rabble.ca

Can NAFTA be fixed? Six modest proposals

10 August 2017 - 9:44am
Scott SinclairStuart TrewHadrian Mertins-Kirkwood

The Trump administration's long-running NAFTA drama took centre stage last month as the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released its objectives for the impending renegotiation -- and it looks more like a summer rerun than the transformative spectacle we were promised.

In short, the U.S. is pushing for an updated NAFTA modelled on the floundering Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though President Trump campaigned against the "job-killing" TPP and pulled the U.S. out of the deal in January.

The CCPA has long held the position that the TPP would not be in Canada's best interests, and the prospect of TPP-style provisions forming the core of NAFTA 2.0 is troubling. This model favours corporate rights and restricts the policy space of governments in a way that undercuts our ability to address crucial social priorities, such as improving job security and job quality, fighting inequality, and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

So what's the alternative? In response to Global Affairs Canada's consultations on the NAFTA renegotiation, the CCPA has presented a set of modest proposals that attempt to make North American economic integration more equitable and sustainable. Here are six of our key recommendations.

1. Ensure the NAFTA renegotiation process is inclusive and transparent.

For an updated NAFTA to meaningfully enhance North American integration it must directly involve public stakeholders from all three countries, notably long-excluded Indigenous communities, at the outset and throughout. The days when unreachable government negotiators could trade away public policies behind closed doors must come to an end. An inclusive trade policy must start with inclusive and fully transparent negotiations.

2. Encourage the use of government purchasing and infrastructure investment as tools for green economic development across North America.

Canada has repeatedly tried and failed to get a meaningful exemption from Buy American purchasing policies. Instead of attacking these popular policies, Canada should propose the creation of an activist Buy North American policy for new infrastructure spending that would create jobs and spur green economic development throughout the region. If this new co-operative approach is rejected, Canada should imple­ment Buy Canadian policies to maximize national economic and environmental spin-offs from its own planned public investments.

3. Incorporate strong labour rights and environmental standards, and take sustainable development seriously.

NAFTA does not contain a labour chapter or an environment chapter and its side agreements on labour and environmental "co-operation" have proven to be toothless. An updated NAFTA must include strong provisions that elevate labour standards in all three countries, especially in Mexico and right-to-work states, where basic labour rights are routinely denied. It must also include enforceable provisions that elevate environmental standards in all three countries and reinforce multilateral commitments such as the Paris Agreement. NAFTA must ensure governments have the policy space to aggressively transition to a low-carbon economy, which will include measures to phase out fossil fuel production. Removing NAFTA's Article 605 (the "proportionality clause"), and avoiding locking Canada into another fossil-fuel energy pact with the U.S., are essential to this objective.

4. Eliminate investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

NAFTA includes the means for foreign investors and multinational corporations to sue governments in private arbitration for alleged violations of their rights under the agreement. As we've documented, the ISDS system has been repeatedly abused by corporations challenging non-discriminatory government measures taken in the public interest, especially related to environmental protection and natural resource management. There is no place for ISDS in a renegotiated NAFTA.

5. Promote and protect public services.

Vibrant, universal public services should be a central goal of sustainable economic development. But trade deals like NAFTA, the TPP, Canada's CETA with Europe, and the Trade in Services Agreement target public services for commercialization. In all of these deals Canada secured piecemeal protections for public services, but those protections fall short of a full exemption. As a result, governments risk costly investor lawsuits or state-to-state arbitration if they attempt to expand public services, reverse privatizations or create new programs in response to future needs. An updated NAFTA must clarify that the expansion or creation of public services (e.g., dental care, child care), or regulations affecting them, are in no way inhibited by the agreement.

6. Resist new U.S. intellectual property rights demands.

In negotiation after negotiation, the U.S. has pushed for pro-corporate intellectual property rights (IPRs) that go well beyond international standards. As it did in the TPP, the U.S. will likely pressure Canada in the NAFTA renegotiation to extend patent and copyright terms, to prohibit certain measures aimed at protecting Canadians' privacy, and to protect monopoly profits in the pharmaceutical and media industries. If successful, these provisions would make costly changes to Canada's IPR legislation, which is already very friendly to industry, without commensurate public benefit.

Be prepared to walk away

Our full set of recommendations, if adopted, would begin to fix a broken NAFTA trade model and help to promote more inclusive, sustainable and democratic societies in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. However, NAFTA could get a lot worse if negotiators succeed in pushing a TPP-style renegotiation, in which case Canada must be prepared to walk away from the deal entirely. The costs of leaving NAFTA today are minimal when compared to the costs of expanding on an untenable and uninspiring trade regime.

Scott Sinclair is Senior Trade Fellow with the CCPA. Stuart Trew is Editor of the Monitor, the CCPA's bimonthly magazine. Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood is a researcher with the CCPA.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

Anita's Place is the end of the line for those seeking shelter in Maple Ridge, B.C.

10 August 2017 - 9:01am
August 10, 2017Homelessness in Metro Vancouver is not confined to the Downtown EastsideIn the last three years, homelessness has increased not only in downtown Vancouver but also in its outlying suburbs. So far there has been little response from local politicians.

It's time for Canada's Conservatives just to admit Jack Layton was right about talking to the Taliban

10 August 2017 - 1:32am
David J. Climenhaga

Never mind the apologies. That ship has sailed. We Canadians need to come to terms with the fact Conservatives don't apologize, and they don't explain, no matter how obvious it is they need to.

But surely now that it's official the remnants of the U.S.-led coalition are "not winning" in Afghanistan, it's time for Canada's Opposition Conservatives to admit Jack Layton was right about talking to the Taliban, and that they were wrong.

Most politically alert Canadians are probably faintly aware that it was the Conservative Party of then prime minister Stephen Harper back in the mid 2000s that smeared Mr. Layton, who was then the leader of the federal New Democratic Party, with the epithet "Taliban Jack," and that it had something to do with Afghanistan.

But for many of us, I suspect, the circumstances are rapidly disappearing into the mists of time.

To review, then, it was on Sept. 1, 2006, more than a decade ago now, when Mr. Layton dared state the unspeakable but obvious fact about Afghanistan that "a comprehensive peace process has to bring all the combatants to the table."

At the time, Canadian soldiers had already been involved in the bloody and unwinnable occupation of the Central Asian country known as the Graveyard of Empires for four years, but this really set off the Tory barking chain.

Mr. Layton was excoriated as naive at best and treasonous at worst. He was accused by the online Conservative Rage Machine, then in its relative infancy, of failing to support Canada's soldiers abroad and supporting the people who were shooting at them.

Their logic, apparently, was that no good Canadian would ever sit down to speak with unsavoury men who were shooting at Canadian soldiers, even if those same unsavoury men were part of a coalition that enjoyed the support of a considerable portion of Afghanistan's Pashtun ethnic majority. The assumption underlying this view, presumably, was that the West had a reasonable chance of defeating them. As with most insurgencies in poor countries where people have little to lose, it never did.

The usual right-wing suspects posted pictures of the NDP leader Photoshopped into ethnic Pashtun garb, along with their predictably uncreative but vicious verbal abuse. Peter MacKay, then the minister of finance, sniped, "is it next going to be tea with Osama bin Laden? This cannot happen."

