JI Newsletter 2021-05-01
Welcome to the May issue of the Justice Internationale newsletter. Justice Internationale would like to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the fact that we were not invited to be founding members of the European Super League.
In this issue of the newsletter; Loljapes covers Courage Coalition’s organizing at the NDP federal convention. Sameer Gupta writes about the failings of the latest federal budget and Yogthos explains why Doug Ford is finding it so hard to grant paid sick leave in Ontario.
One of the bigger socialist organizations in Canada at the moment is Courage Coalition. Courage bills itself as a “coalition of the independent left”, although in reality the bulk of its activism work is done within the NDP. At the last NDP convention in 2018 Courage managed to get 3 of its prioritized resolutions passed, so, going into the 2021 NDP convention, hopes were high that Courage would be able to push NDP policy positions in a socialist direction.
Before appraising Courage’s efforts, it’s worth spending some time discussing the omnishambles that was the 2021 NDP convention. It’s been three years since the last party convention, meaning that even before the event began the NDP was technically in breach of its own constitution, which required conventions to be held every two years.* If the delay in holding the convention was the only issue, it could perhaps be forgiven as an unfortunate necessity of the COVID pandemic. However, there were a host of other organizational and technical issues that continued to plague the convention throughout the course of its three-day run.
The convention was hosted virtually, meaning participants had to join an online video call to attend. However, the organizers had not arranged closed-captioning or sign language interpreters, meaning hearing impaired delegates had no way of following the course of events. Furthermore, the process of addressing the convention during the resolution debates was fatally flawed. Delegates wishing to speak on a given resolution were required to enter a virtual ‘PRO’ or ‘CON’ lobby, which took them out of the main convention session. Once a person entered these lobbies there was no easy way for them to follow the course of the convention debate. This led multiple times to speakers being called from the lobby by the convention chair, only to raise a point that had already been addressed, or to make an amendment to a resolution that had already been passed. Playing by Robert’s Rules is taxing at the best of times, the NDP convention somehow found a way to make the process even more tortuous by essentially adding input lag to the equation.
In addition to the purely technical inconveniences, there were others flaws in the convention structure that seem more deliberate. Resolutions were divided into seven topic blocks, with a ranked-choice vote by delegates determining the order resolutions would be debated in. Each policy block was only only given 45 minutes of debate to get through resolutions, and each speaker called by the chair was given three minutes speaking time (this was reduced to two minutes on day two of the convention because of how much time it was eating up). This meant that during most blocks only the two highest-prioritized resolutions made it to the floor for debate. This was a contrast to the 2018 convention, which managed to get through about five resolutions per block. It’s rare for radical resolutions to rank in the top two spots, and resolutions that don’t get voted on at convention are very unlikely to make it into the policy book, so constraining the time for debate dramatically curtailed the scope of resolutions that could get passed. Furthermore, the process for determining which delegates were called to speak from the PRO and CON lobbies was opaque, meaning that favored delegates were sometimes called to speak multiple times while others had no opportunity to speak at all.
Despite these frustrations, Courage did an admirable job organizing for the NDP convention. During the convention, Courage used a Discord server to coordinate delegates from across Canada. The server was relatively active and regularly had over 100 people online when the convention was in session. During the policy blocks, Courage members on the Discord were rapidly drafting statements for any members who got called by the chair to speak, this gave inexperienced delegates confidence to enter the lobbies knowing that they would be saying the right thing, and was doubly important given the problems with the lobby system discussed above.
However, for all this coordination, Courage’s efforts at the convention were ultimately hamstrung by their inability to get resolutions ranked high enough to be brought to debate. Courage formally endorsed between five-to-seven resolutions in each block, but of the 40 resolutions endorsed by Courage, only 2 ended up being debated on; ‘Justice and peace in Israel-Palestine’ (ranked 2nd in block 4) and ‘Clean Water in Indigenous Communities’ (ranked 1st in block 6). Because both of these resolutions achieved very high scores in the delegate vote, it’s almost certain they would have achieved exactly the same ranking even if Courage hadn’t supported them. In fact, it seems that despite the active Discord server, the number of delegates who voted the Courage ‘party line’ was likely in the low tens.** If Courage wants to make a greater impact at future NDP conventions, it simply has to get better at getting its favored resolutions to the front of the queue.
