What's Left: 2015-03-29 Volume 6

by Editors (What's Left) last modified 2015-04-06T09:46:46-04:00
Corporate Canada strikes again in the case of the Future Shop closures announced this weekend with no prior warning to most employees.

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CANADA

Future Shop workers left in limbo as stores close

Corporate Canada strikes again in the case of the Future Shop closures announced this weekend. It was a grim Saturday morning for Future Shop employees who learned, at the same time as the public, that locations across the country would be closing. Many workers got the news when they arrived for their morning shifts and saw the closure notices on the door. Future Shop insisted that customers will be able to meet their consumer needs by shopping at near-by Best Buy locations across the country. Their concern, however, does not extend to the 1,500 people who are now out of work and will be looking for new employment. Although the workers may not have been able to prevent the closures had they been unionized, they would have at least received proper notice and more time to prepare.

More: Future Shop stores closed across Canada, some to rebrand as Best Buy

Cops protesting austerity repress students protesting austerity

You would be forgiven for doing a double-take: yes, those cops caught on tape violently pushing back student protesters in the streets of Montréal and Québec do indeed have anti-austerity stickers on their shields.

Police officers have been among the many groups denouncing austerity measures. In their case, they have been fighting against the Liberal government's pension reform that may result in retirement security being eliminated in the name of state savings. But to divide is to conquer, and police officers have willingly dispersed, arrested and drawn blood from masses of students and citizens who are fellow members in the anti-austerity movement.

One student was hit in the face point blank with a tear gas canister. Hundreds were kettled and arrested during the night. Thousands responded by taking to the street in what can only be interpreted as a continuation of Spring 2012 where students led a popular movement for access to education.

The protests follow the Quebec government's much-awaited austerity budget release last week. The spring is promising to heat up even more as a massive Act On Climate march is planned in Québec City on April 11, days before Canadian premiers will meet there to discuss climate change.

Follow: #manifencours

Follow: @DefendClimate

More: Mass arrests in Québec signal start of Printemps 2015

More: Act On Climate, April 11, Québec City

Take Action

The Alberta budget and the art of selling out

The Alberta budget failed to address the underlying issues hurting the province's economy. Instead, the government implemented a program of austerity, privatization and attacks on workers. This should come as no surprise, but it is likely to upset most Albertans.

A poll conducted prior to the budget shows that a majority of Albertans support tax increases instead of service cuts. Alberta has a flat-tax on incomes, which has been virtually left unchanged in the current budget. There is no change to the tax for 2014/15, but will introduce new small increases at the 100k and 250K levels on Jan 1, 2016.

Alberta also has some of the lowest per capita public-sector spending in the country.

More: Government fails to address revenue problems with 2015 budget

More: Provincial Comparisons of Public Spending

Funding Irving won't solve New Brunswick money woes

A controversial government policy to give more cheap wood to Irving in New Brunswick continues to enrage people. Some protested the policy even months after it was announced. Protesters showed up and disrupted a Liberal Party riding association meeting in Fredericton to demand answers on why the government continues to give subsidies to Irving while the province claims it is broke.

More: Forest Plan Protested at Fredericton Liberal Riding Association

Bill C-51 to be amended, not ameliorated

As predicted, the Conservatives will move amendments to Bill C-51 to pretend and address the long list of flaws identified by experts and citizens groups. As has been the case in previous Conservative legislation, it is likely that some over-the-top provisions were included just so the Cons could remove them later and seem to compromise. Make no mistake, the bill is flawed at its core and any amendments won't prevent it from undermining basic rights for Canadians. The NDP has held strong in their opposition, while the Liberals can't seem to decide which talking points will enable them to support and oppose the bill at the same time.

More: When Kafka Comes to the Airport

Follow: @StuJT

More: Stuart Trew's reports on Bill C-51 Proceedings

Surprise, surprise! Canada, US employ same tactics to spy on citizens

The debate over Bill C-51, a bill that expands powers but not oversight of security services, provides an appropriate back-drop for the information being released on Canadian and US spying tactics. In fact, it has come out recently that our own security agencies employ the same aggressive (unconstitutional?) cyber-warfare tactics as the National Security Agency (NSA) south of the border. While the exposure of NSA tactics triggered a firestorm in the US, it has only recently come to the attention of Canadians that their government is just as complicit and intrusive.

More: Documents reveal Canada's secret hacking tactics

Eliminating tuition fees: not a pipe dream

Two reports were released this week by the Canadian Federation of Students. The first outlines the impact of student debt on economic growth, while the second is a guide to the confusing web of student financial aid programs. What's the take-home message? If the money that goes to back-end measures such as student loans was to be moved to up-front measures such as grants, the government could eliminate tuition fees for all students.

