Putting the “Union” back in “Union Station”

I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to have a rally in Union Station in Toronto in the middle of rush hour. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to wear picket signs and hand out union flyers either. But there they were, Friday May 25, at 4pm – a good two dozen or so striking employees of CP Rail, members of the Teamsters, doing all of the above. The picket signs were big and bold, saying “Leave my pension alone,” and the picketers, instead of being thrown out, were being welcomed warmly by the VIA, GO and TTC employees who were in Canada’s biggest transit hub that day. Something had changed in Toronto since I was last here.

Maybe it was the issue. The employer is after these workers’ pensions. Just two of the bullet points on the leaflet being distributed were:

• CP wants to reduce pension income for active employees … in some cases by as much as 40%;

•  CP wants to reduce Retirement Health Care benefits and eliminate benefits at age 65, a reduction of over $20,000 per member (TCRD Division 821 2012).

Those are both important issues for many workers in both the public and private sector. Everywhere there is pressure to reduce pension benefits. Everywhere there is pressure to reduce health care benefits. Everywhere, in other words, Main Street is being asked to accept a lower standard of living, to deal with economic problems caused by Bay Street and Wall Street.

But another explanation comes to mind, to explain this confident picket in the middle of rush hour, and the warm reception from the traveling public. Maybe a little of the spirit of Quebec has come to Toronto?

After all, just two days before, what is being described as “the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history” had taken place, in Montreal. Our sisters and brothers in Quebec are up against the draconian Bill 78 which puts very severe restrictions on the right to assemble for political purposes. The massive crowd which defied that law might have been 250,000 strong. The lowest estimate was 75,000 (Mennie et al. 2012).

When a quarter of a million stand up to defy an unjust law, it gives all of us confidence to stand up. The 4,800 CP rail employees now on strike – members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) – are certainly doing just that. TCRC president Rex Beatty said that the “railway’s demands were unacceptable because while workers are seeing their pensions decimated, managers are seeing their benefits increase. ‘CP management … shouldn’t underestimate our members. This is an important issue and we’re going to see this fight through to the end’ ” (Teamsters Canada Rail Conference 2012).

A picket sign at union station put the matter in more colloquial terms. “CP touched my ‘No No’ place”. These workers who are saying “No” to cuts in pensions and benefits deserve our support. And in all of our struggles, we need to keep front and centre the story of the magnificent movement in Quebec which is inspiring students and workers all over the world.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg


Mennie, James, Katherine Wilton, Andy Riga, Chris Curtis, Max Harrold, Roberto Rocha, Jan Ravensbergen, and The Gazette. 2012. “Peaceful Day March, Heated Night Demo.” The Gazette, May 23, montrealgazette.com edition. .

TCRD Division 821. 2012. “Why Is There a Strike at CP Rail?

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. 2012. “TCRC President Stands Behind Striking Canadian Pacific Workers.

Historical Materialism in Canada

In the shadow of the economic crisis in Greece, inspired by Occupy, the Arab Spring, and Quebec’s “Maple Spring”, the 2012 edition of the Historical Materialism Conference in Toronto, was a resounding success. More than 400 people attended the 80-plus panels during an intensive three-day event stretching from Friday, May 11 through Sunday, May 13.

Historical Materialism saw an important series of discussions on indigenous politics, involving eight sessions, a plenary and a Long Table discussion. There was a well-attended session on the relationship between Marxism and Feminism and several sessions on key issues in political economy. The complete program can be seen here.

Historical Materialism originated as a journal 1997. Subscription information is available here. Annual conferences associated with the journal have been happening each November in London, U.K. since 2004. This year’s (the ninth annual) will be held between November 8 and 11, 2012.

Toward the United Front

One of the highlights of the 2012 Toronto HM conference, and of last year’s HM conference in London, was the launch of John Riddell’s 1310 page Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. At that congress, 350 delegates from 61 countries (Riddell 2012, 55) grappled with the political challenges of building a united anti-capitalist movement in the post-war era. Three panels at Historical Materialism Toronto addressed issues relevant to Riddell’s book, with 150 people in total participating in those discussions.

Riddell’s book – which was also the subject of multiple sessions at the HM conference in London in 2011 – is the seventh in an ongoing series making available the proceedings and documents relevant to the construction of an international socialist movement in the difficult years before, during and after World War One. An outline of the six earlier works is available here. Central to this project were the early congresses of the Communist International, the first being in 1919. Bringing together activists from around the world, these congresses grappled with the key political issues of the day, in very difficult circumstances.