Mr. Layton, who died in 2011 after leading his party to within sight of government in Ottawa, was remarkably graceful about this serial defamation. When one of Mr. Harper's now justly forgotten foreign affairs ministers, Lawrence Cannon, admitted in 2010 the Taliban had a role to play in the "new Afghanistan" we were told Canada's soldiers were helping to build, Mr. Layton resisted the temptation to gloat. "As long as the right thing gets done," he said, "I don't really care."

That would have been an appropriate time for the Harper Conservatives to apologize, which of course they did not.

They didn't really mean it about talking to the Taliban, anyway, since Mr. Harper himself put conditions on the idea no resistance movement would accept -- even if it wasn't making the incremental gains that always win insurgencies. Before the Taliban would be allowed to sit at the table, Mr. Harper proclaimed, they would have to lay down their arms and agree to abide by the Afghan constitution, cooked up in 2004 following the U.S. invasion of the Central Asian country. As he knew, there was no chance of that happening.

By 2011, naturally, the U.S. government was paying no attention to the sage advice of its Canadian ally and had entered into direct, secret talks with the Taliban.

That would have been another moment for the Conservatives to apologize to Mr. Layton. Didn't happen then either.

Regardless, the Western war in that country has lurched along to this day. So how did all this work out?

Well, thankfully, the last Canadian soldiers left the country in mid-March 2015.

But for all the blood and treasure we spent, the "new Afghanistan" sure looks a lot like the old Afghanistan.

A corrupt government propped up by the U.S. and its proxies controls the capital, Kabul, and the Taliban is regaining control pretty well everywhere else. During daylight, they say, the government controls about half the country nowadays. Many places where Western soldiers fought fierce battles with the "primitive" Afghans are now firmly in Taliban hands.

In June, President Donald Trump's Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, admitted to the U.S. Congress the United States is "not winning" the war against the Taliban.

"We are not winning in Afghanistan right now," the former Marine Corps general told American legislators. "And we will correct this as soon as possible."

Don't hold your breath waiting for the correction.

As recently as yesterday, fighting continued in the Forever War in Afghanistan, with disturbing if unlikely reports the Taliban and their sworn enemy ISIS were teaming up to drive out the Western invaders.

Canada could play its traditional helpful role in international affairs if we had a way to talk to those guys.

Thanks in part to Canada's Conservatives, we don't. They should at least admit that Mr. Layton was right! But don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen either.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

Six questions for the NDP leadership candidates on Quebec

9 August 2017 - 7:37am
August 9, 2017What I'm looking for from NDP leadership candidates on QuebecThere is a giant, Quebec-sized hole in the NDP leadership debate. The four candidates have said nearly nothing about Quebec, either in their platforms or during the debates.

The multimedia monk, engaged Buddhism and 'A Cambodian Spring'

8 August 2017 - 8:14pm
David PeckAugust 9, 2017face2faceArts & CultureWorld

Chris and Face2Face host David Peck talk about engaged Buddhism, Cambodia, power and politics, photographs as symbols and hope.

IMDB

Trailer

Synopsis

Fading from black, the frame fills with the image of a rice field, leaves of grass billow in the wind. Cut to construction along the Mekong river in the capital Phnom Penh. On the soundtrack the metronome of steel girders being pushed deep into the ground keeps time. In the foreground a young man prepares to cast his fishing net into the river as an old sampan fishing boat chugs by.

In the background a new bridge is under construction, the sound of which marks the unsteady pace of progress in Cambodia. The film is an intimate portrait of three Cambodian’s involved in forced evictions. We meet the characters at the very beginning of their journey, unsure of themselves and unaware of where they will end up after years of protests against their government.

Biography

Chris is an award-winning video journalist and documentary filmmaker and the founder of Little Ease Films. He has spent the last nine years making his first feature documentary A Cambodian Spring.

He is a regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper and in 2014 produced an award-winning undercover investigation into slavery in the Thai fishing industry.

His work has taken him as far afield as South Sudan, Burma, the Philippines, Laos and Thailand.

He is currently developing an animated feature film about slavery in the Thai fishing industry, a feature documentary about a young Irish man who went to fight Assad in Syria and a virtual reality computer game about slavery and migration.

More about Chris Kelly here.

For more information about David Peck's podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit his site here or check out the site of his podcast on film, social change and much more.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

Image Copyright: Eye Steel Films and Chris Kelly. Used with permission.

Like this podcast? rabble is reader/listener supported journalism.

Cambodialand rightshuman rightsdocumentaryHot Docs

We only have one Earth, and we're overshooting its capacity

8 August 2017 - 6:15pm
David Suzuki

August 2 was Earth Overshoot Day. Unlike Earth Day or Canada Day, it's not a time to celebrate. As the Earth Overshoot Day website explains, it marks the time when "we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year." That is the definition of unsustainable and means we're using up the biological capital that should be our children's legacy. We would require 1.7 Earths to meet our current annual demands sustainably.

It doesn't have to be this way. "Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future," says Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that uses UN statistics and other sources to calculate when overshoot day falls every year. This year marks the earliest overshoot date yet.

(Wackernagel was a student of University of British Columbia ecologist William Rees. They popularized the footprint concept in their 1996 book, Our Ecological Footprint. Andrew Simms of the U.K.'s New Economics Foundation conceived Earth Overshoot Day, partnering with the Global Footprint Network in 2006 on the first campaign, and with conservation organization WWF starting in 2007.)

According to the website, overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural sinks like forests can sequester are among the ways we overshoot Earth's capacity. The consequences are serious. "Impacts of ecological overspending are apparent already in soil erosion, desertification, reduced cropland productivity, overgrazing, deforestation, rapid species extinction, fisheries collapse and increased carbon concentration in the atmosphere," it notes. "Natural capital constraints also pose a threat to economic performance and economic stability."

Climate change is the most serious result. The Global Footprint Network says our carbon footprint makes up 60 per cent of our total ecological footprint, and it's increasing rapidly. Basing its calculations on "the land area required to sequester carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production", the network says our carbon footprint has more than doubled since 1970.

The network also offers a mobile-friendly personal footprint calculator. Be warned: If you live in North America, your footprint will likely be much higher than 1.7 Earths, no matter how ecologically aware you consider yourself. We use far more energy and other resources than people in many parts of the world.

The site includes a range of solutions in four areas: food, cities, population and energy. In North America, reducing the carbon footprint by using less energy -- especially fossil fuels -- is major, but so is changing food habits. Food demand makes up 26 per cent of the global footprint. Because raising animals for food requires far more resources and creates more emissions than growing plants, reducing the amount of meat and animal products we eat decreases our footprint. According to Oregon State University researchers, if Americans ate beans instead of beef, the U.S. could meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions goals, even if the country did little else and if people continued to eat other animal products.

Food waste is another major problem. One-third of the food produced worldwide is wasted or lost -- as much as 40 per cent in the U.S.

