Tuesday, January 31, 2012

SFL Calls on Provincial Government to Reject Harper Pension Cuts

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thousands of Saskatchewan people are concerned today about looming changes to Canada’s universal pension plan, specifically Old Age Security (OAS). Despite the nation’s strong economic position, especially in relation to the US and Europe, and despite the Harper Government’s fondness for dolling out tax breaks to corporations, the Prime Minister has indicated that he intends to make cuts to Canada’s highly-regarded pension program. The SFL is calling on the provincial government to stand up for the people of Saskatchewan and to oppose any cuts that the Harper Government proposes for pensions.

“What we see in Ottawa is a government that is willing to spend money on tax cuts for big corporations, but not on pensioners across the country who are trying to make ends meet,” said Larry Hubich, President of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. “If the Harper Government’s priorities are going to continue to be corporate profits over people, then we need a provincial government that is willing to do the right thing and stand up to Ottawa.”

The Prime Minister’s announced intentions to cut OAS benefits for Canadian seniors come even as our economic position continues to be among the strongest in the world. The cuts further illustrate how far the federal government’s priorities are out of sync with those of average citizens.

“Stephen Harper and his government would rather spend our money on expensive fighter jets and gold-plated pensions for themselves than on meager pensions for struggling seniors. For Mr. Harper to cut pensions is not consistent with the values that we hold in Saskatchewan, and the provincial government should do its part oppose his plan.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Unions must change quickly to survive, says secret report by CEP/CAW

The Canadian Press
January 26, 2012

Ken Lewenza
Unions must overhaul themselves dramatically — and fast — or face a slow death, says a secret report by the two groups contemplating the biggest merger in Canadian labour history.

In a surprisingly blunt assessment of organized labour’s current difficulties, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) union say in a discussion paper that they must become a lot more relevant to working people, not only in contract bargaining, but for social change.

The paper, titled “A Moment of Truth for Canadian Labour,” says the economic pressures of globalization, growing employer aggression, hostile government policy and public cynicism have weakened unions significantly during the past two decades.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Food as a Commodity

By Fred Magdoff 
Monthly Review
January 2012

Food is one of the most basic of human needs. Routine access to a balanced diet is essential for both growth and development of the young, as well as for general health throughout one’s life. Although food is mostly plentiful, malnutrition is still common. The contradiction between plentiful global food supplies and widespread malnutrition and hunger arises primarily from food being considered a commodity, just like any other.

For many millennia following the origin of our species, humans were hunters and gatherers—an existence that one might think of as tenuous. However, judging from archeological evidence as well as recent examples, hunters and gatherers generally ate a diverse diet that supplied adequate nutrition. For example, studies in the 1960s and ‘70s of the !Kung of southern Africa, foragers for literally thousands of years, indicate that although they ate meat that they hunted, about two-thirds of their food was plant-based—nuts (supplying more than one-third of caloric intake), fruits, roots, and berries—and their diet provided approximately 2,400 calories a day. The groups of hunter-gatherers were egalitarian, with everyone participating in the provisioning of food.

Read more HERE.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Farmers standing up to Harper's anti-democratic rule

No Nukes
January 24, 2012

After squeezing a majority government out of the Canadian electorate Harper is ratcheting up his assault on our democracy. One of his first acts was to ram through Bill C-18 which undercuts the farmer-elected Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). A Federal Court judge found Harper had breached his “statutory duty to consult the CWB and conduct a vote”, a requirement under Section 47.1 of the 1998 legislation. Harper barreled on and now former CWB directors have called for an injunction on Bill C-18; and a class action suit is seeking compensation for damages to farmers. As Bruce Johnstone so rightly asked in the January 14, 2012 Leader Post: “What gives this government the right to seize farmer’s assets, sell them and pocket the proceeds, without paying any compensation to farmers?”

Farmers need a lot of financial support in their efforts to draw a line in the sand and show Harper that he can’t trample on the rule of law. The line may have to be drawn one community meeting at a time.

Tommy Douglas for Robbie Burns Day

Tommy Douglas
Videos by Doug Taylor.

It is a flat world when it comes to wheat

Canadian Wheat Board Alliance
January 23, 2012

In the November 24 Western Producer D’Arce McMillan argues that “ending single desk won’t change realities of wheat market.” However, it was the problems created by those realities that the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) was created to address. Without the CWB it will be the same old market Canadian farmers and consumers have been insulated from since farmers founded the Wheat Board in 1935.

From a consumer point of view, the contention that the mixture of wheat Canadians eat will not change once the single desk Board is gone is unrealistic. Here is why:

When it comes to commodity trading the world for all intents and purposes is flat. In the absence of orderly marketing, the private trade arbitrages all prices to a lowest common denominator almost automatically.
Part of that flat world is made possible by low-cost ocean transport. The Baltic Dry Index measures how expensive it is to move things by ship. Larger and more fuel efficient vessels have lowered unit costs by two thirds in the past five years.

Have Social Democrats surrendered?

Social Europe
January 24, 2012

Some years ago, Europe’s social democratic parties replaced the red flag with a red rose. Now they appear to have abandoned progressive politics altogether and raised the white flag of surrender to the politics of austerity.

After the 2008 crash, social democrats briefly rediscovered Keynes; a few even talked about the imminent demise of neoliberal ideology. But as the strength of the centre-right grew and neoliberal parties were returned to power in the wake of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, ‘austerity’ politics triumphed. Social democracy, fearful of being deemed insufficiently prudent, appears to have capitulated to the logic of balanced budgets and cuts in welfare provision.

