Sunday, November 30, 2008

Here's a little break from the usual political subject matter on this blog. Tonight and tomorrow there will be a "grand conjunction" of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter in the southwest sky. If you have been watching in that direction for the past few evenings, as Molly has, you will have seen Venus (lower and brighter) and Jupiter (higher and dimmer) gradually getting closer and closer together. The last time I was able to spot the pair, at about 5:00 on Friday the two planets were about 6 to seven degrees apart. Tonight Venus will overtake Jupiter and appear slightly below and to the east of Jupiter. A very thin crescent Moon will be seen closer to the horizon in the west. Tonight the two planets will be about 2 degrees away from each other, but you will be unable to see them from here in Winnipeg. It seems we almost always have overcast conditions for the best celestial events. The Environment Canada weather site predicts further cloud cover through tomorrow and the day after. A better site for those interested is the Clear Dark Sky site. they predict a period of relatively clearness tomorrow from 3 to 7 pm. This may be a chance to catch the events as the Moon climbs to the west of the planetary pair and Venus likewise moves further from Jupiter. This will actually be the best time to view the event as the three objects will be within a four degree triangle. After December 1 the Moon will be quite obviously to the east of the planets, and Venus will also be further from Jupiter in the same direction. Catch it if you can. The Clear Dark Sky site will give you viewing conditions for your locality if you live in North America.

The photo above, by the way, is from a prairie amateur astronomy site that I recently discovered, the Black Holes and Astro Stuff blog. I recommend it highly. The photo shows the Venus/Jupiter pair, along with the track of the International Space Station that was prominent in the southwest sky the last few days. I'm sure that, weather conditions permitting, that the BHAAS blog will be in the running for the Sky News photo contest this year. Would that I had such photo talent. By the way, here's another item from that blog, a picture of the area where the recent 'Prairie Meteor' was sighted. Pieces of the meteor have apparently been found near Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, but more on that later. See the BHAAS blog on our "Scientific Links' section, with many kudos to a great blogger.

I followed a link today to somebody who visited this blog and found out something astounding. Molly's Blog has made it to round two in the voting for the Canadian Blog Awards "best political blog". To be honest I never thought I would get there, but I guess that some people like what I do. The other contestants in round 2 include the Calgary Grit (affiliation obvious), the Small Dead Animals (conservative), and two others that I cannot determine any affiliation for: Nunc Scio and Bond Papers. The latter is from a public relations and public policy guy in Newfoundland and Nunc Scio is quite non-partisan. If I wasn't in the running I'd vote for Nunc Scio. As to those who weren't nominated but should have been my vote would have been for Eugene Plawiuk's La Revue Gauche blog, an effort that I actually consider better than my own. Oh horrors- voting against myself !
In any case round two is nhow on, and you can vote once a week. Help a poor little meowing pussycat out and vote for me at the Canadian Blog Awards.

Ok, here's our quiz section. What do the above 3Ps have in common ? Full marks and a Molly No-Prize to those who guessed that they are indeed a P3, public private partnership, in the guise of the City of Winnipeg's latest decision to award its parking bylaw enforcement to the Anglo-Dutch G4S company. Who exactly are these people ? They claim to employ over 500,000 people worldwide in over 100 countries- just a tad shy of Winnipeg's total population. As the article below makes clear they have made a mess of managing prisons and other services in the UK. They have also been involved in many scandals involving labour rights. For an overview see the Wikipedia article on them as well as an article in the business section of the London Times. They are also, of course, involved in providing services to the occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan(can we say mercenaries?). So watch out for the helicopter gunships if you don't pay your ticket on time, and never, never, never plan a wedding party unless you are fully paid up (the bride wore napalm ???). According to the Wikipedia article the anarcho-punk band Crass once wrote a song about these people- though Molly was unable to verify this from the Wiki.
Anyways, here's an article on this takeover here in Winnipeg from Policy Alternatives via the Public Values website. Gotta hand it to Slick Sammy, our beloved comrade leader mayor, his belief in the free market is almost as religiously pure as that of Sneaky Stevie, our beloved comrade leader Prime Minister.
From British prisons to Winnipeg parking police:
What the 'Peg could learn from Keystone Capers of other governments who rushed out to privatize
by Pete Hudson, CCPA Manitoba
November 20, 2008 — Last week it was reported that the Winnipeg Parking Authority has contracted with a company called G4S to hand out parking tickets to meter violators. This tiny portion of the total city budget is worth bothering with because it is illustrative of some serious flaws in the contracting ideology.

Two issues to be considered in relation to contracting out of services traditionally performed by city staff are why and with whom. In relation to the first question, many governments which rushed to contract out public services as part of a more general program of privatization are having second thoughts.

For example, the UK government has recently rescinded the compulsory contracting legislation of its predecessor. It has halted, and pledged to reverse, contracting out of cleaning, laundry and food services in hospitals because of the alarming rise in infections. Closer to home, Toronto has just taken back its garbage collection from private contractors, Port Moody its recycling and solid waste disposal, and Hamilton its water system maintenance because these jurisdictions found it more cost-effective to deliver these in-house, as well as easier to control quality.

A recent study of 100 so-called P3's (a way to contract out financing of public capital projects) found huge cost overruns, failures to meet deadlines, lengthy legal battles, contractors walking away from half finished projects, and outright fraud. Several Canadian jurisdictions, earlier embracing P3's, are now backing away from them; most recently Saskatchewan. Generally speaking the evidence is piling up that the claims of greater efficiencies and better quality are not justified.

