What's Left 2017-01-29 Volume 87

In this issue: Why refugees are welcome here and what Canada must do to make it so. Davos speeches and inequality. Organized opposition to Trump still comes from the same places. Left noise: Making racists afraid again. What we are reading.

Page content

" "

Click here to join the free weekly What’s Left email newsletter.


Why refugees are welcome here and what Canada must do to make it so

This week’s travel ban imposed by Donald Trump caused havoc, resistance, and brought to light the extent to which Canada’s refugee policy is tied to that of the US.

Since 2004, the Canada-United States Safe Third Party Agreement has been in effect. Adopted in the wake of 9/11, the agreement states that Canada and the US declare the other country safe, and that refugees must make their claim in the country where they land. Under this rule, a refugee trying to get to Canada through the US would first need to clear US refugee restrictions.

This policy has been opposed by refugee organizations and civil rights group since it was first presented. For starters, the United States has not been a safe country for all refugees, and the agreement limits who can claim for refugee status in Canada.

If ever there was a need to clarify why Canada’s refugee policy should be sovereign from the US, this week’s travel ban makes the case for a thorough examination.

The Trump administration has effectively barred refugees from Syria, halted all refugee admissions for four months, and stopped entry of people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for three months.

The ban unjustly targets Muslims all over the world and exacerbates the systemic racism faced by Muslim people in the United States. In that sense, Trump is following a policy of racism and xenophobia while creating a climate of violence and fear – all reasons why the ban must be opposed and defeated.

To cut through the rhetoric, some clarifications need to be made:

  1. Refugees come to Canada because they are fleeing violence, fear of repercussion, or situations where their personal safety is at risk.

  2. Refugees are often fleeing wars in which Western countries have played an instigating role. It is the case of Syrian refugees, for example, who have been the latest group of displaced people due to violence and war.

  3. While countries should have screening processes in place to handle refugee claims, it is important to acknowledge and understand that the vast majority of refugees are average people seeking safety for themselves and their families.

  4. A refugee claim is not a request to immigrate to a country. Refugee status grants access for a limited amount of time. Requesting to immigrate to Canada is another process and falls under other regulations. While the two processes can be connected, the rules for each are different. Refugees and immigrants are not always the same people, and it important to be cautious when governments try to paint everyone with the same brush.

  5. If Canada is the welcoming country it claims to be, it must put words into action and make space for refugees. That’s why Canadians say: “Refugees are welcome here.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a strong statement regarding Trump’s travel ban, but it needs to be backed up with some critical policy changes. Sovereignty for Canada’s refugee program is a necessary step towards opposing Trump’s bombastic approach in the US. As Canadians, we have a responsibility to put pressure on the Canadian government to oppose measures such as the travel ban and improve Canada’s policies so that they are welcoming and fair.

Under pressure: Following Trump’s immigration crackdown, Canada urged to scrap a US border agreement that forces refugees underground

Safe Third Country | Canadian Council for Refugees

Harvard report finds Canada, U.S. failing in refugee protection

Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, and Resistance | The Intercept

Trump’s Muslim ban is a dangerous distraction

Six other times the US has banned immigrants

Under pressure: Following Trump’s immigration crackdown, Canada urged to scrap a US border agreement that forces refugees underground

#DeleteUber: Users angry at Trump Muslim ban scrap app

Davos speeches and inequality

Last week saw the end of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the world’s elite – in every sense of the term – went to remind each other that they are still in power. Though, maybe not in control, since the meeting happened same time Trump was sworn in as President of the US.

There is no mistaking the division within the elite capitalist class these days. Trump is no friend of, and not openly accepted by this group. In fact, most speakers at the event denigrated the policies advocated by him. Most are ideological liberals – socially and economically – and believe the wealth they have grants them the right to use their power to shape global policy.

There is no mistaking the contradictions of the liberal ideology. The President of China spoke out against protectionism. The favoured economists of the elite – favoured because they say what the rich want to hear – droned on about virtues of free trade, lax tax policy, and the power of market deregulation to combat climate change. The elite were told that wealth inequality – a natural product of capitalism – was not their fault and that the richest eight people on Earth (likely all in attendance) deserved their wealth – even though they own more than 50% of the earth’s population.

What was most striking was the unending hubris of this group. US Democratic Party officials, fresh from losing an election to a man supported openly by fascists, continued to lecture the rest of the world on the way forward, and counselled them on the dangers of populism.

The real test of liberal contradiction and the moral flexibility of preachers of elite liberalism will be who is invited the World Economic Forum next year.

Organized opposition to Trump still comes from the same places

Last week, the women’s movement succeeded in its goal of re-igniting progressive mobilization. Beyond the obvious and rather empty, critiques of the march, the massive size of the turnout shows that there is a lot of room for progressive organizing to happen. This week also saw the quick responses to Trump’s racist refugee laws.

Much has been made by the press of the “spontaneity” of these events. Presumably, it was an attempt to try to give a grassroots credibility to a mass movement of progressive women who question the idea they have too many rights. Although, one might question why the liberal media think such a massive movement needs extra credibility?

However, the truth is that spontaneity needs a foundation – both in concrete resource terms, but also in a base level of consciousness.

The issue with the framing being provided by the press is that many who are watching from the sidelines tend to think that these kinds of mass movements are organized without institutional support. They are lead to believe that somehow mass organizing actually happens organically and spontaneously – perhaps through social media. Unsurprisingly, this analysis questions the necessity of belonging to “old” structures like unions, political parties, campaign committees of faith groups or identity-based associations.

