Showing posts with label privatization doesn't work. Show all posts
Showing posts with label privatization doesn't work. Show all posts


harry leslie smith -- rest in power, and thank you

Harry Leslie Smith, who sometimes called himself "the world's oldest rebel," died in late November 2018. I was unable to acknowledge his passing on wmtc at the time.

Smith, a writer and an activist, was a steadfast critic of neoliberal policies, especially the austerity agenda. He spoke out constantly and consistently for a more generous, more just, and more inclusive society -- in short, for the preservation of social democracy.

His obituary in The Guardian quotes him:
I am one of the last few remaining voices left from a generation of men and women who built a better society for our children and grandchildren out of the horrors of the second world war, as well as the hunger of the Great Depression.

Sadly, that world my generation helped build on a foundation of decency and fair play is being swept away by neoliberalism and the greed of the 1%, which has brought discord around the globe. Today, the western world stands at its most dangerous juncture since the 1930s.
Smith was at his most eloquent when speaking against war-for-profit and in support of peace. In 2013, he wrote "This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time". It's a brilliant and heartbreaking piece. I will print it below; I hope you will read the whole thing.

Smith gave his initials HLS new meaning with his Twitter name, @harryslaststand. Last year, Smith tweeted this. Then as now, it brings tears to my eyes. An incredible honour, and something that helped me through the ordeal.

This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time
Harry Leslie Smith

I will remember friends and comrades in private next year, as the solemnity of remembrance has been twisted into a justification for conflict

Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts. The American civil war's General Sherman once said that "war is hell", but unfortunately today's politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.

Still, this year I shall wear the poppy as I have done for many years. I wear it because I am from that last generation who remember a war that encompassed the entire world. I wear the poppy because I can recall when Britain was actually threatened with a real invasion and how its citizens stood at the ready to defend her shores. But most importantly, I wear the poppy to commemorate those of my childhood friends and comrades who did not survive the second world war and those who came home physically and emotionally wounded from horrific battles that no poet or journalist could describe.

However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy.

Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector. We must remember that the historical past of this country is not like an episode of Downton Abbey where the rich are portrayed as thoughtful, benevolent masters to poor folk who need the guiding hand of the ruling classes to live a proper life.

I can tell you it didn't happen that way because I was born nine years after the first world war began. I can attest that life for most people was spent in abject poverty where one laboured under brutal working conditions for little pay and lived in houses not fit to kennel a dog today. We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes who comprised 80% of Britain's population in 1913.

This is why I find that the government's intention to spend £50m to dress the slaughter of close to a million British soldiers in the 1914-18 conflict as a fight for freedom and democracy profane. Too many of the dead, from that horrendous war, didn't know real freedom because they were poor and were never truly represented by their members of parliament.

My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren't officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn't care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated. My family members took the king's shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.

For many of you 1914 probably seems like a long time ago but I'll be 91 next year, so it feels recent. Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda. We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom. But by far the worst error we have made as a people is to think ourselves as taxpayers first and citizens second.

Next year, I won't wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn't be left to die on the battleground of modern life.


kevin baker in harper's: "the death of a once great city -- the fall of new york and the urban crisis of affluence"

Everyone who cares about cities, about privatization, and frankly, about humans and our ability to live on our planet, should make time to read the July cover story in Harper's magazine. New York writer Kevin Baker unpacks "The Death of a Once Great City -- The fall of New York and the urban crisis of affluence".
As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring.

This is not some new phenomenon but a cancer that’s been metastasizing on the city for decades now. And what’s happening to New York now—what’s already happened to most of Manhattan, its core—is happening in every affluent American city. San Francisco is overrun by tech conjurers who are rapidly annihilating its remarkable diversity; they swarm in and out of the metropolis in specially chartered buses to work in Silicon Valley, using the city itself as a gigantic bed-and-breakfast. Boston, which used to be a city of a thousand nooks and crannies, back-alley restaurants and shops, dive bars and ice cream parlors hidden under its elevated, is now one long, monotonous wall of modern skyscraper. In Washington, an army of cranes has transformed the city in recent years, smoothing out all that was real and organic into a town of mausoleums for the Trump crowd to revel in.

By trying to improve our cities, we have only succeeded in making them empty simulacra of what was. To bring this about we have signed on to political scams and mindless development schemes that are so exclusive they are more destructive than all they were supposed to improve. The urban crisis of affluence exemplifies our wider crisis: we now live in an America where we believe that we no longer have any ability to control the systems we live under.
The article unpacks the trend I was lamenting in the 1990s, worsening each passing year, until it finally drove us out in 2005 -- the City paying diminishing returns on the "why live in NYC" equation, finally allowing me to defect from the whole mess of the United States. Since then, of course, it's only gotten worse. But no longer seeing the City on a day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground level, I had no idea how much worse.

This is not nostalgia. And it's not an inevitable act of nature. It's the result of deliberate choices by the ruling class. And it's happening all over North America.

I'm still reading the story. With every paragraph, my heart breaks a little more. It's a long, depressing, essential read.

If you can't access it through the Harper's website, try using your library card to get it through rbgdigital or hoopla.


in the ontario election, the choice is clear. put down the polls and pick up your vote.

I am very frustrated by progressive reaction to Doug Ford becoming the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. People are acting as if Ford has already won an election that is three months away.

I understand there is great -- and well-deserved -- anger against Kathleen Wynne's Liberal party. But are we progressives going to stand helplessly staring at polls as we are thrown from frying pan to fire?

Under 20 years of Liberal governments, public spending has been frozen, resulting in a decrease of more than 40% in public resources. Corporate taxes are at all-time low. Privatization is strangling both services and jobs. And now -- supposedly -- we're all going to vote for more of the same. Either literally more of the same in the Liberals or worse than that in the Conservatives.

And supposedly, we won't vote NDP because the NDP can't win.

We won't vote for a party because the party can't win because not enough people will vote for it. How stupid do you have to be to subscribe to that circular logic?

ONDP leader Andrea Horvath learned an important lesson in the last provincial election. She has returned to the principles that make the NDP the party of progressive people and of labour. The party platform includes full pharmacare, dental benefits, affordable childcare, and relief for student debt. If the 1% and the corporations pay their fair share, it's all within reach.

The brutal effects of corporate tax cuts are all around us. Students graduate college and university with massive debts, but can only find part-time, precarious work. 30,000 seniors are waiting for spaces in long-term care. If they live long enough to get a space, they barely receive minimum standards of care, as private ownership starves facilities of resources. The rise of precarious work means that fewer Ontarians have employer-paid extended health benefits, so people go without "extras" (ha!) like prescription medicine and dental care.

It's been proven beyond all doubt that privatization costs us more and gives us less. So-called public-private partnerships are the same corporate welfare in a different suit.

We need a government that will invest in public services. Healthcare, including dental care, pharmacare, and mental health. Education, including smaller class sizes and an end to student debt. Seniors, including safeguarding pensions and setting minimum standards of care. Publicly-owned transit and utilities.

Don't talk to me about Bob Rae. People who won't vote NDP because of something that a former leader did in the early 1990s are too stupid to be entrusted with the vote.

Don't talk to me about polls. If you read past the headlines, half the poll stories don't even say what you think they do. Fuck the polls. They don't actually predict the future. They just give direction to sheep.

Don't talk to me about strategic voting. You know what that will get you? More of the same.

If you care about public services and you believe in progressive change, there is only one choice this June.

Vote NDP.

But first, get out there and help as many others make that choice as you possibly can.


beyond #iwd: fight for women by opposing privatization

Visit We Own It for all the facts on privatization.
When public services are privatized, everyone loses -- except, of course, shareholders of a private company, who increase their wealth with our money.

But did you know the pain of privatization hits women disproportionately harder? As this excellent article by Jane Stinson in Canadian Dimension says:
Privatization is not gender-neutral. It threatens advances toward women’s equality in the labour market and in the home.

In the labour market, privatization usually means lower wages for women workers, fewer workplace rights, reduced health and welfare benefits, no pension coverage, less predictable work hours, more precarious employment, a heavier workload and generally more exploitative working conditions.
In addition, in a society where women are still the primary caregivers for both children and the elderly, when services become both scarcer and more expensive, women's burdens grow -- often while their wages are shrinking. This is also a direct impact of privatization.

Here's a terrible, typical example. When the province of British Columbia privatized support services in health care, thousands of women lost their jobs, and those who were still employed saw their wages cut by almost 50%. Naturally, services were greatly reduced, which by definition increases poverty and isolation among seniors and people with disabilities.

The UN found that privatized education "exacerbates gender discrimination."

The International Journal of Political Economy found that privatized social security impacts women twice as hard as it does men.

Canada's National Network on Environments and Women's Health found that water privatization leaves "women – especially Aboriginal women – disproportionately making difficult choices about where money is spent, having to choose among food, shelter, and safe water." Fifty years ago, the very concept of privatized water would have seemed unthinkable. Today, it is a struggle between life and death -- a struggle that hits women much harder than it does men.

