Conflict minerals: A cover for U.S. allies and Western mining interests?

By admin, November 29, 2009 11:14 pm

Conflict minerals: A cover for U.S. allies and Western mining interests?

by Kambale Musavuli and Bodia Macharia

November 27, 2009

The caption for this photo, illustrating a story headlined “African advocates say Canada owes Congo” on the Vancouver, Canada-based Straight-com, reads, “Women are in constant danger in Eastern Congo, where most of the recent fighting has taken place and rape is widespread.” The story, quoting two Congolese now in Canada, attributes the violence not to tribal conflict but to “a war of resources … a war of cellphones” but is divided over whether Canada should intervene militarily. – Photo: Dominic Nahr, MSF

The caption for this photo, illustrating a story headlined “African advocates say Canada owes Congo” on the Vancouver, Canada-based Straight-com, reads, “Women are in constant danger in Eastern Congo, where most of the recent fighting has taken place and rape is widespread.” The story, quoting two Congolese now in Canada, attributes the violence not to tribal conflict but to “a war of resources … a war of cellphones” but is divided over whether Canada should intervene militarily. – Photo: Dominic Nahr, MSF

As global awareness grows around the Congo and the silence is finally being broken on the current and historic exploitation of Black people in the heart of Africa, a myriad of Western based “prescriptions” are being proffered. Most of these prescriptions are devoid of social, political, economic and historical context and are marked by remarkable omissions. The conflict mineral approach or efforts emanating from the United States and Europe are no exception to this symptomatic approach which serves more to perpetuate the root causes of Congo’s challenges than to resolve them.

The conflict mineral approach has an obsessive focus on the FDLR and other rebel groups while scant attention is paid to Uganda, which has an International Court of Justice ruling against it for looting and crimes against humanity in the Congo, and Rwanda, whose role in the perpetuation of the conflict and looting of Congo is well documented by U.N. reports and international arrest warrants for its top officials.

Rwanda is the main transit point for minerals stolen from the Congo irrespective of the rebel group – FDLR, CNDP or others – transporting the minerals. According to Dow Jones, Rwanda’s mining sector output grew 20 percent in 2008 from the year earlier due to increased export volumes of tungsten, cassiterite and coltan, the country’s three leading minerals with which Rwanda is not well endowed.

In fact, should Rwanda continue to pilfer Congo’s minerals, its annual mineral export revenues are expected to reach $200 million by 2010. Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen says it best when he notes, “(H)aving controlled the Kivu provinces for 12 years, Rwanda will not relinquish access to resources that constitute a significant percentage of its gross national product.” As long as the West continues to give the Kagame regime carte blanche, the conflict and instability will endure.

According to Global Witness’ 2009 report, “Faced With a Gun What Can You Do,” Congolese government statistics and reports by the Group of Experts and NGOs, Rwanda is one of the main conduits for illicit minerals leaving the Congo. It is amazing that proponents of the conflict mineral approach shout loudly about making sure that the trade in minerals does not benefit armed groups, yet the biggest armed beneficiary of Congo’s minerals is the Rwandan regime headed by Paul Kagame. Nonetheless, the conflict mineral approach is remarkably silent about Rwanda’s complicity in the fueling of the conflict in the Congo and the fleecing of Congo’s riches.

When this Gecamines open pit copper mine in Katanga, one of the world’s largest, and others like it shut down during Congo’s civil war, Congolese continued mining for their own benefit. The miners rebelled when the company tried to expel them. State-owned Gecamines was until recently headed by Canadian Paul Fortin. – Photo: David Lewis, Reuters

When this Gecamines open pit copper mine in Katanga, one of the world’s largest, and others like it shut down during Congo’s civil war, Congolese continued mining for their own benefit. The miners rebelled when the company tried to expel them. State-owned Gecamines was until recently headed by Canadian Paul Fortin. – Photo: David Lewis, Reuters

Advocates of the conflict mineral approach would be far more credible if they had ever called for any kind of pressure whatsoever on mining companies that are directly involved in either fueling the conflict or exploiting the Congolese people. The United Nations, the Congolese Parliament, the Carter Center, Southern Africa Resource Watch and several other NGOs have documented corporations that have pilfered Congo’s wealth and contributed to the perpetuation of the conflict. These companies include but are not limited to Traxys, OM Group, Blattner Elwyn Group, Freeport McMoran, Eagle Wings/Trinitech, Lundin, Kemet, Banro, AngloGold Ashanti, Anvil Mining, and First Quantum.

The conflict mineral approach, like the Blood Diamond campaign from which it draws its inspiration, is silent on the question of resource sovereignty which has been a central question in the geo-strategic battle for Congo’s mineral wealth. It was over this question of resource sovereignty that the West assassinated Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, and stifled the democratic aspirations of the Congolese people for over three decades by installing and backing the dictator Joseph Mobutu.

In addition, the United States also backed the 1996 and 1998 invasions of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda instead of supporting the non-violent, pro-democracy forces inside the Congo. Unfortunately and to the chagrin of the Congolese people, some of the strongest advocates of the conflict mineral approach are former Clinton administration officials who supported the invasions of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda. This may in part explain the militaristic underbelly of the conflict mineral approach, which has as its so-called second step a comprehensive counterinsurgency.

The focus on the East of Congo falls in line with the long-held obsession by some advocates in Washington who incessantly push for the balkanization of the Congo. Their focus on “Eastern Congo” is inadequate and does not fully take into account the nature and scope of the dynamics in the entire country. Political decisions in Kinshasa, the capital in the West, have a direct impact on the events that unfold in the East of Congo and are central to any durable solutions.

The central claim of the conflict mineral approach is to bring an end to the conflict; however, the conflict can plausibly be brought to an end much quicker through diplomatic and political means. The so-called blood mineral route is not the quickest way to end the conflict.

We have already seen how quickly world pressure can work with the sidelining of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and the demobilization and/or rearranging of his CNDP rebel group in January 2009, as a result of global pressure placed on the CNDP’s sponsor, Paul Kagame of Rwanda. More pressure needs to be placed on leaders such as Kagame and Uganda’s Museveni, who have been at the root of the conflict since 1996.

The FDLR can readily be pressured as well, especially with most of their political leadership residing in the West; however, this should be done within a political framework, which brings all the players to the table, as opposed to the current militaristic, dichotomous, good-guy-bad-guy approach, where the West sees Kagame and Museveni as the “good guys” and everyone else as bad. The picture is far grayer than Black and White.

A robust political approach by the global community would entail the following prescriptions:

1. Join Sweden and Netherlands in pressuring Rwanda to be a partner for peace and a stabilizing presence in the region. The United States and Great Britain in particular should apply more pressure on their allies Rwanda and Uganda to the point of withholding aid if necessary.

2. Hold to account companies and individuals through sanctions on trafficking in minerals whether with rebel groups or neighboring countries, particularly Rwanda and Uganda. Canada has chimed in as well but has been deadly silent on the exploitative practices of its mining companies in the Congo. Canada must do more to hold its mining companies accountable as is called for in Bill C-300.

3. Encourage world leaders to be more engaged diplomatically and place a higher priority on what is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II.

4. Reject the militarization of the Great Lakes region represented by AFRICOM, which has already resulted in the suffering of civilian population; the strengthening of authoritarian figures such as Uganda’s Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, and Rwanda’s Kagame, who won the 2003 “elections” with 95 percent of the vote; and the restriction of political space in their countries.

5. Demand that the Obama administration engage differently from its current military-laden approach and take the lead in pursuing an aggressive diplomatic path with an emphasis on pursuing a regional political framework that can lead to lasting peace and stability.

To learn more about the current crisis in the Congo, visit and join the global movement in support of the people of the Congo at

Kambale Musavuli is spokesperson and student coordinator for Friends of the Congo. He can be reached at Bodia Macharia is the president of Friends of the Congo/ Canada. She can be reached at

Aristide party barred from Haiti’s February ballot

By admin, November 29, 2009 11:38 am

Aristide party barred from Haiti’s February ballot

Wed Nov 25, 2009 7:55pm EST

More News

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – The political party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide will be barred from legislative elections scheduled for February 28, Haitian elections officials said on Wednesday.

The decision drew immediate criticism from Aristide, a onetime populist hero in Haiti who was ousted in an armed rebellion in 2004. From his exile in South Africa, he asked whether elections officials were trying “to organize an election or to make a selection.”

Aristide is a former Roman Catholic priest who became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1991 and won a second election in 2000. His Lavalas Family party is still considered the most popular political force in the impoverished Caribbean nation of 9 million people.

“The Lavalas Family party will not be allowed to participate in the next election because the electoral council’s legal counsel said the party did not meet all legal requirements,” electoral council president Gaillot Dorsainvil told local radio stations.

He did not specify which requirements the party failed to meet.

Ninety-eight of the 99 seats in the legislature’s Chamber of Deputies will be at stake in the February election, along with one-third of the 30-member Senate. The vote for the remaining lower house seat will be held at a later date.

Aristide faced accusations of corruption and despotism when he was forced from power in February 2004 during a bloody armed rebellion and under U.S. and French pressure to quit.

Sources close to the electoral council told Reuters the decision to bar the party was motivated by suspicions that the signature on a faxed letter sent by Aristide, authorizing local representatives to register the party, was falsified.

Last week, the council asked Lavalas Family official Maryse Narcisse to provide the original of Aristide’s letter. It was handed over to election officials, who then decided to bar the party.

In a rare interview, Aristide confirmed on local Radio Solidarity on Wednesday that he had given authority to Narcisse to register the party, and questioned whether Haitian officials wanted to hold fair and democratic elections.

“That will depend on whether the electoral council wants to organize an election or to make a selection,” Aristide said by phone from South Africa. “If they want to organize elections, I encourage them. But if they want to make a selection I urge them not to take that path because it will not serve the country’s interests.”

Lavalas Family was barred from previous elections over alleged failures to meet legal requirements.

Aristide’s allies accused election officials of dismissing their party in order to favor a new coalition close to President Rene Preval. The group, called “Unity,” replaced Preval’s dissolved “Lespwa” coalition.

“Our decision has no political motivations,” Dorsainvil said. “It is based on requirements of the electoral law.”

