Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Rough Analogy

Grade 11 student Carl Niedermeyer unfurled a torrent of opposition to a newly instituted ban against any display of the image of the Nazi flag or swastika because of its negative connotation as a symbol of racism.

"To be told that showing our German pride using this flag is us being racist is not only an insult to us as human beings, but possibly even a bit racist in itself," says the 16-year-old Sutton resident.

The flag with a red background featuring a black swastika in a white circle flown by German troops during the Second World War of 1939 to 1945 has less to do with imperialist expansion, racism and genocide for some students than it does a 'folksy' culture of beer halls, the music of Richard Wagner and rebelling against authority.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Conservatives target the unemployed with EI changes

This article was originally published at Fightback.

Strict new changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) program took effect across the country on Jan. 6. The Conservatives’ plans to “reform” EI have been public knowledge since the Harper government tabled its last federal budget in March. Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley claimed the new changes merely clarify what is expected from EI claimants and help better connect job applicants to available work. In reality, they represent the latest attempt by the Canadian bourgeoisie to make workers pay for the ongoing capitalist crisis through austerity and a reduction of the social wage.

Henceforth, EI claimants will be divided into three categories. “Long-tenured workers” have paid 30 per cent of their maximum annual EI premiums for seven of the last ten years, and collected benefits for less than 35 weeks during the past five years. “Frequent claimants” have filed more than three claims and collected more than 60 weeks’ benefits over the previous five years. Anyone else is classified as an “occasional claimant.” The net effect is to divide EI claimants between those who pay into the program but never or rarely collect benefits and those who make more frequent claims.

The revamped EI program will also introduce more stringent definitions of “suitable employment” and what constitutes a “reasonable job search” (in other words, preparing resumes, attending job fairs, and applying for jobs and job banks). Under the new regulations, the government will consider several factors when considering whether an EI claimant is suited for a particular job, including wages, type of work, commuting time, working conditions, hours of work and personal circumstances such as family obligations. As an example of what is considered “suitable,” the regulations define an acceptable commuting time as one hour each way — although, it could also be a figure that “could be higher taking into account previous commuting history and community’s average commuting time.”

Particularly hard-hit by the changes will be the Atlantic provinces, the economies of which are more dependent than the rest of Canada on seasonal employment such as fishing. During the winter months, when there is little work to be found in rural areas, many residents rely on EI payments before returning to their jobs when the season starts. In the wake of Harper’s restructuring of the program, frequent claimants may be required to take available work off-season rather than waiting for their old jobs to start up again — even if the new job pays 30 per cent less and is located an hour’s drive away.

While the government portrays the EI changes as common sense reforms designed to reduce waste while making it easier for people to find work, the reality is more complicated. In truth, EI “reform” represents the latest bourgeois attack on workers as the ruling elite seeks to make the most vulnerable members of society pay for the crisis of their system. Seizing on the pretext of a vast increase in the federal debt caused by corporate tax cuts and bailouts to banks and auto companies, the bosses are clawing back every historical gain of the Canadian working class.

As it aims to restore conditions of profitability, one of the biggest targets of the capitalist class is the social wage, which consists of benefits paid through the bourgeois state that workers managed to wrench from the bosses over years of struggle. This includes pensions, health care, and unemployment benefits. In order to pay off the debt and restore the rate of profit, capitalists are targeting every social program they can find as a source of savings. As always, the human cost of restoring economic equilibrium to the capitalist system is borne not by those who order the cuts, but by ordinary working people.

Youth and female workers, in particular, stand to lose out, as they are the most vulnerable to long-term changes in the job market that have reduced eligibility for EI. In recent decades, demand for ever-greater “flexibility” in the labour market has created a shift towards more temporary and part-time employment. This is reflected in numbers from Statistics Canada, which reported that 78.4 per cent of Canadians who lost their jobs in 2012 were eligible for EI benefits, compared to 83.9 per cent in 2010. In an economy that emphasizes the disposability of the worker, fewer and fewer people are able to reach the threshold of 420 to 700 working hours (generally only attainable at a full-time job) that allows them to qualify for benefits. The same Statistics Canada report noted that among EI contributors, the share working in full-time jobs decreased from 51 per cent in 2011 to 40 per cent. Eligibility rates for women and youth both dropped.

