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ISSUE #12, Jan/feb 2009 The barbaric Invasion of Gaza
by apartheid israel
The Lessons from Greece: It’s Right to Rebelby Zaps Obama: Empire’s New Face by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan
In a city on fire, a protestor with a molotov cocktail stands off with riot police in Athens on December 8, 2008, on the third day of widespread rioting sparked by the police murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos.
And the riot be the rhyme of the unheard – Rage Against the Machine
For nearly all of December of last year, and continuing into 2009, Greece has been experiencing an event that happens far too infrequently in our world: a youthsparked rebellion that has led to a revolutionary upsurge gripping the entire country.
hanging out with friends in the Exarcheia district when a verbal confrontation started with police. In a flash, one of the cops went pig and pulled out his gun and fired, killing Alexandros.
The fuse for the rebellion was lit when Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old student, was killed in cold blood by police in the Greek capital, Athens, on December 6th, 2008. Alexandros Grigoropoulos, Alexandros had been murdered by police Dec 6, ‘08.
Exarcheia is well known as a hang-out for leftists, artists, and radical-minded people, and within minutes of the shooting, people from the neighbourhood were pouring in the streets. With news quickly spreading by text-messages, thousands gathered that night and began confronting and fighting the police. People also struck out at banks and other symbols of the system.
The rebellion was clearly fed by deeplyfelt resentment and rage against the brutal character of Greek police – demonstrated by the fact that word of the killing sparked demonstrations and rioting in other major Greek cities. On December 7th and 8th, large demonstrations were organized in Athens, popularly attended by middle, secondary school, and university students who had walked out of classes to protest the killing. These protests led to large-scale street-fighting with the police, the cops attacking with rubber bullets and tear gas and the demonstrators responding with Molotov cocktails, rocks, and anything else they could get their hands on. December in Greece continued with a dizzying array of protests and riots – quickly creating a movement that inspired
On January 20th, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn-in as the 44th President of the United States, realizing the hopes of millions of people who came out in record numbers to elect and support him in November. Americans were especially desperate for a change after eight years of war abroad and economic ruin at home. But unfortunately, Obama can not live up to such hopes. His government will not represent any real change for the people of the U.S. or the world. By every decision he has made since his election, and his alignments and positions during his campaign, Obama has assured that the United States of violence, terror, occupation and white-power will continue under his presidency. » continued, pg.6
On his trip to Israel in July 2008, Obama expressed his uncompromising support for the Israeli apartheid state.
In this Issue... IN BRIEF (P.2):
•The Oakland Riots •Bhopal and the Search for Justice •Cuban Revolution at 50 Years •Arctic Ice Melting Fast
Canada’s Bailouts and the New Attacks on the Working Class
It’s in times of economic crisis that it becomes most apparent whom capitalism (and the governments who manage it) really works for.
by Steve da Silva
For the last four months, politicians and mainstream economists have incessantly uttered two lies to the people regarding the current economic crisis: (1) that it was completely unpredictable; and (2) that we should not worry because economic recovery is on the horizon. Nothing could be further from the truth, and many of these “experts”know it. The truth is that this crisis was completely predictable and in fact, predicted. Anyone familiar with the economic forecasts of independent economic institutes like MonthlyReview.org or GlobalResearch. ca, would have seen the current economic crisis coming for years, if not decades. The Root of the Crisis: Stagnation The root of everything that is going wrong with the economy today is inherent to capitalism. Capitalism must constantly expand because capital itself must con-
stantly expand – i.e. it must be invested in the production of new commodities and the exploitation of more workers so as to attain a rate of profit as high as, or more than, the average. When capital is unable to find profitable outlets for investment, this is called stagnation, and stagnation from the perspective of capital equals crisis. It’s important to recognize that capitalist “crises” are always characterized by an abundance of productive capacity. This is what distinguishes capitalism from every other mode of production that preceded it. Crisis means too much: too much productive capacity and too much capital in the context of too little profitable investment opportunities. Another way to understand stagnation is that the capitalists are unable to sell all that they have or are able to produce.
To make short a very long story, suffice it to say that stagnation has been endemic to the economies of Western countries since the 1930s. What’s staved off the current crisis from surfacing for over seventy years now has been the opening up of massive areas for new investment, such as the military spending for World War II (and every
» continued, pg. 6
war after that); mass consumption, starting with the mass production of the automobile, which paved the way for the suburbanization of North America; the creation of the welfare state, which led to massive expenditures in public infrastructure from the 1940s onward; and then the period of “neoliberalism” from the 1970s onwards where much of this public infrastructure was placed on the market for privatization. Stagnation has been held at bay by the massive consumerism made possible by the rise of household and consumer debt; and of course we cannot forget the violent exploitation and plunder of the “Third World” which is constantly intensifying. That the real wage (the wage a worker receives once we factor in the eroding effect of inflation) has itself stagnated over the last few decades is the result of the need for capitalists to exploit more profits from workers. From the 1970s onwards, with stagnation beginning to rear its ugly head once again and capitalists finding it increasingly difficult to make a buck (or a billion) in the old way – by exploiting labour – the ruling class began to rely more and more on financial schemes » continued, pg. 5
What is Basics? Basics is both a free newspaper with a pro-people perspective and a community organizing project. We want your input! We need people to distribute! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for info.
•After Seven Months, T.O. Soap Workers Strike Continues •Jane/Finch Rallies Against Police •Thoughts on the Auto Bailout • Broken Promises Compel Algonquins to Blockade at Barriere Lake •CUPE 3903 Faces Forced Ratification Vote
FEDERAL (P.5): •Thoughts on the Coalition Gov’t •CDN Appointed Governor of Kandahar
INTERNATIONAL (P.6): •Tamil Oppression in Sri Lanka •Philippine State Attacking the People
ARTS / CULTURE (P.7): •Rosina Kazi from LAL on Art and Social Change •Set-It-Off, NO COPS, Hood-2-Hood Hold Joint Launch for their Orgs •Why the ‘Minstrel’ Foundation?
HISTORY (P.8): •Who was Norman Bethune? Pt.2
ISSUE #12, Jan/Feb 2009
Arctic Ice Melting Fast by Corrrie Sakaluk
Oakland Transit Cops Execute Oscar Grant by N. Zahra
by more than 20 percent. Some of this reduction represents the melting of once permanent ice.
On New Year’s Eve, after responding to reports of a ‘fight’ on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train, BART police detained the train, forcibly removing several young men from the train, most of them black, as bystanders watched. The men were lined up or seated along the platform and some were hand-cuffed. Oscar Grant, 22 year-old father of a four-year old, was not one of them. As he attempted to diffuse the situation, he was detained, placed face down on the platform, and then executed by one of the cops, Johannes Mehserle. Bystanders and even police were shocked. Several video-phones captured the inci-
Not only does this drastically threaten and change the lives of Native peoples and wildlife living in the Arctic, but the melting Arctic ice cap accelerates global warming and contributes to rising sea levels.
