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Round Table Post

Sep 9, 2013
Gindin: Educating ourselves and getting off the treadmill

Sam Gindin is a former Research Director of CAW and former Packer Chair in Social Justice. He is a member of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly.
Beyond Stop Harper

False hopes undermine true possibilities.

The most important political lesson from our own recent past is to appreciate the potential from below while honestly acknowledging that - as a legacy of past failures - we aren’t yet in a position to ‘win’. The collective challenge is how to build the kind of movement that can expand our options in the future. That obviously includes continuing to expand what we’ve been doing and addressing the sometimes uncomfortable task of developing deeper connections across our fragmented movements.

But it also means – and this is where we haven’t actually gone very far - that we need to start thinking strategically about a new layer of politics that goes beyond each of our projects. Among other things, this will also affect how each of our separate movements function. Put more directly, I think we need to more seriously educate ourselves about the whole - capitalism - and ask what taking it on really means.

It’s only in that context that we can think about where specific responses like elections fit in. How do we defend ourselves/the environment now (without which no movement can be built), while also building towards transforming the system (without which we remain on the treadmill of at best sporadic and temporary victories)?

Comments

Globalizing democracy.

The future is global. It's pretty much inevitable, we already have a global government, but it needs to become democratic.

I think we should start joining the UN open consultation process in droves, because right now it is dominated by professional, NGO and corporate interests trying to expand their own power, and the vibe is inadvertantly pro-colonial in many aspects, even though many of the people from the developed world are always mentioning colonialism as a major cause of the problems being discussed. The United Nations open consultation process should have more working class, non-professional voices submitting their views, and the process really is open to anyone. People submitting should think about what they're doing carefully, and make sure they totally understand what they're responding to when posting submissions to the process. 
Treat every submission like an academic essay, but you don't get graded on it, instead, it is read by people who are making long-term decisions that will effect every living thing on this planet.
If you 'hate the UN', then that's all the more reason to get involved and steer the conversation in the right direction. 
The World We Want is a platform created by the United Nations and Civil Society to amplify people's voices in the process of building a global agenda for sustainable development. 
This is a more complete guide on how to get involved and start saying what you believe needs to be said in a place where it matters. 
http://www.worldwewant2015.org/howto?utm_source=iContact&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WorldWeWant2015&utm_content=PR+WWW+People%27s+Voices+Series

How

How do you see this resulting in a stronger movement against austerity on the ground?

movement building + unions ... ?

One reflection that sparked this Beyond Stop Harper discussion was the role that unions in Canada are playing within efforts to undercut Canada's Conservative government and more broadly austerity economics. Why haven't major unions really taken action at a grassroots level, street protests, popular actions, grassroots opposition to Conservative policies that enbody an economic and social vision that stands in total discord to the existence of real unions. One example is the attack on CUPW. Why haven't unions, broadly speaking, been doing more to challenge the Conservatives austerity economics ?

Unifor recently launched a constitution that states : We form Unifor at a time when our economy is being hollowed, our democracy eroded and when governments have abandoned social progress in the name of austerity. Will this language be translated into street level action ?

This discussion aims to create discussion and debate within the grassroots left, to try to spark an honest and open discussion about the challenges that progressive movements face in confronting the Conservatives. So these questions are put forward in this light.

In the first text that Sam Gindin presents, the importance of building "a new layer of politics that goes beyond each of our projects," is expressed, totally agree, in a sense this discussion aims to spark debate and discussion on building a movement of movements in Quebec and Canada to challenge the force of austerity and the Conservative government from the perspective of long term movement building.

That new layer

Sam, you definitely are not alone in positing the need for a new layer.

So far, there are two initiatives that could fit into this general category:

Common Causes bills itself as an "assembly of social movements" but its public presentation does not appear to have any mention of an actual assembly structure. From what I can tell, it's a coalition of trade unions and NGOs who hold protests and events. It would be awesome if there was some movement building activity in there, but it seems to struggle with a culture of top-down control.

Port Elgin Coalition, is a proposal modelled off the Red Hand Coalition in Quebec, but would include First Nations, Quebec and the RoC as equal stakes in a sort of assembly structure, with the ultimate goal of working toward a single campaign that everyone would support in some capacity (as the Red Hand Coalition did with the student strike in Quebec) in order to strategically strengthen the pushback against neoliberal forces. It was quite promising, but appears to have quieted down for the moment.

