Mulcair, the NDP and the movements

MARCH 27, 2012 – The New Democratic Party (NDP) has a new federal leader. Thomas Mulcair, has no roots in the social movements, a long history of being a senior Liberal Party member, and is someone  openly committed to pushing the NDP considerably to the right. The implications for all interested in progressive social change are sobering.

The conservative Globe and Mail praised his victory calling it a victory for “pragmatism” and a “shift to the centre” (The Globe and Mail 2012). This “shift to the centre” will be a shift against the environment. He sent a strong signal to the oil industry at his first press conference, carefully using the term “oil sands” rather than the more accurate (and pejorative) “tar sands” (Ivison 2012). This “shift to the centre” will see any residual “left” phrases in party literature confined to the history books. Mulcair is committed to ending use of the term “democratic socialism” in NDP literature (Leblanc and Galloway 2012).

Leadership candidate Niki Ashton challenged Mulcair during the campaign, saying, “you’ve attacked our [the NDP’s] opposition to unfair trade deals, our links with the labour movement, our championing of ordinary people”. His response? “Between the Ontario border and the B.C. border we now hold a grand total of three seats” (Ibbitson 2012). Progressive policies, in other words, need to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

In raising the issue of trade deals, Ashton was putting her finger on something quite important. One of the defining issues of the last generation has been building opposition to the neoliberal policies embedded in so-called “trade deals” such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But Mulcair, far from profiling his opposition to NAFTA, profiles his work with NAFTA. His web site proudly announces that he was president of the Quebec Professions Board from 1987 until 1993. “The work done by the Quebec Professions Board on the Free Trade in services portion of the NAFTA had led to increased contacts with the U.S. on these issues” (thomasmulcair.ca 2012). During the campaign, Mulcair announced that he had helped draft some of NAFTA’s articles which centred on the environment (Cameron 2011).

On international issues, Mulcair doesn’t occupy the centre. He is firmly on the right. He was part of a caucus revolt in 2008, causing then leader, the late Jack Layton, to withdraw NDP support for the 2009 United Nations-sponsored Anti-racism Durban Review Conference, a follow-up to the 2001 World Conference against Racism (WCAR) (National Post 2008). What was WCAR’s supposed crime? Its Declaration and Programme of Action expressed “concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation” (WCAR 2009). Mulcair was “successful in muting NDP criticism of the January 2009 Israeli bombardment of Gaza” but was not muted at all the next year when he joined with Tory Jason Kenney and then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in condemning Israeli Apartheid Week (Shniad and Presentey 2012).

In truth, we don’t really need all this evidence. His willingness to serve for years as a cabinet minister under Quebec Liberal Premier (and ex-Tory) Jean Charest, in many ways tells us everything we need to know. Thomas Mulcair is a man of the establishment, not of the movements.

But Mulcair won, and actually won quite easily. He led the first ballot, capturing 19,728 votes (30.3%). The next ballot, his vote increased to 23,902 (38.3%), 8% up on his first result, double the rate of increase of Peggy Nash and more than double that of Brian Topp and Nathan Cullen. The third ballot was the only one where another candidate increased support faster than Mulcair, Topp’s support increasing by 6.6% compared to Mulcair’s 5.5%. On the last ballot, Mulcair’s vote soared 13.4% compared to 11.2% for Topp, giving Mulcair 57.2% of votes cast, and a clear victory (CPAC 2012).

Not that Topp would have been a particularly “left” alternative. For a quarter of a century, he has been very far removed from the social movements, serving as a backroom apparatus-man – a staffer for either the NDP or the union bureaucracy (Kellogg 2012). His principal claim to fame was pushing the party, not to the left but to the right, attempting to forge a coalition with the Liberal Party in 2008. Mulcair announced at the time, that if the NDP shared governmental power with the Liberals, they would also share the prosecution of war in Afghanistan, telling the press, “the NDP is putting aside its differences that have existed historically with the Liberals on such issues as Afghanistan” (Kellogg 2009).

There were two candidates who galvanized social movement activists. Many were understandably attracted to the youth and social movement orientation of Nathan Cullen. Judy Rebick said that his “language was very close to the politics of the New Politics Initiative. He speaks of social struggles and the alliance between the party and First Nations and environment groups” (Rebick 2012). But his main profile in the campaign became calling for an alliance with the Liberals – the same kind of approach that was so clearly wrong in 2008.

So it was Peggy Nash who became, for many, the best hope of social movement activists. Like Topp she has spent many years in full-time union and political positions. But unlike Topp, her early years were spent on the shop floor as a union activist. She has always been a friend of the social movements, appearing on the platform of many demonstrations – including demonstrations against the Afghanistan war which Topp and Mulcair were so ready to support in 2008.