Some of Courage’s woes at this convention can be chalked up to the virtual format of the event. Small groups like Courage depend on persuasion of non-aligned delegates and coalition building with other groups — an online event obviously gets in the way of those sorts of dynamics. Furthermore, the clunky way delegates were called to speak gave the chair even more power than usual to shape the proceedings. Going forward, Courage would be wise to resist the regularization of online conventions. Whatever gains are made in the way of ‘access’ are more than offset by the increase in the ability of convention organizers to sideline quarrelsome groups like Courage. That being said, the best way Courage can hope to make a greater impact at future conventions is by bringing more people. The top ranked resolutions in each block at this convention achieved scores between 6000 and 9000. Any organization that managed to bring 300 delegates to the convention would command 3000 points for its highest ranked resolutions, and would likely be able to bring any resolution it wanted to debate. The difference between 100 people in a Discord server and 300 organized delegates at convention is the difference between an activist group and an actual movement. I, for one, hope Courage is able to make the transition from the former to the latter.
* One of the resolutions passed at this year’s convention (07-03-20 - Empowering Federal Council to postpone federal convention) loosened the requirement to hold conventions every two years, allowing the Federal Council to postpone conventions by 12 months in the event of ‘extenuating circumstances’
** Courage endorsed resolution 06-24-30 - Gender affirming healthcare as its third highest priority resolution in block 6. This resolution did not rank in the top 20 for this block. The 20th resolution in block 6 (06-40-20 - Creation of a National Registry for Artificial Intelligence Control Devices) achieved a score of 423. If you assume that: (1) The Courage resolution 06-24-30 got a score of one less than the 20th resolution (i.e. 422), (2) Resolution 06-24-30 only received votes from Courage delegates and (3) Every Courage delegate ranked the resolution in third highest priority for this block. You conclude that the highest possible number of Courage delegates was 422/8 = 52.8. Obviously the true number of delegates who voted for the Courage-endorsed slate is likely a lot lower.
The flurry of recent budget-related announcements have produced a news cycle which is becoming depressingly familiar in this era where our horizons seem to extend no further than the next election. Election-platforms-masquerading-as-budgets elicit fawning coverage from a commentariat which is increasingly controlled by the capitalist class, while talk of the class dynamics which are driving the evaporation of working class prosperity has been all but banished from the media that is consumed by the majority of Canadians.
This has happened because the media’s historical memory, if they possess one at all, is afflicted by a partisan, selective amnesia which divorces the myriad dimensions of identity and social life from their historical (and present) roots in a capitalist system which readily availed itself of all manner of hierarchies, producing our present system of imperialism under which economic gains made in one domain often simply further entrenches the exploitation of someone else further down the totem pole.
Indeed, imperialism is what has allowed a (shrinking) segment of the working class to enjoy financial security, with wage arbitrage fueling the deindustrialization of our economy, the rise of precarious work and an ever-growing human surplus, people whom the capitalists have deemed unnecessary to the productive economy - swelling the ranks of what Marx and Engels coined the lumpenproletariat. And yet, every single article headlined by some permutation of “How the Budget Impacts You” would have readers believe that the rampant corporate welfare and militarism which comprises the majority of new spending in this budget simply does not concern them, a pervasive, self-serving attitude amongst our ruling elite that is proving corrosive to the very spirit of our democracy.
Returning to the budget’s specifics, the star of the show was the promise of $10-a-day childcare, amongst a raft of other proposals aimed at creating a post-pandemic recovery “for Canadians.” As for the media, they didn’t even need to wait for the budget to be presented to roll up their sleeves and begin dutifully pushing the official line. “Finally!” declared a Toronto Star columnist back in March, citing a report from Deloitte which called for “high quality” spaces to be made available. Deloitte of course has raked in millions from the public sector during the pandemic through secretive contracts to assist with vaccine distribution, and that’s been going swimmingly, but I digress.