I'm curious to hear your (and anyone else's) assessments of these, in light of your other comments. Also curious to hear about other examples of the "new layer".

As the discussion theme

As the discussion theme indicates and as Sam Gindin states it is necessary to develop a common strategy amongst movements. Not everyone is convinced yet, but it seems like an increasing number of people are coming to the conclusion that there is a fundamental systemic issue - ie capitalism - that must be confronted.

One thing I wanted to mention is that, aside from unions, a lot of the people who would identify themselves as activists and progressives work as part of registered charities, which are prohibited by law from doing any work deemed political. While lots of activists are aware of the need for something more they're often limited and are constantly in a state of having to watch what they say and do if they're to maintain their charitable status. Lack of understanding of systemic issues is still a factor, but I think this legal barrier is also a real road block to developing more straightforward or more effective grassroots projects and movements.

What do people think of this? Is it naive to think a change of legislation around charities would be possible/desirable? If so, what would a solution be?

Strategy, and the need to replace the current union leadership

Labour Day 2013 marred by unions bowing to austerity

by Barry Weisleder

And the downbeat goes on. In sector after sector, from auto to steel to forestry to railways to the Ontario and Federal Public Service, to the federal postal service, bosses usually get the concessions they demand from labour.

In recent move, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union agreed with General Motors to organize special early retirement buyouts at its two assembly plants in Oshawa, Ontario. This is designed to accelerate the automaker’s drive to replace higher-paid veteran workers with workers earning low wages. Temporary workers will get about $10 per hour less than their counterparts, receive an inferior benefits program, and be barred from enrolling in the pension plan. New hires will begin work at $14 per hour below the regular-tier rate, will receive reduced benefits, and also will be ineligible to participate in the pension plan.

To supplement threats at the bargaining table there is the hammer of strike breaking law. Government back-to-work legislation in 2011 broke strikes in the railway, Air Canada, and at the post office, with scarcely a murmer from the labour movement tops. Union heads kept mass job action, urgently needed to counter the anti-labour coups, off the political agenda.

Unions in Canada now encompass 31 per cent of the work force, 9 per cent less than in 1983. Average wages are lower now than in a generation. Morale is even lower.

Some union leaders talk about confronting the threat of so-called 'right to work' laws (which would end compulsory deduction of union dues at pay source). Meanwhile they side-step the need to fight rollbacks in wages, benefits and pensions, and the insidious lower wage rate increasingly imposed on new hires. Such heinous measures undermine all workers' (especially young workers') confidence in unions.

Is the 30 year pattern of retreat by Labour due primarily to an inherent lack of self-confidence, to ingrained passivity, or to false consciousness on the part of working people? Are unions no longer suited to their task, as some academic 'Marxists' argue? Or does a sense of powerlessness simply feed off bureaucrats' self-inflicted failures? Does Labour's retreat arise from an aversion to struggle by union officials?

Plenty of evidence suggests that where a good, strong lead is offered, large numbers of people are willing to fight the austerity agenda of growing social inequality. The massive Quebec students' uprising, the global Occupy protests, and the cross-Canada Idle No More movement testify to that. What's lacking, especially at the top, is a will to fight, or even to allow the ranks to exercise the option.

 

Treachery, Authoritarianism undermine Teachers

In the teachers' unions we find a particularly egregious example of class collaboration, and the strangulation of rank and file initiative.

Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association brass agreed to concessions before the Ontario Liberal government enacted Bill 115 (which suspended collective bargaining and the right to strike for education workers) – and did so without conducting a vote of OECTA members. Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario followed suit. Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation tops mounted token protest rallies, and simultaneously negotiated local concessionary deals. In York and Niagara districts, members voted in November to reject the deals that mirrored provincial take aways, despite heavy pressure from Federation headquarters to accept. In February 2013, OSSTF suspended its 'political action' protest (chiefly the boycott of extra-curricular activities, which impacted mostly on students and parents), and in April capitulated to the province's demands, with minor tweaks. ETFO, the last holdout, gave way on June 13. Discouraged by the unravelling of what began as a common front of resistence to austerity, education workers ratified the deals. But scandal dogs the leaders who did the dirty deeds.

Outraged members of Toronto OSSTF are demanding accountability from the District 12 Executive which donated $30,000 to four candidates contending for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership.

