Putting the ‘public’ back into public services

Amsterdam is one city among many where economic democracy on a municipal level is taking off.

Image: Jeanne Menjoulet, CC by 2.0

n the face of climate catastrophe, mounting inequalities and growing democratic unrest, public services are more important than ever. Across the world, people are building better, more democratic and inclusive public services because privatisations are failing.

Amsterdam is confronted with challenges comparable to those facing other cities across the world, while also facing extreme pressure on affordable housing. According to a recent report, 11 percent of Amsterdam’s inhabitants are particularly vulnerable across a variety of indicators such as health, income, and education. Poorer people, relatively many of color, are pushed outside boundaries of the inner city. And while the city has ambitious environmental goals, it remains the second-largest coal port in Europe. At the same time, lower income residents are significantly more affected by environmental collapse and climate change than their wealthier counterparts. Citizens of Amsterdam are concerned about the housing market, the steep increase in tourism in the last decade, gentrification, exclusion, poverty, accessible care, climate change and energy.

Amsterdam’s municipality intends to face these challenges head-on. It has founded The99ofAmsterdam, a do- and think tank under the municipality’s Fearless program. It consists of a small team funded by the municipality. The 99 was established to connect initiatives in Amsterdam that make the city fairer, more equitable and more sustainable and inclusive. It aims to link to, and align with, international municipalist movements for inspiration. The name refers to two types of 99: the 99 neighborhoods of Amsterdam where children play on the street, and where citizens live, connect, and shop; and the 99 percent of the world, who are the vast majority of people excluded from power and who do not belong to the excessively rich 1 percent. The name thus evokes a fair Amsterdam that reflects the dreams of the 99 percent in the 99 neighborhoods of Amsterdam.

On December 4 and 5, The 99 and the Transnational Institue (TNI) are organizing the international conference The Future is Public: Democratic Ownership of the Economy. The conference location in the K-neighborhood in Amsterdam Southeast was deliberately chosen, as it is a diverse neighbourhood inhabited by around 50,000 people of more than 150 nationalities. This will be followed by a more Amsterdam-oriented conference, the City of Tomorrow, taking place at the same venue on the 6 and 7 December, which is about granting more power to all inhabitants of Amsterdam, whether marginalised or not. It is about creating neighbourhood economies that are based on solidarity and work to benefit the people, not big corporations. It is an opportunity to get together and share inspiration, with examples from other cities and by influential thinkers such as David Harvey and Ted Howard, the founder of the Cleveland model. The conference will facilitate the exchange of ideas and generate concrete plans on how Amsterdam can become a city of change.

Amsterdam will draw inspiration from the international municipalist movement as progressive cities take the initiative to counterbalance these acute social and environmental problems in the absence of adequate action by – and often in opposition to – the policies of their central states and international institutions. In their own city, neighborhood and living environment, citizens contribute by initiating ideas, working together, uniting people and their goals for radical change. In cities like Barcelona, Naples, Paris, Berlin, Paris, New York, Montreal, Lisbon, Recoleta and others, movements have arisen that call themselves ‘municipalist’, with names such as Fearless CitiesRebel Cities, and Transformative Cities. They share the values of democracy and solidarity, and aim to achieve fairer neighborhoods, economies based on alternative principles, better social services, and clean energy for those with lower incomes.

There is solid evidence that privatisation costs more and undermines human rights. The resistance to privatisation has turned into a powerful force for a positive cause, that of (re)municipalisation, which refers to reclaiming and creating new public services on a municipal level. The Transnational Institute and partner organisations have in their most recent research identified more than 1,400 cases of (re)municipalisation, involving over 2,400 cities in 58 countries. But ‘The Future is Public’ report is about more than just numbers. A growing international movement is on the ground, building democratic public services that are fit for the social, ecological and economic challenges of our time. (Re)municipalisation is redefining public ownership in the 21st century, offering a new route towards community-led, climate conscious and gender-sensitive public services.

Some of the most progressive municipalities – such as the Philippine cities Binalonan, Caloocan and Lanuza – are recentering their public services to prioritise the needs of the most marginalised people in society, including women, people with disabilities and low-income families, among others. While others – such as ParisTerrassa and Wolfhagen – dare to share decision-making powers and open up ownership models to representatives of users, workers, civil society and research institutions. Together, they are shaping a template for how to expand democratic public ownership to all levels of society. The data and stories also illustrate the diversity of remunicipalisation efforts, taking us to new countries and new sectors that present their own specific challenges, such as waste management in some countries in Africathe many new public pharmacies in Chile, and the call of the UK Labour Party to provide public internet access as a human right.