Let's make International Women's Day more than a hashtag. The fight for quality public services is the fight for women's rights and gender equity. Many thanks to the good folks at We Own It for making this connection visible!


a brief history of privatization

Privatization 101.

Another take, also correct.

Chomsky courtesy of Sugaring Off, a post about Harper privatizing Canadian health care. I disagree with the blogger's assessment of Harper's intentions, but I certainly agree with her/his conclusion.



Revolutionary thought of the day:
Scargill's got the megaphone and he launches intae one ay his trademark rousin speeches that tingles the back ay ma neck. He talks about the rights ay working people, won through years of struggle, and how if we're denied the right to strike and organise, then we're really nae better than slaves. His words are like a drug, ye feel them coursin through the bodies around ye; moistening eyes, stiffening spines and fortifying hearts. As he wraps up, fist punched into the air, the 'Victory to the Miners' chant reaches a fever pitch.

Irvine Welsh, Skagboys, prequel to Trainspotting
Arthur Scargill led the National Union of Mineworkers' strike and their struggle against Margaret Thatcher's new order. Thatcher was determined to break the industrial labour unions and impose privatisation and austerity on the UK. The long and bitter mining strike was a pivotal moment.

At the time of this quote, a huge contingent of supporters have gathered, intending to repel scab workers. Police lead them into a trap, then brutally assault them. Police had been specially trained and issued special new equipment in order to inflict mass beatings on unarmed supporters.

Despite the name given to this infamous confronation - The Battle of Orgreave - it was not a battle. It was a one-sided assault and very nearly a massacre.

The Guardian gives context: Miners' strike: how the bloodiest battle became the 'biggest frame-up'


what i'm reading: this changes everything by naomi klein, one of the most important books you'll ever read

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein, is incredibly difficult to write about. I've been putting sticky notes beside important paragraphs as I read, and my copy now looks like an art project, bristling with coloured paper squares. I can say without exaggeration that this is one of the most important books you'll ever read.

In her clear, readable prose, Klein demonstrates exactly what is destroying our planet: unregulated, unchecked capitalism, brought to you by the scourge of our era: neoliberalism. (US readers may be more familiar with the term neoconservatism.)

In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, Klein showed us how corporate interests exploit crises to enact policies that enrich a small elite, using the holy trinity of neoliberalism: privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and lower corporate taxation, paid for with cuts to public spending. Now Klein widens her lens to demonstrate how that same orientation actively prevents us from taking the necessary steps to halt and reverse climate change, and with it, the impending destruction of a habitable Earth.

To reverse warming, reverse course

Klein succinctly and precisely diagnoses the root problem. In order to challenge climate change, in order to reverse a course that threatens billions of lives and is ultimately suicidal for humanity, radical change is required. We must stop living as if infinite growth is possible on a finite planet. This goes way beyond separating our trash into different bins and using more efficient light bulbs. It means dismantling the fossil-fuel industry, powering our entire society with renewable energy sources (it is possible!), and ultimately, abandoning the idea of growth as the basis for our economies.

Tackling climate change means, ultimately, dismantling neoliberalism itself.
A belief system that vilifies collective action and declares war on all corporate regulation and all things public simply cannot be reconciled with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that are largely responsible for creating and deepening the crisis.
This means rethinking the false notion of "free" trade. Ontario, for example, would be decades ahead in wind and solar production, not to mention good, green jobs, but for the crippling mandates of free-trade agreements. "Free" deserves scare quotes.
Not only do fossil fuel companies receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as a free waste dump.
Klein reminds us that if free-trade regulations block our ability to disrupt our dependence on fossil fuels, then those regulations must be rewritten. And so it goes for any number of policies that express the neoliberal ideology, which, as Klein writes, "form a ideological wall that has blocked a serious response to climate change for decades."

Of course, nothing is free; the question is who pays the price. The price may be unemployment, or jobs that can't sustain a decent life, or overcrowded classrooms, or a generation condemned to poverty-stricken old age. The price may be flammable drinking water, or whole villages beset by rare cancers. The neoliberal agenda wreaks its havoc in ways seen and unseen. Shell's Arctic oil rig ran aground when it braved impassable winter weather, attempting to beat a timeline that would trigger additional taxes. In Montreal, the MM&A rail company received government permission to cut the number of staff on its trains from five to a single engineer: thus the Lac-Megantic disaster. However measured, it's a price paid by ordinary people, while corporations wallow in profit.

Less carbon means more democracy

In turn, dismantling neoliberalism would mean rethinking our governments, too, as democracies driven by lobbyists, corporate donors, and industry interests - valuing profits over people - pave the way for policies that are killing us all. Can a society where this can happen be rightly considered democratic?
...the most jarring part of the grassroots anti-extraction uprising has been the rude realization that most communities do appear to lack this power; that outside forces - a far-off central government, working hand-in-glove with transnational companies - are simply imposing enormous health and safety risks on residents, even when that means overturning local laws. Fracking, tar sands pipelines, coal trains, and export terminals are being proposed in many parts of the world where clear majorities of the population has made its opposition unmistakable, at the ballot box, through official consultation processes, and in the streets.

And yet consent seems beside the point. Again and again, after failing to persuade communities that these projects are in their genuine best interest, governments are teaming up with corporate players to roll over the opposition, using a combination of physical violence and draconian legal tools reclassifying peaceful activists as terrorists.

....Only two out of the over one thousand people who spoke at the panel's community hearings in British Columbia supported the project. One poll showed that 80 percent of the province's residents opposed having more oil tankers along their marine-rich coastline. That a supposedly impartial review body could rule in favor of the pipeline in the face of this kind of overwhelming opposition was seen by many in Canada as clear evidence of a serious underlying crisis, one far more about money and power than the environment.
When reviewing the proposed solutions to climate change, Klein skewers the chimeras that don't and can't work, from the corporate boondoggle known as cap-and-trade, to various technological fixes that would take our fantasy of controlling nature to bizarre new heights.
Indeed, if geoengineering has anything going for it, it is that it slots perfectly into our most hackneyed cultural narrative, the one in which so many of us have been indoctrinated by organized religion and the rest of us have absorbed from pretty much every Hollywood action movie ever made. It's the one that tells us that, at the very last minute, some of us (the ones that matter) are going to be saved. And since our secular religion is technology, it won't be god that saves us but Bill Gates and his gang of super-geniuses at Intellectual Ventures.
Klein also heaps contempt on the so-called partnerships between large environmental organizations and the fossil-fuel industry, which are something like the partnership between the pig and Oscar Mayer. As Klein puts it, "the 'market-based' climate solutions favored by so many large foundations and adopted by many greens have provided an invaluable service to the fossil fuel sector as a whole."

Already changing everything: Blockadia

This Changes Everything illuminates an impressive array of activism, introducing most readers, I'm guessing, to a new expression: Blockadia. Blockadia represents the global, grassroots, broad-based networks of resistance to high-risk extreme extraction. From Greece to the Amazon to New Zealand to Montana to British Columbia, the resistance is in motion. Taking many forms - the divestment movement pressuring institutions to sever economic ties with the fossil-fuel industry, the towns declaring themselves "fracking free zones", the civil disobedience that physically slows the building of pipelines while court challenges continue - Blockadia is creating space for public debate and the possibility of change.

In many places, Blockadia is led by people from indigenous communities. Not only are indigenous peoples often the first victims of climate destruction - witness, for example, the off-the-chart cancer rates of First Nations people living downstream from Canada's tar sands - but their worldviews may form the basis of our way forward. On a Montana reservation where young Cheyenne are learning how to install solar energy systems - cutting residents' utility bills by 90% while learning a trade, creating an alternative to a life spent working for the coal industry - a female student makes this observation:
Solar power, she said, embodied the worldview in which she had been raised, one in which "You don't take and take and take. And you don't consume and consume and consume. You take what you need and then you put back into the land."
I despair. But it doesn't matter.

I want everyone to read this book, and because of that, I hesitate to share this unfortunate truth: ultimately, This Changes Everything filled me with hopelessness and despair. I wouldn't say it made me pessimistic, as I am optimistic about humankind's ability to change ourselves and our systems, if we choose to. Rather, the book filled me with outright hopelessness, because I don't believe we will even have the opportunity to make that choice. The forces aligned against the necessary changes are massive, and massively powerful. Untold profits depend on the system not changing, and what's more, gargantuan profits are being reaped off the destruction itself. The oligarchs who profit from climate change are associated with the most powerful tools of violence ever known - the mightiest armies and the greatest amorality.

Adding to the difficulty, our society clings to what Klein calls "the fetish of centrism": of the appearance of reasonableness, of "splitting the difference, and generally not getting overly excited about anything". This is the illogic that dictates we must "balance" the interests of the petroleum industry with our need for clean water, or the profits of real estate developers with the human need for shelter. This fetish of centrism allows the government and its partners in the media to label as "extremists" people who want to protect water and land from catastrophic oil spills.

Added to this, huge numbers of ordinary people, led by corporate media and astroturf faux activists, align themselves against their own interests, stoked by fears of imagined foes (be they communists, immigrants, or feminists) and cling to notions of a supposedly free market, which in reality is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. This global market is anything but free: the risk is socialized in every way possible, but the returns are strictly privatized.

