People’s Voice February 1-14, 2018
Volume 26- Number 02













12) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker


PEOPLE’S VOICE  February 1-15, 2018 (pdf)



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 (The following articles are from the February 1-14, 2018, 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.)





Statement by the Central Trade Union Commission, Communist Party of Canada



            The announcement on January 17 by the National Executive Board of UNIFOR, Canada’s largest private sector union, that it was disaffiliating from the Canadian Labour Congress, effective immediately, is a shock to millions of workers in Canada – over 3 million of whom are members of unions affiliated to the CLC, and 300,000 who are members of UNIFOR.


            Many remember an earlier split in the late ‘90s, ostensibly over the same issues, which fractured the labour movement for almost a decade. During that time governments and corporations drove a vicious austerity agenda that cut jobs and wages, closed plants and factories, destroyed defined benefit pension plans, orchestrated bankruptcies under the CCAA that stole workers’ wages, pensions, and benefits – just like US Steel, Nortel Networks, and Sears are doing today. Union density was undermined, the pay gap grew wider and part-time and precarious work replaced good union jobs. Public and post-secondary education and healthcare were under sharp attack, core funding for public services and universal social programs was slashed, and the trade union movement itself came under sustained attack. Corporations raked in super-profits, half a million manufacturing jobs disappeared, and real wages, purchasing power, and living standards fell.


            This was all part of the neo-liberal agenda to expand corporate control, and to smash the power, influence and capacity of organized labour to become the backbone of an organized Canada-wide resistance, and the starting point to mount an effective counter-offensive.


            But the top leadership, burdened under the weight of right-wing business unionism, was unable to recognize its role and responsibilities to unite its ranks and lead a militant struggle against austerity. While workers chafed, instead of exposing the political advocates of austerity in Ottawa and the provinces, many labour leaders embraced the Liberals and NDP, and doused militant, independent labour political action as destructive to these new (and not so new) political partnerships.


            At the same time, labour conventions became increasingly centralized, leaving less and less time to debate issues, and making it much harder for delegates not already in leadership – or without a nod from leadership - to run for office. Votes were whipped and slates were the order of the day in too many union meetings and conventions. The labour movement settled in for a long sleep under CLC President Ken Georgetti, and few of the affiliates complained. As union density declined, raiding became a widespread way to maintain membership and the dues income needed to maintain operations. It was the norm, not the exception.


            But workers’ interests are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the Big Business parties and the corporations they speak for. Tri-partism and bi-partism are poison, aiming to block and blunt the workers’ struggles.


            As economic conditions worsened, workers in some of the lowest paid industries began to demand more, asking their unions to protect them against poor contracts, wages and conditions. Pressure was building for change, for the labour movement to be stronger, more militant, and more independent of employer influence.


            The response of right-wing business unionism was to tighten up the organization of the trade union movement even more.


            The CAW, at that time a union with a reputation as a militant, class conscious and fighting organization with a commitment to social unionism, was also in a difficult and vulnerable situation with the loss of the Auto Pact. The Big three auto companies seized the moment to squeeze the CAW with threats of closing plants and layoffs of hundreds, even thousands of workers, unless concessions were adopted. The union looked to the Liberal Party for help to stop the closures and layoffs, while also expanding its membership drives well beyond the automotive sector. Many other workers were attracted by the high wages and good contracts for autoworkers, and by the union’s militant history, and today autoworkers account for only 25% of UNIFOR's members. As to the Liberals, their main contribution to the union was photo-ops with union leaders, and support for the contract stripping that the Tories ordered after the 2008 economic meltdown.


            In the late ‘90s the SEIU charged the CAW with raiding, after SEIU locals in Canada opted to leave SEIU and join CAW.


            As the CLC’s umpire noted in his report to the CLC, there was no method within the CLC Constitution for Local unions to disaffiliate without the agreement of the parent union. The reason was that the CLC’s affiliates are the unions, not the union Locals. The conundrum facing local unions that want out of CLC affiliates (which are often international unions, located in the US) must convince their union leaderships that they should be allowed to leave to join another union. With the exception of progressive unions like UE, which jointly negotiated a fraternal split at the border, almost every other union has responded by imposing a trusteeship of the local union, as Unite-HERE in the US did to Local 75 in Toronto last month.


           Article 4 of the CLC Constitution has been a burning issue in the trade union movement for more than 20 years, with no resolution in sight to date. This is at the heart of the current dispute, according to the UNIFOR letter of disaffiliation. The CLC’s decision not to include UNIFOR in a sub-committee struck to review the issue suggests that a resolution was not being seriously considered.


            But questions have arisen about UNIFOR’s constitution and the legality of its National Executive Board’s decision to disaffiliate without any reference to a convention or to the membership more broadly. UNIFOR members heard about the decision in the same way that everyone else did – on the news and on the internet.


            They also heard that the CLC had directed that UNIFOR members are not to be seated at provincial labour federations or Labour Councils. Many UNIFOR members are Labour Council delegates, sitting on Committees, or elected Presidents and Executive members. Labour activists are distressed and angered that the on-the-ground centres of labour and community struggles across the country are being disrupted by struggles “at the top” that appear to have little to do with the bread and butter struggles on the ground: against austerity, against Trump’s NAFTA plans, against war and military spending, and much more.


            Labour Councils in Hamilton, Durham and London have already refused to ask UNIFOR delegates to leave, and that is exactly what the doctor ordered for labour unity and solidarity. The inability of the CLC and UNIFOR leaderships to resolve key issues at the top levels should not tear apart the movement at the base, in the communities, in the struggles now and just ahead.


            There is no doubt that the fight for Canadian autonomy, sovereignty and democracy is directly related to the ability of the labour movement to unite against austerity and the corporate assault. It’s directly related to a labour movement in which class struggle leadership prevails and business unionism is a disappearing relic. It’s related to a trade union movement that utilizes the energy, initiative and capacity of its members to build its strength, and which cooperates instead of competing with its sister unions here at home, and globally.


