High school students rally at Queen’s Park against Bill 115

By Peter Hogarth

Following walk-outs across the province, high school students organized a rally at Queen’s Park to call on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to “Kill Bill 115.” 

More than 100 people–students, teachers,  parents and solidarity contingents from the Canadian Federation of Students, CUPE and PSAC–gathered to expose the “Putting Students First Act,” which imposes a wage freeze, outlaws the right to strike and has forced teachers to stop volunteering to lead extra-curricular activities as a form of protest to the imposed conditions.

Frustrated at the loss of extracurricular activities, such as clubs and sports, students across Ontario have been organizing protests and walkouts to call on the Liberal government to kill Bill 115.

Kayla Smith, a grade 12 student at Bramalea Secondary School in Brampton and one of the organizers of the rally, emphasized the students’ opposition to the bill: “I have a message for Mr. McGuinty: repeal Bill 115. It bans the right to strike, it freezes the wages of teachers and cuts their benefits. There was no negotiation, there was no collective bargaining. Teachers feel disrespected and that is what we want to say today: you have to respect the teachers, negotiate and not just impose demands on them.”

Speakers throughout the rally emphasized that McGunity’s plan to “put students first” is essentially a plan to bail out the government at the expense of public education. With the lowest corporate tax rates in the developed world and with class sizes in Ontario growing larger, it is easy to see who the McGuinty government “puts first.”

Tim Yu, a middle-school teacher in Brampton, spoke at the demonstration and emphasized how proud he was of his students for mobilizing to defeat the bill.

Yu made the connection between the teachers’ fight and the future of public education, explaining that “while it is true that I am a teacher, I do not stand here to lament about wage freezes or sick days. Instead I am here to rally you, the next generation, to realize that our fight is truly for you and your future.”

A series of the teenage speakers made the connection between Bill 115 and other workers that have been legislated back to work, from the Air Canada workers to the Postal Workers, and called for students and teachers to unite and fight against Bill 115.

Tim Yu echoed this sentiment, aiming his comments at the students present: “today you have started a revolution that I hope will last your lifetimes. You have begun to realize that your voices have power. Like the generation of youths who fought for civil rights and won, you are the frontline in the battle for our rights to democracy. Viva la revolucion!”

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Harper Tories (re)make history

Kissinger and Harper, war criminals

By John Bell

Our glorious Harper Tories are busy making history. And when they aren’t making it, they are rewriting it.

Let us begin with the top Tory himself. Harper’s chest was puffed out as he proudly accepted the “Statesman of the Year” award in New York.

In a glowing tribute, former recipient of the award and convicted war criminal Henry Kissinger told the gala audience: “Prime Minister Harper has played a very important role by developing his own views, having the courage to affirm them, even when they are not shared by all the consensuses that exist, and being proved correct by events.”

If the prerequisite for winning “Statesman of the Year” is giving the stiff middle finger to pretty much everybody (“all the consensuses that exist” does take in a lot of territory), then Harper deserves it. However, a bit of investigation reveals an even more important quality: unswerving support for Israel.

Harper wasn’t shy about it: “It is important to state that whatever Israel’s shortcomings, neither its existence nor its policies are responsible for the pathologies present in that part of the world.”

There’s that rewriting history thing. Opposition to Zionism is a “pathology.” And if Israel’s state policies are exempted from its shortcomings, what does that leave? Crappy pop music? Poor interior decorating? Just forget the fact that it is illegally occupying Palestinian territory, engaging in ethnic cleansing and recreating the crimes of apartheid. Move along, nothing to see here.

So let’s move on to Mr. Harper’s Tory acolytes.

Minister of Censorship and Deportation

Harper’s far-right hand man, Jason Kenney has been busy making history. In the space of a few days he: ignored the pleas of tens of thousands of Canadians and deported war resister Kim Rivera; sent a mass spam email to members of the LGBT community attempting to pinkwash the most anti-gay government in modern history; put himself at the head of a sizeable contingent of Tories who would deny women the right to control their own bodies; and invited a pair of white supremacists to an immigration policy hearing.

For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on Kenney the champion of gay rights. As an MP, first for the Reform Party and then for Harper’s Tories, he has consistently opposed every extension of LGBT rights, such as same-sex marriage. He supports gutting Human Rights tribunals where complaints about homophobia are heard. He opposes treating gay bashing as a hate crime.

Small wonder the LGBT community reacted in horror and disgust to his attempt to enlist them in his drive to war.

