What's Left 2015-09-06 Volume 26

What's Left This Week will be producing a multi-part series on the different ways in which the education sector in Canada is being privatized, with a focus on universities. Also this week, features on copyright, union organizing and migrant rights.

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Back-to-School Special: The pervasiveness of university privatization (Part 1)

In Canada, universities are widely considered to be public institutions. They should be public, but for years Canadian provincial and federal governments and university administrations have acted to undermine the public aspects of higher education and the academy more generally. This has been the result of several initiatives including ongoing increase to tuition fees, the idea that students are consumers, the need to cut costs by cutting wages, contracting out teaching by hiring precarious professors, and private investment into programs, among many other examples. Given the current political and economic climate, this has not been a surprising development for those on the left, but what has been incredible to watch is just how effectively the capitalist ethos has invaded and altered the academy. It is hard to think of another example that shows so clearly how capitalism steadily undermines social development and the common good.

The privatization of Canadian post-secondary education is typified in the Masters of Business Administration at McGill University, which has attempted to emulate the Ivy League system in the United States with a tuition fee rate aimed at ensuring only the wealthy can apply. By contrasting Canadian colleges and universities with their American counterparts, the rhetoric on the need for higher tuition fees becomes easier for politicians and the public to accept – even if tuition fees for Canadian institutions already make up more than fifty per cent of their revenue. Unfortunately, the reality is that tuition fee increases are just one part of the private sector’s attack on our only knowledge-generation industry.

To fully understand privatization and better direct the struggle towards the ideal public system, the modes of privatization must be identified and targeted. While privatization threatens all public institutions in Canada, the restructuring of university education impacts more than just employment relations and service provision. This makes the struggle for public universities especially important for the left, as a victory here would lead to broader social gain.

It’s important to be more specific than simply talking about “privatization” – a slightly more refined vocabulary must be adopted. Unfortunately, proponents of privatization don’t always use these terms – and this is by design. Constantly adapting and changing the language used is a strategy to avoid public scrutiny. So, it is important for those fighting the privatization agenda to standardize the way these attacks are characterized. Understanding the process is important to recognize and call-out privatization when it is being promoted by governments or administrators.

The process of privatization can be broken down into several parts, including corporatization, outsourcing, contracting-out, commodification, marketization, commercialization and financialization. Each part of this process targets and undermines the public higher-education system in different ways. What’s Left will dive into each one and outline how it undermines the university system and in the end giving activists a comprehensive understanding of how privatization manifests itself in higher education and how it can most effectively countered.

Next week: The Corporatization of Campus

Organizing at forefront of Unifor conference

In early August, Unifor made good on one of its founding commitments – to hold a national Organizing Conference. Dubbed the Organizing Forum, the event drew 300 participants from union locals across the country. The program for the forum included a panel with members who had successfully organized their workplaces, a panel with activists from outside the labour movement providing useful lessons for workplace organizing, and two keynote speakers: Jane McAlevey and Elaine Bernard, as well as many educational and interactive workshops.

The two keynote speakers are leaders in the United States on organizing and trade union politics. Their contribution inspired participants about the need to always be organizing and not become solely dependent on union support staff.

The forum also unveiled the new All In! membership engagement campaign. The initiative is aimed at engaging members, leaders and activists at all levels of the union in the goal of organizing more non-unionized workers.

Coming out of the Forum, there was broad agreement that it was successful – not just because it fulfilled its internally identified goals, but because it made an important political statement. Developing an organizing program rooted in bringing new members to the labour movement is, especially in these times, political. Organizing new members is too often undertaken only when made easier by the political context, and when that’s not the case, there is a bad habit of larger unions using members as bargaining chips – a destructive and petty act that is contrary to the principles of the labour movement.

With this in mind, the Organizing Forum didn’t shy away from more challenging topics, including organizing workers in non-standard employment, debating labour’s positions on pipelines and energy democracy, and discussing the role and rights of migrant workers. That these issues were addressed head on, by people from different workplaces and communities across Canada, was a major reason why participants left feeling inspired and more engaged than before.

Developing an organizing program where awareness is continually raised about the need to think about long-term campaigns is a critical contribution to today’s labour movement. This first forum was a good first step, but there is still much work to be done. The challenge will be to transform the inspiration of this mid-summer conference into concrete actions over the coming months – especially during the federal election.

