May 19, 2009

Nova Scotia & BC elections and youth

By J. Boyden

Please note this article was written before the recent BC election.

It’s a tale of two elections. Nova Scotians are just beginning their brisk walk to the polls on June 9. On the other side of the country, BCers cast their ballots for a new government on May 12.

What’s at stake here for young workers and students?

The new context is the economic tsunami, connecting young peoples struggles, sharpening awareness of a common threat. But it is not necessarily hitting the two provinces in the same way.

On the east coast, the crisis comes after the collapse of fisheries and a mass exodus of workers to western Canada. Nova Scotia’s unemployment is third highest in the country, second only to PEI and Newfoundland. For many young workers, prospects of even raising a family in their home province are bleak.

In BC, corporate purses have swollen with the Olympics construction boom. It is a false economy. No matter how much relief this has granted to some young workers – temporarily – the cost of living is extortionate and minimum wage is the same or lower as the Maritimes. And there are countless untold personal work-place disaster stories.

Take the young man I met yesterday. He works in the technology sector. A few months ago his employer’s doors were locked. Everyone was fired – but the company is still trading on the stock exchange. On the street we would call this criminal. On the other side of the gilded doors at the top of the elevator, the suits call it ‘venture capital.’ The company’s entire goal was to capture investment, not sales.

Consciously or not, young voters are grappling with these challenges when they decide to hit the polls – or stay home. That youth in Vancouver can name more Canuck’s players than politicians isn’t the main point. From conversations I’ve had during the BC election, there is a polarization. If it were up to most young people, Campbell’s Liberals would be out of the game.

I suspect similar winds are blowing across Nova Scotia. In both elections the main danger is political parties expressing the forces of the ruling class. Electorally, what might block them is the NDP – which has so compromised itself that, despite all rhetoric, it is difficult to even call them a party of the left.

This is an inadequate configuration for the militant kinetics of people’s politics needed to advance a pro-youth agenda with teeth, confronting big business. For that we need something new, building from the existing struggles in the streets, and reaching towards a broad powerful people’s coalition with labour at the core.

Whether you’re in Nova Scotia or British Columbia, that process will be complex: unity through struggle. This is already true for young worker’s campaigns for a higher minimum wage, peace, or the students’ struggles for accessible education.

In Nova Scotia (with the highest tuition in Canada) only the Conservatives have, currently, released a specific election platform on student issues. They dangerously call for tax credits to support students.

In BC, the Canadian Federation of Students have condemned the Liberals. After all, since taking office in 2001, tuition fees have skyrocketed from $2,500 to over $5,000. Per-student funding in BC is now 14% below 2001 levels.

But the CFS BC also sensibly stated that the NDP’s tuition freeze proposal “does not go nearly far enough.” Just look to Manitoba: students are mobilizing en masse to block significant tuition hikes. Even when an NDP government campaigns on a tuition freeze it does not necessarily deliver.

No meaningful parliamentary advance can be achieved without the people's mass action. Many honest NDPers and sympathizers in the youth movement, aspiring to a socialist vision, don’t support their party’s claim of a monopoly of the left – and unite in action with many other progressive forces, such as labour, the women’s movement, Aboriginal peoples, Communists, and progressive Greens.

Elsewhere such street-level unity finds electoral expression. Soon India will announce election results; the third force is a “pro-farmer, poor, worker, Dalit (untouchables), women, minorities and youth” alliance, including Communists.

Back at home, as a Young Communist League member I’m an unabashed supporter of the Communist Party. But whatever your affiliation, youth and students can never surrender our independent banners and ‘contract-out’ our political work to a party.

However we read the political topography after election night, putting into motion a united, militant youth and student agenda is our challenge.

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