If you've read Jared Diamond's Collapse, you are familiar with the concept that societies don't always do what's best for them. Societies make choices that ultimately chart their own demise. I do not despair of our ability to remake our world, but I know that the forces aligned against us will stop at nothing to prevent us from doing so. The most powerful people on the planet can shield themselves from the effects of climate change until it is too late for the rest of us.

And yet... and yet. I feel hopeless, my feelings don't matter.

What matters is this: we have little time, and we must try. Resistance movements have changed cultures. Resistance movements have brought mighty empires to their knees, have ended deeply entrenched systems: slavery, colonialism, apartheid. For centuries, there was something called the Divine Right of Kings, a concept which must have seemed permanent and immutable. Now it does not exist. Capitalism, as currently practiced, is killing our planet - killing us. We cannot shrug our shoulders.

If you agree - and more importantly, if you disagree - read this book.


rotd: this changes everything

Revolutionary thought of the day:
...if there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is not to accept dominant values as fixed and unchangeable but to offer other ways to live - to wage, and win, a battle of cultural worldviews. That means laying out a vision of the world that competes directly with the one on harrowing display at the Heartland conference and in so many other parts of our culture, one that resonates with the majority of the people on the planet because it is true: That we are not apart from nature but of it. That acting collectively for a great good is not suspect, and that such common projects of mutual aid are responsible for our species' greatest accomplishments. That greed must be disciplined and tempered by both rule and example. That poverty amidst plenty is unconscionable.

It also means defending those parts of our societies that already express these values outside of capitalism, whether it's an embattled library, a public park, a student movement demanding free university tuition, or an immigrant rights movement fighting for dignity and more open borders. And most of all, it means continually drawing connections among these seemingly disparate struggles - asserting, more instance, that the logic that would cut pensions, food stamps, and health care before increasing taxes on the rich is the same logic and would blast the bedrock of the earth to get the last vapors of gas the last drops of oil before making the shift to renewable energy.

Naomi Klein, from This Changes Everything


cherry-picked data and undisclosed bias: the failure of freakonomics

Allan came home from one of his used-book sale sprees with copies of both Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics. I had read so many excerpts from, and reviews of, these books over the years, and their appearance was a reminder to actually read them myself.

You're probably familiar with the general premise of Freakonomics. Steven D. Levitt is an economics professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen J. Dubner is a well-known writer and editor. The two teamed up to write an unusual mix of story, statistics, and surprises for a popular audience, using research and statistics to draw unusual conclusions. Freakonomics' stories challenge conventional wisdom and seek to demonstrate how we often ask the wrong questions, thereby drawing the wrong conclusions.

Freakonomics is easy to read, and I found the stories entertaining and interesting enough, but every so often, an inaccurate word or phrase would jump out at me - a broad assumption would be asserted, without evidence - a bias would be exposed, but not stated. At first I thought I was nitpicking, but as these trouble-spots added up, I came to doubt the validity of the authors' work altogether.

Correlation versus causality in the unconventional wisdom

Early on, Levitt and Dubner remind us of the difference between correlation and causality.
... just because two things are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. A correlation simply means that a relationship exists between two factors - let's call them X and Y - but it tells you nothing about the direction of that relationship. It's possible that X causes Y; it's also possible that Y causes X; and it may be that X and Y are both being caused by some other factor, Z.
Levitt and Dubner say that conventional wisdom often confuses correlation with causality, or assumes causality where none may be present. I agree. Unfortunately, their proofs often do exactly the same thing.

You may recall the Freakonomics highlight that created a huge amount of buzz: the authors revealed a correlation between the precipitous drop in violent crime in the US in the mid-to-late 1990s, and the legalization of abortion in 1971. According to their analysis, the conventional explanations for the decrease in crime - better policing methods, tougher sentencing laws, and so on - were merely coincidental. The real reason for the drop in crime was that fewer unwanted babies were born.

After showing us many statistics about abortion rates and about crime rates, they write:
What sort of woman was most likely to take advantage of Roe v. Wade? Very often she was unmarried or in her teens or poor, and sometimes all three. What sort of future might her child have had? One study has shown that the typical child who was unborn in the earliest years of legalized abortion would have been 50 percent more likely than average to live in poverty; he would have also been 60 percent more likely to grow up with just one parent. These two factors - childhood poverty and a single-parent household - are among the strongest predictors that a child will have a criminal future. Growing up in a single-parent home roughly doubles a child's propensity to commit crime. So does having a teenage mother. Another study has shown that low maternal education is the single most powerful factor leading to criminality.

In other words, the very factors that drove millions of American women to have an abortion also seemed to predict that their children, had they been born, would have led unhappy and possible criminal lives.
The authors then note in passing that legalized abortion brought about many social consequences, and they list some, including a sharp drop in the number of white, American-born babies available for adoption. (This, in turn, gave rise to an increasing in international adoptions.)

Here's what Levitt and Dubner do not say. Since the legalization of abortion in the US coincided exactly with a marked decrease in (white) babies available for adoption, it is highly likely that many of the women who chose to terminate pregnancies (after abortion was legalized) would have surrendered their babies to adoption (before legal abortion). Therefore, those children would not have been raised in poor or single-parent families, since adoptive families are highly unlikely to be either. This is still true today, but was even more true in the 1970s.

This important qualifier was omitted from the Freakonomics equation. In other words, the authors demonstrate a correlation between legalized abortion in 1971 and a drop in crime in the mid-1990s, but in trying to prove causation, they cherry-pick the evidence. Is it possible that the big bombshell revealed in this book, a correlation between legalized abortion and crime, is not causal after all?

The more I read Freakonomics, the more I had the nagging feeling that Levitt and Dubner do exactly what they tell us the wrong-headed, knee-jerk, and short-sighted among us do. They don't flat-out assume causation, but neither do they examine factors that disprove their theory. Instead, they posit a question that challenges the status quo, then find the evidence they need to prove it.

Language matters... and so does full disclosure

Word choices troubled me. Rhetorical questions angered me. And undisclosed conflicts of interest call integrity into question. Here are a four examples: on abortion, public schools, white-collar crime, and sexual assault.

Abortion. When writing about abortion, Levitt and Dubner use the expressions "pro-choice" and "pro-life". As you know, I believe the term "pro-life" has no place in good journalism, except in the name of organizations or in a quote. It is one of the most successful pieces of propaganda of all time, and a journalist who uses the expression has agreed to be manipulated.

Perhaps the authors felt that if they used the term "anti-abortion," they would be forced to also write "pro-abortion," which of course is not the same thing as pro-choice. Or perhaps I am being overly generous: the section on the link between abortion and crime contains many unattributed, "some experts feel" statements about the "violence" and "death rate" of abortion, although their general conclusion is that government should let women decide what to do with their own pregnancies.

Whatever their bias, the language solution is simple. It requires the addition of only one word: pro-abortion-rights, anti-abortion-rights. Or pro-legalized-abortion, anti-legalized-abortion. In other words, word choice that accurately describes, rather than adopts, a position.

Public schools. In a segment examining cheating on standardized tests, the authors claim to prove that some Chicago public-school teachers helped students cheat, and insinuate that such cheating is supported by teachers' unions.

The mention of unions seemed so strangely out of place - a completely gratuitous shot - that I searched online to see if there was a connection. I quickly found it. Levitt was involved in the drive to privatize the Chicago school system, which of course includes union-busting.

The very question Freakonomics asks, "Do school teachers cheat on standardized testing?", is itself biased: it is a weapon wielded by the movement to discredit public schools. The discredited public schools are then replaced by so-called "charter schools" - schools run by private, for-profit companies. (Test scores at these private schools are often higher, because students who can't keep up are simply expelled - more cherry-picked statistics.) This push to privatization is itself linked to Levitt's Chicago-school, neoliberal economics.

Levitt tells us that the data gleaned from standardized test scores proves that some teachers were cheating. But he doesn't tell us that the reason he examined the data in the first place was to find (or manufacture) evidence against public schools and teachers' unions, in support of privatization.

A professional writer like Stephen Dubner knows that this connection must be disclosed. But he does not disclose it.

White-collar crime. In a paragraph about white-collar crime, Levitt and Dubner ask:
A street crime has a victim, who typically reports the crime to the police, who generate data, which in turn generates thousands of academic papers by criminologists, sociologists, and economists. But white-collar crime presents no obvious victim. From whom exactly did the masters of Enron steal?
Really, Steven Levitt, free-market economist? You really don't know from whom the Enron execs stole? Perhaps you should consult Wikipedia. Emphasis mine.
Enron's shareholders lost $74 billion in the four years before the company's bankruptcy ($40 to $45 billion was attributed to fraud). As Enron had nearly $67 billion that it owed creditors, employees and shareholders received limited, if any, assistance aside from severance from Enron. To pay its creditors, Enron held auctions to sell assets including art, photographs, logo signs, and its pipelines.