The first congress took place while Russia suffered under a terrible blockade which fuelled civil war and caused untold suffering. This blockade – imposed on the country by Britain, France and the Allied powers from the spring of 1918 until it petered out in 1920 – began in two phases. After the October Revolution, “the allies stopped the flow of supplies to Russia”. But the full regular blockade “was established after the Brest-Litovsk treaty” (Carr 1978, 3:126). In other words, Russia was being strangled by the victorious democracies, as punishment for Russia bringing to an end the carnage of World War One on Germany’s eastern front. Blockade went along with military invasion to fuel the destructive civil war aimed at overthrowing the new Russian workers’ state. The military invasion proved futile. In February and March of 1919, there were mutinies among British, French and U.S. troops (Carr 1978, 3:127–127). By the fourth congress – the subject of Riddell’s book – the blockade had been lifted and the civil war was over. The Russian workers’ state emerged victorious – but suffered horrendous casualties.

Riddell’s translations – and his superb 59-page introduction – bring to life this 90 year-old gathering of activists. The hard cover version will be difficult to buy for many individuals, as its list price is €199 ($283). But it is an excellent volume to recommend to a library, particularly if you are associated with a university. And, a $55 paperback version will be available later this year, published by Haymarket Books in Chicago.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg


Carr, Edward Hallett. 1978. A History of Soviet Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Volume Two. Vol. 3. 14 vols. Macmillan.

Riddell, John. 2012. Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Iran and the Axis of Hypocrisy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a new coalition of national unity, elections in the country have been pushed back by months, and suddenly the danger of an armed strike against Iran, by Israel, has become more acute.

It is now ten years since the January 29, 2002 State of the Union speech – the first since the 9/11 attacks on New York City – where then U.S. President George W. Bush announced to the world that the U.S. was up against an “Axis of Evil”, a label derived from the “Axis of Hatred”, coined by Canadian conservative journalist, David Frum (Noah 2003). These “evil, hated” states were Iraq, North Korea and Iran. But the real enemy is an Axis of Hypocrisy.

The world saw what happened to Iraq. The evidence for its “evil” status proved to be entirely false. There simply never were any Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in the country. Yet the U.S. attacked anyway, and devastated the country. The very conservative estimates from Iraq Body Count put the death toll after just three years at just under 50,000, double that by 2012. Some put the figure far higher, The Lancet in 2006 estimating that already, 650,000 had died (Iraq Body Count (IBC) 2012; Oziewicz 2006). By 2007, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimated that 4.2 million Iraqis had been driven from their homes by the war, half right out of the country (MacKinnon 2007).

Ironically, North Korea – which does have at least one or two WMDs (it has twice detonated a nuclear device, once in 2006 and again in 2009 (Hecker 2010, 44)) – has not been attacked by the U.S. In fact, at the height of the Iraq war in 2006, it agreed to “return to nuclear-disarmament talks with its four neighbors and the U.S. in a deal brokered by China” (Ramstad, Batson, and King Jr. 2006). The issue in Iraq was not the presence of WMDs (which it didn’t have), but the presence of oil (which it has in huge quantities). North Korea has WMDs, but no oil whatsoever. So Iraq got a war, but North Korea did not.

This leaves Iran – a country that, like Iraq, is one of the world’s great sources of inexpensive, easy-to-access oil. The U.S. had attempted to sew up control of Iraqi oil, however this has not gone entirely according to plan. In the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi state, and years of destructive warfare, the most influential country in the region in the wake of the U.S. pull-out, has become … Iran. An attack on Iran by either Israel or the U.S. would be part of the “chess game” of pushing back Iranian influence in this oil-rich region.

Of course that is not the rhetoric that we hear. We are not told that Iran will be bombed for oil profits. Rather, Israel and the U.S., if they bomb Iran, will do so ostensibly to stop it from becoming a nuclear power. Since 2002, the CIA in particular has been flooding the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with “evidence” of Iran’s attempt to build an atomic bomb. But according to one senior diplomat at the IAEA, quoted anonymously in the Los Angeles Times, “since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong” (Drogin and Murphy 2007).

Throughout the early years of the Iraq War, the Bush administration and the IAEA were repeatedly at odds. One of the main justifications for the war against Iraq was the “fact” – pushed by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell – that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. Then IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei embarrassed Powell and Bush when he showed the UN Security council that the documents used as “proof” of this had been forged. The Bush regime responded by opposing El Baradei’s reappointment to his post (Pincus 2003; Hibbitts 2005).

In Bush’s rush to paint the WMD label on Iran, he showed himself willing to forge alliances with the most unlikely people. For instance, the National Council of Resistance (NCR) is a resistance group, based in Iran, which the U.S. has classified as a terrorist organization since 1997. On August 14, 2002, however, the NCR held a press conference where they claimed that Iran was constructing secret nuclear facilities near the Iranian cities of Natanz and Arak. In spite of the U.S. judgment that NCR was a terrorist organization, Bush seized on its press conference as “evidence” of Iran’s nuclear intentions. One year later, the same Bush administration “closed the NCR’s Washington office” (Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism 2008, 104; Squassoni 2006, 2; GlobalSecurity.org 2011).