            The decision of UNIFOR’s National Executive Board will not help to resolve the real problems that exist in the CLC. Disaffiliation will divide and weaken the labour movement at a very dangerous time for workers, their families, and for all those who are unorganized, precarious and racialized workers, and the million unemployed and under-employed. This includes our youth, whose future is both poor and uncertain.


            The CLC should be equally concerned, as it too will be weakened. Raiding will gather steam everywhere, to the detriment of the unorganized workers and the labour movement as a whole. This will include raids on UNIFOR as well as on CLC affiliates. There is no doubt the employers will take every advantage possible.


            Instead of sudden divorce, UNIFOR and the CLC should go back to the table and work to resolve the problems created over many years, and which must be honestly and openly addressed now. The voices of workers in Canada must be heard on this issue: they are not on-lookers but the substance of Canada’s injured labour movement.


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PV Ontario Bureau



            As the Ontario government prepares its 2018 provincial budget, which is expected in the early spring, labour and progressive organizations are pressing for a decisive turn away from austerity and privatization.


            During pre-budget consultations, CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn called for increased funding to physical and social infrastructure, highlighting the need for better funding to long-term care facilities. Hahn observed that individuals in Ontario now pay 3.5 times more taxes than corporations, the result of two decades of corporate tax cuts, and called for this to change.


            The Ontario Health Coalition is calling for increased hospital funding, noting that 10 straight years of real-dollar budget cuts has produced a deep crisis. Ontario’s hospital funding is among the lowest in Canada and the OHC says that the province currently ranks “dead last of all provinces in the number of hospital beds per capita.” The Ontario Nurses Association has also called for significantly increased funding to hospitals, as well as to long-term care. ONA has also noted that Ontario has the worse Registered Nurse to population ration in Canada, and is calling for provincial funding to reverse this trend.


            Anti-poverty activists are demanding large increases to social assistance rates, as well as structural changes so that would eliminate many punitive administrative tools and increase the minimum level of assistance. These groups, as well as labour organizations, are calling for funding to enforce compliance with the increased minimum wage and prevent employers from taking retaliatory action against workers, such as by reducing benefits, cutting shifts or paid breaks, or firing workers. 


            Housing advocates, as well as several municipalities, have raised the issue of provincial funding for affordable housing construction. They have noted the dire need for both new affordable units and for repair or upgrade of existing ones, and have pointed to a report from the provincial Auditor General, which found that there were more people on social housing waiting lists than residing in affordable housing.


            The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) provided a comprehensive submission calling explicitly for an end to austerity and privatization, and demanding a budget for full employment, expanded public services, equality, and progressive tax reform. The CPC(O) notes the devastating impact austerity policies have had on the working class – rapid and widespread growth of precarious employment, plant closures resulting in over 8000 jobs lost, lost wages and benefits, deep cuts to programs, and soaring costs for services including child care and tuition. At the same time, corporate profits have spiked, rising from $156 billion in 2008 to a projected $306 billion for 2017. Profits The Royal Bank of Canada alone announced a profit of $11.5 billion for the third quarter of 2017.


            The Communist Party submission also positions issues of inequality and oppression as budget priorities. The pre-budget consultations are taking place at a time of resurgent fascism and growing racism, widespread harassment and violence against women, as well as a deep and continuing gender wage gap.


            To confront and change this situation, the Communist Party identifies key budget priorities such as a shorter work week with no loss in take-home pay, further increases to the minimum wage, expansion of public services and publicly-owned industries, a ban on temporary employment agencies, enforced pay and employment equity, and significant increases to social assistance rates. The Party is also calling for expansions to public transit and public healthcare, increased funding to public services, a needs-based funding formula for public education and an end to funding to Catholic schools, a massive provincial housing program, a provincial system of universally accessible and quality public childcare, funding to anti-oppression and equity-seeking programs, and strong action on climate change and environmental protection.


            On the financial side, the Communist Party calls for immediate progressive tax and financial reform based on ability to pay, to shift the tax burden onto corporations and the very rich. The Party’s submission notes that “all tax cuts in Ontario over the past two decades, the overwhelming majority of them benefitting the corporations and very rich, total $18 billion per year in lost revenue. This is the money that is needed to pay for infrastructure, expanded health care, public transit, job creation, and virtually all the measures that are badly needed by the province’s working class.”


            After years of austerity measures, which were preceded by decades of neoliberal policies, the working class in Ontario needs a budget that moves in a completely different direction. As more and more movements and organizations press the government for a budget that reflects this need, it helps build the programmatic basis for a structured people’s movement that can organize and mobilize on a grassroots level, to win far-reaching economic, social and political reforms. Such a movement would strengthen the working class and its allies in the immediate struggle and, in the process, open the door for socialism and working class power.


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People’s Voice Editorial


            If the “Vancouver Group” summit hadn’t ended with more of the same imperialist bullying that led to the Korean Peninsula crisis, the exercise could have been written off as just another waste of taxpayer dollars. The event’s concluding message from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was a call for stiffer sanctions and more pressures against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). This strategy was considered a “reasonable alternative” to Donald Trump’s threats to murder the entire population of the DPRK. But weeks in advance, it was already clear that the two Koreas are seeking diplomatic and peaceful solutions to the tensions dividing the peninsula. North Korean athletes will compete at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, and the governments of North and South are cooperating to increase economic and family contacts. These positive developments have been ignored or dismissed by both the US and Canadian governments.


            Any genuine search for solutions would necessarily bring other major regional powers to the table, particularly Russia and China, which were excluded from Vancouver while reliable US allies like Greece, Denmark and Colombia were invited. The U.S. administration even described the summit as the start of a new ‘coalition of the willing’, recycling the Bush administration’s ominous term for the countries which backed the US illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. No wonder that Russia called the Vancouver meeting "destructive" and a "relapse of the Cold War mentality."


