People’s Voice September 1-15, 2016
Volume 24 – Number 13   $1

CONTENTS

1) BUILD MASS LABOUR STRUGGLES AND A PEOPLE’S COALITION

2) ONTARIO’S ELECTORAL REFORM ANOTHER BLOW TO DEMOCRACY

3) COMMUNIST PARTY BC TO RUN CANDIDATES IN BOTH KAMLOOPS RIDINGS

4) BRAMPTON ACTIVISTS RALLY AGAINST HYDRO ONE SELL-OFF

5) THE BIG “STEAL” IN HAMILTON - Editorial

6) BDS IS A STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE - Editorial

7) “IT SEEMS LIKE THE TORIES STILL RUN THE POST OFFICE”, SAYS CUPW LEADER

8) EMPLOYER-BASED HEALTH CARE IS FAILING U.S. WORKERS

9) CLASS CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST THE ELDERLY

10) “HINDUTVA SURGE” HURTS INDIA’S PEACE AND PROGRESS

11) U.S. 2016 ELECTIONS: A CUBAN VIEW... FROM 1888

12) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker


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(The following articles are from the September 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.)

1) BUILD MASS LABOUR STRUGGLES AND A PEOPLE’S COALITION

Labour Day 2016 statement from the Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada

    Coming almost a year after the defeat of one of the most dangerously reactionary governments in Canadian history, Labour Day 2016 is an important point for the organized trade union movement to respond to challenges facing the working class in the changed political environment - and most importantly, to mobilize against the continued neoliberal austerity policies of governments and corporations.

    After a decade of brutal attacks by the Harper Conservatives, working people in all parts of Canada voted for what they saw as the best opportunity to achieve change at the parliamentary level. The collapse of support for the NDP had many causes, but one of the most significant was its refusal to break with the big business austerity agenda, symbolized by Mulcair’s “balanced budgets” promise, based on protecting corporate profits and the incomes of the rich, at the expense of social spending. By failing to present working people with a strong progressive alternative, the NDP opened the door for the Liberals to pose as the party of real change.

    In office, PM Justin Trudeau has continued the typical Liberal strategy of “campaigning from the left and governing from the right.” The Liberals made initial con-cessions to people’s movements on some important issues, but without any significant shift from the pro-business course of previous governments. The inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women has begun, and the first Liberal budget contained relatively minor spending increases on some social programs, including reversal of the Tories’ move to change pension eligibility age from 65 to 67. These victories were achieved as a result of years of organizing and political struggles by the organized working class, indigenous peoples, and other sections of the population.

    But overall, the corporate agenda remains untouched. The Liberal budget did not provide for the necessary massive spending on infrastructure and social housing, nor did it address the huge gap in living standards and social conditions faced by indig-enous peoples and communities. The recent agreement between Ottawa and most provinces on improvements to the Canada Pension Plan does nothing for retired workers and those nearing retirement age. While the elim-ination of door-to-door urban postal delivery has been temporarily halted, Deepak Chopra and Canada Post are continuing this drive to cut jobs and public services at the negotiating table. The new government says it will be a leader in the fight against climate change, but instead of making huge investments in renewal energy and conservation programs, it is backing pipeline projects to extract and export unprocessed tar sands oil. Unemployment is growing rapidly, along with cost of living increases which hit working people and the poor. Household debt levels are rising, and could reach record levels if - or more accurately when - the housing price bubbles pop in major cities. Despite  maneuvers to make it appear that they are engaged in genuine popular consultations, the Liberals remain determined to adopt the Trans-Pacific Partnership, CETA, and other pro-corporate trade deals. Through outsourcing, and in violation of federal law, the government has killed thousands of well-paid union machinist jobs in Quebec and Manitoba.

    This list could be greatly expanded, but the point is clear. The pro-corporate, austerity policies that Harper pushed following the 2007-08 economic crisis have continued under the new government, exacerbated by the impact of the collapse in oil prices. Inevitably, the honeymoon period for the Trudeau Liberals is beginning to wane.

    But unfortunately, instead of using the new situation to prepare for broader resistance struggles against right-wing economic and social policies, the leadership of the trade union movement (especially in English-speaking Canada) has largely adopted a tactic of cozying up to the Liberals. This approach fails to recognize that the shift from the “iron fist” and harsh rhetoric to a “velvet glove” and “sunny days”, however welcome as a temporary relief, does not represent a fundamentally new scenario. Instead of jostling to pose for photo ops and selfies with the PM and inviting Liberal cabinet ministers to address conventions, the leadership of the trade union movement needs to begin mobilizing a broad fightback for real change and a genuine People’s Agenda, not just a series of feel-good moments.

    The most crucial element of such a strategy is to move from the defensive towards an offensive posture. What is needed is a sovereign, independent and united trade union movement, advancing policies based on class struggle, not class collaboration. This means dropping the traditional approach of  "outsourcing" labour s political struggles to the NDP or even the Liberals, in favour of independent labour political action at all levels.

    This Labour Day, the most immediate priority for labour is to build maximum solidarity in support of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which is engaged in a critical collective bargaining battle. As one of the most militant unions in recent decades, CUPW has been targetted repeatedly by both Conservative and Liberal governments which seek to push back the entire labour movement. This attack is also part of the plan to privatize Canada Post and other public services, and to cut tens of thousands of public sector jobs. Their fight is our fight. The best immediate way to push back is to organize huge turnouts for the September 17 “Postal Power Pan-Canadian Day of Action” (see people4posties.ca for details).

    Over the next period of time, the trade union movement can and must become the catalyst to bring together all sections of the working class into a powerful, fighting united front. This means organizing the unorganized and the unemployed, and reaching out to indigenous peoples, racialized communities, immigrants, environmentalists, anti-poverty activists, youth and students, women, farmers, the LGBTiQ community, defenders of civil liberties and human rights, opponents of the TPP, CETA and other corporate trade deals. It means building active alliances between the progressive national forces in Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Such a united front can build a sustained, escalating fight for the interests of working people, along the lines of recent experiences such as the Common Front in Ontario or the Red Hand Coalition in Quebec.

    To those who say such a strategy is unrealistic, we point to the wave of mass popular movements in recent years: the 2012 Quebec student strike, the Occupy Movement, Idle No More, environmental campaigns, the strikes of post-graduate education workers at the University of Toronto and York University, the massive demonstrations in Quebec against the Couillard Liberal government’s austerity drive and its attempt to take away the collective bargaining rights of municipal workers, the growing “fight for $15” struggle to raise the minimum wage, and last spring’s mass community-labour actions across Newfoundland against the provincial Liberal austerity budget.