By making it harder to qualify for EI benefits and instituting a sliding scale of benefits that decreases benefits for each week the recipient is out of work — all while making no effort to reduce premiums — the Harper government is tightening the screws on the unemployed and forcing them to accept work in the more precarious short-term, temporary or part-time positions that increasingly dominate the economic landscape in advanced capitalist nations. At the same time, cutting benefits while maintaining premiums will provide the government with an additional source of funds to pay off the federal debt should EI once more generate a surplus.

Such a manoeuvre would come as no surprise from the Conservative government, which funnelled $55-billion from the EI surplus to help pay off the debt in 2008 — a move that then-NDP leader Jack Layton described as “the biggest theft in Canadian history.” But Harper’s theft was only the most recent in a series of attacks that have plagued EI for decades.

Unemployment Insurance was first established as part of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett’s Employment and Social Insurance Act of 1935, and was later expanded by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, which made benefits more generous and easily available. Since 1971, those benefits have been cut and cut again. The federal government, originally obliged to make financial contributions to the program along with employers and employees, gradually reduced its contributions until they were eliminated completely by 1990.

The Progressive Conservatives cut EI in 1990 and 1993, before the Liberals took over the hatchet and cut it further in 1994 and 1996. Amendments made eligibility more difficult by increasing the hours of work needed to qualify. The Liberals’ role in cutting EI cost them dearly in lost votes from the Atlantic provinces during the 1997 election. After Harper was elected in 2006, the Conservatives refused to recognize the existing EI surplus, and in 2008 adopted legislation freezing the surplus indefinitely and putting EI premiums on a pay-as-you-go basis. That same year, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected a court challenge from two Quebec trade unions, the Confederation des syndicats nationaux (the province’s second largest union, representing 300,000 workers) and the Syndicat National des Employes de l’Aluminium, arguing that the government had misappropriated EI funds.

Now the Conservatives have further escalated their attacks on EI. The new changes are only the latest manifestation of the austerity the party has been mandated by the capitalist class with spearheading, and which is being felt in every area of economic life through cuts, layoffs, and downsizing. In simple terms, EI “reform” will force the unemployed to more quickly accept one of the precarious, low-wage jobs that are the new norm in Canada by making it more difficult for them to survive.

A larger point must also be considered. In the last analysis, the welfare state, which includes programs such as Employment Insurance, is only an attempt by the capitalist state to compensate for the failings of capitalism itself. Ever-subject to the irrational whims of the market, the capitalist system relies on what Marx called a “reserve army of labour” (the unemployed) to help keep wages down. The resulting waste of human potential is staggering. However, in most capitalist economies, unemployment has gone way over and above what Marx would consider a “reserve army”. Persistent, chronic, and endemic unemployment undermines the system from within. Where the anarchic free market permits human beings to suffer when their labour is not required, a rationally-planned economy would allow society to fully utilize all of the “human resources” at its disposal.

As part of an omnibus budget bill passed by Harper’s Conservative majority, the EI overhaul will go through as planned unless stopped in its tracks by a popular mass movement. Canadians have seen two such movements recently in the forms of the Quebec student strike — which targeted the tuition hikes of the Charest government — and Idle No More, which is currently engaged in an all-out battle to stop the implementation of Bill C-45. At first glance, the unemployed appear only as a small minority of the general population. But the same could be said for the Quebec students and First Nations activists who nonetheless pushed their concerns onto the national agenda, and through their efforts earned a great deal of support from the wider working class.

The NDP and many union leaders have come out strongly against the changes to EI. But ultimately, cuts to assistance for the unemployed are only a symptom of the larger problem: an economic system of which unemployment is the inevitable by-product. Bourgeois economists that refer to a so-called “normal” level of unemployment reflect the degree to which our present society has acclimatized itself to a certain, seemingly inevitable degree of human suffering. And indeed, so long as the means of production are privately-owned and geared towards profit, a certain subset of the population will be condemned to idleness and deprivation.