Spain: Trial of Judge Baltasar Garzón ‘a blow to human rights’

Hugo Relva
Amnesty International
20 January 2012

Judge Baltasar Garzón
The Spanish Supreme Court’s pending criminal trial of a pioneering investigative judge is a threat to human rights and judicial independence, Amnesty International said today.

Judge Baltasar Garzón, 56, faces trial in Madrid on 24 January on charges he abused his power while leading an investigation into crimes under international law committed during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War and the ensuing decades of dictatorship under General Francisco Franco.

The judge is renowned for opening investigations into public officials and others suspected of committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture in other countries – most notably Chile’s former military ruler Augusto Pinochet.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rigoberta Menchu to Investigate Murders of Women in Honduras

January 23, 2012

Rigoberta Menchu
Nobel Prize winners Rigoberta Menchu (1992) and Jody Williams (1997) will arrive in Honduras to boost the investigation into the murders of several women in Honduras, said the executive director of the Women Rights Center, Gilda Rivera.

“They arrive in Honduras on January 25, on National Women´s Day, the day in which Honduran women won, after many battles, their right to vote and take part in the decisions made in our country, though in practice that is not accomplished,” said Rivera.

During their stay, both women will meet with police authorities and leaders of pro-women´s rights in the country, which has the world´s second highest rate of women killings.

Honduras has the second highest rate of feminicide after Guatemala, where more than 1,750 cases have been reported in the last 6 years and 80 percent of the cases have not been investigated adequately.

Menchu and Williams will be heading a campaign to stop the hundreds of killings of women in this country, during which they will hold talks with those who have to investigate such acts and try to implement measures against those acts.

Fighting corporate propaganda with guerrilla art warfare

By Nadim Fetaih
January 24, 2012

It is time. Throughout history, art has been the heart and blood of society. In recent years, artists have had to sell their talents in order to feed themselves. When before, art could inspire emotion, movements, and even revolution – now, most art is used to subdue and brainwash the masses.

Art has been connected to intellectual movements of the past (e.g. surrealism mirroring the growth of questioning the power of the mind). It has been used as a means to show beauty in the most benign (e.g. Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings). Since the rise of the Soviet Union, though, there has been a growth in the manipulation of inspiration – a bastard child of art was formed: propaganda.

German Intelligence Watching Left Party Politicians

Spiegel Online
January 23, 2012

More than one-third of the  Left Party's parliamentarians are under observation by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, SPIEGEL has learned. Much larger than previously thought, the operations cost nearly 400,000 euros a year. Critics worry it's disproportionate to surveillance of the right-wing extremist NPD party.

Germany's opposition far-left Left Party is under more intense surveillance from domestic intelligence than previously thought, SPIEGEL has learned. Information from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) reveals that 27 Left Party parliamentarians are being observed -- more than one-third of the party's 76-strong parliamentary group.

Another 11 members of state parliaments around the country are also being watched, SPIEGEL has learned. The agency has declined to release the politicians' names, as it would "run counter to the operative aims of the observation."

"What the Hell do We Want Anyway?"

John's Speech to Occupy Regina on 22 October 2011

By John F. Conway
January 23, 2012

Some very powerful and influential people are very, very unhappy with what you are doing and saying.

John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives – the group which designed the blueprint for the mess we are in – calls you “ridiculous” and just a bunch of “wanna-bes.” He speaks for the 150 largest Canadian corporations with assets of $4.5 trillion and annual revenues of $850 billion. They are the real rulers of the business dictatorship that now oppresses us.

Some of the movers and shakers in the media have been reasonable, though careful and equivocal, but many more have not.

The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente, after a brief visit with the Toronto occupiers, concluded, “So much for the voice of the oppressed masses. They need pacifiers.” She opines that they are not to be taken seriously until they attract as many people as the New York Halloween parade or the Toronto Marathon.

Co-ops in Saskatchewan and Quebec: A Comparative Analysis


By Mitch Diamantopoulos
July 2011

Workers bottling milk, Saskatchewan Co-operative Creamery, Moose Jaw (Ca. 1950s)
This study examines the development gap that has emerged between the co-operative sectors of the Canadian provinces of Québec and Saskatchewan since 1980. It harnesses historical research, textual analysis, and semi-structured interviews to better understand how some movements are able to regenerate their movements in the face of crisis.

The study finds that the regeneration of the Québec movement reflects the concertation (concerted action) of social movement, sector, and state actors. Deeply rooted in a collectivist tradition of cultural nationalism and state corporatism, this democratic partnership supported the renovation and expansion of the co-operative development system in a virtuous spiral of movement agency, innovation, and regeneration. Concertation of social movement and state actors created momentum for escalating orders of joint-action, institution-building, and policy and program development.

By contrast, the degeneration of the Saskatchewan movement reflects the decline of the agrarian economy and movement and a failure to effectively coordinate the efforts of emerging social movements and the state for development action. This has yielded a vicious spiral of movement inertia, under-development, and decline. Although green shoots are in evidence, regeneration efforts in Saskatchewan lag Québec’s progress in rebuilding the foundations for effective democratic partnership.

The study concludes with a detailed comparison of these diverging movements, offering conclusions and recommendations for the repair of the Saskatchewan development system and the regeneration of its co-operative movement.

