What's Left: 2015-04-20 Volume 9

Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne has decided to embrace classic Thatcher (and Harris/Hudak) neo-liberal Conservative ideology for electricity policy. This week, ex-TD banker and new privatization czar Ed Clark released a government report calling for the complete corporatization and privatization of Hydro One. Hydro One is the public transmission and rural distribution arm (also known as 'the grid') of Ontario's electricity system.

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Ontario Liberals channel Margaret Thatcher, Mike Harris and Tim Hudak, sell-off Hydro One

Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne has decided to embrace classic Thatcher (and Harris/Hudak) neo-liberal Conservative ideology for electricity policy. This week, ex-TD banker and new privatization czar Ed Clark released a government report calling for the complete corporatization and privatization of Hydro One. Hydro One is the public transmission and rural distribution arm (also known as “the grid”) of Ontario’s electricity system. Additionally, the government will allow further privatization of local municipally-owned distribution companies (LDCs) that bring electricity directly to peoples’ homes. Taken together, this will be one of the largest privatization actions of electricity systems in the world.

The Liberal plan to “reorganize” Hydro One will give majority management to private sector investors by selling 60% of the crown corporation’s shares over the next four years. Selling shares to the private sector will bring $3-4 billion in a one-time cash sum, but will be much more expensive for the government than simply borrowing the same amount. In fact, it will cost taxpayers nearly a billion dollars in the first year and half a billion dollars every year after that. This is due to $200 million per year in borrowing costs, $250 million in lost government revenue, the likelihood of higher electricity rates, and a minimum of 5-6% bank fee for the sale.

In response, the Ontario NDP staged direct action protests in the Ontario Legislature when Wynne did not bother to show up to answer questions on the sale. Unions have also ramped-up their campaigns to Keep Hydro Public.

More: Electricity Privatization: increasing rates worldwide

More: CUPE Fact Sheet on rate increases

More: Keep Hydro Public

Follow: #HydroOne

Take Action: Take Action

2015 World Social Forum productive despite security distractions

A few weeks ago, citizens and organizations from around the world met in Tunis, Tunisia to partake in the 2015 World Social Forum. Held from March 24 to 28, the aim of the Forum is to provide an open space where “social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organizations opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital[ism] or by any form of imperialism come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, [to] formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action”. Contributor Gabrielle Ross attended the forum and provides the following brief:

This year’s World Social Forum took an unexpected turn when, on March 18, armed gunmen took the lives of 21 people, most of them European tourists. What was supposed to be a space for organizing a brighter future became a space to demonize terrorism. As a consequence, the theme of the Forum’s Unity March was changed to “United Against Terrorism”, while shoddy metal detectors were installed at the forum venue and armed security patrolled the Tunis El Manar University Campus. Despite these distractions, numerous great discussions took place and many exciting ideas were put forward thanks to the amazing organizing work of more than 2000 young volunteers. It was inspiring to walk the streets with thousands upon thousands of activists while Arabic revolutionary slogans rang through the air, knowing that the person walking beside you may have been leading a people’s revolution only a short time ago.

More: 2015 World Social Forum


Canada’s growth rate on the down-swing

The IMF has yet again reduced their predicted growth rate for Canada. It’s not just the Canadian economy that is doing poorly. Countries around the world clinging to the hopes of economic rebirth from recession through austerity and neo-liberal economics have had those hopes dashed. The dominant economic analysis has become such a disappointment for rapid defenders of capitalism that mainstream economists like Martin Wolf and Lawrence Summers are now scrambling. In the pages of finance capitals’ newspapers, there is a growing chorus of serious economists pleading for new analysis and a model to revive the economy and explain the current malaise.

Like in the past, long and continued crises of capitalism present an opportunity for socialists to put forward real alternatives. To do this, we must engage in the debate at all levels – in the streets, in the media, in the legislature, and even within the cathedral of economics. The struggle for socialism is, as always, ours to lose, and the next few years will be critical.

More: Macroeconomists need new tools to challenge consensus: Wolfgang Münchau

PBO says Tories stealing from EI surplus

A new report by the Parliamentary Budget Office shows that the Tories – like the Liberals before them – are going to steal money from the Employment Insurance fund to present a “balanced” budget. The $3.6-billion EI surplus is going to be used and abused to help the Conservatives with their fake balanced budget. The PBO notes that, not only is the government ignoring its own commitment to operate EI on a break-even basis, but that these budget measures will only have a short-term impact, with the government returning to deficit within a couple of years.

More: PBO projects budget surpluses…with a little help from EI

Conservative cuts continue to hurt Canadians

Conservative cuts continue to do real harm to Canadians, with CBC/Radio-Canada laying off another 240 workers, as part of a total gutting of 1,500 personnel. Meanwhile, the Tories have announced another round of massive cuts to Transport Canada, with funding being chopped from rail safety, aviation safety, marine safety, motor vehicle safety, as well as the safety enforcement for the transportation of dangerous goods. Not to seem alarmist, but it is very likely that oil spills, explosions, train collisions, and plane accidents will increase.

