Strike for Climate: Will it be Socialism or Extinction?
James Chumsa and Lia Sommer
On Friday, March 15 over one million young students from around the world walked out of class to demand that their governments take serious action against climate change. The global student strike for climate was held in 2000 cities across 125 countries. In Canada over 56 cities had youth climate protests, the largest of which was in Montreal where over 150,000 young marchers filled the streets and shut down schools.
Since then, other student-led protests have taken place. According to the official Fridays For Future Canada website, 98 cities participated in the country-wide climate strike on Friday May 3 and 104 Canadian cities participated in the Friday May 24 global strike. There are also plans for a global Earth Strike during the week of September 20-27.
The world-wide student strikes for climate action are inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who began by protesting outside the Swedish parliament buildings lastAugust. Terrified for her future, she decided to skip school on Fridays to protest her government's inaction on the climate crisis, hence the name Fridays For Future. Greta has since gained global attention and travelled to North America by boat to attend a UN climate summit on September 23. She will be attending the September 27 rally in Montreal.
“Starting on Friday 20 September we will kickstart a week of climate action with a worldwide strike for the climate,” Greta said in a statement. Many organisations have been promoting the September general strike while local groups have been preparing actions for that week.
General strikes involve more than just mass demonstrations. Historically, general strikes have been called by unions and involved workers of an entire city or region walking off the job with the purpose of driving industry to a halt. These efforts would involve thousands of participants, including workers from several different industries and their supporters, who protested on the streets and were often met with police. Examplesinclude the 1917 International Women's Day textile worker's strike in Petrograd that initiated the Russian Revolution, and the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike 100 years ago which resulted in a streetcar tipped over and several strikers shot or arrested by North West Mounted Police. General strikes have helped the working class win many gains. Ifproperly organized, they may be an effective way to fight the fossil fuel industry and address climate change.
Socialism or Extinction
Under capitalism, everything is exploited for the purpose of economic growth and accumulation of wealth. This ever-increasing growth will never be compatible with a sustainable society because you cannot have continuous growth on a finite planet. Think of our resources in terms of a bank account. We have our main spending account that we use, but when that's used up, when those resources are used up, we take from our savings account to cover us for the rest of the year. Our current trend of over-consumption forces us year by year to dip into this savings account of resources, which is getting smaller and smaller.
Earth Overshoot Day, the day that humans have used up the amount of resources that the planet is able to regenerate annually, is landing earlier every year. The first Earth Overshoot Day was December 29, 1970; in 2018 it was on August 1, and this year it was on July 29. That means that for 4 months of this year we are taking resources that the planet will not be able to produce for us in the future. We are currently consuming 1.7 Earth's worth of resources every year.
Since capitalism is the cause of the current sixth mass extinction, the choice now is either socialism or extinction. There are several examples of socialist countries that are finding solutions to the ecological crisis.
In 2016 the World Wildlife Fund reported that Cuba was the only sustainable country in the world, as it manages to retain a low ecological footprint while keeping a relatively high standard of living for its citizens. Cuba adopted a low carbon approach in the 1990s, when the Soviet Union was overthrown and a major importer of fossil fuels was lost. The people had to make a dramatic transition during this Special Period, and under socialism they did.
Last year, China reached its Paris Agreement goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of its 2020 deadline. The Chinese government took action to dramatically reduce the pollution from its largest companies, through a type of carbon credit system that forces polluting corporations to pay.
China has planted millions of trees, and 60,000 soldiers in the People's Liberation Army are currently being mobilized to plant 32,400 acres more. China's efforts to plant trees is noticeable from space – NASA has spotted large regions of green in the eastern half of the country that were not there 20 years ago.
Canada, a capitalist country, is not doing so well. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did declare a nationwide climate emergency on June 17, he also approved the Trans Mountain fossil fuel pipeline the next day. Trudeau has broken many of his promises to Indigenous communities, who have already been fighting the hardest to defend their natural ecosystems. Canada is far behind on reducing carbon emissions and reaching the Paris Agreement target for 2020. At the current rate it will take centuries to reach that goal, and by that time it will be far too late.
This is why it us up to the youth, the students and the next generation of leaders to clean up the mess and the mistakes that previous generations have made. We must work to dismantle capitalism, so that the Earth is no longer seen as a commodity and we can end this trend of mindless over-consumption.
We must act now.
[This article is slightly edited from one that first appeared in Rebel Youth magazine, rebelyouth-magazine.blogspot.com]
Actions highlight solidarity with Mount Ida resistance
Canadian miner Alamos Gold target of environmental protests
Late August saw a flurry of solidarity actions in Montreal and Toronto, organized in opposition to Canadian mining corporation Alamos Gold. The progressive Turkish-Canadian community has led the movement with mining justice organizations, environmental activists and the Communist Party of Canada participating in actions against Alamos Gold’s “ecocide at Mount Ida.”
The Toronto-based gold mining companyhas started working on a massive open pit mining operation together with its local subsidiary Doğu Biga Madencilik, in Turkey’s Ida Mountains. The company has cut 200,000 trees during the mine construction stage, many more than they originally said would be necessary.
A large-scale fightback has developed in Turkey against Alamos. Thousands of protesters have occupied the area and stopped mine construction activities on the site, under the banner of a Water and Human Conscience Watch.
In addition to opposing deforestation, the resistance to Alamos also points out that an estimated 20,000 tonnes of cyanide will be used in the gold-extraction process. Alamos Gold has a history of cyanide leaks and the company was responsible for a 2016 spill in Mexico.
Organizers for Canada Mount Ida Solidarity – Toronto stated in a press release that the fight is much broader than just Alamos Gold: “The situation in Turkey’s Ida Mountains is not an isolated case. Similar lethal projects are underway in Turkey’s other regions including Zonguldak, Samsun, Mount Munzur, and many others as well as all around the world. Also, Alamos Gold Inc. is not the only Canadian company that plunders natural resources in Turkey and other countries for better profits at the expense of environmental destruction.”
A 2013 report indicated that Canada is home to 75% of the mining companies in the world. In no small part, this is due to Canada’s lack of regulation of the mining sector, which allows mining corporations to get away with crimes around the world. The Canadian government’s complicity in the mining sector’s crimes have been uncovered in many countries. This includes the 2013 revelations that Canada spied on Brazil’s Ministry of Mining and Energy. Canada has also used Canadian aid to pressure governments to rewrite mining laws in South America and Africa.
In addition to environmental destruction in the era of climate change, Canadian mining has also been responsible for human rights violations and the exploitation of labour around the world. The anti-labour element was also highlighted by the rallies in Canada. The organizers pointed to racist statements made by Alamos Gold’s CEO, John McCluskey, who said that Alamos won’t need any foreign labor to operate their activities in Turkey because “Turkish people are the best in carrying stones in the world!”
Organizers in Toronto responded, “We would like to remind Alamos Gold, similar opportunistic corporations, and their political subsidiaries that Yes! We may be good at carrying stones. But we are equally good at standing against you until the day you will have to stop this plundering and get out!”
Communists call for solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir
CPC demands that Canadian government oppose war and respect the right of national self-determination
The Communist Party of Canada has released a statement condemning the Indian government’s attack on the national rights of Jammu and Kashmir. On August 7, India passed legislation abrogating Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional special status and denying it of its right to Indian statehood. “In the process,” warns the CPC,“the reactionary government of Narendra Modi has fanned the flames of ethnic and religious division, regional conflict, and war involving nuclear armed states.”