Only a planned economy under democratic workers’ control, where the means of production are publicly-owned and oriented towards the fulfilment of social needs, will allow society to eliminate the scourge of unemployment once and for all.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Four More Years

HOORAY! I'm so excited for my super cool progressive hero Barack Obama to start his second term!

Barack is a civil rights hero because he let gay Americans kill brown people on the other side of the world too. He personally supports gay marriage (now), but believes the states should ultimately decide. A champion of states’ rights, the president has clearly learned the lessons of the Civil War and the civil rights movement!

He's a champion of the little guy - ordinary, hardworking Americans like Jaime Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. But he's no liberal purist, either: Barack is more than happy to make little old ladies eat cat food if that's what the bankers demand!

But he's tough, too! He orders other people to push buttons that kill terrorists thousands of miles away! I know they're terrorists because the U.S. government says so, and because any military-age male killed in a strike zone is presumed to be a militant. The administration said so! Barack is standing up to Iran and its nuclear program, the same way George W. Bush stood up to Iraq and its nuclear program!

Barack Obama shows that America is never afraid to stand up for what's right! That's why he tortures whistleblowers and protects torturers.

And now, here's to four more glorious years. Congratulations, America! You’ve earned it.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Idle No More re-ignites social struggle across Canada

Note: This article was originally written for the publication Fightback and is expected to appear on their website after the Christmas break.

Thousands of protesters took part in demonstrations across the country on Dec. 21 under the banner of Idle No More, a grassroots movement dedicated to protecting the environment and Aboriginal treaty rights against new federal legislation. First Nations activists and their supporters mobilized nationwide, with the largest protest on Parliament Hill drawing more than 2,000 people. Solidarity rallies took place around the world from New Zealand to Los Angeles to the United Kingdom. Some activists also started blocking key roads and railways. In the span of a few weeks, Idle No More has become the most significant social movement in Canada since Occupy and the Quebec student strike.

The movement’s recent focus has been on stopping the federal omnibus budget bill C-45, now the law of the land after having received royal assent. Idle No More supporters argue that, contrary to Aboriginal treaties, the Harper government has pushed through Bill C-45 without consulting native leaders or gaining their free, prior and informed consent. The bill includes changes to the Indian Act that would give the Aboriginal affairs minister the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of releasing reserve land, potentially a gateway to privatization.

Environmental concerns also play a key role in Idle No More. Changes made in Bill C-45 to the Navigable Waters Protection Act reduce the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada from 2.5 million to 82 (coincidentally, the majority of bodies of water that remain under federal protection are located in Conservative ridings). The weakening of environmental regulations to boost corporate profits will increase pollution and contamination in native communities such as Fort Chipewyan, which has seen cancer rates skyrocket in recent years due to the nearby oil sands.

Idle No More supporters are demanding that the Harper government shelve Bill C-45 until it has met and consulted with native leaders. Their struggle has become embodied in the hunger strike of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who at the time of writing had gone more than 22 days without eating. Leader of a First Nations community that attracted international attention in 2011 for its appalling living conditions, the increasingly emaciated Spence has pledged to continue her fast until the prime minister and governor-general meet with native leaders. Harper’s continued refusal to grant such a meeting raises the real possibility that the prime minister of Canada will let this woman die before he listens to her concerns.

Fightback unequivocally supports the efforts of First Nations to defend their land and resource rights as stipulated in the treaties. But Idle No More addresses issues of concern to all Canadian workers, including poverty, education, housing, public health, the environment and the Harper government’s ongoing attacks on democracy. First Nations face the same enemy as the broader Canadian working class. By forcing these topics into the national conversation, native activists are taking the lead in the ongoing struggle against the decaying capitalist system.