Population is an obvious concern. More people require more space and resources. Strategies to stabilize population growth also have social benefits. "Educating girls and providing access to safe, affordable, and effective family planning" and "empowering women" are essential to reducing population growth and result in better economic development and health outcomes.

Because humans are increasingly urban dwellers -- with 70 to 80 per cent expected to live in cities by 2050 -- things like "energy-efficient buildings, integrated zoning, compact cities, and effective options for people-powered and public transportation" are crucial to reducing our footprint.

Some have criticized the Earth overshoot concept, arguing it's not accurate or that it underestimates resource overuse. Wackernagel admits the calculations are only as good as the available data, but argues that it remains a useful way to put our unsustainable ways in perspective.

Demanding constant economic growth on a finite planet with limited ability to renew resources is a recipe for overshoot. We can and must do more to reduce our growing impact on the only home we have.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. David Suzuki's latest book is Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do (Greystone Books), co-written with Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: Giacomo Carena/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

What I'm looking for from NDP leadership candidates on Quebec

8 August 2017 - 3:31pm
Nora Loreto

There is a giant, Quebec-sized hole in the NDP leadership debate. The four candidates have said nearly nothing about Quebec, either in their platforms or during the debates.

Quebec matters for a variety of reasons that should be obvious to anyone who wants the NDP to replicate the success of the Orange Wave. But after the Orange Wave, far too many party activists drew the wrong conclusions about why the NDP had been so successful. The most popular, that sovereignty was finally dead, was wrong.

Quebec was the Orange Wave. But in 2015, the NDP went from 54 MPs to just 16. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives gained in Quebec, at the cost of NDP members. The Bloc had a minor surge moving from two MPs when Parliament was dissolved, to 10.

What happened to the NDP in 2015 depends on who you ask. One former MP told me that he thought that the niqab debate swayed enough older Quebecers who remember a time when the Catholic Church dominated political and social life in Quebec, to tip the NDP away from victory. But, the Liberals had the same position, so the argument doesn't stand on its own. Other issues, like Mulcair's balanced budget and his makeover to hide the Mulcair that Quebecers had long known also played a role.

But perhaps the most obvious element during the campaign was the total lack of awareness the party seemed to have about Quebec in general. The campaign wasn't able to navigate a province where they had to win a four-way race. On the ground in Quebec City, there was nearly no evidence that we were even in an election period.

In 2011, Quebecers voted NDP to oust Harper. By 2015, it was less clear that the NDP could do this: if Canadians didn't support the NDP to the extent that Quebecers did in 2011, perhaps voting Liberal in 2015 would ensure that Harper would lose. Or, perhaps it was time to vote Bloc to ensure a clear, Quebec voice in the House of Commons again. Either way, the loss of Quebec ensured the NDP would finish third.

With the next debate in Montreal on August 26, here are the six questions that I will be watching out for:

1. Where did the candidates stand on the 2012 student strikes?

The NDP was mostly silent during the 2012 student strikes. The strikes represented the most successful popular movement in Canada in a generation, but the official line from the NDP caucus was expressed neutrality. MPs Alexandre Boulerice, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Ève Péclet and Dany Morin all made public expressions of support for the students, but the official line from the party was to support "the resumption of talks between the Quebec government and the student bodies," according to The Globe and Mail. The reason for neutrality? To respect provincial jurisdiction.

The reaction was a fatal error for the caucus, one that demonstrated how out of sync the NDP is with social movements in Quebec. We need to hear how each of the candidates supported the student movement, and whether or not they agreed with the official party line, especially from candidates promising programs like free tuition or basic income which will necessarily confront the constitutional division of powers between the feds and the provinces.

2. What is their position on Quebec sovereignty?

The Sherbrooke Declaration forms the basis of the NDP's official position on Quebec's place in the Constitution. The candidates need to elaborate their own positions: does Sherbrooke go far enough? How would social programs change or evolve if the declaration were enacted? What must change from the status quo to realize asymmetrical federalism as defined in the declaration? And, is self-determination for any nation possible under the current constitutional arrangement? If not, what must change?

Canada's Constitution is the source of a lot of injustice, and certainly not just as it relates to Quebec. A bold new vision for the NDP must explain how the Constitution has to change if self-determination is ever going to be more than just a buzzword.

3. Why did the NDP lose Quebec in the last election?

I've outlined why I think they lost above, but we need to hear from each candidate why they think the party lost. How they answer the question will indicate how they intend to move forward, or whether or not they understand the mistakes that were made.

4. What is the most important issue for Quebecers?

How the candidates answer this illustrates where they understand progressive Quebecers are at. There's evidence to argue that pipelines (Energy East and Enbridge pipelines) are the most important question for progressive Quebecers right now, but would the candidates agree?

5. Do they speak French?

Language has been a thorny question during the race so far, and it, along with religious symbols, has been the extent to which Quebec and the leadership race has been discussed. Whether or not someone can speak unscripted French isn't really debatable, though. How funny would Charlie Angus be on Infoman? Could Niki Ashton respond to la question qui tue on TLMEP? There's only one way to find out, and the candidates must work to demonstrate their French capacity.

But language goes beyond individual expression. Do the candidates support language education, exchange programs, cultural funding for French? We've heard very little in the race about languages at all, including about language revitalization, supports and funding cultural initiatives for Indigenous languages. What would the candidates do on all fronts?

6. The NDP Quebec

There is too much to say about the NDP Quebec for this article, some of which I've previously written about. I argue that the NDP Quebec would be a disaster for a variety of reasons.  The NDP Quebec would enter the electoral arena in opposition to Quebec Solidaire, a left-wing party that is rooted in social movements. Hearing about what the candidates think of an NDP Quebec would offer a glimpse into where each one thinks the party should go, or more importantly, what are the necessary conditions for a social democratic party to try and start from scratch.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

Instead of giving rights or protections, NAFTA has a headlock on Canadian workers

8 August 2017 - 10:32am
EconomyPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

With the chaos of the Trump administration as a backdrop, Canadian diplomats will arrive in Washington later this month for NAFTA talks that they hope will be no more than a skinny renegotiation.

According to Canadian lore, the North American Free Trade Agreement has been a great boon to Canada, so our fingers should be crossed that Donald Trump, busy composing tweets or colluding with Russia, will forget he demanded Canada and Mexico renegotiate the trade deal, leaving our beloved NAFTA intact.

This narrative is fundamentally wrong. Yes, trade is vital to Canada, but we would have gone on trading, with or without NAFTA.

This is not to say NAFTA's impact hasn't been enormous and game-changing. It has -- although not in the way we've been told.

In reality, NAFTA has been key to the transformation of Canada over the last two decades, enabling corporations to become ever more dominant economically and politically, while rendering our labour force increasingly vulnerable and insecure.

Indeed, the much-lamented rise in income inequality and feelings of powerlessness among working Canadians aren't mysterious consequences of participating in the global economy. Rather, they're the predictable consequences of our country signing a trade deal that greatly empowers corporations and their investors at the expense of everyone else.

Gus Van Harten, an Osgoode Hall law professor and expert in international investment law, says NAFTA provides "Exhibit A for how rules of the global economy have been rewritten to favour large corporations and the superrich at the expense of the general public."