Several centuries of global industrialized capitalism has created - through the widespread burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas in - an environmental crisis of historical proportions. Global warming experts are keeping an eye on the Arctic because it is a very sensitive region where massive changes that will impact us all have already taken place. The largest single block of ice in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, had been around for 3,000 years before it started cracking in 2000. Within two years it split all the way through and it is now breaking into pieces. Since 1979, the size of the summer polar ice cap in the Arctic region has shrunk
For those of us with loved ones scattered around the world in places like China, Bangladesh, the Maldives, the Caribbean, and even coastal regions of the United States and Latin America, the prospect of rising sea levels is worrisome. Food production around the world is also affected by the melting, as weather patterns become erratic or otherwise changed. Although it is socially and economically conservative parties like the Green Party that are best known for championing environmental issues, environmental issues should also be dear to the heart of every human being.
On July 26th, 1953, the Castro brothers and others attacked the Moncada Police Barracks hoping to spark a revolt. Castro was one of a few who survived the unsuccessful attack and then went into exile in Mexico, where he organized and trained a small guerrilla army while the mass movement inside Cuba recruited members and organized urban resistance. In 1957, Fidel, his brother Raul, and a young Argentine doctor named Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara were among the 88 who set out to cross the Caribbean in a shoddy boat built to carry up to 25 purchased in Texas. Upon landing in Cuba, only 12 managed to evade capture or execution. Incredibly, within about two years the guerrilla forces and popular movements forced the dictator and his cronies to leave the country. On January 1st, 1959, the rebel forces from the July 26th Movement (named after the day in 1953 where the Castro brothers and others launched their rebellion) marched into Havana to be greeted by tens of thousands of jubilant
What is Bhopal? Those of us over 40 remember – it was and remains among history’s worst industrial disasters.
children born with physical and mental disabilities, and women with severe reproductive problems.
On the night of December 2-3, 1984, there was an accident in the Union Carbide Chemical (UCC) plant in Bhopal, India. A highly toxic gas escaped and by morning 3000 people lay dead.
What’s happening now? Almost a quarter of a century later, the gas and water-affected people have still not received adequate financial compensation, medical treatment, or clean drinking water. Survivors have condemned the Indian government for their inaction. They have put pressure on the US companies UCC and Dow Chemical (Dow bought UCC in 2001).
Over the next few days another 5000 people died from the gas that the American company UCC said was not dangerous. Eventually the company fled Bhopal, abandoning the site. They left behind barrels of chemicals that have been seeping into the ground ever since.
On January 1st, Cuba celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the victory of the popular movements to overthrow US-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista.
As one protestor declared, “I’ve got the mentality of my parents who were Black Panthers, I’m tired of talking….Let’s take a stand today, because tomorrow ain’t promised!’”
Bhopal: The Search for Justice by Ellen Shifrin
Let’s work together for the kind of economic restructuring that can truly make respecting and preserving the environment a priority! Under a destructive and profit-driven capitalist system, that will never be able to happen.
Cuban Revolution Turns 50 by Hassan Reyes
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Fidel Castro, two leaders of the revolution. If revolution is a thing of the past, then the people of Cuba didn’t get the memo.
dent, subsequently sharing the footage on the internet. Several organizations in the community called for a demonstration in response to this murder and some 600 protestors showed up to voice their outrage. The city’s mayor, Ron Dellums, cited for his civil rights credentials, did nothing to stop the police abuse of protestors who were justifiably outraged by police actions. Over a hundred protestors were arrested at the protests.
Since that day, Cuba has been under a constant barrage from their northern neighbour, the United States, which has never forgiven Cuba for taking its destiny in its own hands and for showing the world that a society based on solidarity is possible. Not only has the US funded and orchestrated numerous terrorist attacks against Cuban civilians, it also coordinated the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 and has attempted to kill exPresident Fidel Castro more than 600 times. This says nothing of the inhuman trade embargo imposed over the tiny island and its population, which by the US State department’s own numbers has cost Cuba between $84 million to $167 million a year – between $4 billion and $8 billion since the embargo was imposed. The American Association on World Health described the embargo as violating “the most basic international charters and conventions governing human rights.”
People neighbouring the site depend on pumped ground water for all their water needs. Consequently, the negligence of UCC has led to extremely high rates of cancer,
On January 26th, 2009, two student groups of Ryerson University will be hosting a public screening of the film Bhopal: The Search for Justice from 6:30-8:0pm in the Thomas Lounge (63 Gould St.), which will be accompanied by a day-long Bhopal photo exhibit from noon to 9:00pm at 55 Gould St. All are welcome to attend.
Canadian Imperialism’s Support for Israel’s War on Gaza by Steve da Silva As Basics Issue #12 was going to print, nearly a 1000 Palestinians in Gaza had already been slaughtered by Israel, with well over four thousand injured and some 25,000 displaced. Three hundred counted among the dead were innocent children.
Israel - one of today’s most barbaric states, second only to the United States - would not last long in the international system without the ongoing diplomatic and military support of Western imperialist powers. And it’s for this reason that Canadians, should be turning their attention to where they live if they want to help bring an end to the carnage in Gaza.
Despite these monumental obstacles and colossal enemies, what Cuba has been able to accomplish is nothing short of astounding given the few domestic resources at its disposal. The World Health Organization reports that Cuban males have a life expectancy at birth of 75 years and females 79 years, which equals that of developed nations including the US. In infant mortality, Cuba boasts a lower rate than the US, with 5 deaths per thousand in Cuba versus 7 per thousand in the US. Cuba also has 6 doctors to every 1000 people – more than double the amount in the US!
The Canadian government has been one of the most staunch supporters of Israel’s onslaught in Gaza to date. On January 6, 2009, former Global Television news
anchor and current Thornhill Member of Parliament and minister of state for Foreign Affairs Peter Kent said that ���“Hamas bears a terrible responsibility for this and for the wider deepening humanitarian tragedy”, thus blaming the Palestinians for Israel’s attacks against them. Canadians may recall how back in 2006 Stephen Harper himself expressed the same degree of support for Israeli state terrorism when he referred to Israel’s 33-day rampage against Lebanon as a“measured response”to the alleged kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Then, on January 12, 2009, as the 47member UN Human Rights Council voted 33-to-1 in favour of condemning Israel’s illegal and barbaric war on Gaza (with 13 abstentions – all by European Union countries), Canada was the lone voice opposing » continued, pg. 8
In the area of educational achievements, Cuba was recognized as the first country in the hemisphere to eradicate illiteracy following a massive literacy campaign in 1961. Before the revolution, literacy rates were at best 60%. Cuba was instrumental in bringing down the racist apartheid regime in
Hundreds of children have already been killed in Israel’s criminal aerial bombardments and ground invasion. About 1000 people were killed and over 4000 injured in the first three weeks of Israel’s attack.