            Fortunately, women’s peace movements from sixteen countries also came to Vancouver. They urged sensible proposals, to bring all parties to the table, withdraw the massive US military presence from the region, and reach a deal to finally end the Korean War. This is not “pie in the sky” stuff - it’s the only way to defuse a dangerous confrontation.


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People's Voice Editorial


            The fight for higher wages for the lowest-paid sections of workers is always tough, and every victory is challenged by greedy employers. Even in provinces where campaigns to achieve a $15 minimum wage force governments to commit to increases, the resistance from bosses is strong. The new government of British Columbia pledged last summer to bring one of the lowest minimum wages in the country up to $15/hour by 2020, but then under corporate pressure set up a committee to hear submissions about the timing of such an increase. Even if that date is finally legislated, the high cost of living in BC will undermine the new rate and the struggle will continue.


            The latest front in this battle is Ontario, where employers are pushing back. When Ontario’s minimum wage rose to $14 in January, a number of Tim Hortons franchises eliminated paid breaks, reduced access to basic drug and dental benefits, cut uniform and drink allowances, and even reduced hours of work. First to speak out were workers at a Cobourg store, owned by the son and daughter-in-law of the chain’s co-founder, followed by employees from other stores.


            It’s true that not every Timmy’s franchise owner is wealthy, but the financial press reports that the average annual income of owners tops $200,000. During 2016 the chain generated US$3 billion in revenue for its parent company Restaurant Brands International. RBI’s CEO Daniel Schwartz pocketed $6,173,993 in salary, stock options and perks, and shareholders received US$350 million in profits.


            In other words, this company can easily afford to pay a higher minimum wage. We extend our full solidarity in this crucial fight against exploitation, to all hard-working Tim Hortons employees, and to every low-wage worker in Canada.

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Excerpt from "Canada's Track Record Under Chapter 11", a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, www.policyalternatives.ca


            ...In response to Trump’s aggressive posturing, the Canadian government has highlighted its intent to make NAFTA more “progressive,” in order to more equally share

the gains from  globalization. One  of  the  most  glaringly  regressive parts of the deal is surely its investment chapter. NAFTA Chapter 11 includes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process that gives foreign corporations the extraordinary right to sue governments for compensation when public policy—including non-discriminatory environmental,  public  health  or  resource  management decisions—disrupts their investment expectations...


            The latest investor-state claim against Canada, from U.S. rail company Omnitrax, exemplifies much of what is wrong with NAFTA’s imbalanced ISDS process, and why Canada  should grasp the opportunity to eliminate it in the NAFTA renegotiation.


            Omnitrax is the U.S. owner of the Churchill port terminal and the rail line to it. The  railway is the only land-link to the port located on Hudson’s Bay in northern Manitoba and an  essential lifeline to the 900-person town as well as Indigenous communities in neighbouring Nunavut. The company is contractually obliged to keep the line in good working order as a condition of the $18.8 million in subsidies it received from Ottawa for upgrading and maintenance.


            Yet Omnitrax has refused to repair the rail line since it was seriously damaged by flooding in the spring of 2017. After months of inaction on the repairs and increasing hardship  in  Churchill, the federal government declared the company in default of its contribution agreements  and took Omnitrax to court. The company filed  its  NAFTA claim shortly afterward. Omnitrax is putting the blame for its failure to repair the line on federal and provincial  government  actions  that have allegedly harmed the company.


            In its notice of intent to submit a claim to NAFTA arbitration, Omnitrax argues that the  Harper government’s dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) in 2012 damaged the  company’s main line of  business (transporting Western grain for export) and sabotaged the  economic viability of its investment. Ironically, Omnitrax Canada’s current  president, Merv Tweed, was a Conservative backbencher and one-time chair of the parliamentary transportation committee who voted  for the 2011 legislation abolishing the CWB’s single desk.


            Omnitrax’s NAFTA claim also attacks the Manitoba government for blocking the company’s proposals to transport oil by rail for export from the northern port. Omnitrax is  demanding $150 million in compensation. This strange turn of events highlights the deeply one-sided, corporate bias inherent in NAFTA’s investment  protections. The investor-state   system gives special rights to foreign investors, but without applying any corresponding responsibilities. NAFTA provides no recourse whatsoever for the federal government or the Canadian public to oblige Omnitrax to fulfil its legal commitments to  repair the railway. For  that, we must rely on our domestic courts. NAFTA Chapter 11 is purely an investor rights agreement. Even worse, Canadian taxpayers are put in the absurd situation where if the federal government were to win in court, and oblige Omnitrax to repair the rail line or forfeit its subsidies, the company could be able to recover the costs of complying with the court’s decision through its NAFTA arbitration. In effect, ISDS potentially indemnifies foreign  investors from facing the domestic legal consequences of their own misconduct.


            As British journalist George Monbiot has argued, ISDS also undermines a fundamental tenet of democratic legal systems: equality before the law.


            While the dismantling of the CWB undoubtedly eroded the viability of the  Hudson’s  Bay Railway, it also damaged other parties, many far more directly than Omnitrax. Prairie wheat  and barley producers, for example, have experienced serious transportation and marketing problems since the dismantling of the single desk and the privatization of the CWB. Yet these parties must pursue any claims for relief through the domestic courts. Only foreign investors have the right—in NAFTA and other agreements containing  ISDS—to bypass the courts and bring claims directly to private international arbitration.


            Omnitrax’s NAFTA case is weak. The company acquired the railway and port in 1997; the CWB’s single desk was dissolved 15 years later. The Harper government’s attack on the  CWB was rash and ideologically driven, but it is simply not reasonable for a foreign investor to expect the regulatory framework to remain unchanged for decades. Likewise,  the  provincial  government’s reluctance to approve the transport of oil by rail over the fragile northern terrain seems eminently defensible, especially in light of the recent flooding and damage to the line. It is perverse for a  foreign investor to expect to be compensated for risks it freely assumed when it made its investment, or for governments to have to pay for exercising their right to regulate in the public interest.