Speaking of rewriting history, recall that Immigration Minister Kenney ordered the removal of all references to gay rights from his revamped Citizenship Handbook; then lied about ordering the erasure; then was forced to backtrack by popular anger.

Racism and war

Making history simply by being the most repugnant individual sitting in Canada’s parliament is Calgary West MP Rob Anders.

Rob was the only MP to vote against bestowing honourary citizenship on Nelson Mandela, denouncing him as “a communist and a terrorist,” and waxing nostalgic about the good old days of South African apartheid.

Before ascending to parliament, Rob used to hire out south of the border to the Republican Party as a professional heckler. In 1997 the Tulsa World newspaper described him as someone who “personifies the bad taste, deception, right-wing extremism and mean spirit that have poisoned the whole election process this year.”

Anders loudly supports war-making. But when it comes to supporting veterans, well, not so much. As an appointee to the Veterans Affairs Committee, Anders arrived at a meeting dealing with homelessness among vets and promptly fell asleep. When several veterans complained, Rob denounced them as “communists” and “NDP hacks.” Turns out they were local Conservative riding association members. He no longer sits on that committee.

Perhaps Rob’s stint as a right-wing zealot in the US left him with a confused sense of history. How else can we explain his recent constituency newsletter celebrating the bi-centennial of the War of 1812. This, according to Rob, is the war that gave us the “principles of freedom, liberty and volunteer military service” that have “guided us through the last 10 years of warfare against Islamic terrorism.”  As usual, Rob refuses to hide his racism.

Comparing a virtual civil war between 19th century neighbours with modern imperialism’s “war on terror” is simply delusional. Equally appalling is Anders’ attempt to graft National Rifle Association talking points onto Canadian history. Anders writes: “The War of 1812 … gave strength to the Canadian militia movement and to the notion of a citizens (sic) duty to bear arms for the defence of the nation.”

In fact the War of 1812 proved the exact opposite. The vast majority of Upper Canada’s non-native population were either recent immigrants from the US­—and so judged untrustworthy by colonial British authorities—or members of pacifist religious groups like the Quakers, who refused to take up arms.

General Isaac Brock sneered at militias and demanded the imposition of martial law to terrorize them into obedience. British soldiers had to lock down all boats along the lakes to prevent them from deserting. “Had not this been done, one half of the people would have left the province, the fear of war was so great,” wrote one British administrator.

To their great credit most ordinary people on both sides of a very porous border wanted nothing to do with a war they deemed senseless. That is the real history of the War of 1812, and explains why four years of war resulted only in confusion and stalemate.

The Tories constantly convert real events past and present into crude, distorted propaganda points. Anders would denounce me as a communist for saying so. Hey, even Rob Anders can’t be wrong all the time.

General strike against cuts sees protests across Greece

by Panos Garganas in Athens

The general strike in Greece on September 26 was a fantastic success.

In the capital city Athens transport workers limited their stoppage until 9am so they could help strikers reach the rally in central Athens. Everything else was shut. Even small shopkeepers kept their places shut.

The demonstration started at 10.30am and lasted until 3pm. It is very difficult to put a figure on the numbers that filled the streets during all these hours.

Local government workers led the march chanting slogans for an unlimited strike until the cuts are stopped. Hospital workers, teachers, metal workers were there in strength as well as students.

At one point the student contingent followed by the radical left Antarsya coalition marched into Syntagma Square in front of Greece’s parliament building.

The police attacked from the back using tear gas and truncheons. But still the demo continued with Syriza, another radical left contingent, finally making it to the square late in the afternoon.

The same impressive show of workers strength happened across the country. This was not just in main centers such as Salonica or Patras, but also from Alexandroupoli in the northeast right down to Chania, Rethymno and Herakleion in Crete.

The government is visibly rattled. It has to face a vote in parliament on the cuts. All the strikers are expecting that unions will call them out again when that vote is set.

This article originally appeared in Socialist Worker (UK)

Howard Zinn: the biography of the people’s historian

Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left, By Martin Duberman

Reviewed by Abby Fung

Howard Zinn—historian, activist, and author of A People’s History of the United States—gets a bit of his own treatment in this biography by Martin Duberman.

Born in 1922 in Brooklyn to a working-class, immigrant family, Zinn grew up with a sense of class consciousness, seeing his parents work so hard and have so little to show for it. A voracious reader, Zinn came across the works of Karl Marx while recuperating in a body cast after a part-time job as a caddy injured his hip.