» continued, pg. 8
ISSUE #12, Jan/Feb 2009
Right-Wing Board Purges Commu- Toronto’s Unknown Strike: nity Voices at CKLN 88.1 by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan Soap Workers Fight for Basic Rights 90% to impeach the current board, and demanded that the clique of corporate hacks step down. But the board refused to heed democratic will, and instead they began a ruthless campaign of firing any and all hosts who supported the membership’s demands. For decades, CKLN (Ryerson University’s campus-community radio station) has represented the people on Toronto’s airwaves. It had dozens of programmes that showcased community mobilizations alongside international resistance to war and occupation. It was the only station in the city to celebrate Afrikan liberation week and PRIDE, while featuring the best jazz, reggae and hip hop in the country. Its flagship program, Saturday Morning Live, brought all of these elements together, with great music, a community voice, and current events from a working-class and internationalist perspective. Hosted by Norman Otis Richmond – a Vietnam War resistor and well-known revolutionary and pan-Africanist – the show has been the voice for the city’s Black and workingclass community for over 25 years. But not anymore because since last winter, CKLN’s board of directors has run the station into the ground! Back in February of 2008, CKLN’s membership (150 community reps including Ryerson students and volunteers who financially support the station) held a meeting about the troubling move by the board of directors away from the community vision of the station and towards a corporate and commercialist model. The membership voted with an overwhelming
Dozens of CKLN’s most popular programmes have been cancelled, and over 55 hard-working long time volunteers and paid programmers have been banned. These purges especially targeted shows that represented left-wing and marginalized voices. The station’s only feminist programs, Radio Cliteracy and Frequency Feminisms, were terminated, while Audrey Redman (residential school survivor and one of the only indigenous voices on Toronto radio) was yanked from her mic as she interviewed other locked-out hosts. Campus andToronto Police have been frequently called to take away fired hosts as well as concerned listeners attempting to voice their concerns. And then, on December 13th Norman hosted his last show before being“temporarily”suspended. No legitimate reason was given for this termination of one of Toronto’s most popular programs and programmers, except that it was “financial”. Meanwhile the rogue Board has dodged the public release of financial documents as mandated by the CKLN constitution.
At the foot of the Don Valley Parkway, workers huddled around a burning bin. The Korex Factory workers have been on strike for more than seven months.
by Thomas Saczkowski & Farshad Azadian
The Korex soap factory, just minutes east of the Esplanade community, has been the site of Toronto’s least known labour strike for more than six months. On June 2, 2008, 110 skilled workers of the Korex factory in Toronto began a strike because of labour issues with the Pensler Capital Corporation. Sandford Pensler, the owner of the corporation, purchased the soap manufacturing plant in 2001 from Unilever. ”The management wanted to do away with the collective agreement, they wanted to make us into part time workers with no job security. They cut wages, seniority benefits, and the right to grieve” said Bill McLachlan, the union’s Chief Steward
Furious listeners, CKLN members and locked out hosts are organizing to take back their radio station. Voice your anger at the CKLN takeover and join us on the picket lines as we fight for the termination of these fraudulent right-wingers masquerading as the board of directors. We will take back our CKLN!
Since the strike began, only 3 workers have crossed the lines to work under the new conditions. With only 3 “scabs”, the remaining 107 workers have held the picket lines at the entrance of the plant 24 hours a day 7 days a week since June 2008. “We still have good morale and we are strong and we are accomplishing something with still having a 107 committed people out here even on New Years Day and Christmas.”said Mclachlan.
Jane/Finch Residents Unite Against Police Brutality by Mike Brito On Dec. 10, 2008, Jane & Finch residents and community workers held a rally and march against police brutality in response to escalating levels of police misconduct in the community this past fall. The rally began at the corner of Jane & Finch and was followed by a march to 31 division, delivering a letter endorsed by residents and local organizations demanding an end to the mistreatment of people by the Toronto police. The letter called on the police to work within the law, promote respectful relations and end the harassment and profiling of community members. Regular police tactics in Jane & Finch include randomly stopping people for questioning, targeting youth in general, and young black men in particular. One mother and community organizer from the Connections apartments said,“Almost every youth in the community you talk to has had some unprovoked run-in with police.” Organizers cited some examples of recent incidents including youth being dragged on the ground while in
Over the past 8 months, the strikers have created a unique environment for themselves. A self-constructed building provides most of the basic necessities for the workers on the line. The Pensler Corporation has gone to various extents to close down the picket lines by placing injunctions on the executive council and cutting the hydro to their building. Even with the Pensler Corporation refusing to negotiate with the union, these strong and courageous workers have proved that they are willing to fight to the very end for their very modest demands. Meanwhile, there have been safety concerns around the operation of the dangerous chemical plant by untrained scab labourers. Workers at the plant say that at least one year of training is required to be able to run the plant effectively. In response to concerns about the safety of the plant, Angus Mortson, a striking worker, says “ if that place goes, it takes out the whole block with it.” This exhibits that the bosses are putting the well-being of near-by communities, such as the Esplanade, at unnecessary risk. The management’s greed and refusal to give their workers the status quo has caused a volatile situation for the surrounding community.
Miller’s $1 Billion for T.O. Cops by Michael Red
handcuffs and a woman being searched inappropriately by male officers. Police have also been accused of using excessive force and militaristic tactics when making arrests. Residents cited one incident where the mother of a suspect was assaulted by police and another where innocent people were burned by police smoke bombs during police raids. The people from the communities around Jane and Finch have been calling out the criminal behaviour of Toronto police for many years. According to lawyers from the Community and Legal Aid Services Program at York University, police misconduct has been consistent in the Jane & Finch community for at least 25 years, and it has come up again most recently related to some violent incidents with youth.
On December 19, 2008, David Miller pronounced: “The biggest priority is having police on the street in neighbourhoods…Everything else is second priority.” Toronto’s mayor made this statement to the mainstream media as he signed the new $1 Billion police budget. With more than a hint of irony, Miller also took the opportunity to warn public sector workers that they should not expect to achieve such a rich collective agreement during their own upcoming negotiations.
intimidate and incarcerate our sisters and brothers who are forced to live on the streets. Simultaneously, Miller began his gentrification schemes. As many residents of Don Mount Court, Regent Park and Lawrence Heights know,“revitalization”is a thinly-disguised strategy to push the working class and racialized communities even further to the margins of society. Gentrification also makes private developers rich.
During his first mandate, Miller made homelessness illegal. Despite the fact that there continues to be a complete lack of affordable public housing and adequate shelter beds in Toronto, the mayor went ahead and gave police the power to harass,
ing community-based struggles to fight back against the mayor’s neo-liberal agenda and encourage true grassroots activists and community leaders to replace these elitist politicians.
Now in his second mandate, the mayor has allowed armed police to roam our Could this be the same mayor who schools and has again inflated the police countless community groups and labour budget. As unemployment and homelessunions worked so hard to get elected in the ness increase, it appears that Miller and his first place? What happened to Miller’s sup- supporters on city council are adamant posed agenda of social justice and fairness about the need for the further militarization for all those who of our city and the The people’s agenda was thrown out live in our city? His continuing marrecord while in office the window from the very beginning of ginalization of demonstrates that Miller’s time in office. the people. the people’s agenda It’s about high was in fact thrown time that the labour movement in Toronto out the window from the very beginning. and other former Miller allies start support-
Organizers also cited the Toronto AntiViolence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) program, which was implemented this past summer in the community, and was promoted amongst the people as a community policing strategy. One resident argued that this program worked to provide the police resources for more officers on the streets but said there was no change in their methods of dealing with the people in the community.
ISSUE #12, Jan/Feb 2009
Barriere Lake: A Blockade for Broken Promises CUPE 3903: StrikingtoWininan“EconomicCrisis” by Dhruv Jain
by Farshad Azadian
are not economically feasible and that everyone must “tighten their belts”. Yet, at the same time York University continues to give significant pay increases to their top administrative posts including President Shoukri. It continues to allocate $200 million dollars to events concerning the York University’s 50th anniversary. Furthermore, York University continues to have a surplus to the amount of $140 million dollars. CUPE 3903 has consistently argued that the problem is not the economic feasibility of the demands but rather, the economic priorities that York University prefers to keep. Thus, the University prefers to give 45 of the highest paid administrative officials 15% wage increases amounting to $9.6 million dollars rather, than provide 3400 workers a 4% wage increase.
