Category: Chair Internal Speaks

Government-Union Wage-Freeze Talks are a Trap

By admin, October 30, 2010 12:54 pm

CUPE Quarterly (Local 3906), Volume I, Issue 2…

By Ajamu Nangwaya
Chair – External, CUPE 3907

As a trade union member who works in the broader public
sector and would be affected by the proposed wage-freeze,
I have been strongly opposed to labour unions meeting
with the McGuinty Liberals. The only logical purpose behind
these government-initiated meetings is to strike deals with labour bureaucrats at the table in exchange for agreeing to wage-cuts for unionized members.

There is a collective bargaining process through which the working class attempts to extract wages and benefits for the contribution that it makes to the creation of wealth in this society. Why would labour leaders even agree to negotiate with the McGuinty Liberals when the strategic objective of the state is the delivery to the bosses
of the worker’s material interests on the proverbial silver platter?

Were these labour leaders spooked by the implication the Supreme Court’s BC Health Services decision which rejected British Columbia’s unilateral removal of clauses in the collective agreement of public sector workers, and stipulated that governments should negotiate in good faith with the elected representatives of the workers? Is it possible that some of these leaders are still rattled
by public reaction to the recent strikes in the cities of Windsor and Toronto and at York University?

The working-class and labour bureaucrats cannot face the employer with fear in their eyes and minds. As workers, we need to take a broad look at the general attack by the government and private sector actors on all of us who sell our labour, have no real control over the organizing of worklife and little say in the distribution of the fruit of, or profit from, collective labour.

Therefore, we should take the $4.6 billion tax-cut, the attack on the special diet allowance and the postponement of the $4 billion Metrolinx investment in transportation infrastructure as assaults on the working-class of this province. If the labour movement had mobilized its material resources and members when these attacks were advanced in the March 2010 budget, it would have greater credibility with the public that its refusal to take a wage-freeze is
about all workers earning a livable wage.

Organized labour must educate, mobilize and organize its members through a power and democracy from below strategy so as to effectively resist the McGuinty Liberals’ attempt to shaft the workers of this province.


No strides for racialized women

By admin, October 29, 2010 9:08 am

Re: Women storm city council, Oct. 27

I am very perplexed when commentators write about the underrepresentation of women at Toronto’s city hall, but leave the race of these councillors out of the political equation. Over the life of the last city council, the 10 women councillors were 100 per cent white. With the newly elected women councillors, white women are now just over 92 per cent of the total.

We are living in a city where racialized women are close to 25 per cent of the population. A lone racialized woman on city council is a shameful reality in this city that loves to lionize its multicultural and racially diverse character. Therefore, when we celebrate women storming the new city council, we should be clear that we are really talking about white women making political advance.

It seemed so easy to see situations where white men are the people who dominate a political space. But we need to be equally perspective in naming exclusion that is based on: race; race and gender; or race, gender and sexual orientation. I hope progressives will not see Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s election as the ultimate equal opportunity jackpot for equity.

If you believe that women are “calmer,” “collegial,” “look at things from different angles,” and are consensus builders, just ask racialized women or other non-dominant women who must deal with white women or other women who exercise power over them.

It is also about power and creating monolithic myths about gendered leadership styles does not serve the cause of justice.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Labour needs change in perspective

By admin, October 17, 2010 7:55 pm
Published On Sun Oct 17 2010

Re: Unions, the left failed during this recession, Oct. 9

As a trade union member and a researcher on the Canadian labour movement, I couldn’t agree more with Thomas Walkom’s analysis.

The monumental failure of the labour movement in making ideological, material or political gains has much to do with the fact that the leadership of organized labour has thoroughly bought the bill of goods that capitalism is the only option for the working-class in Canada.

The only difference of opinion that that the labour bureaucrats have with the captains of industry and commerce is whether the Hobbesian or Anglo-American version of capitalism, where life is “nasty, brutish and short” or the benign one found in Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark is the preferred way of exploiting labour. Rank-and-file trade union members are not in favour of choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Further, one of the ideological shackles on the minds of labour leaders is the fact that they have bought into the idea that Canada is a largely middle-class society. Yet, they are in the contradictory position of representing the working-class. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of hearing the top labour leaders and social democratic politicians arguing about their objective mission being that of protecting the declining middle-class.

Why should union members express working-class solidarity with each other when they are being told that the desired social destination is the middle-class? This state of affairs is no more evident than in the labour education courses that are carried out in most unions.

These courses do not build workers’ understanding of capitalism as an economic system that is incompatible with their quest to exercise control over work and the product of their labour.

We have class interests that are distinct from the economic and political elites and our ultimate aim should be to control the wealth of this country in order to create the New Jerusalem.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Link to Walkom’s column:

Farm workers, “dis is not slavery/ just poverty / speaking to democracy”

By admin, October 15, 2010 2:14 am

Participants in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march, organized by Justicia for Migrant Workers

Participants take part in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march, organized by Justicia for Migrant Workers

By Ajamu Nangwaya

i am a H2 worka
pickin apple inna florida
i am a H2 worka
hopin dat tings will be betta
suh don’t tek mi fi granted and pass mi
like is only cane and apple yu si
don’t tek it fi joke and run mi
den sen to mi govament fi more a wi
dis is not slavery
just poverty
talking to democracy

- Excerpt from the poem H2 Worka by Mutabaruka

Mutabaruka, the renowned Jamaican dub poet, accurately captures the lament and pain of migrant farm workers who labour in Ontario and the rest of Canada. These offshore workers come from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines and other Third World areas.