Read paper HERE.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Front de Gauche: a dynamic that disturbs

By Sébastien Crépel
Translated Friday 20 January 2012
by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Bill Scoble

The progress that Jean-Luc Mélenchon is making in the opinion polls, which bodes well for the advancement of the Left, is disturbing to the bipartisan scenarios prepared in advance.

“Something is happening around the candidate of the Front de gauche. It isn’t l’Humanité that is saying this, but now the quasi-unanimity of commentators, such as the political commentator for France Inter and leading journalist of Point, Anna Cabana who, yesterday morning, on the airwaves of the public radio station, evoked “a dynamic, a chemistry, a crystallization, as one says about love — the opposite of what is happening around François Hollande”.

200,000 pageviews... thank you readers


That is an additional 100,000 over the past seven months. Thanks!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Iraq’s Palestinians in Syria: Another Chapter of Dispossession

By Amal Shahine, Anas Zarzar
Al Akhbar
January 20, 2012

Graffiti in Yarmouk camp in Damascus, Syria.
When Saddam Hussein’s regime fell, several thousand Palestinian refugees in Iraq were forced to flee to Syria where they live in a state of legal limbo and at the whim of international aid agencies.

Often it seems like Palestinians are faced with barriers or struck by ill fortune wherever they try to settle and build their lives anew. Take for instance some Iraqi Palestinians who fled the hell of Iraq to seek yet another refuge, this time in Syria. They much prefer living in poverty in their new home as opposed to risking the endless spiral of sectarian killing and constant threat of death they faced in Iraq.

The story began in 2003 with the US occupation of Iraq, which turned out to be a turning point not only for the Iraqis but for Palestinians living there too.

Canada's Wealthy: They're richer than you think

By Stephen LaRose
Planet S 
January 2012

Whether it’s Greek mythology, Shakespeare or Mickey Mouse stealing his master Yen Sid’s robes in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, one common element in drama is that protagonists — heroes as well as villains — are often humbled by their own pride, greed and stupidity.

No one will confuse studies with titles like Why Have Poorer Neighbourhoods Stagnated Economically while the Richer have Flourished? Neighbourhood Income Inequality in Canadian Cities, or Currents: Western Canada’s Economic Bulletin, or even Canada’s CEO Elite 100: the 0.01% with Antigone, Julius Caesar or Fantasia.

But you can’t read through the three recent reports — by the Canadian Labour Market and Skills Research Network, the Canada West Foundation and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, respectively — without feeling that the Canadian economy is in the first stage of an economic apocalypse.

How Harper seized control of pipeline and health-care debates

The Canadian Press
 Jan. 20, 2012

Building a storyline that sticks helped the Conservatives sink two successive Liberal leaders and they are using the same strategy early in 2012 on a pair of major policy debates facing Canadians.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's team has attempted to leap out in front of its opponents and shape the narrative on the hot-button issues of health-care funding and oil pipeline construction.

When Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver came out guns blazing over “environmental and other radical groups” and foreign interests who he said were trying to hijack the domestic debate, discussion immediately shifted away from the very concerns environmental groups have been voicing.

Wall Strikes Out on Fiscal Federalism

By Erin Weir
Progressive Economics Forum
January 21st, 2012

Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall recently issued a statement exhorting his fellow Premiers to blaze largely unspecified new trails on healthcare, Employment Insurance and Equalization. Unfortunately, he misses the ball on all three issues.

Greg Fingas and Verda Petry have already refuted Wall’s call for further healthcare privatization.

On Employment Insurance, Wall implies that eastern Canadians are collecting excessive benefits funded by western Canadians. He goes even further than the old Lotto 10-42 stereotype, alleging that people can work for just over 10 weeks and collect almost 52 weeks of benefits.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Co-operatives in Saskatchewan

Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

George and Mary Farnsworth proudly display Co-op products, Admiral, Saskatchewan, August 1950.
Everett Baker (Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society)

Like its counterparts in England and Europe, the co-operative movement in Canada arose from a sense of exploitation. On the prairies, farmers were frustrated by the high prices being charged by bankers, railroads, elevator companies, implement manufacturers, and shopkeepers. Individuals had little control over what they paid for goods and services, or the prices they received for their products. The formation of the first co-operatives was thus fuelled by the desire of farmers to gain control over their local economies, coupled with a shared sense of the necessity for collective action.

While agitating for change in the political arena, farmers at the same time began to use co-operatives to supply themselves with goods and to help them take control of handling and marketing their produce. They formed buying clubs to make bulk purchases of farm supplies and basic commodities, and in 1906 banded together to establish the Grain Growers’ Grain Company to market their grain. In 1911, farmers launched the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company, with the aim of building an elevator system owned and controlled by farmers.

Catch 22: War satire still bites in the age of Fallujah and Helmand

Catch 22, by Joseph Heller, reviewed by Matt Owen
Red Pepper
January 2012

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, called Catch 22 ‘the only war novel I’ve ever read that makes any sense’. Readers of a certain sensibility – of which the record would suggest there are many; the book has sold more than 10 million copies – clearly understand what she meant. Joseph Heller’s novel marked its 50th anniversary in November, and despite the fact that it was first published in a very different era – at the height of the cold war and the beginning of large‑scale US involvement in Vietnam – its caustic satire of war, militarism and bureaucracy has barely aged.

A fluid, non-chronological narrative that flits between a preponderance of characters, Catch 22 defies straightforward synopsis. The novel mainly follows Yossarian, an American B-25 bombardier (Heller himself occupied this role during the second world war), as well as a number of other airmen of the fictional 256th squadron. Most of the events take place on an air base on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean, moving inland during the latter (and much darker) stages of the novel.