On November 17th, 2008, the Algonquin community at Barriere Lake in Northern Quebec blocked traffic on Highway 117 for several hours. As the Canadian and Quebecois governments are refusing to honour These Algonquin children at the blockade site at Barriere Lake know their end of the Trilateral that it’s their future more than anyone else’s that’s on the line. Agreements, the Barriere brought in a riot squad. This peaceful demLake Algonquins are resorting to direct onstration, just like one which occurred a action. month earlier in the same place and for the The Trilateral Agreements were signed same reason, was met with familiar blows in 1991, and included provisions that the of violence from riot police batons. Algonquin community would have a say in By the next day, a total of six people had logging, mining and other developments been arrested. This included acting Chief on their traditional territory, and would Benjamin Nottoway who, along with other also ensure that their hunting grounds outspoken members of the community, remain protected. In addition, the trea- was specifically targeted to weaken the ties state that a portion of the profits from Algonquin resistance. To this day, Benjaresource extraction would be given to min Nottoway remains in custody as a the community, which would help fight political prisoner. against the extremely high levels of povDespite state violence, the struggle erty on the reserve. of Barriere Lake Algonquins is building The two levels of government, putting broader support. Indigenous solidarity the interests of business ahead of those networks have been established in Toronof the community, have ignored these to, Ottawa and Montreal. At the blockade agreements. After years of lobbying the itself, some 30 non-native activists came government to no avail, the community to offer their support. resolved that the only way it was going to In Toronto, a solidarity protest took place get its voice heard was by fighting back. on November 19th, 2008. Demonstrators Therefore, on November 17th, the blocked off Queen Street in the downtown Algonquin community took to the streets. core for 30 minutes, demanding that the Instead of addressing the community’s two levels of government adhere to the claims, however, the Canadian state agreements they have signed. resorted to police violence to suppress the We can be sure that the struggle at Barripeaceful protestors. Within a couple hours, ere Lake is not over. Just as the last generathe highway blockades were torn down by tion blockaded the highways two decades the police and a community spokesperson ago, winning recognition of Algonquin was arrested. Despite this, the Algonquin territorial rights, this generation is also community, including children and elders, standing up for the survival of their comrefused to leave the highway. munity. Unable to end the protest, the police
In recent months because of the “economic crisis”, unions have increasingly become the targets of public anger. Indeed, many of the successes that have been gained through collective action and solidarity have been postponed or clawed back under the guise of an “economic crisis” which seems to disproportionately effect working peoples and not their bosses. These of course are the bosses who, during the good times, were more than willing to help themselves to the extraordinary profits. Yet, it always seems that when the bad times roll around they are not to be seen and it is the working peoples who have to save the economic system.
Working people throughout North America have been wondering about the loan guarantees being provided to two of the Detroit-based auto companies, General Motors and Chrysler, by the governments of the US, Canada and Ontario. These corporations are to receive loan guarantees of $17 billion in the US and about $4 billion from the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments. Technically, if used, these have to be repaid. Ford, the third company, is to receive a line of credit.
The problem is that in a capitalist economic system, workers are dependent upon employers’ survival in the marketplace in order to retain their jobs. This is a real material dependency. It represents a key source of strength for the capitalist system and acts as a kind of brake or limit on the independence of the working class from capital. We have to always keep it in mind while working to lessen and ultimately break that dependency. But we can’t ignore it, if we want to make change.
These companies, which used to be the largest and strongest capitalist enterprises in the world, are genuinely in trouble. Without this aid, they will run out of cash and will go into bankruptcy court. This would lead to massive layoffs and closures of workplaces in many communities.
The loan guarantees allow the auto companies to survive for the time being. Without them, millions of workers will simply lose their jobs and the collective productive capacities these industries represent – even in their alienated form as private capital – would be lost to all of us. Obviously, we can’t trust these companies or the current US and Canadian governments to restructure them in ways that benefit working people.
Concessions from workers in the autosector would affect more than autoworkers. Concessions in the one sector will undermine the rights of the rest of the working class: non-unionized autoworkers in the transplants (foreign auto-maker plants) will no longer receive wage and benefit packages that match the unionized sector. Workers in other sectors that currently provide low pay and few protections, would be that much weaker, as the possibility of unionization becomes more remote and unionization promises fewer gains. It would lower government revenues and depress the buying power of all workers. In other words, the strength of the autoworkers and their unions plays a role in supporting and building the power of others. A massive defeat for the autoworkers would be a defeat for the entire working class. Socialists have to call for (and organize for) a different set of outcomes. This might mean:
•Surplus plants, tool and die shops, precious skills and workers’ capacities need to be used to produce useful goods and services that people need. Working people should be able to democratically decide on what community needs should be fulfilled by these resources, be it public transit, manufacturing environmentally-friendly technologies, schools, hospitals, recreational facilities or public and co-operative housing. Workers in these surplus plants should be paid wage levels at par with unionized workers.
•Demanding that the companies produce affordable, recyclable, environmentally-friendly vehicles.
For socialists, the key is that we develop our own capacities as workers to organize, build unity around common goals for different segments of the working class and mobilize behind a set of demands and approaches that will contribute to the kind of society we would like to see in the future.
It is in this context that an eleven-week strike has embattled York University. The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 (CUPE 3903), representing approximately 3400 Teaching Assistants, Contract Faculty, Graduate Assistants and Research Assistants has been striking for basic economic rights like job security, a poverty wage, etc. Often, York University, especially its public face in the context of the economic crisis, President Mamdouh Shoukri, has argued that due to the economic crisis such economic rights
The CUPE 3903 strike is an example of workers unwilling to accept the rhetoric of the very same economic gurus that repeatedly denied that such an “economic crisis” was looming. It is speaking out against the get-rich schemes of employers that are using this “economic crisis” to their benefit. They are marching in the cold in defiance of “economic trends” and are demanding their fair share of the pie. They are striking to win.
On the first day back on strike in the new year, 3903 members and supporters reoccupy the 9th Floor of Ross Building outside YU President Shoukri’s office, refusing to leave until Shoukri agrees to participate in a public forum dealing with the strike issues.
The Auto Sector Bailout: How Should We Respond? by Herman Rosenfeld of The Socialist Project
The financial crisis has affected the operation of the real economy – that produces goods and services that all of us use. The breakdown in credit has made it difficult for people to borrow money. With no one buying cars, these companies must use up cash reserves simply to keep themselves solvent. Why should we be concerned with this at all? After all, these companies have never been great friends of the working class.
The US Congress has demanded that UAW members in the US at the Detroit Three cut their wages, benefits and working conditions to match the non-unionized “transplants” (plants owned by overseas-based capitalists) by the end of the year. Canadian governments have also demanded concessions from the CAW.
•Resisting concessions. •Regulating investment levels in the auto industry, subjecting the industry to a form of nationally-based planning.
•The unemployed need to mobilize. Those unable to work need to have social assistance levels that allow a reasonable standard of living and the organizational power to fight for it. •Finally, financial institutions need to be nationalized and democratically run as a public utility to finance the production of these needed goods and services.