(Editing by Jim Loney

and Mohammad Zargham


Haiti: A Brief History of Freedom

By admin, November 29, 2009 11:36 am

A Brief History of Freedom



Jamaica Observer – Sunday, November 29, 2009

This time last year I was in the throes of preparing to dispatch a petition to the then president-elect of the United States.


The petition, or open letter, to Barack Obama was never sent, largely because I was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and ordered to undergo treatment urgently. It was entirely my fault that though the petition had already been signed by a couple of hundred people it was never sent. Haitians, Jamaicans, other Caribbean people, English and American people, French people, Canadians and others from all over the world had endorsed the call for Barack Obama to seize the mantle of the Liberator and to restore to the people of Haiti their freedom, liberty, dignity and all their human rights. As I said, the letter was never sent. I wonder whether it would have had any effect had it been sent.

Looking at what has happened to Honduran democracy and this week’s latest farce in Haiti, I have my doubts. I am excerpting the letter here. What do you think? When the Haitians spoke of Freedom they did not qualify it. They named a major promenade after John Brown, and offered Lincoln a Union Army brigade to complete the service they had begun to render in the American War of Independence. In our letter to the president-elect we began by noting the coincidence of Mr Obama’s electoral victory in the bicentennial year of the end of the slave trade, an achievement owing much to the Haitian struggle. We continued:

We, the undersigned, are a group of people of many nations, of all classes and callings moved by what we consider an overwhelming moral imperative to seek assistance for Haiti in breaking a vicious circle of defamation, economic oppression, external political and military interference that has unjustly constrained, for nearly two centuries, the exercise of Haiti’s hard-won independence, freedom and liberty.

Because of these malign factors the Haitian people have been reduced to penury; most are unemployed, many are starving and their land and environment degraded by decades of over-exploitation. A proud people whose forefathers once produced enough to make other peoples wealthy and powerful, are now prevented from exercising their own free will and genius in deciding their own destiny.

Despite these factors the Haitian spirit remains free, undaunted and optimistic. The Haitians want to be free – to be themselves, to employ their own genius and strength as they did in their unique struggle for independence, defeating powers mightier than themselves to abolish slavery and to assert their independence and freedom.

Now, as they languish as prisoners in their own land, justice and humanity demand that the Haitian people should be able to reclaim the dignity and respect they have earned by centuries of their struggle for human rights and dignity for themselves and for other nations and peoples.

The circumstances surrounding this demand are so important and so extraordinary that we believe it is important to set them out in some detail.
This historical narrative included the following:

You are aware that 204 years ago the people of Haiti, having defeated the armies of France (twice) and of Britain and Spain, the greatest powers of that time, declared their independence and simultaneously abolished slavery. The Haitians were the first and only people in the world to abolish the evil system that enslaved them.

Their struggle effectively destroyed the Trans-Atlantic Trade in Africans and accelerated freedom for those enslaved in the British and other empires.
The Haitians did more: the Haitian Revolution invented the concept of universal emancipation, guaranteeing the freedom of any enslaved person who set foot on Haitian soil.

The Haitians went even further: Haiti was the first and, for a long time, the only state in the world to recognise the universal equality of rights for all human beings regardless of sex, economic condition or any other consideration. It was the first state to implement human rights universally and unconditionally at a time when the only free people in other modern states were white adult male property owners.

Human freedom was then and is now of transcendental importance to the Haitians.

In 1816, with their economy still in ruins after a 12-year war of independence, while blockaded by greater powers and prevented from international trade, the Haitians made a heroic and decisive contribution to the independence of six major countries in Spanish South America. Haiti gave the then-penniless and friendless liberator Simon Bolivar soldiers, ships, arms, ammunition and provisions to prosecute the liberation of South America. The Haitians asked in return only one thing from Bolivar: that whenever he liberated a country he should also liberate those who were enslaved.

It was the Haitian support of Bolivar in his liberation of South America which made possible the Monroe Doctrine by which the US forbade European attempts to recolonise South America.

Clearly, Haiti has made enormous contributions to the cause of human freedom and the world owes her an unpayable debt.

The world has not been as kind to Haiti.

After a brief review of the twentieth-century history of Haiti, we related how Haitian democracy had been destroyed by its enemies within Haiti and outside. First, in 1992:

“The new president’s (Jean Bertrand Aristide) aims were simple: that all Haitians be treated justly as God’s children, that all have food and shelter, and that all take pride in their own Kreyol language and culture. He said he wanted “to build Utopia on the dungheap” left behind by the dictators.

Elements of the Duvalier army, backed by elements of the business and elite classes, promoted a coup which ended with the attempted assassination and departure into exile of the lawfully elected President Aristide after only six months in office.

Mr Patrick Robinson, a distinguished Jamaican jurist (now president of the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague) went to Haiti on behalf of the Inter American Human Rights Commission in 1994. He reported:

“The people in Haiti have the same emotions and aspirations as the citizens of any other state in the organisation. They have within themselves an enormous capacity for warmth and love and friendship and endurance and a great yearning for peace, justice and democracy. But a people do not endure the hardships, the deprivation, the violence, the victimisation and the enormous disappointments that the Haitians have experienced over the past 32 months without their faith in humanity and their expectations of decency and justice being challenged in a serious way.

“The Commission received reports of rape and sexual abuse of the wives and relatives of men who are active supporters of President Aristide; women are also raped, not only because of their relationship to men who support President Aristide, but because they also support President Aristide; thus, sexual abuse is used as an instrument of repression and political persecution.”

In 2001 former President Aristide was again inaugurated as president after another overwhelming electoral victory. A campaign, led by the same elements responsible for the first coup but this time directed and openly supported by various agencies of the US and Canadian and French governments, including the CIA, the State Department, John McCain’s International Republican Institute, USAID and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) , promoted the formation of a small and divided Opposition formed by an assemblage of Haitian NGOs and supported by elements of the corrupt army dissolved by President Aristide.

This opposition, on the basis of a few disputed election results unconnected to the election of the president and before he took office, refused to work or even speak to President Aristide to resolve political problems. The opposition, which at all times represented a small minority of the Haitian people, was supported by non-Haitian elements, American, Canadian and French, in their demand that President Aristide must leave office.

No substantive reason has ever been presented to support this demand.
Decapitating Democracy

In the early morning of February 29, 2004, the US ambassador and a party of US Marines arrived at the private residence of the president and his family and left with the president and Mme Aristide in a heavily guarded motorcade to the airport where the Aristides were placed on a plane to Africa, manifested as cargo.

A worldwide wave of disapproval of this kidnapping placed the blame squarely at the door of the United States.

A delegation led by Randall Robinson of TransAfrica and Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California together with Sharon Hay-Webster, a Jamaican member of parliament and aide to Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica, travelled to Bangui by chartered plane to rescue the Aristides and bring them back to the Caribbean, to asylum in Jamaica.

The Government of Jamaica, despite being threatened by the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, accepted the Aristides until they could arrange permanent asylum. They were received by President Thabo Mbeki to South Africa where they remain to this day.

The United States, Canada and France, operating through the UN Security Council, then imposed upon the Haitian people a government headed by a Haitian businessman who had lived outside of Haiti for most of his adult life.
Under this unelected regime, a so-called ‘peacekeeping” force of US Marines and later, of soldiers from other countries, provided the armed state power to maintain law and order.

Terror is still abroad in Haiti. Two prominent supporters of the Lavalas movement, Lovinsky Pierre Antoine and Maryse Narcisse, were kidnapped last year (2007). Mme Narcisse has been restored to her family after a worldwide outcry. Pierre Antoine is still missing and the government has done nothing to investigate his disappearance.

All over Haiti poor people have been reduced to eating earth to stave off hunger. The women mix clay, salt and a little fat to produce patties which are baked in the sun before being eaten. Women, too malnourished to breastfeed their newborns, watch them die in their arms.

What Haiti needs

Haiti needs, first of all, reconciliation, a period of peace and order and negotiation to reclaim its democracy and to develop among all its citizens a true respect for the universal human rights implemented in Haiti, for the first time on the planet, two centuries ago.

Haiti needs peace and order to build the institutions, facilities and infrastructure which it has been unable to build because of foreign interference and exploitation.

Haiti needs a programme of long-term development, designed and implemented by the Haitians themselves without interference from outside.

Haiti is hungry and its farmlands and forests have been depleted, degraded and destroyed as a result of the fatal interventions from abroad. Haiti needs assistance to feed its people and to restore the population to acceptable standards of nutrition.

Haiti needs to resume and accelerate its programme of building schools and universities and training people to prevail against the threat of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Haiti needs roads and water supplies and a governmental apparatus that will design and implement them.

Haiti should be able to expect, as of right, justice and fair treatment from the United Nations, the Organisation of American States and the Multilateral Financial Institutions. Haiti has suffered and is suffering from unfair treatment by many of these organisations of which she was a founding member.

Finally, President Obama, we who sign this letter do not presume to speak for Haiti. We believe that you will want to hear from the Haitian people themselves. They have spoken eloquently over the centuries in which they have built the economies of other countries, in which they have fought for and won their own freedom and have accelerated the freedom of others. But we believe we speak on behalf of humanity, being moved by the unbearable suffering of a people who have contributed so much to human freedom and dignity.

We believe that achieving justice for Haiti is an undertaking important to the history and integrity of human civilisation and to the cause of the human rights of all people, everywhere.

We believe that you are uniquely qualified by history, by temperament and by your office to make the decisive intervention that will cure centuries-old injustices and free your country and Haiti from an entanglement which devalues and in some ways, delegitimises humanity’s constant struggle for the secure establishment of the inalienable rights of mankind.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, humanity cannot be half-slave and half-free.
If Haiti is not free, none of us is free.

It is long past time for outsiders to stop their deadly interference in Haiti’s affairs and time for any who can come to Haiti’s assistance to do so, on Haiti’s terms. Haiti needs a new relationship with the United States, a partnership that promotes human rights, debt relief, reciprocal trade, sustainable development, Haiti’s domestic agriculture, an end to foreign occupation and justice for the victims of official terror.

This is a long letter, but as one of our signatories has noted, for Haiti, the suffering has not simply been long, but apparently endless.

We are confident that you will see the justice of the Haitian case.