Over the Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada, we enjoyed the bountiful harvest from the farms in this country and the United States in the company of friends and relatives. We probably shared stories of success, challenges and plans for the future.

But did we reflect on the people who made that food possible? No, I am not referring to those mythic and stoic farmers of Canadian legends. I am hinting at the migrant farm workers whose sweat, tears, lives and broken and injured bodies went into producing the cheap food that we all enjoy in the great North that is supposedly fair, strong and free.

I am also referring to the over 25,000 migrant workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program (SAWP) from Mexico and the Caribbean who spend up to eight months per year on farms across Canada. Migrant workers from Thailand, Philippines, Guatemala and Honduras are also finding themselves on these same farms and fields through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training (TFWP), which is even more exploitive. These off-shore workers contribute to the valuable, but exploited work that makes possible the $10 billion in annual income from the farm sector in Ontario.

When Mutabaruka rhymed: “don’t tek it fi joke and run mi / den sen to mi govament fi more a wi”, he is speaking about a sad and disgraceful reality in Canada. When migrant agricultural workers complain about their condition of work, they may be sent home at their own expense and without an appeal process to contest their expulsion.

Many Third World governments are in cahoots with this system of exploitation. They are dependent on the foreign exchange earned from these migrant workers and the SAWP and TFWP are sources of relief for the unemployment pressure at home. These governments have no interest in vigorously protecting their citizens because strong advocacy could force the Canadian state to go to other countries or regions with surplus labour.

The farmers in Canada know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the Caribbean, Mexico and Asia who are willing to do farm labour in Canada. Under plantation slavery in the Americas, the enslavers treated their horses and other materials much better than the enslaved Africans.

The plantation masters did so, because they had a cheap and ready source of labour in Africa. It is not an accident that Mutabaruka protested against seeing migrant workers as mere cane and apple. They are not seen as people, but creatures that help the profit margins of the farm’s operation.

It is not a stretch to see similarities between the systems of slavery and indentureship that were used against enslaved African and indentured South Asian labour in the Caribbean, respectively. The fear of poverty as a constant companion has replaced the whip. It is not the workers who mostly benefit from their backbreaking labour. They are transported across borders to toil in unsafe working conditions, with the connivance of legal authorities or governmental systems.

No wonder Mutabaruka had to admonish the farmers and governments that “dis is not slavery” and the workers are really poor working-class people “hopin dat tings will be betta.”

On the score of “talking to democracy” by resisting migrant workers, I was truly inspired and encouraged by the Justicia for Migrant Workers organized Pilgrimage to Freedom march on October 10th from Leamington (Tomato Capital of Canada), Ontario to city of Windsor, across from Detroit. This march was a 50-kilometre trek.

About 100 migrant workers and their allies carried out this historic march so as to highlight issues such as workers paying in mandatory schemes such as Unemployment Insurance from which they do not get any benefits, exposure to pesticides and farm equipment without adequate training, migrant workers working many years in Canada without the possibility of achieving permanent residency rights, workers being sent home after experiencing serious long-term illness on the job, or not having the right to form or join a union.

We may recall that on September 10, 2010, two Jamaican migrant farm workers, Ralston White, 36, and Paul Roach, 44 died from exposure to gas from an apple cider vat that they were fixing. As Canadians, we need to stand in solidarity with migrant workers and not let governments and private interests exploit them in the name of a cheap food policy and the financial bottom-line.

On the question of marching in solidarity with the migrant workers, it was politically embarrassing to see so few trade union members and trade union organizations as well as members of the various Marxist and anarchist “sects” from Southern Ontario. In my judgment, organized labour and these erstwhile revolutionaries do not like labour initiatives that they cannot colonize and control. I really hope that wasn’t the case in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march.

It is not enough to sing Solidarity Forever or shove revolutionary newspapers or publications in the face of members of the racialized, working-class. The missing in action stunt of these class warriors was worthy of a “Class Solidarity Raspberry Award”. It’s a very deserving and well earned citation given that we’re dealing with issues pertaining to the most exploited section of the working-class in Canada.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade union and community activist, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, and a member of Common Cause – an anarchist organization with branches across Ontario. To get further information or provide support to Justicia (Justice) for Migrant Workers, please visit

Membership organization must run Caribana – Part 2

By admin, September 15, 2010 11:31 pm
Ajamu NangwayaAjamu Nangwaya


This article is a continuation of last week’s discussion of the economics of Caribana.  It will address three proposals to turn Caribana into a boost to community economic and social development: a Caribana-controlled community foundation; support for cooperative economics; and corporations must pay to ride the gravy train. Two other ideas were presented last week.

Thirdly, the organization that will be charged with the responsibility of running Caribana should be a relevant force in funding community development projects. Caribana’s pioneers were committed to the goals of building a community centre, providing educational scholarships to young people and advancing other social objectives. These have yet to be realized.

However, when one examines the Calgary Stampede one would quickly realize that the aim of making Caribana a major contributor to community development is not the obsession of an overactive mind. The Calgary Stampede Foundation, an arm of the Calgary Stampede, doles out over $2.5 million per year to youth development projects. The foundation’s mandate also allows it to “support endeavours pertaining to the arts, agriculture, the environment and capital improvement projects.”

A Caribana-directed charitable community foundation should be expected to fund initiatives that build the capacity of the community to fight all forms of oppression, encourage cooperative economic projects in the cultural fields and other arenas, finance educational scholarships, fund festival arts training and development, and promote cultural projects that affirm culture as a weapon of struggle. Carnival in the Caribbean came out of resistance to racist and capitalist domination.