In May 2004, more than 20,000 of Enron's former employees won a suit of $85 million for compensation of $2 billion that was lost from their pensions.
In the opening paragraphs of this post, I refrained from identifying Levitt's affiliation with the Chicago School of Economics, the free-market-worshipping, public-sector-hating cabal whose political cronies have caused untold suffering around the globe. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Benefit hereby withdrawn.

Sexual assault. In a paragraph about statistics that become accepted as common knowledge, but which have no basis in fact, Levitt and Dubner write:
Women's rights advocates, for instance, have hyped the incidence of sexual assault, claiming that one in three American women will in her lifetime be a victim or rape or attempted rape. The actual figure is more like one in eight - but the advocates know it would take a callous person to publicly dispute their claims.
Let's pause here while we imagine my eyes popping, my teeth gritting, as I force myself to put down the book and breathe deeply...

Fact: the one-in-eight figure is an FBI statistic. It counts rape and attempted rapes that are reported to a municipal police department. How many sexual assaults are not reported to the police? Estimates range from 50% to 70%. Most reported rapes are those perpetrated by strangers; most so-called date or acquaintance rapes are not reported. How likely is a girl or woman raped by someone she knows - a date, an acquaintance, an ex-husband - to go to the police? Estimates range from a high of 30% to a low of 5%.

The FBI's one-in-eight figure does not include violent sexual assault where no intercourse or attempted intercourse occurred. The one-in-eight figure does not include rape-murders. If a woman is raped and murdered, the crime is entered into the Uniform Crime Reporting figures as a murder, only. Statistically, the rape does not exist. You see where I'm going here.

In truth, I cannot say where the one-in-three or one-in-four figure originated. I believe they are based on many different data-collections over a long period of time, and an extrapolation about unreported rapes. But I can tell you this: the FBI's one-in-eight is merely a piece of the picture. Levitt and Dubner write, "...but the advocates know [that no one will challenge the statistics]". How, may I ask, do they come to this conclusion? Did someone in the anti-violence movement actually tell them, "I know these figures are false, but who's going to challenge me?" Not likely. It's much more likely they are making an unfounded assumption.

Ignoring their own central premise. Economics, Levitt and Dubner tell us, is based on this premise, asserted as fact: "Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life." Thus they look for hidden incentives as the key to solving various riddles. Yet when they show, for example, that most people (about 87%) don't steal and don't cheat, even when they are highly unlikely to get caught, they never explain what well-hidden incentive causes this cheery result. Because you know what? There just might be human behaviour that is not attributable to economics.

I have other examples, too, but this post is long enough. I love books that make complex ideas accessible, but not at the expense of accuracy. I used to write nonfiction for children, and I know it can be difficult to avoid reductionism. But in a book that claims the conventional wisdom is often wrong, and that better decisions can be made by looking at better statistical evidence, the authors must follow their own mandate, and be both thorough and precise. Levitt and Dubner challenge what they say is wrong-headed conventional wisdom, then they create their own wrong-headed conclusions, using whatever statistics get them there.

Criticisms from their own field

Looking online for criticism of Freakonomics, I found a series of heated exchanges - and an onslaught of posts repeating bits of those exchanges, out of context - that occurred a few years ago. (I was in graduate school at the time, ignoring much of what went on in the world.) This is not newsworthy, but it can't hurt to revisit an internet brouhaha long after the dust has settled.

Writing in American Scientist in 2012, Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung gave a long, detailed critique of what they saw as sloppy, reductionist thinking from Levitt and Dubner, who by that time were the pilots of a high-flying media brand. In Freakonomics: What Went Wrong, Gelman and Fung write:
As the authors of statistics-themed books for general audiences, we can attest that Levitt and Dubner’s success is not easily attained. And as teachers of statistics, we recognize the challenge of creating interest in the subject without resorting to clichéd examples such as baseball averages, movie grosses and political polls. The other side of this challenge, though, is presenting ideas in interesting ways without oversimplifying them or misleading readers. We and others have noted a discouraging tendency in the Freakonomics body of work to present speculative or even erroneous claims with an air of certainty. Considering such problems yields useful lessons for those who wish to popularize statistical ideas.
They then offer numerous examples, and say they have many more. Their story was picked up by many blogs and other outlets (although that echo would be dwarfed by a later controversy). The Freakonomics authors responded with Freakonomics: What Went Right, a long, rambling piece that lumps together both founded and unfounded criticism, and never really responds to Gelman and Fung's central concerns.

Gelman then responded on his own blog, with A kaleidoscope of responses to Dubner’s criticisms of our criticisms of Freakonomics, a thoughtful meta-type piece. He writes, in part:
Dubner lives in different worlds than those of Kaiser and me. (Levitt is in between, with one foot in the publishing/media world and the other in academia.) To the millions of readers of his books and blogs, Levitt and Dubner are the kings (and rightly so, they've done some great stuff), and Kaiser and I have the status of moderately-annoying gnats.

But I suspect Dubner realizes that, outside of his circle, he and Levitt have some credibility problems. They have fans but a lot of non-fans too. As I wrote a couple months ago:
About a year ago, I gave my talk, "Of Beauty, Sex, and Power," at the meeting of the National Association of Science Writers. At one point I mentioned Freakonomics and the audience groaned. Steve Levitt is not a popular guy with this crowd. And that's the typical reaction I get: "Freakonomics" is a byword for sloppy science reporting, it's a word you throw out there if you want an easy laugh. Even some defenders of Freakonomics nowadays will say I shouldn't be so hard on it, it's just entertainment.
Now go back a few years. In 2005, Freakonomics was taken seriously. It was a sensation. Entertaining, sure, but not just entertainment—rather, the book represented an exciting new way of looking at the world. There was talk of the government hiring Levitt to apply his Freakonomics tools to catch terrorists.

That's what Kaiser and I meant when we asked "What went wrong?" Freakonomics was once a forum for a playful discussion of serious, important ideas; now it's more of a grab-bag of unfounded arguments. There's some good stuff there but seemingly no filter.
This is what I'm talking about. When a roomful of science reporters treats you like a punch line, the problem isn't with statisticians Gelman and Fung, or with economists Ariel Rubinstein and John DiNardo, or with bloggers Felix Salmon and Daniel Davies (to name several people who have published serious criticisms of Freakonomics). There are deeper problems, some clue of which might be found by reading all these critiques with an eye to learning rather than mere rebuttal. Don't get distracted by your fans on the blog—consider that room full of science writers! Try to recover the respect of Felix Salmon and Daniel Davies; that would be a worthy goal.
And then there's climate change

In Super Freakonomics, the 2009 follow-up to the original book, Levitt and Dubner take what they call "a cool, hard look at global warming". In that segment, they acknowledge the widespread scientific consensus that the earth is getting warmer. They bemoan the difficulty of persuading humans to act in sufficient numbers when the incentives for change are abstract and in the future. And they agree that humans should stop consuming and polluting so flagrantly, and should live more sustainably. They do all those things.

However, they challenge some of the accepted wisdom of how we can best achieve that worthy goal.
That is all.

Yet this small and reasonable poke at conventional wisdom was, apparently, picked up by an environmental blogger and translated into: "OMG Freakonomics authors deny climate change!!1!!".

A shitstorm of posts and tweets ensued. Levitt and Dubner were branded Enemies of the People. And the wingnuts, the anti-environment climate change deniers, in turn, had a field day. Look how the tree-huggers react when you question their orthodoxy! All hail Freakonomics, who have dispelled the myth of climate change! Which, of course, they did not do.

Which leads me to my second, less important Freakonomics-related post: what's wrong with the internet.

About Freakonomics itself, I'd say that fuzzy thinking, imprecise language, undisclosed conflict of interest, and especially the use of statistics without explanation or context (as in the sexual assault example) call into question both the seriousness and validity of this book.


are we seeing the beginning of a global people's revolution?

"There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear..."

This week, I attended a talk put on by the International Socialists, featuring an organizer with OUR Walmart, by Skype from Texas, and a Toronto-based union activist. Both speakers were terrific and so inspiring, but although I took copious notes, I'm not posting a summary of the talk.

It was similar to the talk I blogged about here - from greece to chicago to toronto, workers fighting back against austerity - and an extension to an article I wrote recently: workers doing it for themselves: fighting the austerity agenda in north america. The themes are the same. In a unionized workplace, rank-and-file membership need to challenge the complacency of the official union (so-called) leadership, and apply pressure to be more militant.

In a non-unionized workplace, workers need to meet, discuss their issues, work out their demands. They need to link up with other workers, possibly contact established unions for support, and think of ways to challenge their employers.

It's not easy. It's scary, and it can be costly. But there are examples to follow, people who can give support and advice based on experience. And above all, there is no other way. Without worker action, conditions will never change. No one can liberate the working class but the working class.

But that's not want I want to write about today. Here's what's on my mind.

