People’s Voice October 1-15, 2016
Volume 24 – Number 15   $1






5) END THE BLOCKADE NOW! - Editorial











PEOPLE'S VOICE      OCTOBER 1-15, 2016 (pdf)


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(The following articles are from the October 1-15, 2016, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)



By J. Boyden

            Most Canadians do not expect to see people being dragged out of public federal government hearings by security guards. I must confess that I share this view. Imagine my surprise when this happened to me, at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates meeting on the future of Canada Post in Montreal.

            I submit the following record of events as an appeal to all People’s Voice readers, to try to make your democratic voice heard in this review process.

            Over the past few months, this newspaper has reported on how labour and community folks from across the country have been paying close attention to the struggle of the Postal Workers for a new collective agreement. While a tentative deal has been reached, making some gains on items like pay equity, the struggle to stop privatization of the post office is far from over. 

            This is a struggle led by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, who are fighting hard to mobilize public opinion to oppose privatization, and to expand public postal services.

            In fact, right at the moment CUPW is holding ratification votes far and wide, the government has launched fifteen days of public hearings into the future of the Post Office.

            Canada Post has been in a hard fight to privatize the post office and liquidate the union for years. During the Harper Conservative regime, Canada Post’s neo-liberal CEO Deepak Chopra hired the Conference Board of Canada to review operations. The Conference Board is a powerful corporate lobby group and Chopra, then as now, sat on its Board of Directors.

            Following the review, Canada Post unilaterally implemented a now-infamous five-point “business modernization plan” which was heartily endorsed by Harper, and condemned by the public.

            Canada became the only country to shut down home mail delivery with “Megaboxes.” In total about 8,000 workers, mainly letter carriers, lost their jobs. Stamp prices were jacked up and post offices privatized. More layoffs took place with automation. At the bargaining table, Canada Post began to try to shred the collective agreement.

            While Canada Post rolled forward, public opposition exploded. Labour and CUPW launched a Save Canada Post campaign. Lawn signs went up across the country. Movements of seniors and people with disabilities were up in arms. Municipalities protested these new units of infrastructure which they had to maintain. The Mayor of Montreal took a jack-hammer to a Megabox.

            This was the context for last year’s October 15th federal election, where the Trudeau Liberals called for a moratorium on Megaboxes. Millions of voters went to the polls with the Liberals on record as calling to Save Canada Post. Once in office, the Liberals promised consultations.

            The consultation that is actually happening reminds me of the 80s sci-fi classic, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The story opens with the main character, Arthur Dent, lying on the ground in front of a bulldozer which is about to smash down his little house to build a new highway. Spread out before the machine’s blade, Dent has the following exchange with a bureaucrat, who tells him that for nine months the announcement was on public display:

            "On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

            "That's the display department."

            "With a flash light."

            "Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

            "So had the stairs."

            "But look, you found the notice didn't you?"

            "Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard."

            Moments later, aliens appear and inform the Earth that it is being demolished to build an interstellar highway by a Vogon Constructor Fleet, as announced for several years in another solar system.

            How different is real Liberal’s approach from these fictional Vogons?

            This summer, far away from the Canadian people in another galaxy called Ottawa, the Liberals struck a Task Force to draft a discussion paper for their consultation process on Canada Post. The Task Force was chaired by the past CEO of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce, and included a former director of Imperial Oil. There were no members from labour.

            Around the same time, the Standing House Committee quietly announced a whirlwind tour for fifteen days in September, often doing two cities in a day. This meant the hearings would be during work hours. The deadline for a request to speak was August 26. Three weeks later, on Sept. 19, the Task Force released its discussion paper, the framework for the Committee’s consultation. Then on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 23, the location of the first hearing was released, to take place the following Monday morning, Sept. 26.

            Privatization was the Tories' agenda for the post office. By Parliamentary rules, the Chair of this committee is a Conservative. The Liberals have yet to declare their views. This creates a situation where mass public pressure can now make privatization too hot to handle for Trudeau.

            The Task Force report is a trial balloon. Entitled “Canada Post in the Digital Age,” the main proposals would accelerate Harper’s “Megabox” attack on home delivery, shred CUPW’s collective agreement, smash the pension plan, and shutter or privatize literally hundreds of Post Offices. It suggests reducing home delivery from daily to three-times a week, and puts an exorbitant price tag on restoring home delivery. The report also rejects Postal Banking because it would create competition for the big banks.  It is founded on the false premise that Canada Post is in crisis.

            Myself and some activists went down to the Sept. 26 hearing in Montreal. We eventually found it in an anonymous room in a hotel basement. At first it seemed we couldn’t enter, but then we were allowed to listen. Suffice it to say, all the business presenters viewed Canada Post like a juicy prime rib, ready to be sliced up with privatization. Speakers from labour and community defended the Post Office as a fundamental public service.

            At the end, I got up to ask for a few minutes, to let the small audience speak, which is common in other public hearings. Instead, a security guard dragged me out of the room – which is illegal, only police can physically touch you. As I was being man-handled, one of the exiting MPs came up and very politely apologized. I urge you to make an online submission, he said in a surreal moment.

            No doubt myself and many other people will do so as a basic minimum. Others will probably try to speak at these hearings. Now is the time to Save Canada Post.


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Special to PV

 “Those unions that enjoy the right to strike have no guarantee that sacrificing their jobs and their livelihood will result in victory but they nevertheless engage in lengthy strikes, not because they are assured of winning but because they are determined to fight”—William Burrus, 1998

            Montreal prides itself as a burgeoning socio-cultural and economic hub, receiving millions of tourists from all over the world. The city is home to events such as the International Jazz Festival, heritage places such as Vieux-Montréal and the Vieux-Port (Old Port), and a large number of museums, cultural organizations and services.

            Nonetheless, the situation is quite different for those involved in the functioning of the Vieux-Port and its service activities. The workers of the Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal (SVPM) are experiencing severe precarious conditions, with low two-tier income wages, in addition to lock-out threats and court injunctions to ban workers from protesting on site, among other measures.

            According to Jacques Fontaine, one of the workers interviewed by Rank and File, “the company used false claims to get that injunction. Now the union is taking the head of security to court for making these false claims, which were the basis of the court injunctions”.

            Ironically, the origin of the workers’ despair comes from a Crown Corporation, the Canada Lands Company (CLC), which owns SVPM. This Toronto-based company is currently applying its federal jurisdiction to impose the use of scab workers, which is forbidden under Québec jurisdiction.

            According to its website, the main goal of CLC is “to acquire properties with a high potential for surplus, in order to develop real estate projects”. That would define this organization as a public agency for promoting land speculation, which coincides with the opinion of the striking workers, who stated that “CLC has very deep pockets, as it plans to obtain $180 million in profits during the period 2015-2020 (..) rather than tackling the insecurity experienced by its staff, management of the Old Port/Canada Lands instead hired strike-breakers (scabs) to continue to earn the revenues provided by the parking lots and the events held by private dealers”.