This community foundation should have a broad mandate so as to allow it to make an impact in many areas of community life. When members of the community make workplace payroll deductions to charitable causes, this community development foundation should get the lion’s share of those donations. After all, charity starts at home!

Fourthly, the Africans who created carnival did so in an environment in which their labour was brutally enslaved or exploited by capitalism. Therefore, Caribana should develop a mandate to promote an economic practice that doesn’t support the abuse of labour. It should commit resources to a community-controlled technical assistance and cooperative development organization that would create and/or expanded business organizations that are owned, controlled and managed by the workers – worker cooperatives.

Worker cooperatives need help in areas such as setting up the legal structure, access to financing, education to prepare the worker-members for economic democracy, development of a business plan, and doing a feasibility study. Caribana could even donate funds for the creation of a Chair in Labour Self-management at one of the local universities to further research on worker self-management of industry and commerce. This money would also be used to facilitate the development of courses and educational and training programs for existing and potential worker-owners and students of labour self-management.

In the African community, some of us often looked at certain racialized communities’ business districts or business “success” as models worthy of being copied. It is my belief that the African-Canadian working-class should not seek salvation in business models that continue to exploit labour.

We should not be fooled by the appearance of pan-ethnic solidarity, which the owning classes use to mask labour exploitation and wage-slavery. I am with the late poet, lesbian and feminist Audre Lorde on her assertion that: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Cooperative economics should be a part of a broad economic justice strategy.

Lastly, the corporations that swallow the lion’s share of the over $400 million produced by Caribana must return a part of that income to the creators of this cultural golden goose. The hotels in the GTA must give more than just rooms to the organizers of the festival.

It should contribute cash through their individual operations as well as through the Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA). According the Ipsos Reid economic impact study of Caribana, about 300,000 overseas visitors participated in the festival in 2009 and spent an average of $901.87 per person. It means that they are spending over $270.5 million dollars into the economy. Overall, Caribana’s patrons spend $101.8 million on accommodation.

Lodging accommodation is by far the largest expenditure of overseas visitor and it was pegged at $311.68 per person. An estimated $68 million were spent by international visitors on the renting of hotel rooms; 73 per cent of them stayed in hotels. The GTHA collects a 3 per cent Destination Marketing Fee (DMF) on guest rooms that are occupied for less than 30 days. That dedicated revenue is used to market and promote Toronto as a tourism destination and its 2009 projected take from the DMF was just over $26 million. The GTHA should give a part of that money directly to Caribana.

The GTHA currently channels that DMF money through Tourism Toronto, which had a budget of $31.1 million in 2010. Interestingly, Tourism Toronto claimed to have spent $100,000 on Caribana out of its Leveraged Coop Marketing Fund (LCMF) in 2009. But it spent $500,000 on Luminato, $250,000 on LGBT Partnership (OTMP), $150,000 on Air Canada’s Luxury Partnership and $100,000 on Just for Laughs Toronto in 2009 from the same marketing fund. And we thought that Caribana, as the jewel in the festival economic impact crown, would have received its fair share of that $1.6 million LCMF in 2009.

The following industry sectors benefit greatly from Caribana and must make financial contributions to it: food and beverage services; retail trade; arts, entertainment and recreation; manufacturing; wholesale trade, information and cultural industries; ground passenger transportation; construction; utilities; and car renting and leasing.

The capitalists and the governments who benefit from the festival are prone to tell workers and the poor that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” or “you don’t get something for nothing.” Therefore, they will have no difficulty in understanding that they must pay to ride this gravy train called Caribana.

This Caribana meal ticket will now come with a price tag. In all my years in Toronto, I have never heard so many people, who are by no means radical in political opinion, arguing for the cancellation of Caribana to send a message to the governments and businesses that profit from the festival.

Membership organization must run Caribana

By admin, September 10, 2010 5:26 pm
Ajamu Nangwaya
There are many people who view Caribana as a purely cultural and psychic experience. Unfortunately, they miss an equally important component of this festival. It is an annual economic boost to Canada’s economy to the tune of $438 million. Increasingly, carnivals and the cultural industries of which they are a part are being seen as potential economic drivers for sustainable development.

Dr. Keith Nurse of the University of the West Indies in a paper The Cultural Industries and Sustainable Development in Small Developing States asserts that “the cultural industries play a dual role (in development) in that it is an economic sector with growth potential and an arena for identity formation”.

Caribana has the potential to play such a function in the community. But my focus here is on the economic possibilities.

Caribana is by far the most successful, collectively-owned asset that has been created by the African Caribbean community in Canada. This festival has its roots in the political resistance and cultural creativity of the African working-class or labouring classes in the Caribbean. However, there is one persistent feature that has remained with Caribana and its sister carnivals in Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, New York, Barbados and elsewhere. This problematic issue is that the African working-class does not reap the bulk of the economic returns from its cultural productions.

The members of this class do not own the hotels, the major retail establishments, car and truck rental companies, eateries, clubs, airlines and other modes of transportation, and do not set the priority on how the taxes generated from the festivals should be spent. The estimated US$30 million from Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival-related visitor arrivals, the ₤93 million revenue of the Notting Hill carnival in London and the over US$200 million from the West Indian Day Parade in New York do not significantly contribute to the material welfare of the race-cum-class grouping that makes this income possible.

In what ways could the community use Caribana to contribute to its economic, social and cultural development? I will briefly outline five ideas that I believe may contribute to a community-controlled festival that will collectively reward its creators for their cultural, physical and intellectual creativity, innovation and effort.

