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Freedom and Dignity

By David William Pear, June 1, 2017

Progressives and occupiers need to learn from Palestinians a thing or two about Freedom and Dignity.   You do not get what you want from powerful oppressors by begging.  If something is worth getting, then be ready to fight for it.  Don’t ask, demand.  If they don’t grant it, then fight for it.  If the only way you have to fight is to throw your body into the gears of power then do it enthusiastically.  Never surrender.

So stop whining about Trump and Russia undermining your democracy.  That will not get you single payer healthcare and free college.  That money has already been spent on wars.  They gave it to the banks, oil companies, privateers and war mongers.  It is time to stop eating Cheetos, get up off the couch and hit the streets.  Demand an end to wars.  Demand social and economic justice.  Stand up for economic freedom.  Show your dignity.  That is the Palestinian way.

Palestinians are among the most oppressed people in the world.  They live under an illegal brutal fascist occupation.  Every day Palestinians must face down their oppressor.  Israel has the tanks, bulldozers and the guns.  Palestinians only have stones and their bodies.  Their message is:  you can steal our land and olive trees; and you can wall us in, block us off, lock us up, and kill our bodies…but you cannot take away our freedom and dignity unless we surrender it.

For anyone that says the Palestinian Prisoner hunger strike was not a complete success, they should try not eating for 40 days and 40 nights.  After 20 days the fat is gone.  After 30 days the body is surviving on muscle, bone marrow and internal organs.  By the 40th day there is permanent damage and organs begin to fail.  After 40 days you are ready for the angel of death.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ “Freedom and Dignity Hunger Strike” was a complete success.  It was a huge victory for all the Palestinian People.  They deserve our highest respect and congratulations.  We need to learn from them.

The hunger strike achieved the prisoners’ demands, such as improved healthcare, increased family visits and use of the canteen.  Those are important prisoner rights and worth fighting for.  But the hunger strike was also about Freedom and Dignity.  Palestinians showed the world that they still have their freedom and dignity, no matter how hard the oppressor tries to oppress them.  And overwhelmingly the people in Palestine, Europe, Asia, Africa, and in the Americas responded in solidarity.

Netanyahu said he would not negotiate with “suicide terrorists”.  He called the hunger strike “psychological terrorism”.  He said he would not meet with Marwan Barghouthi, the Palestinian “Nelson Mandela”.  Avigdor Liberman said let the prisoners die of starvation.  Some Israelis made jokes and roasted bar-b-que outside the prison walls.  Pizza Hut ganged on with an ad that said, let them eat pizza.  In the end Israel negotiated with the prisoners, met with their leader Marwan Barghouthi, and agreed to their demands.  What more does one need to call the hunger strike a complete success?

Netanyahu said he was “psychologically terrorized” by the Palestinian Prisoners.  That is because the Palestinians exposed the corruption and moral bankruptcy of Netanyahu and Liberman.  People around the world rallied in solidarity with Palestinians.  In Europe, where people are less brainwashed than Americans, a great solidarity movement began at the  University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and spread to “students and non-student groups in England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy”.

Just because Palestinians will not surrender their freedom and dignity does not make them terrorists, regardless that it terrorizes Netanyahu.  The Palestinians are freedom fighters.  They have a right under international law to resist their oppressor, even if it is by the use of violence against the military occupiers.  It is the Netanyahu’s and the Liberman’s who are in violation of international law.  They have repeatedly ignored resolutions from the United Nations, judgements by the International Court of Justice, and condemnation from the international community, hypocritically including the USA.

Resistance is a right.  The French had a right to resist Nazi occupation, Africans had a right to resist European colonialism, Vietnamese had a right to fight US imperialism, and Mei Geren had a right to stand up against a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Throwing a rock at a tank is not terrorism.  The Israeli tanks are the terrorists.  The Palestinians have not surrendered their freedom and dignity to the terrorists; it is the Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s who surrendered because the Palestinians exposed for the whole world the real terrorists.

The Palestinian Prisoners fought the battle of the empty intestines for 40 days and 40 nights.  That is monumental.  Not many people can do that and live.  They risked their lives rather than surrendered.  Many have died during hunger strikes, and one did.   Mazan al-Maghrebi made the ultimate sacrifice and became a martyr.  He is a fallen hero.  Mazan joined the hunger strike even though he was already sick with kidney disease.  He died without letting the Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s break him, no matter what they did.  They tried to break the prisoners by putting them in solitary confinement, they took away the prisoners’ clothes, shoved food under their noses, beat them, threatened forced feeding, and would not let them talk to their families and lawyers.  All of these efforts of the Israelis were violations of international law and acts of terrorism.  So who are the terrorists?

The Palestinians know that this will not be the last time that they have to fight the battle of the empty intestines.  They have had to fight it before many times.  Just last year they went on a hunger strike because the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it could not afford to facilitate two family visits a month for the prisoners anymore.  The Red Cross collaborated with Israel and cut the family visits to one per month.  What good is the Red Cross when it conspires to deny prisoners of war their human rights?

