The Dubious Legacy of César Chávez

by Michael Yates

review of Randy Shaw’s Beyond the Fields: César Chávez, the UFW, and Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 347 pp., $24.95.

The thesis of this book is simple. Randy Shaw argues that most of the social movements of the contemporary U.S.—labor, immigrant rights, antiwar, worker and consumer health and safety, anti-sweatshop—are fundamentally the progeny of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Shaw attempts to prove this by showing that UFW alumni have been critical leaders of these movements, and these causes have employed tactics pioneered by Chávez and the farm workers. Shaw’s argument is deeply flawed.

It is certainly true that thousands of young people, radical activists, trade unionists, clergy, and assorted other actors, politicians, writers, and artists worked for or with the UFW during its heyday from the mid-1960s until about 1980. I did, in the winter of 1977, when I worked at La Paz, the union’s headquarters in Keene, California. For most of us, our UFW experiences were exciting and meaningful. We carried them with us, and they informed our lives and actions.

But the same things could be said about the IWW before the First World War; the CIO or the Communist Party during the 1930s; or the SDS, the SWP, and the antiwar and the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Of course, there were historical continuities in all of these movements—a problem for Shaw’s arguments. The UFW didn’t spring full-blown from the body and mind of César Chávez and his mentor Fred Ross. There is history here, and Shaw, by and large, ignores it. Would the UFW have been possible without the radical Filipino farm workers who started the organizing? The Filipinos drew strength from struggles in their homeland and from the CIO upheavals of the Great Depression. The union used the boycott to good effect, at least in the beginning, and its use of volunteers to staff boycott offices in every major city in the United States and some in Canada was innovative. But the boycott built the AFL in the 1880s and 1890s. Similarly, the civil rights movement used boycotts, nonviolent demonstrations, and volunteers by the thousands, the sorts of tactics that Shaw attributes to Chávez’s genius. Certainly, someone could write a similar book using this movement as its template. The UFW was not unique.

Flaws up close

Consider three points, two small and one large.

First, Shaw says that, “During the 1950s, Chávez met Father Donald McDonnell, who introduced him …to a recent encyclical from Pope Leo XIII on the church’s support for workers who protested unfair labor conditions.” The encyclical, Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things”), was written in 1891, which hardly made it recent. But Shaw doesn’t say that the Pope wrote it in response to the growing popularity of left-wing unions and politics among working people. It is an anti-socialist screed, aimed at Catholic workers. It is very much a defense of capitalism, and only goes so far as to suggest that capitalists must treat workers fairly.

Shaw makes much of the UFW’s alliance with religious groups and clergy, and there is no doubt that church support for the farmworkers’ struggles helped the union immensely. However, the close relationship the UFW and Chávez had with churches was a mixed blessing. The Catholic Church is a hierarchical, dogmatic, and sexist organization. The Church view is, at best, that the poor are worthy sinners who have to be looked after by the priests, who, like Christ, sacrifice for them.

Chávez imbibed this paternalistic ethic, and the ministers, who flocked to the union and were powerful within it, encouraged him. Chávez said that to sacrifice is to be a man. With the union’s successes, Chávez began to think of himself as a holy person, Christ-like and above reproach. Once in a community meeting at La Paz, César was criticized by some of us for making an incredibly sexist remark. He became enraged and said, “I work eighteen fucking hours a day for the union. Who of you can say the same?”

How do you challenge Christ?

Is it any wonder that when Chávez showed his disdain for rank-and-file power in the union, almost none of the clergy challenged him? Or many of his staff or board members either? Is it surprising that Chávez was a staunch anti-communist and engaged in vicious and mindless purges and red-baiting of those who challenged his authority?

Chávez had a history, and the social doctrines of the Catholic church were part of it. Unfortunately, Shaw ignores the seamier side of these. You would never know from this book that the Church did some evil deeds during the great CIO movement of the 1930s, even informing about left-wing labor leaders to the FBI.

The Game

The final chapter in the book contains a long list of UFW alumni who have continued to fight the good fight. It is a kind of “shout out” to these often unrecognized models of courage and social solidarity and an attempted empirical validation of Shaw’s thesis. There are some curious inclusions and omissions, and these raise a second point of criticism. Under the heading “Labor Organizer/Union Staff,” we find the name, Fred Hirsch. Fred is a communist plumber, and he was one of the first researchers to uncover the close relationship between certain unions and the CIA. He worked diligently in support of the UFW, beginning in the 1960s. Fred did not owe his politics or dedication to labor to Chávez or the UFW but to the communist movement.