Firstly, any organization that organizes the two-week festival that is Caribana must be a democratically-controlled, membership-based one. This carnival is a collective resource and for most of its history it was organized and managed by the people. Currently, Caribana is managed by the Festival Management Committee (FMC) that was born out of the financial coercion levied against the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) in 2006 by the City of Toronto. Funding was withdrawn from the CCC as the traditional organizer of Caribana and given to the FMC (which was established by the City for that purpose).

Even the most informed Caribana fan in Toronto would find it difficult to tell you how many members are on the board of directors of the FMC and give you their names. This information is like a classified state secret of Canada’s secret police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Caribana is a people’s festival and its affairs should be democratically-determined by the people. This summer festival should not be controlled by a “private club” or a “secret society” of faceless notables backed by private corporations and the different levels of government.

Secondly, we need to transform Caribana into a year-round operation with activities, initiatives, programs and attractions that will generate revenue and bring people from outside and inside the city to its sponsored events. The Calgary Stampede is a 365-day affair, although the actual festival is a 10-day event that generates $173 million in economic impact. This western-themed enterprise employs 1,200 permanent employees to carry out its day-to-day activities and an additional 3,500 workers for the festival. Its total estimated annual economic impact is $353 million.

Caribana is a two-week festival with an economic impact of $438 million in 2009. Can you imagine what its economic contribution would be if the infrastructure and resources were in place to make it a year-round affair? It would provide direct employment opportunities to members of the community as well as indirect employment through activities or tourism products related to conferences on cultural productions and resistance, educational workshops, theatrical productions, mounting of annual exhibitions and national and international tours of said products and schools of art on costume designing and production, just to name a few.

One thing that should be made clear is that the different levels of government must fund Caribana in the same way that they do with White-controlled cultural institutions. In April 2009, the government of Ontario gave a grant funding of $43.4 million to the following six White-directed organizations: the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Ontario Science Centre, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Royal Botanical Gardens. The provincial government allotted $24.8 million of that money as permanent annual funding, which increased the total operational grant to the six favoured cultural organizations from $56 million to $80.8 million. The federal government gave $3 million each to the Toronto International Film Festival and the Strafford Festival in April 2009 from its Marquee Tourism Events Program. Yet Caribana received a mere $415,000 from the same fund in that year.

As a year-round operation, Caribana would likely leave its privileged cultural siblings gasping for breath in the cultural industries’ economic impact “Olympics.” It is already the biggest grossing festival in the country.

It should be clear that Canada provides life-line or strategic funding to cultural organizations. Therefore, the community and its allies should politically organize their forces to challenge the state’s current practice of using cultural racism to determine the allocation of funding to arts groups.

To be continued.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto and a labour activist.

It’s the class struggle, stupid!; Organized labour’s confused response to the McGuinty Liberals’ attack on Ontario’s working-class

By admin, September 6, 2010 12:26 pm


Organized labour’s confused response to the McGuinty Liberals’ attack on Ontario’s working-class

By Ajamu Nangwaya and Alex Diceanu

Organized labour in Ontario will continue to put forth a weak and ineffective response to attacks from the ruling class as long as it continues to ignore the reality of class struggle. A perfect example is its current response to a proposed two-year wage-freeze that the Dalton McGuinty-led Ontario government plans on imposing on unionized public sector workers. The provincial Liberals would like to save $750 million per year from a wage-freeze, so as to help manage the $19.3 billion budget deficit. Readers need not be reminded that this deficit is the result of the risky financial speculations of the captains of finance, industry and commerce that created the Great Recession of 2008.

But it is the 710,000 unionized members of the working class and 350,000 non-unionized managers and other employees who draw pay cheques from the government[1] and the users of state-provided services (and private sector workers) who are being asked to bear the burden of paying for the actions of the corporate sector. At the same time as this attempt to take income from the pockets of government workers, the McGuinty Liberals’ have granted a $4.6 billion tax-cut to the business sector.

The leader of the Ontario New Democrats, Andrea Howarth, has signaled her support for public sector workers’ acceptance of a pay cut. She asserts, “I’m quite sure when they get to the bargaining table they will do their part like everyone else does … there is a collective bargaining process that has to be respected.”[2] Wow! Who said that the working-class needs enemies with “friends” like the New Democratic Party (NDP) and its leader Andrea Horwarth?

However, it is the tame and even puzzling reaction of some of Ontario’s major labour leaders that should be of concern to workers in the public sector. The government called labour leaders and employers from the broader public sector to “consultation” talks on the wage freeze on July 19, 2010. Coming out of the talks, this was what CUPE-Ontario president Fred Hahn had to say, “This is not like the early ’90s, this is not about sharing the pain. That’s all just not true”.[3] He was referring to former NDP premier Bob Rae’s unilateral opening of public sector workers’ contracts and the imposition of public sector wage-cuts accompanied by tax increases for the corporate sector. Was Brother Hahn implying that a wage-freeze would be tolerable, if accompanied by the cancelation of the $4.6 billion corporate tax-cut?

No credible union or union leader should contemplate a zero-wage increase over two years – even if the government rescinds the $4.6 billion tax-cut. There should not have been a tax-cut for the capitalist class. Restoring the tax should not be used as a bargaining chip to escape a wage-freeze on public sector workers.

Not to be outdone was the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. We will leave it to you to decipher the implicit message in the following statement by Smokey Thomas. “Just because he [Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan] wants something doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. It’s not a social contract. He can propose (a wage-freeze) but he has to bargain it. He can’t legislate it. He’ll lose.”[4] Is it just us or does that sound like a labour leader who is not really in a fighting spirit and just wants to make a deal?