Van Harten is referring to NAFTA's Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement (ISDS) mechanism which, amazingly, allows foreign corporations to sue governments over laws that interfere with corporate profitability -- even if those laws are aimed at protecting the public from, say, environmental or health risks.

These corporate lawsuits are adjudicated by special tribunals -- notoriously sympathetic to corporate interests -- that can force governments to pay the corporations compensation (out of our taxpayer dollars!) There's no cap on the size of the awards.

Canada has already been sued this way 39 times, and paid out more than $190 million, with the money mostly going to major corporations and extremely wealthy investors, notes Van Harten. In addition, we don't know how many times governments have backed off from introducing laws, to avoid provoking a NAFTA lawsuit.

ISDS, which has now been adopted in other international trade deals, has created an extraordinary set of legal rights for corporate investors. "If anyone doesn't need to be protected it's these guys," notes Toronto trade lawyer Steven Shrybman.

Yet "these guys" enjoy legal protections much stronger than the protections available, for instance, under international human rights laws -- for victims of torture and wrongful imprisonment.

Furthermore, NAFTA gives corporations rights -- but no responsibilities, Van Harten says. Governments can't bring a claim against a corporation for breaching NAFTA, and affected individuals and groups have no right to standing at the tribunals.

Indeed, NAFTA provides few rights for citizens or workers to counter all this corporate power, only "side deals" on labour and the environment that are weak and largely unenforceable.

NAFTA's lopsided empowerment of corporations is a departure from earlier, more balanced trade deals, like the 1965 Canada-U.S. Auto Pact, which provided U.S. auto manufacturers access to the Canadian market -- on the condition that they locate some production here.

Effectively, under the Auto Pact, for every car sold in Canada, one had to be produced here -- a requirement that guaranteed Canada hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs and became the backbone of Ontario's economy.

Such requirements are banned under NAFTA, although the Auto Pact was grandfathered and remained in place until 2000.

Since then, auto (and other manufacturing) investment has flowed to low-wage Mexico, leaving Canadian workers forced to compete with downtrodden Mexican workers who are largely banned from unionizing.

The NAFTA renegotiation should be an opportunity to revise the trade deal to include rights for workers and citizens, not just corporate investors.

But proposals that ISDS be eliminated are unlikely to win support from, for instance, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil, which won $14 million from Canada in a NAFTA lawsuit.

And Trump, a billionaire whose companies (along with daughter Ivanka's fashion business) routinely outsource work to low-wage jurisdictions, clearly has no interest in tampering with the wildly pro-corporate rules of NAFTA.

Nor apparently does Justin Trudeau, who styles himself a champion of struggling middle-class workers but seems content to do nothing about NAFTA's headlock on working Canadians.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." A version of this column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Peoples World/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

NAFTACanadian tradecanada-u.s. tradetrump administrationcorporate rightsISDSLinda McQuaigAugust 8, 2017How NAFTA surrenders Canadian energy sovereignty -- and gives the U.S. control over our oilIn an age when control over energy shapes global politics and the fate of the world, why wouldn't Canadians be happy to leave our energy in the hands of Trump's Washington and Big Oil?NAFTA renegotiation could undermine Canada's digital freedomsThere are a number of concerns that come along with a renegotiation of NAFTA. Canadians enjoy stronger digital rights protections than their U.S. counterparts -- policies that could be placed at risk.Trump's proven that free trade deals can be rewritten. So let's write better ones.If Trump can rewrite international economic treaties on the strength of a few tweets, then we can do the same thing -- but only if we build a political movement with the same confidence and power.

Celebrating grassroots LGBTQ media

8 August 2017 - 9:25am
Scott NeighAugust 8, 2017Talking Radical RadioArts & CultureLGBTIQ

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Dorian Jesse Fraser. Fraser is part of the Queer Between the Covers collective, which maintains a distro of hard-to-find queer and trans print media and organizes an annual book and zine fair in Montreal -- one of the largest queer book fairs in North America.

In the last two decades, space for LGBTQ representation, voices, and creators has opened up in mainstream North American culture in a way that would have been unimaginable in earlier years. This is an important claiming of space, and a product of both broader grassroots political victories by LGBTQ movements as well as of the relentless persistence of queer and trans cultural creators in the face of marginalization.

As important as this change has been, however, it is important to recognize how incredibly partial and uneven it is. Most of the rich diversity and depth of queer lives and queer communities remain largely excluded from this space, while the pressures to accommodate a mostly cisgender and heterosexual audience plus the profit imperative of cultural production in a capitalist society mean that what does find its way into mainstream consciousness is often narrowed and distorted. Those identities and intersections under the broad LGBTQ umbrella that remain more marginalized in real life continue to face the most profound marginalization in terms of culture. Which means there are a lot of people who rarely if ever see themselves represented, see stories that speak to their experiences and struggles, or see ideas and information that they need to thrive. As such, spaces dedicated to creating, celebrating, and sharing queer and trans cultural production, including in grassroots and do-it-yourself ways, remain as important as ever.

In 2002, Montreal’s queer book store shut its doors. A lot of people saw this is a major loss in the community, and a few years later some of them came together to strategize about what to do. In 2007, they founded Queer Between the Covers, a collective under the umbrella of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia University. Queer Between the Covers' annual book and zine fair usually occurs in conjunction with the more grassroots events that happen during the city's Pride celebrations. The book fair is coming up this year on August 19 at the Centre communautaire de loisirs Sainte-Catherine d’Alexandrie at 1700 Amherst in Montreal, and it will feature dozens of zine creators, independent publishers, distros, and other vendors of queer and trans print media. As well, at least in years when the group has the people power to do it, they organize and participate in smaller events throughout the year with their distro.

Dorian Jesse Fraser is a graduate student at Concordia University, a writer, and a member of the Queer Between the Covers collective. They speak with me about the relevance of print media in a digital age, about queer and trans politics in Montreal, and about the ongoing importance of grassroots queer and trans cultural spaces like the Queer Between the Covers book fair and distro.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for use in this post is used with the permission of Queer Between the Covers.

Like this podcast? rabble is reader/listener supported journalism.

#LGBTQqueertransgrassroots media

The origins and work of ACORN International

8 August 2017 - 8:42am
August 8, 2017Building a global organizing movement: A conversation with ACORN's Wade Rathke and Judy DuncanWade Rathke of ACORN International and Judy Duncan of Canada speak about about the global campaigns ACORN International is now building.

Health and safety still an issue for Bangladeshi garment workers

8 August 2017 - 4:07am
Jiselle HannaAugust 8, 2017Asia Pacific CurrentsLabourWorld

The garment sector in Bangladesh competes in the world via a brutal "race to the bottom" where wages and OHS are depressed as much as possible.

In conjunction with the widespread repression of labour activists and trade unionists, many workers are killed at work in cases of industrial homicides.

Saydia Gulrukh, labour rights activists and researcher from Bangladesh, talks about the latest fatal boiler explosion in a garment factory and discusses some of the improvements that have happened since the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013.