            Even though Omnitrax’s legal case appears shaky, Canada has lost seemingly flimsy cases before. The company will be represented by one of the world’s top international arbitration firms.


            It is even  possible, given the growing prevalence of third-party financing of investor-state arbitration, that the company’s legal costs could be covered by outside investors in return for a share of any potential winnings.


            Whatever the outcome, the NAFTA lawsuit, with its potential to impose a large fine against Canada, enhances Omnitrax’s bargaining position in its contractual disputes with the  federal and Manitoba governments. The case underlines how ISDS in NAFTA and deals like it shifts the power dynamic in favour of foreign investors to the detriment of the Canadian taxpayer and the public interest.


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            It appears that the campaign to win a living wage for cleaning staff at North Vancouver’s Capilano University (see People’s Voice, Dec. 1-31, 2017) is forcing the employer to pay attention, but the struggle is far from over.


            The Capilano Courier’s Tia Kutshera Fox reports that the cleaners successfully applied to the Labour Board last year for the right to join the Service Employees International Union Local 2. The SEIU’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign includes struggles to achieve a living wage for cleaners at post-secondary institutions throughout Canada.


            A petition circulated on campus has so far gathered 1200 names - 18% of total enrollment - in support of the Living Wage for Families Campaign, which says such a wage is just over $20 per hour for Metro Vancouver workers, well above the $11.50-12 paid to CapU cleaners.


           The Courier reports that after a meeting with the campus Student Worker Alliance Group (SWAG) in November, university President Paul Dangerfield stated that he would consider making the living wage an “element” of the 2030 Campus Master Facilities and Urban Plan.


            SEIU 2 organizer Zoe Luba told the Courier that Dangerfield’s “assertion that he would consider putting living wage in the campus plan for 2030 as a non-response, to me it’s not a final answer, I think it just means that we need to keep pushing for him to move more quickly on this... They [the cleaners] can’t wait till 2030 for a living wage. They’re living in poverty right now.”


            Luba argues that CapU has the financial inability to pay a living wage. “I know the University has the funds now to make this transition happen,” she says. “We’ve met with the main organizer for living wage for families campaign. She’s broken it down for us, shown us statistically how it works, showed similar-sized contracts like Vancity or City of Vancouver, and they’ve transitioned. They’re living wage employers now. It’s not about ability, it’s about political will.”


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From www.oxfam.org


            Eighty two percent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth, according to a new Oxfam report released on Jan. 22. The report was launched as political and business elites gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.


            ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ reveals how the global economy enables a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes while hundreds of millions of people are struggling to survive on poverty pay.


            Billionaire wealth has risen by an annual average of 13 percent since 2010 – six times faster than the wages of ordinary workers, which have risen by a yearly average of just 2 percent. The number of billionaires rose at an unprecedented rate of one every two days between March 2016 and March 2017.


            It takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime. In the US, it takes slightly over one working day for a CEO to earn what an ordinary worker makes in a year.


            It would cost $2.2 billion a year to increase the wages of all 2.5 million Vietnamese garment workers to a living wage. This is about a third of the amount paid out to wealthy shareholders by the top 5 companies in the garment sector in 2016.


            Oxfam’s report outlines the key factors driving up rewards for shareholders and corporate bosses at the expense of workers’ pay and conditions. These include the erosion of workers’ rights; the excessive influence of big business over government policy-making; and the relentless corporate drive to minimize costs in order to maximize returns to shareholders.


            Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International said: “The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system. The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”


            Women workers often find themselves off at the bottom of the heap. Across the world, women are usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work. By comparison, 9 out of 10 billionaires are men.


            “Oxfam has spoken to women across the world whose lives are blighted by inequality. Women in Vietnamese garment factories who work far from home for poverty pay and don’t get to see their children for months at a time. Women working in the US poultry industry who are forced to wear nappies because they are denied toilet breaks,” said Byanyima.


            Oxfam is calling for governments to ensure our economies work for everyone and not just the fortunate few:


- Limit returns to shareholders and top executives, and ensure all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life. For example, in Nigeria, the legal minimum wage would need to be tripled to ensure decent living standards.


- Eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers. At current rates of change, it will take 217 years to close the gap in pay and employment opportunities between women and men.


- Ensure the wealthy pay their fair share of tax through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance, and increase spending on public services such as healthcare and education. Oxfam estimates a global tax of 1.5 percent on billionaires’ wealth could pay for every child to go to school.


            A global survey commissioned by Oxfam found that of the 70,000 people surveyed in 10 countries, nearly two-thirds of all respondents think the gap between the rich and the poor needs to be urgently addressed.


            “It’s hard to find a political or business leader who doesn’t say they are worried about inequality. It’s even harder to find one who is doing something about it.  Many are actively making things worse by slashing taxes and scrapping labor rights,” said Byanyima.


            “People are ready for change. They want to see workers paid a living wage; they want corporations and the super-rich to pay more tax; they want women workers to enjoy the same rights as men; they want a limit on the power and the wealth which sits in the hands of so few. They want action.”


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By Nino Pagliccia


            In 2018 twelve Latin American countries from Mexico to Peru will hold elections at different levels, presidential, legislative and municipal. Seven elections are for their respective presidents in Costa Rica, Cuba, Paraguay, Colombia, México, Brazil and Venezuela.


            What are the expectations? Four of those countries might hold a clue: Mexico and Colombia because they might represent more typical or traditional electoral processes in Latin America and also because they have certain relevance in the region; and Venezuela and Cuba, because they operate on distinct social premises, based on special circumstances (Venezuela), or  on an independently developed social model (Cuba).