A simple matter of misguided policy?

However, the critical issue for Ontario’s public sector workers is the extent to which many of our labour leaders seem to be completely unaware of the state and employers’ motives for disciplining labour through wage concessions. Ismael Hossein-zaded of Drake University made the following observation, which is quite applicable to the posturing of labour leaders in Ontario:


Viewing the savage class war of the ruling kleptocracy on the people’s living and working conditions simply as “bad” policy, and hoping to somehow—presumably through smart arguments and sage advice—replace it with the “good” Keynesian policy of deficit spending without a fight, without grassroots‟ involvement and/or pressure, stems from the rather naïve supposition that policy making is a simple matter of technical expertise or the benevolence of policy makers, that is, a matter of choice. The presumed choice is said to be between only two alternatives: between the stimulus or Keynesian deficit spending, on the one hand, and the Neoliberal austerity of cutting social spending, on the other.5

Based on some of the statements coming from labour leaders, they may not have gotten the memo that the attack on the working-class (through the slashing of social programme spending, attacks on private sector pensions and wage freezes) is not about good or bad economic policies. Hossein-Zedad must have been inspired to write his paper after reading the following Keynesian-inspired comment by Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan; “From a policy perspective, it makes no economic sense whatsoever. You’ve got a government saying we need to stimulate the economy. The best way of stimulating the economy is through public-sector workers who spend every single penny of their disposable income in their local communities,”[6] But it’s not about the economy, per se. It’s the class struggle, stupid!

Canada’s economic and political elite have clearly given up the ghost of Keynesian economics, which calls on government to either stimulate or restrict the demand for goods and services based on the state of the economy. In the case of the 2008 crisis in capitalism, these neoliberal players felt forced by the magnitude of the impending financial collapse to pump money into the economy. A not-too-insignificant fact was lost on many observers and commentators who gleefully cheered on the capitalist class’ “Road-to-Damascus” moment. The capitalist state in Canada and other imperialist countries will do everything within their power to maintain a business environment that facilitates the accumulation of capital or profit-making, as well as legitimize the system in the eyes of the people. That is all in a day’s work for the state…no surprise here for class conscious trade unionists and other activists!

Labour’s “Response”

We ought to note that the recent crisis in the economy caught organized labour off-guard and ill-prepared to mobilize the working-class against that monumental failure of capitalism. For decades, Western corporations and governments have been force-feeding the public a steady diet of tax-cuts. Lower taxes on businesses, high-income earners and the wealthy, the widespread slashing of social services and income support programmes, a massive reduction in state oversight and regulation of corporations and the enactment of anti-union policies and legislation have been the all rage since corproations and Western governments abandoned their class-collaborationist pact with organized labour in the 1970s. Yet at the very moment when capitalism experienced a crisis of confidence resulting from a set of policies that had been hailed as perfect ingredients for economic and social progress, organized labour was caught with its pants down. Its leaders didn’t have a class struggle alternative to Keynesian economics – an economic tendency that was never intended to be used as a tool to end wage slavery and the minority rule of bankers, industrialists and the managerial and political elite.

Presently, the labour movement is ideologically and operationally ill-prepared to effectively face down the two-year wage-freeze demand from the McGuinty Liberals. Unfortunately, labour’s leaders have, in the main, focused on narrow economic demands rather than seeking to politically develop union activists and their broader membership behind a class struggle labour movement platform. Union members have been politically deskilled and demobilized in favour of a social service model of trade unionism. These labour leaders have failed to use their unions’ courses, workshops, week-long schools, publications and other educational resources to educate members of the fact that they are a part of a distinct class with economic and political interests that are different from that of the rulers of capitalist society.

Even the most casual of observers understand that organized labour’s raison d’être is to champion the material concerns of the working-class. And yet, ideologically-speaking, most labour leaders in Canada have cast their lot in with capitalism – albeit a more Scandinavian version. This is why a coherent critique of capitalism is notably absent from most union-organized workshops and events. It should therefore not come as a surprise that many union members have swallowed the employers and politicians’ message that Canada is a largely middle-class country and that our collective aspiration should be to remain a member of this class. If the labour leaders, academics and the media say that the majority of Canadians are a part of the middle-class, it must be so. The development of a working-class consciousness becomes very difficult (but not impossible) in this kind of political environment.

The great majority of Canadians are members of the working-class. They sell their labour, exercise little to no control over how their work-life is organized, have no say over how the profit from their labour is distributed and are so alienated from work that the aphorism “Thank god it’s Friday” has its own acronym. One should never define middle-class status as one’s ability to purchase consumer trinkets, live in a mortgaged home or even own a summer cottage. Middle-class status ought to be defined by one’s exercise of power and control and/or the possession of high levels of human capital found among administrative/managerial elites in the private and public sectors, academic elites and independent professionals.

Labour’s Credibility Crisis

The narrow economic obsession of labour leaders was on plain display when Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan revealed the March 2010 Budget. When it became known that the McGuinty Liberals would be seeking a two-year wage-freeze from public sector workers, this news was all that consumed the attention of most labour leaders. Many labour functionaries scrambled around in search of external and internal legal opinions, requesting briefs from senior staff on the impact of a wage-freeze on bargaining in specific sectors and sending out correspondence to members assuring them to “just act as if nothing had happened”, because they’re “already covered by a collective agreement”. Many labour union offices’ and unionized workplaces’ anxiety was centred entirely on the desired wage-freeze by the McGuinty Liberals. Nothing else!