Civil society organisations, trade unions and local authorities can push in concert for democratic public ownership on all levels and call for universal public services so that all residents can lead dignified and prosperous lives. This way, we put the “public” back into public services, while actually changing the design of how our economies are run.

That said, this wave of (re)municipalisations is taking place at a critical moment. As racism, fascism and xenophobia are on the rise, we must offer solidarity and concrete solutions–decent jobs, public services for all, and resilient local economies. Our public future lies in the hands of communities – not corporations.


Forged in Fire: California’s Lessons for a Green New Deal

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo, flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif. A federal hazard tree-removal program will remove destroyed trees from last year's deadly Camp Fire that remain on private property and could fall on public roads and facilities. But the Chico Enterprise-Record reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency program will not take down trees that could fall on homes. Some arborists have estimated there are half a million to a million burned trees remaining from the fire that wiped out 14,000 homes and killed 85 last November. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018. Photo: Noah Berger/AP

WE WERE JUST TAKING PICTURES. Of the ash, stray bricks, and weeds. Of twisted metal and charred patio furniture. Of the pine trees still standing on the edge of the lots, their towering trunks now charcoal black. Of the lonely white brick fireplace in the middle of it all, the only surviving structure, metal pokers hanging expectantly by the grate.

“Get the hell off my property!”

The words came bellowing from a burly man who had just pulled up to the pile of ash that once was his home in Paradise, California. As he shouted a litany of complaints, it became clear that his rage wasn’t only reserved for us trespassers — and there have been plenty who have gone to Paradise to gaze at the eerie emptiness where a thriving community once stood, before it was decimated by California’s deadliest fire one year ago.

The target was myriad forces that had conspired to twist the knife, again and again, on his already wrenching property loss — from the insurance company that wouldn’t pay up, to the county that wouldn’t let him clean up, to the state that wanted his (now contaminated) well to be sealed up. His rage was also directed at the absence of decent temporary housing for fire victims like him, not to mention the electric utility that had started the blaze and was still evading responsibility.

When the complaints petered out, I approached the man to introduce myself and apologize for our intrusion. But as I got closer, I felt his volatility: I have been in many disaster-struck communities and know how quickly the gale-force of emotion these events churn up can direct itself at the closest available target. We wished him luck and left.

The encounter was a reminder of the kind of stress that is in the air in the parts of California recently scorched by fire, as well as in the communities that have welcomed thousands of newly homeless neighbors to towns now bursting at the seams. The intersecting hardships experienced by so many in the region also explain why, days before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Camp Fire that burned down Paradise and killed 86 people, local politicians in neighboring Chico unveiled a plan calling for the small city to adopt its own Green New Deal.

Like its national inspiration, the Chico Green New Deal framework marries rapid decarbonization targets with calls for more affordable housing; a safe and sustainable food system; investments in “clean, 21st century” public transit; green jobs creation, including projects earmarked for the poorest residents; and much more.

Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy.

“Your city council has heard the call of its community that has resounded locally and across the nation,” said Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown when the plan was announced. “We are choosing to walk the walk of this movement and to take the leadership being demanded of us.” In an interview, Brown told me that the Camp Fire’s impact on both Paradise and Chico was a glimpse of the future unless action is taken to both radically lower emissions and build “communities that are more resilient to these shifts.” Brown is well aware that a small city like hers isn’t going to make much of a dent in global emissions. But, she said, “We can demonstrate what a Green New Deal looks like at the local level.

The Chico plan is one of many similar local initiatives that have sprung up in the year since the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with young demonstrators demanding that the Democratic Party embrace a sweeping Green New Deal to meet the twin crises of climate disruption and deepening inequality. Since then, as the Green New Deal proposal has picked up momentum in the Democratic primaries, several states and big cities have unveiled their own frameworks, including Maine and Seattle, where city council recently passed a resolution that included the city’s most ambitious climate justice targets to date. It also pledged to create an oversight board to hold the city to its commitments, a body that will be made up of representatives from communities directly impacted by racial, economic, and environmental injustice, as well as climate experts and representatives from trade unions and green groups.

And yet the contribution now coming from humble Chico — a scrappy northern California college town with a population of approximately 100,000 — may be the most politically significant. Because the Chico Green New Deal is based directly on this region’s hard-won experience of living through the 2018 inferno; it was forged, quite literally, in fire.