ISSUE #12, Jan/Feb 2009
Would the Coalition Gov’t Be a Good Thing? CDN Appointed Governor of Kandahar by Hassan Reyes
So by now, it should be clear to most of us that the short-lived idea of a governing coalition of Liberals and New Democrats with the ‘support’ of the Bloc Quebecois is history. Interestingly, many people, particularly here in Toronto, were quick to jump on the “Coalition YES”bandwagon. In their minds, taking down Harper was tantamount to ‘defeating’ his agenda – continued war in Afghanistan, continued support for imperialist foreign policy, continued starving of public services and handouts to the wealthy. To others, it was the logical next step in Canada’s‘democracy, seeing as the coalition parties combined to achieve roughly 62% of the vote. To some, it even represented a political movement in the same way as some see Obamania in the US. These sorts of conclusions forget or overlook a number of important details. 1. Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy It should be clear that despite all of the claims of democracy, that there is still incredible concentration of political power in the representatives of the wealthy. In Canada’s case, it is the Governor General. The Governor General, the official representative of the British Crown, had full discretion to decide whether the opposition parties would be asked to form a government (as had been done as recently as 1979), whether to close parliament or whether to call an election. As we know, this appointed representative to the British Monarchy decided that she would close down parliament. As difficult as it may be for many Canadians to recognize, we live under a constitutional monarchy. 2. The “Coalition”: political manoeuvring, not political movement
by Justin Panos
Despite the valid criticisms of his politics (or absence of them in many ways), it has to be acknowledged that Obama had a movement in support of him. Now people in Canada may be as thirsty for political change as our Southern neighbours; however this coalition cannot be seen as a movement.
Residents have expressed concerns over the qualifications of a man who has been out of the country for over 10 years. They feel that he will not represent their interests as he will be working primarily with other appointed officials and reconstruction ‘experts’ rather than working with the people to address their needs. Furthermore, Wesa was selected by Hamid Karzai, the current President of Afghanistan and his childhood friend. Karzai himself was initially appointed, not elected to serve the people and did not enjoy popular support outside of Kabul. It is said that he only won the 2004 election Tooryalai Wesa, a Canadian citizen handbecause of endorsement by George W. picked to be the next governor of Kandahar. Bush, the backing of the US army and British Columbia resident Tooryalai other occupation forces, and official Wesa was recently chosen to be the media smear campaigns against his governor of Kandahar province in opponents. His campaign was partially Afghanistan where most of the Cana- funded by his younger brother, Ahmed dian armed forces are based. Wesa, a Wali Karzai, believed to be a key player 58-year old agricultural expert, claims in the heroin trade. that he can tackle the social ills and The legitimacy of any elections or violence that has plagued this danger- governing officials in a country under ous region. “I always wanted to be the the occupation of NATO forces and the bridge between two of my home coun- Canadian army needs to be seriously tries, Afghanistan and Canada,” Wesa called into question. told the CBC. The fact that Hamid Karzai, himself
This ‘coalition’ was concocted by a handful of frustrated politicians, not by people’s organizations and masses of people fed up with the Conservatives. Indeed as much as working people must realize that Harper is our enemy, we should remember that these ‘opposition’ leaders only threatened to topple the government when their Party funds were threatened. 3. “Coalition” would still represent interests opposed to working people Who began the war in Afghanistan? The Liberals. Who began the cuts to social services such as health care and education federally? The Liberals. Who failed to act on any measures to address environmental degradation for 12 years? The Liberals. Who began the campaign of mass deportation of undocumented workers? You guessed it, the Liberals. So why are they so much better than the Conservatives? Indeed, there was very little in the four page document signed by Jack Layton and Stephane Dion that would have indicated a departure from the politics of MulroneyChretien-Martin-Harper. No talk about withdrawing from Afghanistan. Nothing about restoring our public services other than vague allusions to investment in transit. There are simply no short cuts to abandoning this cynical politics that are leading us into war and depression. Workers need to build organizations that will represent our interests, not just try to sneak their way into office.
Born in Kandahar City, Wesa studied Agriculture in Kabul, Beirut, and Nebraska before obtaining his PhD from the University of British Columbia. Wesa was minister of higher education in Kabul in 1989-1990 for eight months. He has been living in Canada since 1995. Despite his background, many dispute the legitimacy of this
appointed with U.S. backing, needed to install a Canadian citizen to govern Kandahar should be a sign to Canadians that the corrupt officials running Afghanistan are not running the country in the interests of the Afghan people, but in the interests of the occupation forces.
governments emergency loans to the“Big Three” auto makers, totaling $17 billion in the U.S. and $4 billion in Canada.
According to a report published on January 8, 2009, the pension plans of Canadians are experiencing historic losses. With Canadian pension plans being invested in financial markets, these plans have experienced massive losses in their investments, ranging from 10% to 20% depending on the particular pension fund.
« Canada’s Bailout, continued from PG.1 to generate profits. Increasingly, capital has been invested more and more in the financial market than in the“real economy”. The problem with financial markets is the risks involved stemming from the speculative nature of those investments. What does this mean? To put things in the simplest of terms (at the expense of somewhat glossing over some important qualifications), the problem with financial investments is how they are wagers on the future ability of that investment to pay off, be it the rise of a commodity’s price or the ability of a debtor to pay off his/her debts. How fragile this system actually was revealed itself to all of us this past fall of 2008 (pun intended) when America’s largest financial institutions began to collapse, triggered by the “sub-prime mortgage crisis”. Americans began to go bankrupt at record levels when they found themselves unable to service the unrealistically high mortgages and consumer debts pushed down their throats by financiers eager to lend out money with interest rates being so low. Millions of Americans lost everything they owned – or what they thought they owned. The greatest lie circulated in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the unfolding Depression that it triggered was that this crisis was completely unforeseeable. And this lie has become the basis for the kings of capital screaming that the sky was falling, that they hadn’t seen it coming, and pleading with governments that they are“too big to fail”.
What has followed in every “first world” country has been an orderly and wellmanaged unfolding of the crisis, whereby government after government has come to the rescue of private banks and corporations, while leaving regular people out in the cold.
While the Canadian government says that these measures were all necessary in order to inject“liquidity”into the economy and get banks lending again, what’s in essence happening is that the public is being made to take over the debts from private corporations at a time when those debts are becoming increasingly insolvent (i.e. becoming more likely to default).
Canada and the Crisis As in every other“FirstWorld”country, the Canadian government has followed suit with its own guarantees, loans, and bailouts to the big capitalists, and we in Canada haven’t had anywhere near as much public debate as in some other places. Instead of honest debate about the economy, what Canadians got was a distracting political theatre in November 2008 when two probig capitalist parties – the Liberals and the NDP – were trying to take the reigns of government from the third one, the Conservatives – the most shamelessly pro-big capitalist party of the three.
Meanwhile, politicians, mainstream economists, and capitalists deny that they saw it coming. Of course they deny it - by doing so they can deny any responsibility for it. When the big capitalists were recklessly lending out money to people who would never be able to pay it back, it’s not that they didn’t see the collapse coming, it’s that they knew that they would be able to use the collapse they engineered as a pretext for a new round of attacks on the working class.
While hundreds of thousands of full-time jobs were disappearing from the Canadian economy in 2008 – 140,000 in November and December alone, with Ontario being hit the hardest – it was capital that was being bailed out, not the masses suffering the crisis.