But her first ballot result of 8,353 votes (12.8%), more than 2,000 votes behind Cullen and far behind Topp and Mulcair was extremely disappointing. She lasted only one more ballot. As for Cullen, he did manage to increase his vote total to 15,426 (24.6%) by the third ballot. But again, this was far behind the two front-runners. The end result was a sharp defeat for candidates associated with the social movements, and a surprisingly strong victory for the most mainstream leader in the history of the NDP.

For all the candidates, their relationship to the social movements was a more accurate standard by which to assess their politics, than by the usual NDP standard of relationship to labour. In this campaign, the message from the union movement was completely confused. Some labour leaders took a clear principled stand. Sid Ryan of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), and the United Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, were prominent backers of the Nash campaign (peggynash.ca 2012). But the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) as a whole was quite happy to overlook the pro-war coalition moment of 2008, and endorse Topp as a candidate (Galloway 2011). Much worse, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada, The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Toronto’s Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) all declared for Mulcair (UFCW 2012).

Rebick’s invocation of the New Politics Initiative (NPI) points to the importance of the social movements, and also captures the extent to which the NDP has travelled to the right this century. The NPI was formed just over ten years ago, with a view to dissolving the NDP, and launching a new party rooted in the anti-globalization movement, a party “with two key objectives: promoting the environment and combatting ‘corporate globalization’” (MacKinnon 2001). This push for a new party – supported by Nash among others – was very narrowly defeated, losing by just 684 to 401 at the November, 2001 convention (O’Neill 2001).

That November 2001 vote was the high water mark for the social movement left inside the NDP. Unfortunately, the NPI became reoriented away from the anti-globalization and anti-war movements, and toward facilitating the leadership campaign of Jack Layton. When he launched his bid, he was very much an outsider – and the NPI provided a door in. The only two NDP federal caucus members to support Layton’s leadership bid in 2002-2003, were leading NPI figures Svend Robinson and Libby Davies. Riding the wave of the anti-globalization movement which the NPI reflected, and coming out openly for participation in anti-war demonstrations against the war in Iraq, Layton won a crushing first ballot victory with 53.5% of votes cast.

But this victory has proven pyrrhic. It was Layton who opened the door to Mulcair. “Jack, his wife Olivia Chow, Tom [Mulcair] and Catherine [Pinhas] had a meeting and supper together at a restaurant in 2007” leading to Layton naming Mulcair his “Quebec Lieutenant” (thomasmulcair.ca 2012). The NDP did not become a vehicle with which to amplify the issues and concerns of the social movements. The NDP became a vehicle focussed on national office, and suddenly that vehicle has ex-Liberal Thomas Mulcair in the driver’s seat.

Gregg Shotwell, a retired veteran of the autoworkers in the United States, had a message for activists in last year’s Occupy movement. Be careful of orienting on the Democratic Party, “where all good movements go to die” (Shotwell 2012). The situation may not be quite so extreme in the NDP. But it’s not far off. What at first seems like a comfortable home can too often be transformed into a debilitating trap. When the focus shifted from the NPI and movement building to Layton, leadership selection, and electoral success, the end result has been the most movement-averse leader in the history of the party.

Some will draw other lessons from this process. Former leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning, sees the NDP’s problem as having “rooted itself in Quebec” (Manning 2012). This is a noxious reminder of the anti-Quebec politics of Manning’s (and Stephen Harper’s) Reform Party roots. It is also completely wrong. The problems with Mulcair are not his Quebec roots. The problems with Mulcair are his establishment roots.

In a certain sense, what we need is to root ourselves more, not less, in Quebec. It is Quebec, after all, which is the home of Québec solidaire (QS) “a party of the ballot box and the streets” (Life on the left 2011). A massive student movement is sweeping the province, and QS spokesperson Amir Khadir proudly wears “the red cloth squares of the striking students” (Dougherty 2012). At a press conference March 22 before a wonderful 200,000 strong demonstration against tuition fee hikes, the other QS spokesperson, Françoise David was there, calling for taxing the corporations to pay for education (Steuter-Martin and Gallant 2012). That is the way we win our gains – building mass movements, and posing politics in class terms.

One last thought which might just sum it all up – the man against whom the students are protesting is Liberal Premier Jean Charest. We’ve met him before. He’s the ex-Tory who gave Thomas Mulcair his start in politics.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

For any who are in Toronto this week, an important discussion of the implications of the NDP leadership race, will take place at the monthly General Membership Meeting of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly, 7pm, Thursday March 29, Beit Zatoun House, 612 Markham Street (west of Bathurst, south of Bloor).

Publishing History

This article has been published as Canada: Thomas Mulcair, the New Democratic Party and the social movements,” Links, 27 March.

References

Cameron, Duncan. 2011. “Tom Mulcair Plays a Terrible Hand on Trade.” Rabble.ca.

CPAC. 2012. “NDP Leadership – Mulcair Wins Leadership.” Cpac.ca.

Dougherty, Kevin. 2012. “10 Questions and Answers About Quebec’s Student Strike.” The Gazette, March 6.