    These examples show the importance of a political vehicle that can draw in the broadest sections of the labour and people's movements. We urge the labour movement to take the initiative to begin building such a People's Coalition to lead mass struggles against the corporate agenda. Such a fightback could help forge a democratic people's alliance, led by the working class, and which could ultimately challenge the ruling class for political power.

    This is the perspective of the Communist Party of Canada, which fights to end capitalism and exploitation, and to win a socialist future, based on public ownership and democratic control of the economy.

    A stronger Communist Party and Young Communist League are essential to strengthen the labour movement - on Labour Day 2016, we invite you to join us in this historic struggle!

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2) ONTARIO’S ELECTORAL REFORM ANOTHER BLOW TO DEMOCRACY

By Dave McKee, leader of the Communist Party (Ontario)

    Largely in response to negative press about her party’s scandalous “cash for access” fundraising dinners, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has introduced sweeping changes to the province’s election financing laws.

    Unfortunately, Bill 201 An Act to Amend the Election Finances Act and the Taxation Act, does nothing to address parties’ receipt of money in return for meetings with senior Cabinet members. Instead, it delivers another blow to democracy in the form of a full-on frontal assault against working class participation in electoral politics.

    In the first place, the proposed legislation aims to ban political donations from trade unions. While a related proposal to eliminate corporate donations to political parties and candidates is welcome, the government is wrong to take the same approach to trade unions. Unions are not corporations, and pretending that they are and applying the same rules places a serious limit on the ability of working people – the vast majority of the population – to participate fully in the electoral process. This is especially true in a class society, in which the political marginalization of the working class is a constant and growing feature.

    Furthermore, trade unions have nowhere near the financial capacity of corporations to influence political and electoral activity. The large national and transnational corporations are multi-billion dollar operations, whose interests are narrowly focused on profit, and often collide with the public interest. 

    Not all working people are in a position to be publicly involved as individuals in the political process. Many have legitimate concerns for their employment, for their legal status in Canada, or for the safety of families abroad. At the same time, we all have the right to be politically active. Trade union political activity is a very important avenue for workers to exercise their democratic rights through an already democratic and transparent organization.

    The simple fact is that working people, whether individually or in association with other working people, have the right to participate in elections. By banning trade union donations, Bill 201 diminishes this fundamental right.

    The second aspect of this attack on working class political participation comes in the form of draconian limits on third party spending and activity. In recent years the provincial Conservatives, combined with right-wing think tanks and the corporate media, have raised a storm of criticism about the level of third party spending. This outcry has been promoted as a way to support Bill 201’s proposal to limit third party election spending to $4000 per electoral district and $100,000 overall, as well as non-election period limits of $24,000 per district and $600,000 overall for six months before a general election.

    The right-wing is particularly vocal about the role of trade unions in third party advertising. A recent article in the Globe and Mail bewailed that “Ontario unions have spent more than $15-million to campaign in the past three general elections, 94 per cent of all third-party advertising.” Of course, these sources do not mention the decades-long, huge combined level of corporate financing and manipulation of the political process, including political donations, third party spending, “buying” editorial lines, and staged photo ops.

    What is really notable about the manufactured outrage over third party advertising is that it has arisen specifically in response to working class campaigns that have had an impact on election outcomes. In particular, the Tories and their allies are frustrated that the Working Families Coalition has been effective in building opposition to key Conservative policies, like right-to-work legislation and attacks on the public sector.

    The legislation could, and should, deal with the overall issue of general election campaign spending levels. In 2014, the total spending limit for a party was $7.4 million. Without a doubt, such high spending limits allows the largest and best-funded parties to “buy elections” by financially exhausting both their opponents and the electorate. Rather than proposing significant reductions in campaign spending limits, which would limit corporate involvement in elections, the government has zeroed in on the one area – third party spending – in which the working class and its organizations are able to make an impact with their own voice.

    There are other areas of concern with Bill 201. The proposal to dramatically lower individual contribution limits and introduce a per-vote allowance represents a further, and very significant, shift in political financing from the realm of donations from the public, to greater state support through per vote funding. The people have the right to fund their parties and movements – limiting that right, and replacing it with a form of state funding that privileges the largest parties, are mechanisms for diminishing democracy.

    Furthermore, the bill does nothing to address the serious problem of unequal access to free-time media broadcasting, which amounts very clearly to a form of donation and subsidy to the largest parties, especially those represented in legislature. This applies to both the “free-time” party broadcasts and access to the private broadcast consortium’s election debates and discussions. To ensure that free broadcasting is equally provided, and that there are no exclusions, it should be covered by the provincial Election Finances Act.

    Political financing has a profound impact on democracy and democratic participation. Ontario needs a broad public consultation that provides the people – individually and through popular movements – the opportunity to discuss how funding rules relate to broader questions of democracy. These include questions of participation, accessibility, engagement, transparency, equality, and others. Such a process is a necessary step that can point toward progressive legislative proposals to expand and deepen democracy.

    Bill 201 just another a dressed up body-check on working class political participation. Despite all of the government’s claims that this legislation is about “levelling the playing field,” it clearly aims to corral Ontario’s working class into a limited, highly regulated and marginalized zone of political participation.

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3) COMMUNIST PARTY BC TO RUN CANDIDATES IN BOTH KAMLOOPS RIDINGS

    Both of Kamloops’ provincial ridings will be challenged by candidates representing the Communist Party of BC in the May, 2017 election. The candidates will make their first official campaign appearance at the Kamloops and District Labour Council’s annual Labour Day Picnic at McDonald Park on September 5, from 11am – 2pm.

    “We’re really looking forward to broadening the narrow political landscape that has existed in Kamloops for decades now,” says Peter Kerek, candidate for Kamloops-North Thompson. “Trickle-down economics has run its ugly course – it didn’t work on paper, and it doesn’t work in the real world. People are tired of the hoarding, greed and poverty incessant within capitalism, and our party’s the only one running in Kamloops that proposes systematic changes to a bankrupt system.”

    “It’s a shame that the major parties in BC accept so much poverty and income disparity in a province that has enough wealth to take care of everyone. Unfortunately, even the now centrist NDP has become so focused on holding onto their second place status that they very much abandoned all advocacy of practices that could eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness and unemployment,” says Kerek.

    “The other parties just offer different shades of the same capitalist system,” says Beat Klossner, Kamloops-South Thompson candidate for the Communist Party of BC. “Capitalism does not work for the vast majority of us and a system that is fundamentally opposed to basic human needs and instincts can not be reformed - it needs to be replaced.”

    “We will be advocating for the immediate construction of affordable housing, significant improvements to public transit, electoral reform and a reversal of the tax breaks given to the wealthiest British Columbians   15 years ago,” says Klossner. “That break slashed provincial revenues by over $2 billion annually with the deliberate intention to justify reduced funding for public services."