More: Packed House for Organizing Forum

More: All In! Campaign Toolkit for Unifor members

The debate around copyright can seem confusing. That these issues are often discussed in complex (and boring) court proceedings or complex (and boring) trade agreements makes it all the more difficult to engage the public at-large. But, make no mistake, these are critically important issues established at a global level through secret agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.

As part of this debate’s development in New Zealand, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a useful framing of the debate. Useful because it makes it much easier for anyone to understand the stakes.

This debate is usually framed as one side (the corporate media industry and some creator groups) arguing that copyright protection should be continually extended to ensure that artists (but mainly corporations) are able to financially benefit from their works for a longer period of time. Meanwhile, the other side (educators, citizen’s rights groups, and many other creator groups) argue that copyright terms are already too long and that the only beneficiaries of these new laws will be the monopoly media conglomerates. After all, in most countries works are protected for 50, 75, or even 90 years AFTER the creator has died.

The question coming out of New Zealand is, why shouldn’t copyright protection be infinite? And, as the copyright industry continues to argue for further extensions, that is essentially their proposal. When the debate is framed as between infinite and limited, the implications become clearer. First, those promoting the extension of copyright are hypocrites who have built their empires on works in the public domain that are freely available to everyone and who now want to close it off to everyone else. Second, that just by looking at the success of these corporations, it becomes obvious how critical works in public domain are to future creation.

For instance one of the biggest proponents of extending copyright is the Walt Disney Company. Obviously, they have vested interests in ensuring that Mickey Mouse never becomes part of the public domain. Since almost everything before Mickey’s birth is in the public domain, and almost everything after is protected by copyright, the battle for Mickey is on the front lines. But, while Mickey Mouse may be front and centre, so much of what Disney created would have never been possible if copyright had been infinite. Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Snow White, Rapunzel, Aladdin, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast – most of Disney’s Success – has been by retelling stories in the public domain and transforming them into something (kind of) new. If copyright was infinite, Disney would never have been able to do this and would never have attained the current levels of success and power – these creations, as we know them, would never have existed. Disney owes its success to the public domain, and limited copyright terms.

This shows just how important the public domain is to the creation of new, exciting, and engaging works. No piece of art is completely original. Every creator and every work is inspired by that which has come before. The idea that copyright should be infinite is ridiculous and disastrous, but hidden beneath all the legal jargon, that is exactly what these mega-corporations are proposing.

More: Why Shouldn’t Copyright Be Infinite?

The Current Refugee Crisis: A reading list

This week, the global refugee crisis broke through the noise to become the focus, and not just for Canadian media and politicians. Across Canada, people have had to confront the dangerous reality faced by refugees fleeing their homelands, and the fact that North American and European governments are not doing nearly enough.

Much of this week’s focus has been on the plight of Syrian and Kurdish refugees – a struggle for safety, the origins of which deserve deeper discussion. What follows is a list of links that help provide a thoughtful and diverse overview of the issues. These include a comic explaining the crisis’ roots in climate change, an interactive website examining Canada’s oppressive relationship with refugees and immigrants, a critical challenge to the use of racialized bodies in white media, as well as several other resources that should help provide a better understanding of the current state of the crisis.

It is easy for the general population to forget and ignore the suffering of so many so far away, but socialists have a role in incorporating them into the current struggles.

More: In Memory of Kurdi Family

More: Never Home

More: The Making of the Migration Crisis

More: The War on Syria

More: Capitalism and the global refugee crisis

More: Europe’s Lethal Fortress

More: [[https://citizenspress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=27d7d00e19a37005743125d7e&id=9bbb9e1ec4&e=8484a6ba75][Why was Aylan Kurdi’s life worth kindness from the press in death, but not in life?]]

More: [[https://citizenspress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=27d7d00e19a37005743125d7e&id=0e6a605f4a&e=8484a6ba75][Trying to follow what is going on in Syria and why? This comic will get you there in 5 minutes]]

More: Mediterranean Sea crossings exceed 300,000, including 200,000 to Greece

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\ [[https://citizenspress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=27d7d00e19a37005743125d7e&id=d4f717d0b8&e=8484a6ba75][When Big Data Becomes Bad Data: Corporations are increasingly relying on algorithms to make business decisions and that raises new legal questions]]

\ An example of pre-Keynes Keynesism: Tunnels of Liverpool

\ Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece

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