So why would the City of Winnipeg persist in its present course of contracting out? Why deny the evidence? The reason seems to be that Mayor Katz and his inner circle, have heard the mantras of "privatization is good", "government is the problem and the market is the solution" so repeatedly deafeningly, that it simply has become a self-evident truth.

This mantra continues to be chanted by the Chamber of Commerce and surfaces in such C of C inspired documents as the Report of the Economic Opportunities Commission, which recommended yet more contracting out for the City, claiming cost savings based on nothing more than faith. In the case of parking meter surveillance, for many years the contract had been awarded to the non-profit Canadian Corps of Commissionaires. This was terminated sometime this year, apparently because of some compliance issues.

This would have been a golden opportunity to ask if it would be more cost-effective to contract in the service to City hired staff. How many workers would be needed to perform the service in-house? What would a union wage and benefits for these workers cost? How might that compare with the contract awarded to G4S costing $2.03m? I don't know the answer to these questions. The point is they were never asked. It is simply taken for granted that contracting out is the way to go.

In regard to the second issue, G4S is a UK-based multinational claiming nearly 500,000 employees worldwide. In 1994, the Home Office contracted out construction, maintenance, and daily running of several prisons to G4S. Among other difficulties, there were almost daily episodes of inmates hopping over the walls. Later there were several incidents of cash-carrying vans operated by G4S going missing. A locked facility to detain asylum seekers experienced a disastrous fire in 2002.

G4S claims that it has learned some lessons since, but the saga has continued. A series of thefts of computers in Nashville and the more astonishing theft of transit buses in Miami Dade County in 2008 has been attributed to lax security provided by G4S. There have been instances of fraud, mostly involving billing for shifts which never occurred, but also other corner cutting practices, as evidenced by complaints about poor food and diet, health care and sanitation, in addition to alleged punitive and undignified treatment of the residents in locked facilities.

Contracting out has usually resulted in much reduced remuneration for workers even when there has been no cost saving to taxpayers — and G4S appears to be yet another case in point. In 2005 representatives of G4S workers from four continents staged a massive protest at the G4S annual general meeting, accusing it of driving down wages and conditions and denying workers basic rights in the countries in which it operates.

G4S had vigorously opposed attempts at unionization of many of its workplaces, and was currently at that time embroiled in dozens of claims of violations of US labour laws. Enforced month-to-month contracts which denied workers access to benefits was said to be commonplace. Regardless of geography and regardless of the presence or absence of a union (organizing efforts have been successful in some G4S workplaces), G4S has experienced, and continues to experience, an unusually high incidence of labour-management strife.

Right from the start of the contracting out craze, critics were questioning the logic behind it. Now that the theory has been empirically tested and found wanting in so many cases, it is difficult to see how the contract between the WPA and G4S will deliver a less costly and better quality service than if delivered by WPA staff. It is, of course, possible. The point is, we will never know, because the questions that need to be asked are so rarely asked at the current Winnipeg City Hall. When they are asked, the questioners are faced with attacks upon their intelligence and their credentials.

We all still hope that if G4S is found wanting, or when the contract expires, whichever comes first, any evaluation would include the possibility of the alternative of contracting in — as should be the case with all such contracts. In the meantime, when I see the new parking police in their "customer friendly" uniforms, handing out tickets one minute and being "ambassadors" for the City the next, I will find it difficult not to think of a good portion of the UK prison population enjoying the delights of the English countryside from the other side of the wall. If you get a ticket, check it twice.

Pete Hudson is Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba and a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba research associate.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This coming December 11-15 various groups, including anarchist groups, will be holding protests at the 'Millionaires' Fair' being held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The following callout from the A-Infos site tells the story of the callout for protests. No doubt a worthy thing to protest. What threw Molly for a loop was the idea that there could be such a thing as a 'Millionaires' Fair'. Even outside of tough economic times the whole concept would boggle the imagination. It seems like some sort of exemplar of bad taste, most suitable for the Beverly Hillbillies, and I have a hard time bending my mind around a bunch of nouveaux riches toddling from table to table in a convention centre looking at the trinkets. One wonders what would be on display in such a venue. Wow, and double wow. Life is always interesting if you can discover such bizarre things regularly.
Holland, Amsterdam, Series of protests at Millionaire Fair:
Socialists, anarchists and artists have all announced their own protests at the Millionaire Fair, the yearly event for nouveaux riches and wannabes which will be held at the RAI from 11-15 December.
On Thursday 11 December, a coalition consisting of the social assistance recipients' organisation Bijstandsbond, the Turkish workers' organisation DIDF, [and others] will hold a protest at the entrance of the fair starting at 7.30 pm. 'Let the rich pay for the crisis' will be the message.
"While millions of non-millionaires are very concerned about the impact of the economic crisis, others have no idea how to spend their heaps of money. This absurd contradiction cries out for protest", the initiators explain. They call on supporters to bring banners, plates, whistles, flags, pots and pans.
On the same day, a group that calls itself the 'Uninvited Guests' will organize a protest with a more anarchist angle. The motivation is similar: "In this emerging crisis, which will hurt millions of low-class people around the world, it is sicker than ever for the elite to exuberantly celebrate its multi-million euro party. [...] We want these bastards dealt with and their property taken away from them".
The anarchists will meet at 8.00 pm sharp at the RAI Railway Station in order to 'storm, ruin, block,and disrupt' the fair.
On Sunday 14 December, community art project The Mobile Picnic Table will set up its table at the fair in order to ask visitors critical questions on poverty. This initiative will also be supported by the Bijstandsbond.
The website of Bijstandsbond is