    The candidates acknowledge that their party will not be running enough candidates to form government, but do hope that their message will help build momentum for future elections and promote progressive values.

    “Revolutionary political change doesn’t happen overnight, and, in countries where there’s very little diversity in media or meaningful political debate, it happens even more slowly,” says Kerek. “Regardless of the challenge of winning seats there needs to be real demands for the most progressive ideas to come to fruition, and that’s why it’s important for parties of the Left to always make such demands, especially during elections. And it’s also important for people who support those ideas to vote for them as many governing parties adopt progressive policies in order to avoid losing support to us. But, if people don’t vote for us, then that pressure to adopt people-friendly policies is significantly reduced and we end up with governments only beholden to their political financiers.”

    “A small party like ours could potentially hold the balance of power and use that position to help extra-parliamentary movements to block neoliberal austerity policies,” Kerek added.

    One of the hot-button issues in the Kamloops area is the AJAX mine proposal. Both candidates have been public about their opposition to the AJAX project and their Party’s Kamloops Club published their official statement of opposition last winter. They are thus far the only candidates in the Kamloops area that are opposed to AJAX.

    “This would be a totally different discussion if the entire mining industry were nationalized, then AJAX would need to be of net benefit to the entire community rather than the current situation where we’re weighing the community’s benefits and costs against the profit requirements of the mine owners,” says Klossner.

    “The mining industry is the single biggest donor to this Liberal government. Industries don’t donate money without favours returned - that’s the simple truth about politics in ‘Western Democracies’,” says Kerek. “If it was about supporting the democratic freedom of voters to choose the best candidate then they would donate equally to all parties.”

    Kerek says the current state of campaign financing continues to disadvantage parties and candidates that openly challenge the status quo and economic injustices.

    “In some cases industry does donate to multiple parties, but, that’s usually because they see each of those parties supporting their interests – it’s not done to improve political diversity – it’s actually done to promote just one single outlook and simultaneously quash diversity.”

    Kerek is a 43-year-old father of three, husband and stay-at-home dad. He was active on the Kamloops and District Labour Council for 15 years, including holding the position of President, before resigning from his work to be at home with his young children. Kerek also earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from UBC and a Bachelor of Journalism degree from TRU. Kerek’s personal Twitter handle is @proletariatkami .

    Klossner is a 55-year-old husband and father of one who moved to Kamloops in 2002. He works as a baker at a downtown Kamloops bakery. Klossner’s personal Twitter handle is @klossnercommie .

    The Communist Party of BC is a registered provincial party which campaigns in British Columbia elections. To date, the party has named candidates in four other ridings, including George Gidora in Surrey-Whalley, Peter Marcus in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, Kimball Cariou in Vancouver-Hastings, and Tyson Strandlund in Esquimalt-Metchosin. The party’s election platform will be finalized later this month. For more information, call 604-254-9836, or follow the CPBC on Twitter @cp_bc.

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4) BRAMPTON ACTIVISTS RALLY AGAINST HYDRO ONE SELL-OFF

PV Ontario Bureau

            The summer heat wave broke, briefly, but anti-privatization activists in Brampton weren’t ready to chill out. More than two dozen turned out at the city’s Hydro One headquarters on August 14 to protest the Ontario government’s sale of the century-old public electrical utility.

            The rally was organized by the GTA West Club of the Communist Party, and included participants from the Indo-Canadian Workers Association, the Rationalist Society and Concern Nepal Canada. They decorated Hydro One’s front yard with “Keep Hydro Public” lawn signs, and waved placards at the busy traffic. Scores of passing drivers honked, waved and shouted support, indicating the breadth of opposition to this sell-off.

            Speaker Dave McKee, Ontario leader of the Communist Party, told the demonstration that opposition to the sale has continued to build. “Just before the Initial Public Offering, the largest IPO in memory in Ontario, public opposition was 58%. Astonishingly, this grew by 25% after the first tranche of shares was sold, and now a whopping 83% of Ontarians are against the Hydro One privatization.”

            McKee also noted that 200 municipalities – one out of every two in Ontario – have passed resolutions against privatization. “This represents a massive basis for mobilizing people into the streets, which is what the Communist Party is encouraging.”

            Participants unanimously agreed to send a message to the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne, calling on her to stop the sell-off.

            The Brampton rally was part of a surge of activity against the Hydro One sale, and against privatization in general. In February, several dozen Toronto activists gathered for an anti-privatization forum that included presentations on healthcare, post-secondary education, electricity, housing and public transit.

            Speakers noted that the process of privatization is underway everywhere in Ontario, but that it takes different forms, depending on the conditions in each individual sector. In the case of Hydro One, the government is conducting an outright sale to the private sector. In healthcare, privatization often takes the form of for-profit clinics which offer services that have been delisted from public healthcare, or which are allowed – illegally – to operate in competition with public clinics.

            In other areas, such as public transit, privatization often takes the form of contracting the private-sector to manage and oversee public programs and services. Virtually all sectors are seeing the increase of P3s – public private partnerships – to finance, build, maintain or upgrade public services. In all cases, services for people decline while corporate profits increase.

            The provincial government claims that privatization is necessary because budget constraints mean that sufficient public funding is not available. Wynne constantly describes the Hydro One sell-off as the key to financing her government’s infrastructure program, an election promise that helped secure a Liberal majority in 2014.

            The reality, though, is that privatization is a dead-end for public services. The Hydro One deal is the largest privatization in memory, estimated to yield $9 billion, but the government has committed to using $5 billion to pay down debt. That leaves $4 billion to be used for services and infrastructure – money that Hydro One’s annual profit payments of nearly $1 billion would provide to the public over four years. After that, these profits will go straight into corporate bank accounts and the people of Ontario will be stuck with a big loss.

            It’s a similar, sad story for the other sectors facing privatization.

            But it doesn’t have to be this way. Since 1995, when the Mike Harris Conservatives were elected, the Ontario government has aggressively pursued a policy of tax cuts for corporations and the very rich. Currently, Ontario is one of, if not the lowest corporate tax jurisdiction in North America, at just 11%. A recent report by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union indicated that since 1995, all of the tax cuts in Ontario add up to $18 billion in lost public revenue each year. This is money that is badly needed for health, education, public transit, job creation and infrastructure. But instead of restoring this funding, the Wynne government has a strategy to sell public assets like Hydro One, the LCBO (liquor retailer), public schools, water and wastewater services.

            The good news is that working people in Ontario are organizing against this criminal theft, and beginning to pull together to forge a united movement against privatization. A lot more needs to be done, though. Public forums, where activists share details of the corporate attack and of their own tactics, are important but they are only one piece of the struggle. The forces pushing privatization are extremely powerful and well funded, and the fightback needs to be even stronger. Ontario needs a funded, united movement against privatization, one that can engage millions of people into a sustained and escalating campaign. For this to develop, working people rely on the trade union movement.

