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.

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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.

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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

@realDonaldTrump

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

Justice system an ‘industry’ profiting off Indigenous offenders and victims

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InFocus
Less than five per cent of the population in Canada is Indigenous, yet Indigenous men make up 28 per cent of those behind bar, Indigenous women 43 per cent and Indigenous youth 46 per cent.

And while incarceration rates are on the decline for the general population, they’re trending upwards for Indigenous people.

Poverty and family and community breakdown are contributing factors to being both a perpetrator and a victim of crime.

But Treaty 3 Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh says there are plenty of people profiting off this – jobs rely on it.

“We’re becoming commoditized,” Kavanaugh told InFocus Host Melissa Ridgen. “We’re providing job opportunities for others. That’s one of the problems. MORE

What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society?

This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, along with dozens of co-sponsors, have introduced a vision for the Green New Deal. One Republican called it a “socialist manifesto”. Many environmental advocacy groups have hailed it, but some say it doesn’t go far enough. Others warn that its broad scope and the long list of progressive social programs it endorses could hinder its climate efforts.

So what is the Green New Deal?

The proposal outlines the broad principles of a plan simultaneously to fight inequity and tackle climate change. It does not contain policy details or advocate for specific ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But with a broad brush it aims to make the US carbon-neutral – net zero carbon emissions – in 10 years.

The Green New Deal recognizes that transition would require massive change. It endorses ways of ensuring that vulnerable populations – including the poor, people of color, indigenous populations and communities already facing environmental degradation – take part in the planning process and benefit from the green economy.

Would it end the use of coal, oil and natural gas?

No. But it would aim to offset any remaining greenhouse gas pollution with forests that absorb carbon dioxide, for example. It does not specifically address what role nuclear power or fossil fuels with carbon capture technologies would play. Nuclear power represents half of the carbon-free energy in the US, but it runs on mined uranium. Fossil fuels with carbon capture would still require drilling and cause pollution.

How ambitious is the Green New Deal?

Incredibly ambitious, both on climate change and with its reimagining of society.

Fossil fuels are deeply embedded in the US economy. Of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2016, 28% were from electricity, 28% were from transportation, 22% were from industry, 11% were commercial and residential and 9% were from agriculture. MORE

Toronto city council votes against declaring homelessness crisis an emergency, now what?

Last week, Toronto Mayor Tory and Toronto City Council showed their impotence to deal with one of the most severe social welfare disasters in Toronto’s history — homelessness. 

The homelessness emergency affects over 8,000 people. Over 1,000 people are living in what can only be compared to refugee camp conditions: respite sites including a disaster dome, overnight drop-ins, and basements of churches and synagogues.

The housing emergency affects close to 200,000 people: 181,000 people are on the social housing wait list and another 16,000 await supportive housing. Essentially neither is being built.

In a debate over whether to declare Toronto’s housing and homelessness crisis an emergency, the directors of Toronto’s emergency management and legal services offices dispassionately addressed language in the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, including what entails an “emergency.” Equally dispassionate were the General Manager of Shelter, Support and Housing and the Medical Officer of Health.

Councillor Gord Perks, who brought forth the motion last week with Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, attempted to give staff an opening, suggesting that causes out of the city’s control, such as deregulation, could cause a disaster. After all, homelessness and the housing crisis is the direct result of federal and provincial abandonment. MORE

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Deaths of People Experiencing Homelessness

Justices spar with Ford government lawyers over cancellation of basic income pilot

Anti-poverty advocates and basic income pilot project participants gather Monday outside Osgoode Hall, where the Ontario Superior Court is being asked to overturn the Ford government’s decision to cancel the anti-poverty initiative.
Anti-poverty advocates and basic income pilot project participants gather Monday outside Osgoode Hall, where the Ontario Superior Court is being asked to overturn the Ford government’s decision to cancel the anti-poverty initiative.  (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR)

Ontario Superior Court justices blasted the Ford government Monday for saying participants in the now-cancelled basic income pilot project were wrong to expect the study to run for three years.

Despite signing documents that said they would receive income for “up to” three years, it was not a “guarantee of three years,” government lawyer Christopher Thompson argued before the three-judge panel being asked to overturn the decision to kill the project.

But an incredulous Justice Fred Myers took aim at Thompson’s legal parsing of the English language.

“Are you here to suggest that the Liberal government under (then) premier (Kathleen) Wynne didn’t intend this to be a three-year program? You are lawyering like crazy over two words,” Myers said, leaning forward in his chair. “Of course it intended it to be a three-year program … It’s perfectly obvious.” MORE

 

Meet the Economist Advising BC on Whether to Go Ahead with a Basic Income

‘I’m an agnostic because I can see both sides,’ says UBC’s David Green.

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There’s no clear case for or against basic income, says David Green, who is chairing a BC government advisory committee.Photo by Geoff Dembicki.

The idea of adopting basic income in B.C. is appealingly simple.

During an era when the gap between rich and poor is reaching levels not seen since the Gilded Age, machines threaten to automate tens of millions of jobs and owning a home is becoming impossible, the idea that governments should make no-strings-attached cash payments to citizens struggling to survive seems to make sense.

That’s the basic logic of an idea that has been debated and tested in Canada for over 40 years and is at the centre of a potentially groundbreaking new $4-million study funded by the B.C. government.

“In British Columbia, as in Ontario, 70 per cent of the people who live beneath the poverty line have a job.”

The three-person expert committee leading the study will compile findings from about two-dozen independent research projects later this year. MORE

Why we need to fix Canada’s new measure of poverty

The government’s new tool for measuring poverty is flawed, failing to acknowledge such key factors as child care fees and actual housing costs.

The measurement of poverty is finally set to change, and the impacts — and consequences — are serious. With the release of Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy in August 2018, the federal government has dedicated itself to creating the country’s first official poverty line, based on the MBM [the market basket measure]. The MBM will be balanced with a “dashboard” of other indicators of poverty that will be used to track and measure the progress of the strategy in meeting its reduction targets. Until January 31, Statistics Canada is conducting online and in person consultations to strengthen the MBM.

Without child care in the MBM basket, our national picture of poverty does not include a basic need that for many households is second only to rent as the highest expense

However, there are serious gaps in the MBM. If we don’t fix them, it will be more of a barrier for people living in poverty than a tool to help them. Our focus as a country should be on our human rights obligations to create an environment in which people have an adequate standard of living. The current design of the MBM is less than helpful as Canada strives to fulfill these obligations. MORE