Carlton grads vote to divest from Israeli occupation

By Samantha Ponting

On March 21 and 22, the general membership of Carleton’s Graduate Students’ Association voted overwhelmingly in support of Carleton divesting, via its pension fund, from companies complicit in the illegal military occupation of Palestine. The plebiscite question, which has provisionally passed by 72.6 per cent, marks the first time in Canada, and what is believed to be the second time globally, that a student union has taken a position via a direct vote in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli violations of international law. In 2010, students at Washington’s Evergreen State College passed divestment resolutions via referendum.

The question asked students if they support Carleton University “adopting a binding socially responsible investment policy that would require it to divest from companies complicit in illegal military occupations and other violations of international law”. The question listed four companies involved in the illegal military occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories: BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Motorola and Tesco Supermarkets.

BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman are weapons manufacturers. Motorola supplies the Israeli military with surveillance and telecommunications products. Tesco Supermarkets sell produce from illegal Israeli settlements, facilitating their expansion and blatantly ignoring their illegality. This has been to the detriment of the Palestinian economy.

Because Carleton University is not a democratic organization, the campus community does not have a formal say in how the university is run, beyond the few and marginalized student voices sitting on the Board of Governors (BOG), Carleton’s highest governing board. While all elected student representatives on the BOG support divestment, the board has refused to entertain a motion that would require it to divest from these companies. While the board has a socially responsible investment policy, the policy is non-binding and has yet to be meaningfully applied.

The plebiscite results represent a great milestone in the international BDS campaign. Both the undergraduate and graduate student unions at Carleton have already passed motions in support of divestment from illegal military occupation. The plebiscite marks the most democratic method available for collective decision-making. The results demonstrate that students across the campus are united in their outrage towards Israel’s illegal military occupation, and speak to their discontent of the administration’s inaction on such an important issue.

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Mulcair: the NDP’s Tony Blair

In the same week as 200,000 Quebec students marched against tuition and hundreds of Air Canada workers went on a wildcat strike across the country, the NDP elected ex-Liberal Thomas Mulcair as the new party leader. This marks a further rightward shift in the party, in a quest for power that is increasingly detaching itself from the movements upon which change is based.

In 2001 in the context of the anti-globalization movement, activists in the NDP launched the New Politics Initiative in an attempt to better link the party with the social movements. The weight of the mass anti-war movement of 2003 raised these hopes, as Jack Layton spoke out against the war, and a million more people voted NDP in 2004. But in 2005 the NDP supported the Liberal’s budget, which increased military spending by over $12 billion. In 2006 the party base and allied movements pushed the leadership to openly oppose the war in Afghanistan, but in 2008 the latter signed a coalition agreement with the liberals—dropping opposition to tax cuts and the war in Afghanistan.

In 2011 anger at Harper’s austerity and Liberal complicity, and inspiration from the Arab Spring caused a surge left, with 2 million more voting for the NDP. Despite the NDP’s modest platform, this new Parliamentary configuration raised hopes of challenging austerity when the party filibustered the attack on postal workers—providing a megaphone for workers’ struggles.

But during the NDP leadership debate, the party further leaned to the centre: the main candidates were Thomas Mulcair (supporter of Israel), Brian Topp (supporter of Greece’s austerity government), Nathan Cullen (supporter of a coalition with the Liberals) and Peggy Nash (who despite her history with the labour and social movements did not campaign on these issues). With the debate narrowly defined as who could earn more votes than Harper, regardless of the content of their politics or their connection to movements outside Parliament, Mulcair easily won.

Mulcair could be the NDP’s Tony Blair, who’s electoral success was based on purging the party’s principles; his support for war and privatization rivaled Margaret Thatcher, and the disillusionment this produced brought the Tories back to power. Mulcair could also undermine NDP support before the next election, resuscitating the Liberals.

As with the Labour Party under Blair, the activist base in the NDP has not gone away with the election of Mulcair. Some could turn left and see the need for more fundamental change than what the NDP is capable of providing, but some could become disillusioned or even more determined to “reclaim” the NDP. The task in the short-term—faced with Harper’s drive to war and austerity—will be working with activists inside the NDP to build the increasing extra-parliamentary struggles, and to push the party to support them despite its new leader.

Defend choice: defeat Motion 312

By Jesse McLaren

Despite Prime Minister Harper’s reassurances that “we are not opening the abortion debate”, his government constantly attacks the right to choice. The latest attack is motion M-312, to be debated in Parliament in late April.

Tory MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion calls for “a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth.” This Tory-dominated committee would try to give personhood to a fetus, in order to criminalize abortion.

As soon as abortion was legal in 1988 the Tories tried to recriminalize it, with Brian Mulroney’s government introducing Bill C-43 in 1990. The current Harper government is filled with anti-choice bigots (Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was an “anti-abortion activist” in his college years), who have relentlessly introduced anti-choice bills. In 2006 there was C-338 against abortions after 20 weeks, and C-291 the “unborn victims of violence” act; in 2008 there was C-484 the “unborn victims of crime” act; in 2010 there was C-510 against “coerced abortion”.

