Socialist Action Message to 21st Annual Toronto Socialist May Day Celebration

Over sixty people crowded into the Free Times Cafe in Toronto’s historic garment district on the evening of April 29 to celebrate International Workers’ Day with Socialist Action, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the Free the Cuba Five Committee, the Toronto Haiti Action Committee and the NDP Socialist Caucus. The event capped a three day educational conference sponsored by Socialist Action on the theme: “Canadian Imperialism and its Discontents.” The following message was presented to the Celebration on behalf of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action Socialiste.

Sisters and brothers, comrades and friends:

As millions prepare to celebrate May Day all around the world, let’s consider the challenges and opportunities we face as part of the international working class movement.

The burning issue of our times, literally, is climate change due to global warming. The escalating environmental crisis exposes the utter incompatibility of capitalism with the survival of life on Earth. The refusal of global big business and its governments to comply even with the pathetic emission reduction targets of the Kyoto Accord, with its scandalous mechanism for selling carbon credits, constitute an unfolding tragedy of epic proportions. The Katrina-New Orleans debacle, which showed who suffers first and most under racist, sexist, capitalist class rule, is likely to be repeated many fold, from Tierra del Fuego to Baffin Island — and it is sure to trigger a massive and widespread radicalization that only socialists can lead towards a progressive solution. The struggle against the cause of climate change — corporate power and greed — is already beginning to intersect with a rising tide of rejection of the neo-liberal agenda of global big business.

At the head of the class, so to speak, is the anti-imperialist radicalization that is deepening across Latin America. In Venezuela a momentous revolutionary process is underway. The possibility of socialist transformation is posed. The Hugo Chávez leadership and the Bolivarian movement are challenging imperialist domination with bold steps: wealth re-distribution, land reform, nationalization of enterprises, workers’ control, popular militias to defend the revolutionary process, a strategic alliance with revolutionary Cuba and other countries around trade and mutual aid projects that reduce the influence of Washington across the continent, and the launch of a united, socialist party to lead the socialist transformation of Venezuelan society.

The evolution of the Evo Morales regime in Bolivia is more problematic, but the intensification of the class conflict there denotes an escalation of the challenge to U.S. domination, with strong echoes in Ecuador, Central America, and (Oaxaca) Mexico.

Cuba continues to make economic progress, overcoming the privations of the ‘special period’ following the collapse of the USSR. Cuba has replaced the US dollar with its own peso, strengthened its socialist policies, and is increasingly the venue for open discussion of Trotskyist ideas. Fidel Castro has recovered from surgery. His polemic against ethanol fuel and the policies of Brazil’s President Lula signified his return to political leadership.

US military and political commentators increasingly admit that the U.S. is unable to win the war in Iraq. Washington’s threats against Iran reveal a growing desperation. Tehran’s release of the 15 British sailors captured in Iranian waters was a setback to the efforts of London and Washington to win international approval for a deadly military strike. The global anti-war movement showed its presence again on March 17. It is capable of mega-mass actions should the US rulers launch another war of intervention. Aware of its vulnerability to mass protests, Washington is forced to act through surrogates, as it did via Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia to depose a stable anti-western regime.

At home, the U.S. rulers have an increasingly big problem on their hands: a movement for civil rights to migrant workers which mobilized millions in the streets across America just a year ago. The contradiction between the mobility of capital and the shackles put on labour is so glaring as to be a source of permanent instability in the belly of the beast.

Atop this is the floundering US dollar, the staggering US debt and the unprecedented U.S. deficit. Is it any wonder that the “coalition of the willing” is shrinking, while ALBA continues to grow?

Here in Canada, the ground is shifting too.

The January 2006 federal election punished the Liberals, rewarded the Conservatives with a minority government, and boosted support for the NDP.

Stephen Harper is seizing the opportunity to highlight the most populist aspects of his election platform. This was evident in the 1% cut to the GST, the plan to issue child care payments directly to parents, an array of income tax cuts, and the transfer of $5 billion in federal funds to the provinces.

Simultaneously, Harper continues to step up Canadian militarism and to appease the senior imperialist power. Harper’s Bush-like utterances have been curbed of late, but he is nonetheless “staying the course” — a course that corresponds to Canadian business interests. Harper is playing to his base (NDP politicians take note). But Harper’s policies are out of step with reality.

The truth is that the Canadian population is not moving to the right. Some 60% oppose the intervention in Afghanistan, 90% oppose the war in Iraq. This is reflected in the victory of Maher Arar over the RCMP. It is reflected in the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to strike down a law that allowed the Canadian government to detain foreign-born ‘terrorism’ suspects indefinitely, using secret evidence and without laying charges. The vast majority in this country want public, quality childcare, a vigorous defence of medicare, progressive social policies, plus an end to corporate tax cuts. But leadership on the left is very weak and exceedingly opportunist.