The reinforcement of this Utopian liberal attitude by the press undermines the real-world historical movements driving progressive change. Democracy requires masses of people agreeing on a direction to go and moving in unison, it is not a random walk of individuals acting alone.

While it is true that ideas come from individuals, and unaffiliated individuals will show-up to protests and rallies, what gives the movement weight are the institutions that pool resources from many like-minded people. Historically, those institutions of the left are the unions and social justice organizations. The same is the case for the mass rallies happening around the world today. They were organized by independent groups of women, but the knowledge and teeth of a march – with its marshals, megaphones, buttons, stickers, swag, sound systems, permits, liaisons, and buses – come from their institutions. And, this is the real reason the right-wing’s first targets are unions and their resources.

It is why the oncoming collapse of the US labour movement’s institutions is a real tragedy. The AFL-CIO unions have announced that, in response to the expansion of so-called Right-To-Work legislation at the state level and the attack on union members at the national level, they will be drastically scaling-down budgets. In some cases laying-off staff and selling property. SEIU has already publicly announced these cuts, but more announcements are on their way.

Just at a time when the left’s institutions need to be strong and support on-the-ground organizing, they seem to be disappearing. It is not a coincidence.

Unions are democratic organizations. They provide space for working people to engage and debate important issues. The majority of those issues have to do with the economics of working people – not surprising for a class whose existence is dependent on work. In the US, unions are what fund movements that promote working-class interests inside and outside of work – specifically because they are funded, as they must be, only by those whose interest they fight for.

Many workers see their unions as an insurance policy against bad bosses and market capitalism’s precariousness. You join and pay “unions” because you need them there, not every day, but when things go wrong. This is a simplistic view, of course. Unions are the vehicle to democratize workplaces, not just when things go wrong, but every day.

Now, this is not to say that unions started or even lead these mass movements we see mobilizing today. In most case they do not. However, these movements cannot usually become politically and historically important without union support. The reason for this should be obvious, but the liberal media do not like reminding people of this as it undermines the fantasy of individual action.

There is a natural connection between fighting for work and broader issues of social and economic politics. It is this natural connection that gives unions their conscious-raising quality. No one can come out of a union meeting filled with broad-based discussions without having an opinion – often different than the one they had entering the meeting.

That right wing’s attack on unions is based on this analysis. Like many of the attacks from the far-right, their disingenuous narrative is wrapped in the language of individualist rights – all the while forgetting to tell people they can only be “individuals” if there is a group to which they belong.

The “far-right” is really just the politics of division. The liberal press call it “populism”, but in reality it is the opposite of that. Trump is an expression of power of the elite social minority. In many ways, in the US and other countries where the far-right has won, we are witnessing the replacement of the liberal elite minority with another historical elite minority: those who are unconstrained in their use of social aggression and violence.

It is the only way an elitist movement can come to power. Indeed, the far-right share this fundamental characteristic with the liberal elite with which they battle for power.

In this context it is easier to understand why the far-right are anti-union. The structures that the union provides for debate undermine the power of social aggression and violence. Indeed, all are considered equal on the floor of a progressive union hall – one need only listen to the membership oath or listen to the equality statement that opens union meetings.

The ideology of socialism is based on the understanding that there is strength in unity and solidarity across groups of minorities – of which everyone is a member in one way or another. Socialists know the power of unity, solidarity, and struggle to expand those ideals. Through the growth of the labour movement, lasting conditions for progressive change can be realized.

It is for this reason that socialists are the ones who will be leading the battle against the rise of the far-right. And, while moments of spontaneous mass mobilization against Trump will arise, the capacity, infrastructure, and people power that makes those mobilizations politically relevant will be through unions as well as local and municipal political party formations.

Socialists must re-establish organizing institutions and start from the ground up. It is a call to action not to defend, but to build.



1. B. Dolan “Make Racists Afraid Again”

Also, get your own hideous red ball cap - only this one has the slogan “make racists afraid again.”

2. Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA (Feat. White Nationalist Richard Spencer being taken on by a hero from outta nowhere!)

While liberals question whether we should be assaulting fascists or not, you can ponder which one of these amazing mashups is the best!

3. Father John Misty “Pure Comedy”

Pure Comedy

Father John Misty, has shared a new song on his YouTube channel titled “Pure Comedy”. The single is unquestionably a response to Donald Trump’s swearing in as president, and the overwhelming protests and responses worldwide. The video and lyrics describe Trump as a natural disaster, mashing together footage of explosions, forest fires and Trump’s speeches and rallies.

4. Six writers on why we need art now

A collection of some thoughts from artists about why art is important, and why it’s especially important now.

5. These 11 Songs Protest Donald Trump in the White House

Protest Songs

6. Remembering Rock Against Racism—how music helped to fight the Nazis

Rock Against Racism (RAR) was formed 40 years ago.

A new book, Reminiscences of RAR, gives voice to some of those involved. Sadie Robinson looks at some of those voices.




Defying Trump, Twitter feeds for U.S. government scientists go rogue

Affluent Trump backers speak out: ‘I’m hoping for some amazing things’

Will France Sound the Death Knell for Social Democracy?

Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump’s wall

Peter’s Choice: I asked my student why he voted for Trump. The answer was thoughtful, smart, and terrifying.

Federal Reserve Bankers Mocked Unemployed Americans Behind Closed Doors

Forget Nineteen Eighty-Four. These five dystopias better reflect Trump’s US

The Real Story Of 2016: What reporters — and lots of data geeks, too — missed about the election, and what they’re still getting wrong

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 100-Day Plan

How Albert Woodfox survived solitary

I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah

Building affordable housing, where has the entry-level house gone?

Delete your account

Why paper is the real ‘killer app’

Delicious Gender Rolls