The same international community that created Israel, the United Nations, has declared that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that prisoners have a human right to maintain their family relationships, and that it is the responsibility of the jailer to provide that opportunity.  But the Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s refuse to obey international law even from their UN “mother”.  Instead the Red Cross had been picking up the tab for the visits.  In 2016 when the Red Cross and Israel cut family visits to one a month, then 300 Palestinian Prisoners went on a hunger strike.  Their families and friends occupied the Red Cross headquarters in New York City, Jerusalem, throughout Palestine, and around the world.  The Israelis lied by saying that they would work out the family visitations with the misnamed Palestinian Authority, which has no authority.   Israel has all the authority, so it made the Palestinian Authority pick up the tab.

Thirty-seven years ago the Palestinian Prisoners fought the battle of the empty intestines.  It would not be the last time. The Israelis tried in 1980, but could not break them then either.  The Israelis transferred them to a dungeon in the Negev Desert.  The Negev is boiling hot during the day and freezing cold at night. The Israelis tried to torture the prisoners into eating.  After 33 days and the deaths of 3 martyrs from forced feeding, the Israelis surrendered.  That battle of the empty intestines is remembered as the legendary Natha Prison Hunger Strike.

The battle of the empty intestines that the prisoners fought in 1980 had to be fought again in 2017.  The Netanyahu’s and the Liberman’s tried to take away the rights that the prisoners had secured 37 years ago.  They must fight this battle again, and again because the Israelis never keep their word.  The Palestinians will resist until the Israelis end their immoral and illegal occupation, or until they have been wiped out by the Israelis.  Left to the Netanyahu’s and the Liberman’s and their American enablers, the genocide and ethnic cleansing will probably continue, I fear.

I have been to Palestine.  I have talked to Palestinians.  Every Palestinian man I talked to had been in an Israeli prison at one time or another.  Some several times.  It is a rite of passage.  I met a Palestinian boy 13 years old who was facing prison.  An illegal Israeli settler had accused him of throwing stones.  The boy was arrested, taken to the police station and beaten into a confession.  Then the police released him in the custody of his father pending trial.

The prisoners’ stories are all mostly the same.  They are arbitrarily arrested, beaten into a confession, given a kangaroo trial, confined to indefinite detention, tortured, isolated, humiliated and shaken down.  Prisoners are deprived of warm clothes, medical care, healthy food and family visits unless they pay up.  Prison is a financial drain for the entire Palestinian family and a moneymaker for corrupt Israelis.  The prisoners must pay their jailers, they must buy their clothing, purchase edible food, pay fines for alleged infractions, pay for telephone calls, and pay for family visits.  When the Israelis are ready to release a prisoner the family must pay a ransom, often thousands of dollars, to get their loved ones back.

The Israelis never miss an opportunity to exploit the prisoners.  Prisons are a very profitable business.  The Israelis use prisoner rights to sadistically punish and extort the prisoners.  Family visits are a big financial and emotional drain.  Families must run the gauntlet for a visit.  Just obtaining the needed permits is not an easy task.  Once the permits are purchased, then traveling is an all-day challenge that often does not end successfully.

Traveling a short distance takes hours because of multiple checkpoints, roadblocks, detours and unimproved back roads.  Even with permits, the family may be denied passage or they often find the checkpoints closed.    The “sterile” superhighways are for Israelis only and are another obstacle in the path for Palestinians.  The Israelis want to keep their roads from becoming “contaminated”, so Palestinians must go miles out of their way to get around them and to get around the apartheid wall.  Every checkpoint is a humiliating experience.  Many of the checkpoints are so porous that they serve no other purpose.

At the prison the families are treated with contempt.  They must wait for hours.  There is no respect for women and they are strip searched roughly.  Then they may be told that their loved one does not want to see them or is sick.  If there is a visit it might be cut short.  Then the journey home is the same obstacle course.  The family may not be able to get through the checkpoints before they close, causing the family to have to spend the night in a hotel.  Every trip is like this for the Palestinians, whether it is family visits, shopping trips, or going to school; getting to work or even a medical emergency takes hours.

A friend of mine, his name is Mahmoud, told me about his imprisonment.  He is now a medical student at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. There is a Palestinian prisoners’ museum there, the Abu Jihad museum.  I have visited it and met the curator Dr. Fahed Abu Al-Haj.  It documents and displays the reality of Israeli prisons.  The museum is a very impressive and a moving experience.  As the museum’s webpage says, the museum is dedicated to political prisoners around the world.  The USA is no exception.

Our military has adopted the Israeli practices of kidnappings, kangaroo courts, indefinite detentions, solitary confinements, sensory deprivation, torture, and assassinations.  What Israel does influences and becomes a model for the US.  Our prisons, borders, ports, police, and our cities have become militarized as if we are an occupied country.  Peaceful demonstrations are broken up as violently and with the same brutal methods as Israel uses.  As the Israeli example continues it will not be long before we have checkpoints mushrooming on every corner.  Citizens will be frightened into approval.  The public will be brainwashed into saying that the checkpoints makes them feel safer.