Climate Justice Movement in Saskatoon

Climate Justice Movement in Saskatoon

We are seeking to revitalize the climate justice movement in Saskatoon and bring climate issues to the minds and hearts of Saskatchewan! With the vision of creating a local and dynamic group, we are looking for passionate people from all walks of life to help us develop a strong grassroots movement in order to combat the climate crisis in a manner that addresses inequality, colonialism, racism, sexism and all other forms of oppression.

Whether you are a seasoned "activist", a newbie to environmentalism or just someone who recognizes the gravity of our current situation and wants to make a difference - we want you! We are striving to create a varied group with respect for a diversity of ideas and tactics. The climate crisis is not going to be solved by our current government and it is up to us to begin to voice our dissent and develop alternatives!

For more information, please contact: Karen Rooney: karen-rooney@hotmail.com or Mark Bigland-Pritchard: mark@lowenergydesign.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Harper seems determined to turn Canada into anti-union paradise

Toronto Star
January 17, 2012

Hundreds of shivering factory workers locked out of their plant by manufacturing giant Caterpillar in London, Ont., might well draw some warm comfort from -- of all things -- the sayings of Newt Gingrich.
Of course, the conservative Republican presidential contender is no friend of labour or social justice; he recently proposed that poor children be schooled in the ways of free enterprise by being hired to clean school washrooms.

Nonetheless, Gingrich, one of the stars of the Republican freak show, is desperate to defeat front-runner Mitt Romney. With the mitts off, Gingrich is denouncing Romney's background as a Wall Street corporate raider, accusing him of practising a form of capitalism where "you basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers."

Do Social Democratic Parties Have a Future?

By Katerina Svickova
Left Eye On Books
January 8th, 2012

In light of the popular movements of today and the debate on democracy they triggered, we don’t even know if traditional party politics will be the most adequate vehicle to address the challenges related to globalization, financial capitalism, inequality or the environment. But, thanks to “What is Left of the Left?” we have a better grounding and knowledge about where the Social Democratic parties stand and the path that they have covered so far.

To state that the political left is searching for its soul is not particularly revealing to informed left-leaning readers. A look at the political map of Europe these days shows that the electorate is not convinced about the capacity of the left to steer their societies through this economic downturn. In the United States too, support for the Democratic administration and the Democratic Party is low. Numerous books, including “The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism,” reviewed on this site, are asking why neoliberalism gained such a grip on power and on the minds of decision makers, opinion makers and large shares of the general public. So where to has the Left (seemingly) disappeared? What is left of the Left?

Torture as Acceptable Government Policy: USA, NATO and Canada

By John W. Warnock
Act Up in Sask
16 January 2012

On January 5 Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared that within one month the U.S. government and NATO must hand over control of the Parwan prison at Agram Air Force Base north of Kabul to the Afghan government. An Afghan government commission investigated and reported that the there is systematic abuse of those held in this prison.

Gul Rahman Qazi, head of the commission, told the press that only 300 of the 2700 mainly Afghans held at the prison had been charged with any offense. The remainder “were being held without charges or evidence of guilt” and should be released. The vast majority of detainees had “no access to the courts” or family members. Many of those who had been charged in court and released, or who had served enough time in the jail to cover their sentences, were still being held by NATO authorities on the grounds that they were suspected of being insurgents.

Canadian Labour At The Crossroads?

By Doug Nesbitt
Socialist Project Bullet
January 17, 2012

A wage cut of fifty per cent. An elimination of pensions. Cuts to benefits. These demands have inevitably led to a major showdown at a locomotive factory in London, Ontario between the 700 unionized workers of Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) and Caterpillar, a massive U.S.-based corporation. The workers, members of Canadian Auto Workers Local 27, responded to the employer's demands with a positive strike vote of 97 per cent. The employer, Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar, locked out the workers on New Year's Day.

In addition to facing down a notorious anti-union employer who hammered the American United Auto Workers in the 1990s,[1] there are plenty of rumours about Caterpillar closing the London plant and moving operations to Muncie, Indiana. EMD workers in London make $36/hour while their counterparts in Muncie are paid only $12.50-14.50 (Cdn)[2]. Indiana is also on the cusp of becoming the first rust-belt state to introduce a “Right to Work” law, a notorious form of anti-union legislation made possible by the even more infamous Taft-Hartley law of 1947, the long-standing crown jewel of American anti-union legislation.[3]

Monday, January 16, 2012

CWB battle not over

The Leader Post
January 14, 2012

According to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, it's all over but the crying for supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk.

"It's a done deal, folks,'' Ritz told delegates at the Western Canadian Wheat Growers convention in Moose Jaw last week, referring to the legislation to eliminate the CWB's monopoly over wheat and barley exports Aug. 1.

Then in Saskatoon this week, Ritz dismissed the threat of a class-action lawsuit by Regina lawyer Tony Merchant as "a bit of comic relief '' and reiterated that the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act "is now, and will continue to be, the law of the land.''

While Ritz sounds confident, even cocky, it has a certain whistling-past-thegraveyard feel to it.

New book critiques Wall policies

By David Hutton
The Star Phoenix
January 13, 2012

Saskatchewan’s economic momentum will dissipate if the provincial government doesn’t install stronger public policies geared toward social problems, a number of University of Saskatchewan professors argue in a new book.

The book — New Directions in Saskatchewan Public Policy — is the first academic critique of Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government, analyzing and suggesting solutions in areas of immigration, taxation, climate change, urban affairs, poverty reduction, labour, aboriginal affairs, and health.