As mentioned before on this blog our dearly beloved comrade leader Sneaky Stevie has put off Monday's confidence vote into the week after. Whether this is an indication of panic at having one's bluff called or a more realistic move to try and split the opposition parties is anyone's guess. The sheer unmitigated arrogance of presenting a mini-budget at a time of worldwide finacial crisis that promises to do exactly nothing about it shows that perhaps the Conservatives are almost totally out of touch with reality. It may also, by its inclusion of a populist provision to cut off political funding, demonstrate a complete lack of concern about the issues that Canadians feel most strongly about at this time. An attempt to buy the pissed-off vote while doing nothing about the real crisis.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has initiated an online campaign to ask the leaders of the opposition parties to set their differences aside and form a coalition government to replace the Conservatives. As I have expressed before on this blog I think that this is actually quite a good idea. Not that I think that it will bring a free society one second closer in reality. Not that I think that the opposition parties are anything stupendous either. All that matters is that in the near future our present Conservative rulers have the potental to do great harm either by ideological blindness of pure selfish partisanship. it's best they don't have the opportunity. Here's the proposal from CUPE, along with a link to the letter.
For a coalition government:

CUPE joins the CLC, other unions and civil society organizations in asking federal opposition parties to form a coalition government Add your voice.
Stephen Harper’s conservative government - in the face of the worst global economic crises in decades - chose to present an “empty” fiscal update and do nothing to prevent unemployment chaos across the country.
“People right across this country have been waiting patiently for their government to act on their behalf. But once more Stephen Harper has let people down,” said Paul Moist.
The Harper government gave themselves a week cancelling opposition day, where the Liberals could have introduced a no-confidence motion to defeat the government.
Harper has scheduled the next opposition day for Dec. 8.“Can we expect another week of conservative tv ads instead of good strong fiscal leadership. Don’t be surprised,” said Moist.
Here's the text of the letter that CUPE is asking you tos end to the leaders of the opposition parties.
Français suit
An Urgent Message to Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton:
Only a Coalition Government Can Provide the Leadership Canada Needs
Dear Leaders,
I write to you during this time of economic crisis to urge that you set aside all partisan considerations in favour of decisive action to help Canadians who are suffering and whose livelihoods are in jeopardy.

At this critical moment, a coalition government would be the most capable of delivering the kind of stewardship the economy needs, and the least likely to put partisan interests ahead of responsible government.
Time is of the essence. You have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver to citizens a coalition that is capable of putting aside partisan ploys and to work cooperatively and swiftly in the interests of all.
Thank You
Message urgent à Stéphane Dion et Jack Layton : seul un gouvernement de coalition peut offrir le leadership dont le Canada a besoin
Chers dirigeants,
Je vous écrire en ce temps de crise économique pour vous presser de mettre de côté les considérations partisanes, et d’agir d’une manière décisive pour aider les Canadiens qui en arrachent et dont les moyens de subsistance sont en péril.

En ce moment critique, le mieux placé pour offrir le genre d’intendance dont a besoin l’économie, et pour faire passer la responsabilité gouvernementale avant les intérêts partisans… serait un gouvernement de coalition.

Le temps, ici, est essentiel. Vous avez une occasion sans précédent d’offrir aux citoyens une coalition capable de mettre de côté les ruses partisanes afin d’œuvrer ensemble, et rapidement, dans le sens des intérêts de tous.

The popular struggle in the Mexican state of Oaxaca has entered a quiescent period. Several political prisoners, however, remain in detention from previous rounds of state repression. Here, from the Libcom site, is the story of how one of these prisoners has started a hunger strike to demand the release of him and his fellow detainees.
APPO prisoner on hunger strike:

Following harassment and abuse of political prisoners in Oaxaca, a hunger strike has commenced for their liberation.

Oaxaca, 28th November 2008
Compañeras and compañeros of all the organisations, collectives and individuals of Oaxaca and the World, of the Other Campaign, of National and International Human Rights Organisations, to the communication media, to the members and sympathisers of the APPO in Mexico and the World.

Following the removal operation and the beatings received, PEDRO CASTILLO ARAGÓN and VÍCTOR HUGO MARTINEZ TOLEDO have since (at different times) been returned to the Central Penitentiary of Santa Maria Ixcotel, Oax. AS OF THURSDAY 27TH NOVEMBER, AT 21:00 PEDRO CASTILLO HAS BEGUN A HUNGER STRIKE TO DEMAND FREEDOM FOR HIMSELF AND THE OTHER POLITICAL PRISONERS OF OAXACA.

In response to the facts of yesterday in the Central Penitentiary of Santa Maria Ixcotel, where without explanation, PEDRO CASTILLO ARAGÓN and VÍCTOR HUGO MARTINEZ TOLEDO were removed from the location, we wish to update information and and make some clarifications:

The two compañeros were removed from the penitentiary yesterday, in the morning of Thursday 27th November 2008 during an operation beginning at 07:30 and ending at approximately 13:00. Víctor Hugo Martínez Toledo was beaten and then returned to the Penitentiary a few hours later. Pedro Castillo Aragón was disappeared for several hours and was beaten worse, before being presented at the prison of Miahuatlan,Oaxcaca. Today, Friday 28th November at approximately 15:00, compañero Pedro Castillo Aragón was returned to the Central Penitentiary of Santa Maria Ixcotel. Currently, both compañeros remain in Ixcotel.