The victory of the Palestinian Prisoners’ hunger strike is a much needed victory for freedom and dignity everywhere.  Victories for ordinary people have become rare.  The Freedom and Dignity Hunger Strike is an example of how people power can stand up against great power.  The people just have to stop eating Cheetos, get up off the couch and hit the streets.  We must fight to keep our freedom and dignity, and we must fight to end the wars and destruction.  Fight to put an end to imperialism and exploitation.  We can secure our economic freedom, obtain treatment for the sick, provide education to the young, relieve the suffering of the poor, and guarantee everyone’s human rights.  The resolve and determination of Palestinians should be our inspiration.  Palestinians say that to exist is to resist.  Free Palestine, end the occupation.

 

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Voters are Fired Up for Single Payer Creating Dilemma for Democrats

By Margaret Flowers for Health Over Profit.

Voters are Fired Up for Single Payer Creating Dilemma for Democrats

5 Jun 2017   | Campaign Updates

On Sunday, June 4, the same day that Our Revolution, a Democratic Party group that arose from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, organized rallies and die-ins to highlight the number of people dying in the United States due to lack of access to health care, the New York Times published an article, “The Single Payer Party? Democrats Shift Left on Health Care“, prominently on the front page and above the fold.

The article quotes RoseAnn DeMoro, head of National Nurses United, saying, “There is a cultural shift. Health care is now seen as something everyone deserves. It’s like a national light went off.” Minnesota Congressman Rick Nolan was also quoted, saying that rank and file Democrats “are energized in a way I have not witnessed in a long, long time.” Nolan is correct in stating that following the Democrat’s large loss in 2016, the party needs “a more boldly ‘aspirational’ health care platform.”

Democratic Party voters have been strong supporters of single payer health care for a long time. Polls have consistently shown that super-majorities of Democratic Party voters want single payer, but Democratic Party candidates keep telling them that they can’t have it. The Democratic Party has refused to add Medicare for All to its healthcare platform despite resolutions introduced by single payer advocates. Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus refuses to include single payer health care in their “People’s Budget.”

In 2009, with a Democratic President and majorities in the House and Senate, single payer health care was off the table. Instead, the “public option” was used to divide the Democratic Party voters and convince them that they were asking for too much. Democrats were told that the public option would be more politically feasible and would create a “back door” to single payer. Many were fooled. And the joke was on them because even the public option, which I call the “Profiteer’s Option,” was never meant to be in the final legislation.

While the New York Times wrongly blames the liberal and centrist Democrats for not supporting a public option, it was actually the White House and Democratic Party leadership that  kept it out of the final bill. In December of 2009, public pressure was working to convince the Senate to include a public option in its healthcare bill. That’s when leadership stepped in to stop them. Glenn Greenwald writes:

“I’ve argued since August that the evidence was clear that the White House had privately negotiated away the public option and didn’t want it, even as the President claimed publicly (and repeatedly) that he did.  … it is the excuse Democrats fraudulently invoke, using what I called the Rotating Villain tactic (it’s now Durbin’s turn), to refuse to pass what they claim they support but are politically afraid to pass, or which they actually oppose (sorry, we’d so love to do this, but gosh darn it, we just can’t get 60 votes).  If only 50 votes were required, they’d just find ways to ensure they lacked 50.  Both of those are merely theories insusceptible to conclusive proof, but if I had the power to create the most compelling evidence for those theories that I could dream up, it would be hard to surpass what Democrats are doing now with regard to the public option.  They’re actually whipping against the public option.  Could this sham be any more transparent?”

I was present at the Center for American Progress in March of 2009 when Senator Max Baucus stated that the public option was a bargaining chip being used to convince private health insurers to accept more regulations. It was Baucus’ staffer, Liz Fowler, a former senior vice president for one of the largest private insurance corporations, WellPoint, who wrote the framework for the Affordable Care Act and shepherded it through Congress. The scam was revealed early and though progressive groups knew it, they were complicit in the scam because they accepted being controlled and silenced by the White House.

Jim Messina, a former Baucus chief of staff, was hired by the White House to be “the enforcer” for President Obama’s agenda. Ari Berman described the situation in this enlightening article:

The administration deputized Messina as the top liaison to the Common Purpose Project. The coveted invite-only, off-the-record Tuesday meetings at the Capitol Hilton became the premier forum where the administration briefed leading progressive groups, including organizations like the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood and the Center for American Progress, on its legislative and political strategy. Theoretically, the meetings were supposed to provide a candid back-and-forth between outside groups and administration officials, but Messina tightly controlled the discussions and dictated the terms of debate (Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake memorably dubbed this the “veal pen”). “Common Purpose didn’t make a move without talking to Jim,” says one progressive strategist. During the healthcare fight, Messina used his influence to try to stifle any criticism of Baucus or lobbying by progressive groups that was out of sync with the administration’s agenda, according to Common Purpose participants. “Messina wouldn’t tolerate us trying to lobby to improve the bill,” says Richard Kirsch, former national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the major coalition of progressive groups backing reform. Kirsch recalled being told by a White House insider that when asked what the administration’s “inside/outside strategy” was for passing healthcare reform, Messina replied, “There is no outside strategy.”