Aside from the massive job losses and big bailouts, in what other ways are regular people coming under attack? In late October 2008, the Conservative government announced cuts to the corporate tax rates from the then 22 percent to 15 percent by 2012, which in the current fiscal year alone would amount to $10 billion more in the pockets of corporations. And let’s not forget the $490 billion for new military spending over the next twenty years, which the Conservatives announced in June 2008.
In November 2008, the Canadian government announced that it would “guarantee” $200 billion in loans for the banks, and that it would buy, through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, $75 billion in mortgage loans from Canadian banks. Then came the U.S. and Canadian
While the Federal Conservative government assures Canadians that help is on the way in their planned January 27th budget, nothing that the Canadian government has done so far suggests that this “help” is for regular Canadians. Of the $20-$30 billion more in “stimulus” spending being promised by the Canadian government, we can be almost completely certain that most of this is going to line the pockets of the already filthy rich. And all this money has to come from somewhere… In this moment of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, regular Canadians need to start organizing themselves in their communities and in their workplaces to defend themselves against the ruling class’s new round of attacks. Anything above and beyond merely defending what we currently have under this system is going to entail a far broader struggle than the Canadian working class is prepared for. This is the struggle for a socialist society. While Canadians are clearly not ready for this struggle, subjectively or objectively, nothing less than a fully socialist alternative can resolve the contradictions of monopoly capitalism that we’re currently experiencing.
ISSUE #12, Jan/Feb 2009
The Agony and Oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka by Minnalkodi Sivan On December 26, 2004, massive tidal waves swept the shores of Sri Lanka, a country once known as “the pearl of the Indian Ocean”. That day, the whole world stood still as they watched clips of the tsunami. Canadians contributed millions for the victims on the Island, not knowing that most of the aid would never reach the most devastated areas of North Eastern Sri Lanka, homeland of the Tamil people. Instead, most of it was diverted to Sinhala areas and the rest is still unaccounted for.
The divisions on the island can be traced back to Sri Lanka’s colonial past. The Island was initially colonized by the Portuguese and then the Dutch. The two parties ruled the Sinhala and Tamil kingdoms separately. But during British colonization, both homelands were combined for administrative convenience. When the British left, ruling power was given to the Sinhala majority, which has since brutally oppressed the Tamil minority. As a result of the tsunami, over 500,000 Tamils became internally displaced persons (IDPs), with very little aid provided by the government. When foreign representatives visited to monitor progress in the affected regions, they were not exposed to the Tamil areas. When Global TV attempted to produce a documentary on post tsunami recovery, the producer was asked to sign a “letter of agreement” by the Sri Lankan High Commission. The letter had restrictions and conditions that violated freedom of expression and the right to freely access public information. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government has been ranked the #1 human rights violator and the second worst country for press freedom in South Asia. So the oppression and genocide of Tamils is being brushed under the Sri Lankan government’s blood-drenched rug.
« Obama, from PG.1 We only have to look at who he’s picked to run the country with him. Obama’s Secretary of State (the government’s representative to the world) will be Hillary Clinton, a notorious supporter of the illegal occupation and invasion of Iraq, defender of the racist state of Israel and consistent champion of brutal American foreign policy. Robert Gates, Bush’s handpicked replacement for the criminal Rumsfeld, will remain as Defense Secretary. Not only is Gates against ending the Iraq war (Obama’s major election promise), but he was responsible for past crimes, including the Iran-Contra affair (where as the deputy-director of the CIA in the 1980s Gates encouraged his boss, Bush Sr., to finance the massacre of a democratically-elected government in Nicaragua, which was financed by selling weapons to Iran and pumping crack into ghettoes in the US). This pattern continues with the up and coming Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, who allowed for the murder and torture of Mexican refugees in her home state of Arizona. These choices are not just bad decisions on Obama’s part, but they mean he made sure his new govern-
In 2006, the Sri Lankan government withdrew from their ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE have been fighting for Tamils’ right to selfdetermination for over 25 years. As a result of the war, many more Tamils have been displaced. Currently there are over 300,000 Tamil IDPs in the war stricken areas, including many who are still displaced from the tsunami four years ago! In September 2008, the government violated IDP rights by banning nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from providing aid to these areas, including basic human necessities such as food, water and medical care. Moreover, there have been ongoing indiscriminate bombings of IDP camps, schools, hospitals and even a church on Christmas Day. There have also been incidents of the usage of cluster bombs, a weapon which has been banned internationally by 120 countries except for China, India, Israel, Russia, U.S, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The situation is worsening with the arrival of the monsoon season as rain drenches and floods the shelters, leaving IDPs helpless and even more vulnerable to diseases.
« Greece, from PG.1
radicals around the world – especially in Europe. Solidarity demonstrations were held in most other European countries. This outpouring of internationalism was reflected in slogans taken up by Greek rebels, such as“Greece - France : Insurrection Everywhere.”
Despite Canada being home to the largest Tamil diaspora in the world, the Canadian government has remained dangerously silent. The politicians do not want to intervene in this issue because they value Canada’s “strategic” partnership with India and other geopolitical interests more than the rights of the Tamil people. Regardless, such crimes against humanity cannot pass unnoticed. We have to stand united against any form of oppression by lending our voice to the oppressed and taking action. Visit www.canadianhart.org for more information.
Just as with other police terrorism provoked rebellions, like the Los Angeles rebellion of 1992, the French rebellion of 2005, or the rebellions in Montreal North in August 2008 or Oakland this January
ment will be led by war criminals, human rights abusers, anti-environmentalists and all-around imperialists. Some say these corporate and military thugs would be kept in check by Obama. Yet when has the President-elect shown us that he is not a war monger and reactionary himself? During his election campaign he promised to eventually end the Iraq occupation, but only so troops could be increased in Afghanistan (a war just as brutal and illegal as in Iraq). Obama told the world racism was no longer an issue in America, at a time when more than 83,000 black people die from the blackwhite health gap each year, when prison concentration camps imprison black men 8 times more often than whites and just 4 years after the government let thousands of blacks in New Orleans die. On January 20th, Obama will become the leader of the most violent and destructive empire in world history - one that has been designed for 200 years to rob, enslave and brutalize the world’s population - and that’s something that won’t“Change”!
2009, the events in Greece show the potential for upheaval that is ever-present in what on the surface appear to be stable societies. The fact remains that the deep discontent people feel under this system cannot always be contained by official channels like elections. The police brutality and disrespect, the shitty jobs, the racism, the stress of studying nonstop for a career that may or may not be there for you when you graduate... sometimes this smoulders under the surface, and sometimes it explodes.
More than 5000 people gathered on the outskirts of Athens on December 9, 2008 to mourn the brutal murder of the 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos.