The current activity follows years of steadily mounting grievances. First Nations have faced state oppression and discrimination throughout Canadian history. Successive governments in Ottawa cynically signed and broke treaties depending on their needs of the moment, while Aboriginal inhabitants were pushed onto reserves with poor land or relegated to the fringes of urban society to live as a despised minority. State authorities attempted to erase every aspect of their culture and separated native children from their families, forcing them to attend abusive residential schools.

Today, First Nations people statistically suffer social maladies at rates far worse than the general population: more unemployment, shorter life expectancy, higher rates of incarceration, poverty and suicide, lower levels of education and greater substance abuse. More than 75 First Nations communities live under constant boil-water-advisory conditions, and residents of towns such as Attawipiskat live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions with no running water or proper sewage. Such is the legacy of centuries of oppression in which Aboriginal Canadians were treated at best as second-class citizens.

Abuse inevitably leads to resistance. Over the last few decades, indigenous peoples in Canada have fought back in whatever way they could, illustrated during successive crises in Oka (1990), Ipperwash (1995), Gustafsen Lake (1995) and Burnt Church (1999). National days of action in 2007 and 2008 led to native activists blockading stretches of Highway 401 and the CN railroad between Toronto and Montreal. Leaders of these actions were often rounded up and arrested.

Many First Nations people hoped for change in 2008 after Stephen Harper issued an official apology on behalf of the Canadian government for the residential school system. The prime minister pledged a new relationship with First Nations based on partnership and mutual respect. But the government’s successive actions exposed Harper’s promise as meaningless verbiage, as The Toronto Star noted on Dec. 20:

Since 2008, the Harper government has cut aboriginal health funding, gutted environmental review processes, ignored the more than 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, withheld residential school documents from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, abandoned land claim negotiations, and tried to defend its underfunding of First Nations schools and child welfare agencies.

When some dared call attention to poverty, “corrupt” chiefs were blamed. Although the minister of Aboriginal Affairs, John Duncan, claims to have visited 50 First Nations communities and conducted 5,000 consultations, he and his staff clearly have not gained the First Nations’ consent on the seven currently tabled bills that Idle No More activists oppose.

After so many broken agreements and cutbacks, Bill C-45 was clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back – the moment when quantity turned into quality, when injustices accumulated over many years became too much to bear.

Idle No More began with four indigenous and non-indigenous Saskatchewan women – Sylvia McAdams, Jessica Gordon, Nina Wilson and Sheelah McLean – who began organizing “teach-ins” in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert during November to build awareness around Bill C-45. Efforts continued when the Louis Bull Cree Nation held learning sessions in Alberta, and organizer Tanya Kappo took to Facebook and Twitter to spread the message further.

Momentum built on social media and led to a National Day of Action on Dec. 10. At the invitation of the New Democratic Party, First Nations leaders attempted to enter the House of Commons as the bill was being voted on, but were refused entry.  Agitation therefore built up further, culminating in an even larger day of protests across the country on Dec. 21.

While solidarity rallies took place from Vancouver to Halifax, the focus was on Ottawa, where legions of supporters were bused in from as far afield as Regina. By mid-morning on Friday, 500 supporters had already gathered on Victoria Island outside the compound where Chief Spence is staying in a teepee during her hunger strike. The demonstrators braved cold weather to rally on Parliament Hill to hear a variety of speakers including Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, who said Spence’s hunger strike and Idle No More had awakened Aboriginal people across Canada.

Harper appeared unmoved by the day’s rallies, preferring to tweet about his love of bacon. But NDP leader Thomas Mulcair penned a letter to Harper in which he urged the prime minister to heed the message of Idle No More, commit to reconciliation and re-engage with native leaders.

“From coast to coast to coast, an unprecedented wave of grassroots action is sweeping across First Nations communities,” the Leader of the Official Opposition wrote. “When you met with First Nations leaders less than a year ago, you committed your government to working in partnership with First Nations Canadians. The #IdleNoMore protests are proof that Aboriginal Canadians are demanding you fulfill that solemn commitment.”