Ever since the Green New Deal landed on the political map, liberals have attacked it for its supposedly impractical scope and ambition. Fighting poverty, racism, and homelessness are worthy goals, we have been told — but what do they have to do with lowering greenhouse gas emissions? Surely a carbon-centric approach — like a simple tax or cap-and-trade and some narrow regulations on polluters — would be more likely to succeed. And besides, connecting greenhouse-gas reductions with building a fairer society just confirms Republican beliefs that climate change is a vast left-wing plot: Better to focus exclusively on pollution and worry about the rest down the road. Conservative Chico city council members have gone on the offensive against the Green New Deal with precisely this kind of attack.

PARADISE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire October 21, 2019 in Paradise, California. It has been one year since the the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise, California charring over 150,000 acres, killed 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 homes and businesses. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An aerial view of a destroyed neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2019, one year after the Camp Fire. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Yet Chico’s lived experience over the past year is a devastating rebuke to this line of criticism. As the community that housed the vast majority of people displaced by the Camp Fire, Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy, one that is willing to make major nonmarket investments in housing, transit, health (including mental health), water, electricity, and more. MORE

He’s Urged a Guaranteed Income for Years. Are We Ready Yet?

Hugh Segal on his new book ‘Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty.’

Former Tory senator Hugh Segal: ‘A completely affordable and sustainable proposition.’ Photo via the Basic Income Canada Network.

Hugh Segal sees no contradiction in being a conservative who’s long advocated a way to deal with poverty that some call a radical form of wealth distribution.

And as tech disrupts and the gig economy makes jobs more precarious, his idea has been talked up by noted people of many ideological stripes. Barack Obama, Milton Friedman, Elon Musk, cabinet secretaries for Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, take your pick. All have endorsed, to some degree, a guaranteed basic income.

Segal can take satisfaction in not only advocating the policy early, but helping to craft a real-life pilot project in Ontario (shut down by the incoming Doug Ford government).

Now, after an election that signalled growing division in Canada, Segal suggests a guaranteed income could help build bridges.

“There are disagreements and there are strong differences in points of view, but the way you build national unity is by having national projects with which everybody can identify,” he told The Tyee. “Let’s be clear: 75 per cent of Canadians think a basic income would be a good step forward. And, there is an expert committee looking at a basic income in British Columbia.”

John Diefenbaker ignited Hugh Segal’s interest in politics, which led to him joining and eventually running for the legendary prime minister’s Progressive Conservative Party. But it was Joan Baez who inspired Segal — a Paul Martin-appointed Conservative senator from 2005 to 2014 — to consider the far-reaching implications of poverty.

As he recounts in his recently released book, Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Povertypublished by UBC Press, Segal and a fellow high-school classmate landed an exclusive interview for their student magazine with the American folk-music icon in Montreal during her anti-Vietnam War concert tour in the early 1960s.

“The battle for civil rights and the battle against the war are really the same battle,” Baez told the teens in her suite at the Windsor Hotel. The draft caught up poor, mainly African-American and Hispanic young men denied the advantages their Caucasian counterparts had through university deferments or “parents well-connected enough to work the system,” Segal writes.

Baez’s linkage of war and human rights to poverty resonated with Segal, who grew up in a poor Eastern-European Jewish immigrant family in Montreal’s working-class west end. He never forgot where he came from as he rose up the ranks of Canada’s political establishment to serve as Brian Mulroney’s chief of staff and eventually as a parliamentarian, and advanced the need for a guaranteed annual income as the most effective way to alleviate poverty.

Now 69 and serving as both the Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University in his hometown of Kingston, Ont., and a senior advisor at Toronto law firm, Aird & Berlis LLP, Segal recently spoke to The Tyee about his book and the challenge of getting poverty on the agendas of parties and on the minds of parliamentarians.

Here is what he had to say…

On how a basic annual income would work:

“It would work the way the Guaranteed Income Supplement works for seniors. Everybody has to file their taxes. If you fall beneath a certain level, you’d be automatically topped up.

“The proposal that I made to the Province of Ontario was that rather than the present level of welfare, which is fairly rule-laden, massively over-administered, and forces the people who work in those departments to be auditors and police officers about how people are living as opposed to helping people out of poverty.

“Those welfare programs across Canada generally do not pay more than 50 per cent of what it takes to be at the poverty line or a little bit above.

“Moreover, all those programs have restrictions as to whether or not you’re allowed to work. If you did work while you’re on welfare, and depending on the province, money earned would be clawed back, becoming a huge disincentive to try to find a spot in the workforce.