Zinn started his life of activism at the age of 17, leafleting local laundry workers to encourage them to join a union. His transition from liberal to radical came later that year, when some friends convinced Zinn to join them in a demonstration in Times Square. Mounted police broke up the nonviolent protest, and knocked Zinn unconscious. The incident changed Zinn’s outlook drastically, convincing him that there was something inherently wrong with the system, the government was not on the side of the people, and the “freedom of speech” touted by the American Dream was, in reality, not so free.

At the age of 18, Zinn became a shipyard worker and later enlisted in the air force, flying bomber missions during World War II. These experiences helped shape his views on war, producing one of the overarching questions in Zinn’s life—whether there was such a thing as a “just” or “justified” war. When is violence justified?

After the war, Zinn went to college under the GI bill and earned a PhD in history from Columbia. He then went to teach at Spelman College Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most prominent and respected schools at the time for black women. This was at the time of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which had deemed segregation to be unconstitutional, though little change had yet been made. Zinn brought his activism to the classroom, organizing his students to begin a campaign to abolish segregation in the Atlanta library system, in which they were ultimately successful. He also played roles in several sit-in demonstrations, either participating in the demonstration itself or acting as a liaison to the press. Zinn served as a senior advisor to the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizing Freedom Schools and helping out in the voter registration at the height of tensions.

When the Vietnam War began, Zinn found his focus shifting from the civil rights movement towards the protests against the war, though he saw the two as mutually supporting issues. Zinn was one of two men who went to Hanoi to facilitate the release of three captured American pilots in the midst of the Tet Offensive. He was one of five American professors who were flown to Paris to participate in peace talks between North Vietnam and the US.

For what Zinn is most well-known for, there is surprisingly little written about his time writing A People’s History of the United States—a presentation of American history from the eyes of the common people. Duberman makes note of how, while the initial press run of the book was released to mixed reviews, mentions in popular culture—in the movie Good Will Hunting, in an episode of The Simpsons and an episode of The Sopranos—catapulted sales of the books to unheard of levels, selling over 2 million copies.

As a biography, Duberman takes a fairly thorough look into Zinn’s life, despite the fact that Zinn attempted to obscure his personal history by destroying nearly everything in his personal archives. In his writings, and even in this own autobiography (You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train), Zinn often neglected the personal aspects of life. Duberman has the unenviable task of attempting to fill in those holes, and to balance the two halves of Zinn’s life.

Duberman attempts to provide a context to the times that Zinn lived through, though that sometimes meant extended historical tangents. This book gives a good insight into Howard Zinn, giving context to the author of a seminal work that has since inspired millions of people.

South Africa platinum miners win as strikes spread

Striking miners at the Lonmin mine celebrate their victorious strike

by John Bell

After more than a month on wildcat strike, platinum miners have won a 22 per cent raise plus a $245 (US) bonus to cover lost wages–said to be the largest wage increase in South African history.

The cost was high. Last month police massacred 34 strikers and injured another 78. Right up to the eve of the settlement miners stood up against brutal police repression as their mass meetings and marches were met with rubber bullets and armoured cars, and their homes were ransacked by armed company guards.

The strike began against British mining corporation Lonmin, but spread to other platinum mining companies, and to the gold mining sector. As we go to press, Forbes magazine reports that up 39 per cent of South Africa’s gold mining sector remains idled, and strikes have spread to 20,000 road freight workers demanding a 12 per cent wage increase.

As the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union said, “We intend to ignite further sympathy and solidarity strikes from our members in sectors such as maritime and freight rail in an effort to ensure that no goods and parcels move till the road freight workers’ demands are fully met.”

The corporate world is rattled. “The end of the Lonmin strike is something we should all cheer, but how the dispute has been settled may provide a template for workers to use elsewhere. That’s the contagion threat,” a columnist for Business Day wrote.

That “contagion” couldn’t come at a better time, as international corporate powers are scrambling to gobble up Africa’s resource extraction sector.

The South African miners were not just taking on their own bosses. Their struggle reveals a huge rift between workers and the ANC government led by president Jacob Zuma.

As well they are breaking from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is too closely associated with the governing ANC. NUM leaders have tried to end the strikes all along, driving more and more angry miners to turn to independent organization the really represents their interests.

In a recent British Socialist Worker, Ken Olende writes: “Some 15,000 gold miners are still on unofficial strike at KDC West mine. The NUM sent officials to try to convince them to return to work.

“As they approached a workers’ mass meeting, union officials were met with cries of ‘Voetsek! Fokof!’ (Go! Fuck off!)”

What the Chicago teachers accomplished

By Lee Sustar

It’s time to take stock of the significance of Chicago teachers’ strike that beat back corporate education reform–not just for teachers and other public-sector workers, but the wider labor movement.