The Occupy movement

The uprising in Wisconsin

The Arab Spring: Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and other countries

The Quebec student strikes and demonstrations

Walmart workers organizing and striking

Fast-food workers in New York City organizing and striking

Ongoing mass demonstrations and general strikes throughout Europe

Miners in South Africa on a wildcat strike

100 million people striking in India

The Chicago teachers' strike

The global environmental movement

Idle No More

And hundreds of smaller struggles that we may never hear about, all around the globe

These movements are all inextricably related.
Think of how powerful we would be if we all came together.
Think of how we might achieve that.


workers doing it for themselves: fighting the austerity agenda in north america

I'm re-running this, which I wrote for Socialist Worker Canada (now at a temporary site while a new website is being completed). If you are part of this struggle - or if you want to be part of it - and live in the GTA, please join us tomorrow night for Fighting Austerity in North America: Walmart Workers to Bill 115. Details below.

* * * *

Workers Doing It For Themselves: Food service workers in New York and Chicago unite to improve working conditions

One of the most exciting developments currently unfolding among the working class in North America is the organizing efforts of non-unionized workers. Non-union workers make up about 70 per cent of the labour force in Canada and about 88 per cent in the US. This represents untold volumes of untapped power.

The recent actions of Walmart workers, while significant and exciting, represent only one of several groups of non-union workers organizing to improve their own working conditions.

Historic win for Hot and Crusty Workers Association

In September 2012, New York City restaurant workers walked off the job and won a historic victory – a collective bargaining agreement that is a first for low-wage food-service workers, many of whom are undocumented people.

Twenty-three workers at one Hot and Crusty café (part of a chain) were organizing for more than a year, with support from Occupy Wall Street and the Laundry Workers Center, a workers’ support group. The Hot and Crusty workers were earning below minimum wage, were forced to work overtime (sometimes as much as 70 hours per week) without a higher hourly pay, and endured verbal and sexual harassment on a regular basis. They formed an independent union, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association, and demanded salary increases and improved conditions.

In retaliation, their employer closed the restaurant. Workers occupied the store, holding a workers’ assembly until forced to leave by the police. Undaunted, the workers opened their own café on the sidewalk outside the closed restaurant, serving coffee, bagels, and donuts in exchange for voluntary donations.

After only four days, the company asked to negotiate – but the workers rejected the company’s initial offers. Like restaurant workers throughout the US, most Hot and Crusty workers are undocumented, meaning they cannot work legally in the US. Employers routinely use the workers’ immigration status as an excuse for dangerous and unhealthy working conditions and illegally low pay, believing undocumented workers will be afraid to speak up. In this case, the company’s initial offers would have applied only to people with official work permits. In a strong show of solidarity and commitment, the Hot and Crusty Association workers rejected attempts to divide them.

Over the course of a 55-day picket, the workers received a tremendous outpouring of support, including thousands of petition signatures from the community (a high-income area), daily visits from students and faculty from nearby Hunter College, and letters of support from dozens of unions and labor organizations. Eventually, the owner sold the restaurant and the new ownership negotiated in good faith. The Hot and Crusty Workers Association now has a three-year collective agreement, truly a ground-breaking moment for food-service employees in North America.

The agreement includes wage increases, paid vacation and sick time, seniority, grievance and arbitration procedures, and union recognition, and is the first of its kind for food-service workers in North America. The agreement is the direct result of the workers’ own intelligence, determination, and courage – and their unity.

“We can’t survive on 7.25!”

Also in New York City, 200 fast-food employees walked off their jobs in November 2012, demanding a $15/hour minimum pay – a figure slightly more in line with the towering cost of living in that city. With the slogan “We can’t survive on $7.25,” workers from dozens of fast-food outlets, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s, organized under the banner of Fast Food Forward. It was the largest strike ever in the US against the fast food industry, which reaps some $200 billion a year in profits. Fast Food Forward emphasizes that better pay for workers benefits the entire community, calling for “better pay for a stronger New York.”

Along with pay increases, Fast Food Forward seeks health benefits and reliable scheduling. Fast-food workers cannot attend school or organize adequate child care, because their scheduling is often so erratic. The restaurants also force workers to work “off the clock” – with no pay at all – by scheduling tasks either before workers punch in or after they punch out.

Fight for fifteen

In Chicago, retail and food-service workers formed Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago. Like their sisters and brothers in New York, the Chicago workers received support from community groups but did the organizing themselves. WOCC’s “Fight For Fifteen” campaign calls for a $15/hour minimum wage. The workers have organized pickets and marches through the Michigan Avenue shopping area, and in an upscale, Michigan Avenue vertical mall, unfurled a banner reading “$1.5 billion” – that’s the combined salaries of the CEOs of their employer companies last year. WOCC represents workers of more than 100 different employers, from widely different backgrounds, all united in their struggle to improve their own lives.

* * * *

Fighting Austerity in North America: from Walmart to Bill 115
Tuesday, January 15, 7:00 p.m.
OISE - Room 2227
252 Bloor Street West
Subway: St. George

Elizabeth Clinton, OUR Walmart campaigner, by Skype from Texas
Ritch Whyman, International Socialists

Event on Facebook


from greece to chicago to toronto, workers fighting back against austerity

Working my way backwards, this the second of four talks I attended that I'll be reporting on.

* * * *

The most important internationalist event in decades

In November, I heard Nikos Loudos of the Socialist Workers Party in Greece (by Skype) and Canadian activist and organizer Carolyn Egan speak about the recent general strike in Europe, and the fight against austerity at home and abroad.

It was after 1:00 a.m. in Greece, but Nikos was full of energy. He reminded us, "I cannot complain, there are people who have bigger problems". In Brussels, the Eurogroup was staying up all night discussing "the Greek problem". Greece was supposed to get $30 billion in aid - "which all goes to the bankers," Nikos reminded us - but the money was still not forthcoming, because Germany, the Eurogroup, and the IMF were not able to come to terms.

These problems from the other side, the ruling class, are behind the general strike of November 14, which Nikos called "the most important internationalist event in decades". It was the first time that organizers in four countries acted together: Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece. It also marked the first time ever that workers in Spain and Portugal, countries that are very differently politically, were able to coordinate actions. You should not be surprised to learn the short version of how this happened: rank and file organizing - ordinary workers pushing union leadership to act.

In all, there were actions and events in 23 countries. Some were one-day strikes, some were partial strikes in specific sectors, some were demonstrations and rallies. The greatest participation was in Spain, were there were massive strikes and demos.

You can keep the lights on, but we all know no one is home

Nikos noted that local governments kept the lights on in their (empty) buildings, so it would appear that people were working, and they could claim the strike was less successful than it was. The conservative media said the strike was a disaster, of course, but the media could report on nothing else - and therefore, the strike was a success.

Events in Italy were also very important. Unions there were under pressure for months to call a general strike, with union "leadership" avoided it. But under pressure from the European-wide event, the largest union in Italy called a four-hour strike, and more militant unions went on 24-hour strike. There were occupations of railway stations, tram and metro stations, and huge contingents of students organized blockades and pickets. (What's that you say? You didn't read about this in the Canadian media?)

Even in countries where there weren't general strikes, there were still actions on November 14. In Belgium, there were railroad strikes. In France, there were 130 demonstrations nationwide. France's newly elected government said it would not impose the neoliberal austerity agenda, and many people who believed their lies now feel betrayed. The Europe-wide event gave them hope, gave them confidence to get out in the streets and demonstrate against austerity.

Workers were able to use the General Strike as a way to highlight their specific, local battles. For example, Turkish transit workers have been fighting huge cuts. The European General Strike gave them the confidence to go on a 24-hour strike.

Betrayal, anger, action

Many people thought November 14 might not be success. Then, one week earlier, there was a 48-hour strike. So many people participated, it was such a success, that it gave the workers so much confidence, and people threw themselves into organizing - even without union leadership.

That first 48-hour strike was borne of yet more betrayal. The Greek government had said that if the draconian austerity measures don't pass, Greece will not get EU aid. The austerity measures did pass - albeit barely - yet Greece still did not get aid.

The austerity measures were written up in a 700-page document, which lawmakers were given two days to read, and which had to be voted in an all-or-nothing, thumbs-up or thumbs-down, vote. The yes votes formed a very limited majority: 153 out of 300 votes. And with that the Greek people are plunged into even higher unemployment and the complete destruction of whatever social safety net remained after the last austerity cuts.

Nikos said, "It was a disgrace and the people felt it." That disgrace led to the 48-hour strike... which led to mass participation in the November 14 General Strike. Referring to that 153-member majority, Nikos asked, "What is the real majority here? The majority is outside, on strike, organizing. Inside, 153 people are passing this, saying, 'We must pass it, or tomorrow we won't have food.' Then the money didn't come, and the people were left with nothing."

Workers occupied 200 city halls around Greece. Mass meetings were held everywhere. The federal government demanded mayors make a list of workers who would be laid off immediately. Only 30 mayors provided a list. The rest said: "None."

Even with this excellent resistance from municipal governments, the workers didn't rely on the town elected leaders. Instead, they occupied town halls - especially the offices tasked providing the lists!

Despite how the government tried to frame this as a "battle with Brussels for Greece," the reality is that the government is very weak in parliamentary terms and even weaker in true political terms of leading the people.