            However, the response of the workers has been bold. Since May 27th, 300 unionized (Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC Local 10333) employees of the Old Port of Montreal have been on strike, with a strong 80% mandate. The strike began after an unsatisfactory response from SVPM to their demands: i) to increase their wage from the current level of $10.67 (16% less than Québec’s minimum wage), beyond the 9.5% increase over 4 years proposed by the employer, ii) to reduce the existing wage gap with other workers occupying similar positions in the city of Montréal, and iii) to provide paid sick days for the two-thirds of employees who do not have any. During this period, SVPM has not entered into negotiations, and instead just made the same offer three times, which reinforces workers’ determination to continue their strike.

            The workers of the Vieux-Port feel they face discrimination in comparison to other city workers, who perceive a higher salary for similar jobs. The SVPM established a two-tier hiring system, which they say constitutes a deliberate strategy of the employer (to) ensure that the starting salary of new employees does not follow the increase in inflation. This trend has been depicted in a graph on the campaign’s website:

            In this struggle, PSAC Local 10333 workers have been supported by the labour moment in Quebec. Both the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ-CLC) and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) support the strike, as well as  postal workers, students and organizations of immigrants. Quebec Solidaire and the Parti Communiste du Quebec have supported the strike, and the strikers are invited as guests of honour to the October 8th Ché soiree organized by the PCQ. The strike is a key part of the Fight for Fifteen and Fairness Campaign in Quebec, with several rallies taking place.       

            But reaction from the federal Liberal government has been almost non-existent, as Fontaine stated in his Rank and File interview: “We have had no support or response. We met our local Liberal MP, Mark Miller, but nothing has happened. We have tried to meet the Heritage minister, Mélanie Joly, and the minister responsible for Canada Lands Company, the Public Services & Procurement minister Judy Foot, but neither has responded. The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is also a local MP and he too has not met us”.

            In these circumstances, the strike is a bold move to improve working conditions and to prevent further damage (given that their employer had threatened them with a lockout during the upcoming season). During strikes, workers strengthen their struggles, set the context for enhanced working conditions and reinforce unity among themselves and other unions, by establishing a long lasting solidarity and extracting inspiring lessons for future strike processes.

            The following statement by Jacques Fontaine clearly summarises the goals and mood held by the workers of the Old Port of Montreal:

            “This is one of the first strikes in Canada of workers fighting for a $15 minimum wage, so it is of national importance. We would ask activists and union leaders across Canada to help by:

1. Building the fight for $15 in other areas will greatly help our struggle. This is a key issue for all the working class.

2. Sending messages of support to PSAC Local 10333 – Old Port Workers of Montreal, Box 116, Succursale Place D’Armes, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 3H8.

3. We would welcome financial support (cheques made payable to Syndicat des employés de la Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal, at above address).

4. Sending letters to Prime Minister Trudeau urging the government of Canada to intervene in support of the workers of the Old Port of Montreal.”

            People’s Voice also asks activists and union members who visit Montréal to help by respecting their picket line by not going south of Rue de la Commune at the Old Port and joining them in solidarity actions.


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As the debate continues over the future of public education in British Columbia, the Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark continues to press the Vancouver School Board to close schools and impose more cutbacks. On Sept. 22, the Vancouver East Club of the Communist Party sent the following open letter to the VSB Trustees and to the wider community.

            We begin by expressing our appreciation for the long-standing efforts of VSB trustees to find ways to minimize the impact of provincial government underfunding on the classrooms of Vancouver schools. As strong supporters of an inclusive, quality, democratic public education system, we are fully aware that the Trustees and the VSB have been under enormous pressure for over thirty years to make painful cutbacks. Most often, this pressure has resulted from factors beyond the Board’s direct control, in particular the budget and policy decisions of provincial governments.

            This trend became much more severe with the election of the Liberal government in 2001, followed by outrageous actions such as the illegal tearing up of collective agreements, the refusal to help reduce student-teacher ratios, demands to close large numbers of schools, the appointment of biased “auditors”, the imposition of the quickly discredited “95 percent capacity” rule, repeated delays of promises to fund crucial seismic upgrades of schools, and much more. During this government’s time in office, the percentage of provincial revenues going to K-12 public schools has fallen from 20% to 15%; meanwhile, funding for private and religious schools has grown rapidly, along with a range of tax credits and other incentives for parents to shift their children to such schools.

            In our view, these actions, along with the frequent attacks against the BC Teachers Federation by Premier Christy Clark (starting from her term as Education Minister) reveal a pattern which leads to one conclusion: that the agenda of this Liberal government is to create a two-tier system: private and religious schools catering mainly to wealthier families, providing a higher quality of education, increasingly funded by taxpayers; and a public school system for the bulk of the population, forced to deal with funding shortfalls and constant downloading of new costs. The reduction of funding for education (along with cuts to health care, social assistance and disability rates, and other areas of social spending) was artificially forced by one of the government’s first actions fifteen years ago - the massive tax cut for the corporations and upper income earners, which continues to deprive the provincial treasury of an estimated $2.5 billion per year. This tax cut was deliberately implemented to set the stage for a continual crisis in the provision of public services, including the education system, allowing the Liberals to promote privatization, user fees, deregulation, and other right-wing policies promoted by the Fraser Institute and other corporate think-tanks.

            By 2016, the result of this agenda has been to take British Columbia at the point where spending per public school student is a shocking $1000 below the Canadian average. Our schools are being starved and shut down, classrooms are becoming ever larger, and teaching and learning conditions are deteriorating rapidly. The victims of this agenda are those who face the greatest needs: indigenous students, students and families from impoverished and racialized immigrant communities, those with special learning needs, LGBTQ students, and others who are disproportionately affected by the overall corporate/government attack on working people and the poor in our society.

            Within this context, Vancouver School Board Trustees have a laudable record of pushing back against provincial cuts, and standing up for the rights and interests of students, staff, and families. We have not always agreed with VSB budget decisions, and there have been times when our hopes for the Board to help lead a broader public fightback around these issues were not met. But overall, most Trustees during these difficult years have tried to do their best to help keep the cuts out of the classrooms.

            At times this meant adopting budgets which included painful cuts in other important areas, leaving the District with nowhere else to trim costs, despite the propaganda lies of the Liberal government and other right wing forces. This year, in response to widespread public calls to stand up against underfunding, the VSB Trustees refused to adopt a cuts budget, taking a position which required courage and principles.

            Today the Board faces a massive push to shut down schools in Vancouver, a transparently obvious attempt to save the province hundreds of millions of dollars in seismic upgrade costs, but at the expense of students, teachers, support staff and families in the public education system. Not surprisingly, most of the schools facing potential closure or other undesirable options are in east Vancouver, where incomes are lower. The province bears a huge responsibility for the situation in Vancouver, arising from the earlier decision to eliminate school catchment boundaries, which created the trend to send students to west side schools.

            We do not call for special measures to save this or that school or program; such an approach, as always, plays into the provincial government’s hands by turning neighbourhoods against each other. Having said that, we hope that the Trustees and management will find ways to minimize the impact of underfunding on those most disproportionately affected, in particular indigenous and special needs students.