Since yesterday there have been mobilisations taking place to demand guarantees for our compañeros. Following the uncertainty generated by the operation and its affects on the families of political prisoners and other prisoners, and after an assembly of family members, friends and participants in the APPO movement, two actions were agreed. The first, yesterday night was a march that left the building of Section 22 (of the Teachers’ Union) for the Federal Courts as well as the blockade of avenida Juárez in order to hold a press conference and meeting for the appearance and liberation of our compañeros. Today, at 09:00 a second blockade took place in front of the Federal Courts. In this action, there was harassment on the part of elements of the Federal Preventive Police, all armed, who attempted to cross the blockade with their vehicle; nevertheless, they were forced to respect the demonstration. These actions have merely provoked the mobilisation of those of us who demand justice and freedom for the peoples of Oaxaca and an end to the criminalisation of social protest.

It is important to show that as a result of these actions, compañero Pedro Castillo Aragón yesterday, Thursday 27 November at 21:00 began a hunger strike to demand his freedom, that of Víctor Martínez Toledo and of Miguel Ángel García, political prisoners of the APPO since the 3rd of November 2006. Also for the liberation of the political prisoners of San Agustín Loxicha, Santiago Xanica and San Pedro Yosotatu.

Nevertheless, we know that these repressive actions on the part of the State are politically motivated and in line with the interests of the despotic government of Ulises Ruiz and with the obvious complicity of the Federal Government. These people hope to demoralise our imprisoned compañeros and put them under a repression even greater than that to which they have been subjected for the two years in the case of Víctor Hugo and nearly six in that of Pedro Castillo Aragón in which they have been unjustly imprisoned. In this way, the authorities hope to make current their message of repression against the people of Oaxaca and their political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

Owing to the size of the operation, the details and the current situation of repression both inside and outside of the Penitentiary,we fear for the the physical and emotional wellbeing of our political prisoner compañeros.

We hereby express our indignation at this operation that violates fundamental rights to put in danger the integrity and security of our imprisoned compañeros and take them from one place to another as if they were criminals.

We demand:
***Guarantees from the Interior of the Penitentiary, to care for the physical and moral integrity of our imprisoned compañeros!
***The immediate and unconditional liberation of all the political prisoners of Oaxaca!
Oaxacan Voices Contructing Autonomy and Liberty (VOCAL),
Committee of Citizen Defence (CODECI),
Committee of the Political Prisoners of Santa Maria Ixcotel


The following story from the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international solidarity group for workers in the garment industry, tells how Body fashion Thailand, a subsidiary of Triumph International, has won its court case regarding its right to dismiss union activists for their pro-union stance. The fight, however, isn't over, and the CCC has a link that you can follow for further action.
PRESS RELEASE: Thai Labour Court Gives Triumph Factory the Green Light to Violate Human Rights:‏
November 27, 2008
For immediate release

(Amsterdam) Today a labour court in Bangkok gave Body Fashion Thailand,a wholly-owned subsidiary of Triumph International, the green light in its effort to dismiss union president Jitra Kotshadej. The company filed a case against Ms. Kotshadej in relation to her participation, during her private time, in a national television debate wearing a t-shirt with the text 'Those who do not stand are not criminals. Thinking differently is not a crime.' The t-shirt refers to the right of people not to stand when the royal anthem is played and the abuse of lèse-majesté legislation to suppress political opposition. The company claims that her appearance damaged its reputation.

"By suing a union president, Triumph subsidiary Body Fashion Thailand(BFT) denies the fundamental right of freedom of expression" says Tessel Pauli, coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign. "Although the company has every right to distance itself from Ms. Kotshadej's personal opinions, it has an obligation to support her right to express them."
The Clean Clothes Campaign is concerned about Triumph's misuse of the courts to take action against a union leader, particularly when it is aimed at limiting her fundamental human rights. The threat of legal action discourages workers from joining and being active in unions, and appealing an unfair court decision is very difficult for workers, who rarely have the time and resources to pursue a lengthy legal battle.
Body Fashion Thailand first dismissed Ms. Kotshadej in July 2008. In response, more than 2000 of her co-workers laid down their work to demand her reinstatement. At the end of the 45-day strike, the company and the union agreed to a retrial of the dismissal case. Ms. Kotshadejdid not have a chance to defend herself in the first trial, because the company never properly informed her of their charges against her. Ms.Kotshadej will appeal against the labour court order.
Triumph International's Code of Conduct explicitly supports Article 19of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
The Code also explicitly supports freedom of association and prohibits acts of anti-union discrimination as set out in ILO conventions. Despite the workers' strike and repeated requests by Thai human rights groups and the Clean Clothes Campaign, Triumph refused to drop the case against Ms. Kotshadej.
For more information about the case, see

Friday, November 28, 2008


Sneaky Stevie has actually "out-Bushed Bush", his older brother in neoconservatism. While the outgoing American President has pretty well restricted himself to making religious sounding sounds about the ultimate virtues of the free market along with trying to set as many legislative traps as possible to preserve the vested interests he represents from evisceration once he leaves office our own dear beloved leader has actually gone against the collective wisdom of both the consensus of world economists and other industrial nation governments by refusing to see the need to put forward a stimulus package. The federal Conservatives rather have put forward a "mini-budget" that goes in precisely the opposite direction by purporting to cut expenditures.