“The government is riding the economic boom and not making social investments,” said University of Saskatchewan political studies professor David McGrane, the book’s editor, at a campus press conference Friday.

“The government needs to invest in social infrastructure to create long-term benefits. Good public policy is needed to ensure our economic prosperity continues beyond what may be a short-term economic boom.”

In his chapter, McGrane argues the Saskatchewan Party government should hold the line on taxes and install a carbon tax and a harmonization of the federal and provincial sales tax that provides rebates.

Thus far, the Wall government has rejected the idea of installing a harmonized sales tax, which has caused political turmoil in British Columbia, where it was voted down in a referendum last summer. The tax shifts a portion of the burden from businesses to consumers and imposes a tax on many items that weren’t previously subject to PST.

McGrane said it could be installed alongside rebates for low-income people.

“If you’re going to do it in Saskatchewan, do it now and you’ll have four years to sell it to people,” he said.

Ryan Walker, a professor of urban planning, focused his critique on urban growth and the province’s sprawling cities. Walker said the provincial government could play a lead role in how the province’s big cities, Saskatoon and Regina, develop through a provincial growth management strategy. The time is now, during a period of fast growth, to tackle the issue, Walker said.

The major cities are currently sprawling at an unsustainable pace, he said.

“One of the problems is if we don’t focus on how we’re growing we could end up with an enormous tax bill,” Walker said.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Revenge of the Pawns

By Jamie
New Left Project
09 January 2012

Wonderful little film by Erik Olin Wright, made in 1968, about the dilemmas of revolution.

He explains:

"The key idea in this animated film was this: the pawns revolt against the 'ruling class' pieces, sweep them from the board and then dance an American square dance on the board. In the end, however, they start a new chess game, but this time the pawns are on the back row moving like Kings and bishops and the like, while the old aristocratic pieces occupy the pawn row and move like pawns. The message of the film was that the pawns failed to make a revolution because they thought it was sufficient to depose the old elite. They neglected to remove the board itself. The chessboard, then, was a metaphor for underlying social structure that generates 'the rules of the game'. A revolution, to be sustainable, has to transform that.

Now, this idea is not a uniquely Marxist idea. In a sense it is the foundational idea of much structurally oriented sociology: people fill “locations” in social structures — sometimes called roles — which impose constraints and opportunities on what they can chose to do. This doesn’t mean that human practices or activities are rigidly determined by roles. Intentions and choices still really matter. Agency matters. But such choice occurs in a setting of systematic (rather than haphazard) constraints.

The Marxist form of this general idea is to make a claim — a pretty bold one when you think about it — that the key to understanding this structural level of constraint is the nature of the economic structure in which people live, or even more precisely, the nature of the “mode of production”. In my little film there was no production, no economy. The chessboard was a completely open-ended metaphor for social structure. So it is in that sense that the film was not specifically based on a Marxist framework.

As for its inspiration, I think the film grew out of the concerns for radical, egalitarian social change that were part of the intellectual culture of the student movement, the American civil rights movement and Vietnam War era anti-war movement. I participated in various ways in these social movements of the 1960s and was very much caught up in the utopian aspirations of the times, but I also felt that the task of constructing emancipatory alternatives was more arduous than many people thought. It is not enough to attack the establishment and remove its players. Constructing an alternative is a task in its own right. And that is what the film tried to convey."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

World Peace Hanging by a Thread

By Fidel Castro Ruz
Cuba Debate
Jan 14th, 2012

Yesterday I had the satisfaction of having a pleasant conversation with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I had not seen him since 2006, more than five years ago, when he visited our country to participate in the 14th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement of Countries in Havana. During the summit, Cuba was elected for the second time as president of the organization for a three-year term.

I had become gravely ill on July 26, 2006, a month and a half prior to the summit, and could barely sit up in bed. Many of the most distinguished leaders who participated in the event were kind enough to visit me. Chavez and Evo visited me several times. One afternoon four visitors came by whom I will always remember: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; an old friend, Abdelaziz Buteflika, the president of Algeria; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran; and the vice minister of Foreign Affairs and current Foreign Minister of China, Yang Jiechi, on behalf of the leader of the Communist Party and the president of China, Hu Jintao. It was really an important time for me; I was in the midst of intense physiotherapy on my right hand that I had seriously injured when I fell in Santa Clara.

With all four I spoke about some of the difficulties facing the world at the time; problems that have become progressively more complex.

Canada to revive anti-democratic “counter-terrorism” powers

By Vic Neufeld
14 January 2012

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly vowed that in the coming year he will use his Conservative Party’s parliamentary majority to push through major changes in socio-economic policy. His government has also made no secret of the fact that it is determined to strengthen the coercive powers of the state.

Although the press has accorded it little attention, the Conservatives have proclaimed their intention to push through legislation reviving the police’s power to detain terrorism suspects without charge and compel persons deemed of “interest” in a terrorism investigation to provide them information.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Miners' Hymns

By Bill Morrison
Purchase HERE.
This elegy, in film and music, to the coal mining history of north east England, is the product of an exceptional creative collaboration between renowned filmmaker Bill Morrison (Decasia) and acclaimed musician and composer Johann Johannson.

Collaged from archive film footage and drawing on the region's brass music culture, the Miners' Hymns celebrates the labour, endurance, vibrant community and rich culture that characterised the lives of those who worked underground.