Galloway, Gloria. 2011. “United Steelworkers Endorse Brian Topp for NDP Leader.” The Globe and Mail, October 12.

Ibbitson, John. 2012. “Enter Mulcair.” The Globe and Mail, March 26.

Ivison, John. 2012. “Mulcair Denies Cabinet Demand; NDP Leadership Hopeful Had 2007 Talks with Tories.” National Post, March 2.

Kellogg, Paul. 2009. “Dear Jack: Do You Really Want This War?” PolEcon.net.

———. 2012. “Topp and Mulcair – the Apparatus Man and the ex-Liberal.” PolEcon.net.

Leblanc, Daniel, and Gloria Galloway. 2012. “A Principled Pragmatist Who’s Always up for a Fight.” The Globe and Mail, March 26.

Life on the left. 2011. “Québec Solidaire: A Québécois Approach to Building a Broad Left Party (Part II).” Lifeonleft.blogspot.ca.

MacKinnon, Mark. 2001. “Rebels Aim to Dissolve NDP, Form New Party.” The Globe and Mail, June 6.

Manning, Preston. 2012. “The NDP’s Mulcair.” The Globe and Mail, March 27.

National Post. 2008. “Layton Backtracks on UN Racism Conference.” Canada.com, June 24.

O’Neill, Juliet. 2001. “NDP Delegates Vote Against New Party: Policy Convention Leaves Some in Tears as Members Argue over Party’s ‘Mushiness’.” The Ottawa Citizen, November 25.

peggynash.ca. 2012. “Peggy Nash: Announcements.” Peggy Nash.

Rebick, Judy. 2012. “Understanding the Victory of Thomas Mulcair.” Rabble.ca.

Shniad, Sid, and Fabienne Presentey. 2012. “Thomas Mulcair – Israel, Right or Wrong.” Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada.

Shotwell, Gregg. 2012. “Where Workers Have Power.” SocialistWorker.org, March 27.

Steuter-Martin, Marilla, and Jacques Gallant. 2012. “Hundreds of Thousands Flood the Streets.” The Concordian, March 22.

The Globe and Mail. 2012. “Editorial – Mulcair’s Moment.” The Globe and Mail, March 26.

thomasmulcair.ca. 2012. “About Tom.” Thomas Mulcair.

UFCW. 2012. “NDP Leadership Candidate Thomas Mulcair Gaining Momentum as We Head Toward Convention.” UFCW Canada.

WCAR. 2009. “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.” In Durban, South Africa.

Golf’s colour line

The golfer, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods is back in the news, after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour. This was his first PGA tour victory in 2-1/2 years. In that period of time, Woods has been in the news, not for his golf, but for his personal life. He is not the first successful PGA professional to from time to time have his personal life trump his golf game. John Daly comes to mind. But Daly is white, and Woods is black. The different colour of their skin has resulted in their personal “indiscretions” being treated by completely different standards.

Many of us have become familiar with Woods’ issues. While married, he had several relationships with women other than his wife. When this came to light in the press, his golf game fell apart. Ultimately, he and his wife separated and are now divorced. But let’s emphasize a few things. There was never an allegation of sexual violence in this story. He never faced criminal charges. The only charge he received was for careless driving (Schneider, 2009).

However, for his sins, Woods became one of the most ridiculed public figures in North America. Coverage of his marital difficulties made the front page of the mass circulation New York Post for 20 consecutive days, more front-page coverage than that paper devoted to any other story in its history, including the attack on the twin towers September 1, 2001. Lest you think that was just rude Yankee journalism at work, in polite old Canada, the mass circulation Toronto Sun devoted a front page to Woods’ face behind the highly suggestive headline – all in capital letters – “NO BALLS” (Kellogg, 2011).

Now, for just a minute, focus on the story of that other professional golfer whose marital difficulties went public. In December 1992, John Daly was charged with third-degree assault on his second wife “after allegedly hurling … [her] against a wall, pulling her hair and trashing the house”. During their investigation, “Sheriff’s officers found broken glass all over the home, smashed pictures on the floor, windows broken, a big-screen television pushed over, broken liquor bottles on the floor, two large holes in the basement wall and blood splattered on a wall in the basement”. Daly was charged, not with careless driving, but with third-degree assault. He eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor harassment, and received two years’ probation including entry into a domestic-violence treatment program (AP, 1992; Markus, 1993; Nelson, 1994).

How is Daly covered in the press? One headline tells us that: “Unpredictable Daly is still endearing”. We encounter that adjective again in a review of his autobiographical, My Life In & Out of the Rough – the book had an almost “endearing effect because it is so real and unpretentious”. In 2005, Daly was called a golfer for the working class”. In May 2007 he was “a big favourite on the PGA Tour” (Daifallah, 2006; Daly & Waggoner, 2006; Ferguson, 2007; Rubenstein, 2004).