The inside strategy pursued by Messina, relying on industry lobbyists and senior legislators to advance the bill, was directly counter to the promise of the 2008 Obama campaign, which talked endlessly about mobilizing grassroots support to bring fundamental change to Washington. But that wasn’t Messina’s style—instead, he spearheaded the administration’s deals with doctors, hospitals and drug companies, particularly the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), one of the most egregious aspects of the bill. “They cared more about their relationship with the healthcare industry than anyone else,” says one former HCAN staffer. “It was shocking to see. To me, that was the scariest part of it, because this White House had ridden in on a white horse and said, ‘We’re not going to do this anymore.’” When they were negotiating special deals with industry, Messina and Baucus chief of staff Jon Selib were also pushing major healthcare companies and trade associations to pour millions of dollars into TV ads defending the bill.

This was the Democratic Party’s deal with the devil. They rejected their voter base and went with the donor class to create and market a health law, the so-called Affordable Care Act, that protected the profits of the medical-industrial complex, and it backfired. In the 2010 election, 63 Democratic incumbents lost their seats in Congress and the party has been in decline ever since with a record low number of elected officials nationally. On issue after issue, the Democratic Party betrayed its base and voters finally gave up, choosing either to vote for other parties or not vote at all.

The question now is whether the Democrats will change.

So far, despite the title of the New York Times article, the answer is no. Although there is widespread voter support for single payer, Nancy Pelosi says the party is not going there and is funneling advocates’ energy to the state level, even though state single payer systems are not possible without federal legislation. At the national level, Democrats are paying lip service to Medicare for All: “We need to get there eventually but right now our task is to fix the ACA” is the current talking point.

The reality is that the political currents have shifted. The public is not going along with the con. People want solutions to the healthcare crisis, not more tinkering with the current failed healthcare system. Across the country, the message is clear that the public supports National Improved Medicare for All. And whichever political party in power embraces this will see a surge in popularity.

Our task as advocates for National Improved Medicare for All is to stay fired up – continue to speak out about Medicare for All, write about it in local papers, meet with members of Congress, organize in our communities and run for office. We must be clear and uncompromising in our demand for National Improved Medicare for All to create a visible tsunami of support that will wake our legislators up.

When the people lead, the legislators will follow.

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Reality Winner is a Whistleblower

By Jesselyn Radack. This article was first published on Expose Facts.

Reality Winner, the 25-year-old Air Force veteran and NSA contractor charged with mailing classified material to a news outlet, is a classic whistleblower. She hasn’t claimed that mantle, which is understandable given America’s love-hate relationship with whistleblowers. They are alternately celebrated and denounced, depending on who has the microphone and who has the power.

A whistleblower is a current or former employee who reveals what she reasonably believes evidences fraud, waste, abuse, illegality, or a danger to public health and safety. The individual can disclose their concerns to their superiors, Congress, an interest group representative, or the media. Unfortunately, often nothing gets fixed when employees report internally; in fact, they often become the target of any investigation that ensues. This is especially true in the Intelligence Community, where whistleblowers lack strong protection from retaliation. It is easier to shoot the messenger than listen to the message. And the message here is one that has been contested by the President of the United States: that Russia tried – strenuously – to hack our presidential election.

When you can’t shoot the messenger—many whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake had unassailable personal and professional records—those in power will then go after a subsidiary issue: how the leak occurred. In the case of Reality Winner, she has been criticized for mailing the information from her hometown post office in Augusta, Georgia. She has been criticized for using snail-mail, instead of a whistleblower submission system like SecureDrop. (Here it is worth noting that whistleblowers who have blown the whistle over encrypted channels have sometimes faced added charges for obstruction of justice.) She has been criticized for her choice of the media outlet to which to leak.

Her undoing, however, was not because of her choices. Whistleblowers face a panoply of hard choices—whether to complain internally or go public, whether to report anonymously or identify themselves, whether to protect their colleagues from their life-altering decision or put them in the position of being witnesses. There is no right answer. As a general matter, whistleblowers try to call out wrongdoing while sustaining the least damage to themselves, their families, and their colleagues.

The most successful whistleblowers—from Daniel Ellsberg to Edward Snowden—have gone to the media, which brings the benefits of speed, objectivity and investigative resources. When Reality Winner picked this and true path that I and so many other whistleblowers have taken, I doubt she was thinking about how it could land her in jail. I am quite confident she was more concerned about correcting the public and historical record, and giving the truth a fighting chance in a political landscape increasingly overrun with lies. Many whistleblowers pay a very high price. Chelsea Manning was tortured and imprisoned. Thomas Drake faced life in prison and was left bankrupt and blacklisted. What the government has never managed to take away, however, is their integrity or their voices. And despite their ordeals, the whistleblowers who have suffered the most have often amplified their voices once it was safe to do so. They have continued to advocate for the causes they believe and against the injustices they faced: surveillance reform, ending torture, accountability for war crimes. The least we can do is protect them.