Millions of people in the United States and in the Caribbean and Latin America and in Africa owe a debt of freedom to Haiti. It is a debt that is long past due.

Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

Combatting “Blackface” Racism at the University of Toronto

By admin, November 27, 2009 12:12 pm
Combatting “Blackface” Racism at the University of Toronto

Dear Colleagues,

We write to you as members of the international academic community
who have a strong history of demonstrating a sense of social
justice and a commitment to anti-racism. For the past month,
students and faculty at the University of Toronto in Ontario,
Canada have been struggling to get the University to respond
appropriately to an incident of “blackface” which took place at
Halloween. Not only has the University failed to issue a public
statement but it has publicly sought to exploit the organizing done
by black students who sought to make this event into a “Teachable
moment”. Despite having failed to respond to requests to issue a
public statement on the event and on the intimidation to which
student organisers have been subjected, the University actually
publicly took responsibility for organizing a public town hall
which was, in fact, organised by the Black Students’ Association
with NO university support.

When compared to the University’s public statements on other
matters which it deems to be “of priority”, the University’s
behaviour in this situation is extremely troubling. Additionally,
when compared with the quick and public response of many other
institutions who have faced similar incidents in recent years, the
University of Toronto’s double-dealing is shocking.

Here is the link to the petition:

We ask you to please read the petition in the link provided below
which outlines the University’s appalling response to this
situation, and consider offering your support. Please circulate
this petition to other who you think might want to know about this
and offer their support. Please contact us if you require further

Melanie Newton
Associate Professor of Caribbean and Atlantic World History
University of Toronto

Daniella Kyei, University of Toronto Students’ Union, VP Equity

Against Blackface at U of T, Canada

View Current Signatures –   Sign the Petition

To:  People of Good Conscience PUBLIC STATEMENT

On Tuesday, November 24, at public hearings before the Canadian Parliamentary Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism, Robert Steiner, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Communications for the University of Toronto, informed those present that the University of Toronto administration had taken the lead in working with concerned students to organize and facilitate a public town hall meeting on a recent incident of �Blackface� at the university. As the students and faculty who organised and spoke at that town hall, we are appalled, angered and dismayed that Mr. Steiner has falsely represented the University�s role in the sequence of events that have ensued as a result of this �Blackface� incident.

Contrary to which Mr. Steiner has claimed, the university played no part whatsoever in organising the town hall event. In fact, even as Mr. Steiner was issuing his public comments, students and faculty were trying to get the University administration to issue a public statement affirming its commitment to equity on campus. Despite repeated requests to issue a statement the University has failed to do so. In light of Mr. Steiner�s comments we feel it is absolutely imperative that the university community and the wider public be made aware of the University�s true role in this serious breach of equity and trust on its own campus.

On Halloween night (29 October) five University of Toronto students dressed up in �costume� as the Hollywood version of the Jamaican bobsled team from the film Cool Runnings for a party hosted by three of the university’s colleges: St. Michael’s; University; and Victoria. Four of the students wore blackface as part of their �costumes�; the fifth wore a white painted face. When students on campus raised concerns, controversy arose concerning what was meant by the �costume.� Many students and faculty (including several who are not black) immediately recognized the “costumes” as blackface and voiced their collective dismay, given the long history of blackface performance and minstrelsy in demeaning black people and systematically caricaturing black cultures.

Members of the Black Students Association (BSA) approached those students and colleges involved to request a public apology. They also took the initiative to make the incident a �teachable� moment, bringing diverse constituencies together to learn about the historical and contemporary hurt and pain caused by enacting blackface. On November 10 the BSA, supported by the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), organized a town hall meeting that was attended by more than 300 people. After the meeting and in online discussions of media coverage of the event, both local and national, the BSA and its president have been victims of a disturbing backlash that has the cumulative effect of questioning the right of some students to claim full membership of the university community.

The university has failed to use its normal communicative channels to stand in support of the students who organized the town hall and who have faced intimidation following the event. The university’s dereliction of duty sent a message that black voices in our midst do not matter, or matter less than those of other groups who raise similarly serious concerns.

A meeting took place on November 19 in the office of the Vice-Provost, Students. Following a seemingly positive discussion, BSA and UTSU student representatives, as well as concerned faculty, expected that the university would distribute a public statement to address the issues raised in the meeting. To our surprise when an official response did arrive it was sent in the form of a private communication to the two students leaders and four faculty who had met with administrators. The letter’s recipients were asked to distribute the statement themselves to the wider university community. After a query as to whether this constituted the extent of the University’s response, we received an e-mail yesterday (November 24) informing us that the letter had been posted on the Equity web site and that of the Vice-Provost, Students-where it would likely never be accessed by the wider university community.

This piecemeal approach on the part of University Administrators is a serious failure of public leadership. As was made evident at the earlier town hall meeting and in subsequent meetings with senior administrators, the blackface incident is representative of much deeper issues and fissures on campus.

Typically, on matters of importance to the U of T community, senior administrators draw on a range of communicative strategies to reach the widest audience possible. The actions, or lack thereof, of the senior administration of the university suggest that black students are not equally valued members of the university community and that concerns about the alienation of other nonwhite students can be ignored and sidestepped. We refuse to accept such a position. We call on the senior administration to publicly affirm that our community is a safe place for producing knowledge, discussing ideas, and for building a multicultural and cosmopolitan community that becomes a genuinely global model of intercultural learning and academic excellence. We publicly commend University College for thus far being the only administrative unit in the University to issue a full public apology, and call on the administration and student councils of Victoria and St. Michael�s College to do the same. The University of Toronto belongs to us all, and that commitment-to value us equally in our diversity-needs to be publicly demonstrated and reiterated.

In light of this history Mr. Steiner�s comments represent the exploitation by the University of the pain of students who have felt targeted as a result of this �Blackface� incident and the hard work of courageous student organizers. It also represents a breach of trust with members of its own faculty who spoke at the event, none of whom was contacted by the university prior to the town hall of November 10. We demand a full public apology from Mr. Steiner and senior University administration for having exploited us all in this manner.

Daniella Kyei, University of Toronto Students� Union, Vice-President Equity
Dawn Samuel, President of the Black Students� Association
Sean Hawkins, Associate Professor of History
Melanie Newton, Associate Professor of History
Alissa Trotz, Associate Professor of Women�s and Gender Studies
Rinaldo Walcott, Associate Professor of Social Justice and Cultural Studies

Chair Internal Speaks

By ChairInternal, November 27, 2009 12:24 am

Chair Internal Speaks

Letters to the Editor

Child slavery in Haiti no surprise

Published On Thu Dec 31 2009

Re:Poor Haitian kids forced into slavery, Dec. 23

The reality of child slavery in Haiti cannot be separated from the economic and political priorities favoured by local elites, global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank and powerful countries such as the United States, Canada and France.

There is a link between many of these enslaved children, who came from the countryside, and the crippling of Haitian agriculture through the importation of subsidized rice, beans, corn, pork and sugar. Up until the 1980s, Haiti was self-sufficient in food production. However, it has been forced to severely cut tariffs to subsidized imports. This globalization-induced policy has impoverished the rural people and enriched a small cluster of Haitian families who own most of the country’s wealth.

Haiti’s children are vulnerable to child slavery because access to education is a pipe dream for most. Only 67 per cent and 20 per cent of eligible-age children are enrolled in primary and secondary schools, respectively. School fees of $70-$80 (U.S.) per year in a country with a per capita GDP of $480 are a critical factor in the under 50 per cent enrolment rate. Only 10 per cent of primary and secondary schooling is delivered by the Haitian government to its citizens.

Should it come as a surprise that Haiti’s children are now the victims of child slavery, sex tourism and sexual improprieties by some NGO personnel and UN peacekeepers?

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Selective moral outrage reflects U.S. bias

Published On Mon Nov 09 2009

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Re: Thank you, Mia Farrow, Letter Nov. 8

The venal regime of Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan has certainly been a party to gross human rights violations in the Darfur region. Hopefully, the day will come when the Sudanese people will be able to justly “reward” President Al-Bashir for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and war crimes.

However, the singling out of Sudan is consistent with an inherent bias in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. highlights the wrongdoings of its enemies and soft-pedals or ignores those of its allies and friends.

How would the unbiased friends of Darfur classify the Congo, with about 6 million deaths, more than 250,000 women raped, about 2 million internally displaced and an active and brutal war on civilians by all armed combatants?

I hope Ms. Farrow’s comrades-in-arms Ve’ahavta and the Canadian Jewish Congress will find the time to critique the role of Western mining companies and governments and neighbouring states in perpetuating Congo’s conflict. These erstwhile Canadian human rights friends should also call for an end to Israel’s economic blockade against and collective punishment of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

When we are selective in our moral outrage against human rights violations, we unwittingly create the ethically untenable categories of deserving and undeserving victims.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

More views on early education
Sep 26, 2009 04:30 AM

Re: Province on verge of giving in to teachers, Sept. 22
I can only hope that crass and self-interested electoral calculation is not driving the Liberal government’s push toward having kindergarten teachers, on a full-day basis, in the classroom for Ontario’s 4- and 5-year-olds. The general interest of our children should guide the government in the implementation of the recommendations contained with the Pascal Report.History will treat this provincial administration with contempt if it panders to the logic of the 2011 provincial election and not do the right thing in catering to the educational and developmental needs of our 4- and 5-year-olds.

Further, it would be bad public policy for the Liberal government to implement a bastardized version of the seamless system that came out of a wide-ranging consultation and research process by Dr. Pascal and his team. An early learning program that only targets the poorest sections of the working class would be unwittingly designed to rob it of widespread public support. That would create a widespread “me too” sentiment from excluded parents who genuinely need this type of public service. Many of them cannot afford the current privatized childcare or are concerned about the uneven quality that exists in the current patchwork early learning system.

Something is grievously wrong when this Liberal government was able to find $500 million for and give cost-overrun guarantees to the athletic spectacle called the Pan Am Games, but is agonizing over investing $1 billion into the future of our children.

If an education premier has reservations about the full implementation of the Pascal Report, we must count our “blessings” that we do not have an anti-education chief minister at Queen’s Park.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Student warns of creeping privatization
Sep 15, 2009 04:30 AM

Re: U of T’s new library fees worry grad students, Sept. 11

As a graduate student and leader in the Graduate Students’ Union, I am appalled by the decision of the university’s administration to put up financial enclosures around this valuable educational commons and its vast collection of books and extensive archival materials.