            In the last few years, there has been a reversal of the progressive movement underway in Latin America, causing a resurgence of rightwing politics in the region. That makes the round of new elections in 2018 particularly important to watch.


            In truly democratic and internally determined processes, even within a bourgeois system, we would focus on the political issues offered by candidates and political parties. However, elections in Latin America, and in many other countries for that matter, present more intricacies which often determine the outcome of presidential elections. More specifically, lack of transparency, foreign interference or electoral fraud is a real prospect when democracy is just a handy label but not the practice. Let the current situation in Honduras be a case in point.


            In the case of Mexico, if voters would dare to lean to the left with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), electoral fraud becomes a real possibility as political analyst Andrew Korybko suggests, and AMLO himself fears. In fact, a U.S. pre-emptive info war has already started, accusing Russia of “meddling” in the Mexican elections. We all know where that leads.


            A similar situation could arise in Colombia, where voters could see the FARC, now a political party using the same initials but renamed Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (Alternative Revolutionary Force of the Common [People]), as a clear break from the traditional bourgeois parties and their morphed versions. But given the lack of support for the referendum on the peace accord in 2016 with less than 50% of votes and about 60% abstentions, the rightwing parties may be feeling safe.


            However, in a different scenario, Colombians, especially those who have normally abstained from voting, may be alerted and react to the fact that, in the same year that the Santos government was recognized for its achievement on peace, 170 social leaders were murdered in the country.


            Contrary to mainstream media propaganda, Venezuela has proven to have transparent and fair elections. If the two elections in Venezuela in 2017 for governors and city mayors are any indication, Nicolas Maduro will be re-elected as president in November 2018 if not earlier.


            Despite the serious U.S. threats of military intervention, severe sanctions and virtual financial blockade affecting Venezuela’s oil industry, Maduro’s main political platform is based on social programs, together with fighting corruption and strengthening the economy that is now seriously critical. The Maduro government has shown tangible commitment to the well-being of the population and has consistently called to peace and dialogue with the opposition despite the street violence of 2017.


            When in 2015 the governing party Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV - United Socialist Party of Venezuela) lost its majority in the National Assembly, the rightwing botched its opportunity to push their political agenda, by attempting to swear in deputies fraudulently, for which it was declared in contempt.


            The accusations of electoral fraud from some elements of a divided Venezuelan opposition may be more a pretext for excluding themselves from the election process for fear of showing their low popular support. In the presidential elections this year it is expected that the Venezuelan opposition will do the same.


            However, at the time of writing, conversations on “coexistence” and “combating economic aggression” are taking place in the Dominican Republic between some more moderate groups of the opposition and the government. That may change things as an agreement may be reached and other presidential candidates may be postulated.


            From an international point of view, it is disconcerting that some governments like Canada, the U.S. and the European Union would take sides and become protectors of the more radical opposition, instead of supporting those within the opposition who are willing to negotiate. This requires a separate analysis but what transpires is not edifying for those “democratic” governments.


            Outstanding as an outlier is the electoral system in Cuba. It is rarely spoken about, and when it is, the mainstream media describes it as “not democratic”. But there is more to it than meets the eye.


            Raul Castro declared last year that he would not seek re-election, so Cubans can expect a change in what is called the “historical leadership”. But according to observers, the change will have no transcendence on the Cuban social system and people’s lives. Socialism will continue.


            For several reasons, Cuban elections are unique. 1) There are no political parties involved, not even the Communist Party of Cuba can nominate or have candidates. 2) Individual candidates (who are not required to be party members) are nominated at their community (district) level, and elected by direct secret ballot to become members of the National Assembly of People’s Power (or Parliament) for a five year mandate. 3) Half of the National Assembly members must come from social organizations, i.e. students, women, labour organizations, etc. in order to have a cross-sectional representation of society in the decision making. 4) The newly elected legislative body elects, from among themselves, 31 members of the Council of State to run the daily tasks of the country while the National Assembly is not in session. 5) The Council of State in turn selects who will be the president of the country and other high ministerial officials. [6]


            Most strikingly, at no point is there money involved in the process. In fact, there are no expensive political campaigns and, with a few exceptions, National Assembly members do not receive additional pay aside from what they receive from their regular job, which they maintain during their mandate. In such an open and decentralized system with no parties or money interests, it is hard to conceive any possibility of fraud. In fact, if the trend of previous elections continues, more than 95% of the population will turn out to vote freely with only a fraction of spoiled ballots. This must be looked at in comparison with the voters turn out in multiparty systems.


            Finally, the year 2018 might turn out to be very busy for the U.S. State Department, CIA and the Southern Command headquarters (SOUTHCOM), located in Doral, Florida. To watch and control so many elections requires a high state of alert, intelligence gathering and readiness to intervene in order to defend their kind of “democracy”. I say this quite consciously because I take it for granted that the U.S. government will continue to interfere in the internal affairs of Latin America unless unity, “not only economic but political”, becomes a reality, as Fidel Castro said.


            (For further reading about interventions in Latin America, see “Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano [Monthly Review Press, 1977] and “Masters of War – Latin America and U.S. Aggression” by Clara Nieto [Seven Stories Press, 2003]. For a more detailed description of Cuba’s electoral system, consult: “Cuba and its Neighbours – Democracy in Motion” by Canadian author Arnold August [Fernwood Publishing, 2013])

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            The number of U.S. travellers visiting Cuba tripled in 2017, as compared to 2016, says Josefina Vidal, General Director for US Affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry.


            In a Twitter post, Vidal noted that 2017 saw the arrival of 1,173,428 U.S. travellers to the island, an increase of 191% as compared to the year before, when the country received 619,523 U.S. visitors.


            Of the over one million visitors who travelled to Cuba last year from the U.S. 619,523 were citizens, representing an increase of 217%, while the remaining 453,905 were Cubans resident in the country -  up 137.8% from 2016, reported the diplomat.


