Battling Austerity

Volume 49, Issue 3: May/June 2015

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Battling Austerity

In their introduction to this year’s May Day Labour Focus, Dave Bush and Herman Rosenfeld argue that today’s labour movement faces a wave of austerity measures but that its response, while displaying “potential for greater fight-back…lacks a clear strategic sense of where it wants to go.” The articles in this issue analyze the fight-back in diverse settings – Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario, Philippe Couillard’s Quebec, the Fight for 15 among mostly young workers and for defined pensions for older workers.

In the private sector, employers, stuck in the long stagnation following the 2008-09 meltdown, are taking drastic measures to cut their costs and recover profits – moving plants to low-wage locations, replacing workers with robots, cutting pensions and other benefits, eliminating jobs and freezing wages.

No sector of the Canadian economy is immune to cutbacks. Even those employed in precarious, low-wage jobs are suddenly seeing those jobs disappear. This has been most evidenced by the crisis in the retail sector. Earlier this year, 17,600 retail jobs were eliminated when Target shut down its Canadian operations, one of the largest mass layoffs in Canadian history. But this wasn’t the only retail outlet to put thousands of Canadian workers out of a job. Future Shop, Mexx, Jacob, Smart Set and Sears have all recently shut down operations, or significantly curtailed their presence in the country.

Meanwhile, governments, using the pressure to restore financial balance as cover, are orchestrating hiring freezes, privatizing public assets, cutting back social programs and presiding over crumbling local services.

As Nora Loreto shows in this issue, Quebec is once again the hotbed of labour action in Canada — marches of 200,000 in Montreal and 10,000 in Quebec City, occupations, assemblies, municipal worker strikes, student mobilizations against user fees, community anti-poverty organizations demanding more social housing, free public transit and improved social services.

Not surprisingly, young workers, thrown into precarious jobs and experiencing double-digit rates of unemployment, are the first to explode – the teaching assistant strikes at York University and the University of Toronto (David Hugill) and the fight for the $15 wage (Tara Ehroke). Unlike the older generation, the youth of today cannot remember a time when capitalism provided them a future.

Canadian Dimension wishes to thank NUPGE CANADA, UNIFOR, CUPE and MGEU for helping to fund this special issue.

On Syriza

In “Syriza moment,” Jim Kavanagh shows why the drama in Greece has gripped the minds of the Left all around the globe. “If Syriza ends up accepting some modified neoliberal austerity program, it will signal to people throughout Europe that the purportedly new radical party still believes There Is No Alternative to rule by bankster capitalism. It will demoralize whatever real Left remains and leave Europe open for a tide of right-wing, neofascist populism that will seize the day.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Inclusion

No museum in Canada, or possibly anywhere, has been subject to as much scrutiny and drawn as much controversy as the newly opened Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Long before construction began, let alone the museum’s doors were first open, a debate erupted over the amount of floor space to be devoted to the Holocaust as compared to other genocides. As it turns out, the museum’s “Examining The Holocaust” exhibit occupies 4,500 square feet of space — 10 per cent of the total gallery space and 1,400 square feet more than the “Breaking the Silence” gallery, which examines five genocides officially recognized by the Canadian government: the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, the Holodomor, or the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s and, once again, the Holocaust.

But a bigger debate soon erupted over which instances of mass atrocity should be labeled “genocide” and rumours abounded about curatorial decisions being subject to political interference aimed at emphasizing the “good news” about respect for rights in Canada, at the expense of the bad. Indeed, Tricia Logan, a former curator at the museum, writes that she was ordered to remove the term “genocide” from any Indigenous exhibits and that the stories of the wrongs done to Indigenous people were watered down in an effort to promote positive Canadian content. She calls the museum “a model of complacency and promotion of the status quo,” a claim vehemently denied by current museum staff. Museum spokesperson Maureen Fitzhenry insists that, as a Crown corporation, it’s important the museum’s terminology align with that of the federal government, which has not recognized Canada’s Aboriginal policies as a genocide.

Cam Scott, in this issue, offers his own contribution to the controversy over the museum. His essay opens up questions about the very conceptual framework of the museum and is bound to stir further debate.

Table of Contents

The Regulars

  • University Strike Shows Strength of Precarious Work Force
  • Our Home and Surveilled Land
  • Around the Left In 60 Days
  • Ontario’s WAC Leads the Struggle to Protect the Precarious Worker
  • The Emperor’s New Cothes
  • Abolishing Home Mail Delivery: the Prelude to Privitization

Special Feature

Focus on Labour

  • Anti-Austerity Battle needs a Coherent, Coordinated Plan of Attack
  • The Fight for the $15 Wage in B.C. and Beyond
  • The Wynne-ter of our Discontent
  • Québec Students, Workers Gear Up for Anti-Austerity Battle
  • What the Supreme Court Rulings Mean for the Labour Movement
  • Retirement a Rough Reality Cheque Without Pension Security
  • All That’s Left

Punk Band Takes Aim at Canadian Colonialism

  • Unifor Faces Off Against Major Junior Hockey
  • Tom Malleson’s “After Occupy: Economic Democracy for the 21st” Century”
  • Taking Down TINA: Richard Swift’s “SOS Alternatives to Capitalism”
  • Charlie Demers’s Comedy Enters Stage Left

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