Maclean’s meanwhile pulled a rhetorical bait and switch that is becoming all too familiar in the mainstream press, breathlessly piling superlatives onto the Liberals’ “massive, historic” childcare pledge before quickly turning to remind readers that this “enormous” undertaking was actually far from assured, as any national childcare program would require bilateral negotiation with the provinces. While the article correctly notes that this is due to the constitutional division of powers which sees childcare fall under provincial jurisdiction, it is worth emphasizing that the Liberals expect their claimed goal of $9.7 billion in permanent annual funding by 2025-2026 (which includes previously announced funds) to be matched by their provincial counterparts.
$9.7 billion seems impressive, and the media know it because they regularly cite numbers put forth by the government without context in order to demonstrate the supposed sincerity of their claims. The Maclean’s article for example mentions that this budget proposes $142 billion in new spending, an impressive figure until you consider analysis from the Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) which found that an obscene $95 billion of that is earmarked for the arms industry alone.
The Communist Party’s analysis offers an excellent breakdown of where the Liberals’ “transformative” budget is distributing that much-publicized new spending, and the picture it paints of a government looting enormous sums of public wealth at the behest of imperialists and rentier-capitalists is a stark contrast to the rosy coverage of this budget in the mainstream press.
It is worth pointing out that this “massive” childcare push, which the government claims is “on a scale with the work of previous generations of Canadians, who built a public school system and public health care,” will only produce $3 billion in funding for the 2021-2022 year, which leads one to ask what the government would call its decision to extend Air Canada a $5.9 billion bailout, a company which has cut half its workforce. Or its decision to unveil $17.6 billion in “green” spending and tax relief for the private sector that has been roundly criticized by climate activists for being an unambitious giveaway to the rich.
Returning to the childcare pledge, the smoke and mirrors act continues once contextual factors are considered. The Quebec system which the government praises as a “pioneer” costs the province over $2.5 billion a year, and anyone who has studied the Quebec model will tell you that considerably more investment is needed in order to meet demand - do they really believe that the promise of $9.7 billion down the line will be enough to entice governments in Alberta, Ontario or Atlantic Canada that have struggled with (or simply refused to entertain) far less ambitious demands like paid sick days or student debt relief, and whose balance sheets have been ravaged by the pandemic? It seems like the Liberals are more interested in putting uncooperative governments in an uncomfortable position than they are in actually realizing their expressed goal of quality, affordable childcare.
Why not instead use the roughly $77 billion earmarked for the purchase and upkeep of 88 warplanes to bolster funds for not only childcare but perhaps that pharmacare program that the Liberals have been promising for over 20 years now? That such asymmetric budgetary priorities can be presented to ordinary people as a “recovery” plan strains credulity.
A national commitment to affordable, high quality childcare is laudable and a moral imperative for any government which claims to be advancing a working class agenda, but what does it say about the feminist bonafides of this government when their signature policy proposal simply reinforces this selective austerity?
Where working people are leaned on time and time again to finance the profit-seeking of a capitalist minority that is effectively on a tax strike; immolators whose asset-grabbing and maximalist rent seeking threaten to extinguish the very notion of “dignified, stable employment” altogether, while rendering even the more modest aspirations of many young working class people (and young women in particular) like home ownership and parenthood increasingly remote.
In return, are we offered a robust social wage that affirms our aspirations of a life with dignity by prioritizing things like free public transit, universal access to medicine and all the other dimensions of health which are currently left out of our public system? Does anyone in this government speak of debt cancellation? Or amnesty for low-income folks whose CERB payments left them on the hook for unpaid taxes to the CRA? The budget has no answers for any of them, because the ruling class has successfully undermined the hard-fought social compact (limited as it was) which over the course of the previous century delivered unprecedented prosperity to the working class in North America.
Now these rapacious looters are invested in a full-spectrum offensive to reassert control in the face of mounting resistance, their only project for humanity at this stage being a new, vastly pared down social contract to replace the one they’ve spent the last half century systematically dismantling and denigrating. Whether you call it “Build Back Better” or The Great Reset is immaterial, the message is clear: the neoliberal arsonists demand our trust in their vision of the future. Now, more than ever, the working class needs a united, populist and unapologetically socialist Left, with a revolutionary agenda to match. Our humanity demands it.