The CPC also denounced the response of the Canadian government, calling it “feeble and opportunistic.” So far, the only official response from the government has been a single, five-sentence statement of concern from Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, in which she “encourages consultations with affected communities.”Noting the danger of war, the Communist Party demands that the Trudeau government take steps to “play a productive, democratic role in avoiding regional conflict and war.”The Party also calls upon the Canadian government to defend the national right of self-determination, “in Jammu and Kashmir, and throughout the world including in Canada.”
The following is from the Communist Party statement:
Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in India. At the time of independence and partition, it joined India on the insistence of a majority of its population, who defied the proposal of both their feudal ruler and the British government for an independent princely state. They also rejected the proposal to join Pakistan, fearing that feudal and religious interests would dominate. The agreement to join India included guarantees of autonomous rights, which became crystallized in Article 370 of the Constitution, such as its own constitution and legislative jurisdiction.
The border disputes that erupted with Pakistan, escalating into the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-48, were deliberately encouraged and supported by the British government which wanted to provoke division and retain a separate, isolated and weak client state in the region. Foreign interference, especially from imperialist states and organizations, has continued to distort and undermine democratic and peaceful efforts to resolve the conflict.
Modi’s BJP-RSS government has consistently promoted the irredentist dream of “Greater India” based on Hindu nationalism. By dissolving the state of Jammu and Kashmir, dividing the territory, and placing it under direct control of the central government, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act threatens to silence the voices of millions of Muslim Indians and replace them with Hindu nationalist rhetoric. Alongside his legislative attack on Jammu and Kashmir, Modi unleashed a military attack by flooding the territory with troops and imposing a lockdown. Telecommunications and public transport are closed down and thousands of people have arrested, including the leaders of all major opposition parties. People who have violated the imposed curfew have been shot and killed.
Shortly after the lockdown was imposed Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stated that India’s future adherence to a no-first-use nuclear weapons policy “depends on the circumstances.” This was a clear threat to Pakistan, whose Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that inaction against India’s assault on Jammu and Kashmir will mean “two nuclear-armed states get ever closer to a direct military confrontation.” The risk of a regional war is clear and dangerous.
Despite this urgency, the response of the Canadian government has been completely inadequate. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has only issued only one 4-sentence public statement, in which she made a general appeal for “meaningful discussions and consultations.” The government has not criticized India’s attack on the national rights of Jammu and Kashmir, nor the military crackdown, nor the Indian government’s escalation of nuclear threats against Pakistan. Thousands of people in Canada have denounced Freeland’s statement and protests have been organized across the country, but the government has not responded.
This is a clear case of the Canadian government acting on behalf of corporations in Canada, placing the interests of capitalist profit far ahead of those of peace and human rights. India is a key economic partner for Canadian corporations – trade with India is currently at around $8.4 billion and increasing, and the Trudeau government is eagerly continuing its efforts to negotiate a CEPA with India. Conversely, trade with Pakistan is much lower, at around $1.2 billion, and is declining. More notably, foreign direct investment (FDI) from Canada is $2.6 billion with India but only $31 million with Pakistan, indicating that Canadian capital relies heavily on investment in India for its profit.
Canada’s weak intervention in this dangerous situation is also connected to the question of national rights. A key feature of the multinational Canadian state is the domination of the English-speaking Canadian nation over other nations, including Indigenous nations, Quebec, and Acadia. For the Canadian government to speak out in support of the right to national self-determination for Kashmir would immediately open the same question within this country. The Trudeau government will not risk this – instead, it relies on national inequality within Canada as a way to maintain corporate access and control over resources and territory.
The Communist Party of Canada demands that the Canadian government act immediately to oppose war and respect the right of national self-determination by:
Furthermore, the CPC demands that the Canadian government develop and pursue its own independent foreign policy of peace and disarmament, and recognize and implement the right to national self-determination within Canada.
407 – The Highway to Hell
In 1999, the Mike Harris Conservatives sold Highway 407 for $3.1 billion, in what was then the biggest privatization ever in North America. Among the private consortium was SNC-Lavalin, who purchased a 16.7% share for around $520 million.
Last month, SNC-Lavalin announced it was selling 10% of its share, for $3.25 billion.
That's ten times what they paid for that 10% share - a 1000% increase in 20 years.
This, of course, doesn't take into account the $300 million in annual profit that Lavalin and the other privateers have raked in from the highway. A conservative guess is that SNC-Lavalin, as a 16.7% shareholder, made in the area of $5-7 billion during those 20 years.
Highway 407 was built in 1997 at a cost of $1.6 billion to the public. The lands that it runs through were purchased in the 1970s for an estimated $100 billion cost to the public. This figure comes from comments recorded in Hansard, by a dissenting Tory MPP.
So, after fleecing the public out of tens of billions of dollars, the private sector – or part of it – is selling the asset back…at a whopping profit. The buyer is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), who is using the deferred wages (that’s what pensions are, right?) of millions of workers to buy something that those same workers already paid for through their tax dollars, so that those workers can have a retirement income that is totally insufficient to live on because public funds have been fleeced by private corporations like SNC-Lavalin, who either buy up public assets at a discount or get billions in bailouts at the same time that they fire workers or both.
Ain't privatization great?!
Make peace an election issue
September 21 is International Day of Peace. A week later, September 27, is the International Day for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Notably, these two days will bookend the day that the federal election writ is dropped.
Notably, in a sad way, because out of the mainstream parties that will be participating in leaders’ debates, monopolizing media attention, flooding the airwaves with advertising, and spending millions to convince you that their version of capitalism is the one for you, one hundred percent of none have anything in their platform that represents a foreign policy of peace.
The campaign will occur against a backdrop of increased militarism and aggression from the US-EU-NATO axis – which Canadian governments of all colours, so far, have enthusiastically supported (albeit with different degrees of public glee.) From DPRK to Ukraine to Colombia to Venezuela to Kashmir to Hong Kong … the list of “hot spots” is growing and getting hotter.
The working class, Indigenous people, youth and students, women, 2S/LGBTiQ, racialized people – all of us have an urgent stake in preventing war and stopping the brtually dangerous militarism that threatens the planet.
The only way to make peace an election issue is for the people to demand it.
Addiction and recovery: Time for progressive strategies?
Brian W. Major
Canada is clearly in the middle of a severe addiction crisis. What is presently lacking is a coherent approach to what can be done to prevent so many of us from dying. In 2018, for example, a reported 4460 people died from opioid overdoses in Canada.
Even though there are varied reasons why so many people die from addictions, predominant addiction and treatment models have, until recently, remained entrenched in approaches coming out of the 1930s.
Early psychological experiments used a caged rat that had the choice of drinking regular water or drug-laced water. In example after example, the rat chose the drugged water;often, it would die after becoming “hooked” on drugs. Based on these experiments, western culture/drug laws focused on the notion that drugs were “bad” and had to be stopped. This led to continued drug prohibition with severe criminal sanctions for users and sellers. Strict policing and corrections were seen as part of the (failed) “war on drugs.”
Approaches based on recovery from addiction were based on similar notions. The work of 12 step-based recovery organizations is well known. Alcoholics Anonymous, and other programs based on it, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous, were started in the US in the early to mid 1930s. Their goal is total abstinence for members, who are taught that recovery can begin once the drink or drug is put down. AA and the other fellowships have their advantages: membership is free, friendships and support can be easily built, and role-modelling can be very supportive. Membership and successes can be celebrated, and the recovering person can obtain some pride and satisfaction in a job well done and in success at recovery.