            Says McKee, “Imagine a province-wide day of action, in which communities across Ontario had rallies like the one in Brampton. That kind of organization and mobilization is what we need to force the government to halt and reverse these privatizations. It needs to be built, it can be built, and it starts with the working people insisting that another Ontario is possible.”

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5) THE BIG “STEAL” IN HAMILTON

People’s Voice Editorial

            In the latest chapter of one of the most outrageous tales of corporate theft in Canadian history, Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel ruled on August 19 that U.S. Steel Canada may set aside $1.57 million for "key employee" retention bonuses, but is not required to reinstate retirement benefits for more than 20,000 retired workers. The judge did order U.S. Steel Canada to contribute $2.7 million to a transition fund meant to fill in some of the gaps left by the loss of benefits.

            As PV readers learned in previous coverage, U.S. Steel Canada entered bankruptcy protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act in September 2014, and was granted permission to stop covering retiree benefits last October as a “cash-conservation measure”. But the judge's order simply allows the company to steal money from workers who generated profits for their entire working lives.     

            As USW Local 1005 says, “the company is sitting on a mountain of cash and they can well afford to pay (benefits). We are not talking about the survival of a company, rather the theft of benefits already earned. It is similar to someone coming into your house, taking your wallet and stealing your money. If one of us did this, we would go to jail.”

            Of course, human life is secondary to the profits of corporate interests. In this case, U.S. Steel Canada claims that reinstating the benefits owed to retirees could jeopardize the sale of the company, and that recent positive income reports should not be seen as a trend. Backing this view, the federal Liberal government remains absent from any step to protect steelworkers and the city of Hamilton.

            The union argues that the ruling was likely predetermined and that the court case was a sideshow. Their demand for a full public inquiry should receive wide support.

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6) BDS IS A STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE

People’s Voice Editorial

            Recent weeks have seen indications that opponents of Israel’s apartheid policies are meeting a harsh backlash, as pro-Zionist forces in Canada seek to marginalize and even criminalize their critics. In this situation, it is crucial to raise our voices in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

            Here are a few examples. During the World Social Forum held in August, some MPs, the mayor of Montreal, the right-populist CAQ party, the National Post and others accused WSF organizers and participants of being anti-Jewish, simply because the campaign for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid was among the topics being discussed. In one incident, a gang of violent thugs tried to break up a BDS forum. Also last month, the majority of delegates to the Green Party of Canada’s annual convention adopted a pro-BDS resolution, a democratic decision which provoked the fury of politicians, the corporate media and Zionist groups. Green Party leader Elizabeth May threatened to resign, until the party’s executive agreed to “revisit” the vote. In Vancouver, the Facebook page of a local Boycott Israeli Wines campaign is under siege from hundreds of Zionists posting profane and threatening comments.

            Such tactics aim to intimidate people from expressing any form of solidarity or even sympathy with the struggle of the Palestinian people. But despite this bullying, growing numbers of Canadians recognize that Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, its “separation wall” in the West Bank, the imprisonment of Gaza, etc., constitute a very real form of racist apartheid. The BDS campaign would end quickly, if Israel reversed these inhuman policies and carried out the resolutions of the United Nations on the rights of the Palestinian people. Failing that, we and others will continue to advocate support for the BDS movement. We refuse to be silent in the face of threats!

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7) “IT SEEMS LIKE THE TORIES STILL RUN THE POST OFFICE”, SAYS CUPW LEADER

PV Quebec Bureau

            As negotiations between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) drag into the eleventh hour, according to the union, management remains completely intransigent. “We are still far apart,” said Mike Palecek, National President of the CUPW told People’s Voice. “While we hope for progress we haven’t seen much and the deadline is fast approaching,” he said.

            People’s Voice reached Palecek on his lunch break between negotiations in late August. At issue are jobs, wages, pensions, pay equity and the broader question of the future public post office as well as one of Canada’s most progressive unions.

            “Our goal is to negotiate,” Palecek said, but noted that Canada Post needed to come up with proposals to address issues including “fundamental injustices that are decades-old” in the case of pay equity for Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers. “We need some movement.”

            Negotiations have been underway for over nine months, beginning in November 2015 and intensifying in April 2016. In July, the union obtained a strike mandate from its membership until August 25, but decided not to use this pressure tactic immediately.

            “Canada Post is demanding cuts and concessions including the closure of some 500 post offices,” said Palecek. “Shutting down the post office has been rejected by CUPW and rejected by the public,” he added, noting that the Trudeau Liberals won a mandate based on stopping the job losses and closures associated with shutting down urban home mail delivery.

            “It seems like the Tories are still running the post office,” Palecek said. “We need to bring this Crown Corporation in line with the government. The government is taking about improving pensions, while Canada Post is going in the other direction. We have to say to Prime Minister Trudeau, do you actually believe in it, [this agenda you talk about]. Put your money where your mouth is.”

            Palecek also explained that the dispute regarding Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers was “a classic, clear, text-book pay equity case, meeting all the definitions under the legislation.” The rural mail carriers unit only recently joined the union in 2004. Prior to that the carriers were contractors and, according to Palecek, seventy percent or more of the workforce were women.

             “This is a group of undervalued women who are doing the same work, for 28 percent less pay,” said Palecek. Many of the workers were rural women who also worked of family farms, picking up part time work to bring in some extra money. But because they were wives and mothers and not “so-called primary bread winners,” he said, the post office has paid them less than urban mail carriers for decades.

            Palecek was very positive about the community support that CUPW is receiving. One example is the cross-Canada day of action called by the People for Posties solidarity group, which will take place on September 17th.

            He appealed to the public to continue to loudly respond and participate in the upcoming federal government review about the future of the post office.  “Let your Member of Parliament know the value of the public post office, pay equity and pensions,” he said.  Information on the hearings will be available on the union’s website, cupw.ca, and announcements about the rallies can be found via facebook and at people4posties.ca.

            Despite the misinformation campaign by Canada Post’s CEO Deepak Chopra and others who claim Canada Post is past its prime, Palecek said the union is confident in the future potential of the public post office. He noted that CUPW had recently made a proposal to “green the post office” so that the crown corporation took a leading role in building a more sustainable and less polluting economy.

            According to CUPW, there are almost twice as many post offices across Canada as Tim Hortons coffee shops, making the post office the biggest retail network in the country. The campaign, called “Delivering Community Power,” has three main components, which will take advantage of this vast logistical network.

            “We are proposing a renewable-powered electric postal fleet, charging stations for electric vehicles at post offices, and postal banking which can fund small projects like installing solar panels on your home, through micro-loans,” he said. “In France, their postal bank funds social housing. These are proven models seen around the world. What is lacking is the political will. We’ve got to get serious about climate change. Meeting the government’s commitments on climate change will require massive commitment,” in terms of social-economic changes.

