Northern Lights

by Barry Weisleder


Defend CUPE’s Stand for Palestine, Boycott of Israel — Against Attack by Business Media and…Buzz

Since May 27, when over 900 delegates at the annual convention of the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, voted unanimously to campaign for Palestinian self-determination and a boycott of Israel, the union has come under a steady barrage from the business media and Zionist organizations.

CUPE Ontario is the largest public sector union in Ontario and represents over 200,000 workers in Canada’s most populous province. The resolution represents the most powerful statement in support of Palestinian rights ever made by a North American trade union. It expresses support for the global campaign against Israeli apartheid, and commits the union to educate its members about Ottawa’s political and economic support for anti-Palestinian practices, and to join the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until Palestinian self-determination is won. The resolution highlights the right of return for Palestinian refugees as an indispensable component of Palestinian self-determination.

Two days after Resolution 50 was adopted, another boycott resolution was passed by the largest union of university teachers in Britain, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education. NATFHE, representing about 70,000 members, declared its active support of boycotts against Israeli academics and academic institutions that do not publicly take an explicit stand against Israeli apartheid and Israel’s discriminatory educational system.

These two resolutions represent the latest in a snowballing movement to isolate Israeli apartheid just as South African apartheid was earlier. A long list of institutions, city councils, religious organizations, political parties and unions have endorsed the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. In February 2006, the Church of England’s general synod — including the Archbishop of Canterbury — voted to divest church funds from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. In 2005 the World Council of Churches and the Presbyterian Church of the United States voted to commence divestment actions. Regional councils in Norway and Basque country, Spain, have endorsed a comprehensive boycott on Israeli goods.

This growing movement has provoked a widespread crisis in the Zionist movement, and has filled the Israeli press with stories, editorials and debate about the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign. Its opponents fear that the identification of Israel with apartheid is reaching a global critical mass. Thus the frantic response of Zionist organizations and the business media is not surprising. But the same can hardly be said for Canadian Auto Workers’ President Buzz Hargrove who wrote a lengthy article published on June 5 in the Toronto Star titled “CUPE boycott of Israel won’t help cause of peace.”

Hargrove denounces “violence on both sides,” condemns the election of Hamas, and says calling Israel an apartheid state is “unfair,” but he offers no rationale. In place of CUPE’s principled stand, Hargrove promotes the “two-state solution” which has been shown, time and again, to be a Bantustan solution that reduces Palestinian enclaves to chronic underdevelopment and unspeakable misery — confining Palestinians to a free-fire zone where the powerful Israeli military intervenes at will with ruthless ferocity. CUPE Ontario is attracting considerable support for its courageous public stand. At one time it was ‘unpopular’ to advocate a boycott of South Africa. But decades of progressive union education burst through that polite barrier to foster action for social justice. (For more information about the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, click here.)

When solidarity knows no borders, injustice will find no refuge. A massive expansion of the public debate sparked by CUPE can force the Canadian government to resume aid to the Palestinian people, with no strings attached, and begin to end Ottawa’s alignment with Washington in Afghanistan, Haiti and beyond.

Is Military Spending “Aid”?

Global military spending once again exceeds $1 trillion (U.S.) per year. Credit the so-called “war on terror” for the $200 billion more spent today than in 2000, pre-9/11.

Toronto Star editors, who backed decisions by successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments to boost Canada’s military spending by billions, recently performed a public hand-wringing scene when they wrote:

“And it is money the United States, Canada and other major donors could have put to far better use helping the world’s poorest by meeting the United Nations’ target of spending 0.7 per cent of our wealth on aid. We are not even halfway there.

“And that means hardship for the 1 billion people who live on $1 a day.”

Leaving aside whether traditional aid, typically tied to self-serving trade and marketing practices, would much alleviate poverty, the Star ought to reflect on the fiscal impact of its support for Ottawa’s extended war and occupation in Afghanistan.

But the story gets worse, according to the annual report of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and a global network of development groups. “The Reality of Aid, 2006” states that some countries, including Canada, are lobbying to have military and security spending in foreign interventions counted as aid, an accounting trick designed to mask militarism.