Fred’s daughter, Liza, who is not on Shaw’s list, began working with (and then for) the union from age twelve. I helped her develop a piece rate proposal for tomato pickers at a ranch near Oxnard, California. We shared a friendship with a volunteer at La Paz, a man who did carpentry and maintenance work for the union.

In the winter of 1977, Chávez hooked up with Charles Dederich, who ran a drug rehabilitation center called Synanon. (To his credit, Shaw discusses this in a chapter on the UFW’s decline). Dederich had concocted a psychological warfare scheme called the “Game,” in which addicts were subjected to relentless group attacks, the idea being to break down their psyches so they could start over again, without drugs. At the time of Chávez’s fascination with Synanon and the “Game,” Dederich was a megalomaniacal cult leader, abusing his clientele. A reporter who exposed the organization found a rattlesnake in his mailbox.

César took to the “game” like Stalin to the secret police, and he used it for the same purpose—to consolidate his power in the union. He took some trusted members of his inner circle to Synanon for training and began immediately to force the game upon the staff. On April 4, 1977, he incited a screaming mob of “Game” initiates to purge the union of “troublemakers.” All sorts of ridiculous charges were made against “enemies of the union,” including our carpenter friend. When our friend confronted Caesar and demanded to face his accusers in a hearing, as the union’s constitution stated was his right, Chávez called the Mojave police and had him arrested for trespassing.

The last time I saw him was at Fred Hirsch’s house in San Jose, after we bailed him out of jail. A few weeks later, Liza went to La Paz to attend the wedding of a friend. César, with whom she had been very close and in whose house she had once lived, summarily threw her off the property and expelled her from the union.

Wreckage

If the UFW positively changed some peoples’ lives, it harmed and wrecked others. Shaw certainly knows this; he just chose not to mention it. He devotes considerable space to the admirable parts of the life and work of famed UFW leader Dolores Huerta, who is also on his list. He uses her as a prime example of the importance of the UFW in training and nurturing social change activists. She has won every imaginable award given to women leaders and been in the forefront of many struggles.

But Huerta has never repudiated Chávez’s dictatorial, hateful, and ruinous behavior. She could have, and it might have made a difference. Instead, she was and still is a Chávez apologist. Shaw reports that she was unhappy with the treatment of women in the union. She says that women need to have power. She doesn’t say for what. Had she been union president, I doubt things would have turned out much different.

Also absent from Shaw’s list of UFW luminaries is Chávez’s son, Paul. The younger Chávez still lives at La Paz, from where he runs a group of interlinked union enterprises, including radio stations and housing companies. The union raises money from these and many other sources: mass mailing fund-raising, marketing the Chávez name to sell union trinkets and win public grants, political consulting, and managing union trust funds. The union has precious few members; a handful of members collect pensions or get health care from the trust funds (though they sit on tens of millions of dollars); and the union leadership seems little concerned about any of this. Paul Chávez is paid more than $125,000 for his “services” to farm workers.

A charitable description of today’s UFW is that it has become a quasi-racket. Another UFW legacy Shaw neglects to discuss. Chávez created an undemocratic union of migrant workers. He ran it as if it were his property. History tells us that such an organization is ripe for corruption. And so it was.

Legacy

The final and most serious flaw of Shaw’s analysis shows itself in the opening pages, where he says, “This legacy should not be based on the size of the UFW’s current membership rolls. Rather, it should be evaluated by the impact of its ideas and alumni on current social justice struggles.”

Let’s see now. The UFW managed, despite long odds, to organize farm workers, attract thousands of talented volunteers to its banner, build a feared grassroots political action machine, defeat the Teamsters and the sweetheart contracts it had signed with growers, and win passage of a farm workers’ labor law unmatched by any other such statute in the country. By 1977, the union was poised to achieve a mass membership that would have made it a power to be reckoned with in California, and maybe in the entire nation.

But then, under Chávez’s autocratic leadership, the union dissolved the boycott staff, firing its leader and accusing him of being a communist; purged its staff, using the most disgusting means imaginable; refused to entertain any local union autonomy and democracy; denied the election of actual farm workers to the union board; ruined the careers, and in some cases, the jobs, of rank-and-file union dissidents; lost almost all of its collective bargaining agreements, and began a long and ugly descent into corruption.