The policy to charge an annual fee to non-U of T stakeholders in order for them to access the books and archives is an undisguised move in the direction of privatizing public education. The wider community should be seen as an ally in the push for affordable or free post-secondary education. When the community is confronted with undue fees to use a publicly funded institution, as well as policies that represent an unreasonable limit to educational access, this venerable educational institution is unwittingly reducing public support for adequate funding for the post-secondary education sector.

U of T is an educational leader. But of late, it is charting a path that does not bode well for public education in the province and the country. From its imposition of flat fees, desire to favour research and graduate education, policing of on-campus dissent, and now these unprecedented user fees, my university is becoming a “rogue” player in the service of neo-liberal education.

I call upon the public and all students to send a clear message to the university that its policy is unjust and should be immediately reversed.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

More Views on Early Childhood Education

Aug 29, 2009 04:30 AM

The behaviour of Ontario’s elementary teachers union in opposing the participation of early childhood educators (ECEs) in the early learning system, as recommended by the Pascal Report, is illustrative of the fact that sisterhood is not global. Elementary teachers and ECEs are predominantly women and one would expect the former to grasp this opportunity to bring their relatively disprivileged, but qualified sisters into the educational system.I have no other option but to question the commitment of the elementary teachers to social justice. Apparently, solidarity between women as workers stops at the border of income differentiation or “class” differences. Are the elementary teachers fearful of bringing into the fold a group of mostly women workers who would be lifted out of poverty and experience better working condition?

In my judgment, it looks like the mere acquisition of bachelor of education degrees or certification as elementary teachers gives the false belief to their holders that they can teach or meet the developmental needs of children of any age.

In the major metropolitan areas of Ontario, many racialized women work as ECEs and that is not the reality with respect to the demographic make-up of elementary teachers. If ECEs are blended into the educational system, this act would go a long way toward improving the wages, benefits and professional development opportunities of these workers.

If it takes a village to raise a child, why is it that the elementary teachers’ union is trying to keep out the ECEs from this collective responsibility?

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Only rich benefit from secret Swiss banks

Aug 25, 2009 04:30 AM

Re:Switzerland suffers a bruising to its image, Business Aug 23

I am baffled that Swiss commentators are not cheering on the crumbling wall of banking secrecy, which has allowed their country to live handsomely off the avails of corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, fraud accounting and other nefarious activities. Swiss banks have been the best friends of corrupt dictators who have stashed away billions from national treasuries and other illegal activities.

According to Global Financial Integrity, run by U.S.-based Center for International Policy, the illegal outflow of financial resources from Third World countries in 2006 was estimated at between $858.6 billion and $1.06 trillion. In 2008, rich countries provided about $120 billion in aid to developing countries, which pales in comparison to the annual, ill-gotten wealth transfer to the banking systems of the former.

The consequences of the aiding and abetting of corruption by Swiss banks and other Western banking systems are very real for the “wretched of the earth” in the Third World. These “lost” financial resources could have been deployed to strengthen public education and health care infrastructure, create jobs, develop the agricultural sector and launch a wide range of social and economic initiatives to benefit members of the working class and peasantry. Only the wealthy benefit from banking secrecy laws.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Jobless rate among minorities skyrocketing

Posted by Editor
on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 in


Statistics Canada recently revealed the jobless rates in July 2009 for young job seekers between the ages of 15 and 24 at 20.9 per cent and 13.4 per cent for students and non-students, respectively. The national unemployment rate stood at 8.6 per cent and 10 per cent for the City of Toronto, also during that month.

The nightmarish unemployment rates for young job seekers would be even more disturbing, if we adjust the statistics and examine by race or ethnicity. The unemployment rates for Aboriginal and racialized youth job seekers are usually much higher than that of their White counterparts, even during good economic periods.

Michael Ornstein’s analysis of the 1996 census data for youth unemployment rates in Toronto revealed that the general figure for joblessness stood at 19.6 per cent. But the rate for Black and African youth between the ages of 15 and 24 years was 38 per cent. According to Ryerson University professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi, in 2001, the national unemployment rate for African Canadian youth was 21 per cent, while the figure for all racialized youth was 16.1 per cent. The 2001 general jobless rate for all youth was 13.3%.

One can only imagine the unemployment experience for African Canadian and other racialized youth in this economic crisis that is arguably the worst since the Great Depression. However, the thing that is disturbing about the severe unemployment situation for both racialized and Aboriginal youth and their White counterparts is that the cost of postsecondary education and the attendant indebtedness make the access to university and college education almost unreachable.

The level of student loan owed to the federal government now stands at over $13 billion and grows at an alarming rate of $1.2 million per day, according to the Canadian Federation of Students. Young people from working class households are more likely to forgo the pursuit of postsecondary education than their middle and upper class cohorts out the fear of going into debt. Therefore, many young job seekers may not choose postsecondary education as a way to deal with joblessness.

What is most troubling about the above student indebtedness figures is that they do not account for the estimated $5 billion that is owed to provincial student loan programs, private financial institutions and family members. A recent StatsCan report on 2005 graduating students revealed that those who left school with a bachelor, masters or doctoral degree had an average debt load of over $20,000 with just about 25 per cent of the surveyed graduates having completely paid off their loans two years later.

With about 70 per cent of jobs requiring postsecondary education, the government, colleges and universities should see the economic necessity of eliminating tuition and others fees. These fees represent barriers to providing a first-rate, accessible and affordable education that is critical to social and economic development. Tuition fees now make up over 41 per cent of the operating budget on university campuses in Ontario compared to 20 per cent in the 1990s.

If countries ranging from Cuba, Trinidad, Barbados, France, Denmark, Libya, Poland to Ireland can afford public postsecondary educational sectors that are tuition-free why is it that Canada cannot do the same?

If Canadian students were treated like debt-ridden Third World countries they would certainly meet the relevant criteria for loan forgiveness. | Opinion | And the strike continues
And the strike continues

Jul 26, 2009 04:30 AM

Re: Strike isn’t about fairness, it’s about power

, Column, July 24 Commentators who are asserting that the municipal strike in Toronto has very little to do with fairness and is all about the exercise of power are bang-on with the ultimate cause of the strike. Unfortunately, most of them are dead wrong in their identification of the party that holds the balance of power. If workers are strategic partners in the workplace, shouldn’t they have substantive power to contribute to decisions that affect the condition of their work life and the organization of work? It is the City of Toronto that is trying to take away hard-won benefits and impose a lowest common denominator workplace benefits regime on the employees, which is in line with that of many Scrooge-like private sector workplaces. From my vantage point, it looks like the power is in the hands of the employer.Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Why promote a failed political system for Africa?

Dear Editor:

U.S. President Barack Obama has been preaching to Africans that the reasons behind the continent’s underdevelopment are largely self-induced. The United States’ President has conveniently forgotten that one of the reasons that he gave for not participating in the Durban II anti-racism conference was that Africans were going to raise the issue of reparations for enslavement, colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Obama and other commentators are unreservedly pushing for the implementation of liberal capitalist democracy in Africa. They view this type of political system as an exemplary model for popular participation in national governance. This proposition is problematic on a number of levels.

Firstly, the United States and other western states are impede to the emergence of political leaders and organizations that are genuinely committed to Africans’ sovereignty, and control over their resources and the creation of economic and political systems that would challenge the former’s domination over the continent. It is now public knowledge that Belgium participated in the 1961 assassination of the democratically elected independence leader, Patrice Lumumba, of the Congo. Declassified CIA documents have revealed that the agency had plotted to kill Lumumba. Lumumba’s economic, ideological and political orientation was a threat to the former colonial ruler’s influence and power in Africa. The West has also intervened in a number of other African countries to thwart the democratic assertion of the people.

Secondly, the idea of George W. Bush as an ardent advocate of western-style democracy would be a laughable matter if this proposition wasn’t taken in certain quarters. When the Bush administration realized that the call for liberal capitalist democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere would have ushered in political parties that were not in alignment with its economic and geo-political interests, his genuineness was put to the test. The United States, Canada and Britain showed their true colours about democratic elections when Hamas won the majority of seats in a free and fair western-styled election in the West Bank and The Gaza Strip. The Palestinians were punished with crippling economic sanctions and embargos for not voting for the “right” political party.

If democracy was pushed in the Middle East, most of the existing western-friendly regimes would be given the proverbial (political) pink slip by the voters.

Lastly, why would critical and informed commentators on Africa recommend a political system for the continent that is losing credibility in the “matured democracies”?

Recently, the Toronto Star published a series called “Shamo-cracy”, which exposed the malfunctioning and shortcomings of Canada’s system of national governance. Increasingly, voters in the matured democracies of the West are shunning elections because the political system is not responsive to their needs. Political scientists have given a cute little name to western voters’ disenchantment with liberal democracy – the democratic deficit. Why should Africa be the dumping ground for a political model that is not working in the West?

As an African, I would humbly suggest that Africa needs a political system of governance that allows the people to participate directly in shaping the policies and programs which affect their lives. Further, Africans need an economic system that is driven by the ethic of meeting the needs of the people as well as allowing the workers to make the strategic and shop-floor decisions in the workplace.


Ajamu Nangwaya

Toronto, Ontario | Opinion | Class warfare in Honduras coup
Jul 03, 2009 04:30 AM

Re:Dark days in Honduras,

Editorial June 30

The attempt by President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras to use the resources of the state to facilitate economic and social opportunities for workers, the poor and the rural population cannot help but be divisive in a society that has historically privileged the needs and interests of its dominant members.

However, the push back from the military, the political elite and business sector to Zelaya’s policy initiatives such as a minimum wage increase and nationalization of energy and telecommunication sectors should not cause hesitation in addressing the social, economic and political inequalities in Honduran and Latin American society.

The attack on the democratic process in Honduras is an act of class warfare by the privileged. The non-binding plebiscite is a mere pretext to stop the people from setting the country’s priorities.