Another piece of evidence seized on by the press was a report that Iran had stolen enriched uranium from Iraq before the March, 2003 outbreak of war. The report was later revealed to be a fabrication, the ultimate source being Fereidoun Mahdavi, former Minister of Commerce in the government of the Shah of Iran (History Commons 2012).

Mahdavi’s claims didn’t end there. He also suggested there were plans for Iranian-based terrorists to hijack a Canadian airliner and fly it into a nuclear station near Boston. He further claimed that Iran was hiding Osama bin Laden. But even the CIA, eager to portray Iran as a terror-state, concluded after interviewing him that he was lying (Leupp 2007).

There are WMDs in the Middle East. The US has used vast quantities of depleted uranium and hundreds of thousands of cluster bombs in its two wars against Iraq. Its main ally, Israel, as early as 2002, had between 75 and 200 nuclear weapons in its clandestine WMD program (Norris 2002). Most people, in particular the people of the region itself, support the removal of WMDs from the Middle East. But to accomplish that would mean a withdrawal of all US military forces, and an international campaign against Israeli militarism, including against Israel’s secret stockpiles of nuclear bombs and missiles.

A military strike against Iran, should it come, would provoke devastation for the people of the region. It would also be very risky for both the U.S. and Israel. Israel used to be able to count Egypt and Turkey as allies. But the Arab Spring broke its ties with the Egyptian state, and the barbaric assault on the Mavi Marmara soured relations with Turkey. Israel is now as isolated as it has ever been in the region. And Iran is a regional power in its own right, not without resources and influence.

But the fact that there are risks does not mean an attack will not come. Twice before, Israel has launched strikes against nuclear reactors under construction in the region – June 7 1981 against one southeast of Baghdad in Iraq, and September 6, 2007 against one in Syria (Jewish Virtual Library 2012; Follath and Stark 2009).

One unnamed Israel figure “with close ties to the leadership” made this very clear to a Reuters’ reporter. “I think they have made a decision to attack. It is going to happen. The window of opportunity is before the U.S. presidential election in November. This way they will bounce the Americans into supporting them” (Stott 2012). Such a strike would be an irresponsible and extremely dangerous action, posing the very real possibility of a wider, and very bloody war. It is in all our interests to oppose Israeli and U.S. military threats against Iran.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg


Drogin, Bob, and Kim Murphy. 2007. “U.N. Calls U.S. Data On Iran’s Nuclear Aims Unreliable.” Los Angeles Times Articles, February 25.

Follath, Erich, and Holger Stark. 2009. “How Israel Destroyed Syria’s Al Kibar Nuclear Reactor.” Spiegel Online, November 2.

GlobalSecurity.org. 2011. “Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO).” GlobalSecurity.org.

Hecker, Siegfried S. 2010. “Lessons Learned from the North Korean Nuclear Crises.” Daedalus 139 (1) (January): 44–56.

Hibbitts, Bernard. 2005. “IAEA Postpones Decision on ElBaradei Reappointment After US Voices Opposition.” Jurist: University of Pittsburgh School of Law, April 28.

History Commons. 2012. “Fereidoun Mahdavi.” Historycommons.org.

Iraq Body Count (IBC). 2012. “Iraq Body Count.”

Jewish Virtual Library. 2012. “Operation Opera: The Israeli Raid on the Osirak Nuclear Reactor.” Jewishvirtuallibrary.org.

Leupp, Gary. 2007. “A Chronology of BushCo Disinformation About Iran.” The Rag Blog.

MacKinnon, Mark. 2007. “The Growing Threat of a Displaced Nation.” The Globe and Mail, September 15, sec. A.

Noah, Timothy. 2003. “‘Axis of Evil’ Authorship Settled!Slate, January 9.

Norris, Robert S. 2002. “Israeli Nuclear Forces, 2002.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58 (5) (October): 73.

Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. 2008. “Terrorist Organizations.” In Country Reports on Terrorism, 92–129. Washington, DC: Department Of State. The Office of Electronic Information,
Bureau of Public Affairs.

Oziewicz, Estanislao. 2006. “New Study Estimating Number of Dead in Iraq Hotly Contested.” The Globe and Mail, October 12, sec. A.

Pincus, Walter. 2003. “CIA Didn’t Share Findings on Niger Link, Officials Say ; Handling of Key Evidence ‘Sloppy’ Case Reflects Larger Problems: [Ontario Edition].” Toronto Star, June 12, sec. A.

Ramstad, Evan, Andrew Batson, and Neil King Jr. 2006. “Politics & Economics: North Korea Will Resume Nuclear Talks; China Brokers Deal for Weapons Session, and U.S. Will Discuss Its Financial Strictures.” Wall Street Journal, November 1, sec. A.

Squassoni, Sharon. 2006. Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recent Developments. Congressional Research Service – The Library of Congress.

Stott, Michael. 2012. “Iran Attack Decision Nears, Israeli Elite Locks Down.” Reuters, May 17.