But before considering its impact in on future fights, let’s take another moment to savor a labor victory in one of the most important union struggles in many years.

There was the unforgettable Day One, when tens of thousands of red-shirted members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and supporters swarmed downtown, shutting down traffic around the Board of Education headquarters and City Hall in what a local radio news reporter aptly called “an older and more polite version of Occupy Chicago.”

In truth, it wasn’t all that polite, either, if you happened to read the handmade placards and hear the chants directed at Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who began targeting Chicago teachers months before he took office.

Then Day Two–another day, another mass march. After picket duty at schools in every neighborhood of the city in the morning, teachers again swept downtown, this time turning stately Buckingham Fountain on the lakefront into the site of an open-air union rally that conjured the spirit of famous Chicago labor battles of the past.

The following day came the three big demonstrations at high schools on the South and West Sides, in neighborhoods populated predominately by African Americans and Latinos. The hot late-summer sun didn’t deter teachers or neighborhood residents who cheered them on.

And the excitement wasn’t limited to the big protests. Anyone who walked the picket lines at neighborhood schools experienced not just the impressive solidarity among teachers, but the groundswell of support for the CTU among parents and the wider community. Those wearing a red T-shirt from the CTU or the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign were routinely stopped and thanked on the street, while getting friendly honks and waves from passing cars.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE MORE support grew for the teachers, the more Rahm Emanuel unraveled.

The man known for his take-no-prisoners approach to politics did his best to whip up a parent backlash with hour-long press conferences during the opening days of the strike. It didn’t work. Sweaty and compulsively gulping from a plastic water bottle, Emanuel’s insulting comments seemed only to inspire more public support for the CTU.

By the time the mayor sought a court injunction to end the strike as the walkout entered its second week, a judge put a finger to the political winds and decided not to act until CTU delegates could meet and discuss the deal.

The details of the agreement have been reported fully elsewhere. But it bears repeating that business publications like the Wall Street Journal are clear about who won this battle: The CTU, not Emanuel.

As White House chief of staff for Barack Obama, Emanuel helped accelerate school deform through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. From the moment he opened his campaign to become mayor, Emanuel made it clear that he intended to run Chicago schools on the corporate model–and Chicago teachers would have to submit or else.

But the CTU refused to roll over for Rahm. The union began organizing for a confrontation long before negotiations began, much less picket signs were printed.

When Emanuel and his handpicked school board targeted 17 schools for closure or “turnaround” earlier this year, the CTU joined parents and community activists in a grassroots mobilization to save the schools. This helped solidify connections with groups that could provide critical support during the walkout. Meanwhile, the union leadership–members of a rank-and-file opposition caucus who defeated old guard officials in 2010–campaigned systematically to involve members throughout the system.

All this paid off in a contract that held the line against Emanuel’s aggressive demands. While the CTU had to take a painful concession in reduced compensation for laid-off teachers, the mayor failed to make a breakthrough on the issues that were most important to him, such as imposition of merit pay, heavier use of student test scores to evaluate teachers and fast-track terminations of teachers with low ratings.

Emanuel also had to agree that half of new teachers hired anywhere in the system would have to come from a pool of laid-off CTU members–something he’d adamantly and repeatedly opposed. Then there’s the fine print of the contract that gives the CTU new leverage in key areas, including an anti-bullying provision to help members stand up to abusive principals.

Those are not only big wins for the CTU, but for teachers everywhere who are opposed to their unions’ retreats on critical questions.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE LESSONS of the Chicago teachers’ strike apply to the labor movement far beyond one city and one occupation. Here’s a list of some of the main ones:

If you fight, you can win. In the fifth year of a depressed economy, union concessions have become routine. Whether the bosses are budget-strapped state and local governments or profitable corporations like Caterpillar and Verizon, workers are being hammered with pay freezes or outright cuts, reduced pensions and higher health care costs.

Chicago teachers showed us a different way. Striking doesn’t automatically guarantee a victory, of course–the International Association of Machinists were recently defeated in a six-week walkout at Caterpillar. But failing to fight back only guarantees a further retreat.

Union members must not only be mobilized, but organized. In the last 20 years or so, the “mobilization model” of unionism has become the norm for progressive labor organizations. Holding big protests and building alliances with community and social movement groups have become fairly common tactics for many unions.

But there’s a difference between sending busloads of workers in matching t-shirts to a protest and a systematic effort to build organization inside and outside the workplace. The CTU’s internal organizing operation was directed at making the union a responsive and effective organization at every school site–and when it was time to hit the picket lines, the effort paid off.