            More importantly, we call upon the Board and Trustees to expand your efforts to a wider level, by urging a province-wide campaign to win adequate education funding. This must become a crucial issue in the May 2017 provincial election campaign, putting strong pressure on all political parties to reverse the anti-education policy agenda, not just with minor spending increases, but by pledging to reverse the 2001 tax cuts and restore funding for education, health and social programs.

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By Graham L. Wilson

            Last December my girlfriend began experiencing discomfort after eating, which escalated over the next few months. In February she was found to be suffering from gallstones, necessitating a cholecystectomy. By March, she was on the waiting list, but the surgery date was set for next December. She was informed that the office was already scheduling surgeries into 2017, with no chance of a cancellation slot even until late June. Despite experiencing frequent painful attacks, often only resolvable through vomiting, she was just going to have to wait it out.

            As instructed, she began to regulate her diet, although her body's reactions remained unpredictable. Worse was the increasing frequency of attacks seemingly without any trigger. Fortunately her manager was empathetic, and so patience was shown to interruptions in her work as a receptionist. However, as the attacks increased in frequency, she was missing more and more hours and pay without restitution, with months still to go. Worse throughout was a prevalent attitude that simply because she is a fuller figured young woman, obviously her eating habits were triggering so many attacks. A crude assumption, and untrue, as the surgery eventually revealed that she had many sizable and awkwardly shaped stones.

            Finally, in mid-June things reached a point beyond our ability to manage. After she grew increasingly pained and pallid, we drove her to Drayton Valley hospital. Our hope was emergency surgery, which we had heard was the common escape. The doctors agreed that her gallbladder was now worryingly inflamed, and she was put on a intravenous drip of saline and painkiller. However, the small town hospital was not equipped to do the surgery, or even to perform the MRI imaging required to properly assess her condition. The next day she was loaded onto an ambulance to Red Deer, one of many costly rides that would be avoidable with better equipped hospitals.

            We had hoped, as did the staff at Drayton, that she would be operated on in Red Deer. However, she was simply rushed through, scanned, and promptly sent back. Our impression was that no hospital wanted to keep her, an innate symptom of overload from years of under-funding during which Alberta’s population has boomed. The doctors at Drayton, although sympathetic, insisted there was not enough severity to get her transferred to Edmonton. All progress stalled, and with somewhat abated symptoms, she decided she would be more comfortable just going home. So the cycle continued for another three weeks. We were later informed by another doctor that she had in fact had a clogged swollen gallbladder, but was a victim of being at the wrong hospital.

            Unsurprisingly, by early July she again required admission to hospital, this time straight to the Misericordia in Edmonton, where it had been implied her chances were better. Indeed, it was decided she needed surgery as soon as possible, but the continued rush of pre-scheduled surgeries took priority. Most of the week crawled by in pained anticipation, until finally she was sent in for surgery just two hours short of midnight. The next morning she was finally released. Unfortunately her pain came back steadily worse, and that weekend she was readmitted. A stone impacted in the bile duct, and needed removal by endoscopy, which was completed a few days later. Her ordeal was finally over, with fortunately enough holiday pay accumulated to cover her recovery period.

            I doubt this story is unique in its suffering. The conditions stacked against us are common and affect everyone: increasingly decrepit hospitals, so overfilled and understaffed that they desperately shuffle around patients and resources; surgeons so busy that nothing short of potentially bursting organs gets a patient seen; and nurses so overworked that hours go by before painkiller can even be administered. This is one of the human costs of austerity, of the gratuitous under-funding inflicted by Ralph Klein and his cronies, and a cycle to be perpetuated by an NDP government constricted by business interests. We must not only fight to save our public health care system, but to expand and perfect it so that people being forced to suffer through great pain will be a thing of the past.

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People’s Voice Editorial

            Later this month, the United Nations General Assembly will vote for the 25th consecutive year on a resolution calling upon the United States to end its blockade against Cuba. Last year, the resolution was adopted by a vote of 191 in favour and just two opposed - the U.S. and its faithful ally, Israel.

            To any rational observer, it seems unbelievable that the most powerful country in history continues this brutal campaign to starve a tiny socialist island into submission, yet the blockade carries on after fifty years of failure, inflicting more human damage upon the Cuban people, in violation of all moral ethics and international law. Almost two years ago, diplomatic relations resumed between the two countries, and many assumed that the blockade would soon be a relic of the past. Instead, the people of Cuba are compelled to carry on their struggle for the right to self-determination, without foreign interference. Companies and individuals which conduct business with Cuba still risk incurring the wrath of Uncle Sam, and the blockade cost Cuba an estimated $4.6 billion over the last year.

            The “justification” for this inhuman and bizarre policy is the claim that Cuba violates human rights - an absurd attack levelled by the U.S., where hundreds of innocent people, mostly Black Americans, are gunned down in the streets every year by trigger-happy racist cops.

            The blockade of Cuba must be lifted, and the Yankee imperialists must end their illegal occupation of Guantanamo. The western hemisphere no longer the backyard of Washington, a region for U.S. corporate interests to exploit and devastate at will without fear of resistance. Despite some temporary setbacks, Latin America and the Caribbean are standing up against foreign domination. Sooner rather than later, the U.S. will be compelled to admit defeat and back down.


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People’s Voice Editorial

            British Columbians go to the polls next May 9, but Liberal Premier Christy Clark is making campaign announcements to refurbish her tarnished “family-friendly” image. The minimum wage has been hiked a few cents, some (completely inadequate) funds have been earmarked for housing and education, and after a decade of foot-dragging, the Liberals have finally added gender identity and expression protections to the Human Rights Code. Given the reluctance of the opposition New Democrats to put forward a strong progressive platform, Clark could pull off another comeback, as she did in 2013.

            But the Premier’s claims about a “strong economy” must be exposed. Upper-income earners, real estate developers and corporations have benefitted from the whopping tax cuts implemented by former premier Gordon Campbell, costing the provincial treasury a staggering $2.5 billion per year. But most British Columbians face a very different reality.

            While B.C.’s gross domestic product is projected to grow by 2.9% in 2016, well above the Canadian average of 1.2%, related job growth is mainly part-time work. Statistics Canada figures show the average pay for new jobs is $19.30 an hour, below the Canadian average of $19.95, putting the province sixth out of 10. Weekly wages keep dropping in B.C., while the consumer price index goes up faster than the Canadian average, due to skyrocketing housing costs. The welfare case load is rising, as more employable workers can’t find jobs, and 53 per cent of British Columbians would have trouble paying their bills if they missed a single paycheque. Despite the small increase in the minimum wage, one out of four workers in B.C. earns less than $15 an hour.

            Under the B.C. Liberals, a “strong economy” means mega-profits for the rich and the corporations, but poverty, precarious employment and high housing costs for working people.


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By T.J. Petrowski

            Politicians of all political stripes like to dress inflated military budgets, and the wicked arms deals that frequently accompany them, in terms of “job creation.”

            Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, arguing against any reduction in military funding, claimed that any decrease “would result in job cuts that would add potentially one (percentage point) to the national unemployment rate.”