About Jesselyn Radack

Jesselyn Radack is a national security and human rights attorney who heads the “Whistleblower & Source Protection” project at ExposeFacts. Twitter: @jesselynradack

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$15 and Fairness Shakes Up Ontario

By David Bush. This article was first published on Socialist Project.

The Fight for $15 and Fairness scored a big victory on May 30 when the Ontario Liberals announced they would raise the minimum wage to $15 by January 1, 2019. The Liberals also announced a slew of other legislative changes they will introduce as part of the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, such as two paid personal emergency leave days (as part of the 10 PEL days workers are already entitled too), equal pay for equal work for part-time workers, requiring employees to be paid for three hours of work if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours, an additional week of paid vacation for employees who have been with a business for at least five years.

What Was Won

The minimum wage will go up to $15 in three stages. The scheduled rise to the minimum wage on October first from $11.40 to $11.60, which was the result of the legislation won in 2014 tying the minimum wage to inflation. On January 1, 2018 the minimum wage will go up to $14 and on January 1, 2019 the minimum wage will hit $15. The 18-month pathway to $15 is faster than that of Alberta's NDP and does not require legislation.

$15 and Fairness

675,000 minimum wage workers will see a 32 per cent increase in their wages. 130,000 union members will see a pay bump. Overall 1.5 million jobs will see a direct pay increase, women and racialized workers who disproportionately occupy low-waged jobs will see the greatest benefit.

In addition the Liberals have also outlined a series of reforms to the Ontario Labour Relations Act (OLRA) and the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) they plan to bring in through legislation: sector specific card-check certification (for temporary help agencies, building services, home care and community services), successor rights, stronger return to work protocols and just cause protections, interest on unpaid wages, stronger ESA, procedures, enforcement and penalties, longer family medical leave, making it easier to determine joint liability, and stronger language around employee misclassification.

Liberal Promises

The reforms in the Liberal's Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which was introduced on June 1, are a positive step forward for workers. But they remain only a step in the right direction. The reforms themselves fall short of what both labour and community groups are asking for. The absence of paid sick days, the lack of legislation around agricultural workers’ rights, a proposed 48 hour schedule penalty instead of a full-week's notice, only a narrow sector specific card check certification and the continued student and liquor service exemption from the minimum wage are significant shortcomings. Going forward there must be a fight for even stronger enforcement of the ESA, better protections for workers and making it easier for all workers to join a union.

We should remain vigilante when it comes to reading the fine print and looking at the timelines. There is a good chance much of what the Liberals promise could be watered down in committee or have lengthy timelines in their implementation. For instance the Liberal plan for card check certification in the temporary help agencies, building services, home care and community services sectors won't be rolled out until a mere 10 weeks before the election. Other reforms to the ESA and OLRA would not occur until after the 2018 election.

Labour must also watch for ways in which positive parts of the legislation, like the equal pay for part-time and full-time workers provision, could be used by employers to level down wages and standards instead of raising them up. Unions in low-wage sectors will also need to address the issue of the ESA reforms leap-frogging parts of their contract. For workers and unions, these can be characterized as good problems.

Organizing Gets the Goods

The proposed changes come after a sustained two-year effort by the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign, to push for positive reforms to the ESA and OLRA during the Liberal initiated Changing Workplaces Review (CWR).

The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign, which grew out of the campaign to raise the minimum wage in 2013, saw early on the only way in which it was going to win positive reforms was by involving as many workers as possible in the struggle. Where employers had money, lobbyists and access to the media, low-wage workers had numbers and community. To this end the campaign forged a united front between unions, non-union workers, student groups, healthcare advocates, faith groups and community organizations that spoke to the concerns of the broader working class.

The outlook of the campaign was to treat the CWR as a chance for non-unionized workers to engage in a form of collective bargaining. Without access to a collective agreement the ESA for non-union workers was all that workers had and the campaign offered an avenue to leverage their political power to in effect bargain with the state.

The campaign, initially relatively small and perpetually under-resourced, aimed to draw in as many workers as possible across the province into the fight. It was not an insular or top-down campaign, but predicated on building leadership in all corners and at all levels. Active chapters existed in Windsor, Sudbury, North Bay, Guelph, Kingston, Niagara, London, Hamilton, Ottawa, Waterloo, Toronto and Ottawa, just to name a few places. These community chapters focused on doing public outreach via petitioning and fun creative actions. They engaged in lobbying, educationals and protests. The campaign also developed an active university and college network with campaigns on well over a dozen campuses.

The campaign also sunk roots into workplace struggles by linking up with bargaining campaigns and the OFL's side of the campaign, Make It Fair. Grocery store workers, librarians, airport workers and food service workers utilized the $15 and Fairness demands in their fights with employers. Food service workers with Unite Here Local 75 at York and University of Toronto achieved major strike victories by not only using the $15 and Fairness demands, but by working hand in glove with the campaign to build public sympathy for the workers by framing the strikes as a fight for all low-waged workers.