            This rise in arrivals has occurred despite restrictions include in the U.S. blockade of Cuba by on citizens’ right to travel to the island.


            The reestablishment of diplomatic relations in July 2015 marked the onset of an increase in U.S. citizens travelling to the island, which received a record 4.7 million international visitors last year.


            However, relations have suffered various setbacks, starting mid-last year with U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement in June of a change to Cuba policy, marked by a tightening of the blockade and increased restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to the island.


            This was followed by the withdrawal of almost all diplomatic personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana after some officials allegedly suffered health problems which the western press and Washington baselessly decided to dub “sonic attacks.” The Cuban government has vehemently denied any involvement and question the veracity of the existence of an attack, launching a full scale investigation into the case which failed to find any evidence supporting the allegations. Meanwhile, the FBI were also unable to find any evidence of the supposed attacks, according to a January 8 article by AP. Nevertheless, under this pretext Washington issued a travel warning for its citizens advising them not to visit the island, and approved new restrictions on individual visits in November.


            (With information from Xinhua & Cubadebate)


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Big Business and Hitler, by Jacques R. Pauwels, published by James Lorimer Co. (Toronto),  2017, 304 pages. Review by Roger Keeran, Marxism-Leninism Today (mltoday.com)


            In 1938, Georgi Dimitroff, the Bulgarian Communist leader, gave the classic Marxist-Leninist definition of fascism: “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” He added, “Fascism is the power of finance capital itself. It is the organization of the terrorist vengeance against the working class….”


            In Big Business and Hitler, Jacques Pauwels does more than validate Dimitroff’s proposition. He provides a jaw-dropping account of the collaboration between big capital and Hitler, a collaboration that involved American capital as well as German, a collaboration that extended beyond Germany to other European countries, and a collaboration that occurred not just before World War II but also during and after World War II. If you thought you knew something about capitalism and Hitler, Pauwels’s book, will likely show that you did not know half the story.


            Pauwels, a Canadian with a PhD in history from York University, has written two previous books—The Great Class War 1914-1918 and The Myth of the Good War-- that challenge some accepted understandings of World War I and World War II.


            In this work, Pauwels also challenges some myths. He argues that the largest industrial and finance capitalists in Germany and in the United States played the major role in supporting, financing, and supplying Hitler’s government from the beginning until the end. They did so because Nazi policies increased their profits and attacked their enemies, namely the Communist Party, the trade unions, and the Soviet Union. The first half of the book deals with German big business and Hitler, and the second half with American big business and Nazi Germany. Fluent in English, French and German, Pauwels bases his argument on leading scholarship in these languages as well as sources in Italian, Dutch and Spanish. Concise and readable, the book masterfully synthesizes existing research.


           Though the idea that big business supported fascism will come as no surprise, Pauwel’s rich variety of sources, his statistics, and other telling details, will inform and astound even with those familiar with the story. It is astounding to learn, for example, that however great were Hitler’s violations of democratic norms, however great the atrocities committed against Communists, Socialists, labor unions, Jews, Gypsies and others, however costly and devastating were Germany’s wartime losses, the support for Hitler by German capitalists did not diminish. In other words, the death of imprisonment of one third of the German Communist Party, the persecution of ethnic minorities and the seizure of their property, and even the 13.5 million Germans who were killed, wounded or taken prisoner between 1939 and 1945, did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of German capitalists for Hitler. Indeed, they benefitted from these policies.


            The capitalists supported Hitler because his policies steadily increased their profits. The destruction of the left and the trade unions made possible the increased exploitation of workers. Wages fell and hours of work lengthened. For example, real wages in German-occupied France dropped 50 percent between 1940 and 1944. In Germany, by the end of 1942 workers at Opel and Singer labored over sixty hours per week. Moreover, German industry benefitted from the confiscation of Jewish property and the plundering of the banks and resources of occupied lands. This wealth went directly into the hands of German capitalists to pay for war production. German industry also benefited directly by the use of the slave labor.


            At least 12 million workers--imported from occupied countries, prisoners of war, and prisoners of the concentration camps--worked for German industry for little or no pay. I.G. Farben, for example, built a giant factory in Auschwitz where inmates worked until death producing synthetic rubber. One-fifth of them died every month. Meanwhile, I.G. Farben’s profits rose every year, from 47 million Reichsmarks in 1933 to 300 million in 1943.


            The most eye-opening aspect of Pauwel’s account is his description of what transpired during and after World War II. Many American firms—General Motors, Ford, Du Pont, IBM, Singer, ITT, Kodak, RCA, Standard Oil, Dow, Coca Cola—and banks—Guaranty Trust, Chase Manhattan, J.P. Morgan—had subsidiaries or close business relations with German companies and the government before the war. After Pearl Harbor and even after the declaration of war on Germany, these companies and relationships continued to benefit German fascism. The German government did not seize American subsidiaries, and the idea that American capitalists lost control of their Germany enterprises was largely a myth promoted by the capitalists themselves. For the most part American subsidiaries continued to operate and make profits during the war, where they supplied the German army with fuel, equipment and supplies to prosecute the war and even technology to run the concentration camps. Though German managers ostensibly ran these subsidiaries, and the American companies in Germany continued to supply the German war machine, American owners often kept in contact with German managers through clandestine channels in neutral countries.


            Outside Germany, Standard Oil used clandestine channels to deliver fuel and other supplies to Germany. During the war, American subsidiaries suffered little damage. For example, the Ford Works outside of Cologne were spared the allied bombing that flattened the rest of the city. At the end of the war, the occupation authority returned the subsidiaries often with profits and enhanced facilities to the American management.


