September 17, 2009

Movies, politics, rupture

Will Canada be going to the polls in a few weeks? What does all this mean for youth and students?

The Canadian website “Cut me a slice: for a people’s response to the economic crisis” is currently running a poll. It asks “Which summer movie title do you think best describes Canadian politics?”

Perhaps it’s “Land of the Lost.”

As Parliament returns, Harper’s government is on wobbly legs. But now the New Democratic Party has indicated it would support the ruling Harper Conservative’s ‘thin gruel offer’ on Employment Insurance. The thin gruel is to provide temporary, additional EI benefits to workers who have worked and paid into EI for seven of the past ten years and who collected no more than 35 weeks of benefits in the last five years.

To put this in perspective, there are over 1.6 million unemployed workers in Canada. About 40% of them are receiving EI benefits. This initiative does nothing to help those in our class who work in manufacturing, the oil patch, forestry and, increasingly, the service sector – jobs subject to periodic layoffs. As the Canadian Labour Congress has said, the measures “won’t touch most of the unemployed, including younger workers or mothers who worked part time.”

All this is a bitter pill for the hundred’s of thousands of Canadians recently laid off. It is a bitter bill for the youth and all the workers who can’t collect. It is a bitter pill for all those collecting EI currently, who will see their benefits run out in a matter of months. So perhaps, returning to movies, the best title is “The Hangover.”

Four weeks ago it seemed an election was not in the cards. Four days ago it seemed an election was almost inevitable. Now it is off the table – for a moment. It is a volatile time, charged with rupture, yet opportunist politics rein.

In the case of Layton’s NDP, their opportunism amounts to a betrayal of working people, youth and students, and so many other constituencies of the Canadian people. Within days of the NDP’s announcement, his party is already facing sharp criticism in progressive circles and elsewhere. So much for Layton embracing resistance – message to the people’s cause: “He's just not that into you.”

In the case of the Liberal’s opportunism it’s a different case. Increasingly it appears Iggy’s Liberals have an almost identical imperialist agenda to Harper’s Tories. Nevertheless, Iggy the opportunist will probably bend from his neo-liberal ideology in the face of pubic pressure – at least more than Harper. So it’s not fair to say that if the Harper Tories were to be defeated we would just get more of the same. It is vitally important to boot-out the Harper Conservatives and their extremely dangerous agenda. And a weak Liberal government relying on the NDP could open possibilities for people’s struggle, vital issues like the ending of the war in Afghanistan, childcare, and EI reform.

But all that is contingent not just on what happens in parliament but also in the streets. Perhaps the best movie title is “The Proposal.” Where the opposition parties stand is their choice. The political arena is wide-open to put forward a real alternative agenda to the Harper Tories. Sooner or later an election will be fought. The YCL-LJC has been consistent in stating that the alternative to the Harper Tories will not come from the Liberals but through the unity and militancy of the people’s movements themselves.

But I think the most fitting movie title should be “Fired Up.” After all, that’s what the labour and people’s forces in Canada need to do – not least the youth and students, who are entering a new semester with crushing tuition fee rates and record-high unemployment. We can’t wait for the election. If we needed more reasons to campaign, educate, mobilize, and resist – the issues are there. In the people’s mood, sparks of anger are flying. It is a question of making a blaze.

Johan Boyden is the General Secretary of the YCL-LJC Canada.

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