The cuts are, of course, trivial, but they are well chosen for maximum populist appeal. The tying og the refusal to "prime the pump" via increased expenditure to the proposition of abolishing the electoral subsidization of federal political parties via the "money for votes" provision of our electoral act is particularly brilliant. Even though the amount of money saved will be trivial it puts the opposition parties in an unenviable position of appearing to be advancing merely their own interests when they oppose the do-nothing Conservative "budget". This little addendum, of course, hardly belongs in a budget. Its inclusion is an obvious manipulation. Sneaky Stevie is, if nothing else, well...sneaky. Few outside of party members have any affection for the idea that tax money should be spent subsidizing political parties. Abolition of this give away would even get my approval providing it was coupled to a cap on total political spending such that the Conservative Party's expenditures would be no more than that of the Communist Party of Canada, or ,better yet, the Marijuana Party. Good idea the latter...more dope, less dopes.

As I write this the backroom deals between ex-leaders of the Liberals (Jean Chretien) and the NDP (Ed Broadbent) are being negotiated. Conspicuous by his absence is ex-Liberal leader Paul Martin. Actually quite strange this way of making deals. Bloc Québecois leader Gilles Duceppe has made his feeling apparent. The idea of his party being an official coalition partner is, of course, absurd from both a federal and a Québec perspective, but he is a "kingmaker" who will extract more than the potential coalition partners will extract from each other in terms of policy and expenditure.

One actually has to hand it to Sneaky Stevie with this move- tying an obviously absurd economic do-nothing policy to a trivial but resonant populist measure. One wonders what is in his mind. Perhaps he is so used to playing chicken and winning from his time in minority government that he feels he can "bluff off" the opposition and change his policy to whatever is necessary next spring. Perhaps he actually wants to abandon power temporally either by provoking an election that he thinks he could win by dint of frustration or by putting a divided opposition into power during an economic downturn which will be much more serious than his Pollyanna projections say.
That is one of the things that Molly has noticed. While the Conservative government says that the present recession/depression will end next April 9an obviously absurd case of wishful thinking) they have proposed that federal civil servants should be prohibited from striking or receiving anything but trivial wage increases for three years. I would submit that the latter is a much more realistic time frame for how long we will be in hard times. Hopefully not longer, but that is possible as well.
The possibility of a coalition minority government may be the best thing that we could see at this time. The madder ideas of any one party would be inhibited by the need to satisfy the other coalition partners. The government would actually be more open to objective economic facts rather than ideology. Not a bad thing indeed. Most importantly the government would be much more open than what we have become accustomed to under the recent rule of the Conservatives. Molly is, of course, an anarchist, and she has no delusions that such a situation would be utopia. It would, especially, not safeguard us against future economic vagaries nor would it lead to the fastest recovery. A cooperative and localist upsurge, along with a redesigning of our industrial production via producer cooperatives would be best. . In the absence of this utopia, however, proper bargaining rather than ideological dictation is a better way.
Here's another view of the prospect of an upcoming coalition government from the Harper Index, a website devoted to keeping a microscopic eye on Sneaky Stevie's manipulations.
Coalition push forces Harper onto the defensive:
Momentum - including
open online letter grows to replace minority Conservatives.
OTTAWA , November 28, 2008: Momentum is growing for the replacement of the Harper Conservatives by a Liberal-NDP coalition. Two months ago, when the idea was first broached in, almost all parties dismissed the idea. Now, a non-confidence vote could see the government fall as soon as Monday night.

All day today, negotiations took place between the opposition parties, with former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent taking lead roles. Then tonight, Harper took the extraordinary move of making a special address to Parliament and the nation. In it, he postponed a confidence vote on the economic statement finance minister Jim Flaherty made yesterday to a week Monday instead of Monday. And he attacked the opposition as undemocratic for wanting to replace his government without an election.

"While we have been working on the economy, the Opposition has been working on a backroom deal to overturn the results of the last election without seeking the consent of voters," Harper said. " They want to take power, not earn it." Ironically, the bulk of reaction to the economic statement was over widespread perceptions that the government's statement showed a lack of work on the economic crisis.

Harper has difficulty making the kind of compromises demanded of a minority prime minister. Instead of bringing Canadians together to fight the crisis, Flaherty's statement Thursday was viciously partisan. In it, he trashed longtime political targets like pay equity and labour rights in the public service, as well as political finance rules put in place to level the playing field.

Open online letter to Dion and Layton calls for a coalition government As political leaders huddle in Ottawa, activists across Canada are becoming involved in the push for a coalition. Canadians everywhere are being urged to sign an online open letter calling for coalition that began with a small group pulled together by the Rideau Institute. The letter urges the Liberal's Stéphane Dion and the NDP's Jack Layton to "set aside all partisan considerations in favour of decisive action to help Canadians who are suffering and whose livelihoods are in jeopardy."

The letter argues it was bitterly ironic for Stephen Harper to promise to work cooperatively with opposition parties, and then deliver such a partisan attack with no plan to fight the economic crisis and the stated intention not to run deficits, in the face of what other G20 countries are doing.