            After the war, American capitalists benefitted from the extraordinary influence they exercised in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. American companies enjoyed reparations for what little damage they suffered. American capitalists forced the Truman administration to scotch the so-called Morgenthau Plan that called for the dismantlement of German industry. They also stopped West German reparations to the Soviet Union and secured favorable treatment for German industrialists who had faithfully served the Third Reich. In what could serve as a fitting coda for the book, Pauwels quotes the French poet Paul Valéry: “War [is] an event in which people who do not know each other massacre each other for the profits of people who know each other very well but not do not massacre each other.”


            At the end, Pauwels points out how both popular and scholarly accounts of German fascism have obscured or rewritten the role of big business and the elites. In a bit of historical mythmaking, The Sound of Music portrayed aristocrats opposing fascism while the commoners supported it. Schindler’s List portrayed a German industrialist defying authorities to save Jewish lives, when the common reality was quite the reverse. Similarly, Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners diverted attention from the culpability of German capitalists by blaming fascism on the supposed inherent anti-Semitism of the German people. In their histories of Ford and General Motors, the historians Simon Reich and Henry Ashby Turner completely whitewashed the collaboration of both firms with Nazi Germany.


            Jacques Pauwels’s book makes a timeless contribution to understanding capitalism and fascism. It is also a timely contribution. During the Dreyfus Affair, Emile Zola said that in morally bankrupt times, one has to accustom oneself to swallowing a live toad each day in order to develop a true indifference to the horror around. Today, though most Americans refuse to become indifferent to the horrors emanating daily from Washington, the corporate and financial elite are more than willing to swallow toads. To understand their willingness, one has to look no further than a rising stock market and rising profits. Trump may not be a fascist, but the venality and cynicism inherent in capitalism make the American elite as complicit with Trump’s present and future outrages as their counterparts were with Hitler’s.


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By Kimball Cariou


            We all know that Hollywood movies are fictional, right? Even the ones "based on actual events"? But at some level, if a fictional film references actual history and includes stunning visuals, great acting, and a powerful musical score, it can become accepted and internalized as "the truth."


            Such is the case with "Hostiles," the new film directed by Scott Cooper.


            I'm no expert, as the saying goes. But something struck me as odd when I read reviews of Hostiles before paying my admission. My queasiness was not alleviated by seeing the film.


            Hostiles is a fictional story set in 1892, structured to present a diverse group of settlers, soldiers and Cheyenne Indians, compelled by circumstances to face adversity - including evil Comanche warriors - as they journey from New Mexico to Montana. Everyone is forced to learn from each other, to share their common humanity. It's a common Hollywood theme, but one which raises far more questions than it answers.


            It's not hard to find solid historical information about the Comanches. For the beginner, "Empire of the Summer Moon" by S.C. Gwynne, presents a thoughtful and deeply researched account of the life and times of Quanah Parker. One of the most charismatic Comanche leaders, Quanah survived his nation's wars with the encroaching US state, ending his days as a wealthy rancher but still a defender of his people's rights.


            The story of Quanah Parker is relevant to Hostiles, for several reasons. He was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a girl about nine when she was kidnapped during an 1836 attack against her extended family's ranch in Texas (which was part of Mexico until US annexation). Five of her adult male relatives were killed in the raid, paying the price for their arrogance and stupidity. The Parker clan was greedy enough to establish a 25-square mile ranch deep in Comanche territory, building a fort to protect their homes and possessions from the "hostiles," but not bright enough to realize that staking their claim miles to the west of other settlements was a problem. Topping this off, the Parkers left the gates of the fort open while the adult males with military experience worked in the fields.


            One spring day in 1836, an estimated 100 or more Comanche, Kiowa and other warriors rode up to the gates. Half an hour later, five men were dead, other family members were badly wounded, and five were taken away on horseback, including Cynthia. The raid received huge publicity "back East," fuelling the racist argument that indigenous peoples were uncivilized savages.


            This episode was a key moment in a decades-long military resistance by Comanches against the Yankee invaders. The warriors who rode up to the gates of Parker’s Fort were not ignorant, although they could not have foreseen the invention of "weapons of mass destruction" - repeating rifles and other weapons used by the US Cavalry to inflict countless massacres, and to eradicate the buffalo herds which were the basic food source for the "horse tribes" which flourished on the western plains following the Spanish invasion of the "New World".


            The Comanches knew that the incoming tidal wave of settlers posed an existential threat. As a trading people with wide contacts among neighbouring tribes and nations, they knew that the Europeans brought death and destruction on a vast scale, and they had already fought the Mexicans to a standstill for a century.


            The type of violence seen at Parker’s Fort, and on many other occasions as the US moved relentlessly onto the plains, was not uncommon during raids and conflicts between indigenous nations in and after the pre-contact period.


            But the perspective given by Hostiles and other Hollywood films, even those "sympathetic" to the indigenous peoples, is usually narrow and ahistorical. As Guardian reviewer Mark Kermode points out, these films focus on the "burden" of the white man forced to live with the guilt of colonialism, oppression, and genocide. Like Christian Bale's character (US Army Captain Joe Blocker) in Hostiles, they were just following orders, haunted by nightmares of Indian attacks which killed their fellow soldiers and families. Surely, according to the logic of these films, we should all just learn to understand each other and get along, putting violence behind us. Famed indigenous actor Wes Studi plays another classic role, the stoic and wise Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk, being escorted back to his people’s sacred territory where he can die in peace.


            The undeniable talent of these and other actors in Hostiles becomes part of the problem, however. The viewer is lulled into accepting such tropes as "truth," ignoring the wider context of history, including over a thousand years of bloody massacres and violence committed by European kings and armies. Here are just a few examples: the siege of Jerusalem, the Spanish Inquisition, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the killing of millions of Congolese on Belgian-owned rubber plantations. To paraphrase Karl Marx wrote, capital comes into the world dripping with blood and dirt from every pore.


