Speech to 2006 Toronto Socialist Action May Day Celebration

by Barry Weisleder, co-editor, Socialist Action newspaper

(presented on April 30, 2006)

Sisters and brothers, comrades and friends:

As millions prepare to celebrate May Day around the world, let’s consider the general health and stability of capitalist rule.

The central fact of world politics is that U.S. imperialism is facing defeat in Iraq. As Hugo Chávez says, “Mr. Danger in the White House won’t admit it, but this is the reality.” (Sometimes Chávez calls Bush “Mr. Donkey.”)

The U.S. dollar is in crisis. U.S. debt is staggering. Its annual deficit is unprecedented.  U.S. war casualties mount and war resisters multiply. Over 4,000 US soldiers have gone AWOL since the Iraq war started. The Iraqi collaborators of the U.S. occupation seem unable to form a government, 5 months after the December 2005 election. The “coalition of the willing” continues to shrink. Italy will be the next to quit as right wing Prime Minister Berlusconi lost to the “center-left” coalition of Romano Prodi.

Ironically, Bush’s threat to use nuclear weapons against Iran is another expression of Washington’s exasperation and actual political weakness on the ground across the Middle East.

On March 18 the global antiwar movement proved it is quite alive. Hundreds of thousands marched, including thousands across Canada, who called for removal of our troops from Afghanistan and Haiti. General Hillier may be popular on Bay Street and Parliament Hill, but not so much on Main Street or at Tim Horton’s. Sixty percent of Canadians want our troops out of Kandahar as soon as possible.

Latin America is in revolt.  Protests against resource sell-outs and neo-liberal austerity measures have shaken several governments, and sent presidents packing. As Brazil’s Lula moves to the right, causing a rift in Brazil’s PT (Workers Party), Hugo Chávez and Venezuela move to the left. The Bolivarian revolution is redistributing wealth on a grand scale, and arming workers to repel any foreign intervention. Chávez calls for socialism of the 21st century. That means socialist democracy and workers’ control of production, not a Stalinist police state. The December 18 election of Evo Morales in Bolivia, on the heels of a semi-insurrection in May-June 2005, escalates the challenge to imperialist domination. It echoes across Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Central America, and elsewhere. A new socialist revolution in the Americas is now on the agenda. The Cuba-Venezuela strategic alliance is a fist in the face of the Empire. ALBA, the Bolivarian trade agreement, is forging a continental united front against neo-liberalism. It is a beacon for the oppressed of Latin America, and the world.

Another aspect of the unstable Empire is found in the belly of the beast. A multi-million movement of migrant workers is under way. Tomorrow, May Day, it will flood from barrios, factories, construction sites, and service industries into the streets of America to demand equal rights and dignity. “No human being is illegal” is their cry. What better day than May Day for what may be the largest general strike in U.S. history?

In France, once again the workers and students have shown the world that mass protest action can win. Millions took to the streets of France, repeatedly, to stop a law harmful to the rights of young workers, and they won. They forced President Chirac and his government to back down. This was a brilliant victory. It came in the wake of the huge protests against racism and unemployment in the suburbs last fall, and after the earlier rejection of the pro-capitalist European Union constitution by French voters.

In Palestine the resistance to occupation and deadly repression continues. Palestinians gave imperialism the middle finger by electing Hamas. They did so, not for religious reasons (Palestinians are the most secular people in the Arab world), but to demonstrate their rejection of corrupt politicians who capitulate again and again to the U.S.-backed Zionist occupation, apartheid, and partition of their land.

In Haiti, two years after the kidnapping of the democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, and the brutally repressive occupation of Haiti by Canada, the U.S., France, and Brazil, the Haitian poor majority stood up. Despite illegal and fraudulent election plans, and ongoing repression, they asserted their will and elected René Préval, a protegé of Aristide.

Back at home, the discreet charm of the Canadian bourgeoisie is wearing a little thin.  Lies, bribes, and the cheating of the people of Québec brought down Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government.  Now we have a Conservative minority government. It’s not so different, just more brutally frank about its intentions.

Stephen Harper (the new Conservative premier) is busy stepping up Canadian militarism and appeasing his senior imperialist partner. The trip to Kandahar—and the Bush-like utterances about “staying the course” and “we will not cut and run”—were pretty obvious. But don’t be fooled by liberal nationalists. These moves also correspond to Canadian business interests. Jean Chrétien’s frequent visits to Turkmenistan (to negotiate Canadian participation in a future cross-Afghanistan pipeline) prove the point. Harper will deliver on his pledge to increase military spending, beef up the Afghanistan adventure, and continue the occupation of Haiti. Deporting so-called illegal immigrants (including Portuguese construction workers in the Toronto area), toughening minimum jail sentences, building more jails (ah, job creation!), abandoning moves to reduce penalties for cannabis possession—these are elements of an ideological campaign that leads to anti-choice and anti-gay measures, and much more social wretchedness that plays primarily to Harper’s base. But it’s totally out of step with political reality.

The truth is that the Canadian population is not moving to the right. Some 60% oppose the intervention in Afghanistan, 90% oppose the U.S.-British war in Iraq, the vast majority want public, quality child care, a vigorous defense of medicare, and progressive social policies, plus an end to corporate tax cuts. On January 23, support for the New Democratic Party (NDP, Canada’s union-backed labor party) went up by 2%, nearly 500,000 votes. But leadership on the left is very weak.

Layton (the NDP candidate) campaigned for “a few more seats in Parliament.” He said, “lend me your votes.” He did not campaign for an NDP government. This is not a matter of practicality. It is a matter of principle. The break from basic principle leads directly to “tactical voting” for Liberals in marginal ridings. It leads Bob Rae even farther afield.

