Peace, Respect and Friendship on Parade

By Darren Edgar

On April 28, approximately 800 people took part in a march for “Peace, Respect and Friendship” in solidarity with the Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Over a dozen busloads of participants came from around southern Ontario in addition to many local residents; there were also people from other First Nations in the area, and even a few representing indigenous people from around the world. All showed their support for the Haudenosaunee and their ongoing reclamation project, as reported previously in Socialist Worker.

The march, imbibed with a serenity of spirit uncommon to most, proceeded from Edinburgh Square in Caledonia to the site of the reclamation, Kanonhstaton, where there was a heartfelt welcome from members of the Haudenosaunee First Nation. At the reclamation site, there was a variety of live music performances, a spoken word artist, and a potluck dinner with plenty of food (much of it brought by the marchers themselves). There were also a number of speeches, including by members of the Haudenosaunee First Nation, as well as other First Nations and indigenous groups, and a retired autoworker. The crowd was comprised of a diverse group of people, encompassing all races, genders and ages. In fact, there was an obvious focus on youth participation, from the two indigenous boys who offered prayers to kick-off the march, to the emcee, to the performers—there were even balloons being given away and two bouncy castles for the children.

Among the many home-made placards, signs and banners bearing slogans of solidarity could be seen the flags of various labour unions, including CAW, CUPE, OPSEU, PSAC, USW, IBEW and Elementary Teachers of Toronto. There were also marchers from other oppressed indigenous populations from around the world. A woman representing Chile’s indigenous people spoke about international solidarity, and the Wiphala—a flag representing all the native peoples of the Andes—was seen in the crowd. Also in the crowd were numerous Palestinian flags and the presence of the United Jewish People’s Order, who are in solidarity with indigenous struggles for self-determination around the world, from Palestine to Canada.

There will be a follow-up community meeting at the Caledonia Public Library on Thursday, May 3 at 5:30pm, as well as other potential follow-up meetings in the communities from which the busloads of marchers came. Contact the organizers for more details by emailing april28info@gmail.com or visiting http://www.april28.net

If you like this article, come to the three-day political conference Marxism 2012, which features several talks on indigenous sovereignty, from Palestine to Turtle Island. 

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Teachers vs. austerity

Teachers and students march against austerity April 21

By Andrew Hodge and Pam Johnson

From BC to Ontario, teachers are in the cross-hairs of the austerity agenda, but are starting to fight back.

In BC, teachers staged a three-day strike last month and are continuing to challenge the government’s attacks on their working conditions, and students’ learning conditions (for more information and analysis, follow Staffroom Confidential, the blog of BC teacher and labour activist, Tara Ehrcke).

In Ontario, up to 20,000 workers rallied at Queen’s Park on April 21 against McGuinty’s austerity budget. A major target of McGuinty’s austerity budget is teachers—a group that gave huge support to his last election campaign—so teachers were out in full force at the rally. One teacher reported that almost 30 per cent of teachers from his school attended the rally. This speaks to an appetite to fight the attacks.

The Ontario budget calls for a wage freeze, an effective wage cut the will cost junior teachers up to $85,000 in lost wages. All teachers will lose the option to exchange unused sick days for money upon retirement. This “perk”, as some have called it, saves the school board that would otherwise go to pay for substitutes. Sick days will be dropped to six per teacher.

In addition, the government is now openly saying they wish to re-evaluate the pension set-up, with an eye to future sustainability, which is code to call for conversion of a defined benefit to a defined contribution pension plan (a glorified RRSP).

Ontario teachers have not struck against their employer, the school board, since 1976, before most teachers were working. The walk-outs against Mike Harris in the mid-1990’s had the support of the employer—board members and school trustees brought coffee and donuts to teachers then. The situation will be different this time.

So there are questions about how prepared the teachers unions are to wage a fight. Communication networks in locals need to be revitalized and strategies planned to mount a campaign to push back cuts and possibly to strike. Intermediate steps like information pickets, town hall meetings, etc, will be needed to prepare and give confidence teachers.

But there is no question that a significant number of teachers are ready to begin this fightback. One OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) member who attended the rally said teachers are more open to the idea that “we have to push our own leaders to act now instead of in six months time.”

If you like this article, come to the three-day political conference Marxism 2012, which features many talks on workers’ resistance.

OPSEU solidarity group shows importance of rank-and-file organizing

By Pam Johnson

A new rank-and-file body, OPSEU Solidarity group, was organized to call for OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) to remain affiliated in good standing to the OFL (Ontario Federation of Labour). The group formed after the OPSEU executive board, without consulting the membership, stopped paying dues in 2011 and launched a smear campaign against OFL leader Sid Ryan.