The NDP leader’s support for the aims of Idle No More is an encouraging sign, as are letters of support from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and others. There is a widespread recognition that in challenging corporate power and standing up for native land and resource rights, First Nations people are fighting on behalf of all Canadian workers who want decent housing, high public health and education standards and a clean environment for their children to grow up in.

Therefore, Fightback wholeheartedly supports the Idle No More movement. The struggle of Aboriginal Canadians for basic rights and dignity reflects the struggle of all working class Canadians seeking a decent life. But advancing those goals in the long run will require greater unity between First Nations and the labour movement.

Defend native treaty rights and the environment!

Unity between native and non-native workers!

For a socialist Canada with equal opportunities for all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Analyzing Right-Wing Propaganda (I)

A friend of mine sent me a link to the right-wing propaganda film Agenda: Grinding America Down and asked for my thoughts on it. Talk about opening the floodgates. Below you will find live-blogging of my experience watching the film in its entirety.

- Ronald Reagan appears onscreen and I already know this is going to be good. Given the black and white picture and his relative youth, I imagine this is a clip from his classic 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech in which he claims Medicare represents the beginning of communism in America and the end of freedom as we know it. I pour my first drink.
- Bunch of people talk and it’s clear this movie is going to be all about culture. Culture is the trump card for the right-wing propaganda machine, because it removes economics completely from the picture. Instead of being the inevitable byproduct of profit-oriented media eager to boost the bottom line, the increasing amount of sex and violence in media is blamed on a nefarious, conspiratorial “liberal elite” and therefore represents one of the first steps on the path to communism.
- So liberals are not actually communists, just the “useful idiots” which the communists use as pawns in their grand scheme to eliminate everything good and decent about America. Nothing paranoid about this!
- Less than 3 minutes in and they’ve brought out the Nazi footage! Even as the talking heads conflate liberalism and communism, it looks like this movie will follow Glenn Beck’s example by conflating communists and fascists (aka the most fervent opponents of communism).
- Why would the left continue to push communist policies? “They’re either ignorant, or they’re evil.” Simple!
- I love how while talking about the left’s evil schemes, they show a book burning in which one of the books being burned was written by Lenin. Doublethink – gotta love it.
- Interesting how Curtis Bowers describes his experiences meeting with the CPUSA. This is a superb example of framing: if you support feminism or gay rights, what you’re really supporting is the destruction of morality and the family.
- Flash-forward to 2008, and Bowers can’t believe how successful their agenda has been! The disintegration of the family, the massive power supposedly wielded by the environmental movement, hate crimes legislation that calls bigotry what it is – all this reveals the utter narrowness and backwardness of Bowers’ views.
- The Naked Communist by Cleon Skousen was also one of the books most instrumental in the development of Glenn Beck’s warped worldview. Birds of a feather...
- As I look at all the goals of Communist infiltrators outlined by Skousen, I wonder why I’m supposed to take seriously the paranoid ramblings of a former FBI agent and right-wing Mormon crank as definitive proof of leftist goals in the United States.
- “Goal #27: Discredit the Bible”. You mean like Thomas Jefferson, who ripped out every page in his Bible he believed to be false and was left with a few measly pages clinging to the spine?
- John Stormer cites J. Edgar Hoover calling communists “masters of deceit.” Well, if there’s one figure in American history who was a paragon of honesty and virtue, it’s a guy who blackmailed public figures for their sexuality while wearing dresses in his spare time.
- Hearing these guys talk about Latin America and China and lumping them together as “communist” says much about the lack of nuance in their worldview. Liberals, social democrats, socialists, communists, opportunist capitalists calling themselves communists – whatever, it’s all the same thing!
- Jim Simpson acknowledges that most of the people supposedly spreading communism are not communists, instead calling them mere “useful idiots”. So basically, he’s admitting that any social cause with the merest whiff of progressivism is identical to communism as far as he’s concerned. If anything, all he’s doing is identifying himself as an enemy of human progress! I’m sure if Bowers was alive back in the 1850s, he would have said the same thing about those nefarious abolitionists trying to destroy the Southern way of life.
- Great job, Bowers. With your political spectrum, you’ve once more revealed your utter idiocy and lack of historical knowledge. Even though he tries to lump together liberals, socialists, communists and fascists by saying they all worshipped the state, Bowers seems totally unaware that the Nazis were the declared arch-enemies of the communists, that they beat up communists before they came to power, jailed and murdered them after they did come to power, and – oh yeah, invaded the Soviet Union in the largest act of military aggression in world history. But forget all that – Nazis were basically the same as communists.
- Ah, I see – the entire American political spectrum has moved to the left, not the right. Is that why Obama is cutting Social Security while starting new wars and claiming the right to execute American citizens without charges or trial?
- And there is no opposition to any of this – except, of course, for the entire American right-wing blathering on endlessly about the socialist threat as if it actually existed.