Harper has defunded countless women’s groups, introduced a “maternal health plan” that excludes abortion, and Tory Senator Ruth has told women’s groups to “shut the fuck up” on abortion. Meanwhile, anti-choice groups are trying to use the austerity agenda to defund abortion.

But Tories are operating from a position of weakness. Harper’s false reassurances come from a lack of confidence to take on the pro-choice movement, which has majority support across the country and a strong legacy.

Abortion rights were won with a grassroots campaign uniting women’s groups, trade unions, student groups and progressive faith groups—putting the demand for legal abortion into a broader context of reproductive choice and equality. We need a similar unity, amongst the 99%, to defend a woman’s right to chose against the Tory’s latest attack.

For more information visit http://www.arcc-cdac.ca.

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Vancouver rallies against Enbridge

By Tania Ehret

It’s time for Harper and his empire of oil executives to reconsider the challenge they have ahead of them in their fight to make the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project see the day.  On March 26, 2,000 people showed up at the Vancouver Art Gallery at noon hour on a rainy Monday to let those of power and prestige know that BC will not let more oil tankers threaten their communities, eco-systems, indigenous self-determination and right to personal health.

Speakers such as Bill Mckibbin (350.org) and Art Sterritt (Coastal First Nations) grasped the momentum and adrenalin felt by community members all over BC, concerned by the ostensible democratic process of oil infrastructure in BC. With claims of economic benefits transparent in only benefitting the owners of industry and the eagerness to invest in renewable energies stronger than ever, one can feel the beginning of a web that weaves community, labour, environmental and indigenous activists together in one movement.

Once the speakers had finished, the peaceful demonstrators marched to the Enbridge headquarters, where activists led chants and reclaimed their right to use public space as a platform for coalition building.  As the joint review panel continues on, it can be surmised that whatever the outcome, people will not be stepping down anytime soon.  Get ready to pack up for the blockade!

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1965: rank-and-file resistance and the birth of public sector unions

By Pam Johnson

After Air Canada workers were suspended on March 22, for slow-clapping Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt, for intervening in bargaining—and following 10 years of concessions—these workers said “enough is enough”. They wildcatted at Pearson airport in Toronto and got support from workers in Vancouver and Montreal airports who went out in solidarity—against the wishes of their union leadership. This militant action, with solidarity across Canada and Quebec, is rare but not new. It has a precedent: the 1965 postal workers strike that led the way for all public sector collective bargaining.

Given the austerity budget brought down the by the Liberal McGuinty government attacking services and workers—and threatening workers rights to collective bargaining, with a plan to legislate wage freezes if worker don’t “agree” to them—this is a good moment to remember the history of 1965.

Rank-and-file organizing across Canada and Quebec

Mail volume doubled between 1955 and 1965, but instead of hiring new full-time workers there were line speed-ups to a grueling 25 letters per minute. People were working up to twelve hours a day with no overtime. Women were hired part-time at a lower wage than full-timers and faced constant harassment from supervisors.

The Canadian Postal Employees Association (CPEA) that represented postal workers was refusing to raise demands for better working conditions. It was in effect a toothless organization because postal workers had no collective bargaining rights.

A small number of workers in Montreal and Vancouver seeing the situation as untenable started to organize on their own to push for strike action for better wages. With the CPEA saying that “you can’t strike the government”, this group continued to plan for action and raised the demand of a significant wage increase. After failed attempts to have their demands heard by the government and no support from the CPEA, these workers formed a rank-and-file group and began planning and building support for strike action. One organizer speaking about coordinating with Quebec and English workers on opposite sides of the country said “We speak different languages but, we have the same ideas and goals”.

On July 1965 at the exact same moment in Montreal and Vancouver postal workers walked off the job to cheers and celebration. Pickets went up in 30 cities across Canada as workers followed the lead of Montreal and Vancouver strikers. With no union, the strikers had no strike pay or emergency fund to draw from. As one worker said, “we have to stand up—even if we lose. I feel proud of myself for doing this.”

The public sympathy was on postal workers’ side after stories came out about workers conditions and poverty wages, although the CPEA continued to undermine the strike.  Prime Minister Diefenbaker was eventually forced to bargain with workers who refused to leave the picket lines and the workers won a considerable wage increase.

The CPEA fell apart and two new unions were formed representing clerks and letter carriers. Soon after this victory all federal public sector workers were unionized and for the first time part time workers were also accepted as union members.

Rank-and-file organizing across Canada and Quebec, which could respond to the anger of workers and contempt of the government, was the key to the victory of the 1965 strike. With the labour leadership slow to respond to the scale of attacks that are eroding jobs and working condition today, it is time to build these networks again.

For a more detailed look at the 1965 postal strike watch the documentary, “Memory and Muscle”:

If you liked this article, please donate here and share.