Romania: Forgotten miners in the Valley of Tears

By Keno Verseck
Press Europe
13 January 2012

In Ceausescu's times thousands of Romanians, drawn by high wages, flocked to the coalfields of the Jiu Valley. Today many of the mines in the valley are closed and the miners have been left to fend for themselves. Many are sliding into criminality.

A narrow path heads up the steep slope. The ground is a greyish black and scuffed smooth. Tattered plastic bags lie about. “I just put the coal in a plastic tub and let it slide down the slope,” says Mihai Stoica, a man in his mid-thirties.

He climbs on up the slope. As the hill is so steep, he clings to branches and shrubs. Halfway up, a mighty beech lies toppled. Just beneath the exposed roots is a depression in the earth. “A collapsed tunnel,” Stoica remarks laconically and keeps climbing. Soon he's at his “own” tunnel.

Saskatchewan: Nuclear waste dump?

Uranium Development Project

NWMO comes to Saskatchewan looking to sell us nuclear waste from New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario... and then the rest of the world. This film is about the 7000 Generation Walk (900km) from Pinehouse to the legislature in Regina, expressing opposition to a radioactive waste repository in our north.

(For more on Saskatchewan's Nuclear Wonderland, visit: www.captainpower.ca )

Nuclear Wonderland is a creative new media work by filmmaker and graphic artist Myek O’Shea and economist Brett Dolter.  This film exposes the nuclear record in the prairies and captures a direct democracy ignored by mainstream media.

Wall of Silence on Canpotex

By Erin Weir
Progressive Economics Forum
January 13th, 2012

Saskatchewan’s newspapers reported today that BHP Billiton intends to sell the province’s potash outside of Canpotex, the marketing board that helps to maximize the price for which Saskatchewan potash is exported offshore.

BHP executive Tim Cutt stated, “We will not market through Canpotex. We talked to the premier (Brad Wall) about that. He understands that.”

Concerns that BHP would undermine Canpotex were a major objection to its takeover bid for the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. Indeed, Premier Wall’s speech rejecting BHP’s proposal invoked “Canpotex” ten times in eight pages, as a source of pricing power for Saskatchewan’s resource and of jobs in British Columbia’s ports (as opposed to BHP’s plan to use the port of Vancouver, Washington).

It seems strange that Wall would now be happy to accept BHP’s plans to circumvent Canpotex. Maybe BHP is willing to develop the Jansen Lake mine only if it can bypass this agency? Perhaps the benefits of developing this new mine outweigh the costs of eroding Canpotex’s pricing power? If Wall has come to that conclusion, he should say so rather than allowing BHP to speak for him.

The next generation of land defenders

5 young people step up against nuclear waste

By Briarpatch Staff 
Briarpatch magazine
Jan 1, 2012
All photos: Debby Morin

In summer 2011, several people from communities in northern Saskatchewan walked 820 kilometres from Pinehouse to Regina to raise awareness about the storage and transportation of nuclear waste in the province, and to oppose a proposed nuclear waste dump near Pinehouse.

Youth played an important role in the walk. Among the core walkers were five courageous young people who gave up a good chunk of their summer vacation to stand up for their communities and for future generations.

Geron Paul accepts an offering  from  Marie Campbell.
Geron Paul, age 19 and from Beauval, walked for the full three weeks. At the rally at the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina at the end of the walk, Paul had his public speaking debut when he addressed the crowd of hundreds about the dangers of nuclear waste. “I am proud of our natural resources. I am proud to say I live by one of the most beautiful lakes in Saskatchewan,” he said. “If I have to give up an ‘unparalleled economic opportunity’ to keep it clean, I am willing to live with the consequences.”

2012: The Year the Canadian Housing Bubble Will Burst

John W. Warnock's Blog
January 6, 2012

This is the time of year when all economists (and some political economists) are called upon to make their forecasts for the year which is beginning. From the recent data it appears that the USA will have a very modest increase in economic growth, not enough to significantly reduce the number of people who are unemployed, working part time while wanting full time work, or who have given up looking for a job and have left the work force. The European Union has an enormous pile of debt to deleverage, is already in a double dip recession, and all forecasts are for an overall negative growth rate for the year. This can only be bad news for the economies of the USA and Canada.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Marx, Marxism and the cooperative movement

By Bruno Jossa
Cambridge Journal of Economics
Vol. 29,No. 1, 2005

2012 has been declared the International Year of Cooperatives by the United Nations. NYC will be posting articles relating to cooperatives and the socialist movement throughout the year. The paper below kicks off this series.


On several occasions Marx declared himself strongly in favour of cooperative firms, maintaining that their generalised introduction would result in a new production mode. At different times in his life, he even seems to have been confident that cooperatives would eventually supplant capitalistic firms altogether. Lenin also endorsed the cooperative movement and, in a 1923 work (entirely devoted to this subject), he went so far as to equate cooperation with socialism at large. More precisely, besides describing cooperation as an important organisational step in the transition to socialism, he explicitly argued that ‘cooperation is socialism’ (Lenin, 1923). All the same, ever since the time of the Paris Commune the cooperative movement has received little attention from Marxists.

One argument we intend to put forward in our analysis is that this scant attention for the cooperative movement is due at least in part to the kind of cooperative—a firm in which workers are ‘their own capitalists’ (Marx, 1894, p. 571)—that has asserted itself in history, because this tends to endorse the view that a system of producer cooperatives is not a genuine form of socialism.