But today we hear labour leaders talking about keeping money in workers’ pockets to stimulate the economy and that their primary concern is maintaining public services at adequate levels. Why didn’t organized labour deploy its resources to educate and mobilize the public against the $4.6 billion corporate tax-cuts, slashing of $4 billion in transportation infrastructure spending from Metrolinx’s $9.3 billion budget7] and the scrapping of the special diet allowance that benefitted over 160,000 members of the working-class for the unprincely sum of $250 million per annum and a mere monthly average of $130 per person[8]? The provincial government anticipates that the two-year wage-freeze across the public sector will net a savings of $1.5 billion – yet the previous $8.6 billion effectively stolen from the working class failed to push organized labour into action.

The leaders of organized labour did not have the imagination to energize their members and the broader citizenry in alliance with other social movement organizations over the Budget. They could have exposed the class priorities of the McGuinty Liberals. The government’s main concerns clearly have nothing to do with those of us who are poor, live from pay cheque to pay cheque and do not patronize the golf courses where McGuinty and his friends hang out when they are not screwing the public. Listen up public sector labour leaders: the people will not be fooled by your claims to be advocating for the general interest. The broader working-class just have to simply see where you direct the labour movement’s resources and they will clue into the issues that are being prioritized. Take a look at the poor, working-class and/or racialized areas that are likely to be affected by the $4 billion cut to Metrolinx’s budget:


…the austerity moves could affect five planned projects: rapid transit lines for Finch Ave. W., Sheppard Ave. E. and the Scarborough RT, along with the Eglinton Ave. cross-town line and an expansion of York region’s Viva service.[9]

Are we to believe that a class-struggle and anti-oppression informed public education, organizing and mobilization campaign in defense of public services, the social wage and a livable wage would not have had some level of traction with the people of Ontario?

An alternative economic plan or a different labour movement?

In some quarters of the trade union sector, there are talks of presenting an alternative plan to the slash-and-burn neoliberal policies of the provincial government. But, the presentation of Keynesian economic proposals by labour leaders is useless in a climate where the ruling class doesn’t feel threatened by a politically mobilized population, especially without “compelling grassroots pressure on policy makers”.[10] We implied earlier that labour unions have a credibility gap with the broader public if they now assert a desire to “broaden the debate, educate community members and local politicians with a view to engaging in actions that protect public services and build strong communities” as outlined by one union. What would be the purpose of the alternative plans of these labour leaders? The status quo of the 1930s to the 1960s that gave rise to the welfare state is not a transformative option.

There is no such thing as a “contextless” context. Where is the necessary political environment that would force the state to make concessions to the working-class out of fear that they maybe inclined to embrace revolutionary options? When some labour leaders are loosely talking about coming up with an alternative (Keynesian economic plan?) stimulus proposal, they would do well to understand the political implications of the following statement:


Keynesian economists seem to be unmindful of this fundamental relationship between economics and politics. Instead, they view economic policies as the outcome of the battle of ideas, not of class forces or interests. And herein lies one of the principal weaknesses of their argument: viewing the Keynesian/New Deal/Social Democratic reforms of the 1930s through the 1960s as the product of Keynes’ or F.D.R.’s genius, or the goodness of their hearts; not of the compelling pressure exerted by the revolutionary movements of that period on the national policy makers to “implement reform in order to prevent revolution,” as F.D.R. famously put it. This explains why economic policy makers of today are not listening to Keynesian arguments—powerful and elegant as they are—because there would be no Keynesian, New Deal, or Social-Democratic economics without revolutionary pressure from the people.[11]

However, when labour leaders shy away from speaking openly about class-struggle and the nature of our economic system, we have a serious problem. It means that they are not in a position to facilitate a class-struggle, democracy-from-below and self-organizing form of trade unionism.

In order fight this attack on the working-class of Ontario, the labour movements’ rank-and-file activists, progressive leaders and principled labour socialists must engage in shop-floor education, organizing and mobilizing that is centred on a class-struggle, anti-racist and anti-oppression campaign. This approach to labour activism must be done in alliance with progressive or radical social movement organizations among women, racialized peoples, indigenous peoples, youth, students, LGBT community, climate/environmental justice, independent and revolutionary labour organizations, anti-authoritarian formations, and radical intellectuals. It must be an alliance based on mutual respect, sharing of approaches to emancipation and resources and a commitment to the value that the oppressed are the architect of and the driving force behind the movement for their emancipation. It is essential that organized labour open up and transform its leadership and decision-making structures to accommodate the full inclusion of its membership, in all their diversity.

In most of our unions and locals, this means starting from the beginning and we can use this current crisis to take those first steps. There is a lot of frustration among union members and community activists over the inaction of labour’s leadership in the face of this attack – and a desire to do something about it. That frustration and desire can be channeled into building cross-union “fight back committees” that bring together trade union and community activists in a city or town, such as members of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly have already begun to do in that city. The “fight back committees” can give us a capacity to act independently from organized labour’s leadership. And probably our first acts should be to organize general assemblies in our locals and town hall meetings in our communities to promote a working-class view of the economic crisis and to mobilize our fellow workers and neighbours around militant, grassroots resistance to the McGuinty government and all the forces promoting a new round of austerity for the working-class.

Nothing less than a self-organizing, class-struggle approach to trade unionism will put labour in a position to fight in the here-and-now, while building the road we must travel on our way to the classless and stateless society of the future.

Alex Diceanu is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906 and a graduate student at McMaster University. Ajamu Nangwaya is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Locals 3907 and 3902 and a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Both authors are members of the Ontario anarchist organization, Common Cause.