Social movement unionism is essential, especially in the public sector. Since the mid-1990s, once-insular unions have been more likely to engage with community and faith organizations and various social struggles. Labor’s support for the Occupy Wall Street movement last fall was another important step in that direction.

But the CTU has gone much further. The group that leads the union, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), took up the fight against school closures years before they won office, and that that work continued afterward. While the fight to save the 17 schools earlier this year failed, the union deepened its ties to community groups opposed to the closures–and those organizations supported the CTU at contract time. Crucially, the CTU spelled out its alternative vision for public education in Chicago in a document titled “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve” that called for full funding, smaller class sizes, and an enriched curriculum.

Local unions don’t have to accept concessions pushed by national union leaders. By opposing merit pay and defending tenure rights, the CTU stood firm where its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has retreated.

Negotiations in Chicago began with negotiators for the school district pushing a copy of the New Haven, Conn., teachers’ collective bargaining agreement–a so-called “thin contract” that strips away teachers’ job protections won over decades. AFT President Randi Weingarten was personally involved in negotiating that deal in New Haven, which she called a “model or a template.” The CTU said no–and used the strike weapon to hold the line.

Public-sector unions don’t have to accept givebacks just because Democratic politicians demand them. Democratic Govs. Jerry Brown of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York have both extracted major concessions on pay and benefits from public-sector unions. Labor leaders went along, arguing that it’s better to make some sacrifices than have someone like Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker trying to eliminate collective bargaining rights altogether.

The CTU said no way–and by doing so exposed the fact that Democrats are just as committed as Republicans to attacking teachers’ unions in the name of “reform.”

Public-sector unions can lead the wider working class in the fight against austerity. Ever since Scott Walker packaged his union-busting bill as budget reform, Republican and Democratic officials alike have claimed they had to squeeze unions to benefit the taxpayers.

The CTU strike turned that argument on its head, winning popular support by arguing that the real problem was the city’s priorities of tax cuts for business, instead of money for education. To withstand the current onslaught, public-sector unions everywhere will need to follow the CTU’s example and point out how the services they provide benefit the entire working class.

Union democracy is essential to rebuilding a fighting labor movement. Like most unions, the CTU invests enormous formal power in its president. But the CORE team that leads the union sought, from the beginning, to maximize union democracy. The union’s executive board, a rubber stamp when the conservative old guard ran the union, has come alive. House of Delegates meetings are lively forums for debate and discussion of union policy.

CTU delegates made the decision to extend the strike into a second week in order to have time to discuss a tentative contract agreement with members at each school site. Over the next two days, delegates at hundreds of schools conducted open-air meetings to discuss the pros and cons of the deal. It was a lesson in union democracy that should be learned throughout the labor movement.

To be effective, strikes need to shut down operations and put pressure on the boss. The CTU stunned Rahm Emanuel by abandoning the old practice of rotating two-hour shifts of all-day picketing at empty school buildings. Instead, the CTU’s constant mass rallies reinforced a sense of solidarity among members and galvanized community support.

Of course, striking teachers don’t face the same possibility of permanent replacement and threats from strikebreaking security firms that factory workers do. Still, the CTU strike can be an example for unions in any industry: Mass pickets and solidarity can exert pressure on the employer–and the greater the solidarity, the less the risk that scabbing operations or court injunctions will succeed.

The list of lessons of the CTU strike could go on and on. But for a labor movement starved of success for so long, that’s an excellent start.

This article originally appeared in Socialistworker.org

Jason Kenney, anti-choice henchman

One of the leading opponents to a woman’s right to choose in Harper’s cabinet is Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney.

Long before he entered Parliament, Kenney has campaigned widely to restrict choice. As a student at the University of San Francisco in 1990, Kenney objected to the right of pro-choice students to distribute information about abortion on campus. When the administration refused to ban them, Kenney launched a petition to the Archbishop of San Francisco to revoke the university’s right to describe itself as “Catholic.”

His petition even equated support for choice and gay rights with racism: “Organizations whose objectives are antithetical to the gospel, including racist, pro-abortion, and homosexual groups, could soon be using facilities and resources that have been consecrated to the promotion of justice and human dignity.”

One of the closest MPs to Harper, Kenney backed Stephen Woodworth’s private member’s bill to “study” the point at which a fetus becomes a person—the most recent attempt by the Tories to recriminalize abortion. The support of such a high-profile minister for Woodworth’s motion undermines Harper’s claim this his government will not re-open the abortion debate in Canada.