Then in June 2007 Daly’s fourth wife sought a restraining order against him because of what she described as a sexual assault by her drunken husband (The Ottawa Citizen, 2007). The New York Post didn’t devote 20 consecutive front covers to the issue. The Toronto Sun didn’t do a front-page headline with Daly’s face behind a headline saying “STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN”. One year after this second charge of domestic violence, he was affectionately referred to as that “big lug” (Miller, 2008).

The black man marries a white woman, and then has some intimate relations with other women. He is reviled. The white man is twice charged with violence against a spouse. He is a big, endearing, working class lug. The double standard is sickening.

Golf is a white man’s game. It was only November, 1961, that the PGA took out its “Caucasian-only” clause (Rubenstein, 1992). The signature event of the PGA tour is the offensively named “Masters.” Why offensive? Well, just think for a minute about the history of master and slave which so defiles Augusta Georgia, the venue for this tournament. Until Lee Elder was allowed to compete in 1975, no black man had ever been allowed in the event. “Until 1982, to get on the course at all as a black man, you had to be a caddy. In fact, until 1982 – when for the first time PGA tour golfers were allowed to bring their regular caddies – every caddy on the Masters course was black” (Kellogg, 2011).

You have to know this history of systemic racism to understand the ridiculous amount of attention paid to Woods’ personal life, to understand the contempt heaped on his head by the press in both the U.S. and Canada. In this white man’s game, the world’s best golfer has the wrong colour of skin.

And Tiger Woods is without question the best golfer of his generation, maybe of all time. Four tournaments are considered “majors.” The great Jack Nicklaus won 18 of those, more than any other golfer. Woods has won 14. Of currently active players, the next on the list is Phil Mickelson – with four (4). In total, Woods has won 72 times on the PGA tour, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82). Again, of currently active players, it is Mickelson who is next to Woods – 32 wins behind with 40 (Kelley, 2012a, 2012b).

The greatest golfer ever to come out of Canada, Mike Weir, has won eight times on the PGA tour, putting him in a multi-player tie for spot number 119 on the all-time PGA tour winners’ list. So dominant is Woods, that if you only counted one tournament – the Arnold Palmer Invitational with which we opened this story – he would sit just one spot behind Weir, because Woods has won that single tournament seven (7) times.

The formerly whites-only Masters is teeing off in a few weeks. With Woods rounding back into form, it is likely that the leaderboard will have just a little bit of colour on it. We can’t expect 20 pages of front-page coverage about this from the New York Post. But perhaps the paper will be endeared by Woods’ return to golf’s elite. Perhaps the Toronto Sun will run that headline condemning violence against women.

Or perhaps we will still be faced with the task of building social movements to challenge both systemic racism and systemic sexism.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

AP. (1992, December 26). Daly hit with assault; He “just lost it,” accusing wife says. The Gazette, p. F6. Montreal.

Daifallah, A. (2006, June 10). Life lessons from the fairway: John Daly lets loose; a son shares famous dad’s wisdom. The Gazette, p. J10. Montreal.

Daly, J., & Waggoner, G. (2006). My Life in and out of the Rough: The Truth Behind All That Bull**** You Think You Know About Me (1ST ed.). Harper.

Ferguson, D. (2007, May 23). Keeping ’em guessing; John Daly show still remains a big favourite on the PGA Tour. The Spectator, p. SP16. Hamilton.

Kelley, B. (2012a). Men’s Majors – Most Victories. About.com Golf. Retrieved from http://golf.about.com/cs/historyofgolf/a/menmajorwins.htm

Kelley, B. (2012b). Most Career Wins on the PGA Tour. About.com Golf. Retrieved from http://golf.about.com/cs/historyofgolf/a/pgatourcareerw.htm

Kellogg, P. (2011, March 11). Focus on Tiger Woods – The Issue is Racism. PolEcon.net. Analysis and commentary with a political economy slant. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from http://www.polecon.net/2011/03/focus-on-tiger-woods-issue-is-racism.html

Markus, D. (1993, May 20). Charisma, controversy characterize Long John Daly on and off tour. The Vancouver Sun, p. D10.

Miller, R. (2008, August 6). Fans still drawn to the big lug, er, John Daly. The Spectator, p. SP.16. Hamilton.

Nelson, M. B. (1994, June 23). Jock violence hits home. The Globe and Mail, p. A.19.

Rubenstein, L. (1992, August 25). GOLF As plain as black and white Racism remains 30 years after PGA removal of a whites-only clause. The Globe and Mail, p. D.12.

Rubenstein, L. (2004, February 18). Unpredictable Daly is still endearing. The Globe and Mail, p. S.2.

Schneider, M. (2009, December 2). Tiger won’t face criminal charges; Only $164 fine for careless driving. The Spectator, p. SP.5. Hamilton.

The Ottawa Citizen. (2007, June 13). Daly denies wife’s claim of sexual assault. The Ottawa Citizen, p. B3.