            The campaign draws from ideas raised by Naomi Klein in the “Leap Manifesto” but goes much further, putting the question of public ownership as the springboard for the leap. “Capitalism and the free market can’t solve climate change,” he said.

            Palecek pointed to the experience of Canada during the Second World War. “We can debate the war, but before [World War II] Canada was a minimal arms producer.” After the war began, he said, Canada saw the drafting of masses of women into workforce, and a large percent of the male population mobilized as soldiers. “We need a similar level of response to deal with climate change,” he said.

            The campaign is calling for the post office to help deliver a one-hundred percent renewable economy, to address inequality, put power in public hands, and improve people’s lives. More information is at www.DeliveringCommunityPower.ca.

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8) EMPLOYER-BASED HEALTH CARE IS FAILING U.S. WORKERS

By Kay Tillow, Louisville, Kentucky

            Health care in the United States is the most costly in the world. The per capita income the US spends on health care is double the average of other industrialized countries, yet other nations have better outcomes in life expectancy, infant mortality, and most measures.

            In the US, we pay more but get less. About 40% of people in the US forego needed care because of cost. The powerful, dynamic unions of the CIO established the highest standards for health care in the country lifting up the rest of the nation as they set the floor.

            Several decades later, after the rest of the industrialized world moved to universal health care systems, the collective bargaining power of US unions is no longer sufficient to advance and protect health care benefits. Profiteers have rigged the system. For-profit insurers and pharmaceuticals are holding our health care, our collective bargaining, and our democracy hostage.

            Reining in that control now requires far more than collective bargaining. It requires a dynamic movement that rallies the rank and file of the labor movement, links with communities and the public, takes on the corporate controllers of health care, and pushes relentlessly until it passes national single payer health care, HR 676.

            The evidence of the crying need to act is all around us. "Today, we said enough is enough, and went on strike for a restoration of health benefits and fair wages and working conditions," said Fabia Sespedes, a housekeeper who has worked for 9 years at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Nearly a thousand workers at the Taj Mahal casino walked out at dawn as the July 4 holiday weekend began. They are cooks, housekeepers, servers and other casino workers, members of Local 54 UNITE-HERE. They have been without health care and retirement benefits since those were taken away in October of 2014.

            Current owner of the Taj, billionaire Carl Icahn, is refusing to restore those benefits and threatening to shut down the casino. Half of the workers rely on subsidized health insurance and a third have no health benefits at all. Icahn extracted $350 million from the property using bankruptcy proceedings to strip Taj workers of health care and pensions. "Now we're going to take it to the streets," said Mayra Gonzalez, a pantry chef at the Taj for 26 years.

            In June over 4,000 coal miners from seven states rallied in Lexington, Kentucky, to demand passage of Senate Bill 1714 to shore up health and pension funds. Without that action, 22,000 retired miners and their families face the dropping of their health care benefits before the end of the year. "We're not asking for welfare—we've earned these benefits," said Michael Partin a retired miner from Bell County who worked underground for 30 years.

            In the compelling fiery rhetoric that is his custom, UMWA President Cecil Roberts called on the miners to go home, recruit five people each, and prepare to march on Washington, DC. A rally has been set at the US Capitol Building for September 8, 2016.

            In June 5,000 Minnesota Nurses Association members who work for the Allina Hospitals struck for 7 days as Allina sought to shift $10 million in health care costs onto nurses and their families. Monica Proulx, a surgery nurse for more than 20 years said that Allina has refused to negotiate over issues such as patient care and reducing workplace violence unless the union capitulates on the health insurance issue. The nurses are back at work but the struggle continues.

            In May more than 350 workers at Honeywell Aerospace were locked out in South Bend, Indiana and in Green Island, New York. Members of UAW Local 9 in South Bend who make airplane brakes and wheels say they voted the contract down by 270 to 30 because it would drastically increase what they pay for health insurance. Local President Adam Stevenson says those who were working nights were ushered out of the plant by security guards and the day shift was barred from entering. Stevenson said one of the sticking points in the negotiations is that Honeywell wants to be able to change the structure of union members' health care benefits, including what people pay for premiums and deductibles, during the term of the contract. The union has planned a rally for July 18.

            At the Green Island location more than 500 supporters came out to rally with UAW Local 1508 where workers at the picket line say the average out-of-pocket expenses for a family under the plan included in the company's offer will rise by as much as $7,000 a year. Tim Vogt, a 29 year Honeywell employee and President of UAW Local 1508 said, "We cannot accept a contract that destroys our ability to provide for our families' health and well-being." The lock out continues. Last Christmas thousands of Honeywell retirees received a letter from their former employer announcing that at the end of 2016 they would no longer have health insurance.

            In Fostoria, Ohio, where over 1,000 of those retirees live, UAW Local 533 President David Angles said, "It is dishonorable that this corporation would do this to people that gave 30 or more years of their lives to this company helping them make billions of dollars in profit and then turn around and take this benefit away during a time in their life that they need it the most." "We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have a national health care system and it's time. Stand up and do something, if not for yourself, your children and grandchildren, because they will need your help," concluded Angles. President Angles is right.

            Begin by getting your union or organization to endorse HR 676, national single payer health care; see http://unionsforsinglepayer.org/ for samples.

            As retired USW steelworker Steve Skvara asked in Chicago when he stood up at a 2007 AFL-CIO Presidential Candidates Debate: "Every day of my life, I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of her life to my family and I can't afford her health care. What's wrong with America and what will you do to change it?"

            (This commentary originally appeared at http://mltoday.com/article/2499-employer-based-health-care-is-failing-workers/94)

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9) CLASS CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST THE ELDERLY

By J. Boyden, the first of a three part series on retirement pension issues

Nothing in life is certain -- except death and taxes.

            Whether you are taking a break at work, sitting around with friends in the dog days of summer, or in the line-up at the grocery store, who hasn’t heard this popular saying drift into the conversation?

            Wikipedia claims the “death and taxes” is an idiom which goes back three centuries. One early source is a book called “A political history of the devil,” written by Daniel Defoe in the baby years of capitalism.

            Nobody ever says “Nothing is certain except death and pensions.” Surely, however, all workers expect some retirement before death. Maybe “Death and pensions” doesn’t have the same ring. Or perhaps pensions have been around for a much shorter time than taxes.

            Universal pensions in Canada have existed for about fifty years. Not a “gift,” they result from hard-fought struggles by working people. Nevertheless, the reliability of pensions to keep the elderly out of poverty is still far from certain. Today, for many seniors their meager pensions are actually a ‘passport to poverty’.