Philippine State Tries New Tactic to Crush People’s Movement by J.D. Benjamin Mass arrests and harassment charges being used against legal mass activists in Southern Tagalog Mass organizations across the Philippines and their allies around the world are condemning the persecution of legal democratic activists in the Southern Tagalog region by current Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 72 leaders of people’s organizations in the region have had false charges of multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder and arson slapped against them by the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), an agency created by Arroyo. 6 of the charged are currently being held in prison. The charges are an attempt to derail the people’s movement against Arroyo by keeping their leaders busy fighting legal harassment. The accused are alleged to have participated in a raid carried out by the New People’s Army in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental on March 3, 2006. The legal team for the accused called the charges ridiculous, saying that “the judge did not even bother to check if there was probable cause... There is not an iota of evidence.” This new tactic is the third method that
current Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has adopted to try to cling to power. Widely despised for her corruption and electoral fraud, the Arroyo regime first tried to quell the opposition through targeted assassination of leaders in the people’s movement. Since coming to power in 2001, over 977 legal mass activists have been murdered by death squads that are mainly composed of military intelligence agents. This tactic only further alienated the people and drew international condemnation, so the Arroyo regime switched to the method favoured by the Argentinian dictatorship of the 1970s: forced disappearances. Human rights organizations in the Philippines have documented 201 victims of enforced disappearances, where activist leaders would be snatched off the street by government agents, shoved into a vehicle and never seen again. Many were tortured and killed, their bodies hidden. The government would then deny ever having the victim in custody. Fortunately for the people, nobody was
fooled. The national and international outrage against the worst human right record of any Philippine government since the Marcos dictatorship only intensified. Unable to stifle the movement at home or the embarrassment abroad, the Arroyo regime is test driving the new tactic of harassment through false charges in the Souther Tagalog region. If it succeeds, it
will be expanded across the Philippines. “What the Arroyo regime could no longer accomplish through extra-judicial killings and abductions, it now tries to achieve through the filing of non-bailable criminal charges,” said Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araulo, chairperson of Bayan. “The objective is clearly to neutralize the activist » continued, pg. 8
These Southern Tagalog activists and one other have been imprisoned: Atty. Remigio Saladero, Nestor San Jose, Crispin Zapanta, Rogelio Galit, Arnaldo Seminiano, and Emmanuel Dionida. 6
ARTS & CULTURE
ISSUE #12, Jan/Feb 2009
Three T.O. Youth Orgs. Launch, Uniting the People for Change by Alok Premjee to bring an end to the horizontal (youth-on-youth) violence that divides our communities and to redirect the attention of the youth towards the real enemies of the community, such asTCHC and the big development corporations conspiring to destroy social housing, or incessant police terrorism.
Some of the organizers of the event, Kabir, Enver, Alok, Wasun (from left to right). On the evening of December 10th, 2008, the Toronto-based organizations Hood 2 Hood, Set-It-Off, and NO COPS (the Newly Organized Coalition Opposing Police in Schools) held a triple launch party for their organizations at the AnitAFRIKA! Dub Theatre, working in conjunction with Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), BASICS, and the Strictly Roots Project. The event consisted of music provided by two tenth grade DJ’s from Sir Sanford Fleming Collegiate, dinner, poetry, and dance performances by talented artists from around the Greater Toronto Area. The purpose of the event was to bring together groups that focus on organizing working class communities, primarily racialized working class communities. The Hood-2-Hood group is organizing in a number of low-income areas in Toronto
The Set-It-Off group is a rapidly growing young women’s organization with over 50 members, which is serving as a space for young women’s social networking and fulfilling a self-help function by dealing with issues of teen pregnancy and misogyny; providing a positive space to learn about black history; and organizing cultural activities like dancing, singing, and skills-building like writing. Set-It-Off is working out of Sir Sanford Fleming, Westview Centennial, & Vaughn Road Academy. One of the important social and political roles that the group has been serving has been to raise political awareness around the planned demolition of Lawrence Heights by the City of Toronto. NO COPS is a coalition of parents, teachers, students, and other allies which formed as a response to the Toronto Police Service’s and Toronto District School Board’s decision to place armed police in almost 30 high-schools across Toronto. The stated goal of the organization is to mobilize communities opposed to the
also mesmorized the audience with one of her poems. Next, the mic was passed onto D-Squad, representing Jane and Tretheweys, who performed a couple of banging tracks, just before the Phantom Dancers arrived straight out of Scarborough, who showcased Just a few of the Set-It-Off women. some of the latest police occupation of schools with the dancehall moves. That set the scene for a dance off and a dance jam that broke out goal of getting the cops out. After dinner and a series of to end off the hype night. presentations from the organizations, the Much respect to the anitAFRIKA! Dub performers hit the stage. Performances Theatre for providing their extraordinary were kicked off by the Hustle Boyz, venue for the grassroots community who represented Vaughn & Oakwood event. and Jane & Tretheweys, followed by Vaughn & Oakwood’s own and T-Dots finest MC Quanche, who performed solo and did a rap duet with the Original Wasun. Following these performers the audience was blessed with some female talent, with reggae artist Rakaya, some beautiful vocal performances from Set-If-Off performers. D’bi Young, one of Toronto’s finest dub poets and the owner of the AnitAFRIKA! Dub Theatre,
Reflections on Art and Social Change by Rosina Kazi of LAL
I have been involved with the band lal as the lead singer for just over ten years, and we have always made a point of connecting music with issues of social justice. This need came from our own personal and communal experiences. What we share is an intimate experience of injustice, but our ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, physical ability are only some ways which create differences in our experiences; and many of us aren’t aware of how our privileges or lack thereof, play out in the world we live in, in our public and personal lives. Almost everyone will experience some sort of injustice in their lives. If we can connect with one another through this shared experience, while recognizing that some of us have a more difficult struggle, whether or not it’s obvious, then maybe we can move forward. We talk about diversity and it’s importance but we do we embrace diversity in beliefs and experiences in a real way? Do we create solid friendships? Are we creating a community that is diverse in thought, class, gender, sexuality etc? Essentially becoming family? I believe part of it is working on how not to place judg-
Black History Month
Racism and the ‘Minstrel’ Foundation
ment on others and ourselves, essentially learning to love ourselves completely.
Why is this Regent Park organization bearing the name of white supremacy?
by Steve da Silva
It is through music that I have found a way to connect with people. We have worked hard to create a space that is inclusive. But this creative endeavor is something that involves many, not just the three members of lal. It includes activists, artists, academics, queer, straight, and questioning peoples, artists, art enthusiasts, business people, the old and young etc… We don’t plan on ‘making it big’, only because to do so would throw us in a world that we dislike: a world of intense hierarchy and bullshit. The reality is that the entire world functions in this way, and those of us sensitive to hierarchy and injustice find ourselves lost and continually trying to create something different, not being afraid of change and embracing and acknowledging our own mistakes, as hard as this can be.
The Minstrel Foundation is aToronto-based music education charity that has as its mandate “to secure and expand the opportunity for inner city young people to study and excel in music.” While this cause seems praiseworthy enough, this organization needs to seriously consider changing its name. For those who are not familiar with the word ‘Minstrel’, in a North American context the word’s most common usage traces back to the “Minstrel Shows” of the 19th century where white actors with blackened faces would tour around the country and lampoon and caricature the behaviours of Africans. Later, after the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S. where slaves were set “free”, these white theatre companies would often enlist Africans directly in playing out their own ridicule. Some have considered today’s corporate media giants like BET or MTV to be promote modern forms of Minstrel, since those black entertainers who get the most play propagate the most destructive values for black people.
Our work with No One is Illegal (NOII) has very much inspired our latest cd ‘Deportation’ and we’ve been working with NOII over the last 4 years to get the word out about the work NOII has been doing, fighting for the right for non-status peoples to live with dignity and respect in Toronto and in Canada.
Nicholas Murray, Rosina Kazi, and Ian de Souza of LAL (left to right).