It should be remembered that the Liberals declared that the minimum wage was out of scope of the CWR and repeatedly stated there would be no increase. Some labour leaders were not supportive of the $15 minimum wage demand, stating it was unwinnable and not part of the CWR. The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign shows that a well organized, disciplined, and strategic campaign that speaks to and activates the broader working class can defy the odds and achieve significant victories via legislation and at the bargaining table.

NDP and $15 and Fairness

The Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) last April, a year after the launch of the $15 and Fairness campaign, came out in support of a $15 minimum wage. The NDP also came out in support of the card-check union certification for all industries and other progressive OLRA reforms. The party has even supported the idea of paid sick days. This is a welcome advance for the party, which in the last provincial election supported a $12 minimum wage when the campaign was pushing for $14.

But the ONDP has been relatively passive on the issues. They finally came out for paid sick days this spring, but wouldn't outline how many or their plan for implementation. Instead of putting forth private members bills with a strong $15 and Fairness frame and making the Liberals consistently vote down these measures they preferred to put forward private members bills that only had a realistic chance of passing. By not setting the agenda the ONDP's strategy of leading from the rear gave the Liberals all sorts of wiggle room on the issues.

While some riding associations were active and productive participants in the campaign, the leadership lacks vision when it comes to conducting a broader fight. Since the announcement by Premier Kathleen Wynne, the ONDP has let the Liberals be the sole political voice defending the $15 minimum wage against rightwing attacks. Instead of supporting the Liberals finally doing the correct thing and attacking the rightwing detractors, they have remained silent and let Wynne be identified as the idea's political champion. It is easy to be outflanked when you are not moving.

Shifting the Political Terrain

The campaign has shifted the political terrain in the province by making seemingly far-fetched ideas extremely popular. It is easy to now say that a $15 minimum wage, equal work for equal pay and other labour law reforms are only modest gains, as some on the left are now doing. However, this diminishes the work done by countless people who struggled on the campaign and downplays the political lesson that workers engaging in economic and political struggle can achieve victories.

When the campaign started it was building off the incredible work of the Fight for $15 in the United States and the campaign to raise the minimum wage in Ontario. Workers who launched the Fight for $15 and Fairness picked $15 and other goals because they seemed bold enough to inspire people to action, achievable enough to produce victories and universal enough to connect with movements across the globe. When the campaign started a common refrain many people heard while out petitioning was these sound like good ideas, but we will never achieve them. This reaction was the product of years of defeats weathered by the working class. After constantly organizing and fighting for two years the campaign has put these demands on the political map and made them popular. The latest Forum Research poll shows 70% of Torontonians favouring a $15 minimum wage. Across the country, with the existence of campaigns in almost every province, the latest poll showed 63% of Canadians in support of a $15 minimum wage.

The Liberals, facing terrible polling numbers due to rising hydro prices, corruption, years of austerity and the exhaustion of being the governing party since 2003, are undoubtedly looking to make political moves in the run-up to the election. They are looking to tact left and eat into the NDP's base, which is obviously crass electioneering. But this move to the left on labour issues is only possible because of the work the campaign did in making those ideas popular.

The Liberal announcement for a $15 minimum wage and labour law reform has set off a tectonic shift in Ontario's political landscape. In a year from now Ontario will have its next election and instead of it being an election solely about Liberal corruption, Hydro prices and sex-ed, it looks like it will be an election about work, workers’ rights and inequality. This in and of itself is a major victory for the campaign and for workers. Making the ballot question a referendum on the needs and rights of workers is a political playing field labour and the left should welcome. Having two of the three major political parties lining up behind a $15 minimum wage and voicing at least modest support for progressive labour reforms is a victory and provides a solid political ground for labour to sink a resurgent provincial Tory party.

Fighting the Right and Raising Expectations

Over the next year the rightwing will exert massive pressure to delay, deny and reverse any and all progressive reforms. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Ontario Proud and other rightwing groups will flood the media with fear. They will claim rising inflation, job loss, automation and a growing debt will be the result of a $15 minimum wage and modest labour reforms. If the Fight for $15 and Fairness and labour go dormant in the lead up to the election there is a good chance the Liberals will reverse course and the rightwing will triumph in the election against both the NDP and Liberals.

What is important to understand is that in making the next election about the workers’ needs and rights, the left and labour have a responsibility to escalate the fight. Workers’ expectations are being raised and this is a positive thing. The lessons of this fight must be generalized. Labour can make major advances when it aims to fight to improve standards for both union and non-union workers. Raising the floor of working standards makes it easier for unions to set the bar higher. The lessons of this struggle and the newly activated networks of workers created by the campaign are assets the union movement can draw on as it aims to achieve breakthroughs in bargaining.