1965: rank-and-file resistance and the birth of public sector unions

by Pam Johnson

After Air Canada workers were suspended on March 22, for slow-clapping Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt, for intervening in bargaining—and following 10 years of concessions—these workers said “enough is enough”. They wildcatted at Pearson airport in Toronto and got support from workers in Vancouver and Montreal airports who went out in solidarity—against the wishes of their union leadership. This militant action, with solidarity across Canada and Quebec, is rare but not new. It has a precedent: the 1965 postal workers strike that led the way for all public sector collective bargaining.

Given the austerity budget brought down the by the Liberal McGuinty government attacking services and workers—and threatening workers rights to collective bargaining, with a plan to legislate wage freezes if worker don’t “agree” to them—this is a good moment to remember the history of 1965.

Rank-and-file organizing, across Canada and Quebec

Mail volume doubled between 1955 and 1965, but instead of hiring new full-time workers there were line speed-ups to a grueling 25 letters per minute. People were working up to twelve hours a day with no overtime. Women were hired part-time at a lower wage than full-timers and faced constant harassment from supervisors.

The Canadian Postal Employees Association (CPEA) that represented postal workers was refusing to raise demands for better working conditions. It was in effect a toothless organization because postal workers had no collective bargaining rights.

A small number of workers in Montreal and Vancouver seeing the situation as untenable started to organize on their own to push for strike action for better wages. With the CPEA saying that “you can’t strike the government”, this group continued to plan for action and raised the demand of a significant wage increase. After failed attempts to have their demands heard by the government and no support from the CPEA, these workers formed a rank-and-file group and began planning and building support for strike action. One organizer speaking about coordinating with Quebecois and English Canadian workers on opposite sides of the country said “We speak different languages but, we have the same ideas and goals”.

On July 1965 at the exact same moment in Montreal and Vancouver postal workers walked off the job to cheers and celebration. Pickets went up in 30 cities across Canada as workers followed the lead of Montreal and Vancouver strikers. With no union, the strikers had no strike pay or emergency fund to draw from. As one worker said, “we have to stand up—even if we lose. I feel proud of myself for doing this.”

The public sympathy was on postal workers’ side after stories came out about workers conditions and poverty wages, although the CPEA continued to undermine the strike.  Prime Minister Diefenbaker was eventually forced to bargain with workers who refused to leave the picket lines and the workers won a considerable wage increase.

The CPEA fell apart and two new unions were formed representing clerks and letter carriers. Soon after this victory all federal public sector workers were unionized and for the first time part time workers were also accepted as union members.

Rank-and-file organizing across Canada and Quebec, which could respond to the anger of workers and contempt of the government, was the key to the victory of the 1965 strike. With the labour leadership slow to respond to the scale of attacks that are eroding jobs and working condition today, it is time to build these networks again.

For a more detailed look at the 1965 postal strike watch the documentary, “Memory and Muscle”:

If you liked this article, please donate here and share.

The people vs Putin

By Chantal Sundaram

The end of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 in Russia saw the biggest anti-government demonstrations since Soviet times. The massive protests by ordinary Russians began in reaction to the Parliamentary elections of December 4, and continued through to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s presidential election ‘victory’ in March. Both events were marked by widespread electoral fraud.

February in Moscow saw angry crowds of more than 100,000 demanding fair elections. Putin’s election at the beginning of March was again greeted by allegations of voter fraud and protests by tens of thousands. The opposition argues that Putin received far less than the 64 per cent of the vote claimed, while the state and mass media largely back Putin. In early March hundreds of people picketed the offices of a state-backed TV channel after it aired a documentary accusing the opposition of paying anti-government protesters.

While vote-rigging was the spark, the protests in Moscow and across the country have been as much about Putin’s draconian regime itself: its rampant corruption, economic inequality, and the privatization of university education.

To thwart students from participating in the rallies, university exams and compulsory school events were scheduled to clash with protests, and the government even pressured its employees into attending a pro‑government rally on the same day as one of them. But these measures have been unsuccessful in stopping a new movement that could shift from street action into a more sustained opposition.

Like in Egypt, Russians are learning to overcome the legacy of fear and pessimism that stems from years of government repression. At the rally following Putin’s election, some advocated occupying Pushkin Square until their demands were met, bringing echoes of the Arab Spring to the streets of central Moscow. A thousand people remained in the square after the official protest had ended and attempted to occupy it, but it was cleared by huge numbers of riot police and hundreds were arrested.

But the desire to resist has not been so easy to clear away. Whether Putin will even last his whole term is now in question.

Like the Arab Spring, the pro-democracy movement has brought new people who have never protested before out into the street. Many are young, and for the moment there is no single, pre-determined leadership.

For many it is not the election exercise itself that is important, but rather the government’s hypocrisy at bothering to have an election at all, and then rigging it. How this sentiment can be linked with broader political issues, and with resistance to austerity and the stagnating economy, will be decisive—just as it continues to be in the Arab world.

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