More: CBC eliminates 241 positions in latest round of job cuts

More: Two CBC staffers in Victoria lose jobs due to budget cuts

More: Funding slashed for all safety programs at Transport Canada

Take action: Take Action

Teachers’ strike looms in Ontario

Even though the Liberal Wynne government was elected with the support of many teachers’ unions, Monday may see the start of rolling strike actions by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). The Teachers’ federation is protesting spending freezes across the province. Talks are at an impasse because the Ontario Liberals do not seem to think teachers (and thus students) are worth further investment. The ETFO has even started comparing Wynne to the previous slash-and-burn Conservative governments of Mike Harris. With inflation creeping above 1% (and likely rising), demanding zero increases in spending from school boards means cuts to an already stressed Ontario education system.

More: Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario eyes potential strike

Supreme Court rules that prayer has no place in municipal government

In a victory for non-secular government, The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Christian prayer has no place in municipal council meetings as it runs counter to the Constitution. The fact that prayer in council chambers has been acceptable should highlight just how entrenched Christianity remains within Western institutions.

More: Mouvement laïque québécois and Alain Simoneau Vs. City of Saguenay and Jean Tremblay

Fight for $15 minimum wages builds steam, comes to Canada

The struggle for higher minimum wages hit a milestone this week with the US seeing the largest protest in its history. The fight for 15 dollars an hour is coming to Canada too and is sure to bring frustration to those that seek to exploit the growing minimum wage sector. CLC Economist Angella MacEwen has a great article exposing the corporate myths of who minimum wage workers are. No surprise to anyone who has worked in, or been served by service industry workers.

More: Angella MacEwen economist at the CLC


UK’s “Next” Labour Party pushes forward, but with problematic position on taxes

The UK Labour Party has released its 2015 election manifesto, re-branding itself “Next” Labour as opposed to Tony Blair’s “New” Labour. The branding extends to the manifesto’s sleek look, that does away with the tired out-sourced look of external communication companies and is simple black text on white paper. The manifesto’s direction is important to note as social democrats tend to follow Labour’s lead on election policy.

While the program – explained through a workers’ view of the economy – is a shift to the left from previous manifestos, Tory attacks against Labour’s “economic credibility” has had a clear impact in limiting any talk of new revenue generation.

The commitment to national ownership in the manifesto is clear which positions it to the left of the NDP’s recent policy announcements. However, the real problem is the Party’s liberal economic proposal for taxes – an approach that doesn’t work when you are pledging to invest and maintain national ownership. Social Democracy is not going to work unless the state owns some productive capacity and increases income-taxes so that it can fund important programmes.

More: Labour’s Manifesto

More: Labour’s manifesto is all about rebuilding the party’s reputation

Mass demonations against free trade continue, but governments only accelerate plans

Opposition to new generations of free trade agreements continue to build around the world, culminating in a world-wide protest set for April 20. Despite mass popular push-back, both US political parties have agreed to impose secret and dangerous free trade agreements on workers anyway. Reports are that right-wing Democrats and Republicans have found common ground and will agree to a bi-partisan bill giving President Obama the ability to quickly sign free-trade deals. Such an initiative will likely see the signing of a flurry of free-trade agreements that will be devastating for workers around the world.

More: Worldwide protests planned against new trade pacts

University of California Berkeley releases report on social assistance for working-class families

The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education has released a brief report on the impacts that low wages have on public social assistance programs. The report finds that the low incomes of fast-food workers, child care workers, home care workers, and even part-time college faculty massively shift costs from employers to the federal government in the form of medicaid, tax credits, and food stamps. In the first three examples, roughly 50% of workers in those sectors rely on some form of public social assistance. For part-time faculty, it’s 25 %. Close to 100,000 families of part-time faculty members are enrolled in some form of public assistance programs.

More: Read the report: UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, The High Public Cost of Low Wages

More: Your College Professor Could Be On Public Assistance

More: Someone Calculated How Many Adjunct Professors Are on Public Assistance, and the Number Is Startling

College Work and the act of redefining local economies

The New Yorker explores the resurgence of “College Work” in areas where youth unemployment is high. College Work is a type of public works program for students. While this should not be seen as a way to fund tuition, it is a good example of how local state-organized work programs can help. The interesting question: are the workers unionized and can the student union - through a seat on the Board of Governors - act as part of a system where worker participation is integral to the operations?

More: The College Work Revival

Gawker media workers launch public union drive

Who says unions are dead? Gawker – a leader in new-age digital media – is seeing the rise of a media union within its ranks. And while they have realized the ways in which a union will benefit them, the Gawker organizers are quick to point out that whether your work conditions in your workplace are fair or exploitive, “Every workplace could use a union”.

More: Why We’ve Decided to Organize

Historical Latin American hero Eduardo Galeano dies

Eduardo Galeano, the intrepid journalist, literary figure and author of many books including the 1971 “Open Veins of Latin America” and “Guatemala, an Occupied Country” died at aged 74 on April 13. While right-wingers claim that Galeano abandoned the left in recent years, the truth is that he was a socialist writer to the end and fought every day against the re-writing of history by the right. categories: [“What’s Left”]

Galeano became known outside of the Left when Hugo Chavez gifted “Open Veins of Latin America” to Obama in a 2009 stunt to highlight Venezuela’s anti-imperialist position. The seminal work has helped many on the left to understand Latin America’s response to imperialism.

More:*Uruguayan Writer Eduardo Galeano Dies Age 74 in Monte (Article and Video)