The potential problem with the 12-step approach isin the general philosophy of the “problem and the solution.”A quote from the Big Book, the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous, reads:
“I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
This small quote is significant, as it is often repeated in celebratory meetings when a recovering person reaches a milestone, such as a year of sobriety. The recovering person is taught that it is not society (or class exploitation or alienation or oppression), but rather their own adaptation to society that needs to change for recovery to be successful.
Is there an alternative to the war on drugs? Is there a new way to stay clean?
Newer rat studies have challenged the earlier ones. The problem with a rat in a cage that has two choices of beverage is that the rat doesn’t have much choice or freedom. The newer studies, referred to as “Rat Par,” provide the rat could with a whole room to live in. The rat can choose to eat cheese, dig tunnels, interact with other rats, hide on its own, and so on. Rat Park also includes the water tube and the drugged water tube; but no rat has become dependent on the drug water. The rats all drink the drugs, and maybe even come back for another helping, but the big difference isthat none of them developed a drug problem.
Are there approaches to recovery that take “Rat Park” into consideration?
For many years, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. Several years ago, a decision was made to legalize all drugs and money from enforcement and corrections was redirected to drug treatment and rehabilitation. Today, drug use in Portugal has declined significantly. Drug users can now get the help they need, if they want it, to thrive and move away from negativity in their life.
Another importantdevelopment in Canada and the US is the current effort to prosecute Big Pharma companies that have irresponsibly promotedmedicines such as OxyContin,resulting in harm and death for many vulnerable people.
The Harm Reduction approach has many adherents. Instead of having people die from addictions, governments can provide services like safe injection sites, needle exchanges, HIV and Hepatitis screening. Harm Reduction is person-centred, based on the notion that we can reduce the harm drugs can do so long as we put our fellow human first.
While many people find that 12-step recovery or “Rational Recovery” programs work for them, we need to develop a more progressivestrategyfor addiction and recovery. Such a strategy needs to be user-specific and based on notions of empowerment, love and care for drug users, whether they choose to abstain or not (or not yet). Substance abuse care needs to be based on theories of social transformation and assistance to overcome experiences of alienation at the heart of capitalist society.
Trade union bars working class candidate from federal election forum
A working class candidate with a lifelong record as an active supporter of trade union rights will not be allowed to take part in a federal election candidates forum being held in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway.
Kimball Cariou is the candidate for the Communist Party of Canada, running for the fifth consecutive time in the east Vancouver constituency. Cariou grew up as the son of a railway worker and an office worker, with his family origins among the European immigrant and Metis peoples of the Prairies. From 1993 until his recent retirement from full-time work, he was the editor of People's Voice, the socialist newspaper published in Vancouver. He has been active for many years in anti-war and solidarity movements.
Unfortunately, the PSAC (Public Service Alliance of Canada) Vancouver & District Area Council has refused to allow Cariou to take part in its forum, which takes place 7-9 pm, Tuesday, Sept. 17, at Collingwood Neighbourhood House, 5288 Joyce St., Vancouver.
In four previous elections (2006, 2008, 2011, 2015) Kimball Cariou has spoken at inclusive all-candidate forums at Collingwood organized by the local community group. He is shocked that a trade union body would arbitrarily limit participation in this event to candidates of just four parties - the Liberals, Conservatives, Greens and NDP.
Two basic reasons were given for Cariou's exclusion. The first is that allowing more than four candidates to take part would limit the number of questions each candidate could answer, so the Area Council wants to hear from "the four major parties that have the most influence over our living and working conditions." The Area Council also argues that inviting any other candidates would force is to open the event to "a newer party that has troubling far-right nationalist values."
Making a final appeal to the PSAC Area Council, Cariou wrote, "I have to express my profound disappointment that the Canadian political party with the longest record of defending the rights of trade unionists and all working people will be prevented from taking part in the Sept. 17 forum. Ever since our formation in 1921, members and leaders of the Communist Party of Canada have spoken out strongly for the interests of the working class in this country, in our communities, on the shop floor, at labour conventions, on the picket lines, from jail cells, and yes, on some occasions when they were elected to Parliament, provincial legislatures, or local governments. From this perspective, our party has exerted an enormous and highly positive influence over the living and working conditions of the working class, for nearly a full century."
Cariou says the Area Council's undemocratic argument "is simply a repetition of the corporate media's position that certain parties should be ignored during election campaigns." He points out that "just to give an example, the Vancouver Sun has refused to ever include my name in its listings of candidates in Vancouver Kingsway."
He adds that "We understand very well that far-right, racist, fascist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynist, anti-labour forces are seeking to gain influence during this election. It would be quite understandable for PSAC to refuse to offer a platform for such parties and candidates. What is not understandable is that ... the Communist Party is being put into the same category as these dangerous and violent enemies of the working class."
Cariou has told Area Council that "it is not too late to change the format to invite all parties and candidates who are not fundamentally opposed to the working class."
Blame for Amazon fire pinned on Bolsonaro and monopolies
International Communist Press
While wildfires are ravaging the Amazon, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro does not seem to respond to the increasing international pressure to contain fires. Bolsonaro had previously described rainforest protections as “an obstacle to economic development.” Besides, it is not a secret that many capitalist companies involved in Brazilian agribusiness will score big profits from the deforestation.
On August 26, Adalberto Monteiro, the national secretary of communication of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), highlighted the importance of the unity of Brazilian society in protest against the fire in the Amazon region and blamed the President of the Republic for the environmental disaster in that region. “The burning that caused so much anger and indignation in Brazilian society,” announced Monteiro, “has one responsible: it is the President of the Republic.” Monteiro claimed that Bolsonaro had been carrying out a set of actions that in practice encouraged these burnings. The national secretary of communication declared, “The good news is that the broad front that is forming in opposition to the Bolsonaro government has obtained this great reinforcement with the banner of sustainable development of the Amazon. The ‘Amazon is ours’ flag comes from afar and again rises up in our country, mobilizing intellectuals, artists, parliamentarians, environmentalists who now reinforce this journey in defense of democracy, rights and sovereignty of our country.”
The Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) published on its website an article about the Amazon disaster and imperialist interests beyond it. The article exposes the rhetorical dispute between Emmanuel Macron and Jair Bolsonaro, in which the French government is trying to portray itself as “the greatest defender of biodiversity and of nature” while Bolsonaro rises to stand as a “fighter for national sovereignty against the colonial mentality of the Europeans.” Bolsonaro’s hypocritical role is strictly refuted. Instead, he is described as “a doormat that kneels at the altar of Trump and the United States.” And the proof of his hypocrisy is the Mercosur-EU trade agreement that he signed, in fact, a pact of enslavement of the Brazilian workers for European conglomerates whose colonialist mentality it pretends to fight. On the other hand, by reminding that the voracious interests of imperialism and its monopolies are the real destroyers of the natural wealth worldwide, the article warns us to not fall into a trap: “In fighting Bolsonaro, we must not forget to demand that the great capitalist powers take their hands off our natural resources.”
The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), in its weekly press conference held on August 26, declared its position regarding the serious situation which affects the Brazilian Amazonian region. Secretary for International RelationsCarolus Wimmer said, “The PCV warns that what is going on in the Amazon isn’t fire, it is capitalism. There is a wave of information which is looking to hide the truth of the problem. The consequence of the expansion of the interests of the transnational firms in our region has naturally not only caused the exploitation of the workers and misery and hunger for the popular masses, but also the destruction of the environment.” The PCV considers it evident that the responsibility for the situation lies with the political expressions of the Brazilian right and naturally the government of Bolsonaro, which has allowed monopoly groups uncontrolled activity in the Amazon. The PCV, in light of the crisis in the Amazon, denounced the criminal behaviour of the consortiums Bayer-Monsanto, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestle, AMBEV, Bunge, BRF Food, Marfring, Louis Dreyfus, Syngenta, and Cargill among others. The Party considers it the irrefutable task of the Communist Parties and revolutionary social movements of the world to stand up and struggle for the defence of nature and the biodiversity of the planet.