As the pandemic continues to rage across Ontario, many are wondering why the government refuses to take many obvious measures that have been continuously encouraged by experts and demanded by workers. The government even overruled experts when it came to testing, and paid sick leave has been repeatedly voted down by the Doug Ford’s Conservative government.
After months of mounting public pressure the government decided to provide 3 sick days at a fixed rate of $200 dollars. This measure is woefully inadequate given that it takes 14 days to resolve COVID-19 symptoms and the CDC recommends a minimum isolation time of 10 days after onset to minimize risk of transmission.
Instead of recognizing the fact that most infections trace back to front line workers, the government continues to focus on private gatherings and admonishing us (“yahoos”) about personal responsibility. Not only is this blame-the-people approach absurd, it’s actively harmful according to the experts. At first glance, the behavior of our government may seem bizarre and incompetent. Surely, there is no reason to let things get as bad as they have. We have gone through two waves of this pandemic already, has nothing been learned in all this time?
I would argue that, in fact, something has been learned. The United States clearly demonstrated to our leaders that you can simply let people die in order to keep doing business as usual. While there is a terrible human cost associated with this approach, it turns out that big business is directly benefiting from this tragedy by raking in record profits. People’s lives are simply numbers on a ledger for these companies, and when their workers inevitably get sick they’re quickly replaced with fresh bodies. Given the high rate of unemployment, it’s not hard to find people desperate enough to work in unsafe conditions.
We’ve seen major outbreaks occur in packing plants, Amazon warehouses, schools, and many other workplaces. These outbreaks tend to receive little attention in the media allowing unsafe work practices to continue largely unchallenged. Meanwhile, affluent neighborhoods have been prioritized for vaccinations ensuring those who are well off and most likely to be working from home can stay safe.
Letting people die is a perfectly rational policy from a capitalist perspective. Most deaths occur in the poorest neighborhoods while rich neighborhoods are largely unaffected. In other words, the people consigning others to death don’t have skin in the game while having much to gain from the current handling of things. Predictably the mainstream media are loathe to explain how divergent class interests produce this asymmetric response to the pandemic, due to their position in what is a quintessential class struggle.
Lenin wrote about this exact problem more than a century ago in The State and Revolution where he identified the role of the state to be the mediator in the struggle between classes. Since a capitalist state (and corporate media) represents the interests of the capital owning class, it resolves this conflict through oppression of the working class:
According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of “order”, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes.
This is precisely what we’re seeing in Ontario today. The Conservative government is actively oppressing the working class for the benefit of the capital owning class. As the pandemic continues to spiral out of control, the government even tried introducing expanded police powers to further crack down on the people of the province.
Lack of accountability on the part of government to ordinary people makes this situation possible. Working class people have no representation in the government, no leverage over their representatives, and no power of recall; the state offers them no avenue for advancing an agenda, we must simply ratify the ones we are presented with. The Conservatives holding an absolute majority of seats in the Ontario legislature allows their deadly policies to continue unchallenged while the people of Ontario can only watch in horror. Once again, we can turn to Lenin for some insight into our situation:
Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich–that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the machinery of capitalist democracy, we see everywhere, in the “petty”–supposedly petty–details of the suffrage (residential qualifications, exclusion of women, etc.), in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for “paupers”!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc.,–we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself and has never been in close contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine out of 10, if not 99 out of 100, bourgeois publicists and politicians come under this category); but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy.
This pandemic clearly demonstrates that a capitalist government is perfectly willing to sacrifice people in order to maximize profits for big business. We can’t have paid sick leave because our government does not represent the people of Ontario–the voices most loudly clamoring for relief have long been marginalized in a democracy where power is thoroughly monopolized by the capitalist class. We desperately need a government that works to advance the interests and affirm the dignity of the working majority, as opposed to what we have–a government that is unceasingly servile to the whims of a rentier-capitalist minority.
- Courage at the NDP convention - loljapes
- Our Leaders are Failing Humanity - Sameer Gupta
- Why We Can't Have Paid Sick Leave - yogthos
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