Asia Pacific Currents provides updates of labour struggles and campaigns from the Asia Pacific region. It is produced by Australia Asia Worker Links, in the studio of 3CR Radio in Melbourne, Australia

Image: Garment workers marching for their rights and against the Race to the Bottom. Credit: Derek Blackadder/flickr

Like this podcast? rabble is reader/listener supported journalism.

Bangladeshindustrial homicidelabourworkerswomenunionsAsiaboilerkilled

Lockout at OLG Woodbine ends

7 August 2017 - 10:50am
Meagan Gillmore

Regular service at the slot machines at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto will resume on Tuesday.

Slot machine workers have been locked out since July 14, after the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) couldn't agree to a new contract.

The union accepted the OLG's latest offer on Thursday.

The new contract, which expires on March 31, 2019, will see workers' pay increase and address their concerns about full-time jobs and scheduling.

The dispute was about more than pay and benefits, said Sharon DeSousa, the executive vice-president for PSAC in Ontario. Until the lockout began, the employer "didn't really understand that our members were tired of the precarious work," she said. Workers were "fed up" with the lack of a work-life balance.

Many of the more than 400 slot machine workers who work Ontario's largest gaming floor are part-time employees. Some have been working at Woodbine for decades, but had no prospect of receiving full-time positions.

This new contract creates 25 new full-time positions across the different departments at Woodbine. These positions will be advertised internally. Part-time workers can apply, and jobs will be given based on seniority, DeSousa said.

A committee will examine scheduling and propose new models. Employees will give input, instead of "the employer dictating (schedules) to them," said DeSousa. The employer has to accept the proposals, but this committee shows OLG is willing to be flexible, DeSousa said.

The union didn't receive everything it wanted, though. The wage increase it accepted is less than what it proposed. This begins with a retroactive increase of 1.75 per cent from April of last year, with another 1 per cent increase for this past April. Wages will increase by 1 per cent every six months until October 2018. The union wanted annual increases of 2 per cent beginning in April 2016. An arbitrator will decide this issue.

The OLG is in the middle of a years-long plan to have private operators take over its facilities across the province. Businesses have taken over at several casinos and racetracks, but Woodbine's new operator has not been named yet. Workers have been concerned about how this will impact their pensions and job security. This new contract includes language about job security, said DeSousa. The details of the new pensions will be worked out once a new operator takes over at the site.

The union had asked that workers receive a $3,500 lump sum to address concerns about pensions. They agreed to a $3,000 lump sum. An arbitrator will decide this, along with the amount of the wage increase.

DeSousa praised the support picketers received from other unions, politicians and customers at Woodbine. Woodbine customers, many of them seniors, walked the lines with them and brought workers coffee and water. But she said local Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Shafiq Qaadri "was nowhere to be seen." Qaadri had spoken to The Globe and Mail during the lockout, expressing his anticipation for the area becoming a "Vegas North."

When locked-out workers visited his office a few days later, they learned he had left for vacation the previous day. They received no response from his office during the remainder of the lockout, DeSousa said.

"You'd think he'd care what the working conditions would be," DeSousa said.

In a statement provided to rabble.ca, the OLG said it is pleased about the agreement, and is looking forward to the employees returning to work.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Oliver Mallich/flickr

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Desmond Cole is one of the strongest voices on anti-Black racism in Canada and he deserves support

7 August 2017 - 10:38am
August 7, 2017I'm standing with Desmond Cole against anti-Black racism -- and you should tooTogether with Black Lives Matter Toronto and others in the Black community, Desmond Cole is now one of the strongest voices on the issue of anti-Black racism in Canada. They deserve support.

I'm standing with Desmond Cole against anti-Black racism -- and you should too

4 August 2017 - 10:25am
Rosemary Frei

Desmond Cole sat alone at the end of the long Toronto Police Services Board table, waiting to be arrested.

A throng of reporters documented his words and movements from a few feet away. I was there with other regular board-meeting attendees sprinkled among them, watching anxiously.

It was July 27, 2017, and the fourth board meeting in a row at which Desmond was calling out board members and chief Mark Saunders for letting the Toronto police run roughshod over Black residents' civil rights.

This time, the issue was the four-month delay before the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was told about the December 28, 2016 severe beating of Black teen Dafonte Miller by off-duty Toronto cop Michael Theriault and his brother Christian.

The incident was not on the public agenda; instead, the board had discussed it behind closed doors before the public meeting began.

This is one of the rapidly escalating measures the police brass, board and union are using to ensure public participation is an extremely controlled veneer.

The meetings are held in police headquarters; other board meetings, such as those of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), are at city hall. Police screening of every civilian who enters the building started some time last month -- ostensibly because an armed man entered the building and threatened to kill police, although the incident has not been independently verified. Then, in the boardroom itself, a newly erected row of stanchions cuts the public off from the board table and from the far side of the room, except for a small gap that gives access to the chairs where people sit when addressing the board. There are also uniformed police in the room during meetings; they first made their appearance in April.

But the police and board hadn't counted on the courage, confidence, charisma and conviction of Desmond Cole, who's a freelance journalist, activist and radio host. He's a tour de force -- shown, for example, in his article and documentary titled The Skin I'm In.

This propels his voice ever deeper into the public consciousness, giving him a rapidly expanding platform from which to call out the powerful for their continuing complicity in anti-Black racism.

Cole had followed the rules and signed up in advance to speak ("depute") at the July meeting about one of the items on the  public agenda: abuse and misuse of accessible parking permits. But once the meeting began and he was in the deputant's chair, he said he wanted to talk about Michael Theriault's violent assault of Dafonte Miller [video starting at 44:36].

Board chair Andy Pringle immediately cut Cole off by turning off his mic -- despite the fact that the board's bylaws give leeway to allow people to speak about issues that are not on the formal public agenda.

Cole turned the mic back on, and conveyed his message clearly in the gaps between the mic being turned off again and again, and Pringle trying to dismiss him.

"There should've been an opportunity for us to sign up and speak [about the Miller beating]! ... The chief of police of this city has made several statements in the public about this issue. ..... [H]e said that ... this [police] force didn't go to the SIU [to report the beating] ... because it wasn't in their mandate to do so," Cole said. "If this Toronto police force thinks that a [police]man beating a teenager with a steel pipe was not in the interest of the SIU, what are you guys doing here? ... What are we paying you guys to be here for, if not to discuss something of extreme public interest?"

Pringle then called a recess, and the board members including Mayor John Tory quickly left the room. A long intermission ensued during which police and the board deliberated about what to do next.

There was a similar series of events on April 20, when Cole movingly deputed without notes about carding data. He decried the board's and the chief's insistence that the police are legally required to retain rather than destroy the data [video starting at 1:32:30]. Cole then stood up, gave a Black power salute and remained in place.

Pringle recessed the meeting. A few minutes later I went up to Cole and stood beside him, prepared to be arrested with him. But he chose to leave instead of being arrested that day.