            Here in Canada, both Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau have justified the $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the largest such deal in Canadian history, as a means of creating jobs. “The fact is that there are jobs in London relying on this” deal, Trudeau said.

            A closer examination will reveal something different. By not producing a life-serving product, i.e., an article used for either consumption or for further production, military spending is not only the worst of available choices for job creation, it contributes to industrial and infrastructure decay.

            Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst found that for every $1 billion in military spending, far more and better paying jobs could be created in education, healthcare, and green energy. A billion dollars spent in green energy would generate 6,000 jobs that pay between $32,000 and $64,000 a year, and another 2,300 jobs that pay over $64,000. The equivalent amount in military spending, however, would generate 4,700 mid-income and 2,350 high-income jobs, 15% less overall than in green energy. In education the results were far more striking, where $1 billion would generate 120% more jobs than would be generated through the military. “[S]pending on clean energy, healthcare, and education,” the researchers concluded, “all create a much larger number of jobs that pay wages greater than $32,000 per year” than are created through military expenditures.

            A permanent war economy also leads to deindustrialization and the slow death of local communities. Workers are led to believe that it is due to their excessively high wages that multinational corporations transfer production overseas. While it is true that multinational corporations have transferred production to countries such as Mexico and the Philippines to profit from low wages, that in itself does not explain how after World War II the U.S. auto industry, for example, paid the highest wages in the industry while still being able to produce the lowest price per pound of vehicle in the Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth plants, and why they no longer can (or will). Nor does it explain how Japanese and European automakers have been able to seize a large chunk of the North American market.

            These are questions Seymour Melman addresses in his book Profits Without Production. Melman argues that the deindustrialization of America can be traced back to the adoption of cost-maximizing in the machine tools industry, a consequence of producing for the military economy.

            In the 1950s, in the heat of the space race between the Soviet Union and the U.S., the U.S. Air Force was the chief sponsor of technological development in this critical industry. Numerical control technology, for instance, allowing many of the tasks of a machinist to be supplanted by prerecorded control information for greater accuracy, was developed by MIT engineers and the Air Force. This became an open invitation to abandon cost-minimizing.

            Since capability and performance are primary to the military when selecting a contractor, any incentive to offset costs by changes in internal production methods and design were discarded by the leading manufacturers. Costs were simply “passed” along to be added to the final price. This cost-maximizing is at the root of the exponential increase in the cost of military equipment, such as the F-35 fighter jet, which has increased in price by more than 93% before even being put into operation.

            Between 1971 and 1978, as the new management style of cost-maximizing became more widespread, the cost of machine tools increased on average by 85% annually, outpacing the rise in wages. Consequently, in important industries like steel and auto, there was no incentive to invest in new machinery, and this in turn led to an unprecedented decrease in productivity. The machine tools industry itself had failed to invest in the very technology it developed to improve productivity.

            In the decade 1965-1975, annual productivity growth in Japan and the U.S. was 10% and 2% respectively. By 1980 the annual productivity growth in the U.S. had reached an unprecedented low of -0.5%, as investments in new technology and machinery came to a virtual standstill. During this same period the U.S. military used up every $52 of capital resources for every $100 assigned to civilian production. Unable to compete with Japanese and West German manufacturers, many U.S. manufacturers of steel, autos, electronics, machines, and other industries were pushed out of the international and domestic markets. Despite the hourly wages of Japanese workers increasing on average 4.9% annually between 1960-1967 and 8.8% between 1967-1976, compared to 1.7% and 0.8% for American workers respectively, by 1980 Japanese manufacturers supplied 20% of all U.S. steel, eliminating one out of every five jobs in the U.S. steel industry; 27% of all the autos on American roads; 87% of all the televisions; and 15% of all the executive aircraft.

            The massive quantity of capital needed to feed the war machine has also led to the deterioration of infrastructure and social services. “The federal government,” writes Melman (p. 231), “has been milking the economy of New York State (and Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin – all of them centers of civilian industry) and transferring capital and purchasing power to the states where military industry and bases are concentrated.”

            Healthcare, social services, education, and clean water have all been shortchanged to fund the war machine. In 1981, according to a report by the Council of State Planning Agencies, one out of every five bridges required rehabilitation or reconstruction; the Interstate Highway System was deteriorating at a rate requiring reconstruction of 2,000 miles of road a year; and 9,000 dams were in need of safety improvements (p. 228).

            The case of New York was particularly striking. The report estimated that in New York City 6,200 miles of paved streets, 6,000 miles of sewers, 6,000 miles of water lines, 6,700 subway cars, 4,500 buses, 17 hospitals, 19 city university campuses, 950 schools, and 200 libraries would require repair, service, or rebuilding to remain operational. A New York City Councilman, so desperate to acquire funding to rebuild the South Bronx, asked for a $5 billion loan from the Soviet government through a Soviet Peace Committee delegation in 1980.

            Due the application of federal funds to the war machine, an estimated 1,015,000 man-years of labour was lost between 1977-1978. This estimate, however, does not include the secondary effects of the absorption of capital by the war machine, “like further productivity forgone owing to the economically nonproductive character of military goods and services.” (p. 238). The social cost of the deindustrialization of America is staggering. According to a study conducted by Harvey Brenner, for each 1% rise in unemployment nationally, there is a corresponding annual increase of 650 homicides, 920 suicides, 20,000 deaths from heart disease, 3,300 admissions to state mental hospitals, as well as increases in prison admissions.

            A permanent war economy is not sustainable. The working class and all peace loving people must reject any further military expenditures, and struggle for a future where peace and prosperity are to be shared by all.

            (For sources used in this article, visit the author’s blog at


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The “White Helmets,” an organization in Syria, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, raising serious questions about the nature of this group. In the following “Open Letter” to the federal caucus of the New Democratic Party, Hamilton anti-war activist Doug Brown outlines these concerns.

Dear Members of Parliament:

            It is with great disappointment and regret that we find ourselves calling into question your unanimous caucus decision1, announced by MP Nathan Cullen, to support the nomination of the White Helmets organization in Syria for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016. After all, as an anti-war organization formed to oppose the Anglo-American attack on Iraq in 2003, our Coalition was founded in part by NDP members in the greater Hamilton/Burlington area and one NDP riding association in Hamilton. Many of our present executive and rank-and-file members either belong to and/or support the NDP.

            In making his announcement, Cullen called the White Helmets “incredible civilians”, “connected to peace”, “the best of humanity”, “saving the midst of terror.”

            Nothing could be further from the truth.

            The White Helmets organization was founded by James LeMesurier, a British army officer formerly connected to the notorious Blackwater mercenary organization. The White Helmets describe themselves as “fiercely independent.” However, they are actually well-funded by the same governments who are waging the current aggression against Syria. In the past 2.5 years, they received £19.7m. from the British government and $23m. from the US government. Millions more dollars in cash, equipment, and training were contributed by various European NATO countries (including $4.5m. from the Netherlands).2 Would the caucus members agree that these amply-documented facts prove the White Helmets are NOT fiercely independent?