Political populism is not the problem. The problem is the fear of bringing the unwashed masses as central actors into the drama of national development in Honduras, and even in Canada.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Let permanent residents vote

Posted by Editor on Thursday, June 25, 2009 in

Dear Editor:

There is a campaign afoot in Toronto to secure voting rights for permanent residents in municipal elections, but this initiative is both supported and opposed by prominent opinion makers. It is certainly beyond belief that anyone would argue in favour of undue restriction on the right to vote at the municipal and/or provincial or federal levels of government, given the much discussed and alarming development called the “democratic deficit”. Throughout the liberal capitalist democracies in the West, politicians, political scientists and others are worried about the falling participation rates in elections and the citizens’ concerns that these political systems are unresponsive to the needs and priorities of the people, especially for members of the working class or lower-income voters.

I am in strong agreement with providing permanent residents of Canada with the right to vote in municipal elections. In the city of Toronto, it is quite reasonable to assert that racialized residents do not experience full participation in the political governance of this level of government. Racialized residents make up 47 per cent of the people in Toronto but are only 7 per cent of the councillors. There are no racialized women politicians at City Hall.

It is quite possible that this gross political under-representation of racialized residents accounts for the fact the current politicians have not prioritized employment equity throughout the job classifications of the city’s workforce. Further, the absence of a City of Toronto mandatory requirement that contractors, who bid on public infrastructure projects present employment equity plans as a condition for contract work, may have something to do with the Whiteness and gender (mostly men) of the councillors. By opening up municipal voting to permanent residents, the City of Toronto may start to live up to its much celebrated motto, Diversity Our Strength.

However, allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections is necessary, but not sufficient to significantly increase participation in the local government elections and racial and gender diversity of the elected officials. We also need a proportional representation electoral system and the introduction of political parties into municipal politics. We may as well go for the whole hog (apologies to my vegetarian/vegan friends and fellow residents) while we are at it.

Ajamu Nangwaya


Global trade policies and world hunger
LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Opinion | Global trade policies and world hunger
Jun 23, 2009 04:30 AM
Re: 1 billion going hungry, UN says, June 20
The existence of hunger in a world with the agricultural production capacity to provide adequate food for all is a political, economic and moral indictment of trade liberalization policies imposed on the developing countries and an economic system that does not treat the access to food as a fundamental human right. Instead, food is treated as a marketable commodity that is available through the dictates of market demand and supply and citizens’ purchasing power.
The food insecurity in Haiti is a crying shame. Prior to the 1990s, Haiti was self-sufficient in the provision of food for its people. But, as a condition of receiving financial aid, the IMF and the World Bank forced it to remove measures that enabled it to feed its citizens. This affected the incomes of more than 800,000 Haitian workers.
According to a Christian Aid report, the net effect of forcing Haiti to open its domestic sugar, rice, wheat and chicken sub-sectors to subsidized imports from Western countries is an 80 per cent rate of poverty in rural communities, about 80 per cent of its income from export being used to pay for imported food, and a 50 per cent reduction in rice cultivation.
There is indeed a connection between hunger and food insecurity and the policies of international financial institutions.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Different takes on daycare plan

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Opinion | Different takes on daycare plan

Jun 17, 2009 04:30 AM
Re: Take over daycares, Ontario schools told, June 14

The recommendation by Charles Pascal to integrate kindergarten-aged children into the regular school system is a step in the right direction toward a universal, publicly funded and operated childcare and early learning system in Ontario. It would benefit children from working-class households, parents who seek educational and career development or advancement, and early childhood educators (ECE) who are likely to benefit from better access to professional development opportunities, pay and working conditions.
I am in favour of ECE teachers being in the lead because that would increase the likelihood of racialized and aboriginal workers teaching these racially diverse children. Racialized people make up more than 16 per cent of Canada’s population, yet just 4 per cent of elementary teachers. In Toronto, only 23 per cent of teachers are racialized, yet about 70 per cent of students are from racialized and aboriginal groups. By having trained and qualified ECEs do the teaching in the kindergarten programs, the province would be showing its commitment to the removal of structural employment barriers and the delivery of a high-quality educational program to our children. Requiring an additional year of education in teacher’s college is an unnecessary and discriminatory barrier.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Rape, murder & minerals all abundant in the Congo
Letter Of The Day
National Post  Published: Friday, June 05, 2009
Re: Hunt For Rebels Raises More Concern In Congo, Peter Goodspeed, June 4.
The magnitude of the atrocities against women and other non-combatants in the Congo is almost mind-boggling. Since 1996, over 5.5 million Congolese have died from war-related causes and over 250,000 women and girls have been raped as a part of the strategy of war by the various armed groups, including the national army. UN peacekeepers have also participated in the sexual violence against Congolese women and girls under the guise of the exchange of food for sexual intercourse. Right now, there are over 1.5 million displaced people in the Congo.
Yet we cannot fathom the source of the sexual violence and the suffering of the Congolese non-combatants without implicating the country’s neighbours, rebel groups, multinational mining corporations and Western states for their design of Congo’s abundant natural resources. Rwanda generated an estimated $250-million dollars from the export of coltan during its occupation of the eastern Congo in the late-1990s. Its occupation partner, Uganda, exported 70 tons of coltan in 1999, up from a paltry 2.5 tons in 1997.
In 2002, a UN report found that the activities of 10 Canadian mining companies contributed to the perpetuation of the conflict. The 2009 estimate of Canadian mining assets in the Congo by Natural Resources Canada is pegged at over $3-billion, and this country represented 17.8% of Canada’s mining investment in Africa in 2007.
Canadians must engage in principled solidarity actions with the Congolese so that they may establish control over their resources.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Friends of the Congo (University of Toronto), Toronto.

Questioning the ethics of Congo mining
Jun 02, 2009 04:30 AM
Re: Rape, war and your cellphone, June 1
Canadians of good conscience should be outraged at the relative invisibility of the story of the systematic rape of over 250,000 Congolese women in the media and on the political radar in Canada. Our collective sympathies and demand for action were activated when over 40,000 Bosnian women in Europe were raped in the 1990s as a part of the strategy of war. This inspired women’s and feminist organizations to successfully organize and lobby for rape to be declared a crime against humanity when carried out as an act of war.
Shouldn’t the extreme suffering of our sisters in the Congo stir our passion for justice as well as push us to call for the natural resources of that country to be fully utilized for the benefit of its people?
Bill C-300, before the Canadian Parliament, should be seen in the context of a damning October 2002 UN report that linked Canadian mining companies, the exploitation of the Congo’s natural resources and the perpetuation of the war in the Congo. It found that the practices of five Canadian mining companies in the Congo were in contravention of the ethical principles of the OECD. With Canadian mining assets of about $3 billion in the Congo, we have a moral obligation to stand in solidarity with the people of the Congo to regain control over their resources.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
Money grab’ puts burden on students

`Money grab’ puts burden on students

May 23, 2009 04:30 AM

Re:Students angered by university’s decision to charge flat fees, May 21

As an elected graduate student leader at the University of Toronto, I also share the outrage and righteous indignation of my colleagues at the flat-fees policy. It is an attempt to solve the financial challenge of the university on the backs of students and their families.

Instead, the university should participate in a province-wide campaign with students’ groups, labour unions and community organizations to fight for adequate funding of the post-secondary sector. Underfunding of our sector is a political problem and U of T ought not to financially hammer students to deal with its budgetary challenges.

Access to post-secondary education contributes to the economic development of this country and provides residents with the requisite knowledge and skills to be informed and critical political actors.

Further, this money grab works against the access to university education by many members of equity-seeking groups. Racialized and aboriginal peoples, women and persons with disabilities are likely to be negatively affected by this most unwelcome flat-fees regime. Lower income people are more likely to be discouraged by student debt load than their middle-income or middle class counterparts.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Afghan bungle in the Congo
NOW | May 6-13, 2009 | VOL 28 NO 36

It is understandable that many mainstream and alternative publications have given attention to the status of women in Afghanistan (NOW, April 23-29). What is beyond my comprehension is the relative silence of the Canadian media over the rape of more than 250,000 women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Further, about 5.6 million Congolese have died in the resource-based conflict since the 1990s, about 50 per cent of them children.

When more than 40,000 women were raped in Bosnia in the 1990s as a part of the strategy of war, Western feminist and women’s organizations mobilized world opinion to declare rape a crime against humanity.

Congo has about 80 per cent of the world’s reserves of coltan, which is used in cameras, video game consoles, cellphones, computers, DVD players, hearing aids, anti-lock brake systems and missile systems. We are benefiting from the blood of the Congolese.

Ajamu Nangwaya

Correcting flaws in nanny system
Apr 07, 2009 04:30 AM
Re: Give nanny jobs to Canadians, Letter April 6
The low wages, servile status and minimal benefits of live-in nannies are the reasons why Ontarians avoid this type of work. Many nannies are on 24-hour call and earn just more than $20,000 per annum based on a 40-hour work week. When room and board are deducted, it can be less than $16,000.
Even during recessionary periods, you cannot entice workers with permanent residency or citizenship status to toil away in private homes as nannies.
It is time for the province to invest in a publicly funded, non-profit universal childcare and early learning system. With qualified and well-paid workers, it would meet the needs of our children and largely remove the basis for abusing the labour of these nannies.
If migrant workers are good enough to take care of our children, they ought to be given immediate permanent residency status on being accepted into the Live-In Caregiver Program.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Construction must heed equity
Mar 26, 2009 04:30 AM
Re:Province pledges $27.5B for infrastructure projects, March 24
I support Ontario’s $27.5 billion infrastructure investment aimed at stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
However, one glaring omission from the infrastructure proposal was the call for equity in the employment opportunities that would come from this type of government spending. Visible minorities and female workers are poorly represented in the various trades within the construction sector.
Infrastructure dollars should not aid and abet systemic exclusionary employment practices. That will be the outcome if steps are not taken to set employment equity targets and timelines, establish trades-preparing bridging programs and other measures to get the under-represented groups into the construction trades.
Infrastructure investment should not be an unwitting scheme to provide jobs for white men. As we say in the labour movement, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” We must walk the talk on employment equity for all workers in the construction trades.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
More letters on the auto crisis
Auto workers’ chief hits back at critics, Business March 11
I am generally puzzled by the preoccupation or concern of social democratic parties and labour organizations and leaders with the plight of the middle class when their constituency should be that of the working class. The middle class ought to be defined by the social role of individuals or families in the economic system or social order, and not by their ability to purchase consumer trinkets and the level of their income.
No sane person would suggest that an assembly line autoworker or an industrial sector worker who earns over $75,000 per year is a member of the upper class. However, that income places such a person within the top 10 per cent of income earners in Canada. In 2005, the middle 20 per cent of full-time workers had pre-tax income of $41,401. That is the income of middle income earners and not the traditional middle class that earned its income from investment or played an influential role in society and the workplace.
When organized labour and social democratic parties push a program of growing the middle class, they are unwittingly cultivating a consciousness that is detrimental to working class solidarity and interest. It should not come as surprise that many workers do not gravitate toward social democratic parties in North America when the goal is to get them into the middle class.
Further, a middle class consciousness will not inspire unionized workers to use their trade unions to struggle for the free, just and good society.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
NDP should reach out to labour