- “What’s So Bad About Communism?” Again, these conservative talking heads have only the most simplistic and base view of what “communism” is. They can’t grasp that there could be severe disagreements and criticisms within the communist movement. They have no apparent awareness of Trotsky’s struggle against the bureaucratic degeneration in the USSR and how he was outright murdered by Stalin’s goons, as were so many of the old Bolsheviks. And they’re so very concerned about how many people were murdered under “communism” – I wonder what their thoughts are on U.S. imperial wars or the current policy of assassination-by-drone-strike based on presidential fiat?
- How many people have died due to capitalism? Funny how nobody ever compiles those figures.
- What a fucking warped view of history these people have. So America’s public schools are teaching how to carry out genocide? Funny, they always seemed to mostly ignore what happened to the Native Americans...
- I was about to praise the narrator for explaining the difference between socialism and communism – until he said that socialism can be summed up as “Big Government”. HELP! I’m trapped in a sea of right-wing talking points!
- The central fallacy – liberalism/socialism/communism are evil because of “wealth redistribution”, because they take money people earned through hard work and give it to the undeserving. You know what that reminds me of? CAPITALISM, which is based on not paying people the full value of their labour while the capitalist pockets more than his fair share. That’s where profit comes from. But you’re never going to hear the right complaining about those lazy capitalists mooching off the workers.
- Why use an atomic bomb to illustrate how socialism destroys everything in its path? I checked the social system of the only country ever to actually use nuclear weapons in war, and it wasn’t socialist.
- You know, I wish there were as many people on the left who believed that the final victory of socialism was at hand as there seem to be on the right.
- Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but right after David Noebel talked about how Venezuela was “hard-core Marxist”, I swear I heard him refer to Nicaragua as “N*gger-agua”.
- The “red plague”. Are you kidding me?
- Watching them talk about how Karl Marx begat the Fabian Socialists who begat the Students for a Democratic Society who begat the Weather Underground, and how many of them are still in positions of power, such as Rev. Jim Wallis. Oh yeah, Rev. Jim Wallis – there’s a figure who will send shivers down the spine of the ruling elite. Amazing how right-wing propaganda manages to make the oppressed look like the oppressors and vice versa.
- Sympathizing with the Viet Cong, how dare he! It’s not like they were morally in the right, fighting for national liberation against a military superpower attempting to protect its puppet government, or anything like that.
- Jim Simpson is correct – throughout my impressionable years in elementary school, all I ever heard from my teachers was how great it would be if I grew up to become an atheist alcoholic homosexual.
- Have to laugh out loud at the juxtaposition of July 4, baseball and apple pie with a group of intellectuals plotting behind the scenes to “make America so corrupt it stinks.”
- There is no middle ground: either the father is the breadwinner, disciplinarian and protector of his family, or the government is. Nice to know there is no alternative possibility to the mother being a domestic slave without her becoming married to “Big Government”.
- “Cultural Marxism” was also one of the obsessions of mass-murderer Anders Breivik, who accused young members of the Labour Party of such when he gunned them down in 2011.
- “Most people will give over to the [government], because they don’t want the chaos.” Kind of like how so many people on the right wet their pants and asked Big Bad Government to protect them after 9/11 with the Patriot Act? And how they continue to demand government take away their rights to protect them from the omnipresent threat of “terrorism”? I pour my third drink.
- Thanks to Saul Alinsky, we now know that everyone on the left worships Satan as a matter of course.
- Saul Alinksy defines the modern American left? Funny, I thought lesser-of-two-evillism did.
- The Piven plan to “overload the welfare system” – how exactly did they encourage this? Was there an organized strategy to overload the welfare system? I’d love to see some proof of that, but that would overwhelm the paranoid fantasy.
- That section on Betty Friedan is almost painfully stupid. But then, so is the rest of the film.
- Society is falling apart - I’ll grant you that, Bowers. But your proposed solutions have no relevance to existing power relations.
- “My object in life is to dethrone God and destroy capitalism.” Awesome Karl Marx quote!
- The Progressive Caucus of the Democrats – truly, a life-and-death threat to the government of capitalist America which trembles before its 20% representation in Congress.
- I know, Christianity gets so much flak in America, more than any other religion. This is especially unfair when we consider how Christianity has traditionally faced persecution in U.S. society to a degree unmatched by any other religion.
- As the narrator says, those who believe in the sanctity of human life have always been the biggest challenge to those totalitarian regimes who would impose “Big Government” on all of us. Just ask Pope Pius XII.
- Why is it that, unlike Aristotle, we now know slavery to be wrong? Because we have the Bible. ("You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way." - Leviticus 25:44-46)
- Whether we know it or not, “the Left is at war with God.” Such a thoughtful, nuanced interpretation of events.
- “Anti-God” is the same thing as “Anti-free enterprise”. Perhaps an unintentionally revealing analogy...
- If we tell people about problems with the environment, racism, etc., we are stunting their critical thinking skills. If we tell them that the whole world was created by God and all the proof you will ever need is in the Bible, we are creating free-spirited independent thinkers. Gotcha.
- Movie is promoting the idea that it’s all about self-reliance. How many huge corporations got that way without government assistance? Just want to know.
- Global warming is nothing but a hoax! Well, there’s a reasonable and well-considered idea.
- Jim Simpson says socialism will lead to extreme hardship for most Americans. I suppose that makes sense, if you don’t consider the fact that 1% of Americans own 40% of the national wealth.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