Bailout of Greece leaves workers in misery

Workers receiving minimum wage in Greece, are about to receive a 20% pay cut. Pensioners in Greece are about to see their monthly cheques sharply reduced. Public sector workers in Greece are bracing for 15,000 layoffs. These are just some of the consequences of the “bailout” of the Greek economy, organized by the so-called “troika” – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Ziotis 2012).

In return for drastic cuts in services and jobs, Greece will receive €130-billion ($175-billion) to prevent a default on looming payments required to service its government debt load of some €368-billion. But this bailout will not end the misery. The economy in Greece has contracted every year since 2008. This year the decline was supposed to slow to just three per cent. But a draft of the bailout agreement indicated that the rate of decline this year would be at least four per cent, and possibly higher. One statistic alone tells the extent of the problem – last year, 150,000 jobs were lost in small and medium businesses. This year, the figure is expected to be 240,000 (Reguly 2012).

The truth is, the bailout as designed is an extraordinarily clumsy and very damaging method by which to address the problems of the Greek economy. The European Union (EU), of which Greece is a member, has taken some of the steps towards creating a regional economy in their portion of the Eurasian continent. A key part of that process has been the creation, within the EU, of the Eurozone – a currency union whereby countries as different as Greece and Germany share the same currency, the Euro.

For a few years, there were some advantages for Greece Eurozone membership. It was, for instance, much cheaper to finance its public sector and corporate debt, with access to interest rates that were much lower than they would have been had the relatively small and weak Greek economy kept its own currency. But having the same currency as Germany also made the less productive Greek economy very vulnerable. It could not do what it did in the past – let its currency (formerly the drachma) devalue relative Germany’s (formerly the mark), and so keep the prices of its exports competitive. Locked into a currency union, the inevitable has happened –manufactured goods from Germany and the other strong economies in Europe pushing aside manufacturing based in Greece.

For a while, access to credit through membership in the Eurozone offset this problem. But over time, Greece’s public sector debt built up to 160% of GDP. To buy the bonds that finance that debt, bond markets began demanding higher and higher interest rates, triggering the current turmoil. The bailout will calm this problem for a while – but the structural problems behind the mess, are all intact.

To properly unify Europe, countries would have to share more than just their currency. Real union would involve the sharing of taxes and debt as well. This was the “federalist” solution of both the United States and Canada. In the former, the young post-revolutionary U.S. republic, guided by treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, did mint its own currency, as the Eurozone has done with the Euro. But it also “assumed the war debts of the ex-colonies” and “issued new national bonds backed by direct taxes.” Interestingly, this summary of early U.S. federalism comes from a recent issue of the influential magazine, The Economist, which poses the question whether Europe might, “in its chronic financial crisis, need such a ‘Hamiltonian moment.’” (The Economist 2012a).

But the rich countries of the continent, Germany in particular, want none of this. The stronger economies in Europe are, for the moment, doing quite well in the context of this crisis. In 2011, it is likely that the value of German exports “breached the 1-trillion euro mark for the first time ever.” According to Anton Börner, president of The Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA), two areas of the world fuelled this growth: other countries in Europe (exports to other EU members represented just under 60 percent of all German exports), and “emerging economies.” In terms of the latter, concern over the weaker European countries has pulled down the value of the Euro, making German exports cheaper on the world market (Graupner 2012). What is bad for Greece, in other words, has been for the moment, good for Germany.

It won’t be enough to muse about federalism in the abstract. Between where Europe is today, and a federalist future, there is the obstacle of centuries of history. Modern Europe was created through 500 years of colonial conquest of much of the rest of the world, and that colonialism generated deep pools of racism and chauvinism. That chauvinism has again and again turned inward: German against French, against Italian, against Greek – the most horrendous example being the orgy of racism and anti-semitism which erupted in the Second World War (Du Bois 1965). The transition of the EU towards a real federation would mean the transference of sovereignty from the nation-states to the EU, and the historically-rooted deep pools of chauvinism and nationalism are a barrier to such a development.

This can be seen in the débacle associated with opposition to Turkish accession to membership in the union. There has never been enthusiasm for reaching out to Turkey. In 2005, fully 52% of people in Europe were opposed to Turkey’s membership. Of the original members of the EU, only 32% were in favour (European Commission 2005). Two things have fuelled this opposition. In the 1990s, the issue was Greek chauvinism. Greece was an established EU member long before Turkey. Turkey is an historic rival of Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece therefore put barrier after barrier in front of Turkey’s membership. “The EU’s policies towards Turkey have become in effect those of Greece,” complained Turkey’s ambassador to London in 1997 (dyer 1997).

In the 21st century, the issue has shifted to anti-Islamic racism. Fully 99.8% of the Turkish population is Islamic, and from 9/11 2001 on, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fuelled by wave after wave of anti-Islamic racism – Islamophobia – sweeping through North America and Europe. Turkish State Minister Mehmet Aydin raised this in 2007, saying that “there are politicians in Europe quoting extremist sources to justify their opposition to Turkey’s EU membership.” Among the politicians he targeted for using Islamophobia as a way of blocking Turkey’s membership, was the then French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy (Anatolia 2007).