And members' indignation pursues former OSSTF President Ken Coran. Coran angrily denounced the Liberals for violating collective bargaining rights, right up to the front door of the Liberal Party leadership convention in February. Then Coran stood as a Liberal candidate in the byelections held on August 1. Was his candidacy a reward for services rendered?

As it turned out, Coran came a dismal, distant third in London West. The labour-based New Democratic Party surprised the pundits by winning that seat, and by making an even bigger breakthrough in Windsor-Tecumseh. The Conservatives captured Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and the Liberals retained Ottawa South, and Scarborough-Guildwood in Toronto. All five contested constituencies had been held by Liberal Cabinet Ministers. The loss of three is a serious blow to the scandal-plagued Liberal minority government at Queen's Park, now reduced to 50 out of 107 seats, with Tories holding 37 and the NDP 20. Most observers expect the next Ontario-wide election will occur in Spring 2014.

While perpetrating treachery from on high, union officials curtail democracy below. The latest attack is a ten year ban on this writer from attending OSSTF meetings for the crime of speaking out of turn at a substitute teachers' bargaining unit meeting in November 2012. At the time, I demanded job access data that the local executive (consisting mainly of double-dipping retirees) refused to disclose for 10 years!

A decade ago, OSSTF officials removed the entire elected leadership of the Toronto substitute teachers' unit on petty and false charges, and put conservative retirees in control. The latter surrendered an array of job security, wage and benefit gains in short order. On July 25, activists from several unions launched a Campaign to Defend Democracy in Unions and to Rescind the 10 Year Ban. For more info, please visit: torontosubstituteteachers.tripod.com

The fact is that the teachers' top brass, and most of the entire labour leadership, would rather suppress militant members than fight austerity-minded bosses. Bureaucrats put a premium on tight control -- even if it means weakening workers' resistence to an agenda that harms the vast majority, including ultimately themselves.

 

Going Forward

So, how can workers organize in a non-sectarian way to challenge both the bosses and the labour traitors? Fortunately, some positive examples exist, pointing the way forward.

In the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, rank and file members organized a large and inspiring Solidarity Caucus. Its mission: to get OPSEU to rejoin the Ontario Federation of Labour, to which it stopped paying dues without good reason. The caucus attracted much support. It helped to elect reformers to the union's Executive Board, but it did not win the re-affiliation battle at the April 2013 OPSEU convention. The campaign continues.

In OECTA, in March, convention delegates defeated and replaced the President who signed the bad deal and denied members a vote.

Meanwhile members of OSSTF and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario formed a cross-union caucus, the Rank and file Education Workers of Toronto. REWT initiated actions to protest government policies, and is now demanding accountability from officials who approved funding and other forms of collaboration with the governing party which attacked teachers' rights.

And in the Toronto substitute teachers' bargaining unit, the Action Caucus, which was launched in 2003 when local control was undemocratically usurped, has been increasingly successful at winning policy and action resolutions at unit meetings. It has come close to getting its candidates elected. The ten year ban reflects the bogus executive's fear of losing control.

What do these experiences suggest?

  1. The fight against capitalist austerity and union concessions requires rank and file organization in all the unions to promote mass job action to win a Workers' Agenda.

  2. Rank and file organization should be based on policies, not personalities. It should actively strive to replace the current mis-leaders on political grounds. Abstention from struggle in the union arena, or giving political support to this or that wing of the bureaucracy, are a betrayal of the fight against austerity and concessions.

  3. To change the overall direction of our unions, it is necessary to build a cross union, class struggle left wing. This has been the approach of revolutionary socialists in the unions in Canada and the USA since the 1920s, pioneered by the Trade Union Education League. The TUEL, which was active prior to the Stalinist degeneration of the Communist Party, provides an example that every worker-socialist should study.

Opinion

Mr. Weisleder, you write," we need to replace currect Union leadership".

 

I don't know if replacing one union leadership for another IS the answer to the past & current problems within the CAW & TCA(Unifor) I belong to. I also think that elected representatives are exactly that...representatives not leadership. The union is the membership..period...but that is the crux of the problem...why is the union not acting in it's best interests?

Why did the CAW & TCA union(the members) vote for Mike Harris and continue to believe that Capitalism has its best interests,"at heart"?