More: Record-level student debt slowing down economic recovery

More: The Impact of Student Debt

More: Federal financial aid in Canada, released this past week

ELSEWHERE

Advances by Podemos good news for the Left

The Spanish Socialist Party is holding on with a minority government in Andalusia (Spain), a regional parliament which has historically been a stronghold for them. Podemos, a left-wing anti-austerity movement party (similar to Syriza), won 15% of the popular vote and 15 seats at the expense of the Socialists. As a result, the minority Socialist government will have to form a coalition to gain the 8 seats needed for a stable government. The question is whether Podemos will support them. The Socialists can also look to the Left-Green Alliance and the liberal centralist Ciudadanos Party.

Andalusia's unemployment rate currently sits at 34% which led people to reject the austerity-driven policies of the ruling centre-right Popular Party with support collapsing from 41% to 27% of the vote -- a solid victory for the left.

More: Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos wins 15 seats in Andalusia

More: Podemos's Latin American Roots

Free trade deals as undemocratic as ever

In the past couple of weeks, Canada has lost two large cases under the infamous NAFTA Chapter 11-type provisions known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). ISDS mechanisms allow foreign investors to bypass domestic courts to challenge government legislation and laws before unaccountable international arbitration tribunals. ISDS is slated to be a key feature of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the US and the European Union (EU). The planned provisions are modeled on the ISDS mechanism in the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

For instance, this past week Nova Scotia taxpayers were informed they were on the hook for as much as \$300 million because they made the democratic decision to ban the development of a quarry mine near a local community.

In light of this, it's disturbing to see that the leaked text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) currently being negotiated also includes ISDS provisions. The fight against TPP is growing, and US labour groups as well as online campaigners are concerned about the restrictive intellectual property rights in the agreement.

More: International investment court plan threatens our democracy

More: TPP leak: states give companies the right to repeal nations' laws

More: Say No to Internet Censorship

Take Action

US bows out of annual Palestine debate

The Obama administration seems to be taking a more neutral position when it comes to the United Nations (UN) and Palestine. Apart from being an ardent supporter of the right-wing policies of the Israeli state, the US generally uses the UN process to condemn those who seek to support the rights of Palestinians. However, following the re-election of Israel's far-right (who have been openly hostile to Obama), the US has not been so quick to come to the Israeli government's aid in international debates.

Last week, the US didn't use the annual UN discussion on the state of Palestinian apartheid to defend Israeli actions -- a somewhat unprecedented non-action. Could it be that the election of the far-right is a good thing for Palestinians? No, of course not. There may be, however, some space to outline apartheid conditions in the territories more clearly.

More: US sits out of annual debate on Palestine

Leaks show UK Conservatives' true colours

UK's Tories try to brand themselves as a party of "compassionate conservatism". It turns out that their compassion is only for electoral gains and has no basis in reality. Leaked Emails show that the Tories have a slew of anti-poor and anti-worker policies to be rolled out immediately following the upcoming Spring election.

The BBC reports that the Tories will all but eliminate necessary programs such as the workplace injury compensation system, the worker pension system, child benefits, disability benefits and welfare. All told, they want to take 12 billion pounds away from poor and working people.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to expect similar policies from our very own "compassionate conservatives" in Ottawa.

More: Potential conservative welfare cuts revealed in leaked emails

Greek prosperity threatened by Euro Finance

Tsipras' Syriza government will run out of money by mid-April as finance capital has united against the democratic decisions of the Greek people. Using all leavers of finance, the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European banks lead by Germany have made it impossible for the Greek government to maintain cash-flow. While the EU's right-wing governments claim that this is part of the negotiations and to protect their investments in Greek debt, it will have a devastating effect on the Greek people.

The only card Syriza can play to prompt concessions would be to call for an exit from the EU. Capitalists in the EU have done everything they can to limit the impact of a Greek write-down and an exit from the Euro will still be very painful to their pocketbooks. If Syriza succeeds in the next few months, it should bring good news for the Greek economy and workers.

More: Greek morals and German maths must find common ground (registration wall)

More: Greek PM Tsipras says he seeks no rift with Europe

Support for Venezuela amidst collapse of oil prices

The president of Venezuela wrote an open letter to the US people, and others, outlining how it does not represent a threat to the US. Maduro explains what Venezuelans mean when they say they are pursuing socialism based on peace, an open society, independence and hope for a multi-polar world.

It seems China understands this perspective and will be lending Maduro some \$10 billion to allow it to deal with the collapse of oil prices.

More: China to lend Venezuela \$10 billion in coming months

More: Nicolas Maduro: Venezuela is not a threat

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