January 27, 2009

A People’s stimulus package

J. Boyden

Picture this. It is the first day of school for the new semester. As usual, the teacher has written on the board. The headlines are from newspaper: December unemployment highest in 16 years. EU: Deep recession, surging unemployment coming. Child poverty grows. Youth, women suffer in latest layoffs.


The teacher turns to the class. What can we do to change this? she asks.


Last November, the YCL was talking about the need to advance a bold "people's alternative agenda," trying to shield and block as much as possible as the Harper Conservatives renewed attack, using the economic crisis as a pretext. At the time, I wrote an article in Peoples Voice partly about the positive potential of coalitions, and promised to present analysis about economic crisis, and its implications for youth and students.


Of course, since then, we've seen remarkable openings and volatility in Parliament with the temporary eclipse of emperor Harper through a coalition, all prompted by their arrogant first attempt at a budget. Now, at the time of press deadline, we're all entering into budget-process round two, and Harper looks likely to win.


I received an email from the finance minister a few weeks ago asking me for consultation on the budget process. Intrigued, not least about how some Jim Flaherty email-bot got my address, I followed the link. I was given one-to-six grading options on six vague items and the option of adding 250 characters – yes, not words but characters, just like text-messages – to add with my humble opinion.


On the left, we need to do profoundly better in terms of call for what’s needed.


Still, some people may ask: is capitalism capable of doing this job? That's another good question. The answer is clearly no. But where does that leave us? A general discussion about the merits of socialism?


As far as I'm concerned, it is case-closed on that debate – socialism is thousand times better. Speaking in his last televised address of 2008, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that capitalism is "the immoral art, science, and technology of development of capital." If want to use this definition is it any surprise that even Hustler magazine's publisher Larry Flynt headed to the US Congress earlier this January asking for a billion-dollar bail-out for the porn industry?


Or were they asking for a stimulus package?


But seriously, why do all the stimulus packages – for those who care for comedy, YouTube search this phrase – seem to sound like the familiar broken record where the rich guys make the problem and the working folk pay for the clean-up? Lets flip this record. What would a people’s stimulus package look like? What would an economic recovery for youth and students start with?


For the youth movement, in the YCL's view, such an alternative direction might draw from the Youth Charter that the broad and powerful Canadian Youth Congress proposed, following the On To Ottawa Trek of the Great Depression.


This is no dusty idea. American youth and students are currently mobilizing around a "youth agenda" platform, as have youth students in Europe, and also in Africa. Whatever the case, in the end this resistance has to be shaped by today's conditions and the requirements for social advance for the all exploited people and oppressed nations of Canada.


This is not the same as replacing the Conservatives with the Liberals, in short. It will require dynamic, broad, and visible opposition in the streets in the coming months.


So it comes down to struggle.


Where to start? What about the Canadian Federation of Students four proposals for "a broader economic stimulus package." Those proposals are: an increase to the Canada Social Transfer for post-secondary education; more graduate student funding under the Canada Graduate Scholarships; greater financial support for Aboriginal students; and a boost in student summer jobs funding.


Could a youth coalition be build around these issues, as well as the agenda for raising minimum wages that many Canadian Labour Congress youth are putting forward, and the idea of shifting money from war budgets, military recruitment and the dirty war in Afghanistan and back to the people that will be discussion of the upcoming student anti-war conference co-sponsored by the Canadian Peace Alliance? The Sierra youth coalition has also made the link between the environmental policies of the Harper Tories and the need for a new direction.


The contribution of the Marxists and the left is not in wandering around among the people proclaiming 'we told you so,' (although a glance at some of the academic left press would make you think otherwise). Our contribution is bigger, it is to help propose a way forward.


After all, we should never celebrate people's suffering. Crisis is a feature of capitalism. If there is an accompanied sustained working class offensive against the system, and progressive forces world-wide are able to grasp the moment and force through major change – that would be cause to celebrate.

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