Why does the membership continue to beleive that the Corporate owned media(the newspapers especially) are fair and balanced and provide a broad spectrum of articles with a diversity of opinions?

I beleive that the heart of the problem lay in the direct control and manipulation of the corporate owned media(especially newspapers). THIS, is where I believe working people need to focus there attention.

We/ve had 2 Royal Commisions on the Media in the last 45 years. First, the 1970 Davey Commission and then in 1981 the Kent Commission. None of the recomendations from these two commissions were made law in Canada's parliment. Today, if you want to see the effects of the concentration of the corporate owned media, watch the 1992 NFB of Canada documentary entitled,"Manufacturing Consent". Myths such as social programmes causing Canada's debt are held firmly in the hearts and minds of almost all Canadians today, while Corporations have managed to gain control of Canada's tax system and, became richer. What baffled me years ago was an essay Duff Conacher wrote and sent to me about Corporations having the same legal rights as people. Corporations are not people(dead or alive) so how can they have the same rights as people? In 2004 Joel Bakan wrote a book on this wrong legal decision and it was followed by the documentary entitled,"The Corporation".

In my humble opinion, working Canadians need to build a citizen owned and controlled media resource with ,"citizen based checks and balances" to provide Canadians with all the news thats required to function and live in a democratic society. In 1999, John Miller wrote a book entitled, "Yesterdays News - Why Canada's Daily Newspapers are Failing Us". If you are interested, go to page 54 and start reading. Ed Finn from the CCPA provides,"one possible soloution" to this very real problem.

I retire from GM of Canada on October 1st/2013. I have met men who actuallu helped organize UAW/CAW/Uinofor Local 199 here in St. Catharines.  They were wonderful people with hearts of gold but they knew who the union was....the membership!

Mr. Blair M. Phillips

St. Catharines

 

It's the Economy!

Yes, the resistance is fragmented and it's hard to get people mobilised.  A friend of mine works for a union and he points out that once the union members get theirs and they're sitting pretty with a $40. K a year job, they adopt the attitude, "I've got mine." and dont want to come out on strike or do anything to rock the boat.  That's one problem.

I'm writing a book at the moment, (OK, very slowly), but in it I make the point, (one of many), that  the economy is "The Matrix."  It's a prison for your mind and it controls you.  In fact the prison, like the value of money, is of your mind. The thing is that as long as you don't know it's there, the Matrix has you.  You can't begin to free yourself if you don't know that you're enslaved.  You don't even try.

The 1%, (just a label, not an accurate statistic), use individualism as a code word for "freedom."  The propaganda never defines freedom, but everybody has their own idea that it's something pretty important and they may even be willing to give their lives for it.  I can make them willing "agents," (another Matrix allegory), for the 1% and despite the fact that none of them could give you a definition of freedom that would agree with that of anyone else fighting with them.  Not one of these people understands at all that this is when they are the least free.

"Individualism" is another great philosophy that has been made out to be a great virtue.  How many individualists realise that they are *alone* and when a person is isolated, they have no power.  So all these strong individualists are powerless and programmed to seek out that powerlessness and lock on to it with all their might all the time believeing that they are "rugged individualists" who need nothing and no one else.  The "best" slave is one who desperately craves his/her own enslavement.  This, more than anything, is a "slave mentality."

Once people get that, 3/4 of the struggle is won.  We have to focus on, 1. Getting their attention and 2. holding it long enough to get the message through.

The 1% work on the propaganda philosophy that they don't appeal to people's logic.  They dumb down the population and appeal to their emotions.  Unfortunately it works all too well.  It's the reason people go along with it.  If they relied on logic, they wouldn't.  Too many people don't operate like that and the 1% has psychologists planning strategy and tactics all the time.

I worked in a call centre for a short while and the people there are treated worse, psychologically, than anywhere else I had ever seen.  I mentioned a union, and they all said, oh, goodness we don't want one of those here.  They had utter contempt for the very thing that would give them a better life!  They are programmed against it.  Much of society is programmed against it.

Education is a key!  Not just educating the public but also reaching the young.  A general elevation of the educational levels and scholastic standards creates a society that is hard to fool.  So this must form a part of our effort!!!  It takes time, but we already know we don't have the upper hand yet.