            According to the Canadian Association of Retired People, poverty among those over 65 has more than doubled in the last ten years. Across the country, over half a million seniors - one in nine - live in poverty. This includes 30 percent of single seniors, particularly women.

            These numbers are expected to only get bigger. The Trudeau Liberals’ latest pension reforms, as the Communist Party recently pointed out, do almost nothing to substantially help pensioners today and are little more than an attempt to delay the ticking time bomb of public pressure. So while death and taxes remain certain, the ability of millions to even retire is very much in doubt.

            The Canadian pension system is usually divided into three pillars: personal savings, private pensions, and public or state pension plans. A quick look at the facts shows that while these pillars work quite well to support the bosses, they are structurally unsound for working folks.

            First, consider savings. Do you save? If your answer is “no,” or “not much,” you are among the majority. According to the Canadian Payroll Association, about half of Canadians would have difficulty paying their bills if their pay cheque was just one week late. Wages are stagnant and personal debt is at record levels, driven ever higher by high housing costs.

            If your answer is “yes” to saving, you have probably asked: what is the motivation to save? Even if people are able to squirrel-away some wages, the governments of big business have responded to the economic crisis with monetary policy deliberately forcing interest rates to rock bottom or “ultra-low” levels – even zero in Europe and Japan – so there is incentive to spend, not save.

            Some neo-liberal boosters claim there is no crisis in pensions because of rising house prices.  However, the price of condos and cute little bungalows into which seniors will “downsize” has also soared. Then there is the reality that all bubbles burst (housing prices in Canada dropped by 30 percent in the early ‘90s) and home owners will be left holding the bag.

            As a 2016 study by the Broadbent Institute showed, even when accounting for their total net worth, only 28 percent of Canadian seniors without employer pensions have even five years’ worth of retirement income saved to keep them out of poverty.

Pensions and Scams

           About half of workers aged 55 to 65 actually have a private pension plan. But the Canadian Labour Congress recently revealed that over 65 percent of the employed workforce, about 11 million people, have no form of workplace pension plan. Those who do, mainly unionized employees, have had their plans used as blackmail and ransom in collective bargaining.

            Postal workers, currently in bitter negotiations, are an example of an employer trying to force changes in the pension plan from Defined Benefits to Defined Contributions. Most plans – about 75 percent overall, and 95 percent in the private sector – have now been created as, or converted to, the rackets known as Defined Contribution plans, in which the worker, not the employer, carries all the risk while receiving smaller benefits. Your retirement savings can evaporate, depending on the whims of financial markets, or if the company declares bankruptcy. Retired workers therefore either live poorer lives, or keep working – sometimes until past 70. 

            That is exactly what is happening according to an article by the Globe and Mail this August entitled “Employees working longer after shift to defined contribution pension plans”.

            With scarce savings and few quality private pension plans, the overwhelming majority of workers face a looming crisis with old age. Millions have great expectations for the third pillar, public pensions, which will be the topic of the second article in this series.

            The situation described here is basically, as Canadian journalist Earle Beattie wrote back in the 1980s, a billion dollar swindle. All their life, working people are told that they should be able to retire, yet when they get there, individual seniors are confronted with insurmountable circumstances which they did not create. Apparently they are no longer deserving of support.

            Simone de Beauvoir once said that capitalist society “treats the old as outcasts. The aged do not form a body with any economic strength whatsoever and they have not possible way of enforcing their rights: and it is to the interest of the exploiting class to destroy the solidarity between the workers and the unproductive old so that there is no one at all to protect them [...and they are] condemned to poverty, decrepitude, wretchedness and despair.” These are the crimes committed by the boss class against the elderly, and all those who toil by hand or brain.

            Socialists understand the need to overcome this strategic Achilles heel. All working people have the fundamental right to retire with dignity. Wide-ranging pension reform needs to be included in any comprehensive project for a people’s alternative, including immediate and substantial increases to benefits to a livable level and reduction of the pension age.

            After all, retirement is a collective, not an individual, responsibility. Retirement is not a private affair of future savings for when you get old, but a collective problem for today. Nor should pension plans be marketable goods. Retirement funds are not casino chips for the big insurance firms to gamble with. The elderly and all workers deserve more certainty than just death and taxes.

            Part Two in our next issue looks at how the class solidarity succeeded in pushing government and business to build public pensions, which are now under attack.

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10) “HINDUTVA SURGE” HURTS INDIA’S PEACE AND PROGRESS

By Baldev Padam, Brampton, ON

            Earlier we pointed out the mess in which Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of secular democratic India and also an admirer of Hindutva (India-a Hindu Nation) ideology has placed himself. The Hindutva tattooed all over his torso goes deeper into his soul, even though India’s constitution expects him to stay secular.  

            Hopes of growth and development on which he won federal polls stand belied, as Modi’s various foreign trips holding the ‘make in India’ logo in his hands failed to generate international investments and employment opportunities. Foreign Direct Investors and multinational corporations want Indian authorities to enact tax laws suitable for them, and also to ensure a peaceful environment for security of their investments and industrial infrastructure. Such guarantees are not easy to offer under the present disturbed environs in India for any one to offer, Modi included!

A hope that soon died out 

            Soon after Modi took over in 2014, he promised to make “India First” his religion and to venerate its Constitution as the only holy book. Also “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (Together with all, Development for all) was the road he promised to tread for peace and economic growth. Such assurances emanating from Modi lent people and the minorities in particular some hope for better security, because his record as BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat on this count was flawed. Modi in his new avatar (Prime Minister) might be a changed man, they thought. 

            But peace was shaken too soon as activists of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), an extreme Hindu right organization and its affiliates, took the BJP’s electoral victory as the golden opportunity to make India a Hindu Nation.

            Violent mobs stormed the streets against ‘Love Jihad’, the name given by RSS to inter- religious marriages. They harassed, beat, punished and killed men and women in their homes, on the roads, in fact anywhere, merely on the suspicion of their eating or carrying beef. Minorities felt beleaguered but the PM kept quiet. Many opine that he either acquiesces or is unable to discipline the rowdies that include many BJP law makers and his cabinet colleagues, some of whom in saintly robes spew venom against opponents and incite followers to impose the Hindu way of life on all. In higher education centres, many liberal minded scholars and administrators who refused to fall in line were kicked out, and some have been killed. Hindutva elements have now targeted Dalits in the name of cow slaughter!

Gujarat a Hindutva Laboratory

            Decades before Modi took over as its chief minister, Gujarat province was made a laboratory by the BJP for its political growth. Religion was blended with politics here, to lay the foundation over which BJP’s edifice of Hindutva stands today. 

            The Rath Yatra (“Chariot Journey”) from Somnath in Gujarat, to Ajodhya in Uttar Pradesh, undertaken by L.K. Advani in 1990, mobilized Hindus to build a Temple at the birthplace of the deity Rama by bringing down the Babri Mosque that stood there at the time. Hindu-Muslim riots broke out from where the chariot passed through, leaving a trail of blood behind.