XL Foods recall: Cost-cutting threatens food and worker safety

Originally published at Fightback on Oct. 24.

The discovery of E. Coli in meat from XL Foods has prompted the largest beef recall in Canadian history. After a routine inspection along the U.S. border discovered the bacteria in XL meat on Sept. 3, a recall was eventually expanded to include all of Canada, 40 US states, and Puerto Rico. At least 15 people have become ill. Ground zero for the contamination was the massive XL Foods processing facility in Brooks, Alta., which slaughters a million cattle per year and processes one-third of Canada’s beef.

The future of the Brooks facility became uncertain after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulled XL’s operating license on Sept. 27. The company blamed resulting uncertainty for its Oct. 13 decision to temporarily lay off 2,000 workers at the plant. Only days later, XL announced that 800 “A shift” workers would temporarily be brought back onto the job to process carcasses previously cleared by inspectors, fuelling greater confusion.

Like any capitalist enterprise, XL Foods has one key goal: increasing profit. While corporate consolidation grew and agriculture and meat production became more concentrated, the role of factory farming in agribusiness became more prominent. Today over 95% of animals raised and slaughtered for food in Canada are mass-produced on factory farms. As animals rights groups have pointed out, conditions for animals there tend to be overcrowded and unsanitary, allowing disease to spread easily.

The conditions for human workers are little better than those of the animals. The unappealing nature of slaughterhouse work has traditionally attracted those most desperate for employment, and XL Foods is no different. At its Brooks plant, the company maintained cost-cutting through a super-exploited workforce consisting largely of immigrants, refugees, and temporary employees.

Following the recall, reports started coming in from workers of a general lack of concern by management for food safety. Under constant pressure to maintain quotas, employees could not sterilize their tools between cuts without losing pace. Cleaning equipment was regularly clogged. Unsanitary conditions reigned. Workers’ reports consistently state that for the company, processing meat — ensuring profits — was always the first priority. The health of workers and the public came a poor second.