The stagnant EU could certainly use Turkey right now. After China, Turkey is the fastest growing economy in the world, expanding at an average rate of 5.9% since 2002 (Staff 2012). That average would be much greater without the contraction of 4.8 percent during the 2009 recession. But in 2010 Turkey returned to growth, expanding at an 8.9% rate, in 2011 at a 6.6% rate. Turkey has a $1-trillion dollar economy along with a market of almost 80 million people (CIA 2012). It has a budget deficit that is less than 2% of GDP, and – in contrast to Greek’s figure of 160% – has “a public debt of only 40%” (The Economist 2012b). With these considerable economic strengths, had Turkey been allowed in, the entire EU, including Greece, would be considerably stronger as it dealt with the current crisis.

It is probably too late. In 2004, when Turkey embarked on the accession process for EU membership, two-thirds of the Turkish public supported membership. By 2007, this had fallen by almost half, to just 35% (Boland 2007). Another survey put support for the EU at 73% in 2004, but only 38% in 2010 (Bilefsky 2011). The events of 2011 and 2012 will solidify this trend. The crisis in Europe makes accession to membership in the European Union much less attractive. According to the founder of a conservative business group, “Today, the E.U. has absolutely no influence over Turkey, and most Turks are asking themselves, ‘Why should we be part of such a mess?’” This disillusion with Europe is coinciding with the beginnings of turn towards other states in the region. In 2004, just 12.5% of Turkish trade went to the Middle East. By 2010, the figure had increased to 20% (Bilefsky 2011). The Arab Spring could very well accelerate this shift.

Europe is being held back by its history. Until it comes to terms with that history – and the chauvinism and racism engendered by it – progress towards solving the problems in Greece and the other vulnerable economies, will be slow. This is the mess of a Europe designed by capitalists and technocrats. Only a politics of solidarity and resistance can begin the process of building an alternative.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

Anatolia. 2007. “Turkish Minister Warns About ‘Islamophobia’, ‘Turcophobia’, in Europe.” BBC Monitoring European. London: BBC. http://0-search.proquest.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/docview/459354212/135A211F568216E6535/5?accountid=8408.

Bilefsky, Dan. 2011. “For Turkey, Lure of European Union Is Fast Fading.” The New York Times, December 4, sec. World / Europe. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/world/europe/for-turkey-lure-of-european-union-is-fast-fading.html.

Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. 1965. The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History. New York: International Publishers Co.

Boland, Vincent. 2007. “The Feeling Is Mutual: Why Turks Are Growing Disillusioned with Europe.” Financial Times, January 4.

CIA. 2012. “Turkey.” The World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tu.html.

dyer, Gwynne. 1997. “Denying Turkey Membership in the EU Is Foolish.” Waterloo Region Record, December 27.

European Commission. 2005. Eurobarometer 63.

Graupner, Hardy. 2012. “German Exports Reach Trillion-euro Threshold | Business | DW.DE | 10.01.2012.” Deutsche Welle. http://www.dw-world.com/dw/article/0,,15656113,00.html.

Reguly, Eric. 2012. “Despite Second Bailout, Greece Is Still a Time Bomb.” The Globe and Mail, February 24. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/eric-reguly/despite-second-bailout-greece-is-still-a-time-bomb/article2349487/.

Staff. 2012. “Turkey to Retain Its Low Credit Ratings | OANDA Forex Blog.” http://forexblog.oanda.com/20120224/turkey-to-retain-its-low-credit-ratings/.

The Economist. 2012a. “1789 and All That; Charlemagne.” The Economist, February 11.

———. 2012b. “Turkey’s Political In-fighting: Erdogan at Bay.” The Economist, February 25. http://www.economist.com/node/21548261.

Ziotis, Christos. 2012. “Greece Draft Cuts Minimum Wage 20%.” Bloomberg, February 8. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-08/greece-to-pledge-20-cut-in-minimum-wage-pension-cut-draft-accord-shows.html.

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Angry hospital workers wildcat in Edmonton

An old tradition in the workers’ movement came back to life in February in Edmonton – the wildcat strike. February 16 at 7 a.m., hundreds of angry service workers walked off the job at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. They were soon joined by workers at the University of Alberta Hospital and the Northeast Community Health Centre.

These general support service employees, 22,000 strong, form the indispensable framework for hospital activities in the province – managing health records, preparing meals, sterilizing surgical tools and assisting in therapy, in the pharmacy and elsewhere. But they are being treated as disposal workers by management.

Members of the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), they have been without a contract since last Spring. The results of mediation have been no better. Their bargaining unit was given a mediator’s contract recommendations, and rejected it overwhelmingly.

In response, the employer, Alberta Health Services, came back with a new offer that offered a two percent lump sum payment for 2011 (i.e., no increase in base pay), a two percent increase for 2012, and a cost of living increase for 2013. This offer “was even less than what was recommended in the rejected mediator’s report” said AUPE President Guy Smith. “What we got was nothing short of insulting,” he said in a press conference (CBC News 2012).