Mar 09, 2009 04:30 AM
Re: Ontario NDP elects first female leader, March 8
With the election of Andrea Horwath as Ontario NDP leader, it looks like it is the political moment for community organizers. Hopefully, the community-organizer-turned-major-political-leader example south of us, Barack Obama, will not be the model of “It’s time” for a politics of change in Ontario.
Andrea’s “10-year plan” (the time it will take to significantly increase seat count and popular vote) will have to make the adoption of a proportional representation electoral system a strategic part of her program for change.
Ontario’s NDP may want to reach out to its organized labour constituency and develop a workplace- and community-based voter political and economic education project. Political and economic illiteracy is a major stumbling block to a politics of change, especially from a working-class perspective.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
CUPE members respond
National Post  Published: Friday, March 06, 2009
Re: CUPE National: ‘Small Number’ Of Members Support Anti-Israel Motion, letter to the editor from Paul Moist, CUPE national president, Feb. 25.
Recently, CUPE members from the university sector voted overwhelmingly to pass a motion that calls for the right to an education for Palestinians. The motion also speaks to sourcing whether Ontario universities are conducting research linked to the Israeli military and to the need for education on campus about the occupation of Palestine.
This motion was endorsed by a delegated body of 28 local unions from the Ontario university sector, representing 27,000 members. Every political party and union in Canada uses a delegated convention to make decisions. CUPE is no different. Criticism that a democratic process was not used is simply not credible.
We attended the conference when the motion was passed and will defend the right of our union and our members to pass motions that stand up for human rights and the right to education. We will also continue to defend our right to freedom of speech and political views, despite the efforts by some to repress and misrepresent our union’s voices. Our support for Palestinians and the right of our union as a democratic organization to engage in principled policy decisions against occupations and war are unequivocal.
Dan Crowe, Denise Hammond, Ajamu Nangwaya and Graham Potts, members of the Ontario University Workers Committee of CUPE and CUPE Ontario executive board.
Trading up minorities
One of the glaring omissions from the infrastructure investment discussion by Alice Klein (NOW, January 29-February 4) and many other commentators is the need for equity in the employment opportunities that come from this type of government spending.

Racialized and women workers are poorly represented in the various trades within the construction sector. Infrastructure dollars should not aid and abet systemic racism and sexism in this area of employment.

That would be the outcome if steps are not taken to set up employment equity targets and timelines.

Ajamu Nangwaya

January 7, 2009
Toronto — As a doctoral student, academic worker and a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, I stand in solidarity with the call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. As Canadian academics, the minimum that we can do to help force Israel to comply with United Nations resolutions on the national self-determination of the Palestinians is to boycott academic and cultural institutions.

The call for a boycott is not about academic freedom, but the freedom of the Palestinians and their right to not be the recipients of collective punishment.

CUPE has the right idea …
National Post  Published: Thursday, January 08, 2009
Re: Union Calls For Ban On Israeli Professors, Jan. 6.
As a doctoral student, an academic worker and a member of CUPE Ontario, I commend my union for taking a principled position against Israel’s military attack on educational institutions in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees called for the intensification of a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions after Israel’s bombing of the Islamic University and other educational institutions.
Israel’s academic institutions have facilitated the continued oppression of the indigenous Palestinians through their participation in — or deafening silence regarding — the occupation.
These academic organizations are not neutral players and as such they are legitimate targets of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that has been called for by Palestinian civil society and its academic unions.
The denial of educational resources to a colonized people is a longstanding practice of occupation forces or settler-colonial powers. Israel is no different in its policy and approach to the education of the Palestinians, and its destruction of educational institutions reinforces that message.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto.
Arabs, education and Israel
Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Re: CUPE’s Bad Idea, letter to the editor, Jan. 9.

Letter-writer Faygle Train has presented a most damning picture of Palestinian Arabs’ access to post-secondary educational opportunities in Israel. She cites a figure of 2,700 Arabs students in post-secondary institutions in Israel out of a total of 480,517 students. This means there are 178 times more Jewish and other postsecondary education participants in Israel than Arabs, even though Arabs constitute 20% of Israel’s population. Any reasonable person would see this as a “denial of educational resources” and opportunity.
Further, based on official Israeli government data, 86.1% of first-degree students in Israel are Jewish, while only 10.6% are Arabs. It does not get better for students who are pursuing the equivalent of a Masters degree: 92.2% are Jewish, only 5.8% are Arab. For students working toward a third degree, the figures are 94.5% and 3.3% for Jewish and Arab students, respectively.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto.
Ontario must get tough on workplace racism

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Opinion | Ontario must get tough on workplace racism
Ontario must get tough on workplace racism

`Ghetto dude’ slur still haunts
job applicant
Dec. 29

The media’s tendency has been to individualize this racist employment drama. It is essential that we examine the structural employment barriers that inform the labour-market experience of racialized women and men.
The province should implement three things to address racism within the labour market. First, it needs to introduce and pass comprehensive employment legislation. Second, it should restore the Anti-Racism Secretariat and give it the power and resources to investigate, monitor and enforce legislation that affects all areas of the experience of racialized people.

Lastly, Ontario’s occupational health and safety legislation should be amended to include racial, sexual and psychological harassment as legitimate grounds on which workers may withdraw their labour until an appropriate official has intervened. Further, the legislation should be amended to require that employers have an obligation to enact policies and transparent complaints systems to deal with these types of harassment.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Letters to the Editor
Last Updated: 3rd November 2008, 3:47am
Re “City of whites” (Oct. 31): Mike Strobel comments on the whiteness of the elected politicians at Toronto’s City Hall is equally applicable to the elected MPs from the GTA. The non-white population of the GTA stands at 42.9%, but only 13% of the recently elected MPs from this region are from racialized groups. There are 47 MPs from the GTA and just six of them are racialized. A proportional representation electoral system would go a long way in ensuring that women, racialized people, Aboriginals and other equity-seeking groups’ presence in Parliament reflects current demographic reality.
(We hope voters don’t vote for skin colour, but for quality)
Future’s not bright for retirees
Last updated at 8:52 AM on 29/10/08
Future’s not bright for retirees
The Telegram
I write in response to the article entitled “Province focused on long haul for pensions” in the Oct.  25 Telegram. (I was recently in St. John’s attending a conference.)
Canadians have every reason to be alarmed by the fallout from the financial crisis in the global economy and its effects on their pension plans. Only 38.1 per cent of workers were covered by a registered pension plan in 2006. As well, 33 per cent and 55 per cent of public companies and private companies, respectively, anticipate adopting the insecure and problematic defined contribution pension plans. The future does not look too sunny for upcoming retirees.
With the Canada Pension Plan giving retired Canadians only 25 per cent of what they earned and the less than 40 per cent of workers in a workplace pension plan, it is time for  governments and the people of Canada to revisit the provision of a livable income to retired workers. Labour is the basis on which we facilitate economic production and wealth generation, and it is ethically untenable that workers should face their retirement years with grave apprehension and insecurity.
In 2006, 80 per cent of registered pension plans memberships were ones with defined benefits. However, in that same year, 88,000 new pension plan members were in plans that had both defined benefit and contribution features. That type of pension plan accounted for the lion’s share of the growth in pension plan coverage.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
A bitter reality for workers Apr. 04, 2008
LETTER TO THE EDITOR | comment | A bitter reality for workers
Apr 04, 2008 04:30 AM
Re:Restaurants urged to use Ontario wines
April 2
I am calling on provincial politicians and the Ontario Wine Council to remember the migrant agricultural workers whose labour is essential to the cultivation of grapes. These workers from Mexico and the Caribbean are calling out for better working conditions, equal legal rights under provincial law, and the right to form a union.

Many consumers would be revolted to know that migrant workers do not enjoy decent housing, a pesticide-safe environment, the minimum wage and a realistic chance to become permanent residents.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Equity VP, CUPE
Toronto District Council, Toronto
We could learn from U.S. mistakes

Sep 26, 2008 04:30 AM
Re: Americans oppose financial-firm bailouts: Poll Business, Sept. 25

The most painful lesson of the Bush administration’s bailout of the major financial services firms is the crystal clear message that it sends about the interests that are able to extract desired results from the political system. Political scientists call it political efficacy. When thousands of working-class Americans were losing their homes from the subprime residential loan crisis, Congress and the Bush administration could not find the money to help them. Therefore, the public is justified in rejecting the rush to give $700 billion in handouts to these powerful financial firms.
Western governments are already complaining about the democratic deficit, which is the phenomenon of decreasing voter turnout in elections. A lower proportion of lower-income groups vote in elections than their counterparts in higher-income groups. An estimated 50 per cent of subprime home loans are made out to African Americans. Many of the communities affected by housing foreclosures are poor and/or racialized. The failure of the U.S. political system to offer a rescue package to poor and vulnerable homeowners strengthens the democratic deficit. When lower-income citizens demand affordable housing, education, health care and child care, they are usually met with deafening silence or indifference from politicians. The lack of political efficacy of electoral politics plays a large part in many voters’ disengagement from it.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
City has an historic chance

City has an historic chance Sep. 04, 2008 Re:Rash of retirements leaves city

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Opinion | City has an historic chance