On August 27, the Communist Youth of Greece (KNE) held a mobilization at Syntagma Square (outside the Greek parliament), against the environmental disaster that is taking place in the Amazon. The purpose of the mobilization was to provide information to the Greek people, and it was followed by a protest at the Brazilian embassy. The Central Council of the KNE criticized the hypocritical "sensitivity" of the EU and G7 governments, including the New Democracy government and SYRIZA in Greece, which both have heavy responsibilities for major environmental disasters. The KNE announced that protecting the environment cannot be left in the hands of the exploiters who are responsible for the situation we are living in, but it can become an element of the struggle to overthrow this system and those who serve it.
On August 24, The Communist Party of Bangladesh condemned the anti-people role of the ruling Brazilian government of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, for its anti-environmental policy. The Party strongly demanded UN action to investigate the disaster and punish offenders. On the same day, a protest was held by the Socialist Party of Bangladesh in front of the Dhaka press club to demand rapid action to stop the massive fire in the Amazon. During the protest, the speakers appealed to all countries around the Amazon to come to together to save it. They also demanded the immediate closure of the disastrous Rampal coal-based power plant near the World's biggest mangrove forest Sundarban.
WFTU: Amazon forest fires “an organized crime”
The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), representing 97 million affiliated workers in 130 countries, has condemned the forest fires in the Amazon and squarely placed responsibility on capitalist expansion.
“The catastrophe in the ‘green lung of the planet’, as well as the consequences for the Indigenous peoples and thousands of species of flora and fauna of the region is not a coincidence, but an organized crime, a plan encouraged and stimulated by the big capital and the Brazilian government that continues to implement with more intensity the harmful policies for the environment of the previous social democratic governments. Its goal is to illegally deforest land for livestock and agriculture, delivering virgin forests to transnationals for biofuels, illegal logging and mining.”
The WFTU demands the immediate measures aimed at protection, compensation and reforestation, as well as “the prohibition of business activities in the region.”
As a union movement that is firmly oriented on class struggle, the WFTU clearly links the climate and environmental crisis with the expansion of capitalism.
“We call on the peoples and workers of the countries of the Amazon to intensify their struggle for the protection of the environment, which is also a struggle against the capitalist system that generates poverty policies, environmental catastrophes and crimes against the peoples of the world.”
New Mexican president delivers same old neoliberalism
Since assuming office in December, the new social democratic government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has demonstrated that it differs little from previous right-wing governments and is committed to the neoliberal capitalist model that has led to mass poverty, said Pavel Blanco, leader of the Communist Party of Mexico (PCM).
Obrador, posing as left-wing to attract votes and support, is providing a breathing space for the capitalist class in Mexico, where there is widespread social unrest and disenchantment with the status quo, said Blanco. “Obrador has launched an austerity program, laying off thousands of public sector workers and cutting programs. Using the pretext of clamping down on corruption, he is privatizing the country’s system of national publicly owned daycares as well as cutting budgets for healthcare, education, culture and scientific research.”
Obrador has declared himself a supporter of the free market and signed the revised NAFTA 2.0 agreement last year with the US and Canada that continues to hurt the working class in all three countries while benefiting US, Mexican and Canadian multinational corporations. The new Mexican president wants to establish two new free trade zones, where foreign corporations will not have to adhere to Mexico’s weak labour laws and workers will have no rights.
The Mexican Communist leader is critical of Obrador’s plan to provide 3 million scholarships for job training to unemployed young people in a program called ‘Youth Building the Future.’ Those receiving the scholarship will be placed in companies and public agencies and the government will pay their salaries for 2 years. At $190 US per month, those salaries are less than what regular employees are paid and a gift to business. In a country with at least 20% unemployment, Blanco says this program will lead to abuses and exploitation. “These young workers will have no labour rights or benefits and can be forced to work 9-12 hours per day.”
“The new government has raised the daily minimum wage from 88,36 pesos, around $4.40 US, to 102 pesos or $5.10 US. But this is not enough to cover expenses and wages continue to remain low,”said Blanco. “Purchasing power from 1970 to 2019 fell 70%, resulting in mass poverty.” According to Mexican government figures, 61.1 million people out of a population of 120 million have incomes below the official poverty line.
On the labour side, Obrador’s government has introduced legislation that will allow more than one union in a workplace. This will divide unions and allow the entry of corrupt unions from the AFL-CIO in the United States.Blanco says that people close to Lopez Obrador are creating a new trade union federation to control the country’s labour movement.
Blanco said that Obrador’s economic program will do nothing to eliminate poverty and destitution in the country. “Obrador says the main thing holding Mexico back is corruption and dishonesty, but the main problem is exploitation.”
He is also critical of the National Guard, the new paramilitary force that Obrador set up to fight widespread crime and violence. “The purpose of the new force is to control and repress dissident, not to fight crime,” said the Communist leader. “You see that by the type of equipment they are given, such as helmets and shields.” Obrador has said that he will no longer recognize social protests, just individual demands.
At the request of US President Donald Trump, the Obrador government is impeding, detaining and sending immigrants back to Central America. In the past, Mexican governments always allowed poor Central American immigrants to pass through the country, said Blanco.
Blanconotes that Obrador does not come from a left-wing background. “While his grandfather used to be a Communist Party member, Obrador belonged to the right-wing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) before he began his political career with the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in 2000.” That year,the PCM formed a brief alliance with Obrador, along with other left parties and groups, when he ran for governor of Mexico City around a minimum reform program. In 2012, Obrador broke with the PRD and formed the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) under which he was elected president.
The PCM is currently trying to get registered so that it can enter the electoral arena and provide a left-wing alternative to the working class, said Blanco, who believes the party has support among the population. It has been an uphill struggle because the country has the most restrictive electoral laws in the world, designed to maintain the political monopoly of the existing parties. “The National Electoral Institute (INE) is demanding a list of 3,000 members in each of the 300 electoral districts and the signatures of one percent of the voters list, impossible demands for small parties like the PCM to meet,” he remarked. “The demand that the party provide a membership list to INE is unacceptable because it would put member’s lives at risk. Over the last few years five leaders of the PCM have been assassinated and one disappeared for their activism.”
The electoral law also allows INE to intervene and remove elected leaders during internal disputes and impose new ones.
The last time the PCM ran candidates was in 1979 when it won 5.4% of the vote and elected 9 deputies to the National Congress, becoming the third largest party in the country. In 1981, members voted to dissolve the PCM and form the United Socialist Party of Mexico (PSUM) with other left forces. In 1987, the PSUM changed its name to the Mexican Socialist Party (PMS). In 1988, the PMS dissolved and formed the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) with dissident members from the PRI. The PRD, which in the last election formed an alliance with the right-wing National Action Party, inherited the PCM’s electoral registration and property. Blanco and other former party members re-founded the PCM in 1994.
The Party is forming coalitions with unions and other organizations to press for political reform such as the one that led to the old PCM’s electoral registration in 1978. To register, the former PRI government only asked that the party submit party publications for the last 5 years and a Central Committee membership list.
Obrador and MORENA Senate President Marti Batres — a former Communist— have said they are open to discussing political reform. Says Blanco, “We think the working class should decide who it wants to elect, not the state.”