            Tens of thousands of activists reached Ajodhya, where volunteers stormed the mosque, in a battle with security forces that left many dead. The BJP game plan to bring Hindutva to centre stage of Indian politics succeeded. The BJP made significant gains in elections which followed, both at the national and the state level.

            A decade later Modi became Gujarat Chief Minister, and the province witnessed a pogrom in which thousands of Muslims lost their lives, many were hurt, and myriads became homeless. Moving fast forward, Gujarat in 2016 is in the news again, not for some good reasons. Dalits have been attacked by “cow protectors” just for skinning a dead cow, the job they have been doing since time long past.

Dalits under attack

            Disposal of dead animals, skinning them or carrying night soil, etc. are the vocations assigned to Dalits by Brahminical Hinduism since times immemorial. But the online image of a hefty cow protector hitting half-naked Dalits tied to a car with his cane is repugnant. Many other horrible images of Dalit and Muslim victims lying dead or reeling under feet of cow protectors have also appeared.

            Thanks to the Modi regime, which prompted his followers to recreate scenarios of the feudal era, murder, flogging, and humiliation of Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection, are increasing day by day, while law enforcement agencies look the other way. 

            Under such a backdrop, Dalits in Gujarat have stood up in protest, vowing neither to lift carcasses of animals from public places nor to skin cows, and asking for land and funds from the BJP government to change their vocation. They have asked the state government to provide them licensed firearms to protect themselves against alleged atrocities by the upper caste Hindus.

            Besides Dalits, cattle traders, Dairy farmers, soap manufactures and transporters have been exposed to their job hazards not known before.

In the end

            Breaking his silence over incidents of violence against Dalits and Muslims, PM Modi has come up with a melodramatic statement: “shoot me’, but stop attacking Dalits.

            Quite strange for a man with his much proclaimed 56 inch chest, a powerful PM of world’s largest democracy, to say such things. Instead of dealing sternly with criminals, he is making appeals to those who in the name of Gau Hatya (cow slaughter) are indulging in Manav Hatya (man slaughter). Maybe something is common between Narendra Modi and these elements. 

            “Dalits were like mentally retarded children”, he had said as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Again in his book Karmayog, published in 2007, Modi wrote, “the work of cleaning toilets has been a spiritual experience for the Valmiki community”.

            Interestingly the mainstream media has questioned Modi, “Would the PM care to explain to the country what he means by manual scavenging being a “spiritual” experience?

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11) U.S. 2016 ELECTIONS: A CUBAN VIEW... FROM 1888

By Nino Pagliccia

            Elections in the United States are often portrayed as a model of democracy in action. But is this true? This is an important question because this “model” is forcefully being imposed on other countries.

            Just as a new car model typically has wheels, engine, doors, etc., the U.S. 2016 election model features the standard appearance of two competing candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties. Other parties are allowed but never make it to the mainstream as potential contenders.

            There is also the primary selection process for candidates seeking nomination by the respective parties. Like a reality show, there is no shortage of drama, with endless debates, speeches, threats, promises, denunciations, defiance, lies, warnings of doom and gloom, accusations, love-ins, etc. In other words, an extensive array of confusing information is deployed by so-called communication experts, journalists and competitors, seemingly designed to misinform and entertain rather than to discuss relevant policy issues that will affect all voters.

            Occasionally, a new model is rolled out, with changed features. In the 2008 model, colour was the new detail that appealed to many. This year, the feminine character of the model is being promoted as a novel addition. Never mind that it is not an original idea. Several other countries have used this feature for a long time, but this is “making history” à la USA, where history books 50-100 years from now will state that the U.S. Empire was the first to elect a woman for president... if she is elected and if the empire has not collapsed by then, of course. 

            The 2016 election had the potential for the Democrats to nominate a radical (by U.S. standards) candidate. This really promised to make history, at least in words, but it was not given a chance. The status quo “wisdom” opted to stick to the proven and safe. Using the car model analogy, Bernie Sanders was like one of those high-performance self-driven vehicles still considered too dangerous to make available to the public.

            But what does the U.S. election process look like to an observer from another country or a different century? How much has really changed?

            Take a look at some features of the 1888 U.S. election. The observer-reporter then was José Martí, the prolific Cuban author and national hero who was living in New York at the time. Martí fought and died for Cuban independence from Spain and predicted subsequent U.S. interventions in Latin America. He wrote several reports about this election for the Argentinean newspaper La Nación. What follows are a few direct quotes from his articles spanning the summer and fall of 1888 (sources below).

            The contenders were Grover Cleveland, the Democrat seeking re-election, and Republican Benjamin Harrison (grandson of the 9th President, William Henry Harrison). Although Cleveland had a larger popular vote, Harrison won the presidency with more electoral votes, due to the decisive Republican support in the state of New York, about which Martí wrote, “In New York are the rich who pay for the vote that is sold.”

            In several reports, Martí refers to the general situation in the U.S., where immigration was a main concern. He wrote how Congress was about to release information on “people coming from abroad mostly Turkish, or Russians, or from the Slavic countries, or from the poorest of Italy” (later he recorded that 300 Italians were shipped back). New York City Mayor Abram S. Hewitt was reported as stating, “the right to vote should not be given to foreigners who do not have a residency of twenty-one years in the country.”

            The other key issue was related to trade. Protectionist Republicans wanted to raise import tariffs, which Democrats wanted to keep low to benefit consumers with lower prices.

            Martí describes the general atmosphere of the clash: “They throw buckets of mud on each other’s head. They purposefully lie and exaggerate. They stab each other in their guts and their backs. All insults are allowed. Every blow is good so long as it numbs the enemy.”

            In reference to politicians in general, Martí wrote: “they do not put their political genius on the side of the poor…rather they side with those in power to be put in power.” More incisively he wrote, “The self-interested politician is a thief.” In particular, Martí made many pointed references to James G. Blaine as the “elastic politician…who inspires much hatred in his rivals”. Blaine was the Republican candidate in the 1884 elections, losing narrowly to the Democrat Cleveland.

            Blaine became Secretary of State (1889-1892) under the newly elected Harrison. As such he expanded U.S. trade to include political influence and a U.S.-controlled arbitration process for American nations to settle disputes among them. But Blaine’s worst infamy, relevant to a Latin American like Martí, was his expansionist idea of taking Hawaii, Cuba and Puerto Rico. We know the outcome. Martí could have not fathomed the extent of U.S. domination today.

            Another U.S. politician noted by Martí was Allen G. Thurman. He was 73 years old when he was campaigning and had very progressive ideas. He was in favour of low import tariffs “to protect 60 million souls [U.S. population then] allowing them to live comfortably, instead of protecting six thousand manufacturers with high tariffs.”