Haiti has been a crucible for the 1%.  "How bad can we make things and still not have a revolt?"  Whenever a leader starts to emerge, they disappear.  Poverty keeps people working all their waking hours.  Every bit of strength is dedicated to staying alive and finding food, clothing and shelter.  A subculture of poverty grips society and lowers everyone's expectations.  Individualism isolates people and prevents them from drawing together.  Lack of education limits their abilities to even see how they can begin to free themselves.

Greg Cook is a poet whom I knew well years ago.  In one of his poems he said, something like, "Use weapons they will not understand.  Use tactics they will never suspect."

We mustn't rely on money and donations.  We'll never get enough to counter the trillions of dollars at their disposal.  We shouldn't use violence, because they have all the weapons and it just makes us look bad.  What we have is people and our labour.  What we have is unemployed people with time on their hands.  What we need is organisation.

Suppose we started by working to help the poor, the unemployed. the marginalised, the disenchanted youth.  We don't start by proselytising, but by helping!  Provide food that we can grow.  Provide clothing that we can make.  Provide companionship and emotional support that builds human connections.  The psychopathic corporate world doesn't understand that.  They will never recognise the tactic.

We build the relationships that solidarity is based upon.  Then it starts to spread.

Revive Occupy, with some other name.  It's not a protest group.  The authorities know exactly how to deal with those as we have seen.  This is a charity, (registered or not, doesn't matter), and it solely exists to help the poorest of the poor and then work our way up, organising and teaching as we go.  Then it grows!

You know the rest.

We all get there, or we dont at all

Well, surely reforming capitalism is completely insane.

Also, if we are against capitalism - we best understand how so many are under it`s spell and how can we be the alternative that works in the long run - sustainable.

It really bothers me all these men taking up so much space without one mention of oppressions. There are a ton - patriarchy-misogyny comes to mind as well. All the typical ones too - classism, racism, homo-transphobia,...etc..etc.

Lets fully deconstruct - no half measures!

Lets be the example of the world we wish to see - today, tomorrow and fovermore.

"Until all of us are free, the few who think they are, remain tainted with enslavement."
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Decolonize-Anti-Oppression-Workshop-Tour-...

Literacy is Key

Hello Sam...

You suggest (correctly, I believe) that we "educate ourselves about the whole"...this implies a literacy, connecting the dots, an interdisciplinary approach to learning and understanding how we (as workers, employees, family members, subjects, peons, the poor, the oppressed, or for that matter, the 1%) all fit and play into the collective scheme we call "capitalism".

This would be a truly liberating approach and ground for moving forward. But as any school teacher knows, learning is about association, and to find common ground for any sort of "general" curriculum is next to impossible these days. There are simply too many varying starting points, too many distractions, and we're up against too much misinformation (read, mainstream media).

So the onus falls to those of us who are already "literate", not to attempt to "educate the masses", but rather to model what is possible. We are the ones who can make a difference, with every decision and action that we make.

The trick is, to grow our ranks. How?  Taking care of each other. Supporting each other. And having some fun. These are the antidotes to capitalism. Collective enterprise vs. individualism. Love vs. greed. Caring and nurturing vs. dog-eat-dog mentality.

The hardest part, where modeling is concerned, is our own greatest test. If we recognize that the house of cards called capitalism is founded on ownership, then we had better be prepared to reign in our own habitual, compulsive tendencies toward consumerism and ownership. I find it really hard to take seriously these days any self-proclaimed "anti-capitalist" who takes any interest in financial gain through the housing market (aka real-estate) for instance.

One last bit, towards my two cents: I don't know about all of you, but I am tired of the ANTI- this and ANTI-that. Just as I'm done with all the ALT's. Not to say I don't seek and participate in "alt media" -- as I am doing right here...But to me this just isn't the alternative. This is my media. It's OUR media.

As for the anti's...Anti-imperial, anti-colonial, anti-oppression, anti-capitalist, all of them...this terminology is really only meaningful to the more informed, or academic, amongst us...again, it's a matter of literacy. Are we to exclude all of those who can not relate to these terms? Or who are intimidated by them? I rather suggest that we move along, not to ignore the terms or devalue their meaning but rather to accommodate all of those who know what's right vs. wrong IN THEIR HEARTS, and who would like to join us, as part of a greater cause, toward justice and peace, and a more equitable, more harmonious life on earth.

Thanks for everything. All for now...

Gabriel Sinduda

 

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