            The White Helmets operate only in terrorist-controlled areas of Syria. The organization is, in fact, deeply embedded in the Nusra (Al Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria) and ISIS terrorist networks.

            Is Mr. Cullen and the caucus unaware that the White Helmet leader, Raed Saleh, was refused entry to the USA and deported from Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, on March 29, 2016, because immigration officials found that he had “terrorist connections.”3 Saleh has repeatedly called for a no-fly zone over Syria, the same tactic used by NATO in 2011 to bomb Libya into a failed state.

            The White Helmets are first-responder poseurs. The REAL Syria Civil Defence was established in Syria in 1953 and was a founding member of the ICDO [International Civil Defence Org.] which is recognised by the United Nations. The White Helmets were only formed in 2013 by the UK, Turkey, and the US as part of their neocolonialist program in Syria. The White Helmets are not members of the ICDO.

            In short, contrary to Mr. Cullen's statement to the CBC, the White Helmets are not civilians. And they are not “connected to peace.” In fact, they were recruited as part of the illegal regime change operation in Syria responsible for nearly half a million deaths, 11 million displaced persons, and the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure. They are part of the reason that over 25,000 Syrian refugees have had to look to Canada for resettlement. And, being embedded directly in Al Qaeda's Syrian franchise hardly qualifies them to be “the best of humanity.”

            To his credit, party leader Tom Mulcair argued on March 20, 2015, in the House of Commons against expanding the Canadian military mission in the Middle East to include the bombing of Syria:

            Canada does not have the legal grounds to conduct airstrikes in Syria.

            “But our friends are doing it” is simply not a defence. That sort of childish reasoning is more suitable to the schoolyard than it is to the House of Commons and the Prime Minister should know better.

            The fact is, what this government is proposing will put our Canadian Forces in the dubious position of acting outside of international law.

            New Democrats will not stand for it.4

            The White Helmets call for a no-fly zone over Syria, a policy much-favoured by the Pentagon, but completely at odds with the view (expressed above) of the NDP leadership in the House of Commons. For this reason, the NDP should also not stand in support of the White Helmets.

            We note that your decision to support the White Helmets was taken unilaterally at a closed caucus retreat held several days ago in Montebello, Quebec. This matter was NOT raised at the NDP policy conference in Edmonton only a few months ago in April 2016. In fact, at that conference, party leaders prevented a wide-ranging discussion of the Syrian and Palestinian conflicts from taking place, as well as the $15 b. Canadian sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. A resolution, endorsed by several riding associations, for the party to engage in a wide-ranging foreign policy review was likewise prevented from even coming to the convention floor.

            We would like to emphasize that the humanitarian tragedy in Syria has gone on for far too long: five and a half years. The White Helmet organization does NOT seek to end the tragedy. Instead, it's part of the propaganda apparatus of the same western governments (which included the Harper government of Canada) that were responsible for causing the tragedy in the first place. They use the White Helmets organization to promote further violence and bloodshed against the Syrian people, up to and including a full-scale and direct western military intervention in Syria.

            Judging by Cullen's statement, it's obvious that the caucus did not consider the partisan and fraudulent nature of the White Helmets. We urge you, then, to reverse your decision to support the nomination of the White Helmets organization for the Nobel Peace Prize. Further, our anti-war Coalition urges you to lobby for an end to Canadian economic sanctions against Syria and for a resumption of normal diplomatic relations with the government of Syria. We also hope that you will call for an end to Canada's participation of the so-called “Friends of Syria” Group of Countries, which was put together in 2012, partly with the help of the Harper government, to wage a proxy war, using terrorist mercenaries, against the Government of Syria. And, we expect that the NDP in Parliament will continue to oppose the participation of the Trudeau government in the US-led coalition in Syria and Iraq.

            Thank you for your consideration of this very important matter.

Yours truly, Doug Brown, Co-chair, Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War





4. March 30, 2015 - prepared text of speech to Parliament;


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By Zoltan Zigedy,

            Thanks to the ubiquity of cell-phone cameras, police racism is now apparent to even the most disinterested citizen. The recorded police murders of African Americans at work, in their cars, committing minor traffic violations, or at leisure, are widely known.

            The unwarranted shootings of unarmed African American youth, women, elderly, or the impaired, have been seen via the media by nearly everyone. There is no longer much public denial of the existence of police violence against Black people. There remains, however, a continuing debate on the extent of the violence, its causes, and its meaning.

            At one pole are the apologists. Apart from the blatant racists who salute the violence, deniers argue that the incidents are rare or that the violence is only the result of a few “bad apples.” The emerging facts belie the belief that police violence is uncommon.

            And the “bad apple” metaphor collapses in the face of the insular solidarity of virtually all police forces; “professional” law enforcement and its political overseers refuse to professionally discard the “bad apples.” If the supposed “good” cops will not step up to repudiate the racists, they are racists, too.

            In profound opposition to the apologists are the Marxists, who see the police as a structure or institution that is inseparably bound up with service to those who rule. Yes, police serve and protect, but primarily they serve and protect the propertied class and its interests. The reason “protect and serve” rings so hollow to minorities, trade unionists, and other groups is that the police are a part of a larger criminal justice system devised solely to keep order for wealth and power.

            Police violence, to the Marxist, is not personal, random, or pathological, but systemic. As a corollary, racist police violence serves to contain a group that has historically challenged power and authority. African American resistance to New World ruling classes begins with the subjugation of Africans, their forced departure from their homelands, and their enslavement as labourers. African Americans fought unsuccessfully to hold onto the gains of Reconstruction, fought against inequities of segregation, struggled for voting rights, for economic and for social rights, and have been in the vanguard of virtually every broad-based US struggle for justice.

            It is for these reasons that the African American people have suffered a special, targeted relationship with the protectors of ruling-class interests-- the police. The mass insurrections that have frequently erupted in recent decades have spurred the police to serve as a veritable occupying army in Black neighbourhoods.

            “Just the Facts…”Of course the Marxist charge of systemic police violence and abuse is not an easy pill for many people to swallow, particularly if they live in communities distant from or walled off from urban neighbourhoods where the police concentrate their violence. So, facts are needed.

            For this, we turn to an unlikely source: a lengthy essay/book review by a conservative academic in The Wall Street Journal. Professor Edward P. Stringham (Is America Facing a Police Crisis?, July 30-31, 2016) notes that opinion polls show that confidence in police is at a 20-year low “among Americans of all ages, education levels, incomes, and races…,” but is even lower for African Americans. All citizens agree overwhelmingly that police should wear body cameras. Such is the general mistrust in police credibility.

            To give perspective to the “crisis,” Stringham offers the vital statistics on police killing and police killed. He cites a “victimization” rate of police officers, thought to be risking their lives protecting us, as 4.6 deaths per 100,000 officers. But the “average American faces a nearly identical homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000 and the average male actually faces a homicide rate of 6.6 per 100,000.”

            So much for the notion that “protecting” the public is more dangerous than being “protected” by the police. By contrast, the police kill “134 [disproportionately Black] Americans per 100,000 officers, a rate 30 times the homicide rate overall. Police represent about 1 out of 360 members of the population, but commit 1 out of 12 of all killings in the United States….