"Instead his Conservative government is using the crisis to attack the democratic process, violate the rights of public servants to bargain collectively and end pay equity," states the letter. "Canada now stands alone as the only government in the western world without a coherent economic stimulus plan. The Harper government talks of balancing the budget by selling off assets and restraining spending, the exact opposite of the stimulus response that virtually all economists and many others are arguing is necessary." The original signers of the letter are : Paul Moist, National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees
Ken Lewenza, President, Canadian Auto Workers
Dave Coles, President, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada
Denis Lemelin, National President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Steven Staples, President, Rideau Institute
Bruce Campbell, Executive Director, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
John Urquhart, Executive Director, Council of Canadians
Mel Watkins, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Toronto
Peggy Mason, Former UN Ambassador for Disarmament

Think about the following as you are deciding whether to go down to Wal-Mart to purchase Christmas toys for the kids. Also think about recent images on the TV depicting what is happening to Chinese workers today in the wake of the present economic crisis. Do you really want to support such a cut-throat ruling class as China is presently "blessed" with ? For further information on Chinese labour struggles see the China Labor Watch and the China Labour Bulletin. For news from China with a libertarian socialist slant see the China Study Group. Here's the article from the Libcom site about how one group of Chinese workers has fought back against their exploiters.
Chinese factory workers riot:

More unrest in China following further layoffs in the industrial heartland.
Over 500 rioted yesterday at a toy factory in Dongguan, on the Pearl River Delta in southern China, over pitiful severance payments handed out to 596 workers laid off this month.

According to a spokesman from the propaganda office, the dispute centered around the level of compensation paid to a group of 80 migrant workers at the factory, who mobilised fellow migrant workers and unemployed labourers into a large crowd which stormed the factory. The local government claim over 2000 took part in the protest, with around 500 involved in the rioting. A police car was overturned and police motorbikes were damaged as the factory gates were forced open, and the crowd gained access to company offices where computers and other equipment were destroyed. The factory is owned by the Hong Kong based Kader Holdings Company Ltd.

Dongguan, a major industrial city, has been badly affected by the global economic crisis. Many of the 7000 companies which have either collapsed or relocated out of China employed workers there. 2.8 million job losses have been forecast for the Pearl River Delta as part of government and industry estimates. At least 67,000 factories have closed in China this year.

The rise in layoffs and wage cuts has seen a corresponding rise in strikes, protests and riots by workers attempting to defend themselves. In October, 7000 workers employed by the Smart Union factory in Dongguan - who manufacture toys for Mattel, Disney and Hasbro - struck and occupied the factory and surrounding roads after the non-payment of three months wages. The government was forced to step in and guarantee the workers the money in the face of the campaign. A two day riot against evictions in Northwest China was put down recently using tear gas, as protesters resisting their eviction as part of a government land grab attacked police with axes, chains and, bizarrely, flowerpots.

The rising level of working class combativity in China as its export-led economy is badly hit by the global crisis has left Communist Party officials feeling very uneasy indeed.

Molly has just received the following from the Labour Start people, and it explains a lot as to what happened with their solidarity campaign for Iranian teacher Farzad Kamanger (see previous post on this matter a couple of days ago on this blog). Happily Farzad is still alive, but he still needs your support.

We're back - and we need your help:‏

As you may be aware, Labour Start was offline for most of Wednesday and Thursday this week.
This was due to a decision by our web hosting company to move Labour Start to an 'auxiliary server' which effectively shut us down.
This decision of theirs followed a huge surge in traffic when we launched our appeal in support of Iranian Kurdish teacher Farzad Kamangar on Wednesday.
It took six phone calls, countless emails, and nearly 36 hours to convince them to put Labour Start back online.
Obviously, we're going to need a better web hosting company. We're working on this right now.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Farzad was not hanged as we feared. That's the good news. But he is still under sentence of death.
We've been asked by the Education International to continue with the campaign.
We've modified the text slightly but it is essentially the same campaign as before.
If you have not already sent a message, please do go here:
The Education International has its own online campaign - feel free to participate in it as well:
Finally, individual messages can be sent by email to President Ahmadinejad:
I apologize to all of you for what happened this week and can assure you that we are taking steps to prevent this from happening again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Yes Virginia there are anarchists in Iceland. You heard me right, Iceland with a population of about ½ that of the City of Winnipeg when most of the city is on vacation. Iceland, the land of vikings and very bad financial speculation. Molly has reported on the anarchists of Iceland before, on Jan. 11,2008 where she mentioned the sites Saving Iceland and Andsprna, both of which have content in English. Well, the Icelandic anarchists are alive and every much kicking as the following story from A-Infos testifies.
Anarchist arrested in Iceland; Protests go violent:

Last Friday, anarchist Haukur H. from Reykjavik, Iceland was arrested for 2 weeks for participation in environmental blockades in 2006. The pretext of his arrest wasn't the sentence for that protest though. Two weeks ago two anarchists climbed on the roof of the Icelandic parliament and took down the Icelandic flag and put up a flag of a discount supermarket Bonus.

One of them was arrested on his way down, the other managed to escape after a spectacular action of people gathered around. They pushed the cops aside and made way for him to run away. On Friday, Haukur was visiting the building of the parliament (I guess as a part of his university classes), and one of the MPs recognized him as the one who did the flag-busting (he was wearing a mask, but all the protesters in Iceland are well know by the bastards since it is a very small country and Haukur is one of the most active anarchists there).

He was arrested and put in jail for 2 weeks for the sentence he had for the protests in 2006. The thing is that he couldn't have been arrested without getting a letter from the cops three weeks in advance. It is clear that he was arrested to make it impossible for him to take part in further protests against the government which have been taking place every Saturday after huge financial collapse in Icelandic economy in early October 2008.

