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Nigerian troops out of Mali!

Republished from the Socialist Workers League (Nigeria)

776 Nigerian troops are expected to arrive in Mali today to support the attacks by French forces in the north of Mali.  They are expected to be joined by 124 more, and another 2,000 troops from other West African countries.  This action confirms Nigeria’s imperialist role across West Africa and gives backing to the French attacks which have already killed hundreds with bombing raids on the three main towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.

Aid agencies expect the number of refugees from the fighting to increase to 70,000 and the level of malnutrition, which doubled last year, will also increase.  As the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have found out, Western imperialism never comes to bring democracy but to defend its own crude interests.

The north of Mali has suffered great poverty and little investment by the central government for decades.  Early last year Tuareg separatists took over most of the region and declared an independent state of Azawad.

The action by the Nigerian government just supports the right of French and other imperialist powers to intervene at will across the world.  French troops are being supported by both the US and UK.

The French government claims that the attacks are needed to prevent the spread of Islamic terrorism as part of the US war on terror.  However, the real terror in the world today is poverty which kills an estimated 3,000 people every day.  This is the equivalent of an al-Qaeda attack on the scale of the 2001 World Trade Centre every single    day.

We demand the Nigerian Government immediately withdraws its troops from Mali.

The Morgentaler decision, 25 years on

carolynBy Jesse McLaren

January 28 will be the 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law—making Canada the only country in the world with no legal restriction on abortion. This was a tremendous victory for the women’s movement and these lessons are crucial to resisting the ongoing threats to choice while fighting for broader reproductive justice.

Capitalism and the state

Controlling women’s bodies has been a central feature of capitalism—to impose the heterosexist nuclear family where women do unpaid labour raising the next generation of workers, and to enforce racist and ableist policies. In 1869 Canada criminalized abortion and even the dissemination of information about birth control, under Section 251 of the Criminal Code.

Dr. Romalis, a provider who has survived two assassination attempts by the “pro-life” movement, described hospitals when abortion was illegal: “It’s hard to believe now, but in those days, they had one ward dedicated exclusively to septic complications of pregnancy. About 90 per cent of the patients were there with complications of septic abortion. The ward had about 40 beds, in addition to extra beds which lined the halls. Each day we admitted between 10-30 septic abortion patients. We had about one death a month, usually from septic shock associated with hemorrhage.”

Wealthy white women had access to abortion, but poor and working class women were denied, indigenous and disabled women had forced sterilization, and lesbian and trans women were criminalized and pathologized.

A hundred years later Parliament amended the Section 251 to decriminalize contraception, but abortion was only granted in situations deemed “medically necessary” by Therapeutic Abortion Committees. When Dr. Morgentaler began performing abortions in defiance of the law in 1969 the police raided his clinics, the courts put him on trial, and the anti-choice movement picketed his clinics.

The fight for choice

The pro-choice movement focused on overturning the law by mobilized a broad-based movement with a reproductive justice perspective—building unity between Quebec and English Canada, fighting the sterilization of aboriginal and disabled women and the criminalization of queer women, mobilizing an abortion caravan and clinic defense, and putting access for abortion alongside the fight for equal pay, child care and good jobs. Making choice a class issue meant that even juries composed of men refused to find Morgentaler guilty.

After 19 years of mobilizing, the movement succeeded on January 28, 1988 when the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law as unconstitutional—arguing it violated Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by infringing on a woman’s right to life, liberty and security of the person.

The anti-choice movement has been trying to create a panic around Canada having no law on abortion, based on a paternalistic and sexist belief that women can’t be trusted to control their own bodies and that the state has to police their reproduction. But Canada has a lower rate of abortion than the US because of greater sexual education and contraception availability; the lack of a law does not raise the abortion rate but only makes it safer, because women have less barriers to accessing abortion earlier in pregnancy.

The movement today

The problem in Canada is not the lack of legal barriers, but the ongoing socioeconomic barriers that still exist to abortion and reproductive justice—from the lack of coverage of abortion in New Brunswick, the lack of providers in PEI in rural communities, and the lack of economic and sexual freedom for poor and working class women and those further oppressed on the basis of race, disability, or sexuality.