Today, farm workers in California are no better off than they were before the union came on the scene. They still don’t often live past fifty; they still suffer the same job-related injuries and illnesses; they still don’t have unions; they are still at the bottom of the labor market barrel. How is all of this not an important, indeed critical, legacy of the UFW? If we judge the union and Chávez in terms of the well-being of the workers they set out to organize, both must be judged utter failures. If we compare the UFW to any number of the CIO’s left-led unions, for example, the United Packinghouse Workers of America, the Farmworkers pale by comparison. The UPWA was not only a multiracial and democratic union. It also led the struggle to end segregation at work and in the workers’ communities, and it put the pay of the black and immigrant laborers who did the unenviable work of slaughtering the animals we eat on a par with those of steel and auto workers.

A union is supposed to organize workers and improve their lives. Chávez and the UFW had their chances, and they threw them away. Imagine that Martin Luther King had sought and taken advice from Chuck Dederich after his “I Have a Dream” speech. And after that, imagine that he had forced the Memphis garbagemen to play the “Game.” Surely historians would count that as a major part of his legacy.

Alumni

And if we follow Shaw’s lead and look to the “impact of ideas and alumni on current social justice struggles,” we are still left with serious problems. Consider two outstanding alumni, Marshall Ganz and Eliseo Medina.

Ganz was a master organizer, of both union and political campaigns, and he has put this skill, which he learned in the UFW, to use after he left the union. He has led election campaigns for former U.S. senator Alan Cranston, and he was a key organizer in getting Nancy Pelosi elected to Congress. He now teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Shaw makes much of the get-out-the-vote techniques Ganz has mastered. However, these were not new when he used them. The AFL-CIO employed them, and most of the tactics Shaw traces to the UFW, in a 1977 campaign to defeat a right-to-work ballot measure in Missouri. I don’t find Ganz’s work for the Democratic Party to be particularly progressive either. Nancy Pelosi? An old-line political hack trained in the art of politics by the king of pork, John Murtha?

With Medina, we can make a similar criticism. He did many good things with the UFW and after he left. But he was the one person who could have mounted a challenge to Chávez. He chose not to, and he has, to my knowledge, never repudiated the reprehensible tactics Chávez used with the “Game.”

There may be good reason for this. Today, Medina is a senior vice-president of SEIU, a union that has used somewhat similar tactics, but in a situation where the union is loaded with money. The SEIU hires scads of young nonmember organizers, puts them though a cult-like training (the same seems to be true of another union, HERE, which also has many former UFW people on it staff, and which even uses a variant of the “Game” to train new staffers), works them to death, gives them no power inside the union, brooks no criticism, and confines their education to the technocratic mechanics of organizing. They learn little about the labor movement, economics, and the many other things that would help them develop a radical, worker-centered ideology.

The same was true in the UFW; César even sent a spy to monitor a labor history class I had begun to teach interested staff. The SEIU is completely staff-dominated—and staff make a great deal of money—Medina is a long way from his UFW penury. His total compensation in 2006: $194,336. SEIU leadership is as fearful and intolerant of union democracy and rank-and-file power as the UFW. If local workers assert themselves, there is a good chance that their local will be put in trusteeship by the national union—exactly what happened recently to a large local of healthcare workers in California. It has been trusteed, and Medina is at the center of the whole sordid episode. [Randy Shaw himself, on the civil war within SEIU, is here; a more radical view, from Steve Early, here.]

SEIU is not above threatening to sue its critics, just like the UFW threatened to sue The Nation magazine in 1977 after it published an article I wrote critical of the union. Also, like the UFW, the SEIU has witnessed serious incidents of corruption, involving theft of money and shady dealings with third parties. There is a separate heading for SEIU in Shaw’s table of UFW notables. It is certainly debatable whether this legacy of the UFW is a positive one.

The problem with Shaw is that he simply assumes that the various movements and causes UFW alumni have either led or worked in are good. He doesn’t ask whether what they are doing is what needs to be done to build a better society. Get out the vote for what? Boycott for what? Organize workers for what? Teach people to organize for what?

I enjoyed the parts of Shaw’s book that recount the UFW’s epic battles. But I did not find the rest of it credible or penetrating. An objective history of César Chávez, the UFW, and the union’s legacy has yet to be written.