"Yes, we just occupied, and you should do the same!"

Nikos told stories of administrative employees occupying a central building in their university. Again (and again and again) union leadership wanted to do nothing, but rank-and-file held mass meetings and led the way. This spread to other universities, other workers, with students striking in solidarity. Nikos recalled with amusement overhearing a nicely-dressed woman on her mobile saying, "Yes, we just occupied, and you should do the same."

Nikos told us that the November 14 date of the General Strike had great resonance in Greece, as November 17 is the anniversary of the uprising that brought down a dictatorship in 1973. Some Greek activists have suggested that they should stop marking this anniversary, as it's been almost 40 years. But, Nikos said, every year more young people participate, and people find new ways to connect that anniversary with present-day concerns. They usually march to the US embassy, because in 1973, the US (of course) supported the dictatorship. This year, they went beyond that, marching to the Israeli embassy to protest the massacre in Gaza. This is a sign of the austerity struggles generating more a general politicization, and a sign of solidarity across countries and across struggles.

On the other side, the governments' approach also leads to more political radicalization - on the right. The government uses the language of anti-immigrant racism and fascism to scare workers. Police have murdered migrant workers coming from Turkey, by damaging their boats. Nazi gangs try to control neighbourhoods, and the government warns that "this the alternative": it's us or fascism.

Fascism, racism, and the austerity agenda: resistance to all

Nikos said, despite the publicity the Greek Nazi party garners in mainstream press, the truth is, they have not succeeded in organizing a public presence anywhere, even in the neighbourhoods they claim to control. Trade unions are kicking out Nazi organizers in factories and from the unions. The fascists had gone into factories, trying to stir hatred and resentment towards migrant workers. Nikos said with a smile, "I won't give you the details, but I assure you, they won't try to do that again."

More people, he said, understand that the fight against fascism and racism cannot be separated from the fight against austerity, and the fight for workers.

An organizer in the room mentioned that Canadians fear the Greek fascist group Golden Dawn - which recently คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019opened a chapter in Montreal. "It's heartening," he said, "to hear that people are fighting the growing threat of fascism along with the fight against austerity."

Nikos said that in Greece, all polls show that if an election was held now, the left would form the government. This, he said, is an ideological victory - a reflection of the struggle. The biggest political parties in Greece used to represent 40% of the political vote. Now they are taking 5% or less. Hundreds of thousands of people who used to vote for the neoliberal centrist parties have abandoned those parties for more grassroots, people-powered parties. Some have gone to the right, some to the left. So the Nazis may have gotten some votes. But they don't dare go into the streets.

* * * *

People on the local level, taking steps

Carolyn Egan thanked Nikos for his first-hand reports, noting that in North America, we don't get reports of these workers movements. That absence feeds people's pessimism about the prospect of fighting back. It also feeds the "North American exceptionalism" that we labour under.

Carolyn noted that what happened in Greece and throughout Europe was not an event, it was a process. There was no "big night of the barricades". There were, and are, workers building rank-and-file consciousness, smaller actions even in smaller unions, making strides forward, and pushing leadership to move forward.

It comes down to the actions of people on the local level, people taking steps in their own workplaces, bringing fellow workers out to actions. This puts pressure on leadership.

Carolyn ticked off the depressing series of setbacks labour has endured - the terrible, protracted Vale Inco strike in Sudbury, where workers were finally forced to go back, the Caterpillar lockout in London, Ontario, the Illinois Caterpillar strike where the union caved and settled, among others.

But, Carolyn reminded us, there have been many signs of hope: the Occupy Movement, the organizing in Wisconsin, and the ongoing struggle of the Quebec students, which has been massive and sustained.

There were potential strikes in Toronto as the city and workers faced municipal cuts, and both CUPE unions settled. This is demoralizing to workers, as people ask themselves, if our unions won't strike, what can we do?

What went right?

For an answer, we can look at areas where there's been forward movement. In Toronto, library workers didn't settle; their strike lasted 2-1/2 weeks. They didn't win everything, but they succeeded in pushing back the worst of the concessions. The library workers' union worked hard to build connections with other library workers and especially with the community who uses the library. Those links gave the workers confidence that a strike would have public. It gave them the strength and confidence to fight back.

Steelworkers in Alma, Quebec - a small Northern community, isolated from the political struggles of Montreal and Toronto - were locked out last December 31 when the mining giant Rio Tinto demanded huge concessions. Union members felt that union "leadership" was not providing enough support. They demanded the union give them energy and resources, and thet self-organized through the rank-and-file.

Steelworkers from Ontario traveled by bus to Alma to show solidarity - twice. Big solidarity rallies gave the Alma workers the confidence to stand strong and mount fightbacks. Other Rio Tinto workers followed suit, pushed back extreme concessions, and won good contracts - actually winning increases in salaries and benefits. (Don't cry for Rio Tinto, they're the third largest multinational corporation on the planet.) This all happened because workers took control, launching their own strike and demanding leadership follow.

In Wisconsin, labour had been battered. Unon "leadership" was aligned with the Democrats and partisan politics. But new leadership - real leadership without the quotes - came up through the rank-and-file. It started with the teachers' wildcat walkout, built through the firefighters union and the construction trades.

Typically, when people run for union office, they leave the workplace for a union office, and become separated from their sister and brother workers, beginning the symbolic and eventually political divide. In Wisconsin, one man broke that pattern, continuing to work in the workplace, determined to remain part of the rank-and-file. It worked. Pockets of resistance developed - and when things came to a head, they pushed it.

Rank-and-file, leading the way

Time and again, Carolyn showed, when workers are able to win lockouts and strikes, it's when rank-and-file were organized, and militant, and had the confidence to override complacent union leadership.

The best recent example of this must be the Chicago teachers' strike. Against all leadership advice, against the advice of Democrats who said it "the wrong time," that it would "hurt the election", the Chicago teachers fought back against public schools being closed and replaced with privatized, for-profit schools (so-called "charter" schools).

Rank-and-file educators linked up with the people they taught and their parents. The struggle wasn't framed and viewed as teachers fighting for their jobs. It was about teachers fighting for good education for their communities.

Rank-and-file in each school formed "contract action committees," then these real leaders ran for union leadership. They swept. And they brought this militancy to their workplace: 90% showed up for the strike vote and gave a full 97% strike mandate. On the picket lines, there were huge turnouts of students, parents, and other members of the community.

Time and again, Carolyn reminded us, we see the same thing. Union leadership tries to mute the struggle and get concessions. Only rank-and-file pressure will push them, then they'll run to the front to try to get ahead of it.

Right now we're seeing the slow return of rank-and-file militancy. Here in Canada and the US, we're not at the same same stage of struggle as our sisters and brothers in Greece and Spain. But we have opportunities, you never know when things will erupt.

* * * *

A related piece by Carolyn Egan: How workers can win.

* * * *

During the discussion period, we talked about the (then upcoming) Walmart actions on the day after US Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for a future post on other non-union workers organizing against oppressive conditions.


european general strike: "end this downward spiral"

Four European workers explain why their union is participating in the general strike: "Why we are striking against austerity in Europe" in The Guardian.

In many sectors, union "leadership", content to settle for crumbs, were dragged along by the organized rank and file. Even among unionized employees, there is no substitute for self-organization, no shortcuts to liberation.


n14: european general strike!

In a few hours, people all over Europe will wake up and begin their days. Many will find it difficult to get anywhere or do anything. Many more will not report to work or school, and will instead take to the streets.

November 14, 2012 will mark a historic European-wide general strike against austerity and economic insecurity.
What makes Wednesday’s strike even more threatening to Europe’s managerial elite is the strong support it is receiving from traditional labor groups that rarely send their members into the streets — foremost, among them, the European Trade Union Confederation, representing 85 labor organizations from 36 countries, and totaling some 60 million members. “We have never seen an international strike with unions across borders fighting for the same thing—it’s not just Spain, not just Portugal, it’s many countries demanding that we change our structure,” says Alberto Garzón, a Spanish congressman with the United Left party which holds 7% of seats in the Spanish Congress. “It’s important to understand this is a new form of protest.”

The strike is expected to cause near or total shutdowns of the four most debt-battered countries—Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece—as all major unions march to oppose devastating cuts in salaries, pensions, benefits and social services, meanwhile protesting tax hikes and harsh labor reforms. There will be solidarity marches elsewhere. Though not formally striking, France’s largest labor groups signaled support with dozens of demonstrations planned nationwide. Rail workers in Belgium are striking; so are labor groups in Malta and Cyprus. In Britain, organizer Andrew Burgin of the Coalition of Resistance said marches and demonstrations there would “forge links across Europe, showing Britain’s austerity struggles as part of a pan-European, international movement.” And from Germany and Switzerland to Turkey, eastern Europe and Scandinavia, workers and many organizations have promised to rally around the single message: No to austerity.


this is what privatization looks like: harper govt turns austerity into outsourcing

The Harper Government has schooled us in austerity basics. Call it Privatization 101. Ottawa Citizen:
DND to pay $100 million to private firm to replace laid-off workers

Just months after issuing notices to public servants that their jobs were being eliminated to save money the Defence Department is looking at paying a private firm $100 million to provide those same services, according to DND documents obtained by the Citizen.