            Seen from this perspective, the events at Parker’s Fort look very different. The Comanches were simply in a better position to fight back than most others, and they did the best they could. Using their incredible horse skills and tactics, they had some success. One of their traditional strategies was to kidnap children and integrate them within their own communities. Cynthia Ann Parker grew up to marry a Comanche warrior, and gave birth to three children, before she was "rescued" in 1860 by Texas Rangers who slaughtered most of her family. Refusing to accept white society, Parker even tried to escape to return to her Comanche home, finally starving herself to death in 1871. By this time, the Comanches had been reduced from about 45,000 people down to less than 3,000.


            All this leads me to the question: why is Hostiles set in 1892, using the fictional story of a family massacred by Comanche warriors in New Mexico? The truth is that  most of the surviving Comanches had been forced onto a reserve in Oklahoma by 1875, and their last handful of warriors had been defeated by the early 1880s. I suppose it's not impossible that a handful may have held out until 1892 in New Mexico, the western edge of their traditional "Comancheria" territory.


            But more likely, the creators of Hostiles simply used legends and stereotypes deeply embedded in North American society to make a "better story". The film is certainly dramatic and visually powerful, but it's not "truth" in any meaningful sense. Yellow Hawk and his family are colourful but one-dimensional figures. Even worse off are the marauding Comanches, who (in Kermode's words) are "faceless boogeymen who swoop in and kill mercilessly." Spoiler alert: in the final plot twist, Yellow Hawk’s grandson is taken to Chicago by his new “parents,” who make no attempt to return him to his own people.


            Placing the blame for violence on individuals, Hostiles is, in the end, yet another apology for the crimes of imperialism, including genocide in the Americas.

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12) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker


Aakuluk: Nunavut's first record label


Iqaliut, capital of Nunavut, "is a place rich in musical culture and talent, but bereft of music business infrastructure. But now there is a music label, and that's a start". So says the website of Aakuluk, the northern territory's first ever recording company, founded in 2016, and headquartered in this town of 8,000 people. Aakuluk was set up by The Jerry Cans, a five-piece band that fuses throat-singing with contemporary instruments and folk-rock styles. It's fronted by Nancy Mike (throat-singing, vocals, accordion) and Andrew Morrison (guitar, vocals). The band has released three albums, and toured Canada, the USA, Australia, Germany, and Scotland, singing in the Inuktitut language. Mike says she wants her children to be able to speak, read, and write her native Inuktitut. Morrison, who grew up in Iqaliut and speaks Inuktitut, says The Jerry Cans "are hoping to change the idea of what mainstream media, or mainstream music, should be, by continuing to sing in Inuktitut." Their music references problems like colonialism, racism, suicide, and high prices. Aakuluk has signed other artists, including throat singer Riit (who combines traditional melodies and throat-singing with pop production) and blues/soul band Josh Q and the Trade-Offs. For more info: www.aakulukmusic.com. 


CWU & Culture Matters arts awards


Britain's Communication Workers Union (CWU), representing 194,000 workers, (including 110,000 postal workers), has teamed up with the left-wing website Culture Matters to launch an annual Songwriting and Spoken Word Awards contest. Each year, judges from the CWU and Culture Matters will select five winners, who will receive £100 cash each, plus an invitation to perform at the CWU's annual convention. The CWU and Culture Matters are seeking original submissions in the English language by solo or duo artists/performers. "We want to encourage our members in the CWU, and working people everywhere, to express themselves creatively on themes that matter to them as workers," says CWU General Secretary Dave Ward. This year's winners will be invited to perform in April at the CWU's convention in the south-England seaside town of Bournemouth. The contest is restricted, understandably, to U.K. residents. Is it too much to ask a Canadian union to co-sponsor similar awards with a working-class cultural organization - awards which would recognize and encourage performers who create works meaningful to the Canadian working-class? How about CUPW joining with Mayworks? For more info: www.culturematters.org.uk


Indonesian musicians organize union


The International Federation of Musicians (FIM) reports that the founding congress of the Indonesian Musicians Union will take place in Jakarta in April. The Southeast Asian republic is the largest Muslim country in the world, with 261 million people. Indonesia has a rich musical tradition. It's celebrated for its gamelan orchestras - community-based ensembles that feature elaborate combinations of gongs and other percussion instruments. While ancient traditions endure, contemporary Indonesian music also reflects other influences, such as classical, rock, hip-hop, and jazz. The union drive was initiated a dozen years ago, as Indonesia emerged from decades of repressive military dictatorship. In 2006, local performers began meeting with FIM representatives, and with delegations from the International Labour Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Last November, a three-day conference in Jakarta, attended by many renowned Indonesian artists, set the stage for the founding congress. The IMU promises to be guided by internal democracy, transparency, and gender equality. It will seek fair compensation and benefits for musicians, and will  cooperate with other unions at both the national and international levels. Indonesia is governed by the centre-left Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. President Joko Widodo is reputedly a big Metallica fan. For more info: www.fim-musicians.org


David Rovics' musical history project


American folksinger David Rovics has roamed this continent, and much of the world beyond, for more than twenty years, performing his topical and historically-informed songs wherever people are in struggle against the capitalist system. What's less known about Rovics is his commitment to educating the younger generation. His songs are used as teaching aids in Germany and Sweden. In the USA, they're used by the Zinn Education Project, which is based upon Howard Zinn's popular "People's History of the United States". David's project offers two teaching modules. The first covers U.S. and world history. The second covers current events since 2010. Each module presents relevant Rovics songs with introductory text. About 200 songs are used in the course. The Rovics Music History Project is available free of charge, but he asks users to consider joining his CSA (Community Supported Art) sustaining fund. For more information visit www.davidrovics.com where all of Rovics's songs can be found, as well as tour information, a thought-provoking blog, and the music history project itself.  Make a donation and download his latest album, "Ballad of a Wobbly". It's one of his best yet. Don't miss my personal favorite on the new album: "Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruiz".


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