Last Saturday, some 200-500 people went to the police station in Reykjavik demanding the release of Haukur, the demonstration ended up in clashes, people broke windows of the police station, cops used tear gas.

Haukur was out on Saturday after the clashes at the cop station, someone paid bail for him, still don't know if he has more charges.
Clashes last Saturday in front of Reykjavik main police station:
here's a video of his release:
an article about the events
Flag busting 10 Nov. (photos and video):
PLUS here from Saving Iceland is another take on the events.
Pepper spray used at anti-police protest :
The now regular Saturday protests in front of the Icelandic parliament in Reykjavik went ahead today as planned, but a follow-up demonstration outside the police headquarters ended in the police using pepper spray. During the busy parliament protests, the famous statue of Jonas Sigurdsson was dressed in women’s clothing to remind people of the role of the female half of the population and how they should take a leading role in rebuilding the Icelandic economy.
After the rally, some 200 to 300 people took part in a different protest at the main police station to demand the release of Haukur Himarsson, (the full name of the arrestee only referred to as Haukur H. in the A-Fos post-Molly)who had been arrested last night when police found out he was the person to fly the Bonus supermarket flag from the top of parliament two weeks ago.
After officers in full riot gear used pepper spray to try to disperse the crowds, police eventually released Hilmarsson and the crowd dissipated. It is still not known whether or not the police charged Hilmarsson before his release, however.Hilmarsson was arrested last night after an educational research trip to the Althingi parliament house. He has a suspended 14 days remaining of an 18-day prison sentence he received in 2005 for protests against the Karahnjukar dam.

Nanotechnology- a growing field of both research and development- may be of great benefit, but it may also hold the potential for significant harm, particularly to workers who would produce such materials. This is a matter of concern to those such as the IUF, an international union alliance, who represent such workers. Here's an article from the IUF on the implications of nanotech and the need for greater safety measures.
UK Royal Commission Warns of Lethal Impact of Unregulated Nanotech Products:
A new report from the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has called for urgent action to deal with the potentially lethal impact of commercial applications of nanotechnology . Products incorporating engineered nanoparticles are being rapidly introduced in the absence of adequate research and testing on the environmental impact and risks to human health, says the report. "Current testing arrangements and existing regulations are inadequate", according to Commission chair Sir John Lawton. " The report concludes that the potential risks introduced by nanomaterials can only be contained through widespread monitoring, intensive research and alterations to the existing European regulations, none of which take into account the specific characteristics of engineered nanomaterials in concrete applications. The recommendations call for review and revision of the EU's product specific, sector specific and chemicals regulations (REACH) "as a matter of urgency".
Professor Susan Owens of the University of Cambridge and a member of the Commission, recalling the delayed impact of asbestos and other lethal products, said "If we don't do anything and we leave it, then things manifest themselves in 10 to 15 years' time."
The report contrasts the rapid rate of innovation and commercialization with the total absence of "data on chronic, long-term effects on people, other organisms or the wider environment… Ignorance of these matters brings into question the level of confidence that can be placed in current regulatory arrangements." The report also highlights the incapacity of current toxicology research to deal with the flood of new products and processes, stating "The Commission is very concerned by the long lead times required for research to provide results that will be useful for legislation and regulation. We received expert opinion that lead times of ‘several decades’ could easily be involved. As a consequence, and however good the research effort, significant uncertainties and areas of ignorance will remain.
The Royal Commission conclusions challenge the complacency of the European Commission's recent regulatory review of nanomaterials, which concluded that no nano-specific measures are required because relevant EU legislation on chemicals, occupational health and safety and the environment "in principle" applies to nanotechnology.
In response, the European Trade Union Confederation nanotechnology has called on the Commission to amend the REACH legislation to include nanomaterials manufactured or imported below the threshold of one tonne per year. "Workers all along the production chain from laboratories through to manufacturing, transport, shop shelves, cleaning, maintenance and waste management" are exposed to nanomaterials manufactured and placed on the market without true knowledge of their potential impacts on human health and the environment", states the ETUC resolution.
The Dutch national trade union center FNV on October 9 called on the Dutch Labour Minister to introduce specific preventive measures for workers exposed to nanomaterials, stating “The FNV cannot accept the existing indistinctness on the protective measures that should be taken by companies to assure sufficient protection when working with nanoparticles. The Labour Inspectorate does not have the tools needed to provide employers with corrective advices in protecting workers. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be solved immediately.” The FNV is calling for mandatory inclusion of details on presence of nanoparticles in workplace safety data sheets.
The UK Royal Commission report offers powerful support to the Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials endorsed by the IUF and other trade union and civil society organizations last year. The 2007 IUF Congress called for a moratorium on the commercialization of products incorporating nanomaterials and processes in the absence of strong, comprehensive regulatory oversight at all levels, beginning with the workplace.
At a September 29 Conference in Vienna on "Nanotechhnologies - the Present State of Regulation", a representative of the Austrian Ministry of Public Health called for the application of the precautionary principle through an EU-wide moratorium on the use of nanotech in the food sector. Unions should be highlighting this position in response to the European Food Safety Agency's recent call for "consultation on its draft scientific opinion in relation to nanoscience and nanotechnologies and food and feed safety."
The summary and full reports of the Royal Commission as well as the valuable supporting studies are available here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yet another event, this time from Toronto. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has sent out a reminder about their upcoming fundraiser for their fight to save the Liu family home. For more on this situation see previous posts on the Liu family home here at Molly's Blog.
REMINDER: Liu Family Home Fundraiser- This Friday November 28th‏:
CINECYCLE, 129 SPADINA AVENUE(Coach House in Laneway)
NOVEMBER 28, 7.30 PM
The Liu Family are fighting in court to save their home from the Chinese Christian Herald Crusade and this fundraiser is to help them meet their legal costs.
Margaret Liu was an immigrant from Hong Kong who worked all her life to provide a modest home for her children. When she was in her eighties and had had several strokes, she made out a new will leaving her home to the religious charity. Representatives of the Chinese Gospel Church facilitated the drawing up of the new will. Her daughter, Louise, was not informed that this was going on until the minister of the Church confronted her with this news days after her mother's death.
This wealthy charity does not need the home but Louise and her disabled brother most certainly do. Margaret Liu acted contrary to her life long intentions under circumstances that raise many ethical and legal issues. A committee to defend the Liu home has been formed and this fundraiser is organized to assist the family in their struggle for justice.
Tickets for this event are $10/sliding scale. Pay on the night or contact OCAP for tickets ahead of time. If you have items to donate for the auction or want to help out at the fundraiser, call OCAP at(416) 925-6939.
ocap mailing list