Jack Layton campaigned for “a few more seats in Parliament.” He said “lend me your votes.” He did not campaign for an NDP government. It is important to emphasize that this is not a matter of practicality. It is a matter of principle. The violation of basic principle leads directly to ‘tactical voting’ for Liberals in marginal ridings. It fuels the Bob Rae, Tarek Fatah, Buzz Hargrove brand of treachery on wheels.

The CAW severed its ties to the NDP. But OPSEU debated affiliation to the party. There is some ferment on labour’s economic front too. ACTRA struck the big movie producers and won. Railway workers are on strike to win better wages and conditions. Among CUPW members there was a strong minority movement to reject a concessionary contract. UNITE- HERE hotel workers are organizing the unorganized and fighting to win better contracts for all. And there is broad campaign to raise the minimum wage.

These struggles show that labour can fight back, contrary to the trend sadly represented by the CAW at Chrysler, GM Oshawa and Air Canada, by the UFCW at Loblaws, and by OSSTF’s mistreatment of its substitute teacher members, that is, to negotiate concessions to management and curtail union democracy.

How can the workers’ movement go forward in this situation?

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.

We need to heal the rift between the CAW and the NDP, educate widely against “lesser evil” tactical voting for Liberals, and increase labour affiliation to the NDP in English Canada. By building the NDP Socialist Caucus, we enlarge the conscious base for socialist policies, and fight to turn the party sharply to the left.

We need to press the NDP leadership to implement party policy calling for “All Troops Out of Afghanistan,” to demand that Canadian military and police forces get out of the Middle East and Haiti now.

We should support the Canada Haiti Action Network, which is campaigning to release political prisoners, channel government aid to democratically elected officials (not manipulative NGOs), and end the foreign occupation of Haiti. Promote the Canada-Haiti Labour and Women’s Rights Tour, which will take place in May and early June.

Support the Canadian Arab Federation opposition to Canada’s suspension of aid to Palestine, justified by External Affairs on the grounds that Palestinians elected the nominally anti-Zionist party Hamas. Ottawa’s aid should go directly to the democratically elected Palestine Authority, regardless its political make-up. Support the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and its campaign for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” against the Zionist state. Support the boycott of the Indigo-Chapters bookstore chain (whose majority owners are also directors of a body [Heseg] that assists soldiers who join the Israeli army of occupation from around the world).

Immigrants’ rights protests have drawn millions into the streets in the U.S. Thousands are demonstrating in Canada, too. There will be an important action in Toronto on May 5. We should push Labour and the NDP to be in the forefront of defending the dignity and rights of foreign workers here.

In Québec, the Union des Forces Progressiste and Option Citoyenne united in February 2006 to form Québec Solidaire. Although not an explicitly socialist party, its sovereigntist and anti–neo-liberal policies have attracted Labour support, and help to advance the idea of building a labour-based workers’ party that fights for an independent and socialist Québec. The QS received close to 4% of the votes in the recent Québec provincial election, up to 29% and 26% in two Montreal ridings. The decline of the PQ, the rise of the ADQ, and the election of a Liberal minority government signifies massive disaffection with the political status quo. It also reveals the continuing strength of nationalist aspirations amongst the Québécois.

It is premature to propose an NDP–Québec Solidarity alliance at the federal level. But the idea of a joint struggle for government by the workers’ organizations of Québec and English Canada is important. In the upcoming federal election, the best available option to advance the idea of working class independence from the capitalist parties remains the fight for an NDP federal government.

In the Ontario provincial election set for October 10, SA will campaign for an NDP government and fight for a Workers’ Agenda of democratic and transitional demands. We will urge a YES vote in the referendum on electoral reform in favour of the Mixed-Member Proportional Representation proposal on the ballot. At the same time we will explain our preference for Direct P.R., and for a 1% threshold for party representation, as the best route for gender parity in the legislature and to ensure that every vote cast will count.

There is no short cut to socialism. Climate change, war and oppression threaten humanity’s very existence. The only way to combat these plagues is to terminate the system that feeds them. To do that a majority must be won to the perspective of socialist revolution. That future majority will be found chiefly in today’s existing mass organizations of workers, women and youth. Socialist Action strives to win the best fighters to our banner, and to build the mass revolutionary workers’ party on whose victory humanity’s future utterly depends.

The future of humanity is reducible to solving the problem of leadership of the workers’ movement. 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 global environment. To free ourselves we must break the majority 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 us from here to there. It is also an unbending loyalty to workers’ interests, and an 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 these goals, if you believe in these 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 succeed, we need a real 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!