            In England and Germany, where the police represent a similar percentage of the population as in the US, they commit less than one-half of 1% of all killings.” Any argument that explains police killing civilians as a response to the dangers incurred in police work falls before the facts. Stringham goes on to explain that police killings cannot be justified because of a rising crime rate or conversely as the deterrent responsible for the drop in crime.

            Even though the hysterically sensationalist media portrays crime as rampant, the truth is far different. In 14 of the past 15, years most citizens surveyed thought that crime was on the rise when the opposite was true. Actually, the homicide rate dropped in the 1990s to the level of today, the same as in the 1950s (4.5 per 100,000). In 1900, the homicide rate was 6 per 100,000 and 9 per 100,000 during prohibition.

            So, police killings are not a defensive reaction to rising crime. But neither is the recent drop in crime a reaction to the draconian crime-prevention schemes of the last few decades (zero-tolerance, militarization, mass incarceration). The Canadian criminal justice system experienced virtually the same drop in crime without resorting to any of the medieval tactics served up by the US ruling class.

            Thus, police violence is neither justified as a response to rising crime, nor a cause of the drop in crime in the US. Further, it is not only physical violence that epitomizes the US criminal justice system, but also mass incarceration (again, inordinately afflicting African-Americans).

            Today, the US leads the world in per capita criminalization of its citizens, jailing at a rate seven times greater than in 1965. Professor Stringham also points out that New York incarcerated 48 citizens per 100,000 in 1865; now, New York imprisons 265 people per 100,000. It is hardly credible that New Yorkers now pose a threat to society today more than five times greater than 150 years earlier.

            The intensification of police repression is not inexplicable, but is coincident with political policy. The Johnson-era Omnibus crime bill of 1968 that expanded and funded policing, militarization, and surveillance, was clearly a reaction to the mass actions and insurrections of the 1960s.

            The Clinton administration further escalated police reach and militarization with the 1994 crime bill that funded 100,000 more police and vastly more prisons. To fill the prisons, mandatory sentencing and expanded criminal charges were enacted. In addition, the Clinton administration gave police billions of dollars of military equipment-- assault rifles, grenade launchers, armoured vehicles, etc.

            Currently, police departments receive $1.6 billion per annum for military equipment from the Department of Homeland Security.

            Swat teams - the special ops of the militarized police - now conduct 50,000 raids per year. As Glen Ford recently reported in Black Agenda Report, the Obama Administration has nearly tripled the annual direct military transfer of weaponry from the Pentagon to the police since 2010.

            And to what purpose?

            The militarization of the police in the US, a process that accelerated from the late 1960s to today, coincides with the intense concentration of wealth for the rich, the stagnation and deterioration of living standards for the rest, and the stripping of personal rights in the United States.

            The authorities justify police aggression on the basis of contrived wars on crime, drugs, and terrorism. They stoke fears to rally support for the arming of the forces of counter-insurgency against an increasingly angry populace. Because of their historical militancy, African Americans have been subjected to the brunt of militarized police violence. The suppression of Black youth is the particular focus of law enforcement, a testament to the group’s revolutionary potential.

            The devaluation of African American lives and their arbitrary murder are part of the ruling-class campaign to intimidate. The police are the agents of the campaign.


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            The 17th World Trade Union Congress hosted by the World Federation of Trade Unions will take place from October 5-8 in Durban, South Africa. Founded in 1945, the WFTU represents 92 million organized workers in 126 countries, with its headquarters in Athens. The federation’s most recent Congress took place five years ago in Greece, with 828 delegates from 101 countries.

            Preparations for this Congress have been underway for over a year, around the theme “Struggle – Internationalism – Unity! Forward for the attainment of the contemporary needs of the working class against poverty and wars generated by capitalist barbarism.”

            South Africa was chosen to host the 17th Congress in recognition of the country’s heroic traditions of liberation struggles, and as an expression of internationalist solidarity with the people of the entire African continent. The country’s largest trade union body, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is an affiliate of the WFTU.

            As the Call to the 17th Congress says, “the World Federation of Trade Unions as well as the South African working class have struggled side by side from the very first moment against the racist apartheid regime, for a world without exploitation, for a socialist world, and continue till today the struggle for the defense of the workers and people’s rights.”

            Putting the 17th Congress into a global context, the Call says this event takes place “at a time when the International Working Class is affected by:

            - The International Capitalist Crisis: a crisis which intensifies the ruthless competition between the monopolies and forces the implementation of anti-labour and anti-people policies that seek to impose the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the toiling masses. The labour, social and trade union rights are under attack. Privatizations flourish and unemployment is skyrocketing. The quality of life is degrading.

            - The inter-imperialist contradictions that generate new wars and conflicts: For the control of natural resources, markets, roads for transport of goods and the control of new territories, the competition between the imperialist forces and their satellites is being intensified day after day generating new wars, conflicts and interventions in different countries.

            - The reconstruction of the political sphere: The two main poles, the social-democrats and the neoconservatives, which are represented by new or older parties, are utilized by the capitalist system to transform the indignation of the masses against the anti-people policies into passive or active support for the policy of the ruling class.

            - The struggle of the working class and the toiling masses worldwide: Struggles unfolded in all parts of the world during the past years. Many of them, great and heroic, had to deal with the brutal reaction of authorities and the capitalists who responded against the fair struggles with arrests, imprisonments of militants and even murder of trade unionists. The workers struggle against the anti-labour and neoliberal anti-people policies is the positive perspective that can open up new roads for the reconstruction of the trade union movement.

            The working class needs stronger, more dynamic, more mass based, more class-oriented, trade union movement, Trade unions with deep and stable roots within the industries, within the multinationals and within all sectors, to defend its rights and demand “the attainment of its contemporary needs against poverty and wars generated by capitalist barbarism”. Move “Forward” with struggle, internationalism and unity.”

            The agenda for delegates in Durban will include reports on the activities and finances of the WFTU from 2011-2016, a Plan of Action for 2016-2020, and the election of a new leadership.

            For more information, visit the WFTU website,


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By Nino Pagliccia, September 22, 2016        

            It is still frequent to come across people who having heard about the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, believe that now it’s all back to normal and that the blockade of Cuba is over. Although the initial announcements of the reopening of relations by Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama were made on December 17, 2014, the blockade is still in full force.

            In fact, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez stated at a Sept. 9 press conference in Havana that the U.S. blockade on the island nation has cost it $4.7 billion over the last year, and $753.7 billion over the last six decades. [1] But the blockade is not just a matter of monetary value; it is a human rights issue that Cubans call immoral, in violation of all ethical principles, and causing human harm.

            Here are some recent examples of the enforcement of the blockade by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for transactions involving Cuba:

            - On March 12, 2015 the German financial institution Commerzbank was fined about 1.7 million dollars.

            - March 25, the U.S. company PayPal was fined more than $7.6 million.

            - In November 2015, four months after reopening respective embassies, OFAC imposed a fine of $1.1 billion on the French bank Crédit Agricole.