The Tories are trying to further restrict a woman’s right to chose with continual anti-choice motions or bills that are increasingly masquerading as helping women—from Bill C-510 against “coerced abortion”, to Motion 408 against “discrimination against women through sex-selection abortion.” These state interventions pay lip service to women while trying to further control their bodies. The end result is women dying, like in Ireland where Savita Halappanavar bled to death while miscarrying because hospitals refused to provide an abortion. But the hypocrisy of the Tory bills and motions also reveals they are unable to directly attack choice and have to do so by stealth for fear of remobilizing the women’s movement.

January 28 is an occasion to celebrate a major victory for the women’s movement, and to revive those lessons so we can beat back the Tory attacks, expand abortion access, and fight for broader reproductive justice.

On January 28 join the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that repealed Canada’s abortion law, as well as to recognize the ongoing struggle for reproductive justice across Canada today.

Bill 115 = union busting

Stop-Bill-115By Pam Johson

Saying that “we all need to tighten our belts” due to budget deficits, McGuinty’s Liberals turned their austerity guns on teachers with Bill 115. This bill has very little to do with money: teachers unions were already prepared to accept a wage freeze. Rather, it is a frontal assault on trade union rights. On January 1, a contract was imposed on teachers and they have been stripped of their right to strike.

Despite almost daily vilification in the mainstream media and by politicians, support for teachers remains high among the general public. Students held dozens of rallies and walkouts in the fall to support teachers. In Hamilton, parents and community members took their own initiative to picket schools in support of teachers.

Prior to January 1, teachers took strike votes despite the threat of Bill115, and some teachers refused to bargain under the draconian bill. Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) led the way with resistance, holding one-day strikes around the province in December.

Unfortunately, there was no unified strategy among the unions representing workers affected by this legislation. CUPE 4400, representing teacher assistants and support workers, settled two days before the December 31 deadline leaving only the elementary and secondary teachers (OSSTF) fighting the bill. Planned strikes following the imposed contract by both EFTO and OSSTF were called off at the last minute when the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled them illegal.

Anger at the imposed contracts—and at the union leadership for not following through with planned action—has not gone away. It boiled over on January 16 when teachers poured onto Bay street in front of the Ministry of Education.

We are in the fight of our lives to defend the hard-won gains of the last 50 years. The labour movement coming together for the January 26 Rally for Rights and Democracy is an important opportunity to raise our collective voice. We will need the strength and solidarity of the whole labour movement to push back the attack.

US fails to ratify treaty

By Melissa Graham

Last month, the US Senate refused to ratify the United Nations treaty on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The CRPD took the rights and freedoms laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and put them in the context of the lives of people with disabilities. Persons with disabilities consider it the most accurate and inclusive global statement regarding their own dignity, independence, personal empowerment and accessibility.

What makes this legislation even more remarkable is that it was drafted over a long period of time by people with disabilities from all over the world who saw how important it was to give their time to develop this treaty, rather than having to depend on others with only a limited understanding of their experiences and needs speak on their behalf. Great care was taken to make sure this treaty covered the details, from the obvious physical barriers to the more elusive reproductive justice. It is a treaty written by those who understand what it means to experience these barriers: people who understand that to a person who uses a wheelchair, equality isn’t just about having equal access to the stairs of the court, but having access to the justice inside it; that to a person who is blind, equality isn’t just about equal access to the heavy textbooks carried by her classmates, but to the education within them.

By not ratifying the treaty, the US fails to advance the human rights principles it once championed in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the landmark disability civil rights law upon which the CRPD is largely based. With that in mind, how did it all go wrong?

Most Senators voted for ratification of the treaty; they were only eight votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass it into law. The Senators who voted down the treaty—all of them Republican—gave unfounded excuses, citing American sovereignty and protecting parental rights. The real reasons are far more chilling.

One “right to life” website published this disturbing quote: “We congratulate the Senators who stood for American sovereignty by refusing to ratify this treaty… pro-life groups oppose this legislation because it leaves open the potential for the international community to permit sterilization or abortion for the disabled.” Meanwhile, the CRPD clause that relates to reproductive justice, found in Article 25, calls for “free or affordable health care including the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based health programs.”

Whether it was the recession, reproductive rights or political grandstanding, not ratifying this treaty will leave another stain on American human rights history. If nothing else, it should serve as a reminder that our fight is not yet won.

Chinese workers at heart of protests

Seagate_Wuxi_China_Factory_TourBy JY Hodge

In April 2012, a group of jewelry workers in Guangzhou barged into their factory manager’s office demanding payment of long-denied pension contributions.