(Bye-bye Bob. You won’t be missed.)

Foolishly, the Ontario NDP suspended CAW president Buzz Hargrove for his union’s mistaken pro-Liberal policy. Rather than foster a broad political discussion, including necessary self-criticism of the weakness of the NDP campaign, the party hacks went for Hargrove’s head. They precipitated a split with the CAW. A responsible working class leadership would have made an effort to convince CAW activists that “tactical voting” is self-defeating. The split is a setback to the historic struggle for independent working class political action, of which the NDP is an undeniable, if problematic, expression.

Meanwhile, other labor organizations are moving in a different direction. OPSEU is debating affiliation with the NDP. OPSEU college teachers, librarians, and counselors effectively struck the Ontario college system and forced their arbitration model on management. UNITE/HERE hotel workers are waging an exemplary campaign to organize the unorganized and to win better contracts for all. These struggles, like the massive strike by Québec university students a year ago, show that we can fight for advances and win. This goes contrary to the trend represented by the CAW at GM Oshawa and Air Canada, by the UFCW at Loblaws, and by OSSTF’s mistreatment of its substitute teacher members—that is, the trend of union bureaucrats to negotiate concessions to management and curtail union democracy.

So how can the workers’ movement go forward today?

We need to build rank and file groups in the unions to fight for militant policies and actions to challenge the bosses’ agenda, and to revive union democracy. The Workers Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition is a step in that direction, which everyone here should join.

We need to work in the NDP to lift the suspension of Hargrove, heal the rift with the CAW, argue against “lesser evil” tactical voting for Liberals, and increase labor affiliation to the NDP. The NDP Socialist Caucus strives to organize the left in the NDP. Everyone here should join it too. A conference of the SC is set for May 20 in Toronto. It will prepare a militant intervention into the Federal NDP convention slated for mid-September in Québec City.

Socialists support labor and anti-imperialist struggles, while pushing the NDP to do the same. We should support the Canadian Peace Alliance challenge to the NDP on Afghanistan in the form of its open letter to Alexa McDonough. We demand that Canadian military and police forces get out of the Middle East and Haiti now.

We should support the Canadian Haiti Action Network and its campaign to release political prisoners, channel government aid to democratically elected officials (not manipulative NGOs), and end the foreign occupation of Haiti. CHAN will hold its first bi-national conference, May 27 in Montreal.

We should support the Canadian Arab Federation, which demands that the NDP denounce Canada’s me-too suspension of aid to Palestine. Ottawa’s aid should go directly to the democratically elected Palestine Authority, and not be subject to a veto by Washington or Tel Aviv.

Immigrants’ rights protests have brought millions into the streets in the U.S. Hundreds are demonstrating in Canada too. Let’s push labor and the NDP to be in the forefront of defending the dignity and rights of foreign workers here.

Let’s keep in mind what we are confronting. It is a global bosses’ agenda that aims to dismantle all the past gains of the class struggle. It aims to rachet up private profits at the expense of workers’ wages, job security, decent living conditions, and the environment.  The bosses are obliged to do this, not just out of greed, but to sustain their anarchic, crisis-wracked capitalist system. We, however, are not obliged to accept it. We are not obliged to accept trade deals which make public ownership a crime, and make Capital a god. We are not obliged to accept homelessness, poverty, disease, and ignorance as inevitable features of human nature and human society—because they are not.

Nothing less than a workers’ government will stop exploitation and oppression and save this planet from the polluters and war makers.

To achieve a workers’ government at least two things are necessary: (1)  the majority of the working class must break from the parties of big business, and (2) large sections of the class must come together into a political organization that fights for a Workers” Agenda.

One big obstacle to a Workers” Agenda is the conservative bureaucracy that dominates our unions and the NDP. The bureaucrats’ embrace of capitalism prevents them from fighting to abolish the FTAA.

Their commitment to class peace causes them to stifle protest. They killed the Ontario Days of Action and the 1997 Ontario teachers’ strike, and they propped up an NDP leadership on the road to oblivion.

But we must not commit the error of confusing the union brass and NDP tops with the thousands of union and NDP members who walk picket lines and march in antiwar demonstrations. Socialism without the working class is impossible. Fighting to become a majority does not mean catering to the prejudices of prevailing opinion. But it does mean working within the rank and file, setting a militant example in the mainstream organizations, and advancing the ideas that can help working people to emancipate ourselves.

That is how we must approach the problem, the problem of power. Capitalism must go. But it won’t go quietly. We must force the issue, or we’ll continue to live like slaves in a decaying environment. To free ourselves and humanity, we must convince the majority to break from ideological slavery to the system and the big business political parties.

Socialist Action strives to forge a leadership, a socialist cadre, which can make an indispensable contribution to this process. What is that contribution? It is the living memory of our class, the vision of a socialist future, and a strategy to get from here to there.

That contribution will be unbending loyalty to workers’ interests, and unyielding opposition to capitalist rule. It is a commitment to socialist democracy, for women’s and gay/lesbian liberation, for ecology, political pluralism, internationalism, and the construction of a cooperative commonwealth.

If you share those goals, if you believe in those principles, you should join Socialist Action / Ligue pour L’action socialiste tonight.

Together we can fulfill the promise of May Day. We can create a future worthy of humanity. To do it we need a revolutionary workers’ organization. So join us. There is nothing to lose, and a world to win.

Long live international workers’ day!

Long live the struggle for freedom, social justice, and workers power!