            Martí quoted Thurman as saying: “This protectionist system, comrades, is a cove for bandits.” And further, “we must campaign for the nation, not for the capitalist who accumulates unfair profits at the cost of the nation.” “I am always on the side of the underdog.” Thurman would have been Cleveland’s Vice-President if re-elected.

            Interestingly, Martí also made reference to the politicians’ practice of giving speeches. He noted how well they get paid “because they have national fame, and fame pays as much as the skill of public speaking.” Then he asks, “What liberty can have a public speaker that is paid?” He drives in his point: “there are illustrious lawyers who get paid a certain amount for an evening, similar to clowns that are hired to josh in performances.”

            Referring to presidential candidates, Martí wrote that they are “so determined to win that [they are] almost winning even though [they have] offended too many to achieve a full triumph. And [they are] so unconcerned about moral constraints that, even though [they] know that [they are] not speaking the truth, words still pour out of [their] mouths.”

            Martí seemed to suggest a call to action, stating that, “the government that uses its power to increase anger of those governed, and to unnecessarily deprive them of what they need for their well-being, under pretext of serving them, is deceiving the people, and this is a case of slaves’ rebellion against their master.”

            Martí clearly acknowledged that money was a large part of U.S. elections: “Elections cost a lot of money. Capitalists and businesses help needy candidates with their expenses who in turn pay back the money advance received from them after they have won.”

            The similarities between 1888 and 2016 are striking. The essence of the two processes 128 years apart does not appear to have changed at all. The two parties engage in the same trickery to occupy the highest positions in the country, to ultimately execute the pre-ordained policies of exploitation, imperialism and hegemony of the few.

            That cannot be called democracy! That is a sad reality today, as it was when Martí wrote. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

            No wonder that a large number of U.S. voters feel overpowered by a sense of deception, and abstain from using their “democratic right”. I suspect that they would rather watch other numbing reality shows on TV. The time seems ripe to switch channels and accept Martí ’s call to rebellion.

            (Sources: www.metro.inter.edu/cai/jose_marti/Vol12.pdf; www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2016/05/12/analisis-martiano-de-las-elecciones-en-estados-unidos/#.V64ugmUrz9l)

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12) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker

Fidel's 90th: a musical extravaganza

Last June, the Cuban Institute of Music announced that on August 13th, "a great cantata and concert" would launch a nation-wide day of festivities to celebrate Fidel Castro's 90th birthday. When the anniversary arrived, more than 100 children's choirs and concert bands performed a tribute to Fidel simultaneously across the country. In Havana, floats carrying salsa bands and costumed dancers stretched for miles along the Avenida de Maceo - the grand esplanade and seawall otherwise known as the Malecón. At a cultural gala in the city's Karl Marx Theatre, a  beaming guest of honour was welcomed with a standing ovation and cries of "Fidel, Fidel" by a  capacity crowd of 5,000. Seated between President Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Fidel enjoyed performances by Cuba's renowned children's musical theatre company "La Colmenita" ("Little Beehive") and 85-year-old Buena Vista Social Club singer, Omara Portuondo. At the stroke of midnight, a band played "Happy Birthday" in the plaza outside the U.S. Embassy, while fireworks exploded over the bay. The anniversary was marked by a notable online publishing event: the launch of "Fidel: Soldier of Ideas". Visit this important new multilingual website at www.fidelcastro.cu

Prophets of Rage perform outside prison

Newly formed rock-rap supergroup Prophets of Rage performed outside California’s Norco Prison on August 10th after being told at the last minute by prison authorities that their concert inside the prison, booked months ago, had been cancelled. Undeterred, the band played a set outside the penitentiary walls.  "We made a promise to the inmates inside that we would play," said guitarist Tom Morello. "We wanted to keep that promise." The stage faced a tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, with a guard tower standing above. The band performed their songs at full force, and as they played, excited voices could be heard from the other side of the fence, shouting "Rage Against the Machine!" and "Fight the system!" Prophets of Rage is comprised of prominent progressive rock and rap artists, including Chuck D and DJ Lord from Public Enemy, Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine, and B-Real of Cypress Hill. The group’s name, is a reference to a 1988 Public Enemy song. The prison concert was to have been hosted by Jail Guitar Doors, a charity co-founded by former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer that donates musical instruments to prison inmates. For info visit www.jailguitardoors.org.

Ensamble Transatlántico de Folk Chileno

Scrolling through Facebook recently, I discovered a video showing an orchestra of joyous young musicians playing a lively cumbia while strolling through a neighbourhood in the Chilean city of Valparaíso. It was the Ensamble Transatlántico de Folk Chileno. Its 28 members sang and played guitars, accordions, trumpets, saxophones, flutes, cellos, string basses, drums, and traditional percussion instruments. The Ensamble was founded in Valparaíso in 2012 by Ernesto Calderón and Gianela Machuca. Since then, it has performed throughout Western Europe, as well as in India. Unfortunately, it's virtually unknown here in North America. Its original repertoire draws primarily upon Chilean styles, including cueca, huayno, Mapuche song, and Afro-Chilean rhythms. Because the musicians avoid using sheet music in concerts, most players can move about, which enhances interaction with the audience. The Ensamble currently has about 60 active members in Chile. Its goal is to form other such groups in Chile and beyond. Although they don't yet have an album, their music and videos can easily be found on Facebook, Soundcloud, and YouTube. Maria-Magdalena Diaz Arce, a comrade with Toronto's Latin America and Caribbean Solidarity Network, calls the Ensamble Transatlántico de Folk Chileno "a Chilean pride - a very talented  young group of musicians who are working with cultural heritage as a community and peoples' right".

"Culture Matters"

Last December, the Communist Party of Britain launched an new website called "Culture Matters". The CPB provided the web-space, and editorial and technical support, as part of its commitment to a 'broad left' cultural struggle for socialism. Since its inception, Culture Matters has become a meeting place for writers, artists, academics, and activists interested in the arts, culture, and politics. In less than a year, it has has attracted a diversity of contributors and built an extensive archive. It regularly posts music, video, poetry, short stories, visual art, essays, and reviews. There are also articles on cultural theory, film, theatre, sports, religion, and science. Contributors include fiction writers, poets, visual artists, musicians, trade unionists, and academics. In welcoming readers to the site last December, editors Mike Quille and Ben Stevenson wrote: "Culture Matters is currently like a first edition, or a skeleton, or a thinly-populated country, which we have provisionally mapped out but not defined. In the months and hopefully years ahead, we want contributors to populate the country, help put flesh on the skeleton, and clothes on the flesh". Check it out at http://culturematters.org.uk/.

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