The response to this insulting offer was to have been a series of information pickets on the afternoon of February 16. While better than nothing, information pickets are usually ignored by the mass media, and so rarely bring very much attention to the issues workers face in struggles with management.

But the wildcats, which pre-empted those information pickets, certainly did the trick. The morning news, on radio and television, was full of sounds and images of angry workers, telling their story, and letting the public know about their concerns.

Wildcat strikes are technically “illegal” – but in the face of determined solidarity, and real sympathy from the Edmonton public, AUPE won a back-to-work protocol, with a guarantee that “there will be no legal action or workplace discipline” (AUPE 2012).

With employers across the country increasingly playing hardball, and with Conservative governments in office federally and in many provinces (including, of course, Alberta), Edmonton hospital workers are doing all of us a service by rehearsing this powerful, rarely used tactic – the rank-and-file led wildcat.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

AUPE. 2012. “AUPE Calls Off Strike, Picketers Protected, Negotiations Resume.” AUPE News.

CBC News. 2012. “Edmonton Hospital Workers End Wildcat Strike.” CBC News Edmonton.

Topp and Mulcair – the apparatus man and the ex-Liberal

The late Jack Layton’s political presence in Canadian politics owed everything to the social movements. But when members of the party gather, March 24, 2012 to elect a replacement for Layton, the party is likely to be moved very far from this social movement experience. The implications of this need to be seriously thought through by those interested in progressive social change in Canada.

In 1986, while a City of Toronto alderman, Layton was one of 11 jurors on a mock jury which ruled that the restrictions on abortion in place in Canadian law at the time was “’in contempt of Canadian women’ … “The verdict was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of ‘Choice Now!’ by the crowd of about 250 people who attended the mock court at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church” (Ferguson 1986).

In 1991, he was a co-founder of the White Ribbon campaign to combat violence against women (Minerson 2011), and every year he would wear a white ribbon, symbol of that campaign. Every year he would also happily march at Pride in Toronto, a politician who didn’t fear to be seen defending the rights of lesbian, gay, and transgendered people. In the run-up to the Iraq War, with the Liberal government clearly leaning toward joining in the slaughter, he openly sided with the anti-war movement. As newly-elected leader of the NDP, he marched in the thousands-strong anti-war protest in Toronto, February 15, 2003 (Conradi et al. 2003).

The resumés are very different for at least two of the front-runners to replace Layton – Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp. The former comes from the Liberal Party. Three times, he won as a candidate for the Liberals in Quebec. In 2003, this saw him elevated into the cabinet of (ex-Tory) Jean Charest (The Canadian Press 2008). And if you doubt his conservative credentials, remember how he shamefully joined in the chorus attacking Libby Davies when she (correctly) stated that the occupation of Palestine had begun in 1948. Mulcair’s comrades in this assault were Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Bob Rae, both calling on Davies to resign as NDP House leader (De Souza 2010). The ease with which Mulcair can keep company with the parties of Corporate Canada came to light during the current campaign, when it became known that before joining the NDP, he held talks with other parties, including the Tories (Ivison 2012).

What about his chief rival, Brian Topp? His reputation is better than Mulcair’s. He has been seen by some as a “labour candidate,” early on winning the backing of the United Steelworkers, “the NDP’s largest affiliated union and the largest private-sector union in the country” (O’Neil 2011). His left-wing credentials were boosted by his early endorsement from deputy leader Libby Davies who somewhat surprisingly said that Topp has “a vision that I share” (Kennedy 2011).

Surprising, because Topp’s story is not one featuring the social movements with which Davies has long been associated, but rather staff positions in the administrative apparatus of the NDP and the union machine. In 1990, he went to work full-time for NDP MP Philip Edmonston, in 1992 moving on to be senior researcher for then party leader Audrey McLaughlin, and from 1993-2000 working first as a researcher and then as deputy chief of staff for Saskatchewan NDP premier Roy Romanow. His career then took him into a staff position in Toronto, working for ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), until he returned to the NDP to work closely with Jack Layton in 2004 (Rana 2004). Topp is a career apparatus man.

The problem is, when political eyes are habitually fixed upwards – towards either cabinet positions in corporate parties such as the Liberals, or towards staff positions with social-democracy and the union bureaucracy, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus them downwards, to the grass-roots’ activism which is the only place from which we have every won real reforms. A victory by either Mulcair or Topp would make this problem extremely clear.

A recurring issue of the campaign has been whether the NDP should consider cooperation with the Liberal Party, in an attempt to topple Harper. The only candidate openly advocating this policy, is Nathan Cullen (Bryden 2012). But given his background, it is clear that coalition politics with parties of business would come very easily to Thomas Mulcair. As for Topp, remember that as a key adviser to Layton, he was one of the principal architects of the shameful attempt to form a coalition with the Liberal Party in 2008, something of which, by the way, he is extremely proud – see his book How we almost gave the Tories the Boot (Topp 2010).