Sep 04, 2008 04:30 AM
Re:Rash of retirements leaves city
scrambling, Sept. 2

This is an excellent opportunity for the City to ensure its workforce reflects the racial composition of Toronto. With the impending retirment of 25 per cent of its current workers over the next seven years, the City’s leadership ought to develop and implement a credible employment equity plan.
Visible minorities make up 47 per cent of the city’s population, and that is projected to grow to 50 per cent by 2017. They are poorly represented in the City’s higher job classifications. It is not enough to trumpet and celebrate the diversity of Toronto. Equitable access to employment opportunities is.
The racialization of poverty has become a glaring reality in Toronto. An employment equity plan with targets, timelines and backed by adequate resources could help reduce the rate of poverty for post-secondary educated and other non-white Torontonians. If we miss this chance to make the faces of the City’s workers look like those on the streets of Toronto, the principle of equity would ring hollow in the halls of this municipal government.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
Fresh thinking needed on Mideast

Link to letters to the editor:

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Opinion | Fresh thinking needed on Mideast

Nov 21, 2008 04:30 AM
Re:New Middle East plan urged,
Nov. 18

I agree that a two-state solution to the oppression of the Palestinians is a “big illusion.” However, there is nothing new in Eiland’s plan for the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. His proposition is the same old settler-colonialist plan designed to separate the indigenous Palestinians from their land.
A truly bold offer to solve the Mideast’s most vexing conflict would be to champion a one-state solution. This would entail Arabs, Jews and others living within the border of 1948 Palestine as Palestinians. Under this approach, the right of return of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of Palestine would not be a barrier to peace.
As an African, Gaza and the West Bank painfully reminds me of the discredited bantustans in the former apartheid state of South Africa. Surely, no one in their right mind would encourage us to follow that path in 2008.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
Immigration reform needed

Immigration reform needed
Re:Out to change `regressive’
immigration system, Oct. 1
An organization such as No One Is Illegal is vital to the revitalizing of democratic debate and accountability by expanding the range of issues on the public agenda. It speaks truth to power and is a voice of the voiceless.
Elizabeth May of the Green party recently claimed that many environmental organizations are practising self-censorship because of a fear of political backlash from government funders. The relative silence of immigrant-focused NGOs on immigration issues in the current election campaign could be influenced by the same fears.
Women and children make up over 50 per cent of the non-status immigrants in Canada. This makes them more vulnerable to partner violence. All levels of government must institute a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy so as to enable non-status migrants’ integration into society.
However, full status is the solution. The immigration points system must be amended so as to grant permanent residency status to women fleeing violence.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
There’s a racial gap as well


Sep 12, 2008 04:30 AM
Re:Canada’s low-profile women,
Sept. 8

Carol Goar has rightly exposed the unacceptably low number of women in the recent federal cabinet and Parliament, as well as those being nominated for the upcoming election. However, along with the gender gap there is a racial gap.
Just under 9 per cent MPs in the recently dissolved Parliament were racialized Canadians, who make up at least 16 per cent of the population. They were only 3.2 per cent of the Conservative cabinet, and only one seven women.
The NDP’s caucus had the largest percentage of female MPs (40 per cent), while only 8.4 per cent of the total were racialized women.
The default position is to think of the women under discussion as being white. When we make it obvious that racialized women are not adequately represented, it may force the parties to set targets for the nomination of candidates from these groups of women.
We also need to include disability, aboriginal status, immigrant status, class and sexual orientation into the mix when we discuss the profile of women in politics.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto
NDP losing touch with its roots
LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Opinion | NDP losing touch with its roots
NDP losing touch with its roots

Sep 17, 2008 04:30 AM

Re:Campaign notebook;
sound troubles, Sept. 14
The NDP’s use of a non-unionized technical road crew at the CNE is a glaring example of its low regard for the priorities and needs of the labour movement and its working-class constituency. This party has indeed strayed from its roots in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which sought to achieve a fundamental restructuring of Canada’s economic, social and political features, so as to transform it into a good and just society.
The labour movement needs to seriously re-examine its relationship with the NDP. It is time for labour to explore the formation of a new party with progressive women, racial justice, environmental, peace, youth, global justice, trans and queer, and student social movement organizations.
Now more than ever we need a party that will not be uneasy with its association or defence of the rights of the majority of us who sell our labour with little control over how it is used and compensated.
Now more than ever we need a party that will be a champion of participatory political and economic democracy.
Now more than ever, we need a political party that will promote the development of political literacy within the electorate. This development would help the citizens in critically reading the word, as well as the economic, social and political world around us.
Ajamu Nangwaya, 3rd Vice-President, CUPE Ontario
Greed is the reason U.S. bailout is on table
Greed is the reason U.S. bailout is on table
A little problem with capitalism,
Ideas Sept. 27
I had to do a double-take on reading the title of Tom Walkom’s article, accompanied by the image of Karl Marx. As a labour leader and doctoral student in adult education, I am a strong advocate of applying a political economy approach to education in general, and labour education in particular. Political economy is a useful analytical tool that may assist Canadians and the working class in particular in understanding the economic and political interests that are at the core of the system in which we live.
Walkom’s analysis of the strategic “bargain” struck between the captains of industry and organized labour so as to stave off revolutionary agitation in the West was quite instructive. An education in political economics would empower the citizens of this country to know their true interests and act accordingly.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

** Hadeel by Rafeef Ziadah – Debut CD Launch Party **

By ChairExternal, November 26, 2009 2:04 pm

** Hadeel by Rafeef Ziadah – Debut CD Launch Party **
Listen to Hadeel and purchase the CD at:
Friday November 27
Concord Café 937 Bloor ST W (Ossington subway station)
Doors open at 8pm, performances begin at 9pm
Rafeef Ziadah’s long-awaited debut spoken-word CD, Hadeel, is finally here! With audience favorites like “Baghdad” and “Shades of Anger” and new pieces like “Trail of Tears”, Hadeel has Rafeef’s powerful poetry set to original and haunting music. Come to the first launch party of Rafeef’s debut CD and celebrate this work by hearing it performed live! Enjoy a performance by the incredible Lal and dance to the beats of DJ No-Capitalista.
Rafeef Ziadah is a Palestinian spoken-word artist and activist. She received an Ontario Arts Council Grant from the ‘Word of Mouth’ program to create her debut album Hadeel.  Rafeef started performing poetry in Toronto in 2003 with the spoken word collective Pueblo Unido and is the winner of the 2007 Mayworks Festival Poetry Face-Off.  Rafeef’s poetry speaks to the struggle of immigrants to “make it to/in Canada ” and the politics of exile. Being Palestinian she reflects, in the CD, on the realities of her homeland today, a homeland to which is not allowed to return.
Hadeel was produced by Rafeef Ziadah and Rosina Kazi of Comeunity Center ( Recorded and Engineered by Nicholas Murray. Musicians on the CD: Ian de Souza (bass), Reena Katz (violin/viola), Santosh Naidu (Percussions), Ritesh Das (Tabla), Karim Sultan (Oud), Ruben ‘Beny’ Esguerra (Percussions, gaita hembra flute), Joanna de Souza (Kathak Footwork).
The project was supported by Ontario Arts Council Word of Mouth Program.
To get in touch with Rafeef, be added to her mailing list or organize a performance please email

National Day of Action on December 2, 2009; Justice for Migrant Workers!

By ChairExternal, November 25, 2009 10:09 am

Call-out for a National Day of Action December 2, 2009 – Justice for Migrant Workers!

From: Mohan Mishra <>
Date: Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 2:52 AM

CUPE Sisters and Brothers,

The callout below came out of the last meeting of the Coalition for Change and allies around fighting the proposed changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. A rally is planned in Toronto for Dec. 2, as well as other actions that will be taking place simultaneously across the country. Please forward this callout to your contacts nationally, and encourage them to organise supporting actions in whatever city or town they are in.

If you are in Toronto, please come out to the rally on Dec. 2, starting at 11am at the corner of King St & University Ave, and encourage as many of your members as possible to attend. We need to put up a strong and coordinated fight to stop these regressive changes from going into effect. Feel free to get in touch if you need more info.

In Solidarity,
Mohan Mishra
Organizer, No One Is Illegal-Toronto
Member, CUPE 1281


Call-out for a National Day of Action
December 2, 2009
Justice for Migrant Workers!

* Organize actions in your community!
* Make it loud and clear to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney that we won’t let immigrants be turned into a disposable workforce with no rights!
* Demand real protections for migrant workers!

Regulations introduced on October 9, 2009 essentially deny the right of full status to temporary migrant workers by restricting them to working four years in Canada and barring them from returning to the country for six years.

The regulations come in to force on December 9, 2009. Unless we can stop them!

These regulations are part of a larger shift towards creating a disposable migrant workforce with few rights. Refugee quotas for 2010 have been slashed by 60%, and deportations have doubled in the last decade. The number of permanent residents is decreasing each year. Funding for family reunification programs have been cut. Only people in 38 occupations have some access to citizenship through skilled worker programs. On December 2, we are calling out communities across Canada to take to the streets.

Cities and towns across Canada will be organizing local actions!  In Toronto, a mass rally is called for December 2, at 11am at King and University – the regional office of Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney.

What can you do:
~ Organize a local rally outside your MPs office, or local Citizenship and Immigration office on December 2nd
~ Organize a community delegation to your MP on December 2nd and push your MP to oppose these changes
~ Call and email your local MP! To find you MP by postal code, click here

KEEP US POSTED: Email to let us know your plans or to hear of actions in your area
ENDORSE the statement linked here: ! Email if your organization would like to sign on.
SIGN THE PETITION. Individuals can sign the petition at
EMAIL your outrage to AND AND

This National Day of Action is being called by the Coalition for Change: Caregivers and Temporary Foreign Workers, with support from allies in community, women’s, immigrant’s rights, faith-based and trade union organizations across the country.

CUPE’s Letter to Parliament’s Standing Committee on African Colombians, Urgent Request re: CIIT Witness

By ChairExternal, November 23, 2009 12:04 pm

Urqent Request re: CIIT Witness

Moist’s Letter to Parliament’s Standing Committee on African Colombians, Urgent Request re: CIIT Witness

November 18, 2009

Honourable Lee Richardson
Chair, Standing Committee on International Trade
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A OA6

Dear Mr. Richardson:

Urqent Request re: CIIT Witness

CUPE is disturbed to learn that the North-South Institute’s request to have
Carlos Rosero of Proceso de Communidades Negras in Colombia testify on
November 19, 2009 to the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) has been refused. It is our understanding that representatives of the Afro-Colombian community in Colombia have not yet taken part in these hearings, making this refusal even more problematic.