The $80 billion the world spends on aid has grown from $50 billion five years ago. But of that $30 billon in new funding, $10 billion went to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here’s another way to look at it. Since 2000, military spending per person in the G-7 rose by $168. So-called “aid” has risen by $11.

Ignatieff’s 800-Pound Gorilla Army

The federal Liberal leadership contest is turning into a two-horse race. Among the eleven contenders, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae are pulling ahead of the pack in the marathon run to an early December convention where 5,000 Liberal delegates will pick a new chief.

Ignatieff, the Harvard academic who advocates “humanitarian empire,” “temporary imperial rule, to provide the force and will necessary to bring order out of chaos,” and “humane” forms of torture to extract life-saving information, is the odds on favourite to win. Why? Because he has the backing of the Bay Street money that has made the Liberal Party the business elite’s preferred political instrument of rule for most of the past century. Now their minions are falling into line.

When Michael Ignatieff launched his candidacy in April, he had three Members of Parliament with him. At this writing, he has 27, far outstripping his opponents. On June 16 his bid was boosted by the endorsement of Senator Romeo Dallaire, the veteran commander of the failed 1994 United Nations mission in Rwanda and proponent of beefed up interventions to “save” peoples from the ravages of “failed states.” Dallaire’s backing is designed to make more palatable MP Ignatieff’s recent vote to extend the unpopular Canadian war and occupation in Afghanistan to 2009. And perhaps, also to sustain the RCMP presence in Haiti, and future military missions to…Venezuela and Bolivia?

But Ignatieff’s biggest political asset may be the 800-pound gorilla of the Liberal leadership race. That is the semi-affectionate term used to describe Senator David Smith, a renown Liberal bag man and organizer who has been a backroom king-maker for decades. Smith’s involvement reflects ruling class policy, not mere preference, and was set in motion when Ignatieff was recruited from afar.

Bob Rae, former Ontario New Democratic Party Premier, has his own movers, shakers and bag men, most notably his brother John Rae, the Power Corporation executive who was the power behind the throne of Jean Chrétien. Rae, whose 1992 anti-labour Social Contract nearly ruined the NDP while demonstrating his loyalty to the business class, also enjoys the backing of several Ontario Liberal cabinet ministers. His candidacy serves the primary purpose of trying to draw NDP voters and members into the Liberal fold. This occurs in a race in which a major advantage of the majority of the candidates is their absence from the corrupt and social cutbacks-driven Liberal regimes of Chrétien and successor Paul Martin.

MP Joe Volpe, whose leadership campaign ran aground when he was found to have accepted thousands of dollars in “contributions” from the young children of rich Liberals, now appears as the bad boy of the race by taking aim at Ignatieff’s foreign policy, including the latter’s support for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. It’s a sore point for rank and file Liberals, but not for the party’s big business backers.

Still, one must wonder how many contradictions can dance on the head of a pin? Ignatieff, 59, says the next federal Liberal leader, in order to become Prime Minister, must be “left of centre,” a term that defies definition in current bourgeois politics. While his domestic policies are shrouded in mystery (except for his regressive “carbon tax” proposal), Ignatieff’s pro-Washington, deep-integration views seem to rival those of Conservative P.M. Stephen Harper.

Yet Rae, along with contender Gerard Kennedy, one-time food bank operator and until recently Ontario education minister, amongst other “progressive” rivals, will divvy up the left Liberal vote, and suck just enough young “idealists” and lapsed Liberals into the fold to catapult Michael Ignatieff and his newly face-lifted party back into government in Ottawa. At least, that’s the plan.

Operation Transparency — Postal Workers Demand Corporate Plan

Seventeen members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), were arrested on June 19 after trying to cross police lines at Canada Post Corporation’s headquarters in Ottawa. Police set up the line after officials from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) warned they planned to storm the building.

The union members said they wanted to find a document that allegedly outlines their employer’s plans for post offices and mail processing plants across the country.

As television cameras rolled, members of the union walked toward the police lines and were quickly placed under arrest. CUPW’s president, Deborah Bourque and its former president, Jean Claude Parrot, were among those charged with trespassing.