However, modern economic theory has shown that the pure cooperative is Vanek’s LMF (see Vanek, 1971A, 1971B), which does not self-finance itself and whose workers can consequently not be correctly described as ‘their own capitalists’. And this consideration disproves the arguments of thoseMarxists who maintain that cooperatives are, by their very nature, an intermediate form in between capitalism and socialism.

But what are the implications of the above reflections? Once we have made it clear that Marx looked upon cooperation as a new production mode superseding capitalism, Marxists fall into at least two distinct groups: those who maintain that in Marxian terms socialism must be identified with a system of self-managed firms and those who equate socialism with a state-planned command economy.

Read more HERE.

NASA says Canadian prairies in "hot spot" of ecological change

Prairie grasslands and boreal regions to shift north by 2100

By Mychaylo Prystupa
CBC News
Jan 12, 2012

Praying for ecosocialism
A new NASA study predicts massive ecological changes for Canada's Prairies and boreal regions by the year 2100.

Those areas are in "hot spots" highly vulnerable to massive environmental changes this century due to global warming, the study states.

Much of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba is predicted to see major shifts northward of plant and animal species.

"By about 2100, the climate change projections that we have today would suggest that there would be pressure on that grassland so prevalent in [the Canadian Prairies] to move further northward — and at the expense of the forest moving further northward as well," said NASA climate scientist Duane Walliser, who spoke with CBC News from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The confines of compromise: Does the labour movement encourage resistance, or contain it?

By Dave Bleakney
Briarpatch magazine
November 1, 2011

Canada Post is a public sector success story. As a steadily profitable state-owned enterprise, it provides postal service to communities across the country as well as roughly 54,000 jobs with mostly decent wages and benefits for workers. Its profits over the past 15 years have totalled almost $2 billion. Yet Canada Post, with the support of its friends in Parliament, proceeded this year to eviscerate the wages, benefits and pensions of postal workers, with changes amounting to an 18 per cent wage reduction for new hires, reduced job guarantees and weaker sick leave provisions, to name a few.

After two weeks of rotating strikes by postal workers in June, Canada Post locked out its workers and suspended mail delivery countrywide, prompting the federal government to introduce back-to-work legislation. Despite assurances by the labour minister that an experienced person with a labour relations background would be appointed to arbitrate, a retired judge with no known experience in the field was chosen. Questions to the minister about his experience have gone unanswered.

Honduras: "Libertarians" Model Cities and the Resurrection of William Walker


January 4, 2012

This past December 10th, the British magazine, "The Economist" published an article that makes a reference to a memorandum of understanding between the government of Honduras and two United States firms regarding the construction of Model Cities (Charter Cities) in Honduran territory, without notifying the Honduran people up to now of the planned transactions.

The attitude assumed by the current regime to maintain “its business” with utmost secrecy , is part of the disdain held by the power elite of the country toward its subjects, a situation that worsened with the judicial-military coup in 2009 and the subsequent failed state that prevails in Honduras.

Progressive renaissance and the newest left

By Thomas Ponniah
January 11, 2012

When a great general was once asked to detail his military strategy, he replied, "I have no strategy." In other words, he knew all the strategies, but also knew that his choice of tactics depended on the situation. Progressives have much to learn from this insight. It is more important to have multiple options for each context than to have a fixed commandment for every state of affairs. The goal in any struggle is to maintain a position of maximum flexibility. The general understood that freedom means being in a position where one can advance along any line of the compass -- north, south, east or west -- to achieve one's objectives.

The progressive aptitude for flexibility has expanded substantially over the past generation. The most influential event of our era was not 9/11 -- the attack on the Twin Towers -- but 11/9: November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was torn down. The latter event marked not only the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union but the breakdown of the dominant left statist projects of the postwar period: the dismantling of the welfare state in the First World, the dissolution of the USSR in the Second World, and the disillusionment with national liberation governments in the Third World. The weakness, failures and monolithic thinking of these vanguardist projects opened the door for a triumphalist, neoliberal globalization.

A race to the bottom

By Anne Jarvis
The Windsor Star 
January 11, 2012

If you worked for a gigantic and extremely profitable company, and that company, in the middle of negotiating a new contract with your union, abruptly and unilaterally took an axe to your wages, would you object?

Of course you would.

That's what Caterpillar Inc., which owns Electro-Motive Canada in London, did. Electro-Motive tabled its final offer. The Canadian Auto Workers rejected it. The company locked out the workers. On New Year's Day. Happy New Year.

The final offer: slashing wages by 55 per cent. The majority of the 465 workers, who manufacture locomotives, were making $34 an hour.

That would plummet to $16.50 an hour. Could you support your family on $16.50 an hour? You're darn right it would be hard.

Predator Drones Quietly Patrol Canada's Southern Border

By John W. Warnock
Act Up In Sask
10 January 2012

Last week the U.S. government announced that the ninth Predator Drone will be deployed protecting the borders of the United States against the infiltration of terrorists, criminals, drug traffickers and economic refugees. Six of these unmanned attack aircraft are based in Arizona and Texas and operate along the border with Mexico. The other three operate along the northern border, between Minneapolis and Seattle. They are stationed at the Grand Forks, ND U.S. Air Force base. When the program of U.S. government monitoring the “undefended border” began it had the full support of the Harper government.