Salvadoran unions confront right-wing populist government
When voters in El Salvador elected President Nayib Bukele in February, many believed that his “Nuevas Ideas” movement offered a new alternative to the two parties – the right-wing ARENA and left-wing FMLN – that had dominated the political arena in the last 30 years. Bukele, a businessperson, former FMLN militant and former mayor of Antiguo Cuscatlan and San Salvador, allied with the right-wing GANA party and tapped into public anger around allegations of corruption and government inefficiency.
While campaigning, Bukele expressed concern for the poor and working class, committed to fight corruption, and promised a new path towards prosperity that was different from what ARENA and FMLN had done.
However, facts prove that his actions are opposite to his rhetoric.
One of Bukele’s promises wasthat he would provide a voluntary retirement program for teachers, which would provide them with sufficient pension income to retire “with dignity.” Once he took office in June 2019, his tone changed; on July 23, Bukele vetoed a decree passed by the LegislativeAssembly which aimed to compensate teachers financially for volunteer retirement. An estimated 2,000 teachers will be directly affected bythis action.
El Salvador’s pension program is insufficient for providing a decent living. Most teachers and workers cannot survive ontheir monthly pension of $207 monthly, which is the minimum income, so they still need to work after they retire. The legislative decree was to provideteacherswho voluntarily retired with 15 daysof pay for every year of service.Bukele’s main argument for the veto was that the reform was “inconvenient.”
The decision has enraged teachers, many of whom supported Bukele in the election. The two main teacher unions, ANDES 21 de Junio and SIMEDUCO believe the veto is unjust, with the latter calling it “a humiliation to all teachers.” In mid-August, members of ANDEStook a petition to the LegislativeAssembly, calling upon deputies to revoke Bukele’s veto. The Coordinadora Sindical Salvadorena has stated that solidarity with the teachers is important and has encouraged other unions to join the struggle.
In another sector, penitentiary workers represented by the SITRAPEN unionhave also been locked in a struggle with the government. The jail workers have demanded a bonus of $400 dollars in quarterly payments, and recognition in a collective agreement for all employees. They have also lobbied to eliminate a “disciplinary commission” that fired 25 employees and insisted that those dismissed berehired. Aiming to eradicate corruption within the penitentiary system, the union also demanded that 15 officials be dismissed. Penitentiary system director Osiris Luna andMinister of Justice Rogelio Rivas have blocked any dialogue on the workers’ demands, arguing that the union is “against the rules implemented in the penitentiary system.” On July 19, the union launched a strike, but instead of negotiating the government sent the police to intimidate the workers. Guillermo Asencio secretary of SITRAPEN charged that the government sent in the police to “psychologically oppress the workers.”The union’s demands have not yet been considered by Bukele’s administration, which is unwilling to participate in any dialogue with the unions. Like any capitalist, they rather impose their will on the workers.
“Nuevas Ideas” appeared to be a movement by the masses that was to represent the people of El Salvador. But it’s a right-wing movement, and anti-union. Bukele relies on a propaganda campaign with his supporters on social media, television and newspapers, to shape public opinion in favour of his administration. In this situation, solidarity with the workers and teachers is critical. Unions do not rely on big propaganda ads to convince the public of their struggle; they count on working class support and solidarity in their struggle for change in a world where justice will one day be achieved.
Argentina: Is the political pendulum swinging left again?
Argentina’s August 11 primary vote indicated quite a strong rejection of neoliberal policies in a region that has seen a wave of right-wing governments come to power in the last ten years. The current neoliberal president Mauricio Macri lagged 15 percentage points behind the center-left Frente de Todos coalition team of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchener, whose electoral victory on October 27 is quite certain.
The primary vote is for filtering out smaller parties, according to Argentinian electoral process. However, the results are a strong indicator of the wide political gap between the two major contenders.
Can this be a sign that the momentum of the political pendulum towards the right in Latin America may be coming to an end, or that it may be at least slowing down?
Starting in 2009 with the removal from office of president Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, a series of parliamentary coups (Fernando Lugo, Paraguay 2012; Dilma Rousseff, Brazil 2016), political maneuvering (Inácio Lula, Brazil 2018) and at times questionable elections (Lenin Moreno, Ecuador 2017; Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil 2018; Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala 2019; Nayib Bukele, El Salvador 2019), ushered in a reversal of the Pink Tide that was taking place in Latina America. The reversal allowed a surge of right-wing governments implementing neoliberal policies. The people in those countries have not remained idle. Many took to the streets to protest the unpopular policies.
For instance, soon after Bolsonaro took office large protests started in Brazil. Analyst Andrew Korybko wrote, “Brazil [is] a pretty bleak place to live, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon.” He added, “The right-wing leader is trying to push through a very controversial pension reform that’s already provoked massive protests and a 45 million-person strike a few weeks ago.”
Popular unrest has also been brewing in Argentina following Macri’s election in 2015. This, even though only two months after taking office the new government, perhaps anticipating the wave of protests, issued legislation severely curtailing public protests. That did not stop the demonstrations from the Argentinian working class, particularly general strikes and road closures organized by the State Workers Association (ATE).
As early as 2016 demonstrations multiplied in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires and in different provinces, to reject the sharp increases in costs for public services and long power outages. Public services have been increasing in costs since 2015, but recently have seen a sharp hike of 35% to 48%, to meet International Monetary Fund (IMF) “requirements” in exchange for a US$5.4 billion loan.
The Macri government tried to live up to the overly optimistic statement by David Lipton, the IMF’s acting managing director and chair, last July: “The Argentine authorities continue to show a strong commitment to their economic policy program, meeting all the applicable targets under the Fund-supported program. While it has taken time, these policy efforts are starting to bear fruit. Financial markets have stabilized, the fiscal and external positions are improving, and the economy is beginning a gradual recovery from last year’s recession. The Fund is strongly supportive of these important policy efforts.”
Washington’s interests are never far from the political decisions made in Latin America. Argentinian political scientist and analyst Atilio Boron wrote, “the two big losers [after the August vote] were current President Mauricio Macri and Donald Trump.” A reference to the fact that the Trump administration had directly intervened to “make sure Macri moved on without further delays in the missing structural reforms including the privatizing of the social security, labor and tax system”. These are typical IMF “structural reforms” measures.
It must have been quite a setback for the IMF to see the Argentinian economy crash following the primary vote. The Peso lost 23% to the US dollar and the stock index fell by more than 34% in three days. These are the consequences of a fearfully reactive Argentinian oligarchy that collectively can send shock waves to the economy by the sheer power of their control on wealth. However, some analysts suggest that there is no reason to fear a return of a center-left administration in Argentina. Argentinian voters and the small business community certainly do not.
In an attempt at backpedaling prior to the October 27th presidential elections, Macri announced “a package of welfare subsidies and tax cuts for lower-income workers” that were quickly criticized as too little too late. Others have claimed that these late economic measures are not sufficient. What Argentina needs is a new economic model.
Cristina Fernández, very popular former president of Argentina (2007-2015), is running as vice-president in this election with Alberto Fernández, former Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers, as president. But that is not an indication that her role in the future government will be minor or secondary.
There is optimism that Argentina will choose to join progressive Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and voters will signal the swinging of the political pendulum towards a more left-leaning popular government again in Latin America.
Colombian peace agreement failing, some rebels return to armed struggle
W.T. Whitney Jr.
Civil war in Colombia may be heating up once again. Appearing in a video released on August 29, Iván Márquez (formerly Luciano Marín Arango) spoke for former FARC guerrillas accompanying him. He announced they had returned “to the mountain,” to armed struggle.
Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had fought Colombia’s government since 1964. In late 2016, the FARC and that government signed a peace agreement. A war ended which, from 1980 on, had led to 220,000 deaths, mostly at the hands of paramilitaries and government forces. Now the precarious peace agreement isfailing.
Márquez, head FARC negotiator at the peace talks, explained why his group acted and what they hope for. The dissident FARC members joining him included Jesús Santrich (formerly Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte), also a former peace negotiator. The number of newly armed FARC guerrillas is unknown.
Approximately 2000 recalcitrant FARC members remained armed after the agreement. The others, numbering at least 6000, formed a socialist political party. The agreement awarded the party ten seats in Colombia’s Congress. Márquez and Santrich occupied two of them. The new party, called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC), issued a statement rejecting the return to arms.
Colombian President Iván Duque ordered that FARC members under arms be captured. The Defense Ministry indicated nine of them had been killed.
Background information is relevant as to why Márquez, Santrich, and the others acted:
1.) During the four year-long peace negotiations, Márquez and Santrich had opposed relinquishing arms at once, which is what occurred. They preferred doing so in stages.
2.) Colombian authorities arrested and jailed Santrich on April 9, 2018. Their plans were to extradite him to the United States on drug-selling charges. Prosecutors there were holding Marlon Marín, Iván Márquez’s nephew, to testify against Santrich. Santrich left prison on May 30, 2019 after convoluted judicial processes, abuse, a hunger strike, and a suicide attempt. He disappeared in July.
3.) Perhaps in response to Santrich’s capture, Márquez disappeared in August 2018. The fate of Simón Trinidad is an object lesson. Colombia extradited that FARC commander to the United States in 2004. Convicted on spurious charges, he is serving a 60-year sentence in a high security U.S. prison.
4.) Demobilized FARC insurgents risk death. Since the peace agreement presumed paramilitaries have murdered 150 of them, plus 500 community and political leaders in rural areas. From 1986 on, they killed ex-FARC guerrillas and Communist Party members belonging to the Patriotic Union electoral coalition, around 5000 in all.
In his video presentation, Marquez surveys the government’s failures in implementing the peace agreement. Through “treason,” the government, he says, enables the killings, hasn’t addressed land reform, hasn’t allowed for conversion to legal crops (The agreement provides for both), did deprive demobilized guerrillas of full political participation, unilaterally introduced a plebiscite for endorsing the peace agreement, unilaterally modified the agreement’s language, and allowed “third parties” – a reference to paramilitaries – to escape punishment for crimes.
The “strategic objective” of the newly re-armed FARC insurgents is “peace in Colombia with social justice, democracy, sovereignty, and honor.” Márquez envisions a “great coalition of forces for life, social justice and democracy.” They will create “a new government [and] a new dialogue for peace.”
Márquez anticipates cooperation with guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN). A mainly defensive war will target corruption, impunity, and particularly “the oligarchy,” but will respect “the soldier, police, and lower officials [as] class brothers.” He calls for a constituent assembly. Under a “new order of sovereignty of the homeland,” there will be no extradition of citizens, no free rein for multinationals … and no foreign military bases.”
A video appeared on September 1 in which Jesús Santrich, attended by comrades, reiterated themes put forth by Márquez. He spoke of a universal right to revolution.
Prospects for implementation of the peace agreement, obviously grim in the eyes of these FARC rebels, rest fundamentally on whether their government wants war or peace. The odds are on war.
In that regard a recent report attributed to the Observatory of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law describes government prioritization of rural “developmental projects serving an extractive economy.” The report notes that “Connections with narco-trafficking and illegal mining, connivance with paramilitaries, and a vast project of military control are not hidden.” The projects take root in what the government calls “Strategic Zones of Comprehensive Intervention.” Militarization of these rural zones has paralyzed land reform and stymied compliance with the peace accords.
The report attributes extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances to the military’s new rapid response teams. In fact, “the areas that are most militarized are those where illegal economies expand, and where illegal actors prevail, particularly the ELN, FARC dissident groups, and paramilitary groups above all.”
The existence of a powerful military force of 481,000 troops likewise suggests a disposition to war, just as does the government’s war-making partnership with the United States. Colombia hosts U.S. troops, intelligence operatives, and military bases, seven of them. Its government buys weapons from the United States. Currently pending is the delivery of anti- aircraft missiles and 15 F-16 combat planes.
Colombia plays a crucial role in aiding U.S. aggression against Venezuela. According to one observer, the United States “has stationed special forces and equipment along the Venezuelan-Colombian border,” “the Duque government leads a diplomatic and propaganda war against Venezuela,” and officials are “docile captives of the interests of the United States.” Colombia’s government tolerates or encourages Colombian paramilitary incursions inside Venezuela.
In Colombia, silence reigns as regards support for re-armed FARC insurgents, A voice identified as “We Defend the Peace,” asserts that “no justification, no excuse … can be considered as valid” for efforts favoring “armed violence.” Former ELN guerrilla commander and prisoner of war Carlos Arturo Velandia counsels patience: “Peace … is built day by day.”
On the basis of “democratic struggle in the country,” the Communist Party joined the Patriotic Union – the latter survived the massacre noted above – in condemning “a political action with grave consequences for the process of implementing the peace agreement.”
[Republished from People’s World]
Hong Kong chaos: What’s it really all about?
After observing this summer of mass discontent, those who wish China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region well can draw a few conclusions.
This exercise begins superficially with some reflections on the protesters’ explicit demands. “Superficially” because the claims made by those marching in Hong Kong’s streets and setting them ablaze may not fully explain the underlying causes of the crisis.
The facts about the extradition legislation
The catalyst for the protests was proposed legislation that would permit Hong Kong to transfer criminal suspects to jurisdictions with it has no extradition agreement. It does not seem to have been prompted by Beijing’s desire to fling critics of socialism with Chinese characteristics into the dank cells of the mainland. Rather, there was good reason to it was prompted by a man who murdered his girlfriend and left her body in a Taiwanese park before fleeing to a place from where, it turned out, he couldn’t be removed to face justice. Hong Kong had no extradition pact with Taipei.
Hong Kongers uncomfortable with the politics and judicial practices of the People’s Republic immediately saw the bill’s implications. The SAR would no longer be a guaranteed safe haven for individuals pursued on the mainland. But the pointed question critics of the legislation ought to answeris this: Is it reasonable that one commit acts of fraud in Guangzhou, bribery in Harbin or rape in Shenzhen, and then evade those cities’ courts, provided one can get back to Hong Kong, a part of the same country as those named municipalities?
In June, after huge protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared the bill “dead” and offered a fulsome apology. It remains unclearwhat precisely she was apologizing for, but Lam’s retreat made it immediately apparent that she was sensitive to and respectful of the populace’s feelings.
But government opponents smelled blood. Why settle if you can press the battle further? The legislation’s demise was insufficient; there had to be a guarantee that it would never return in a revised version. In other words, nothing less than a concrete judicial wall between the SAR and the rest of China would do. One Country Two Systems indeed!
On September 4, Lam announced that the legislation had been definitively withdrawn.
Numerous Hong Kongers argue that PRC courts can’t be trusted to reach just decisions. As they speak, an African-American man named Alvin Kennard is released from an Alabama prison after serving 36 years in jail for robbing $50 from a bakery. Yet there are no reports in the city of popular uprisings also being spurred, then or now, by Hong Kong’s 1997 extradition agreement with the United States. None are expected. Protesters obviously have a particular kind of judicial injustice in mind; their grievance is Beijing-specific.
Police violence, or notable restraint?