To counter a resolution by the executive board to formally “dis-engage”, a resolution supporting continued affiliation was passed in twelve locals, two area councils (Toronto and London) and the Women’s Committee, and was sent to OPSEU convention held in Toronto in April. Long time activists could not remember a time when any rank-and-file initiative had received such widespread support.

Solidarity group members from Toronto, London and Windsor ran a campaign at convention with “Solidarity” stickers and a leaflet “OPSEU belongs in the OFL” calling for labour solidarity in the face of austerity attacks. The board’s motion to dis-engage did not make it to a vote.

The Solidarity group also promoted the OFL rally which occurred on the final day of convention (Apr 21) and organized buses—provided by Steelworkers and community group ACORN—to take delegates directly from convention to the rally.

Rank-and-filers organizing on their own have often been the key to creating the pressure to push labour leaders reluctant to fight. It is also the training ground for a new activist leadership.

Pam Johnson will join a panel discussion, “Building rank-and-file resistance in labour”–featuring numerous rank-and-file labour activists–at the three-day political conference Marxism 2012. For information and registration visit http://www.marxism2012.com

Satisfying Hunger Games

By John Bell

Reading the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, it struck me how respectful it was to its audience, “young adult” fiction with the emphasis on the “adult”. The books are gritty and violent, the characters are damaged and often unlikable, and the romance is equivocal to say the least.

By making the Hunger Games books the first real post-Potter phenomenon this audience proves it knows substance when it reads it.

The themes, plotting and characters are superior to the Potter books. They are inspired in part by a Japanese novel and later a film called Battle Royale, which told the story of school children forced into a deadly gladiatorial competition designed to terrorize the population into submission before a totalitarian regime. These, especially the hyper-violent film version, are certainly not suitable for young people.

Collins also acknowledges that part of her inspiration came from the media manipulation in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

So we are introduced to Panem, a post-apocalyptic US society where a tiny, alienated elite inhabiting the “capital” rule a nation of 12 strictly isolated districts, each organized around an economic specialization. Protagonist Katniss Everdeen is from District 12, where coal mining is the only sanctioned employment and where poverty and hunger are only alleviated by her ability to sneak out of the compound to hunt game with a bow and arrow.

Each year two teen-aged “tributes” are drawn by lot from each district, transported to a technologically manipulated arena, and forced to fight to the death. The victor is promised a life of celebrity and ease. The spectacle is broadcast live: effete inhabitants of the capital embrace it as the pinnacle of “reality TV” entertainment; inhabitants of the districts are forced to watch in punishment for a past, failed revolution, as a form of social control.

It is impossible not to see the connection to the Occupy movement, and to identify with the District workers as the 99%. Opposition to Panem (pan-empire); sophisticated critique of mass media; and themes of solidarity and revolt: no wonder young people made these books such a phenomenon.

So much did I enjoy the books, that I was somewhat reluctant to se the film version of the first volume. I’m happy to report that the movie retains most of the novel’s power. The decision to tone down the graphic violence is commendable. The performers–lead Jennifer Lawrence and Stanley Tucci–clearly convey what is at stake.

It is hard not be happy to see such subversive themes reach a huge, appreciative audience. Here’s hoping subsequent films build on this good start.

The Saudi government arrests Egyptian activist

By Ahmed Elbassiouny  

Ahmed El Gizawy, an Egyptian lawyer and activist has been detained in Saudi Arabia and is now subject to 20 lashes on Friday.

El Gizawy has filed few lawsuits against the ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, and the Saudi royal family in Cairo South Court for the unfair detaining of Egyptians in Saudi prisons without any legal court ruling.

On April 17, El Gizawy entered Saudi Arabia for Umrah, Islamic practice of visiting the Holy mosque of Mecca, without knowing what was awaiting him. The Saudi authorities arrested him at the airport for “defaming” the royal Saudi family and the king. El Gizawy was then sentenced to one year imprisonment and 20 lashes during a secret trial that he was not aware of.

Surprisingly, the Saudi Ambassador to Cairo reported on April 24 that El Gizawy was not put in jail for “defaming” the king, but for the possession of 21,380 pills of Zanax on the time of arrival.

The prosecution of El Gizawy has fired up protests in front of the Saudi embassy in Cairo on April 24 and 25. Protestors were demanding the immediate and unconditional release of El Gizawy and many other Egyptian prisoners in Saudi prisons.