According to the Toronto Star (8 Oct. 2012), many XL Foods workers developed serious tendon problems in their hands, barely able to open them due to their constant gripping of work tools on the line. When some returned to the plant with written recommendations allowing them modified work, supervisors allegedly tore the forms up. Many workers were simply fired outright.

Such naked exploitation eventually led to an explosion in 2005. A dispute arose when XL Foods workers joined the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) and the company’s then-owner Tyson Foods, refused to negotiate a first contract. When workers voted to strike, Tyson bused in replacement workers, which are legal under Alberta law. Tension increased before an RCMP riot squad was called in. Police charged the plant CEO and other managers with dangerous driving when their car crashed into the union president’s car and injured him (the charges were later dropped).

The union and Tyson eventually reached a deal after three weeks. But the strike experience led to a new approach by the company, which began hiring more temporary workers from abroad. When new owners, the Nilsson brothers, took over the plant in 2009, they increased the number of foreign temporary employees to one-third of the facility’s workforce, where 60% already consisted of immigrants and refugees.

The terms of Canada’s Temporary Workers Program stipulate that workers recruited under the program may not change jobs or bring in family for four years, but when their program is up, employers may nominate them for permanent residency. By dangling such a tantalizing prospect in front of its workforce, XL Foods successfully convinces many employees to accept atrocious working conditions, no matter how dangerous or unhealthy their environment becomes.

UFCW president Doug O’Halloran has called for better industry standards and criticized the Nilsson brothers for not making health and safety a greater priority. Recent developments regarding the temporary layoffs led him to accuse the owners of poor and erratic management. In a press release, O’Halloran complained that the CEO had refused to meet with union representatives to discuss food safety.

Following the recall, Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson said that food safety was the top priority for everyone involved. But for a private company like XL Foods, this is never truly the case. More accurately, their concern is negative publicity eating into profits. Should the Brooks plant open up again, the focus will still be on profits, with public gestures of safety intended only as a means of maintaining the long-term bottom line. In a capitalist enterprise, this is only to be expected.

The only way to rationalize agriculture and food production is through a mode of production based on the satisfaction of human needs rather than private profit. The agribusiness firms, like all large corporations that make up the commanding heights of the economy, play a dominant role in our lives. The consequences for public well-being are too important for such entities to be left in the hands of private capitalists.

Whether the goal is guaranteeing safe working conditions and a living wage for meat plant workers, or preserving the safety and health standards of the public food supply, capitalism has proven itself incapable of ensuring either. For a rational system of food production that truly values the health of workers and the public above all else, it is necessary to expropriate the largest agribusiness firms and nationalize them under democratic control. Only then will food production be geared primarily towards feeding people rather than profits.

Nationalize agribusiness under democratic workers’ control!

Defend collective bargaining rights of agribusiness workers!

Friday, August 31, 2012

By Jingo

As far as I'm concerned, Mitt Romney knocked his RNC speech out of the park - a masterpiece of nationalist demagoguery. Of course, my eyes started rolling once he got into specifics. But it's funny how this billionaire capitalist has somehow become the underdog in this presidential election, as far as the two corporate parties are concerned. Nobody really likes this guy, even his supporters. But tonight, he managed to check all the boxes and appeal to what Americans most admire about their country. I remember watching the 2008 RNC and being repelled by the consistent negativity represented by the likes of Sarah Palin. It's funny how this year, the Republicans have actually been better overall at creating a more positive vision for the country's future - even if it's all lies. Obama and the Democrats have nothing to run on, no popular policies from the last four years - so this time, they're the ones primarily running on fear and division. Take it from someone who checks the Fox Nation website every day: the GOP have been so successful in turning Obama into the supposed Kenyan Muslim socialist fascist Antichrist that the work is already done, and there's no need for further divisiveness at the RNC. But still - stellar performance from the less charismatic corporate empty suit.
In conclusion: vote Jill Stein.