*note: This article is original to the Left Business Observer website and can be found here. (c) Copyright 2009, Michael Yates. All rights reserved. Michael Yates is Associate Editor of Monthly Review. A new edition of his book, Why Unions Matter, is just out. His blog is here.

Advertisements

Syria: Heralding a Change in the International Strategic Situation?

Granma International English Edition
by Ernesto Gomez Abascal

Evidently the Cold War ended in the final decade of the 20th century with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries, but the U.S. plan of domination enshrined in the Project for the New American Century, drawn up by a group of neoconservative and Zionist strategists, remains in the minds of Washington politicians.

However, Democrat and Republican priorities on the imperial agenda remain. These are: control of the Near East given its energy resources and strategic position, the elimination of governments who stand up to or interfere with its interests, and to exclude the emergence of new rival powers.

While it is a fact that things have not been going well for the U.S. government in Afghanistan and Iraq, this has not resulted in a change of plans, but merely adjustments to the new conditions. Imperialism has many years of experience in methods of regime change, as we in Latin America know very well.

In Libya, included for years on the list of seven countries whose governments had to be changed, the United States was initially successful, having taken advantage of some inconsistencies on the part of Muammar Gaddafi, and certain lack of popularity for the leader. Then came an intensive media campaign, Arab League cover and backing, which facilitated a UN Security Council resolution, and subsequently, a large part of the country’s infrastructure was bombed by NATO aircraft, thousands of Libyans were killed, and a government subordinated to its interests was installed in Tripoli. Libya’s large oil reserves are now more accessible to U.S. and European corporations, although the chaos created in the country has created an uncertain future.

While this was taking place in Libya, the CIA and its allies in the NATO special services were working on the next country listed, Syria. It has been acknowledged that hundreds of Syrians were trained and armed in Turkey and other countries ill disposed toward the Damascus government, especially those of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and in areas of the Lebanon under the control the March 14 alliance (directed by the Hariri clan, pro‑Saudi and linked to the French government). These Syrians are predominantly Sunnis and members of the illegal and extremist Muslim Brotherhood, but include mercenaries from other Arab countries, and commandos trained for special operations. These have received a large supply of modern armaments, sophisticated communications equipment and information via NATO satellite networks.

The predominantly Alawite Damascus government, a strong ally of Iran and a supporter of the Lebanese patriotic forces headed by Hezbollah, which controls power in Beirut, had genuine problems – as do all countries in the region and a large part of the world, including the most developed countries. These include repression, lack of democracy, and corruption, and this has provoked malaise within the population, leading to demonstrations initially encouraged by those in other countries of the region, and which were repressed particularly where they originated, in the southern city of Daraa, right on the border with Jordan.

The media war machine was immediately activated against Syria, as was the case with Libya. In Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin America countries we have become experts on how this operates, having suffered it for many years, and we also know how to combat it, despite disadvantageous material conditions given the enormous propaganda resources possessed by the enemy. Even with the abovementioned defects, the Syrian government was practising a non-sectarian policy in the religious context and one of relative social justice, anti‑imperialist and anti‑Zionist. It has been an ally of progressive causes in the South and an obstacle to U.S. and Israeli plans in the region. Allegations intended to discredit it, to the effect that its policy of peace serves Israeli interests, have no serious foundation.

Installing a pro‑Western government in Damascus would propitiate a change of government in Lebanon and possibly another war there to eliminate the power of Hezbollah, an ally of Iran together with Syria, and viewed as enemies by the Sunni Gulf monarchies, who submit to Western policy in return for protection from an alleged Iranian threat, even though no war has been initiated by that country for centuries.

If the plan concerning Syria is consummated, the Western powers would move against Tehran and, along the way, crush the resistance of Palestine, obliging it to accept crumbs of territory and the minimum rights which Israeli Zionists would be disposed to concede to the people. The U.S. “Grand Middle East” would be completed with its extension to Central Asia, and the siege of Russia and China would be laid.

However, Syria is not Libya. Although its leaders have made undeniable errors and have acted slowly in response to the conspiracy and plans of its powerful enemies, thus losing a lot of time and ground, it would seem to have sufficient internal support and resources to stand up to its enemies and defeat them, albeit at a heavy price in terms of death and destruction.

Apparently, a clear perception of this reality prompted Russian and Chinese representatives to use their veto in the February 4 Security Council vote on a resolution which – regardless of its text, as was the case with Libya – would open the gates to foreign intervention in order to destroy the country and impose a regime change. The highest authorities in both countries have clearly declared a red line and they are not prepared to allow a military intervention in Syria.