Workers in Ontario are now realizing that they can fight and win significant changes in the workplace. The union movement should double down on this victory by putting its resources into organizing, effective contract campaigns and properly funding campaigns that speak to the broader working class. Passively sitting back and waiting for the election would be a fatal mistake. The confidence of the working class stemming from this victory will either propel the fight further or it will dissipate, the choice is up to labour and the left. If it is the latter there is little doubt we will be facing down Tory leader Patrick Brown, if it is the former, the sky is the limit. •

David Bush is a Ph.D. student at York University. He is active with the Fight for $15 and Fairness club at York University. This article first published on the RankandFile.ca website.

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Sunday’s French Election

By Richard Greeman. This article was first published on Socialist Project.

The good news this May was that French voters rejected far-right Marine Le Pen by a two-to-one margin in the second round of the Presidential election. “At least the French are not schmucks as the Americans!” were the first words that passed the sweet lips of my Provençal partner Elyane when the radio announced Le Pen's defeat. As the Borowitz Report headlined: “French Annoyingly Retain Right to Claim Intellectual Superiority over Americans.” Aside from this moral victory, the French people have little to be happy about.

Frexit tu m'Excites; Frexit you excite me!

The bad news was that France ended up electing Emmanuel Macron, an efficient technocrat who consciously incarnates French capital's need to eliminate the ‘French exception’ and level the wages, rights and benefits of the French common people down to the average of the European Union (which includes Romania and Bulgaria).

Faced with Macron's calmly-worded, reasonable, deliberately transparent class war agenda, it should be obvious that France needs a united Left of parties, unions, social movements and local associations to oppose it – the June during the legislative elections and later in the streets. Such a powerful coalition from below came together spontaneously against Macron/Hollande's pro-business Labour Law during the “hot” Spring of 2016, which included strikes, blockades, occupations and all-night discussions. Where is it now?

The Divided Left

Alas, more bad news: the French Left today is totally divided, splintered as never before. After May Day, the labour unions couldn't even agree to march together. This Sunday, June 11, French voters will face the first round in the legislative elections to the 577 seat National Assembly. These elections will decide whether President Macron will have a legislative majority with which to govern unopposed, a distinct possibility with the opposition parties so hopelessly divided.

Last week I watched a young, idealistic Parti communiste français (PCF) candidate practically in tears at a Médiapart round-table as he told how at least four left parties were competing against each other in the first round in his popular Paris district. This Communist candidate was heartbroken because during the Presidential election, his Party had supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon's La France insoumise (Unbowed) coalition with all its strength, and now Mélenchon had sent an Insoumise candidate into his district to compete with him in the legislative election. Why?

Historically, in multi-party systems, Left parties negotiate alliances and coalitions so as to agree on a single candidate, presumably a strong one, in each local district so as to maximise the chance of winning nationally. Each party in the alliance gets assigned a certain number of prospective seats in the National Assembly in proportion to its size – subject to much haggling and horse-trading. Some negotiations between Mélenchon and the Communists were held last month, but apparently they broke down early. This, in spite of the fact that Mélenchon had previously headed La front de gauche, a coalition including the Communists and his own Parti de gauche (a 2008 left split from the Socialists). As so often happens in party politics, control trumped goal. The Communists still have representatives in the Chamber and control local offices in many districts, and wanted to protect their turf. Mélenchon wants to dominate the Left through his Insoumise movement.

Mélenchon's strategy is based on strength of the 20 per cent of the electorate that voted for him in the Presidential rounds, and is to run candidates in every possible district with the goal of winning an (unlikely) parliamentary majority. Under the Constitution of the Gaullist 5th French Republic, this would oblige President Macron to appoint Mélenchon Prime Minister (an arrangement known as “cohabitation”) and share power. In Sunday's first round Insoumise candidates who get 20 per cent of the votes would theoretically place into the second round in a field where the Right is also splintered. Along with Macron's handpicked “new faces” running for En Marche, there are also several traditional conservative parties and of course the far-right Front national that won a third of the votes in May's Presidential election.

In one version of Mélenchon's strategy, the Insoumise candidates could conceivably beat the Macronistas and the Le Penites and end up with a majority in the second round, automatically making him Prime Minister. But the more the Left field is crowded, the greater the chance of a repeat of the Presidential voting: Macron's En Marche faces off against the Front national in the second round, giving Macron an easy majority and marginalizing the Left for the next five years. This would be the tragic consequence of Left disunity based on turf wars and the party politics of sustaining small groups.

In another view, even in the minority, Mélenchon's Insoumise would emerge as the hegemonic organization of the Left for the next five years, well-placed for the next elections in 2022. There is not much competition left. The electorate of PCF, despite its hold on office and ties to the CGT labour union, has shrunk to not much bigger than the ‘Trotskyist’ Nouveau parti anti-capitaliste (part of which has joined the PCF in a coalition called Ensemble).

The Parti socialiste has also shrunk, having disgraced itself in power. President Hollande, with only 4 per cent approval rating, didn't even dare run in the primaries, an historical first for an outgoing president. The Socialists’ right-wing has followed Macron in deserting the sinking ship. The SP's Presidential candidate, the young leftist Benoit Hamon who won the presidential primary, seems a refreshingly sincere and honest social-democrat. He is attractive to voters who consider Mélenchon a dangerous demagogue and are suspicious of his apparent support of Putin's annexation of the Crimea and his flirtation with the idea of a ‘Frexit’. A divided Left, indeed!