We don’t know if either of these two will emerge as the eventual leader. But either of them will mean an NDP more firmly wedded to backroom politics, more likely to be enticed by a coalition dance with the Liberal Party – the party which grimly presided over draconian cuts to transfer payments in the 1990s, and the party which took Canada to war in Afghanistan in 1991.

Given all this, it is absolutely not surprising that many on the left of the NDP are backing Peggy Nash in the campaign for leadership. Nash, like Topp, has a long career as a union staffer – working for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) from 1990 until 2006, returning to the CAW after losing her riding to the Liberals in 2008 (Van Alphen 2008). But unlike Topp, she has also been known as a supporter of the left and the social movements.

In 2001, Nash backed the New Politics Initiative (NPI). “We need a party with fire in its belly and blood in its veins,” she said as she and the NPI fought unsuccessfully to push the NDP into forming a new party rooted in the anti-globalization movement (Edmonds 2011). Throughout the war in Afghanistan, she was a frequent speaker at anti-war rallies. Following a multi-party fact-finding trip to Lebanon, in the wake of Israel’s bloody invasion of that country in 2006, she took considerable abuse for saying the obvious – that “it was just not helpful” to label Hezbollah as “a terrorist organization” (Fisher 2006).

This was one of the few times in recent history that a prominent NDPer took an open stand on the issue of the struggle in the Middle East, long seen as an almost taboo subject because of the way in which it might lose votes for the party. But social movement building is not a popularity contest. It means staking out a principal (for instance, the right of Palestinians to return to their homes under occupation since 1948), and sticking to it regardless of the backlash.

Unfortunately, Nash has been reticent to go much beyond this 2006 position. Neither she nor any other NDP leadership candidate has been willing to publicly identify with the current movement for Palestine rights, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement which has built exactly the kind of grass roots social movement we need on so many issues. You are unlikely to find any of the leadership candidates attending the many events happening across the country this week, during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).

That said, there is really no comparison between Nash and either Topp or Mulcair. The people backing Nash include many who know very well that the future of the left will be found in the streets, and not in the back-rooms, that the coalitions we need are not with the corporate-backed Liberals, but with the poor, the oppressed and the working class – coalitions of the 99% to challenge the entrenched power of the 1%.

If either Mulcair or Topp wins, the dangers are obvious. A Nash victory would mean a step back from the brink. But leadership campaigns come and go, and the main task remains – rebuilding social movements from the grass roots up.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References
Van Alphen, Tony. 2008. “Nash Back at CAW After Poll Defeat; Former Parkdale-High Park MP Opts Not to Run for Ontario NDP Leadership, Saying Timing Not Right.” Toronto Star, November 18.

Bryden, Joan. 2012. “Cullen Gets Social-media Boost for Co-operation Among Opposition Parties: Cullen Gets Boost from Online Campaigns.” The Canadian Press, February 17.

Conradi, Peter, Bruce Wallace, Joe Lauria, and Anne-Sophie Dumetz. 2003. “Millions Say ‘No’ to War: Cities Around the World Overrun in Biggest Protest in History.” The Ottawa Citizen, February 16.

Edmonds, Scott. 2011. “Federal NDP Rejects Shift to Far Left; Plans to Forge Ahead with Renewal.” The Canadian Press, November 24.

Ferguson, Derek. 1986. “Panel Finds Abortion Law ‘in Contempt’ of Women.” Toronto Star, March 2.

Fisher, Matthew. 2006. “MPs Say Terrorist Label Bad for Peace.” Calgary Herald, August 21.

Ivison, John. 2012. “Mulcair Denies Cabinet Demand; NDP Leadership Hopeful Had 2007 Talks with Tories.” National Post, March 2.

Kennedy, Mark. 2011. “Veteran MP Davies Backs Topp’s Bid; Deputy Leader Says Former Party President Has ‘a Vision That I Share’.” The Province, October 2.

Minerson, Todd. 2011. “Jack Layton and White Ribbon Campaign.” White Ribbon Campaign: Working to End Violence Against Women.

O’Neil, Peter. 2011. “Steelworkers Union Backs Topp for NDP Leader.” Edmonton Journal, October 13.

Rana, F. 2004. “Topp Back in NDP Headquarters for Campaign 2004: ‘I Think Jack Layton and the Federal NDP Have a Very Good Chance in This Election’: Topp.” The Hill Times, May 24.

De Souza, Mike. 2010. “Prime Minister, Liberals Demand Davies Resignation.” Record, June 16.

The Canadian Press. 2008. “Thomas Mulcair Holds NDP’s Only Quebec Riding in Squeaker Vote.” The Canadian Press, October 15.

Topp, Brian. 2010. How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot: The Inside Story Behind the Coalition. Toronto: James Lorimer and Company.