The manager called the police and had them imprisoned, a historically typical story of Chinese labour dispute resolution. However, in this case, the workers’ colleagues, rather than acquiescing, rallied and demanded their co-workers’ release, as well as denouncing the company’s refusal to fund their pension. At the end of it, the company caved and acceded to all the workers’ demands.

In December, on the central East coast, in Jiangsu province, over 1,000 ship workers struck for two days against the internationally-owned Jiangsu Eastern Shipyard over the lack of payment of five months’ back wages. The strikers blocked the national expressway and the accompanying bridge over the Yangtze river, the major waterway in the country. The enterprise is typical of modern Chinese industry in that the vast majority of the employees are sub-contracted through labour agencies while a small number are formal employees who enjoy better wages and job security. Both groups of workers struck over arrears as the formal employees’ learned from the sub-contractors’ protest that fighting back could win. As one said to China Labour Bulletin: “After the sub-contractors protested, the local government only cared about their problems and ignored ours. Neither the trade union nor the labour bureau helped us get our salary back.”

Also in December, hundreds of kilometers inland, approximately 600 workers at a state-owned oil firm in Shaanxi protested over unequal pay and the use of agency labour and they won collective bargaining rights in what is believed to be the first case of collective bargaining in a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE). Through December 2012 to January 9, 2013, when this research was done, the China Labour Bulletin online strike map (http://www.numble.com/clbmape.html) records 56 incidents—including taxi strikes in two provinces, industrial workers, sanitation, transport, healthcare, and teachers all leading job actions.

What do these events have in common? A sustained militancy that long-time observers argue has been absent for a generation or more.

Chinese workers are now typically involved in upwards of 30,000 workplace actions a year. The country’s labour arbitration and mediation committees (the state’s institutions of redress) handled over a million cases in 2010 alone. Actions are being led by a new generation of migrant workers who are younger, better educated and more articulate, and coming with higher expectations than the previous generation.

At a time of growing domestic wealth and consumption in China, workers are demanding a larger share of what they produce. The relatively high cost of living in urban areas, combined with the lack of respect accorded to migrants considered to be rural dwellers rankles many. Additionally, the government has made repeated announcements in recent years about programs to bridge the wealth divide. So many workers are taking the rhetoric at face value when confronted with harsh realities. Minimum wages have increased in some jurisdictions by as much as 30 per cent, yet workers in those areas continue to find themselves with nothing in their pockets at month-end but debtor’s notes.

Such militancy is a welcome change and hopefully the harbinger of a renewed and combative workers movement in China. But the overall context remains poor. Chinese workers continue to have very limited economic prospects and almost none of the rights that are taken for granted in Canada. Most protests are ostensibly spontaneous and dissolve once grievances are addressed, leaving little material legacy of organizational skill and memory of struggle to lay the foundation for a sustained fight-back.

Analogously, the official trade union federation and the bulk of Chinese workers have little in common—this is possibly a good thing for workers, as the ACFTU has long been an arm of the state, the same state that decided what your education and job would be, and where you would work. The ACFTU’s official position for many years was to work with the state to increase labour productivity. This does not sound like an organization shaped to lead worker’s struggles.

However, the new Chinese militancy shows no signs of withering. The state has argued that it needs to increase domestic consumption and that can only happen with improvements in domestic wages and working conditions. The time, then, is ripe for a newly confident workforce to exploit the change in the wind and produce a storm for its own rights and freedoms.

Contradictions and capitalist crisis in China’s economy

Seagate's_clean_roomBy Pam Frache

The Shanghai Composite Index rallied in early December when the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Xi Jinping announced its commitment to increasing investment in urban development and deepening economic reforms.

Business news commentators welcomed the news of rallying markets and an uptick in the Chinese economy to 8.6-per cent growth in the fourth quarter of 2012 (after falling to a low of 7.4 per cent in the third quarter). Indeed, with a modest recovery in the US housing market, some are suggesting that China and the US will kick-start the global economy.

Yet all the contradictions in the Chinese economy revealed in the immediate wake of the global financial crisis remain, and more sober economists are not as optimistic as the headlines suggest.

China remains dependent on low-cost exports made possible through the combination of Foreign Direct Investment and cheap labour. When demand for exports slumped, first in the US and then in Europe, China weathered the global crisis primarily with mass infusions of cash and credit to fund continued investment in plant and greater investment in infrastructure (including railway tracks to nowhere and vacant cities replete with empty office and apartment towers). But as the Economist notes: “[China’s] momentum is sustained by nothing but an outpouring of investment in plant, infrastructure and property. This appears profitable only because each round of investment creates demand for the products of the previous round. If this investment stopped flowing, China’s economy would fall to earth.”