            - On January 20, 2016, the U.S. design company WATG Holdings Inc. was fined $140,400.

            - In February, the French geological company CGG Service S.A. was fined $614,250.

            - At the end of February, the Treasury Department fined the U.S. company Halliburton $304,706.

            Most damaging of course are transactions involving two strategic sectors: 1) food production and imports; and 2) manufacturing of pharmaceutical and biological products for the healthcare system.

            Other impacts of the blockade involve difficulty by Cuban entities to carry out normal services. This is the case of denial by the Spanish courier and postal services TNT to mail an international parcel by the Cuban Embassy in Madrid. Reason given? “There is a USA embargo.” How much these incidents are the result of stupidity, ignorance or deliberate harassment against Cuba, we will never know.

            Paradoxically, Cuba-U.S. conversations continue. On September 12, the first Bilateral Economic Dialogue took place in Washington, to discuss economic, commercial and financial issues of mutual interest. While these contacts are necessary, likely they will not translate into any substantial advantage for the Cuban economy. The Cuban newspaper Granma reports that despite the “authorization for Cuba to use the U.S. dollar in international transactions with third countries and in those permitted between Cuban and U.S. institutions, to date, this change has not been implemented. International banks continue to refuse to work with Cuba, given the U.S. sanctions that remain in place. Cuba has yet to make a single payment or deposit in U.S. dollars.” [2]

            In another apparent paradox, on September 14 President Barak Obama reauthorized the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA). Established in 1917, in the middle of World War One, this Act has been used as the basis for the Helms-Burton Act that codifies the U.S. blockade. The TWEA is now used only against Cuba. What indicates the confusion of U.S. government legislation is the fact that by signing this Act, Obama actually retains some authority to soften aspects of the blockade. Despite the intention of the Act, Obama has not used that authority to a great extent.

            Many supporters internationally have been in solidarity with Cuba against this absurd U.S. blockade. They include personalities like the Head of the U.S. Council of Churches and Pope Francis.

            The report, titled “Necessity to End the Economic, Commercial and Financial Blockade Imposed by the United States”, will be presented on October 26 at the UN General Assembly. [3] Similar reports have been introduced and voted on at the U.N. since 1992. Last year the General Assembly voted 191-2 to condemn the U.S. blockade on Cuba, with only the U.S. and Israel opposed. Yet another paradox when the U.S. votes for the continuation of the almost 60 years old blockade at the U.N. while Obama speaks of “leaving the past behind.”

            With the apparent shift towards pro-U.S. right-wing governments in Latin America, it will be interesting to see who the “new” outliers will be, if any.

            Cuba will continue to vigorously demand lifting the blockade and returning the Guantanamo territory illegally occupied by the U.S. military base as the initial steps towards normalization of relations. In a recent talk in Ottawa, Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Julio Garmendía Peña, emphasized the importance of the international solidarity movement and thanked the Canadian friendship associations that have consistently picketed in front of the U.S. consulates in several cities demanding the lifting of the blockade. [4]

            In the meantime Cuba and the Cubans are determined to continue the struggle to maintain the well-earned sovereignty and independence gained thanks to its socialist values.



[3] Full text in English can be downloaded from: 



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12) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker

 Gord Downie honours Chanie Wenjak

Tragically Hip singer and lyricist Gord Downie will play two concerts this month in support of his Secret Path project - a set of songs and a graphic novel honouring Chanie Wenjack, the 12-year-old Anishinaabe youth who died from hunger and exposure after escaping from a residential school near Kenora, Ontario, fifty years ago. Downie, who has terminal brain cancer, performed across Canada this summer with the Tragically Hip. Their tour concluded with a nationally-broadcast concert in Kingston. The Secret Path project includes 10 songs and an 88-page graphic novel by comic book writer and illustrator Jeff Lemire. The album and book will be released on October 18. Downie will perform the songs at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on that date, and at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto on October 21. He'll share the stage with Chanie Wenjak's family at both concerts. Proceeds will go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. An animated film, inspired by Downie's music and Lemire's illustrations, will be broadcast by CBC television on October 23.

"We Are the Halluci Nation"

Since the release of their first album in 2012, Ottawa-based indigenous DJ trio A Tribe Called Red has been one of the most influential groups in Canadian music. Their third album, "We Are the Halluci Nation", was released last month. Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau, Tim "2oolman" Hill, and Bear Witness, pioneered a new genre, "powwow step", when they combined indigenous drum group samples with house music electronica. With "Halluci Nation", they venture into new territory. The powwow beat is still present, but it's overlaid with poly-rhythms. Rather than employing drum group samples, ATCR works with drum groups Black Bear, Northern Voice, and Chippewa Travellers. Indeed, they collaborate with a multitude of guest artists. While this can sometimes compromise a band's message, the contributions here succeed as part of a whole. The message is clear - indigenous peoples and their allies stand united in resistance to colonialism. Collaborators include the late poet John Trudell, hip-hop star Yasiin Bey, throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Colombian singer Lido Pimienta, hip-hop artist and broadcaster Shad, Iraqi-Canadian MC Narcy, Australian aboriginal band OKA, and Swedish-Sami singer Maxida Märak. Novelist Joseph Boyden dramatizes "Jack" - a character who telephones from an “Alien Nation correctional facility" with an urgent and inclusive message. Visit

T.O. musicians fête Tony Quarrington

Tony Quarrington, composer, guitarist, songwriter, vocalist, and producer, was honoured by his fellow musicians on August 10th at Toronto's Black Swan Tavern. "The Songs of Tony Quarrington" featured performances by 15 different artists, each of whom interpreted one of Quarrington's many compositions. Performers included Laura Fernandez, Glen Hornblast, Brian Gladstone, and Soozie Schlanger. Some People's Voice readers will recall Tony's performance at the 38th Convention of the Communist Party last May, where he sang originals like "Sing the Struggle On" and "Joe Hill, Joe Hill We Need You Now", along with his hilarious satirical blues "Hellhound On My Lawn". Tony Quarrington's career in Canadian music goes back to 1966, when he made his debut at the Mariposa Folk Festival. Since then he's distinguished himself as a bandleader, studio musician, songwriter/composer, JUNO-winning record producer, and master guitarist, in a wide array of jazz and roots music styles. The tribute was presented by Winterfolk, Toronto's grassroots folk festival, now in its fifteenth year. A live recording of the event will be released at Winterfolk XV next February. For more info visit: and

Fred Hellerman: 1927 - 2016

Folk-singer and composer Fred Hellerman, the last surviving member of The Weavers, died on Sept. 8. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, the son of Latvian Jewish immigrants. As a youth, Hellerman was a counselor at the communist Camp Wo-Chi-Ca, where he met singer Ronnie Gilbert. He later joined People's Songs, the folk music organization founded by Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Alan Lomax. Hellerman, Gilbert, Seeger, and Hays were present at the 1949 Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, NY, where anti-communist vigilantes, abetted by local police, attacked concert-goers with rocks and clubs. Soon afterwards, the four musicians founded The Weavers, arguably the most influential American folk group of the post-war era. The Weavers brought folk music to a mass audience with best-selling hits like "If I Had a Hammer" and "Goodnight Irene". While temporarily silenced by McCarthyism, they returned triumphantly to the stage in the late fifties. Their 1957 Carnegie Hall concert recording heralded the folk-revival of the sixties. After The Weavers disbanded in 1964, Hellerman carried on as a songwriter, guitarist, arranger, and producer, working with artists like Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Peter Paul & Mary, and Judy Collins. While he'll always be remembered as a member of The Weavers, aficionados of American folk music will find Hellerman's later career worth investigating. Check out his entry at

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By Rob Gowland, The Guardian, weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia

            The recent floods in the US state of Louisiana were exceptional. They were reported on our TV news of course. For the editors of our television news media, natural disasters are what news is all about: eye-catching visuals, human drama, and no explanation is needed since it’s an “act of God”.