[1] Walkom, T. (2010, March 26). Liberals aim at easy targets. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–walkom…
[2] Brennan, R. J. & Talaga, T. (2010, March 26) Hudak cut wages deeper. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–hudak-cut-wages-deeper
[3] Benzie, R. (2010, July 20). Dwight Duncan’s wage-freeze pitch gets frosty reception. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–dwight-duncan-s-wage-freeze-pitch-gets-frosty-reception
[4] Benzie, July 20
[5] Hossein-zaded, I. (2010, July 23-25). Holes in the Keynesian Arguments against Neoliberal Austerity Policy—Not “Bad” Policy, But Class Policy. Retrieved from
[6] Benzie, July 20.
[7] Hume, C. (2010, March 29). Transit still not a priority. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–transit-still-not-a-…
[8] The Canadian Press. (2010 April 1). Ontario asked to restore special diet allowance. Retrieved from
9] Goddard, J., Rider, D. & Kalinoski, (2010, March 26). Miller outraged as budget sideswiped GTA transit. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–miller-outraged-as-budget-sideswipes-gta-transit
[10] Hossein-zaded, I, Holes in the Keynesian arguments against neoliberal austerity policy.
[11] ibid

Labour needs to step up on employment equity

By admin, August 26, 2010 4:02 pm

Posted by Editor on Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 in

Ajamu Nangwaya


There are two issues that are not really grounded in the current public discussion on the Conservative government’s proposed review of employment equity in the national civil service. The two matters are the question of race and structural racism and the role of labour unions and the collective bargaining process.

I hope that there will be no delusion that race and the privileging of Whiteness are at the heart of the federal Conservatives’ attack on employment equity. Minister Jason Kenney singled out “race and ethnicity” as the basis for his support of the re-examination of employment equity.

It is quite instructive that he would have taken this position given the fact that racialized workers are the only ones among the designated groups that are underrepresented in the federal public service. Isn’t this review a move to keep racialized workers at the back of the bus and place them in the unenviable position of looking up from the bottom of the well?

Statistics Canada has projected that racialized people will make up between 29 per cent and 32 per cent of the national population by 2031. The entrenching of discriminatory barriers in the labour market flies in the face of the increasing presence of racialized workers in the labour force.

The labour movement needs to step up and become a vocal, principled and willing advocate for employment equity throughout the workplaces of this country. Labour cannot claim that it is the voice of the working class, but demonstrate through action that it will not boldly and fearlessly work at eliminating racist and other employment barriers in the labour market.

Organized labour must do two things. It must ensure that its own workforce is representative of the society in which it operates. Labour unions should be ashamed of the job that they are doing in removing barriers for racialized workers within its staff.

Trade unions must negotiate full-fledged employment equity plans into the collective agreement with targets and timelines on hiring, training and development, promotion and retention rates. It is quite clear that a vague, progressive-sounding clause on employment equity is just a way for unions and the employers to not do anything once the contract has been signed. An employment equity plan in the legal document (employment contract) provides a mechanism to hold the union and the employer accountable. There should also be language on the commitment of resources and accountability measures with respect to the managers to ensure the success of the program.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade unionist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto.

Caribana, exploitation and disrespect of a cultural resource

By admin, August 9, 2010 2:00 am
Posted by Editor on Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 in

Ajamu NangwayaAjamu Nangwaya

While the April 2010 news of the $438 million economic impact of Caribana is worthy of celebration and all the media attention that it has generated, I hope that as Canadians we will open our eyes to the monumental failure of government funding of this phenomenal cultural festival. An Ipsos Reid Economic Impact Study clearly established that Caribana is the most lucrative festival in all of Canada. Yet the Calgary Stampede which attracts millions of dollars in annual government funding is touted as the largest “Canadian” festival with its $173 million economic impact over 10 days.
It is estimated that Ontario’s cultural institutions bring in a yearly income of $4.5 billion, while attracting 3 million patrons. About 1.2 million people participated in the 2009 edition of Caribana and over 300,000 of these revelers came from abroad. It ought to be clear that dollar-for-dollar, Caribana’s economic performance leaves its more favoured cultural competitors in the dust.
In April 2009, the Government of Ontario announced $43 million in funding to six cultural organizations that were reflective of Anglo-Canadian cultural dominance. The Arts Gallery of Ontario received a $10 million operational grant and an additional one-off gift of $8.6 million. The Royal Ontario Museum received an operational grant of $9 million and a one-time funding support of $7.2 million.

Yet, in April 2010, it was announced that the Ontario Liberal government will give its Cinderella of a cash cow, Caribana, an insulting grant of $484,000. In 2009, the provincial government in Alberta gave a $10 million operating grant to the Calgary Stampede, which sent a bold message of the festival’s status as a part of that province’s cultural infrastructure.

The City of Toronto will be offering a grant of about $500,000. Last year the federal government ponied up $415,000, but got back over $108 million in tax receipts from this cultural golden goose. Yet this same federal government gave $5 million to the Calgary Stampede from its Western Economic Diversification funds. This allotment of resources to this Western festival was in addition to $1,819,234 from the Marquee Tourism Events Program.
In my judgment, the miserly level of funding from the City of Toronto, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Canada and the business sector has much to do with the perception of Caribana as a cultural outsider – the multicultural ‘Other’. Further, the people who are the driving force behind the festival are themselves culturally peripheral to the Canadian cultural-cum-political project.
If the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Botanical Gardens and Ontario Heritage Trust could received grant funding of between $2.5 -$3 millions in April 2009, certainly Caribana with its huge cultural, social and economic footprint doesn’t merit being treated like the “black sheep” of the artistic family.
African and Caribbean peoples, the creators of the Caribana festival, are minor economic beneficiaries. But their countless volunteer hours are indispensable to the enormous income that goes into the Canadian economy. It is high time that Caribana be given millions of dollars in annual operational and project funding so as to enable it to operate as a year-round cultural institution.
Further, this festival should contribute to the economic and social vitality of the African and Caribbean community. It is high time for Caribana to not be treated as an economic resource that is exploited for the benefit of the corporate interests and the government. The three levels of government and large corporate sponsors have a neo-colonial relationship or a system of indirect rule with Caribana through the Festival Management Committee (smacks of British colonialism in Africa).