“Seventy-per-cent of Canadians who are beneath the poverty line have jobs. Some, in our big cities, have more than one, but can’t get above the poverty line because of the costs in their jurisdictions.

“So the notion that this is about people who sit on their couch, eat bonbons and watch soap operas is an ancient right-wing trope for which there is simply no justification.”

On why it’s not bizarre to imagine left and right working together on solving poverty:

“All the major social and economic improvements that have made a difference in people’s lives have really come from a multi-party source.

“[Co-operative Commonwealth Federation premier] Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan started universal health insurance in the early 1960s. Mr. Diefenbaker, when he was prime minister, asked Mr. Justice Emmett Hall of the Supreme Court [of Canada] to study that for the country as a whole. When Justice Hall submitted his report, Mr. Diefenbaker had been defeated by Mr. [Lester] Pearson, a Liberal in a minority government, who worked with the provinces to bring in a system whereby we had universal health insurance across Canada.

“The first guaranteed annual income supplement started from the Progressive Conservatives in a minority government in Ontario in 1975. It started because in a standing committee on social affairs, the New Democrats and the Liberals made a motion to reduce the minister of Community and Social Services’ salary to one dollar because of the lack of engagement on seniors’ poverty. We had just been through an election campaign, and I was the legislative assistant to the premier [Bill Davis]. Rent control had come up in the campaign, but seniors’ poverty had not.

“I asked: why can’t we figure out what the issue is? When we did, the numbers were so clear; 35 per cent of seniors in Ontario who were mostly women were living below the poverty line. The province brought in the guaranteed annual income supplement and it had support across the legislature. It spread to a few other provinces, and then the federal government introduced the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, which means that no Canadian resident, who is 65 and older, would live on less than $1,200 a month.

“These things become part of the universal consensus of what is fair and just in a mixed-market economy, and I think that’s the best way this poverty issue is going to be addressed.”

On whether he is a member of any political party:

“No, I’m not.”

On the chance afforded by Canada’s new minority Parliament:

“I am quite optimistic. I would say that probably the coalition most supportive of moving ahead on this file to begin with would be the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens. It’s been part of the Green platform for over 10 years.

“The Liberals also deserve credit for the child benefit which has lifted some 800,000 kids out of poverty across the country, and I can understand why having done that three or four years ago that they weren’t prepared to go the next step to a basic income for working-age people. But this is a new Parliament, and there’s a new mandate, so I think it’s a time of some opportunity.

“And who knows, the way in which it’s put forward, there may be some thoughtful Conservatives who are more than prepared to push within their party for a more rational and open-minded approach. But I don’t expect the leadership to be there on this as an issue.”

On why Prince Edward Island could offer the next test case:

“There is now a Red Tory Progressive Conservative government in minority elected in Prince Edward Island with the Greens as the official Opposition. There is a resolution that was passed by the legislature and articulated in the throne speech that there should be a basic income. A Special Committee on Poverty is meeting now on how to put that together, and I appeared before the committee to discuss what I had the privilege of doing in 2016 for [former Ontario Liberal] premier [Kathleen] Wynne in terms of the plan for a basic-income pilot, which was launched in 2017.

“I’m hoping that the new mix in Parliament will allow people who care about poverty in different parties to work together and try to establish a national basic-income pilot, which could be run in P.E.I., where about 22,000 residents out of about 157,000 people live beneath the poverty line.”

On who is ‘deadly opposed’:

“Here are the people who are deadly opposed to it: all the civil servants in every finance department across Canada. Why? Because when you have a program that says as the Guaranteed Income Supplement does for seniors that if you reach a certain age you have a statutory right. That means that money will be spent whether civil servants think it’s a good idea or not, every year. That reduces their control; that reduces their influence; and that reduces their ability to maintain the spending discretion of their minister.

“The other group opposed quite often is the far left: union organizers and others who are normally well-intentioned and whom I broadly tend to support. But on this issue, they’re afraid it will do away with public-service jobs in welfare departments across Canada, and it is their duty to protect the jobs of their members.

“They often talk about the need for programs that will deal with the implications of poverty, but they don’t like the idea of a direct-cash transfer.

“Of course the other group opposed is the far right that says if you pay people to do nothing they will do nothing, and argue that we can’t afford it, when in fact there’s no evidence to back that up.”

On whether it would be too expensive:

“[Ottawa member of Parliament] Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative finance critic, asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer what it would cost to take my proposal for the Ontario basic-income pilot and make it a national program. The answer was that initially it could cost about $76 billion, but before we would reduce the federal programs that it would replace. That would take it down to about $44 billion.