At the May board meeting, I handed out #IStandWithDesmond lapel buttons I'd made. The topic at that meeting was the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Chief Saunders unwaveringly maintains that the program is helpful and must remain in place. However, several people -- including Cole and members of Educators for Peace and Justice -- described how the program fuels the "school-to-prison pipeline." They also explained that it results in many children being deported every year, because SROs meet regularly with Canada Border Services Agency officials to report students and their families who do not have their immigration papers in order.

The SRO program was on the agenda again in June. This time, the police stacked the meeting by bussing in dozens of solely pro-SRO students, teachers and administrators from the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Uniformed and armed police physically barred the boardroom doors -- including by using bicycles as barricades -- so that dozens of people who they believed don't support the SRO program couldn't enter. In addition, police sat in many seats in the boardroom and only gave them up for people who were going to speak in favour of the program.

Desmond Cole and members of Black Lives Matter Toronto repeatedly interrupted the proceedings to protest these egregious actions.

Then, last week, Cole again made his singular stance.

After he spoke out against the cover-up of the beating of Miller by the Theriault brothers, I slipped past the newly erected stanchions and sat in the empty chair beside him. He said it wasn't necessary to stay with him, but thanked me for my support.

Several minutes later, police officers approached Cole again. They quickly hustled him out of the room and out the north exit of police headquarters. They questioned him and gave him a $65 trespassing ticket for having failed to leave the boardroom when asked to do so.

Cole then addressed the waiting media. While his actions were snarkily described as "hijacking the board meeting" by a Toronto Sun reporter, what he did was vital.

"[Toronto Police] did not [notify the Special Investigations Unit about the Miller beating] and now they're asking us to let them pick who should investigate them for not doing it," Cole said, referring to Saunders's pronouncement at the meeting that he'd asked the Waterloo police to look into the beating.

"[This is] complete and utter corruption, and an insult upon injury already to Dafonte Miller and by extension to Black people in this region. So, no! No more second chances for [Toronto police chief] Mark Saunders. No more second chances for John Tory and this [police services] board. They are demonstrating that they value decorum more than they value our lives. So to hell with them all!"

Cole is now one of the strongest voices on the issue of anti-Black racism and violence in Canada. Black Lives Matter Toronto and others in the Black community also form part of a powerful phalanx. In addition, the Black Action Defence Committee, the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and Educators for Peace and Justice play important roles.

But they can't accomplish the Herculean task of changing police culture without a very large number of supporters. I strongly encourage many others to become active allies, linking our fate to theirs, and reducing the risk to each of us by acting together. There are many ways to be supportive, but the best way to start is by showing up.

Rosemary Frei is a Torontonian who until last year was a full-time freelance journalist for newspapers and websites for physicians and other health-care professionals, mostly in the U.S. She also ran for the Green Party of Canada in the 2008 and 2011 general federal elections, but no longer has any political affiliations or personal political ambitions.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

Pearson strike exposes harsh working conditions of baggage handlers and grounds crew

4 August 2017 - 8:47am
August 4, 2017Pearson strike highlights 'underbelly' of airport workAn ongoing strike at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has revealed the harsh working conditions of the airport's baggage handlers and grounds crew.

The unbearable whiteness of CBC's reporting on Blue Jays beer tosser Ken Pagan

4 August 2017 - 8:38am
Erin Kobayashi

In the six-"chapter" CBC feature "Throwing it all away," readers are reminded who Toronto Blue Jays fan Ken Pagan is, or perhaps, who he claims he isn't: "a drunk beer tosser brought down by Twitter." Positioned in the story as a victim of one foolish act that resulted in a social media manhunt, Pagan expresses the aftermath of his actions and feeling robbed of his life's greatest pleasures: watching professional baseball and working in journalism.

The story's aim was to document the chain of events -- including online public shaming, loss of employment at Postmedia, and a prolonged court case -- that comes after doing something very stupid, very drunk, and, very public. Unfortunately, the story strikes out.

My first eyeroll occurred when the writer, I assume a white man, described Pagan's eyes in the photo used by police to identify the suspect, saying they were "averted like a schoolboy girding himself for a harsh reprimand." The reader is being coaxed into feeling that Pagan's actions were childish and stupid, not violent (perhaps because the beer can didn't actually come into contact with the then-Baltimore outfielder, Hyun Soo Kim). Yet throwing an object at another person is violent. "It was an impulse," Pagan admits in the story. A violent impulse.

But the reader already knows what they are getting into, since the writer's conclusion came in part one of the story -- "this is no hooligan" -- and must endure tidy character references from his friend, brother, girlfriend, and mother predictably stating Pagan is good and his actions were out of character. Apparently, it is hard to believe good people can do bad things. The story goes on to show how unfathomable it is that sometimes when good people do bad things, it can lead to unfair consequences. This outcome can be shocking for privileged white folk: to get caught, lose your privilege, and be unfairly punished (and by "unfairly," I'm talking about the public shaming and loss of a career; in court, Pagan was generously granted a discharge).

But what I find most jarring is that the Pagan feature reinforces how absurdly white Canadian media is, particularly the CBC, in thinking that profiling a drunk white man who threw a beer can at a baseball player and actually has to live with the shame is worthy of a 5,000-word feature.

And if Ken Pagan is no hooligan, why are we not seeing more critical longreads about a growing problem of actual sports hooligans?

A fact that is sorely missing in the piece is that during the same game Pagan chucked the beer can, racial slurs were being directed at Baltimore Orioles' Black players, coaching staff, and Hyun Soo Kim, telling the latter to "go back to your country, Kim." Yet the writer and editor made an effort to erase the game's racial epithets from the story, glossing over how Pagan's actions were interpreted by some as being racially motivated.

Given that Pagan's beer can, rather than racial slurs, fired up baseball fans, online trolls, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Stephen King's Twitter account, the Toronto police, and the Blue Jays, it was no wonder CBC continued to invest in a clickbait story that victimizes the guilty white subject and seeks out a sympathetic white audience. The story also upholds an idealized national identity: Canadians are welcoming, polite, and immune to racism. The incident is presented as an isolated one, despite the author mentioning that Toronto already had "a reputation as a hostile environment for opposing baseball teams." Yet the story does not provide examples of how Toronto has gained a mean reputation over the years and concludes that what "embarrassed Toronto" is a tossed beer can, not racist slurs. This assumption is insulting, as it dismisses the experience and feelings of people of colour.

What stories are worthy of a whopping 5,000 words by white mainstream media is clear. A white man dealing with the aftermath of throwing a beer can at a baseball player is considered an exceptional story, while racism directed at Black athletes in the field (and also on the rink, track, and court) has become unremarkable.

It is not uncommon to stumble across news items about Black athletes like Adam Jones, P.K. Subban, and Serena Williams, who have countlessly been served with racist comments and slurs, online and in person, not to mention countless stories about lesser-known soccer and hockey players in Europe who have bananas hurledat them when they play. Clearly, more work needs to be done to change this behaviour.

The space Pagan's long-winded story takes up is too much. It shows us a news outlet that is choosing to dedicate space (and the readers' precious attention span) to humanize an aggressive white fan rather than to write more constantly and critically about the dehumanization of POC, particularly Black athletes.