All of the documentation and reports that CUPE has reviewed supports the need to hear from the Afro-Colombian community. Afro-Colombians have suffered greatly from displacement from their traditional territories. Extensive documentation of para-military threats and violence needs to be examined in the context of the interests of extractive activities and other resource developments. CUPE representatives have witnessed first-hand the situation in Afro-Colombian communities on a number of occasions, from visiting threatened rural communities in the vast river systems on the Pacific coast to the large impoverished neighbourhoods of already displaced Afro-Colombians.

Our understanding is that Carlos Rosero is a specialist. in environmental and social , assessment and has extensive knowledge on the human rights situation of Afro-Colombians. It would be a serious mistake not to take the opportunity to hear from him. With such important decisions to be made it is it is imperative that a full range of views be canvassed. We are deeply concerned that this refusal to hear Mr. Rosero, while at the same time agreeing to hear from business organizations, points to a biased view among CIIT members.

We urge you to reconsider your position and invite Carlos Rosero to testify.

Yours truly,

CUPE National President

cc: Dean Allison, Member of Parliament
Scott Brison, Member of Parliament
Ron Cannan, Member of Parliament
Claude Guimond, Member of Parliament
Richard M. Harris, Member of Parliament
Ed Holder, Member of Parliament
Peter Julian, Member of Parliament
Gerald Keddy, Member of Parliament
Mario Silva, Member of Parliament
Ann Weston, The North-South Institute
Meaghen Simms, The North-South Institute
Roy Culpeper, The North-South Institute
Viviene Weitzner, The North-South Institute
wl/cope 491

To contact Lee Richardson, please use the contact information below or complete the contact form at the bottom of this page.

Suite 333, 1333 8th Street S.W.
Calgary, Alberta
T2R 1M6
Tel: (403) 244-1880
Fax: (403) 245-3468

432-C Centre Block
House of Commons
K1A 0A6
Tel: (613) 995-1561
Fax: (613) 995-1862

Union co-ops the future of labour?

By ChairExternal, November 23, 2009 2:39 am

rabble news

Union co-ops the future of labour?

| November 18, 2009

A new collaboration between North America’s largest industrial union and the world’s largest worker-owned co-operative has reinvigorated proponents of an alternative to top-down business models. Unions and co-ops also look to such partnerships as a way to strengthen their respective memberships.

In late October, the United Steel Workers (USW), which represents 1.2 million active and retired members in Canada and the United States, announced that it will collaborate with Mondragon Co-operative Corporation (MCC), a co-operative based in the Basque Country. While specific projects have yet to be identified, the collaboration would allow USW to test an alternative worker-ownership model to that of Employee Stocker Ownership Programs (ESOPs), citing that they have found their results “disappointing.” Mondragon, in return, can work with the union in order to lay the foundation for a North American membership, encouraging Steelworkers and their companies to become co-operatives and join the global Mondragon movement.

In a press release announcing the collaboration, the organizations state: “the goals of this collaboration are to develop and grow manufacturing jobs in the United States and Canada, to improve the quality of life of workers, and to create sustainable jobs in a sustainable economy that supports stronger communities and sustainable environmental practices” and “demonstrate that the Mondragon worker-ownership model can be highly effective as adapted to an organized workforce and North American culture.”

The announcement came on the heels of a push for worker-owned co-operatives by filmmaker Michael Moore. In his film Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore briefly highlights several successful worker-owned co-operatives, looking to their higher wages and democratic decision making as an exemplary alternative to what he terms the “totalitarian” corporate model. Moore extrapolates upon his love for such a model in a recent interview with Naomi Klein. “[I]f you believe in democracy, democracy can’t be being able to vote every two or four years. It has to be every part of every day of your life… But we spend…our daily lives at work, where we have no say.” Klein encourages Moore’s rhetoric, but worries that unions would be uninterested: “One of the biggest barriers I’ve found in my research around…co-operatives is not just government and companies being resistant to it but unions as well…. In most cases, particularly with larger unions, they have their script, and when a factory is being closed down their job is to get a big payout.” But Moore says that at the film’s premiere at the AFL-CIO convention earlier this year in the U.S., union members “cheered it…I think that unions at this point have been so beaten down, they’re open to some new thinking and some new ideas.

“People love this part of the film,” he continues. “I’ve been kind of surprised because I thought people aren’t…going to understand this or it seems too hippie-dippy — but it really has resonated with the audiences that I’ve seen it with.”

While Mondragon currently has only one holding North America (in North Little Rock, Arkansas), the co-operative movement is not new to the region. Currently, over 17,000,000 Canadians are co-operative members and the country’s co-operatives, credit unions and caisses populaire lay claim to $275 billion in assets.

Union-co-operative collaboration is also not a new phenomenon. According to Peter Kardas, Director of the Labor Education and Research Centre at the Evergreen State College, the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labour union which hit its peak in the early 1920s and is known for its stance on abolishing a wage system and creating on a “worker class,” holds worker-owned co-operatives at the core of its ideals. “[Union-co-operative collaboration] has been around for a long time,” Kardas explains. “It was originally a socialist and communist and anarchist idea.” As backlash against radical union ideas increased, support for the co-op model lost steam, but has been re-invigorated as unions are faced with a weakening membership base and a weakening labour movement. The economic recession, resulting bail-out of big companies but not workers, and lost jobs across Canada and the U.S. has further spurred unions to re-think their approach.


In the Oct. 27 press release, USW international president Leo W. Gerard states: “Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollow out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants. We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities [and] makes business accountable to Main Street instead of Wall Street.”

While USW has worked with ESOPs — a form of worker-ownership in which employees can eventually own shares of the company — Rob Witherell of the Steelworkers told Andrew McLeod of the blog “Cooperate and No One Gets Hurt,” “our ESOP experience soured us a little bit…By the time we were offered the opportunity to buy the shares the company was so financially strapped that it had a very small chance of success, and those that did succeed were usually bought out by some other investor…[E]ven earning those shares didn’t actually translate to any accountability to the workers or worker input. It really didn’t change the nature of the work in a lot of cases…”

Unlike ESOPs, Mondragon’s model encourages full employee ownership and is based on “one worker, one vote” philosophy, allowing for workers to steer the direction of the company.

The co-operative model could not only help to strengthen the voice of workers already unionized, but also increase the number of new members: USW could work to unionize newly-started North American Mondragon co-operatives, reaching out to those interested in worker-ownership but not necessarily part of the formal labour movement. Conversely, Mondragon would have access to USW workers, encouraging them to join the co-operative movement. “[Mondragon] ha(s) an interest in a North American presence and have [an] interest in developing a union worker-owner co-op model….That’s going to be more beneficial in the long run for our existing members, [and] a way to build our membership,” explains Witherell.

Since its beginnings in the Basque Country in 1956, Mondragon has bought other companies, particularly if they were threatening to compete with the operations of the MCC. In addition to its one U.S. holding, Mondragon currently has operations in 18 other countries outside of Spain, ranging from South Africa to Brazil to Germany. “They have a tremendous amount of money,” says Kardas. In 2008, Mondragon’s annual sales topped 16 billion euros from its co-operative university, bank and social security mutual. “They buy up these companies and then they convert them to Mondragon. It’s a corporation like any other corporation. They’re huge.” However, buying these companies does not necessarily translate into a greater co-op presence, as each worker has to pay to enter the co-operative: while workers are technically part of Mondragon, they often have few ideological ties to the worker-ownership model and therefore are not inclined to offer the significant amount of money necessary for worker buy-in. Witherell explains: “[Mondragon has] gone in and taken over a place and set up without finding out what the culture and ideas are from the beginning, [and] they have a hard time getting people to buy into being an owner. Because [the attitude is] ‘I’m a worker, I show up, I get paid and that’s all I have to do.’

“For them, it made sense to work with us because we have a lot of those relationships and can help steer them in the direction [where] we really can implement that model. Our members are not making minimum wage and going from one job to another every six months… They are looking for somebody that is really going to be committed to the work that they are doing…[With the collaborative model], they [can] create their own insurance for lifetime jobs.”

While the hopes are high for such a collaboration, Witherell warns that the model will likely start very small. “It’s very preliminary and it’s going to take a lot of work to figure out which ideas are going to be the most suited… Also [Mondragon estimates]…that it takes about eight months…from when they start talking to people to changing over to a co-op.

“Ultimately our agreement was pretty basic and broad. But we figured it’s better to start with something that was…simple and figure out where you go from there, rather than try to figure out all the details at first,” says Witherell. “It’s very preliminary.” According to Kardas, “at first, this is going to be so small that nobody is going to notice. I would definitely not oversell this as the end of capitalism, but it is an interesting model.”
When asked whether any backlash could be expected from conservatives or corporate America, Kardas states: “it’s not going to be considered communist or socialist. People are going to put their own money into it, so how can capitalists not support it? Owners have been saying forever, ‘if you want to own it, then you buy it,’ and that’s exactly what would happen. Co-ops are operating in a market system…To capitalists they look as good as apple pie.”

Class Solidarity Campaign at the 2009 CUPE National Convention

By ChairInternal, November 23, 2009 2:09 am

 Class Solidarity Campaign at the 2009 CUPE National Convention

Brother Ajamu courageously ran a campaign to open up the General Vice-President (GVP) seats to any CUPE member, as well as to bring the issue of class and class struggle into union politics. His electoral intervention struck a blow against the unwritten rule of reserving the GVP seats for the five divisional presidents.

These GVP positions are usually acclaimed on the convention floor. However, Brother Ajamu’s class solidarity-themed campaign forced an election on the convention floor and delegates from across Canada rewarded his principled effort with 40% of the votes.

Competitive, contested elections inside CUPE and the wider labour movement provide the opportunity for members to be exposed to different visions, strategies and tactics to achieve the emancipation of labour from capitalist, racist and sexist exploitation and domination. Hopefully, CUPE members’ reservation or fear of contesting these seats will be a thing of the past.

Brother Ajamu’s Campaign Leaflet for General Vice-President

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