Demonstrators want an independent enquiry into the actions of the Hong Kong police, accusing them of using excessive force. On September 4, Lam announced, “The government will fully support the work of the Independent Police Complaints Council...I pledge that the government will seriously follow up [on] the recommendations made in the IPCC’s report.”
Certainly, leftist publications should be wary of defending a police force for its treatment of demonstrators, unless that treatment is absolutely exquisite. Hong Kong has seen gas and rubber bullets. But honestly and relatively speaking, is there any phrase other than “notable restraint” to describe the Hong Kong police department’s reaction to Molotov Cocktails, arson, refusal to accommodate other people’s need to travel through the city, and flagrant attempts by protesters to destroy public infrastructure?
Imagine an enraged crowd taking over the US Senate and defacing its walls and symbols; who doubts that bullets harder than rubber would be fired back?
For additional comparison, think of France’s response to the Yellow Vest movement. Just two months after those demonstrations began, almost 100 serious injuries – including 15 cases of eyes lost – had been reported. The publication Libération counted 77 serious head injuries.One participant in the June 2 “March of the Mutilated” in Paris was a man whose hand had been ripped off by a grenade tossed by police.
Meanwhile, as of early September, one Hong Kong woman had sustained an eye wound that didn’t appear to have produced blindness, according to a hospital announcement. On September 4, scenes of a young man suffering what was feared to be a spinal injury appeared on television. Many more individuals – perhaps hundreds – have of course been hurt in the months of clashes. The Hospital Authority reported that 45 people received treatment after clashes between police and protesters on August 11, with two in a serious state.
The contrast between injury results in the cradle of human rights and the Chinese Special Administrative Region is not insignificant.
Demonstrators do not want the words “riot” or “rioters” affixed to their actions or persons and believe those arrested should be released. Many of the young people building barricades and setting transit stations afire, flattered by Western media and foreign politicians, seem oblivious to the fact that violence has costs. When they see that it does, they are offended.
Universal suffrage – approaching the crux
The protesters do want “universal suffrage.” But they cannot, of course, be calling for a return to pre-1997 days – Britain never bestowed democracy of any sort on its colony until the final days of its mandate. Indeed, when it comes to voting, citizens of the SAR have been far busier casting ballots since the inauguration of One Country-Two Systems than ever before.
But like other electoral systems, Hong Kong’s is a managed democracy. Out of 70 seats in the Legislative Council, 35 are elected directly by voters in geographic ridings. Thirty of the rest are “functional constituencies”(FC’s) representing sectors and professions. Five more are elected by citizens not represented by any FC – but the only candidates for these seats are themselves members of District Councils.
In other words, Hong Kongers have something of a one-person, two-vote system.
Contrary to the complaints of many liberals, there is nothing inherently undemocratic about a legislature that includes delegates from production’s assorted sectors. But who selects them and what’s the numerical balance? A review of the 30 Legislative Council “functional members” shows that critics are right to suggest that the system is inclined to bolster business interests. While organized labour has three seats, finance has one, financial services another, insurance another, import and export another, real estate and construction another; commercial has a seat; textiles and garments get their own; IT has a member. There’s one for law, another for accountancy; engineers have one, tourism sends its member... The reader gets the picture.
Of arguably equal significance is the fact that the Chief Executive, currently Ms Lam, is selected by a committee of 1,194 voters, including legislators and influential figures from civil society. This irks many Hong Kongers, who want a Chief Executive directly elected from candidates not vetted by Beijing.
For its part, Beijing has shown itself willing to fulfill the Basic Law’s promise of direct CE elections, while seeking to maintain control over what names appear on the ballot.
Inequality at the root
So, is abstract hostility to the People’s Republic of China and love for pure liberal democracy capable of drawing millions into the streets over a period of months? Surely not.
For years, the media has crooned over Hong Kong’s success; despite this, it’s a place where huge numbers have been left behind. Housing in the city is now, possibly, the most expensive in the world. Andrew Sheng and Xiao Geng report that per capita residential space here is now 16 square metres, compared with 36 in Shanghai. I know of young professionals earning good salaries who can’t escape the crowded quarters they share with friends and cockroaches.
And then there are the poorest, housed not in apartments but veritable boxes.
Writing in the latest issue of Made in China, Jake Lerner notes that in 2017 the city’s leading five “tycoons” took home some $3 billion USD in untaxed dividends alone. Meanwhile, median incomes for new graduates in that year were 10 per cent lower than in 1992. Wages for the majority have been stagnant for years.
“[Employees] in Hong Kong endure the longest working hours of any global city,” he adds, a problem that hasn’t been legislatively addressed due to business opposition.
“Hong Kong’s protesters believe they haven’t been heard,” write Sheng and Xiao. “But it is the city’s own elites, not China’s government, who have failed them.” Yet this evaluation glosses over the fact that Beijing’s strategy in the SAR has been precisely one of cultivating those elites, of cementing the PRC’s relationship with the region precisely through support for its moguls and by not interfering with their agenda. Former Hong Kong resident, editor of Marxism Today, and high-profile China watcher Martin Jacques noted in January of last year, the Party’s error has been to “emphasize two systems too much, and one country not enough.”
Huge numbers of Hong Kongers associate the Chinese Communists with the barons who hoard land and keep it out of the housing market in order to drive up property values and rents. Beijing’s scrupulous attention to the detail of the handover agreement, its meticulous respect for Hong Kong’s “difference,” has bitten it on the behind on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic.
What’s needed is a bit more communism – that respects the SAR’s civil liberties and legal system. While some right-wingers and liberals who pine for Hong Kong’s colonial past – or imagine a contemporary romance with Washington – will not be satisfied, China can begin to win back the friendship of the city’s masses by being the majority’s friend. If Ms Lam can’t coordinate that shift to the left, someone else will have to.
“Hot-house flower”from the muck of brutal racism
Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music, by Gerald Horne (Monthly Review Press, 2019). 456 pages
Review by Wally Brooker
Historian Gerald Horne, Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, is a prolific author and frequent guest on progressive news shows. Among his more than 30 books are The Counter-Revolution of 1776 (2014) and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism (2018). Both are notable works. The former challenges received ideas about the virtuous beginnings of the American republic; the latter contributes to our understanding of the construction of “white” identity in a society that was built on the labour of African slaves and bent on exterminating Indigenous peoples. With Jazz and Justice, Dr. Horne turns his attention to one of the United States’ greatest contributions to world culture: a “hot-house flower” that grew out of the muck of racist violence and brutal oppression.
The book's sub-title suggests an analytical study of social forces, structures, and institutions. But, while Horne supplies plenty of facts and figures in Jazz and Justice, he relies more on an anecdotal approach, drawing heavily upon the oral testimonies of jazz musicians which are now deposited in university libraries across the USA. “This is a book,” he writes, “about the travails and triumphs of these talented musicians as they sought to make a living, at home and abroad, through dint of organizing – and fighting.”
Jazz musicians developed their art in nightclubs, bars, bordellos, and other venues that were close to, if not controlled by, organized crime. During the Prohibition era, every city had its Al Capone and gangs were omnipresent on the jazz scene, a situation that continued well into the post-war era. Most nightclubs were mob-controlled. There were mob-linked managers (like Louis Armstrong's Joe Glaser), mob-linked booking agencies, and mob links to government. President Harry Truman, for example, openly acknowledged that he owed his political success to Kansas City mob boss Tom Pendergast.
From the beginning, African American musicians responded to their ruthless exploitation and dangerous workplace conditions by carrying guns and seeking mobster protection for themselves.