Capacity

Excess capacity is both a cause and effect of the global economic crisis and persists on a world scale. This explains why capitalists the world-over have largely failed to reinvest in plant and equipment, despite some restoration of profit. Excess capacity needs to be absorbed before capitalists feel confident to reinvest in plant and equipment profitably. It is a dynamic that contributes to continued stock and commodity markets where profits can still be made quickly via speculation. In China, state-driven investment in plant and equipment (as opposed to social spending, for instance) can only exacerbate this contradiction within the global economy, and in China.

For example, in August 2012, the New York Times reported that China has unprecedented levels of unsold goods, with stockpiles of everything from steel to cars. An investment management firm notes: “One challenge is the amount of capacity that is still being added to the country’s manufacturing base.  Chinese auto production is expected to grow in the next two years by an amount nearly equal to all of the auto factories in the US.” This excess capacity will put downward pressure on auto prices as firms compete with China to unload their vehicles. As the management firm puts it: “We expect this excess capacity will keep import price inflation subdued here in the US for quite some time.” Indeed, it will also ensure continued attacks on workers’ wages as firms compete for market share and sustain profit margins.

Speculation

In addition to adding to the crisis of over-production, the Chinese stimulus program fuelled stock and real estate speculation. Cheap credit and low interest rates resulted in speculation frenzy. Stock markets climbed, real estate prices rose and inflation soared. In 2011, food prices skyrocketed by a whopping 15 per cent. Food price inflation hurts workers whose wages do not keep up and further depress domestic demand as greater portions of workers’ wages go toward food. It also contributes to workers’ resistance and social instability—a serious concern for the autocratic Community Party. To control inflation and speculation, the Chinese government increased interest rates, tightened the money supply (tempering infrastructure spending) and tightened banking regulations to mitigate the issuance of risky loans. But just as these problems are mitigated, so arises the problem of slowing GDP growth. The 7.4-per cent growth rate in Q3 of 2012 was an historic low for an economy that has averaged 10 per cent or more for the past three decades.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government is once again reducing interest rates to ease credit, expand the money supply, and increase public spending on infrastructure.

But scope for this course of action is certainly smaller for the incoming Communist Party leadership. First, most economists are suggesting that the days of Chinese growth rates of 10 per cent are long gone. (Some economists are predicting growth of less than 5 per cent as early as 2014, which most agree is not fast enough to absorb even modest population growth).

Debt

China’s ability to spend its way out of the crisis is much narrower than it was even 10 years ago. China’s public debt as a percentage of GDP nearly doubled to 34 per cent of GDP between 2009 and 2010. By 2012, China’s public debt was estimated at 43.5 per cent. Perhaps more worrisome is that corporate debt in China has increased from 108 per cent of the entire Chinese economy in 2011 to 122 percent in 2012. As a Bloomberg news report puts it: “Key industries such as steel, construction machinery, aluminum, and coal are facing overcapacity, squeezed margins, and most alarmingly, debt.” Many of these corporations are technically state-owned, which means that the Chinese people will be expected to bailout these over-leveraged enterprises should they fail. The extent of China’s debt obligation, then, becomes significantly higher: “Lump together corporate, public, and household debt,” reports Bloomberg, “and you get a figure close to 206 per cent of GDP.” For an economy estimated to be worth $4.7 trillion US dollars in 2010, a debt obligation worth nearly $9 trillion is a tremendous risk, economically and politically. Bloomberg reports that a bad-loan ratio of only 12 per cent would “erase the banking industry’s [$1.2 trillion US] in capital.”

At the same time, there has been a surge in the “shadow banking” system, where, according to the IMF, “lending is to higher-risk entities including local government investment vehicles and property developers that don’t have access to bank loans.” Adam Wolfe, an economist with Roubini Global Economics, suggests these bad debts will impair the banks’ ability to lend and will choke off investment in the year ahead, increasing concerns about a “hard landing” in China. According to Wolfe: “Faster growth now only pushes China closer to the inevitable sharp slowdown that will come when its debt-fueled, investment-led growth model collapses.” (Such a scenario will have grave implications for commodity prices and economies—like Canada—that have prioritized commodity exports assuming sustained rapid growth in China).