The firm stand of Moscow and Beijing and the cooperation they are giving the Syrian government, appears to be starting to change the situation on the ground. The Lebanese army has been mobilized to the border in an attempt to prevent the entry of mercenaries and military supplies into the neighbouring area of Homs, center of the anti‑government uprising and whose capital city was intended to become the Benghazi of Syria. Syrian government forces have recently moved onto the offensive there.

The Baghdad government, now closer to Iran’s influence than to that of the United States, is also trying to prevent Sunni Islamic extremists – possibly linked to Al Qaeda and receiving funds from Saudi Arabia and Qatar – from continuing to infiltrate into Syrian territory. Recent terrorist attacks on the Shiite population in various parts of Iraq would seem to be a message of protest from Saudi Arabia and the United States given the change in position in favour of Syria adopted by the Iraqi government.

Turkey and Jordan, two other countries to have adopted belligerent positions against the Damascus government, are beginning to make more moderate statements. There are even signs of concern in Western capitals at the possibility of extremist Islamic forces linked to Al Qaeda coming to power in Syria in the case of the current executive being defeated.

The situation is highly fluid and extremely complex, but if Syria succeeds in resisting this imperialist, and Zionist counterrevolutionary aggression, and if Russia and China remain firm, there could be a defeat of strategic magnitude. Iran would emerge strengthened and new alliances could be established to oppose imperialist plans of domination. The countries of the BRICS group, the newly independent countries of Latin America, especially the strong core members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), are in agreement with the principals of a foreign policy opposed to aggression, and would favour the negotiated solution to conflicts. They also defend justice, sovereignty and non‑intervention, all of which could initiate the beginnings of a newmultipolar balance in the world.

The grave economic crisis affecting the major capitalist powers and the debilitation this implies, in conjunction with the indignados movement, could significantly contribute to this potential panorama.

(Ernesto Abascal was the Cuban ambassador to Iraq.)

*note: Granma is the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. You can visit their International English website here. The original article is here.

Debating Every Last Word of Ahmadinejad’s ‘Wipe Israel Off the Map’

by Uri Friedman


Photo credit: Reuters
 
The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler has a fascinating article today on the six-year dispute surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declaration that Israel must be “wiped off the map”–a line that has become shorthand for Iran’s belligerent (some would say genocidal) posture toward Israel. The quote first stirred controversy in 2005, when Nazila Fathi of The New York Times cited a report by the Iranian Students’ News Agency on Ahmadinejad’s remarks at a “World Without Zionism” conference (the Tehran-based Fathi later issued a full-text translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech, and official Iranian sources like IRIB ran with the same translation). Since then, however, some have argued that Ahmadinejad was mistranslated, and that getting the translation right is critical to decoding the meaning behind the Iranian leader’s incendiary words.

Here is the passage in question from Ahmadinejad’s 2005 speech in Persian, rough transliteration, and Times translation (we’ve taken what appears to be the full line in Persian from an archived transcript of Ahmadinejad’s address):

امام عزيز ما فرمودند كه اين رژيم اشغالگر قدس بايد از صفحه روزگار محو شود

Imam ghoft een rezhim-i eshghalgar-i Qods bayad az safheh-i ruzgar mahv shaved

Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map

Let’s isolate the key phrases in the line:

  • Imam ghoft: People generally agree that these words mean “our (dear) Imam said,” and indicate that, instead of making a brazen, unprecedented proclamation, Ahmadinejad was quoting comments made by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, in the 1980s.
  • een rezhim-i eshghalgar-i Qods: Again, the literal translation here isn’t really in question. These words are translated as some variation on “the regime occupying Jerusalem.” But the meaning of the words is a matter of dispute. The liberal Middle East expert Juan Cole and the The Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele have argued that the phrasing suggests Ahmadinejad is calling for a change in the Israeli government rather than military action against Israel, especially since he was comparing regime change in Israel to regime change in Iran in 1979. But, as The Times puts it, others argue that the line “indicates the depth of the Iranian president’s rejection of a Jewish state in the Middle East because he refuses even to utter the name Israel.”
  • mahv shaved: Cole, Steele, and the Mossadegh Project’s Arash Norouzi have all disputed theTimes‘ “wiped off” translation above, arguing that these words instead mean “vanish from.” But an Iranian translator and consultant supportedThe Times‘ “wiped off” or “wiped away” rendering in 2006, asserting that the Persian verb is active and transitive (Cole says the verb construction is intransitive). At the time of Ahmadinejad’s speech, the Middle East Media Research Institute(MEMRI) translated the verb as “eliminated.”
  • safheh-i ruzgar: This is where things really get interesting. Ahmadinejad actually misquoted Khomeini, who used the phrase “sahneh-i ruzgar.” As the Times noted several years ago, “sahneh” literally means “scene” or “stage” and “ruzgar” means “time,” but translators in the 1980s interpreted Khomeini’s words as a metaphorical reference to a “map”–an interpretation that stuck when Ahmadinejad substituted “sahneh” for “safheh,” or “page.” But the Cole-Steele-Norouzi trio recommends the literal translation of “page of time” (MEMRI, for its part, went with “pages of history”). Steele claims that the “page of time” phrase, along with the rest of his translation, suggests that the Iranian president was expressing a desire for an end to Israeli occupation at some point in the future. “He was not threatening an Iranian-initiated war to remove Israeli control over Jerusalem,” Steele writes.

So there you have it. Depending on who you ask, Ahmadinejad was either endorsing Khomeini’s battle cry for Israel to be wiped off the map or invoking Khomeini’s wish that, someday, somehow, the Israeli government will collapse under its own weight. The varying translations, of course, may be inextricably linked to people’s political views on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And some argue that the distinction is academic at this point. In a study for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Joshua Teitelbaum states that Ahmadinejad’s public statements, taken as a whole, indicate that the Iranian leader is bent on the “actual physical destruction of the State of Israel,” however one may translate his 2005 speech. Other Iranian leaders, he adds, have made even more militant comments.

And what of Ahmadinejad himself? He hasn’t exactly brought closure to the debate. In a 2006 interview with The Washington Post‘s Lally Weymouth, he evaded her question about whether he wanted to “wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,” in Weymouth’s words. “Let the Palestinian people decide their fate in a free and fair referendum, and the result, whatever it is, should be accepted,” he told Weymouth. “The people with no roots there are now ruling the land.”

More recently, Ahmadinejad has declared that a NATO missile defense system in Turkey “will not stop the fall of the Zionist regime” and that Iran’s response to any provocation by the “bankrupt, uncivilized and criminal Zionist regime” would be “crushing and regrettable.” Well, at least he said those things according to the Fars News Agency’s English translation.

*note: originally published on October 5, 2011 on The Atlantic Wire. Original here.

No Move Left for NDP

People’s Voice Editorial

     With Thomas Mulcair as the new leader of the NDP, it appears that Canada’s mass social democratic party will likely continue its long-term drift to the political centre. In fact, none of the seven candidates who made it to the ballot were clearly associated with strong left positions, even on issues where working people favour a move towards genuine progressive reforms.

For example, a growing majority of voters support increased taxes on the wealthy and the corporations, to help shift the tax burden from the needy to the greedy and to help pay for vital social programs. Yet no NDP leadership candidate made more than a timid gesture in this direction. Nor did any of them mention the need for public ownership of critical economic sectors such as the energy industry – even though nearly half of Canadians back such a demand, according to surveys over recent years.

Mulcair brings a particularly poor record on issues of peace and war to his new post. Canada already has a viciously anti-Palestinian Prime Minister, and now we also have an Official Opposition leader who has been vehemently pro-Israel in his public statements. Nor did Mr. Mulcair raise any objection to the Harper government’s aggressive militarist foreign policy. The NDP has shifted from its identification with the anti-war movement of a decade ago, into the camp of those who support imperialist interventions in the name of “humanitarian intervention.”

None of this is any big surprise – the NDP has been on a trajectory away from left policies for many years. But those who counsel “keeping our powder dry” by blocking attempts to mobilize public opposition against the Harper Tories – so that we can elect an NDP government in 2015 – are making a huge mistake. More than ever, the main focus of opposition to the Tory/corporate agenda must be extraparliamentary, in our workplaces and communities.

Ontario Should Change Farm Worker Laws: International Labour Organization

Organization concurs with human rights complaint, calls on province to change

Canadian Labour Reporter

The UN agency responsible for formulating international labour standards, including labour rights, agrees with a Canadian union that Ontario’s farm worker legislation should be amended.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) concluded on March 28 that Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA), “is insufficient to ensure the collective bargaining rights of agricultural workers under the principles of freedom of association.”