The contract would cover management services, maintenance and repair and janitorial services for army installations in western Canada, including 10 training areas and 17 armouries.

But the proposed contract, to run from 2013 to 2018, has union leaders angry and accusing the Conservative government and DND of using the public service layoffs as a guise for privatizing more federal jobs.

“We were told that those jobs were not needed and those people wouldn’t be replaced,” said John MacLennan, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, which represents 19,000 workers. “The government’s program was supposedly all about saving money so how do you save money when you cut jobs and then turn around and spend $100 million to hire companies to do the same work?”
The answer to MacLennan's rhetorical question is: you don't. You don't save money, because saving money was never the goal, only the excuse. The goals are increasing the wealth of select private companies, and further reducing, and (they hope) ultimately breaking, the power of public sector unions.

Privatization doesn't save taxpayers money. It never has, and it never will. All evidence shows privatization increases costs to taxpayers, if not in taxes, then through skyrocketing fees for service, and often both. As Tommy Douglas told us about health care, whenever profit is introduced to a system, costs go up.

Privatization is the shell game of the corporatocracy. We must resist it.


stop schedule 28: the mass privatization of ontario's public services

As usual, the mainstream media foams at the mouth about a possible snap election in Ontario, but barely reports on what's in the budget itself.

If it weren't for the Council of Canadians and the Ontario Health Coalition, I wouldn't have known that Dalton McGuinty's budget contains a stealth attempt to privatization Ontario's public services with virtually no oversight. Scroll down for information on how to take action.

From The Council of Canadians:
The Ontario government is trying to quietly push through an Act [on Tuesday, June 12] that will allow the privatization of public services without any public consultation or legislative debate. Schedule 28 is a small section of Ontario’s omnibus budget bill. It calls for a new privatization minister who will have the authority to override all other ministers to choose what services – health care, water, hydro, education, and others – will be contracted out, sold or folded into public-private partnerships. There will be no public or legislative debate when these services are privatized. Even the ministers in charge of these portfolios will not have a say.

The McGuinty government is claiming that Schedule 28 will only impact Service Ontario, and that an amendment to this effect has been made. However calls to the opposition parties and those working on Schedule 28 reveal that no one has actually seen this elusive amendment. Without clear details no one can be certain that Ontarians’ public services, natural resources, environment, and privacy will be properly protected. The only solution is to have Schedule 28 withdrawn entirely.
And an updated media release from both the Council of Canadians and the Ontario Health Coalition:
The Council of Canadians and Ontario Health Coalition are outraged that despite promises made by Ontario's government, proposed amendments are too weak to stop the mass privatization of public services in Budget Bill 55, Schedule 28.

Proposed amendments do not remove wording from Schedule 28, subsection 10 that would allow for the privatization of broader public services. "Despite promises from Finance Minister Dwight Duncan the McGuinty government continues to grant itself extraordinary powers to privatize public services ranging from health care, education, water services, and municipal and provincial services, "says Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition. "To put it into context, the proposed amendments are so weak that they still facilitate potentially the largest privatization in Ontario's history. Amendments are not enough. Schedule 28 should be struck down in its entirety."

The amendments to Bill 55 were due Tuesday, June 12 at 6 p.m. Until then, the public was not able to see those amendments. "Without having time for proper legal analysis, Ontarians and their MPPs will simply not have the opportunity to understand the consequences of an Act that is being pushed through the legislature. This is a violation of democracy. Ontarians have a right to have a say on government plans to privatize public services," says Maude Barlow, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. "The McGuinty government misrepresented their intentions for this Schedule to Ontarians."

With amendments, Schedule 28 will still allow the sale of broader public services to for-profit companies. "Public services should never be delivered with profit as a primary motive," says Barlow. "Ontarians deserve the best water, schools and hospitals and they shouldn't have to pay more to get less."

The Council of Canadians and the Ontario Health Coalition are calling on the NDP and the PC opposition parties to put the interests of Ontarians first and strike down Schedule 28.
From the backgrounder to this media release:
Claims by the Finance Minister and some media that Schedule 28 is limited to the privatization of Service Ontario (and that is bad enough) are not true. In fact, Section 10 of the legislation specifically states that for- and non-profit companies could be contracted to privatize services in:
- Municipalities & local boards under the Municipal Act
- Any other authority, board, commission, corporation, office or organization under the authority of a municipality
- Universities, colleges, or other postsecondary institutions
- School boards
- Hospitals
Thus, Schedule 28 clearly applies to hospitals, school boards, municipalities, social services, municipal water systems, and all government services; and it overrides all government ministries as well as existing legislation and regulations.

. . . . If Ontario government services were to be privatized under this Schedule, any attempt to restore these services to the public sector could be subject to a trade challenge under the WTO GATS and the proposed Canadian-European trade agreement, CETA. Schedule 28 has been written without any recognition of this danger.
This is very scary and very disturbing. Privatization inevitably leads to more expensive, multi-tiered service delivery, where the wealthy can opt for higher quality and the rest of us are left with the dregs. Good jobs will vanish and the pay scale of all workers will continue to slide even further. Despite promises, taxes generally do not go down. The only thing that changes is where those taxes go: to finance profits for a few. And the only people who benefit from privatization are corporate shareholders.

If you live in Ontario, I urge you to contact the MPPs on the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs and tell them to withdraw Schedule 28 from the budget bill.

Bob Delaney (Mississauga--Streetsville)

Teresa Piruzza (Windsor West)

Victor Fedeli (Nipissing)

Cindy Forster (Welland)

Monte McNaughton (Lambton--Kent--Middlesex)

Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre)

Michael Prue (Beaches--East York)

Peter Shurman (Thornhill)

Soo Wong (Scarborough--Agincourt)


marxism 2012 program notes: the quebec student strike, or why every canadian needs to bang on a pan

I want to begin my posts from Marxism 2012 with the Quebec Student Strike, because it's currently the most important progressive development unfolding in Canada.

By now it should be obvious that the Quebec student strike is not only a student strike and is not only about Quebec. It should be obvious, if the corporate media wasn't ignoring, minimizing, scoffing at, or narrowly spinning this major story.

I posted ten things everyone should know about the Quebec student strike, cribbed from the Montreal Media Coop. It's a good list, and the full story is worth reading. But here's the most important takeaway: this is not only a student movement against an increase in tuition fees. It is a widespread, student-led movement against the austerity agenda, and against the attempt to transform Quebec from a socialized culture where services are universally accessible, or nearly so, to a privatized, user-payer system where access can be purchased by those who can afford it.

That's a fight for every one of us.

What follows are my notes from an inspiring panel discussion about the Quebec Student Strike, then an item from Socialist Worker analyzing the strike in relation to English Canada.

I do my best to accurately represent the Marxism talks based on my notes, but any errors or misrepresentations are mine.

Xavier LaFrance
Student Organizer

The student strike launched in February, but the campaign against the tuition increases was going on for months prior to that. There were months and months of meetings, and there were smaller, local days of actions, and occupations of government and university offices - a continual escalation of pressure on the government.

The student unions held a series of general membership meetings ("G-Mems") in order to gauge the interest in and mandate for a strike. The strike was over the $1,625 tuition hike, but it was also much broader than that. The strike aims to make more students and the general population aware of the government's bid to create a "user-payer culture", in place of our culture based on social payments. The government says it's in the midst of a cultural revolution - using these austerity measures to reshape Quebec society.

This is the largest student strike in Quebec history. In 2005, there was a strike for seven weeks. Right now, the 2012 strike has been on for 16 weeks. At its peak, on March 22, 300,000 students demonstrated through the streets of Montreal, many of them on a one-day strike. Since then, 190,000 to 200,000 students have been on continuous strike. There have also been hundreds of local creative actions.

For two months, the government refused to bargain, then said it would bargain, but not with CLASSE [the more militant, broader-based union]. The two other student unions, FECQ and FEUQ, which in the past had been more conservative, more like lobbyists than unions, stood in solidarity and refused to bargain unless CLASSE was at the table.

[FECQ = Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (in English : College students federation of Quebec)

FEUQ = Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (in English : University students federation of Quebec)

CLASSE = Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale étudiante]

There has been tons of police repression - arrests, police-led violence, court injunctions, and of course the "special law" 78. But it's still going on "and I don't see it stopping any time soon". For 32 nights in a row [as of the date of this talk, May 26], there have been nightly marches, and now we've added the clanging of the pots and pans, as many of you know. "The spirit is incredible. The sense of collective power that you see and hear is absolutely amazing."

CLASSE continues to defy Law 78 both in courts and in the street.

The basic organizing principles of the Quebec student movement has two currents. On one hand are lobbyists. These are more corporatist, not combative, and not especially democratic. The other is the activist, combative, democratic student unionism. The basic tenets, principles, and tactics of this current were inspired by combative labour unions.


We believe in education as a right, to be publicly funded, accessible to all. We see this as a social responsibility, and we have a broader perspective which leads to specific demand.

