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Labour, the Economy, the TPP

Excerpts from the 36 Central Convention keynote address by Elizabeth Rowley, leader of the Communist Party of Canada

In its relief that the ories were defeated last October, the labour movement in English speaking Canada has swung to the centre, with the CLC leadership literally embracing the Liberals in December when Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland came calling to sell the TPP. By the spring, the CLC and Unifor had both softened their opposition to the TPP, conditional on amendments to the chapters in the deal negatively affecting labour. This is the same position the CLC took on previous Free Trade deals, at a very high cost to workers’ jobs and incomes. However, both the government and the CLC are fully aware that the TPP has ‘docked’ and cannot be amended. Canada – and all of the 12 countries in the TPP – can either ratify, or not. That’s the only choice to be made – by the government, and by labour.

Labour makes a serious error embracing the Liberals. Why do they do it? Because some think a return to the welfare state is possible with the Liberals through tri-partism and class collaboration. Because the popular struggle at the last CLC convention which turfed out Georghetti has not been sustained since the convention. Because the real alternative to the Liberals is mass, independent political action by labour and its allies, which right-wing labour leaders are unwilling to undertake, fearful of the consequences of mass action which is not framed by an election campaign or under the control of the NDP or the Liberals.

But this is exactly what is needed to block the TPP and other right wing policies, while forcing the Liberals to deliver the progressive policies promised during the election campaign, but not delivered in their March budget – and not intended to be delivered in this term of office.

Indigenous Peoples were the first to respond to the completely inadequate funding proposed in the budget to address the appalling economic and social conditions on and off reserves which have contributed to spate of suicides among Indigenous youth this spring, and which left residents of Attawapiskat living in tents at -50 degree weather two years ago. It was the suicides that spurred the occupation of Indigenous and Northern Affairs offices across the country for more than 10 days in April by Indigenous people and their supporters, which include our Party. But the meeting with Ministers to discuss the crisis will not resolve the conditions which led to the suicides, as the government’s budget priorities make clear. We continue to express our solidarity and support with Indigenous Peoples, and will continue to provide political and other support for these struggles going forward.

And urgent action is sorely needed, as real growth in the economy continues to stagnate and a second quarter contraction is expected as a result of the catastrophic wildfires in the Fort McMurray this month, combined with a low Canadian dollar, a trade deficit, and continuing high unemployment. The loss of 31,800 manufacturing jobs in March, combined with layoffs in housing construction, and in the oilpatch where layoffs will continue according to the Association of Petroleum Producers. The retail sector has increased jobs marginally, however these are all low-paid, non-union, and precarious jobs. One of the few other growth areas was in social assistance, undoubtedly the result of growing mass unemployment, particularly among youth under 35, exhaustion of inadequate or inaccessible EI benefits, and absolute impoverishment.

With more than 2 million unemployed and under-employed across the country we are facing an enormous social and economic crisis. This is the feeding ground for right-wing populist movements and demagogues across Canada, who prey on the unemployed and the poor, and seek to organize them as a battering ram against unionized workers and organized labour.

This is the time for organized labour to organize the unemployed and the unorganized, and to build a common front of labour and its social allies to move labour from the defensive to the offensive to curb unbridled corporate power. The fight to build the left caucuses and to win the left and centre forces in the trade union movement for a fighting labour movement and for independent labour political action is decisive, and so must our efforts be to increase the activity of our cadres in the trade union movement, including our newest and youngest. The fight to raise the minimum wage is another important way for our Party to contribute and to build the fight and the trade union movement among youth and low-paid precarious workers of all ages, genders, and national groups. This must be a vital and central part of our work going forward from this convention.

The fight against the TPP and the fight to fully engage organized labour in this struggle is another part of this work. The TPP will have enormous ramifications for workers in Canada, with the loss of between 58,000 and 64,000 jobs in auto and manufacturing in quick succession, and the permanent loss of even more jobs as Canada shifts away from value-added manufacturing and secondary industry to resource and energy extraction, and market for finished goods imported from other countries in the TPP with a low waged workforce. The consequences of this trade deal will also be to drive down wages in Canada, and import right-to-work laws which already exist in more than 25 US states, including all those south of the Great Lakes. The TPP is also intended to create mass unemployment among Chinese workers, and is part of the pivot to Asia. The TPP means declining living standards, low or no minimum wage laws, poorer pensions and poorer labour standards, more dangerous worksites and unorganized (or decertified) work places, and fewer legal protections for more precariously employed workers. Women will also be hard-hit by massive privatizations and closures in the female dominated public sector. The Investor State Dispute Settlement panels will make sure of that, when corporations can sue governments over the loss of future profits in the healthcare, education and public services sectors. It will enshrine the race to the bottom. It will facilitate a lethal attack on Medicare in Canada.