The ILO ruling is the result of a 2009 complaint filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union of Canada that the AEPA violated human and labour rights of Ontario agriculture workers under ILO Convention 87 – Freedom of association and protection of the right to organize (1948); and ILO Convention 98 – The right to organize and bargaining collectively (1949).

“The ILO’s conclusion is consistent with our position that the AEPA provides no teeth for Ontario farm workers to exercise their fundamental workplace right to meaningful representation,” says UFCW Canada president Wayne Hanley. “Unless the AEPA is amended, agriculture workers in Ontario will continue to be some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the province, and excluded from the rights and protections that other workers in the province have the freedom to exercise.”

Under the AEPA — brought in by the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves government in 2002 — agricultural employees can join or form associations but are prohibited from joining unions. They can make representations to their employer, but the employer is not obliged to act.

In 2008, in the wake of the UFCW’s challenge based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the AEPA violated the freedom of association rights of Ontario farm workers under Section 2(d) of the Charter.

In April 2011, however, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed the appeal ruling in the Fraser decision. The AEPA provided freedom of association — given the assumption the employer would act “in good faith,” the court said.

But according to the ILO’s most recent decision, “good faith” might not cut it:

“Collective bargaining implies an ongoing engagement in a give-and-take process, recognizing the voluntary nature of collective bargaining and the autonomy of the parties. In the Committee’s view, the duty to consider employee representations in good faith, which merely obliges employers to give a reasonable opportunity for representations and listen or read them — even if done in good faith, does not guarantee such a process,” the ruling reads. “The Committee therefore concludes that the AEPA would need to be amended to ensure respect of these principles.”

Only the federal government has the authority to ratify ILO conventions into Canadian law, but the implementation of many conventions falls under federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions, given the division of powers under the Canadian Constitution. Canada says its long-standing practice with respect to ILO conventions dealing with matters under federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions has been to ratify ILO conventions only if all jurisdictions consent with ratification and agree to implement the conventions without reservation in their respective jurisdictions.

Unless Ontario farm worker legislation is amended, basic human rights will continue to be violated, the UFCW says.

“As for good faith, the record on the AEPA speaks for itself, as every day farm workers are fired, threatened, or shipped out if they raise a concern about their safety or treatment,” says Hanley. “We agree with the ILO that it is time for the Ontario government to step up to the plate and do the right thing (…) We invite the government to sit down and consult to amend the legislation and right a situation that currently is wrong.”

*note: © Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved. Original article here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Concerned Canadians Disrupt Budget Speech

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - Concerned Canadians Disrupt Budget Speech

March 29, 2012
 
Ask Conservatives: “Where are we in your budget?”
 
 
Ottawa, ON – Concerned people from various walks of life disrupted the Minister of Finance’s reading of the Conservative budget today. The group stood up in the House of Commons gallery and identified themselves one by one, then chanting, “This is not our budget, where are we in your budget.”
 
“We are bringing the voices of people in Canada whose needs and priorities have been excluded from this budget,” said Hannah Vlaar. “Instead of a budget for the people this is a budget for polluters, prisons and the Conservatives pals.”
 
The group, who also revealed shirts that read, “Where Are We In Your Budget?” were removed from the gallery after standing up. Their action aimed to send a message to the government and the people of Canada that the Harper government could choose to put forward a very different budget that corresponds to Canadians’ needs.
 
“The Conservative government touts its economic record, yet the services and programs we value and need are being cut,” said Alice-Rose Mick, one of the Canadians that stood up in the House today. “Instead the government is choosing to spend on jets, jails and subsidies for fossil fuels, while cutting corporate taxes.”
 
Media reports in the lead up to this budget painted a picture of austerity, jobs cuts, gutting environmental legislation and a rollback in essential social services like Old Age Security, women’s services, services for First Nations education and health, and much more. 
 
“The people and Harper have very different visions for Canada and for what people in Canada need,” said Jo Wood. “People need a vision that builds stronger communities with job security, stronger public services, and better education and for that we need a budget that makes Corporations pay their fair share and stops putting the burden onto the shoulders of ordinary people.”
 
To show support for those who stood up in the House today, people are encouraged to visit NotOurBudget.ca and upload short videos or statements about what kind of budget they want. To follow and comment on the story, supporters can use the Twitter hashtag #NotOurBudget.
 
source: http://www.mediacoop.ca/newsrelease/10358