“But remember Ontario alone spends $10 billion on welfare and disability support. So if the basic-income program replaced that, there would be a further saving and you’d have savings of similar proportionality in every province.

“The notion that we would spend about $20 billion to reduce poverty and all the negative pathologies of it strikes me as a completely affordable and sustainable proposition.”

851px version of DougFordWavesBlur.jpg
Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford: Shortly after taking office he scuttled a basic-income pilot project not one year old.‘He purports to be for the people,’ says Segal, ‘and I guess that doesn’t include low-income people.’

On poverty absent from debates in the recent federal election:

“We had three TV debates and it did not come up.

“The same thing happened in 2011 and I called Steve Paikin, who was the moderator of the English debate, and I said, ‘How come poverty didn’t come up?’ He said, ‘We did polling and people didn’t raise it as an issue,’ and I said, ‘Steve, the people who are living beneath the poverty line are in such a desperate, daily scramble to make sure there’s lunch for the kids, to make sure there’s money to pay for the heat or that they’re not behind in their rent that they don’t have time to do long polling surveys on the phone.’

“So the notion that they would leave that out was quite surprising.”

On whether he and Bernie Sanders, who calls for a ‘living wage,’ are on the same page:

“A living wage is really about, through contract-compliance, government saying to suppliers that they have to pay better than the minimum wage to their employees. I don’t disagree with that as an interesting way forward. But it is different from a statutory guarantee that no resident of Canada will fall beneath a certain basic amount that they need to live with some modest measure of dignity and self-respect.

“It’s not the same as the living wage. It’s complementary to it. But I think it’s a different approach in terms of the fundamental socioeconomic responsibility we have to our fellow citizens. I say this as someone who’s been a Progressive Conservative all my life.

“My brand of conservatism has always been about equality of opportunity. It’s been about inclusion and stability in the context of our parliamentary traditions. It’s not about necessarily having the state over-legislate; it’s not about neo-conservative selfishness with respect to constantly lowering taxes so the state loses the capacity to do what it should be doing, which has become part of the brand of the federal Conservative party — and conservatives in other parts of the world, to be fair.”

On Doug Ford, who killed the basic-income pilot program in Ontario just after taking office:

“He purports to be for the people, and I guess that doesn’t include low-income people. That’s not good enough. That’s not the kind of inclusive progressive conservatism that has always been, by and large, the brand in places like Ontario.”

On how a basic annual income helps the whole economy:

“It’s about providing liquidity for an economy overall.

“When I was in the Senate and part of the government caucus at the time, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. bought $362 billion worth of performing mortgages from the banks to keep them liquid during the collapse of the U.S. credit system in ′06, ′07 and ′08. That was the right thing for Mr. Harper to do.

“But if CMHC, which is owned by the Canadian taxpayer, has that capacity, how come we don’t have the ability to provide liquidity for individuals who fall beneath the poverty line — in many cases, for no fault of their own. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

On how a guaranteed income relates to climate change:

“What we know about climate change, natural disasters and serious and frightening weather [is that] low-income people pay the biggest price. They have the least level of resilience to fight back, to deal with what happens to their property or their part of the world. Therefore, the notion that we would tackle climate change, which we need to do as an absolute top priority without addressing poverty, makes no sense at all.

“All the pathologies that cost our society so much — early sickness and hospitalization; bad educational outcomes for kids; family violence; not doing well with the law, running into substance-abuse issues — are all driven by poverty.”

“The editor said, ‘We simply want the answer to one question: Why are you the most prominent conservative on the side of a basic income guarantee? How did that happen? What happened in your life?’ And I said, ‘Why would anyone care?’

“They made the case that if people understand how someone who identifies as a conservative who believes in things like a productive economic system and fair profits, but also believes in a basic income, and read how you came to that conclusion, that may broaden the base of people who are prepared to give some consideration to this means of reforming our welfare system.

“On that basis, I concluded that maybe I owed it to the thousands of people involved in the basic-income movement and people who are doing advocacy for low-income people across Canada, and that’s why I wrote the book.”

On whether he expects to ever see an end to poverty in Canada:

“If you’re a Red Tory, you are by definition optimistic. Some would say naive and delusional but I prefer to view it as optimistic.”  SOURCE

How Swedes and Norwegians broke the power of the ‘1 percent’

A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931.