At the same time El Gizawy’s wife stated that he was arrested before picking up his luggage and that having that amount of medication is practically impossible. This is not the first time in which the Saudi government representatives twist the truth in the media to cover up human rights violations committed in Saudi Arabia against visitors, residents and Saudi nationals. Similarly, the Saudi government narrated a fabricated version of the story in Al Bajadi’s case earlier this month to legitimize his detention.

Egyptian political figures are trying to negotiate the release of El Gizawy. However, the United States of America and the Western governments remain silent towards human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. It is time for us to protest against human rights violations committed by the imperialists’ ally, Saudi Arabia.

If you like this article, come to the three-day political conference Marxism 2012. Panels include “Egypt and the Arab world: the year of revolution,” “From Libya to Syria: revolution vs humanitarian intervention,” “Palestine: imagining the one-state solution,” and “The role of socialists in Egypt’s revolution.” For information and registration visit http://www.marxism2012.com.

Crown suffers partial defeat in Harkat case

By Jessica Squires

After nearly ten years, Mohamed Harkat has won another partial victory from the crown in his security certificate case. While the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) did not rule in favour of his appeal of the constitutionality of the Security Certificate process, it did rule that he was treated unfairly and that the judge made his ruling that the security certificate on Harkat was reasonable based on faulty information.

Security certificates result in non-citizens of Canada being detained for indefinite periods of time without charge, and without access to information used against them to allege a possible association with terrorist groups based on hearsay and intelligence whose source is very doubtful.

The court has ruled that the reasonableness of Harkat’s certificate, upheld in a Federal Court in December 2010, is set aside, and that a new hearing must be held to make its decision without taking into account the faulty material.

That material included summaries only of original transcripts of telephone calls supposedly recording conversations with Harkat. But CSIS destroyed the original tapes and transcripts, so there is no way of knowing what other, possibly exonerating, information might have been contained within them.

The FCA also ruled that the judge in the case, Justice Simon Noël, erred in creating a “class privilege” to protect human sources of information used against Harkat. That ruling may open the door to cross-examination of human sources, at least behind closed doors during secret proceedings.

The ruling is another blow against the feds’ security certificate process after two other security certificates were quashed in 2009, for Hassan Almrei of Toronto and Adil Charkaoui of Montreal, and after news last week that the notorious “Guantanamo North” prison was closed late last year in Kingston. And in late April Mohammed Mahjoub asked a court to throw out his certificate after crown counsel inappropriately took privileged materials belonging to Mr. Mahjoub and his lawyers, viewed and copied them and mixed them with their own.

Enough is enough. Abolish the security certificate process.

If you like this article, come to the panel “Racism, Islamophobia and economic crisis”, part of the three day political conference Marxism 2012. For information and registration visit http://www.marxism2012.com

Bahrain: F1 races over blood

By Yusur Al Bahrani

Despite the brutal ongoing crackdown against pro-democracy protestors, Bahrain—home of the United States’ Fifth Fleet—staged the Formula 1 Grand Prix on April 21 and 23.

The government of Bahrain tried to polish its image by insisting to resist activists’ demands from around the world to cancel F1 this year. The government, which has banned foreign journalists and human rights activists from entering the country, welcomed fans and sports journalists to cover the two days race. The monarchy of Bahrain attempted to drive attention away from the continuing violations against protestors, activists and their families in several Bahraini cities and villages.

However, the Bahraini government failed in its public relations mission. The banners in the streets carrying the slogan “UniF1ied—One Nation in Celebration” were not successful in deceiving activists and human rights defenders. Tens of thousands of protestors marched on F1 eve. Several sports journalists were able to cover the protest, and the Bahraini forces’ attacks against civilians. While F1 cars raced, at least one Bahraini protestor, Salah Abbas Habib, was killed after being shot by internationally prohibited bird gun shot, which is usually used by the Bahraini riot police in attacking demonstrators.

Outraged by the media coverage of sports journalists who visited several Bahraini cities and villages and witnessed the attacks against peaceful protestors, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Khalid Al-Khalifa said: “If there is any here to cover ugly bloody confrontations, go to Syria. Here we have a Grand Prix to enjoy.” Bahrain F1 proved that the economic revenue for the capitalist system has priority over the lives of hundreds thousands of men and women demanding nothing but an end to the ongoing oppression.

Yusur Al Bahrani will be speaking at next month’s Marxism 2012 conference on the panel “Egypt and the Arab world: the year of revolution.” Register at http://www.marxism2012.com.