            Science, however, suggests it has less to do with God than with climate change, and climate change, as we now know, is caused at least partially by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, amongst other things. The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events is a recognised consequence of climate change. And Louisiana’s weather has changed dramatically.

            According to Weather Underground meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, August was the wettest month in the Louisiana city of Baton Rouge since records were first kept 174 years ago. “Baton Rouge picked up ... more rain in three months than downtown Los Angeles has recorded over the last five years!” The resulting floodwaters left more than a dozen people dead and some 60,000 homes inundated.

            This flood may have been more severe than others, but it is by no means unique. Near the beginning of the year another massive flood hit southern Louisiana. You could say nature was trying to tell America something. Not loudly enough, however, for within days of President Obama visiting the devastation in Baton Rouge, the US federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the US Interior Department, conducted an auction – in the Superdome football stadium, no less – of almost 25 million acres in the western section of the Gulf of Mexico, for under-water exploration and extraction of oil and gas. Oil and gas, of course, are fossil fuels.

            The US government, however, is very keen – almost desperate in fact – to promote offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico despite widespread protests. In March this year, hundreds of people protested against a similar auction, also being held in the Superdome football stadium. The Superdome itself achieved international notoriety when thousands of refugees from another extreme weather event, Hurricane Katrina, were given “temporary” shelter there that went on and on. The irony of holding these auctions in that venue was not lost on US climate activists.

            “Those thousands in the Superdome after Katrina should be considered climate refugees. For this building now to house the auctions for drilling for more fossil fuels only adds insult to the injury,” said Antonia Juhasz, a journalist and energy analyst.

            Amy Goodman, the host of the widely syndicated US TV/radio news hour Democracy Now! reported comments Juhasz made on her program: “The Interior Department is continuing the problems that helped accelerate this storm in the first place, helped make it more ferocious, helped make these storms more frequent. And that, of course, is the burning of fossil fuels, leading to climate change.”

            Goodman herself points out that “While any one extreme weather event can’t be directly attributed to climate change, storms, droughts, wildfires, floods and hurricanes all are expected to become more frequent and more severe as the planet warms. ... Rather than enabling more dangerous deep-water oil extraction off the shores of the Gulf Coast, President Obama should be spending his remaining months in office doing everything in his power to reduce our national dependence on fossil fuels.”

            Actually, President Obama has his hands full sanctioning assassinations, approving drone strikes on Pakistani villages, arranging with the Pentagon for the bombing of Libya and Syria, not to mention engineering coups against democratically elected governments in Ukraine, Brazil and elsewhere. Given all that, it’s astonishing the way otherwise intelligent Americans still have this belief that President Obama is one of the good guys.

            Meanwhile, US journalist Judith Schwartz, author of the book, Water In Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World, has a timely caution against taking a too simplistic view of combating climate change. Her article is important, I think. So I have unashamedly quoted from it extensively. She says “we need to understand how natural systems regulate climate and to ally with the processes that maintain those functions.

            “Shifting to renewable energy is essential. But this alone won’t avert climate disaster. Even if we stopped fossil fuel emissions this minute, it would take centuries to bring CO2 down to appropriate levels. ... Climate is too complex to be reduced to a single variable.

            “Many ecological processes that influence climate reflect the movement and phase change of water. While carbon dioxide traps heat, water vapour acts as a conveyer of heat, retaining and releasing heat as it circulates. Consider transpiration, the upward movement of water through plants. This is a cooling mechanism, transforming solar radiation to latent heat embodied in water vapour. According to Czech botanist Jan Pokorny, each litre of water transpired converts 0.7 kilowatt-hours of solar energy, an amount comparable to the capacity of, say, a large room air conditioner.

            “A single tree can transpire upwards of 100 litres of water in a day. That’s a lot of cooling power – not to mention the shade, the drawdown of carbon, and everything else a tree does for us.

            “We may see a denuded landscape as a sign of climate change, but it’s also a cause. When we strip away vegetation, we lose the temperature modulation those plants provided. Sunlight beaming down becomes sensible heat – heat you can feel – as opposed to being captured and transformed by plants. Peter Andrews, an Australian maverick farmer and author, emphasises the extent to which plants direct and manage water. He adds: ‘Every time a plant manages water, it manages heat’. He estimates that a quarter of earth’s land has lost plant cover.

            “The best tactic for reconciliation with nature is regenerating ecosystems. What’s crucial is to know that it’s possible: we’ve grown so accustomed to diminished landscapes we’ve lost sight of how lush they can be. ... From Mexico to Southern Africa and across the US [you can find] numerous examples of people restoring land to reduce poverty, support wildlife, store carbon, – and hold moisture.

            “The strategy depends on the setting but may entail building carbon-rich, living soil; slowing the flow of water; promoting the growth of trees; and managing grazing animals in a way that restores land. In grassland regions, many of which are desertifying, ruminants like cows and sheep are managed to serve as a proxy for the vast animal herds that helped create and maintain these environments.

            “Per the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), an intact forest is worth zero; its contribution to biodiversity, water regulation, area cooling and human wellbeing is treated as irrelevant. If someone takes a chainsaw to it, the sale of wood goes in the plus column. This is ‘growth’. At the very least, ‘externalised’ costs – with our lumber sale, this includes soil erosion, lowered water quality, loss of recreation – should be on the balance sheet.

            “Filmmaker and researcher John D. Liu believes our economic structure needs more fundamental change. In 1995 Liu filmed the rehabilitation of China’s Loess Plateau, a chunk of degraded land the size of Belgium, for the World Bank. Upon documenting this and other areas brought back from the brink, he’s become an advocate of valuing ecological function over products and services, which he calls ‘derivatives’ of nature.

            “The route to climate equilibrium [is not] through technology alone – there are always unintended consequences – but in partnership with plants, animals and micro-organisms.”

            Wise words to ponder over, but the solution Judith Schwartz posits is not at all an easy one. The problem is complex and so is the solution. The wholesale regenerating of ecosystems will require the reining in of capitalism’s unbridled quest for profits. This is more than just a subject for academic discussion, however. As Judith Schwartz observes, succinctly but tellingly, “time is running out”.


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