Bourque said her union had been requesting the document for months and was left with no option but to resort to public protests to make its point. Moya Greene, the president and chief executive officer of Canada Post, earlier said that the document does not exist.

One of the arrested militants, Toronto CUPW member Elizabeth Byce, told Socialist Action, "I thought it would be worth a little pain in order for us to gain the knowledge we need to maintain a public postal service and keep good jobs in our communities. The struggle continues."

Canada Post, which made a profit of $199 million in 2005, has already announced it is closing the mail processing plant in Quebec City, eliminating 270 permanent positions and affecting about 200 others. CUPW represents about 54,000 postal workers across Canada. For more information visit: www.cupw.ca

Nova Scotia NDP Makes Gains

On June 13, the Progressive Conservatives held on to the provincial government in Nova Scotia, but with a reduced minority. Five of the seven seats that changed hands went to the labour-based New Democratic Party.

The Tories won 23 seats, compared to 20 for the NDP (the highest number ever for the party, which held 15 seats before the election) and nine for the Liberals. The Tories won 40 per cent of the popular vote, the NDP 35, Liberals 24, and Greens 2.3.

Political pundits said the cost of Tory promises added up to between $1 billion and $2 billion over four years, while the Liberals made $1.5 billion worth of promises and the NDP’s list was worth about $500 million.

The leaders participated in one debate on television. According to many observers, it was largely a draw. Several days later, a poll seemed to shake up the campaign. It suggested Liberal support was collapsing and the election was a two-way race between the Tories and the NDP.

NDP Leader Darrell Dexter credited the party’s strong showing with its willingness to work with the last Progressive Conservative minority government. In congratulating Premier Rodney MacDonald, Dexter offered “to keep working constructively on the issues that matter most.”

Dexter noted that the NDP and Progressive Conservatives shared the same approach on many issues — such as eliminating the provincial portion of the tax on home heating oil, and providing more long-term care for seniors.

This monotonous similarity may help to account for the low voter turnout of just 61.65 per cent of registered voters. It beats the previous record low turnout of 65.78 per cent, which was set in the last election of August 2003.

Ontario’s Nuclear Plunge Draws Fire

The Ontario government is drawing intense criticism for its decision to meet the province’s growing energy needs with a $40 billion nuclear mega project. Equally controversial, not to mention potentially illegal, is its move to speed up construction by exempting the plan from environmental review.

While nuclear power is emission-free, its by-products remain radioactive for thousands of years and pose a permanent transport and storage danger. Nuclear plant construction is legendary for cost overruns (the last one built in Ontario was years overdue and cost $13 billion, 300 per cent over budget). While developers make a mint, the public remains on the hook.

Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton argues that energy efficiency, conservation, and an aggressive approach to renewables is the best way forward.

“Simple measures like paying people to cut power use, raising standards for electrical appliances and moving forward with a green building plan could help Ontario save thousands of megawatts every year, reducing the need for coal and nuclear plants. Such measures would provide immediate, meaningful help, unlike nuclear plants, which could take 10 years or more to build,” said Hampton in the Ontario Legislature.

A 1982 report from Ontario Hydro, (Hydraulic Power Resources of the Province of Ontario), states that the hydroelectric potential of the province was 21,000 megawatts and that 7,174 MW of that potential — 34 per cent — was being used. Today, 7,309 MW is produced in Ontario — hardly any change since 1982.

According to Ontario Hydro, harnessing the power of northern rivers like the Severn, the Winisk, the Ekwan, the Attawapiskat, the Albany and the Moose, could generate an additional 6,000 MW. Another 2,600 MW could be added by further development of the potential of southern Ontario rivers like the Ottawa, St. Lawrence and Niagara. To say nothing of the potential of wind and solar power.

Ontario’s hazardous nuclear plunge, and government ties to developers, could be the issue that brings down the Liberal regime of Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2007.

Dead “Frugal” Billionaire Gets Media Royal Treatment

The corporate media’s fervent fawning over billionaire Ken Thomson, who died on June 12, at age 82, was barely bearable. The “bashful billionaire,” the richest man in Canada and ninth wealthiest in the world, was extolled as a “true titan” of business, a “benign” family empire builder, and a brilliant art collector.

