In my previous column, I mentioned that I had the fortune to attend a conference sponsored by the Council of Canadians entitled, “Making Waves – Sinking the Harper Agenda.”
I talked about a presentation by Robert Chernomas, professor of economics, University of Manitoba, where he likens the current austerity measures being undertaken in Europe and throughout the world to class warfare.
The next speaker in the plenary sessions “Uniting Against Austerity: Strengthening Solidarity in the Movement for Economic Justice,” was John Hilary, executive director of War on Want from the U.K.
Hilary started by describing how former Prime Minister Paul Martin, toured Europe lecturing how to deal with deficits in prescribing a “Shock Treatment” for Europe.
He pointed out that there are similarities on both sides of the Atlantic when it calls for the assault on social fabric and the “shrinking of the state.”
This was a good reminder for us of the slashing of transfer programs to the provinces in the 1990s of the Chretien government, when Paul Martin was the finance minister – all in the name of deficit reduction.
Hilary also reminded us of Canada’s attempts at the Rio Summit, along with the U.K. and U.S. to get water as a human right thrown out and to have water treated as an economic commodity.
He also described how Canadian and U.K. mining companies are forcing natural resources development in other countries, often against the wishes of local populations.
He then talked about austerity in Europe, which he likened to the greatest social restructuring in European history.
Money has been stripped out of the economies of Spain, France and Greece and other countries, which is, according to him, a recipe for disaster. Spain has a 50 per cent youth unemployment rate, over one million people accessing food banks and a policy of locking up garbage so it won’t be stolen by hungry citizens.
Greece is slipping into anarchy while Prime Minister Cameron in Britain has stated that 500,000 public sector jobs are to be cut adding to the 2.5-million workers currently unemployed.
Social benefits are being drastically reduced, disability recipients are committing suicide and the first attempt at hospital privatization is failing.
At the same time, there has been a five-per-cent tax cut to the richest, while the corporate tax rate dropped from 26 per cent to 22 per cent.
After painting this dismal picture, Hilary offers a solution how citizens can fight back.
The first thing to do is win the argument. People need to be mobilized to counteract the spin that somehow the public sector is responsible for this disaster.
There needs to be popular education such as the Occupy Movement and we must work with labour.
The next step is campaigns, the strongest being at the local level, where citizens stand up for their clinics, libraries and playgrounds, for example.
There also needs to be a way of getting back the over $150 billion in corporate taxes that have not been paid and a financial transactions tax needs to be introduced so that bankers can pay for the crises they have caused.
Eleven European countries are implementing this corrective measure while Canada and the U.K. have resisted it.
The third plan of action is through politics. The structures of power need to be challenged.
He talked about European co-ordinated general strikes that were to take place on Nov. 14. According to him, citizens need to unite against the global agenda that challenges our beliefs about what our society should be.
They need to unite against austerity and to create a world movement for a better world and future.
I agree with Hilary that ultimately, it will be political decisions that get us out of this mess. After all, political decisions are what started this slide that has been responsible for the progressive widening of the gaps between the very rich and the middle class and poor.
There is no reason why we should allow multinational corporations to dictate our agenda.
We should not be signing trade agreements that increase the cost of pharmaceuticals, prohibit local municipalities from favouring local procurement or that allow those corporations to sue our federal government if they feel they have been unjustly treated.
It is not fair to place the burden of our crises on government employees by slashing jobs and programs that protect our citizens and environment.
People that make a good wages, whether in the public or private sector, contribute to our economy by buying houses, cars and by travelling and spending money in our local businesses.
The best way of supporting small business is by retaining and strengthening well-paying jobs in our communities.
It is certainly time for Canadians to “make waves” and to mobilize against the Harper administration. Just as we need to throw out the Liberals in B.C. next May, it is time to mobilize to get rid of this current Conservative federal “wrecking crew” before it is too late.
– Alex Atamanenko is MP for the B.C. Southern Interior