In 2006, the City of Toronto threatened to defund Caribana. It made this move, because of concerns about how the festival was being managed by the Caribbean Cultural Committee. This community-based group was pushed to the sidelines and the Festival Management Committee was elevated to the status of organizer-in-chief. The city’s action sent a clear message about who had de facto control and “ownership” of this summer cultural extravaganza. That act of brinksmanship by the city and other funders affirmed the notion that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.
The state through its funding of the festival has an effective veto over the people from within the African and Caribbean community who are deemed fit to organize this festival. Yet, if we become better politically organized as a community and with Caribana’s economic impact, we have the ability to make this festival one that benefits its creators and be under our effective control.
The benefits should be largely channeled through community-controlled programs and institutions such as community centres, educational scholarships, museums, arts centres and initiatives that will generate employment and other opportunities. It is time for us to force the different levels of government in Canada to move beyond anti-racist and equity policy pronouncements and empty promises and live up to the ideals of equity for all. The inequitable funding of Caribana has effectively demonstrated that political hypocrisy is at work in the cultural policy of the political directorates.
Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade unionist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto.

This article first appeared in the publication

Solving Caribana’s funding crisis

By admin, August 1, 2010 1:44 am
Back to Solving Caribana’s funding crisis

Solving Caribana’s funding crisis

July 29, 2010–solving-caribana-s-funding-crisis
{{GA_Article.Images.Alttext$}}Caribana dancers downtown.


Re: Caribana a victim of cultural racism? Letter July 26

A letter last Friday suggested that security measures at Caribana are disrespectful to West Indians. On Monday someone suggested that reduced federal funding for Caribana is cultural racism.

We need a debate on multiculturalism and what it means. Canada stands for the equitable treatment of all citizens. But there is and has been a Canadian culture with a set of values that predates the entry of various waves of immigrants. One presumes that those values were part of the attraction of this great nation.

Multiculturalism was never intended to mean that all cultures are equable within Canada. If the values of the incoming culture are at odds with the Canadian culture, it seems to me that it is incumbent upon the newcomer to make some adjustments.

Caribana is a wonderful party but it has been a fiscal disaster. The parade has taken too long to complete because parade watchers wander into the fray and impede movement of the floats. This ties up the roads for far too long and disrupts the lives of other citizens.

We deal with this by putting up security fences. There is nothing evident in that that smacks of racism and I am tired of that card being played at every turn.

George Adams, Haliburton

Ajamu Nangwaya wrote a provocative letter about the discriminatory treatment in funding accorded to Caribana by the feds. It is outrageous how we have been marginalized despite contributing $440 million to the economy each year. Today the Star supported him in a large editorial. More power to HIM.

We should immediately organize a delegation — after the Caribana festivities end or when Parliament returns — to go to Ottawa as a group to confront officials responsible for dishing out funds. We should also request at meeting with the Prime Minister.

We should contemplate filing a simple civil claim against the feds for discrimination, using either the Canadian Human Rights Act or Ontario Human Rights Act or the Charter Section 15 in Superior Court. Victory may not be expected but a message will be sent and heard. A demonstration along Yonge St. or Parliament Hill could also send a message.

Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, Barrister and Solicitor, Toronto

My goodness, contributor Ajamu Nangwaya “cannot see any rational reason for the difference in funding” between Caribana and “white” festivals? Perhaps he should review the many reports dealing with financial irregularities, lack of oversight, unpaid bills, and shoddy accounting, which have tarnished the integrity of various Caribana organizers and groups over the years. I don’t recall reading of similar problems with the other committees and boards cited by your leader. Perhaps it isn’t always about race.

Randall Bell, Whitby

Caribana is not only the most colourful parade in Canada, but probably the most colourful in the world. Tourists pour into Toronto from all over Canada, the U.S. and even Europe to join in the fun and spend millions of dollars.

Here’s what they all come to see:

The streets ablaze with the

costumed throng

swaying like palm trees to and fro

sunny smiles from the sunny isles

bringing a tropical touch to old TO

the city explodes in music and song

when the carnival-of-joy

dons its sparkling crown

spreading joi-de-vivre far and wide

when Caribana comes to town.

William Bedford, Toronto

I have been in this country for 33 years and am aware of the continuous issues around funding for Caribana. Canada and Toronto give lip service to multiculturalism as long as we sing and dance on the cheap, but the politicians only echo the mindset of the masses who are still fearful when too many African people gather in one place. This is disrespectful to the notion of integrity, truth and honesty — something we smugly accuse the U.S. of doing.

Perhaps it would help if the Caribana group cut out the damn infighting, ensured that transparency, accountability and fairness are practiced and presented a unified front to the corporate/political people. Unless we get up off our collective asses and make them respect us, they have no incentive to do so. And the best incentive for capitalists is the lack of capital coming into their hands.

Tchaka Adofo, Toronto

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