the other hand, uncritically glorifying all targets of imperialism as now resolutely anti-imperialist, without recognition of their own contradictions, may appear the strongest moral position. In reality, however, these two responses to imperialist intervention are different sides of the same coin. They are a false dilemma that can actually strengthen the drive to war by overshadowing the urgent need to build broad and powerful solidarity and peace movements opposition to intervention and blocking our own government from bombing, invading, sanctioning, etc.
Clarity and consistent anti-imperialism combined with organization into more stable and visible peace work on the street, therefore, is important for the League to help continue and expand, avoiding falling into simplistic positions. Instead of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” what is important is to emphasize is that the problems in countries must be resolved by the people’s themselves, without interference by imperialism such as sanctions, no-fly zones, interventions, etc. and expecting their sovereignty and the norms of international law. Without illusions, peace-loving forces should try to push the route of diplomacy and take advantage of the available channels in the UN for negotiations between states rather than war. As Fidel has said, “What is needed is a genuinely democratic UN and not an imperial fiefdom in which the vast majority of nations count for nothing.”
Lenin described the principles of imperialist foreign policy as that of pirates, and while the capitalists can’t seem to find the paper to write peace treaties they have tonnes of it for trade agreements. Labour and social movements in English-speaking Canada and Quebec have been working to lift the shroud of secrecy from deals recently concluded by the Harper Conservative government, the European Union, and major trans-national corporations for the largest free-trade agreement in Canada’s history since NAFTA, the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), is a overarching Bill of Rights for big business and something of an “upgrade” of NAFTA at the same time – all at the expense of all the non-corporate population, not least youth and students. The YCL has strongly opposed CETA and must continue to do so.
This year, the Harper Government will be promoting imperialist war by commemorating the First World War. The YCL supports efforts by the peace movement to counter nationalist, militarist propaganda about World War One and draw parallels between the causes of World War One to the causes of current threats to peace.
On Tuesday, March 18, the last of Canadian troops left Afghanistan after over 40,000 Canadian troops occupied the country for 12 years. The corporate media is portraying this occupation as, “worth it” and peace movements must counter this imperialist propaganda, which serves to whitewash Canadian war crimes in Afghanistan and promote future imperialist wars.
One current demand for the peace movement is the demand for Canadian troops and police officers to get out of Haiti. In June 2013, 36 Canadian soldiers were sent to Haiti to conduct a 5-month long mission, and there are just over 80 Canadian police officers serving in Haiti, training the Haitian police force to repress progressive movements and protect Canadian capital. As well as continuing it’s participation in the occupation of Haiti, the Canadian Government supported the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s most popular political party, from the 2011 presidential elections. Canada was also a main force behind the 2004 coup in Haiti, and sent 2,050 troops to Haiti after the 2010 earth quake to police Haiti’s population. Peace movements must call for Canada to stop meddling in Haiti for the interests of Canadian corporations.
The YCL should continue to make a top priority of solidarity with socialist Cuba. Important campaigns, especially opposing the US blockade and demanding freedom for the Cuban Five heroes after their unjust imprisonment in US jails for sixteen years, have gained growing support. Social movements, student groups, several trade unions, the CLC and CSN, and members of Parliament across Canada have all come out in support of the Five.
The Cuban solidarity movement in English-speaking Canada and Quebec is more than an archipelago of hard-working individuals and organizations because of formations like the Canadian Network on Cuba and Table de concertatión de solidarité Québec-Cuba. The YCL is a member of both organizations and efforts like CNC’s Che Guevara Work Brigade is a great tool to help Cuba solidarity, and something the League is increasingly prioritizing. We should fundraise to help send many more YCLers and young people to see Cuba.
The YCL is active in supporting, as best we can, Palestine solidarity especially through actions like Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses as well as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign. BDS has won broadening support and new campaigns like boycott of the Soda Stream machine are developing to which we should be attentive. While our positions have never stopped us from working with the broad sweep of Palestinian solidarity activists, some of whom might vary on their long-term vision for the region, we should continue to respect the lead of the youth of the Palestinian People’s Party and YCL Israel.
As our analysis in this political report says, the Middle East region remains of tremendous interest for imperialism. War has, unfortunately, likely only been forestalled in Syria. Now is the time to start or step-up education and mobilization about these issues among youth, not to put anti-war work on hold. Any war on Syria would be an attack on Iran. The YCL needs to continue our support of the Tudeh youth of Iran who staunchly oppose any intervention while internally supporting opposition to the theocratic regime.
Another constantly volatile area is the Korean peninsula. The YCL needs to continue to be a voice against a new Korean War and provocation, and for a just peace treaty ultimately leading to the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas.
The YCL needs to make a better effort following up on the important connections we have built through the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the last two World Festivals of Youth and Students. In particular, we should see where we can mobilize support against the ultra-right threats to the Colombian Peace process by linking with the JUCO helping build support for the negotiations here in Canada, remain active around Venezuela solidarity including with the JCV, continue and deepen our work with La Jota of Chile making linkages between students of our countries in support of their struggles, and continue dialog with the OCLEA about common student concerns.
To support peace in Colombia the YCL calls for the end of Canada’s military ties to the brutally repressive and oligarchical Colombian State, and an end to Canada’s free trade agreement with Colombia, which supports Canadian corporations at the expense of the Colombian people.
We should also see where it is possible to contribute to promoting the question of freedom for Western Sahara and the youth of the POLISARIO movement. In our first statement on the issue we drew “to the attention of the youth and student organizations of Canada that, since Morocco’s decolonization from fascist Spain in 1975, Morocco has held Western Sahara as a colony, brutally suppressed its people, and deprived them of the economic benefits of their own land and resources.”
Regarding the WFDY itself, our last editorial in Rebel Youth commented, “No other organization exists like WFDY. There are many youth forums, which have a liberal perspective. There are many global charitable and humanitarian NGOs. But there is only one consistent, truly international, youth-oriented and anti-imperialist organization, which is WFDY. No other event exists like the Youth Festival.”
It is very important that the League continues to build the global anti-imperialist youth movement internationally through the World Federation of Democratic Youth. We need to find unity with the broadest possible forces opposed to imperialist intervention. Naturally this means working with forces that have divergent analysis from our organization, but our view is sincerely that what unites us is much stronger than what, on a certain particular questions, or at certain times, can separate us.
Join the 25th Che Brigade!
Since 1993, the Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade has offered hundreds of Canadians the opportunity to join an exciting and informative 2-week tour of Cuba. Volunteers are afforded a first-hand view of the gains and victories of the Cuban Revolution through both a tour of significant historical and political locales of Cuba and by working alongside ordinary Cubans. The next Brigade leaves in Spring 2017.