The Predator drones operate high in the sky and cannot be seen or heard from the ground. They are active far from the bases where they are stationed and directed. They can monitor individuals well across the border into Canada. The U.S. government insists that so far they have not been armed with missiles. President Obama’s favourite weapon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hungary's government lurches further to the right

By Emile Schepers
People's World
January 9 2012

Members of Hungary's Jobbik party
The right-wing populist government of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, of the Fidesz Party, has been taking measures that many fear will not only move this country of 10 million people further to the right, but will also give the state authoritarian powers that will let it ride roughshod over all opposition.

Fidesz won a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Hungarian parliament in 2010. The previously governing Socialist Party had suffered a massive loss of public prestige after it came out that former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsanyi had lied to the public about the country's economic situation. The 2010 election also saw the rise of an extreme right-wing party, Jobbik, which has worked to legitimize various reactionary ideological trends that have a long history in Hungary, including anti-Semitism and anti Ziganism (prejudice against Roma, or Gypsies), as well as belligerent nationalism.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America

Verso Books
Order HERE.

The first book to explore the Occupy movement in depth, with reportage and analysis.

9781844679409In the fall of 2011, a small protest camp in downtown Manhattan exploded into a global uprising, sparked in part by the violent overreactions of the police. An unofficial record of this movement, Occupy! combines adrenalin-fueled first-hand accounts of the early days and weeks of Occupy Wall Street with contentious debates and thoughtful reflections, featuring the editors and writers of the celebrated n+1, as well as some of the world’s leading radical thinkers, such as Slavoj Žižek, Angela Davis, and Rebecca Solnit.
The book conveys the intense excitement of those present at the birth of a counterculture, while providing the movement with a serious platform for debating goals, demands, and tactics. Articles address the history of the “horizontalist” structure at OWS; how to keep a live-in going when there is a giant mountain of laundry building up; how very rich the very rich have become; the messages and meaning of the “We are the 99%” tumblr website; occupations in Oakland, Boston, Atlanta, and elsewhere; what happens next; and much more.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Temporary Suspension of Exile in Chile

An Interview with Former MIR Militant Hugo Marchant 

By Ramona Wadi 
Upside Down World
Thursday, 05 January 2012 13:27

Hugo Marchant
Chile’s supreme court of appeals has temporarily suspended the exile sentence imposed upon an ex-militant of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). Hugo Marchant was detained in 1973 for distributing leaflets containing anti-Pinochet propaganda and later became a member of the (MIR) while in exile. Marchant entered Chile clandestinely in 1980 as part of a guerilla group opposing Pinochet’s dictatorship. 

Accused of involvement in the killing of Santiago General Carol Urzúa Ibáñez, Marchant and his family were arrested and tortured by Centro Nacional de Intelligencia (CNI) agents. Following nine years of imprisonment, Marchant’s sentence was commuted to exile during Patricio Aylwin’s presidency. Founded in 1965 by left-wing students, MIR quickly established support in Santiago, especially from working class neighborhoods. MIR supported Salvador Allende; however the group expected more radical social reforms. nevertheless, prior to the military coup, MIR began contacting junior officers within the army, urging them to support the civilian elected government. With Allende overthrown by Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1973, MIR were targeted and thousands of members, including the leaders, were arrested and killed, with those surviving the clampdown fleeing from Chile.

Caterpillar and Rio Tinto lockouts force unions into underdog fight against global capital

By Fred Wilson
January 5, 2012

In Alma, Quebec, and London, Ontario, workers are standing together on picket lines against the cold and winds of January. They have strong unions and solidarity to raise their spirits -- but these workers are underdogs against massive economic power and the ruthless force of global capital.

How it goes for them will shape economic outcomes for many other Canadians. But not just labour relations hang in the breach of these first labour battles of 2012. The reaction to these conflicts by Canadians will set a tone for the social and political climate well beyond this “Winter of Discontent.”

In both cases these fights are picked by the employer -- lockouts. Perhaps not so coincidentally, they throw down the same challenge to Canadian labour. They are each foreign owned global corporations with a history of confronting and breaking union power, and their lock outs are to force substantial concessions that will result in lower wages and lesser benefits.

Significantly, these two situations are also linked because each foreign owner recently purchased the Canadian operations and required approval from the Harper government that their acquisition was in the Canadian interest.

‘We have to learn about our own holocaust’

U of R student fights for mandatory indigenous studies course

By Lauren Golosky
The Carillon
January 5, 2012

Fuelled by her own experience with racism as a young aboriginal woman growing up on the Prairies, University of Regina student Julianne Beaudin-Herney is working to put a stop to systemic racism, an “an invisible set of ideologies that have been built into Canada, such as patriarchy, ethnocentrism, euro-centrism.”

Her prescription is education.

In November, Beaudin-Herney began circulating a petition to make indigenous studies a mandatory course for all degrees, certificates, and diploma programs at the U of R. So far, the petition has collected over 400 signatures from students, faculty, and community members.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Will Shell Oil save Saskatchewan birds?


Kill some birds here, save another one in Sask.
Greenwashing  is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that a company's policies or products are environmentally friendly. But what do you call it when oil companies sponsor NGOs to save wildlife in one place while destroying it elsewhere? Dead-bird blood money? Oil-covered albatross money? Oil-washing?

Nature Saskatchewan is one of many environmental groups lined up to receive funding from Shell's "Fuelling Change" promotion. Shell's environmental record is dismal and it keeps adding up, most recently in the Nigerian oil spills.

Many must roll their eyes at just how easily mainstream environmentalism is compromised. Running hat in hand to oil money that is made through destroying ecosystems and causing catastrophic climate change is just not right or ethical. Surely it isn't to much to demand that we expect more from them and refuse to accept oil money.