While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change. MORE

Instead of squabbling over scarce jobs and incomes, we should jointly strive for a fair economic system

NYC ShutItDown People’s Monday march for Berta Cáceres in 2017. Photo: Alec Perkins/Wikimedia Commons

There’s an African proverb that is becoming uncomfortably apt to apply to many workers and citizens: “As the waterhole becomes smaller, the animals get meaner.”

In other words, as basic needs dwindle, so does the willingness to share what’s left. The merits of community and co-operation are superseded by a selfish survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

A big difference, however, exists between what happens at a shrinking waterhole in Africa and what happens in Canada when good-paying jobs are reduced, incomes fall or stagnate, and government services are cut back. The African waterhole gets smaller because of a drought. It’s a natural and unavoidable phenomenon. In Canadian society, however, the necessities of life for the most vulnerable among us are being deliberately restricted.

Our welfare “waterhole” is being siphoned away, its contents inequitably transferred from the pockets of the poor into the bulging bank accounts and stock portfolios of the rich and powerful.

There is no shortage of money in Canada. Our per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — the country’s entire financial output — has more than doubled over the past 50 years. But its dispersal has been ruthlessly skewed to favour the most opulent among us. Corporate executives, bankers, major investors and financiers wallow in wealth, much of it derived from taxpayer-funded billion-dollar bailouts of big corporations.

Maldistribution of income

That a barbaric maldistribution of income leaves millions of citizens, including hundreds of thousands of children, destitute and undernourished doesn’t bother the elite in the least. Their cherished capitalist system inevitably creates many more losers than winners, and always will. That’s its chief purpose. So the diversion of income from the needy to the wealthy is welcomed, and the wealthy can count on their right-wing political minions to block or minimize significant poverty reductions.

As long as progressive activists continue to accept the calamities of runaway capitalism as unpreventable, then their many protests, though admirable on their own, will be ineffectual.


Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Image result for Indigenous march vancouver downtown eastsideIndigenous women march in Vancouver, Downtown Eastside Photo Rebecca Blissett

“We need to keep families together. Colonization and missing and murdered Indigenous women has broken families. The children left behind by missing and murdered Indigenous women are mostly in foster care and then when they age out they end up on the street. The violence against missing and murdered Indigenous women continues with their children who are also violated and made vulnerable.”

On April 3, 2019, The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) released Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside based on the lived experience, leadership, and expertise of Indigenous survivors. This comprehensive report is the culmination of a participatory process with 113 Indigenous women and 15 non-Indigenous women regarding the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people is one of the most pressing human rights issue in Canada today. We know that the over-representation in statistics on homicides, poverty, homelessness, child apprehensions, police street checks, incarceration, and overdose fatalities is not a coincidence; it is part of an infrastructure of gendered colonial violence. Colonial state practices target women for removal from Indigenous lands, tear children from their families, enforce impoverishment, and manufacture the conditions for dehumanization.

Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is an extraordinary report with Indigenous women survivors at the center; rather than as a secondary reference. Indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)—a neighbourhood known as ground zero for violence against Indigenous women—are not silent victims, statistics, or stereotypes. This unprecedented work shares their powerful first-hand realities of violence, residential schools, colonization, land, resource extraction, family trauma, poverty, labour, housing, child welfare, being two-spirit, police, prisons, legal system, opioid crisis, healthcare, and more.

View report online
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Emissions inequality: there is a gulf between global rich and poor

Image result for Emissions inequality: there is a gulf between global rich and poor
jag_cz / shutterstock

American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently shook up environmental politics by releasing a broad outline of a Green New Deal– a plan to make the US a carbon-neutral economy in the next ten years, while reducing both poverty and inequality. Lauded by many as a radical and necessary step, president Trump responded in typical style:

Donald J. Trump


I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called “Carbon Footprint” to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!

The Green New Deal doesn’t directly call for people to consume less meat. But the argument that solving climate change means changing our diets is widespread, and Ocasio-Cortez herself has made the link.

From personal carbon footprint calculators to articles outlining how many Earths we need to sustain the consumption of the average citizen of the UK, Europe or the US, consumption is identified as the problem. Reduce consumption, runs the argument, and you solve climate change. But is “our” consumption really the problem? Who is “we” anyway?

Globally uneven consumption

This point has been made before, but bears repeating. Most of the world’s population produces very little in the way of either carbon emissions or broader environmental impacts. We can go further here by also looking at imported carbon emissions – that is, the emissions that come from the production of goods and services in countries such as China that are then consumed in the wealthy countries of the global north. If we include imported emissions, the UK’s overall emissions have only marginally decreased since 1990. MORE