The truth, as they say, is often a casualty of capitalist obituaries.

Fortunately, the unctuous rhapsody was at least briefly interrupted by some concessions to the underlying truth.

In the Toronto Star’s June 13 edition, David Olive wrote, “Thomson was always given rather too much credit for turning the $500 million (U.S.) business he inherited on his father’s death in 1976 to an enterprise worth an estimated $29 billion today, and for transforming his father’s print legacy into the current Thomson Corp. stock-in-trade of providing specialized Web-based products and services in the legal, medical, financial services and educational fields.

“That was actually the work of the remarkably long string of skilled retainers recruited by Thomson and his long-time consigliore, John A. Tory, who was the family firm’s de facto CEO for more than a decade after Roy Thomson’s death.”

Olive notes that, “In Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, Thomson on the advice of Tory and others diversified haphazardly in a bid to redeploy the profits from the immensely lucrative North Sea oil interests a prescient Roy [Thomson] had invested in with J. Paul Getty. Over time, Ken accumulated consistently disappointing stakes in carpet makers, trucking lines, insurance companies, chemical firms and the Hudson’s Bay Co. grab-bag of retailers, oil and gas producers, real estate developers and liquor distributors. The mess was not entirely cleaned up and sold off until the 1990s.”

The lesson is: if you are super rich, you can afford to make big mistakes, over-spend on art, and pay $4 million to Toronto to name a big concert hall after your dad.

Whether intending to have a disarming, or merely nauseating effect, Olive observes that “He had an eye for a bargain, and most people’s memory of him will be the sight of Ken Thomson making his entrance at black-tie affairs in his Subaru hatchback, and of a billionaire rummaging for bargains through the marked-down sock bins at Simpsons, when he owned the store.”

A diluted quantum of piss was sprinkled on the posthumous parade by the Star’s media columnist Antonia Zerbisias. She wrote, “Notoriously frugal, and yet wildly extravagant with his art collection, Thomson was both loathed and loved by his employees. That’s because, although the Thomsons paid poverty-level wages and, legend has it, made journalists turn in their stubs before issuing new pencils, they gave many in the business their start.”

Jolly good, eh? And now David Thomson, 48, who shares his father’s fascination with art and passive approach to business, gets to run a $29 billion empire.

Stronach Leads CEO Pay Parade

Frank Stronach, 73, father of former Liberal cabinet minister Belinda Stronach, and chairman of Magna International Inc., based just north of Toronto, paid himself $33.3 million (U.S.) last year in salary. That was about three times the combined pay of the chief executives of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Company, according to the trade journal Automotive News.

Magna, which is on the verge of overtaking Delphi Corp. as North America’s biggest auto-parts supplier, defended Stronach’s pay as “fair” and “justified,” saying it “reflects his special position of company founder and architect of its unique entrepreneurial culture.” For the uninitiated, that means low wage and non-union.

Scotiabank Profits Fuel Foreign Expansion

The usually shy smile of Canadian imperialism is again baring its sharp pearly whites. The Bank of Nova Scotia, Canada’s third largest bank, recently paid $390 million for two Peruvian banks, increasing the number of its employees abroad from 18,463 to 22,249, above its domestic work force of 21,045.

On the strength of a 44 per cent rise in international income, Scotiabank is on the hunt for more foreign acquisitions. In May it announced plans to swallow Citigroup Inc.’s consumer banking business in the Dominican Republic.

Speaking from a directors’ meeting in Costa Rica in early June, CEO Rick Waugh said Scotia is aggressively looking at opportunities for takeovers in all of its major markets. He professed to have no concerns over the political situation in South and Central America. He didn’t say whether the presence of Canadian police forces in Haiti contributed to his “comfort” level.

Scotia’s international operations received $268 million during the second quarter, up from $186 million a year earlier, and now account for 30 per cent of the bank’s income. Strong showings in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, plus the new banks in Peru, bolstered Scotia’s results.