We mobilize membership with specific interests to defend.

We keep the student population as informed as possible, in order to mobilize, thus building a base of power.

We don't just send representatives to the media or to meetings with their own ideas - the model of executives holding meetings detached from the membership base. Here, the leaders are connected to the base democratically and collectively. Representatives only have power through the base.

We connect our struggles to other struggles, and form alliances with other social groups with similar aims.

They key is that we are a democracy. This is the key difference between the student movements in Quebec and Ontario. In Ontario, people are against the tuition hikes, but they have nowhere to take their opposition, no effective mechanism of protest. There are no general membership meetings here, so there is no way to collectively, publicly react.

This is most crucial. A mobilization committee is needed to rebuild tradition of general membership meetings. Through that process, through struggle, people transform themselves individually and collectively. "I knew this theoretically, but I saw it for myself in 2005. Now, through this process, the two more corporatist, lobbyist unions are becoming both more democratic and radical."

Sibel Epi Ataogul
Attorney representing CLASSE, member of the International Socialists

The strike is the workers' most powerful tool. It is the one concession the ruling class has made to unionized workers, and they don't want to see it expand into other realms of society. As a lawyer, I got involved with the Quebec Student Strike when the injunctions started coming in.

The strike evolved completely organically, through a system that has been established in francophone educational institutions. The student associations all have strike protocols in their charters. The CEGEPs, where many students attend between high school and university have strike protocols, in which teenagers are negotiating their own agreements. So the concept of a strong student union and a student strike are part of the culture.

The instructors - also in unions - mostly honoured the student strike and didn't teach during the strike. Teachers also acted as mediators between students and those teachers who continued to teach and didn't honour the strike.

The injunctions came because the strike went on for so long. Some students wanted to return to class, even though they are still adamantly against the fee hikes. The students who wanted to go back to class were in minority. They were not winning votes. This was a clash between people's personal plans to continue their education, and the majority wishes within a culture of direct democracy.

The government was and is trying to frame the strike as a "boycott," which is an option of individual choice. A boycott is based on a consumer model: "You paid for your chocolate bar and you can eat it anytime you want, and no one can stop you from eating your chocolate bar."

But this was and is not a boycott! A strike is a collective action. It's not "I won't go to class". It's "there will be no class". A strike says you see yourself not as consumers of an educational product, but intellectual workers. It says, "We are part of the process and if we’re not part of the process, the process will stop."

An injunction is the edge of the rule of law. It is so completely discretionary. An injunction seeks to preserve the status quo until evidence can be heard from all sides, and a final decision will come later, balancing interests. In some cases, an injunction is necessary. Someone wants to cut down a tree. Someone wants the tree preserved. It could take a long time for the parties to gather evidence and the court to hear all the evidence, and by that time, the tree has been cut down, and the argument is moot. An injunction says: preserve the status quo. Don't cut down the tree, and the court will hear all the evidence and rule on it later.

In this case, the injunction was being served between a democratic mass movement versus an individual student who wanted to go to class. This views the action as a boycott, not a strike. "They can have that ideology, but it’s not going to change the reality."

So people did not respect the injunctions, and the injunctions became more and more restrictive, ordering school administrators to call the police to arrest striking students. Despite this, because there was so much unrest and turmoil, classes did not take place. So despite the injunction, the view of the class as an individual right did not prevail.

Then came the special law. Special Law 78 requires schools to suspend sessions unless an agreement is made with the student union. It recognizes that right now the situation is too volatile for there to be classes.

It also places huge limits on the right to protest. It forces teachers to teach and not respect the strike. It contains clauses saying there cannot be a student protest within 50 metres of any educational grounds if the protest has the effect of denying anyone access to class.

The main problem with the law is the general provisions regarding the right to protest. Any gathering of more than 50 people has to be communicated to police. Not to the City, not to any elected official, but directly to police. The police then have the unilateral right to say no, to change the route, at their own discretion. It gives the police the power to decide where and how people will express themselves.

Special Law 78 is the movement of power within a representative democracy to the armed wing of that system.

And from the reaction of CLASSE and the reaction on the streets, you can see the law is having the exact opposite effect. The law does not work. "People who would have never gotten out of their houses to support the students are now saying, I’m going to go outside with my pots and my pans...!"

Two groups of people did give their route to the police, but then the protest didn’t follow that route. 200,000 people went on their own route. The police couldn’t arrest them all.

Sibel told a great story of her own experience on the first night of the "casseroles" demonstrations. She went outside, very tentatively, with one friend, and they kind of sheepishly banged a little on their pots and pans. Then three people came along and joined them, and the five of them had a little more confidence to bang away. Then someone came along and said, "It's happening in front of the church on such-and-such street." They all ran off, a few blocks away, and there were 100 or more people banging on pots and pans! And more and more kept coming out, until there were too many to all stand on the sidewalk and they spilled over to the street...

Monique Moisan
Montreal-based activist, leading member of Quebec Solidaire

The strike is not students vs non-students. It is a class struggle. Many parents of students are involved. At times parents have acted as shields between students and the police.

Students organized a day to talk about a social strike with community groups. People in the community are often isolated. They have many issues but are not prepared politically. 230 people attended this meeting! They understood that the student struggle is their struggle, too.

When there are more than 200,000 people in the streets, they can't all be students! In a city of 1.5 million people, it couldn't be. But the media still calls it a "student strike". The students in Quebec are leaders of a social movement that is much wider than the student struggle. It has caused people to think about the problem as a whole - not only fees, but the entire culture of a user-payer society.

People understand that if the students lose this struggle, the rest will follow: health care, transit, city services - all will be privatized.

From the discussion...

The students haven't won yet, but Charest's plan has been completely destroyed. He wanted to provoke the student movement and use public opinion to his own advantage. He knew if he announced a 75% tuition increase there would be a student strike. Then for two months he ignored the strike. So that part of his plan worked. But then he couldn't control it. He couldn't divide it. And now he can't even end it with repression.

His plan was to destroy his political opponent on the right. He thought he would win over their base by being tough on students and unions. He had no idea that he would provoke the biggest social movement since the 1970s!

And he didn't count on another political party: QS. Quebec Solidaire is "a fish in water" in this movement.

[Ed note: this shows you an important tenet of activism. You never know.]

* * * * *

There have been massive job losses in Quebec over the past year, just as there were in Ontario in 2008. Now links are being forged between students and the labour movement. Busloads of students went to Alma, Quebec to support the locked-out Rio Tinto workers, and labour unions have donated money and other help to the striking students.

These are the methods and mechanisms that we need to learn and adopt in Ontario. Demanding that the student union leadership call a strike won't work. A strike that is not built and prepared will end up in a setback, potentially disastrous. In order to be successful, it has to arise from a process.

* * * * *

Quebec Solidaire has a representative in the National Assembly of Quebec, Amir Khadir, and what a difference that has made! To have a spokesperson at that level, to get that media coverage, to get the real story and demands into the public view. Membership in QS has soared since the student strike.

We must press the NDP to do the same!

* * * * *

"General Membership Meetings are the same thing as pots and pans. That's the real social media." We can't just transplant the Quebec experience to Ontario.

The strike arose from the Quebec tradition of mass demonstrations among students. It doesn't exist in Ontario yet: but it can be built. It won't happen from the top down. We have to build from the base.

* * * *

From Socialist Worker:
How do we spread the Quebec Spring?

The Quebec student strike is inspiring people across Canada who would like to see a similar mass movement against austerity. But how we spread the Quebec spring?

Some say the Quebec spring is unique, and Quebec certainly has its own particular conditions that are important to understand.

From the experience as an oppressed nation within the Canadian state, the people of Quebec have a strong history of resistance—including the biggest anti-globalization protests in 2001, the biggest anti-war protests in 2003, and the biggest May Day protest in 2004.

Quebec students also have a tradition of mass strikes, most recently the 2005 strike that forced the government to give back $103 million in cuts.

That experience cannot be spontaneously summoned across English Canada, but that doesn’t mean that the struggle can't spread.

The Quebec Spring is a combination of past local experiences along with inspiration from global revolt. That people in Quebec have called the strike wave the "printemps erable" — meaning maple spring but sounding like Arab Spring — shows the links with the global revolt. But how do we spread it?

Some are impatiently demanding that the leadership of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) simply call a strike, or arguing that radical students organize on their own— counterposing the Quebec student organization CLASSE with other student unions. But this ignores the way in which the Quebec student strike — and strikes in general — are built.

Hundreds of thousands of students didn't go on strike because CLASSE told them to. The strike was built from below since the end of last year, and CLASSE—which numbers in the tens of thousands—has built unity with other student unions FECQ and FEUQ.

We can't turn our backs on mass student organizations or expect them to call a strike that has not been built from below (which would invite failure).

The CFS organized a pan-Canadian day of action against tuition fees on February 1 and occupied the Ontario Education Minister's office on April 5. If we want to spread the Quebec spring we need to learn the lessons and build a mass student movement from below, uniting with and strengthening the CFS.