And we've seen this dehumanization of POC in sports before, most recently last year when news outlets finally started regularly reporting on Indigenous voices calling out sports organizations' ugly history of profiting off of racist Indigenous names and symbols, a conversation that has been happening in Indigenous communities and academic circles for years. While we are still waiting for the banning of offensive logos and mascots to actually happen across all sports teams, the stories about this issue are beginning to thin out in mainstream media.

This past May, Baltimore Orioles all-star centre fielder Adam Jones, also a victim of the racial slurs at the beer-can Blue Jays game, had peanuts thrown at him and once again was berated with slurs at the notoriously racist Fenway Park in Boston. In interviews, Jones made it clear that although the peanut incident was the worst act of racism he experienced in his career, it was hardly an anomaly, and the player has called for more affirmative actions and harsher consequences to deal with racism at games, suggesting, "What they need to do is that instead of kicking them out of the stadium, they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand." Jones argued that throwing fans out of the stadium is only "a slap on the wrist. That guy needs to be confronted, and he needs to pay for what he's done."

While Pagan is temporarily banned from attending MLB games, his loss of employment in journalism certainly shows us that he has financially paid for what he has done. But the CBC article also reveals that Canadians are being forced to pay for a pity party held in honour of Pagan, reinforcing white innocence while ignoring legitimate experiences of racism from people of colour.

Erin Kobayashi is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @leighkiyoko. This article was first published on Torontoist and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo: lechuckster/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

Building a global organizing movement: A conversation with ACORN's Wade Rathke and Judy Duncan

3 August 2017 - 7:07pm
Maya Bhullar

In June, I had the amazing good fortune to interview Wade Rathke of ACORN International and Judy Duncan of Canada in a small café outside of Paris. I grew up admiring the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN as most of us knew it, and had seen Wade speak quite a few times. I must admit to being very awed by having the opportunity to speak with Wade in person and in depth, and I fear I talked too much and our conversation meandered.

If you imagined that ACORN had been destroyed by the machinations of the right wing and the "scam artist James O'Keefe," you were wrong. Our conversation didn't dwell on the past, we talked about the global campaigns ACORN International is now building and laughed at how interconnected the community of global organizers is. Seated near us were ACORN organizers from across North America, talking about the campaigns they were building and the work being done in Paris.

This article continues rabble.ca's reporting on global organizing. Please send articles about community organizing and global organizing efforts we should be profiling to toolkit@rabble.ca.

The origins of ACORN International

Wade Rathke: When it first began ACORN was a United States-based organization. However, our members were often immigrants and often asked if we could help build campaigns in their home countries. That was how, in 2004, we started a Community Organizations International, ACORN Peru and launched ACORN International. Within three years our membership had grown to 3,000 and our members helped to stop a national plan to privatize water in Peru and built an initiative to make city streets safer. Since 2004, our efforts have grown to include Argentina, Canada, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, France, Honduras, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Scotland, South Korea, South Africa and continues to have affiliates in the United States. Generally, we start campaigns at the invitation of organizers in the country. 

What seems a long time ago, in 1973, I wrote what I called the ACORN Organizing Model. It is not a recipe book, and should not be used as such, but is a tool for organizers and has been a guide for many of our international campaigners. However, it is important to note ACORN International is a federation and each country builds in its own way, based upon what is necessary locally. 

Building off opportunities

Wade Rathke: In 2011, the Cameron government in the United Kingdom introduced a neoliberal austerity program called "Big Society" to attack state-run programs. It was meant to be a Band-Aid offsetting the austerity measures and supposedly train 500 community organizers.  

As with many good people who end up participating in institutionalized forays into community organizing, participants who wanted to do good things sometimes found themselves not doing as much to make change as they may have wanted. So we reached out to some of them and talked to them about organizing ACORN groups here. They got very excited about that in Bristol and evangelized among their cohort.  There are some strong organizers there doing tenant-based, door-to-door organizing. And, for a while, the government was paying as we helped to develop real community organizers. 

The Community Organiser Programme has now imploded, but we ran as fast as we could to build a base and get things up and running. We now have ACORN groups in Bristol, Brixton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, and around London, mostly doing tenant-based organizing. So much of social housing has collapsed across the United Kingdom. You now have a huge increase in the percentage of people in private housing but the standard rights you would have as a tenant don't exist. Therefore, tenants are organizing to get security of tenure, stop evictions, fighting letting agencies and getting a letting bill of rights. The campaigns are building and during the 2017 election, The Guardian published this great article to help tenants demand that the candidates take on tenants' rights. In Edinburgh, the city council just moved towards rent controls, but there is a lot more to do.

Anyway, some may say that it was odd that we took advantage of a Conservative program, but this is what being in the field looks like, you take opportunities where you can. However, your work should not be opportunistic and instead you must build with integrity based on local issues.

Registering a union India

Wade Rathke: When we first started our organizing in India, it was to organize against Walmart's entry into the Indian market. Due to the concerted efforts of allies and ourselves, Walmart has had a difficult time operating in India and we are proud to take credit for our part in that. We continue to work in India through our affiliate India FDI Watch, which works to prevent the take-over of India's retail sector by corporations. We are building Joint Action Committees (JAC) led by those who will be most affected, mainly; trade associations, unions, hawkers' organizations, farmers' groups and small-scale industries. We are currently working in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru,and Chennai. ACORN India now is a registered union with 5,000 street hawkers in Chennai and more members in Bengalaru. In Mumbai, we have a waste pickers' co-operative and recycling centre. (Note: Here is a blog by Wade with some of what was learned while organizing in Dharavi in Mumbai). When we say we have 35,000 members through grassroots organizing in our unions in India, it sounds like a lot to North American ears, but in terms of the numbers in India it really is a pimple on the elephant's butt.

The work of our federation of allies organizing around the world has been a mixed bag. We have learned a lot about how NGOs and institutions operate in different environments. For example, in Kenya, there is some good work happening but institutions sometimes inadvertently create a dependency that makes grassroots organizing we believe in difficult. However, the organizing continues in communities around Nairobi and Kisumu.

So why Paris?

Wade Rathke:  Our affiliate in France is an organization called Alliance Citoyenne. The Alliance was initially trying to build through churches in very secular France and eventually found that did not work. So then Adrien Roux, one of the organizers, reached out to me on Facebook, as so many of us now do, explaining what she was trying to do. I said OK, well I'll Skype with you and it turned out they had an exciting project growing in Grenoble. So then one of her organizers trained with ACORN Canada's Judy Duncan and Jill O'Reilly, for nearly two months, and Adrien came and trained with me in New Orleans. Then they came back to France, and now they have six groups across France. Here in Paris, they are organizing in Aubervilliers -- one of the poorest areas in France. Most of the area is social housing. Do you remember where there was violence in the area around Chinese people? That was Aubervilliers. We had a lot of conversations for a while and they wanted us to train the Chinese organizers there. It is where Veolia built their big corporate headquarters right in this poorest district in France during the Communist government recently. It was a big gentrification project. The Alliance has been in Aubervilliers for a year and has about 800 provisional members and 200 dues-paying members in Aubervillers. 

What are some of the campaigns in Canada?