In later decades, self-help strategies were more positive, as African American musicians formed, albeit with mixed results, record companies (Charles Mingus and Max Roach's Debut Records), publishing companies (Gigi Gryce's Melotone Music), and musical associations (Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).
Most jazz artists understood the systemic nature of their oppression and developed strategies of resistance and struggle. In the early days, some were attracted to the Pan-Africanism of Marcus Garvey. By the 1930's many had turned to the Communist Party (CPUSA) and the movements that it led, including the defense of the Scottsboro Boys. Some musicians, like trumpeter Frankie Newton, became Party members. Others were sympathizers, including Duke Ellington, who supported the successful 1943 election campaign of African American communist Ben Davis to the New York City Council. As the influence of the CPUSA declined in the Cold War era, the Nation of Islam, and later the left-wing Black Panthers attracted considerable support from jazz artists.
While Black musicians supported desegregation, many found integration a problematic concept, especially within their industry. Merging Black locals of the American Federation of Musicians with their larger White locals often had negative results for Black musicians. Horne argues that amalgamation led Black unions to erode “a base where white supremacy could be fought” while “being digested by unions where white supremacy was hardly absent.” He provides several examples, including a 1942 case, where AFM President James Petrillo condoned the exclusive use by Chicago radio stations of white musicians in their broadcasts.
Many African American jazz musicians were keen to escape Jim Crow and took advantage of employment opportunities abroad. Starting in the early 1920s they could be found working long-term engagements in cities like Shanghai and Cairo. Many found Europe to be particularly hospitable and relocated there for good, like New Orleans clarinetist-saxophonist Sydney Bechet and bebop drummer Kenny Clarke. Other leading musicians, like saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon, lived in Europe for years, basking in the respect that was not accorded to African American musicians in the USA. Horne describes the effect of this diaspora as a de facto lobby for the oppressed folks back home; it built solidarity.
For the US State Department, in the era of the Cold War and an upsurge in anti-colonial struggles, jazz became a useful public relations tool. State Department tours by African American artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were seen as an effective antidote to the negative image that America was projecting to the world in a time of heightened civil rights struggles on the home front. Another useful tool was Voice of America radio, which broadcast jazz to millions of listeners around the world. A statement by its host, Willis Conover, reminds us that fake news is old hat. “Jazz,” said Conover, “corrects the fiction that America is racist.”
Jazz and Justice is not without its downside. There are many rambling passages, with unnecessary asides, and anecdotes that belabour the point. There are several factual errors – for example, bassist Monk Montgomery is described as a guitarist, and the chronology of Fats Navarro and Miles Davis as trumpeters in the Charlie Parker Quartet is mixed up. There are also gossipy pot-shots, as when saxophonist Lou Donaldson calls drummer Art Blakey “a con man”, and Parker's widow, Chan Parker, describes jazz impresario Norman Granz as “a screaming faggot.” Why do we need this? Finally, there is Dr. Horne's sheer verbosity, a trait that can send the reader to the dictionary time after time. For some, like myself, this can be fun – a tune is “pulchritudinous,” and a racist bias is “obdurately obsidian.” But at times it all seems a little excessive.
Though some may find it frustrating to read,Jazz and Justice is a valuable contribution to jazz scholarship.
Federal Election Coverage: The Climate Crisis
Almost every party claims to have a workable climate plan, but what will it really take to confront the crisis? Here, we look at Canada’s carbon emissions and ask what it means to achieve a meaningful reduction.
The goalis to cut emissions in half by 2030 and eliminate them completely by 2050. So, what are Canada’s current carbon emissions? In 2017, overall emissions were 716 megatons (Mt). The government is very quick to point out that this represents a 15 Mt drop since 2005. Over 12 years, emissions were reduced by 2% – at this rate, it will take until 2042 to achieve a 50% cut of 358 Mt.
We need a more radical approach.
How much is 716 Mt? A US aircraft carrier weighs 90,000 tonnes, so Canada’s emits almost 8000 aircraft carriers worth of carbon each year.
Where do Canada’s carbon emissions come from?
The chart below shows emission figures for 2017. The oil and gas sector produces 27% (195 Mt), while transportation accounts for 24% (174 Mt).
Within the oil and gas sector, natural gas counts for around 50-55 Mt and conventional oil is a relatively constant 30-35 Mt. Tar sands produce a whopping 80Mt, increasing by 33% in just five years (2012-2017) and by 86% over the decade from 2007-2017. “Downstream” emissions account for around 30 Mt; this includes emissions from refining, transportation andend-use combustion.
Phasing out the tarsands, a demand of numerous Indigenous communities, environmental groups and the Communist Party, would reduce emissions by 80Mt. This would also result in a reduction of downstream emissions; there is less data on these, but if we assume that reducing half of the overall oil and gas production by taking out tarsands, we can confidently assume a reduction of at least 15Mt in downstream emissions.
In the transportation sector, the biggest source is passenger vehicles, cars and light trucks, at 85 Mt, followed byfreight trucks at 60 Mt. Both these categories are increasing. Freight fromplane/rail/marinecontributes 12 Mt and passenger travel by plane, rail and bus just under 9 Mt; both these amounts have been consistent over 2 decades.
Shiftingone third of the passenger vehicle traffic to mass transitshould result in roughly 25Mt of reduced emissions. However, 80% of Canada’s population is urbanized, so we could take measures to furthershift a total of half of these to mass transit and achieve an additional 10Mt cut.
Clearly, moving the remaining passenger vehicles to electric vehicles would eliminate a corresponding proportion of the 50Mt in emissions. If we targeted a modest 25% shift, that would eliminate just over 12 Mt.
Transferring a third of trucked freight to rail/ship/plane should result in16Mt fewer emissions. Moving 50% of the remaining vehicles, which account for 44 Mt, to electric would cut a further 22Mt.
This takes us back to the downstream emissions. Since around 70% of oil is consumed as fuel for vehicles, our efforts so far to reduce passenger vehicle use by 62% means the downstream figure could come down by another 43% or13Mt. Furthermore, this reduction in consumption would result in a comparable reduction in natural gas and conventional oil production, resulting in an additional36Mt in eliminated emissions.
In the electricity sector, 57Mt comes from coal burning generation. In 2014, Ontario completed phasing out coal burning plants – doing the same on a country-wide basis would reduce carbon emissions by 57Mt.
Buildings account for 85Mt, primarily from fuel combustion for heating. A conservative estimate, from the Canada Green Building Council, is that reductions of 19.4 Mt can be achieved through energy efficiency improvements in existing commercial, institutional and high-rise residential buildings. A further 7.5 Mt, minimally, can be eliminated through construction of zero carbon buildings, and another .5 Mt through retrofits and zero carbon construction for federal government buildings.
Heavy industry accounts for around 75 Mt in emissions; this includes21 Mt through petroleum refining, which is not counted in the oil and gas sector. Measures taken so far have reduced petroleum use by 71%, so that will reduce this emission by 15Mt.
Agriculture accounts for 72Mt. Studies have shown that CO2 emissions per hectare of organic agriculture systems are 48 to 66 percent lower than in conventional systems. Shifting to organic agriculture would cut 34Mt.
Success! We’ve reduced emissions by 362 Mt – a 50.5% reduction.
The challenge during this election ispushing parties and candidates to support these kinds of radical measures. Implementing them requires confronting and limiting the power and reach of private corporations. Ultimately, the labour movementneeds to become more decisively engagedaround these kinds of demands, to provide leadership – and economic weight – to the struggle for climate justice.
We have a planet to save, and a world to win!
The following articles are from the September 16-30, 2019, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.