Currency

Part of China’s growth model has been its currency advantage relative to the US economy. Low value currencies make exports cheaper and helps sustain demand for them. But the global slump in demand over the past four years has hurt China’s exports, since Europe and the US could not absorb as many Chinese goods. Although China has typically intervened to prevent the Chinese currency—the Renminbi (Yuan)—from increasing in value relative to the US dollar as a means of keeping its exports competitive (the Renminbi was officially pegged to the US dollar until 2005), China has been diversifying its reserve holdings away from US dollars, buying instead, the debt of its other important trading partners. As a result, countries like Japan and South Korea are now purchasing more US treasury bills to prevent their own currency from rising against the dollar. This is partly because US monetary policies in the aftermath of the global crisis put downward pressure on the US dollar, making it more risky for China to purchase US currency to retain its value against the Renminbi (and simultaneously de-valuing the US dollar assets already held by China). This dynamic has narrowed the value gap from about 30 per cent to 8 per cent between the Renminbi and the dollar, and eroded China’s currency advantage.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, the global currency market has more than doubled since 2004 as currency speculation has grown alongside stock market speculation. This is another wrinkle in the economic terrain; the increasing size of this market dilutes the relative impact of any nation state’s ability to intervene to keep the value of its own currency in check.

Demand

Still, there remains the question of domestic demand, long considered the holy grail of the Chinese economy. At present, domestic consumption accounts for only about 35 per cent of the Chinese economy and increasing this proportion appears to offer the potential for a resurgence of domestic demand-driven growth and the new Communist Party leadership has promised to take measures to stimulate it. However, a meaningful expansion of domestic demand would require unprecedented wealth redistribution, especially in the form of rising wages and increased state spending on social programs. But in a global capitalist market, China’s abundant supply of cheap labour has been a competitive advantage, and one upon which China still depends. Although nominal wages have increased somewhat in China, they have not done so dramatically. Nevertheless, even modest wage growth has helped re-direct FDI toward even lower-wage economies like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam, and FDI fell significantly throughout 2012. Thus, despite slumping exports and a diminishing trade surplus, China is counting on re-vitalizing itself as an FDI destination; despite double-digit wage improvements in the first half of 2012, by year’s end, wage growth had declined by six percent. In this context, the Chinese government will be loathe to make meaningful improvements in wages and—by extension—domestic demand.

Liberalization

The Communist Party has raised expectations for “liberalization.” Economic growth in a world market does require some “opening up” of the Chinese economy and, as it progresses, it simultaneously raises expectations among the Chinese population that liberalization will entail both economic and political reforms. These expectations can spill over into domestic protest alongside struggles for improvements in wages and working conditions.

For example, on New Year’s Day, workers at Southern Weekly—a newspaper in the city of Guangzhou—took strike action to protest Chinese state censorship of an editorial that had called for constitutional change. When newspaper staff went on strike, hundreds joined them in solidarity demonstrations demanding the resignation of Tuo Zhen, the provincial propaganda tsar of the Chinese Communist Party. Hundreds of other workers and intellectuals have condemned the censorship and signed an open letter also demanding Tuo’s resignation: “In recent days, the general attitude at home and overseas following the 18th National Congress has been one of optimism over China’s prospects. The actions of Minister Tuo Zhen, in Guangzhou and on the very front lines of reform and opening, are entirely contrary to the [new] policy orientation.”

In relatively bold moves, some newspapers refused to run a subsequent state-sanctioned editorial that criticized the actions of the journalists at Southern Weekly, while other newspaper outlets only printed it alongside a disclaimer that translated as “posting this piece does not mean sharing the views expressed.” Some observers believe this is China’s first direct confrontation between newspaper workers and state officials. Since Communist Party propaganda departments supervise the Chinese media and penalties for political dissidence are high, there has until now been little room for resistance. The dissent—and strike—of Southern Weekly workers underlines the contradictions the Community Party unleashes when it promises liberalization on the one hand, but expects business as usual on the other. As a different state-run newspaper editorial stated: “The reality is that old media regulatory policies cannot go on as they are now. The society is progressing, and the management should evolve.”

It is unlikely that the Chinese and US economies will be ‘kick-starting’ the global economy in 2013. A more likely scenario is one in which Chinese workers find increasing cause to resist both economically and politically in mutually reinforcing struggles. When they do, international solidarity—especially from Western workers—will be critical.