Judy Duncan: We have been fighting on issues that matter to our members who are mostly low- and moderate-income people in 20 communities across Canada. A few months ago we had our fourth National Convention in Ottawa, and our members took over the Finance Building in downtown Ottawa to demand fair banking. We are tired of the high fees charged for insufficient funds in bank accounts and other predatory lending practices that gouge users. We put out a report at the end of last year about how expensive it is to be poor in Canada because of these predatory lending practices but too many of these practices remain in place. We have also been fighting to lower the fees people pay to send money abroad (remittances), and to get federal and provincial regulations of payday lenders, and are nearing wins on both issues. Visit our website to find out more.

Another important campaign is for wireless affordability and access. We have been trying to get the government to declare internet as a vital public service. We have forced some companies to make changes and now are in discussions with the federal government.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

 

Pearson strike highlights 'underbelly' of airport work

3 August 2017 - 4:43pm
Meagan Gillmore

An ongoing strike at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has revealed the harsh working conditions of the airport's baggage handlers and grounds crew.

Approximately 700 Swissport employees walked off the job on July 28, after rejecting the company's latest offer. The vote to strike was overwhelming -- 95 per cent.

These workers include those who load and unload baggage, make sure a plane's weight is balanced, clean and tow planes and assist passengers with mobility needs. More than 40 airlines operating out of Canada's busiest airport use Swissport. This includes commercial airlines like Air Transat, Sunwing, British Airways and KLM Royal Dutch, and cargo carriers like UPS.

The company is using temporary workers to replace striking employees.

Picket lines have been set up outside of the airport's Terminal 3 and the Vista Cargo terminal. Trucks delivering cargo to Vista Cargo have faced delays of up to three hours.

Workers want fair wages and benefits and some control of their schedules.

There's a lot of turnover in the job, partly because of low wages. That was something the company said it wanted to address, said Harjinder Badial, vice-president of Teamsters Local 419, the union representing the workers. But Swissport's offer -- raising wages to $14 an hour, which could be Ontario's new minimum wage come January -- wasn't enough to fix this problem.

"It's not a minimum-wage job," said John Giannone, the local chief steward. Airport grounds crew work outside in extreme weather, carrying heavy bags for hours. They load baggage from their knees, or hunched over in the bottom of a plane. Repetitive stress, causing back and knee pain, become a regular part of the job. Unlike some jobs in the aviation industry, like flight attendants, grounds crew workers don't get perks like discounts on flights, Giannone said.

When passengers come to the terminal, it "looks splendid up top," said Levi Davis, a Swissport baggage handler for 10 years. "But there's an underbelly where everything goes on."

Baggage carriers have a painstaking, sometimes dangerous, job, he said. They constantly have to judge how to lift each bag without injuring themselves, especially because not all overweight baggage is properly labelled.

But the union isn't just concerned about the workers holding signs and stopping vehicles. They're also concerned about the temporary workers who have been brought in to replace them.

"Everything is calculated," Badial said. Crew need to know how to correctly read load sheets and floor plans so the plane is balanced properly. If the plane's centre of gravity isn't right, everyone's safety is at risk. The plane could fail during takeoff and crash.

Badial said he's seen people who normally work in offices working on airplane ramps. He and other striking employees say these replacement workers are not getting enough preparation, some only receiving a few days of training.

"We're hoping everybody's safe on the inside," Giannone said from the picket line at Vista Cargo. "But you can't walk around a big aircraft not being aware of everything."

The union has received photos of luggage strewn across floors, and heard stories of bags being placed on wrong planes, said Badial. Some flights have been delayed.

Swissport maintains the strike is not interfering with flights and that replacement workers have been properly trained. In an email to rabble.ca, Pierre Payette, Swissport's vice-president of operations in Toronto, said the company's "management team is actively engaged in the safety and job specific training that is mandatory for anyone working for or on behalf of the company. Certified staff as well as airline specialists are performing specific roles that require specialized training and certification by the airlines and the regulators."

Further clarification was not given.

In the same statement, Payette called delays that occurred shortly after the strike began "an initial hiccup" and said any delays since then have been within the range of what would be expected during a strike.

But the union was concerned about the company using temporary workers before the strike.

In May, the union filed a complaint of unfair labour practices with the labour board about the company hiring temporary workers. According to the complaint, the company said it needed to do this because there weren't enough workers. In a May 2 letter sent to union members, Local 419 representatives said they've been working with the company to resolve this issue for years.

The union also wants workers to receive more respect at work. Some are not getting meal breaks until the end of their shifts, or, in some cases, not at all.

"Respect is gone," said Badial, who has been involved with the union for a decade.

Work schedules are unpredictable. Right now, the company needs to give employees 96 hours' notice before they change their schedule, said Badial. But now it says it wants total control for schedules.

Flight schedules "change all the time," he said, noting that's a reality of the aviation industry, "but we certainly don't want to give up that much control to (the company)."

Employees don't always receive consistent amounts of work, and if they don't work enough hours, they may not qualify for company benefits.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Alexander Else/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

Slot machine workers at Woodbine set to vote on new contract

3 August 2017 - 10:56am
Meagan Gillmore

Regular service at slot machines at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto could resume in the next few days.

More than 400 slot machine workers have been off the job at Ontario's largest gaming floor since July 14 after the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) could not agree to a new contract.

This has meant the electronic poker room has been closed, the onsite shuttle hasn't been running, and services at the coat check have been reduced. Temporary workers have been running the slot machines during the dispute.

Members are expected to vote on the new contract on Thursday.

Key for workers have been concerns about fair scheduling, especially for part-time workers, Sharon DeSousa, PSAC's executive vice-president for Ontario told rabble.ca last month. Unpredictable schedules make it hard for them to plan for child care or support elderly parents.

Wages and benefits were also topics of disagreement during the negotiations.

Workers were also frustrated by how the government seemed to ignore their concerns, especially as Ontario considers changing employment laws to help combat precarious work.

OLG is in the midst of a years-long plan to hire outside companies to run operations at its gaming facilities. Private companies run operations at slot machines and casinos in southwestern and northern Ontario and in Belleville, Gananoque and Fraserville.

A new operator for the slots at Woodbine has not been named. Workers have been concerned about how a new operator could impact their pensions. On July 23, the Globe and Mail reported three companies were potential candidates. Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament for Etobicoke North Shafiq Qaadri, whose riding includes Woodbine, told the newspaper he was looking forward to the increased entertainment that could come to the riding, comparing it to Las Vegas.

In response, PSAC questioned why the politician had time to speak to the media, but not to address workers' concerns. "Do we need to call this lockout a fundraiser before a Liberal shows up?" DeSousa asked in a statement the union released on July 26, in advance of a workers' visit to Qaadri's office.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: 水野 航平/Wikimedia Commons

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Bridging Identities when you're both settler and Indigenous

3 August 2017 - 9:20am
August 3, 2017Who am I? Bridging identities for people of both settler and Indigenous heritageThe issue of identity can be difficult for people of mixed Indigenous and settler heritage. With Braden Alexander, Heather Majaury, Myrriah Gomez-Majaury about integrating those two solitudes.

Pages