So Who is Macron?

A brilliant young graduate of France's elite state graduate schools (founded by Napoleon to run his Empire) with a successful career in banking and public administration, Emmanuel Macron is well read on nearly every subject and totally confident of his competence and right to rule. He coolly showed himself a statesman last week castigating Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. Speaking in elegant, charmingly accented English (a first for a French President), he famously concluded: “Make our planet great again.” Macron's government is made of neoliberal technocrats, half of them women. Unlike the usual political hacks, his ministers are younger, more dynamic, more diverse – fresh political faces recruited directly out of the economic establishment like Macron himself. This is a new broom eager to sweep clean, so watch out.

As a candidate Macron had made his program absolutely clear. He is pledged to strip French workers of what remains of their on-the-job rights and protections by further expanding the pro-business Labour Law – a “reform” he helped impose while Economics Minister in the neoliberal government of his predecessor, the unpopular Socialist Hollande. However, even if Macron does not win a majority on June 18 in the second round of the Legislatives, he is pledged to impose his neoliberal, class-war program by Decree. That's how Hollande's Socialist government ‘passed’ its pro-employer labour reform last summer after a very hot spring of strikes, blockades, mammoth demonstrations and opposition from many Socialists in the Chamber. (See my “The French Stand up.”)

Macron is also pledged to another anti-worker ‘reform’: the downgrading of France's wonderful post-WWII Social Security system which includes healthcare, unemployment insurance, retirement, minimum survival income, housing subsidies and welfare for the poor. The Sécu, as it is known, was created after WWII by workers’ organizations coming out of the Resistance, when the de Gaulle government depended on Communist support to stay in power and the French industrialists were in disgrace for their vile collaboration with the Nazis during the Occupation. The idea of the ‘social wage’ – in addition to the salary – was enshrined in France's post-war constitution.

The Sécu remained a self-governing non-state national institution even after de Gaulle placed business representatives on the board to undermine it. Today, the government votes on its budget. As for unemployment insurance, which is governed, by a bi-part commission of unions and employers, Macron would put the state in charge, with budgetary powers. The impact of these “reforms” will be to break up the semi-autonmous Sécu and turn its functions over to the state. These “reforms” will allegedly rationalize the system and reduce costs, but in fact they are designed to progressively shrink the social safety net that has made ‘the French exception’ so popular. A grim prospect for average French people and lovers of France's quality of life.

Last week, in researching for this article, I asked my neighbour, a poised, well-educated young mother from a good local family, to explain the intricacies of the French electoral system to me. When the truth finally dawned on me that with the Left divided there is very little hope left for Social Security and fair labour laws, I blurted out: “Then what will the French people do?” She calmly replied: “We go down into the streets and throw the bastards out! We're good at that.” Since Summer Vacation is the true God worshipped by the French, this battle may not take place until next September.

How to Kill Social Security

Macron's proposal to ‘reform’ the Sécu is a devilishly clever plan to exploit a conflict between France's two most numerous and productive classes: the organized working class of historically left-wing waged and salaried workers and the independents: a large hard-working, petty-bourgeoisie of artisans, shop keepers, and farmers, whose organizations have historically leaned to the far-right.

Macron proposes to attack a very real and long neglected problem in the French ‘single-payer’ social welfare system: it is not universal or equal. Independent workers are not covered by the Sécu medical insurance and are forced to pay their dues into a variety of different funds in return for inferior retirements and benefits. In 1945, the independent farmers and shop-keepers who had made money during the war voted not to join the salaried workers in the single-payer health insurance system and set up their own private funds.

When their sector declined, they ended up screwed. Today some independents are even forced to pay into their funds at the beginning of the fiscal year, before they even get their business off the ground! They are jealous of salaried workers and hostile to unions, especially the railroad workers who get extra benefits. This petite bourgeoisie is a numerous, industrious and highly productive part of the French population. It has often been mistreated by the government and neglected by the Left. Its political anger has often been channeled into the far right – the Poujade movement in the 1950s and today Le Pens’ Front national.

The obvious solution would be to try to pull all these independents into the Sécu and make it truly universal; or, alternately, to insure that the dues and benefits of artisans are comparable. In other words, leveling up the program. Macron's solution seems to be that his government takes over and levels down the benefits of the different groups to the lowest common denominator. His proposed successor institutions to the Sécu will not be self-sustaining or self-governing. They will be funded by the government out of the general fund and the amount available will predictably decline from year to year as Macron ‘rationalizes’ and reduces costs in the name of ‘making France competitive again’. •

Richard Greeman has been active since 1957 in civil rights, anti-war, anti-nuke, environmental and labour struggles in the U.S., Latin America, France (where he has been a longtime resident) and Russia (where he helped found the Praxis Research and Education Center in 1997). He maintains a blog at richardgreeman.org.

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