The ‘Hustle Boyz’.
This is the poster of a minstrel show from 1900. Is the message that this organization is sending to Toronto’s “inner city” youth that they only have a future in entertaining people born into privileges greater than their own? Is it not enough of an affront to the minds of these youth that they are constantly being seduced with the images of role models as basketball players, rappers, and scantly-clad women in music videos? The Minstrel Foundation is greatly offending Toronto’s racialized working-class masses by carrying out their charity work under the banner white supremacy. On December 25, 2008, I personally emailed a letter to this organization expressing these sentiments (see our website for a copy); but they have not responded.
If we choose to trace the word further back into history, we find that Minstrel is etymologically derivative If this organization of the Old French word chooses not to account menestral, which meant for its actions, this should both entertainer and serbe a sign to Torontonians vant, and tracing further of the attitudes contempt, back from the Latin word ignorance, and indifference ministerialis, it meant serthat people of privilege vant. Therefore, whichever hold towards historically way we play it, the word (and presently) oppressed ‘minstrel’ carries a connopeoples. A disguised racism tation that implies subordiis far more menacing nation and is offensive The “Darky” iconography illustrated on this to us than an overt to whosoever the term Toronto-based Minstrel show appeared on sheet music from the 1870s through the 1940s. one. may be directed at.
In the end, I believe creativity must go hand in hand with social movements and activism. We should not be cliquey and should provide avenues for all to take part, using art, not as a weapon but as a tool for personal and political change.
ISSUE #12, Jan/Feb 2009
Norman Bethune: The Anti-Fascist and Propagandist byJ.D.Benjamin
Part 2 of a 3-part series on the life of Norman Bethune: Canadian doctor, internationalist, and revolutionary hero. In 1936, civil war broke out in Spain between the democratically-elected government and foreign-backed fascist rebels. Wanting to help in the fight against the rising tide of fascism, Norman Bethune joined the Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy and agreed to head the Canadian Medical Unit in Madrid. Travelling by steamship, Bethune arrived just as the fascist forces were launching a savage offensive against the city. As a renowned surgeon, Bethune was offered a post at either the military hospital or the training centre for the International Brigades. Instead, he refused both and took
the radical step of creating a new form of medical team – a blood transfusion unit that would operate where it was needed most, right on the front lines of the conflict. The anti-fascist Spanish Republican forces already had blood transfusion units, but they were centralized in Barcelona, far from the front. At the time, it was standard practice in warfare for wounded fighters to be transferred into the rear before receiving treatment. Many would die during the trip from shock as a result of blood loss.
and was so innovative that it would be used as the model for war-time medical care all over the world. It was a major accomplishment and Bethune was honoured by the Spanish government with the rank of major, the highest rank held by any foreigner in the medical service.
While a skilled organizer, Bethune could also be harsh, impatient and demanding and his translator frequently had to soften Bethune’s words when dealing with Spanish authorities. While these qualities were helpful in the initial establishment of the unit, they did not serve well later on when managing political conflicts and dealing with petty personal rivalries. With tensions within the medical service rising and his most important tasks completed, Bethune believed that he could be of better use to the anti-fascist cause back in Canada where he could carry out propaganda work.
Bethune and his team quickly organized a mobile medical unit, which was the first of its kind in the world. It contained enough medical equipment to dress 500 wounds and perform 100 operations and had its own delivery service that collected blood from thousands of donors in the rear and delivered it to the unit on the front. This unit Norman Bethune performing a blood transfusion for a partisan saved countless lives
Bethune had already shown a flair for publicity and promotion of the anti-fascist cause. His work had attracted extensive press coverage and he helped produce Heart of Spain, the famous documentary about the Canadian Blood Service. On his return to Canada, Bethune went on a tour
of the anti-fascist struggle in Spain.
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to raise money, material supplies and volunteers, speaking before tens of thousands across the country. Even though the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, the people responded enthusiastically. In the spirit of international solidarity, they gave tens of thousands of dollars to Bethune’s blood transfusion unit and rushed to join the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion to go fight in Spain. (For more on the MacPaps, see Basics issue #8) The Canadian state, rather than supporting the heroic work of Bethune and his team of medics, went out of its way to undermine the anti-fascist movement. Enlistment in the International Brigades was made a criminal offence under the 1937 Foreign Enlistment Act. The government even went so far as to amend the Act to ban participation in any humanitarian agency that did not assist the fascists as well as the Republicans – deliberately making Bethune’s work in defence of Spanish democracy illegal. The final chapter in Bethune’s life was to begin with the invasion of China by fascist Japan. In China, Bethune would join the next flashpoint in the world wide fight against fascism and for revolution...
« Gaza, from PG.2 the condemnation of Israel.
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Meanwhile, the new federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has been trumpeting the same degree of support for Israel: “Canada has to support the right of a democratic country [Israel] to defend itself.” Evidently, the only rights Ignatieff is concerned with is the right of one of the most militarized countries in the world to obliterate the existence of a people to whom democracy has been completely denied. The fact that Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinian people in 2006 and that Canada was the first country in the world to refuse recognition to Hamas appears to Ignatieff to be no contradiction in his thinking.
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Meanwhile, the NDP’s Jack Layton has opportunistically played both sides by stating that “The continuing airstrikes by Israel on civilians in the Gaza strip and the ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli civilians are serving to compound the existing civilian disaster
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« Philippines from PG.6
leaders by detaining them illegally or forcing them to go into hiding. At the same time, there is the intention to terrorize the remaining leaders, activists and the political mass base of progressive organizations and party-list groups.” It is critical that people across Canada condemn the arrests in Southern Tagalog. The Arroyo regime is desperate to avoid the exposure of its crimes against the people and has shown that that it is vulnerable to international pressure. This tactic has already drawn criticism from the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, who called on the Arroyo regime to abolish the IALAG. We call on everyone to raise this issue in their union, their church, with local politicians – anywhere where support for the rights of the Filipino people can be found. The Arroyo regime can and must be forced to respect human rights!
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and further harm chances for a negotiated peace.” Such a position is a cop-out because it completely ignores the fact that Israel has maintained a life-crippling blockade on Gaza since the election of Hamas in 2006, and that calls for Hamas to end missile strikes into Israel need to also address the economic warfare against Gaza. Canadians who want to help the people of Gaza – in addition to appealing to the direct calls for solidarity and aid that are coming directly from the Palestinians – need to begin seriously challenging Canadian imperialism from here at home. The apartheid state of Israel would not be able to survive without the support of countries like U.S., Canada, and EU members. If we really want to make a difference for the people of Gaza, Canadians need to start finding ways to mobilize themselves independent of these forces for real structural changes in Canada’s domestic and foreign policies.
« Cuba from PG.2
South Africa, by sending soldiers to assist Angolan freedom fighters against South Africa and their colonial allies. Cuba also sends thousands of doctors and educators all over the world in areas affected by disaster or poverty to assist those populations, including in Haiti, Bolivia and even Pakistan. Due to the severe hurricanes that caused over $9 Billion in damages in August 2008, festivities on the island were relegated to concerts in major cities and a humble celebration in the birthplace of the revolution, Santiago de Cuba. Nonetheless, it was evident all over the island that Cubans remain proud of their achievements and are determined to not let them be reversed. People all over the world should be proud of our Cuban brothers and sisters and work tirelessly to catch up with them in building a just society.