The TPP will also put small and medium farmers out of business as it levels the supply management system of marketing boards, and eliminates regulations on dairy, poultry and other food production. It will allow the use of Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone in milk imported into Canada, and will force Canadian producers (as it has Mexican producers) to also use BGH to remain competitive. It will compromise Canada’s food safety and food sovereignty.

It will extend Big Pharma’s patents on vital drugs, and massively increase drug costs for government and individuals. It will make life-saving drugs unaffordable for people on fixed incomes, and will result in deaths and avoidable medical crises in Canada and abroad where drug costs have already made some drugs inaccessible to those who need them.

The TPP will also hurt Indigenous Peoples as it will demand the right to extract minerals and extend pipelines over Indigenous lands, including those that are the subject of land claims. The TPP and the ISDS will be cited to justify running roughshod over land claims and land rights.

The TPP will likewise roll over environmental impacts and concerns, and public opposition to fracking and bitumen pipelines that threaten the Great Lakes and the water supply across Canada, as well as the environment and that contribute to climate change.

The TPP threatens Canada’s sovereignty and independence and will involve Canada more deeply in the US military machine and its dirty wars around the world, diverting more and more of the public treasury to military spending on arms and on fighting dirty wars around the world.

This deal is not about trade, with 97% of trade with the countries in the TPP already duty free, and a .28% increase in trade the paltry result. This is a global corporate constitution that will supplant national governments and the sovereignty of states, with supra-national corporate bodies that will make all the real decisions about the future of Canada in backroom trade dispute settlement tribunals comprised solely of corporate representatives, supported by fleets of private lawyers and law firms that will make their living on ISDS trade disputes and settlements.

This is a terrible deal for Canada, that can and must be defeated by an aroused trade union movement and an aroused public. Our campaign on the TPP this spring has helped to educate working people on the real contents of the deal, and helped move people into action across the country. Now we must follow up with more action flowing from the convention to build the coalitions and mass public resistance that can stop the Liberals from ratifying. Mass public mobilizations stopped the MAI and the FTAA. An aroused public can stop this deal too. But time is precious and we must not delay. The Liberals could decide to move quickly after the US elections, so as to put ratification of the deal behind them well ahead of the 2019 federal election. We have to step up our campaign accordingly.

The cross border initiative proposed by WFTU which would unite trade unionists in Canada and the US to jointly campaign against this deal, and for the rights and standards for workers, is a good initiative that we can support, and that should reach into the labour movement on both sides of the border in short order.

Resolutions in the trade union movement calling on labour to take a strong and unqualified position against the deal and to organize joint actions in conjunction with the Council of Canadians, Lead Now, the Greens, NDP, CPC and others, to stop the deal, will help to educate and organize workers in unions and labour councils across the country. Similar motions can be raised in other mass organizations, providing the opportunity to speak about the TPP and generate action.

The People’s Voice has done a good job exposing the TPP with articles and editorials in almost every issue this spring. The Voice is also the sponsor of a petition against the TPP that should be widely supported. Tabling with the petition has afforded lots of opportunities to talk to working people and youth about the deal, and about the alternatives to the deal: fair trade and mutually beneficial trade with all countries, with long term credits for developing countries. Quite a different package from the crisis inducing demands of the IMF, WTO, World Bank, or the European Union and European banks.

The Party has been very quick to respond to the government’s sham ‘public hearings’ organized across the country. In the big cities the hearings lasted for about 5 hours each, with 4 hours devoted to expert panels, and less than an hour open to the public for 2 minute presentations after big protests organized by the Council of Canadians and others. In Montreal and Toronto Party members were able to speak and represented our Party very well. Almost everywhere the public comments were unanimously opposed to ratification of the TPP, while the expert panels were mixed with representatives of Big Business unanimously supporting the deal, and academics were generally opposed. Most important were the highly visible rallies held outside the hearings mostly organized by the Council of Canadians. Notable everywhere was the lack of media in attendance covering these hearings and protest rallies. A media blackout on the TPP is clearly in effect. On the plus side, this is a clear indication that the government and Big Business know that public opinion is against them, and is afraid of the impact of widespread publicity on the real contents and impacts of the TPP and on the growing opposition and mobilizations against it. This is another reason to hurry our work to build the opposition to the deal, and to put forward a people’s alternative to free trade pacts, austerity, and war; to advance our policies to put people before profits, to meet peoples’ needs, to muzzle corporate greed and to curb corporate power.

Read the full keynote address on the CPC’s main website, here.