Coming up this Saturday,November 29, a conference on the environment and its relationship to systems of domination. Presented by No One Is Illegal Vancouver.
Here's their announcement.
Environmental Justice: Race, Displacement, and Land:
Please join us for a half day conference with inspiring speakers, powerful films, and thought-provoking discussion on environmental justice. The aim of this gathering will be to expose the root causes of environmental injustice as stemming from institutionalized racism, sexism, and classism; the commodification of land, water, energy, food, and air in a capitalist economy; and the plunder of the Earth and displacement of all its inhabitants due to a colonial legacy of pillage and militarization. Join us in exploring how environmental movements are inextricably connected to these broader struggles and in deeply acknowledging that there exists an inequitable distribution across the planet of those who bear the greatest brunt of environmental degradation.
** Refugees of a Blue Planet: Each year, millions of environmental refugees around the world are driven to forced displacement due to degradation of their land, home, and environment.
** Remember Africville: Africville, a black community in Halifax, is uprooted in the name of urban renewal and integration in the 1960’s. Former residents tell the story of that painful relocation.
** Blockade- Algonquins Defend the Forest: This film follows the Barriere Lake Algonquins as they take on the government and the logging industry in a struggle to save their traditional hunting grounds.
* *When the Levees Broke: A portrait of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The film looks at a community that has survived death and devastation for decades; yet maintains its resilience.
* *Mike Mercredi: Mike is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (Alberta). He will be in BC as part of a speaking tour to raise awareness about the front line struggles of and impacts on indigenous communities in Fort Chipewyan as a result of the Tar Sands, the largest industrial project in history.
** Gil Aguilar: Gil is the Campaigns and Communications Assistant at the Western Wilderness Committee. Originally from Chiapas, Mexico, Gil moved to Canada in 2001 with a passion for integrating an indigenous worldview to this environmental and community-driven organization that never stops dreaming.
** Cease Wyss: Cease Wyss/T’Uy’Tanat is an artist, educator, patron of the arts, activist, mother hailing from the Sko-Mish-Ul7h Nation. She coordinates the Good Food Box, a program to make fresh fruits and vegetables available to the community. She is also a traditional healer and herbalist.
** Usman Majeed: Usman is a member of No One Is Illegal and UBC Colour Connected Against Racism. He is a long time anti-racist, pro-feminist, and anti-imperialist activist and is deeply connected to struggles to protect the environment. He is also a homemaker and parent to two daughters.
* What is Environmental Justice and Environmental Racism?
* How is the Environmental Crisis linked to other systems of domination?
* Exploring Individual and Systemic solutions

Our dearly beloved government is preparing to have parliament ratify a free trade pact with the country of Colombia, despite the fact that that benighted land has the highest rate of murder of trade unionists in the world. The pact is similar to that recently rejected by the US Congress for precisely the reason mentioned. It says something when you're willing to take up deals that even the US government rejects. Here's what the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says about the deal.
Free trade with Colombia a cruel move:

Despite being declared the largest labour rights offender in the world, Colombia has signed a free trade deal with Canada.

“I cannot understand why the Prime Minister, who has called China on their human rights violations, is prepared to sign agreements with a country that sees trade unionists murdered at a rate more than the entire world experiences in total, or with a country where the drug trade, and the paramilitary forces have a grip on a $6 billion illegal business,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist.

Moist, who toured Colombia last summer with other Canadian public sector union leaders, is suitably convinced that the Colombian government does not respect human or labour rights.

But while United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and U.S. President-elect Barack Obama have expressed concern over free trade with Colombia, Harper is siding with President Bush, who is pushing for a free trade deal with Colombia before he leaves office.

Harper says that workers’ protection has been written into the trade deals. But whether these stipulations will be enforced is another story. “More labour leaders are killed every year in Colombia than the rest of the world combined. And 474 labour leaders have been killed since Uribe took power in 2002,” said Moist.

The Colombian government has consistently failed to investigate these murders, largely because most are committed by government-linked paramilitary death squads. The paramilitaries work on behalf of powerful land owners, the right-wing political establishment, and even some transnational corporations.

“I know CUPE will remain aligned with Colombian workers and we will not stop seeking the justice they so very much deserve. The Harper government has made a terrible, heartless decision in signing a trade agreement with Colombia,” said Moist.