In attacking the public sector, corporations miss the inextricable link between public and private

Living wage protest. Image: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue​

In the early 1960s, while I was working for the Canadian Labour Congress in Corner Brook, the paper mill unions won a 5 per cent pay raise for the mill’s workers — much to the dismay of the town’s business leaders. When I next shopped at our small neighbourhood grocery store, the manager complained to me about “overpaid” workers.

“Now I’m being pressured to raise the pay of my own staff,” he grumbled. “There should be some limit put on the pay increases the unions can negotiate.”

I looked around the store. There were a dozen other shoppers in the aisles, most of them members of mill workers’ families.

“Take a closer look at your customers,” I said. “The money they’re spending in your store comes from the wages they earn at the mill. This was the first raise they’ve had in three years. Did it never occur to you that, the lower their pay, the less they’d have to spend at your store?”

His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Obviously he had never made the connection between the mill workers’ wage increases and the extent of his own profits from their purchases.

That was more than a half-century ago, but the same  purblindness still afflicts business owners and managers across Canada. They are especially enraged that the wages and salaries of public employees are substantially higher than the pay of most private sector workers.

Organizations such as the Canadian Taxpayers’ Association (CTA), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), and the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) incessantly rant against this disparity, charging that public employees don’t deserve higher compensation and should have it cut back to match the private sector’s lower rates.

A 2015 report by the CFIB calculated that the millions of  public employees in Canada, on average, were being paid 13 per cent more than their private sector counterparts. With the higher public sector benefits and pensions factored in, the gap more than doubled for federal workers to 33 per cent.

Of course the main reason for these pay and benefit differentials is because most public employees are unionized, while most private employees are not. The higher salaries (and benefits) in the public sector are negotiated by the public sector unions. Workers in private industrial and retail service jobs, lacking unions to represent them, have to take the lower wages their employers decide unilaterally (and reluctantly) to offer.

So the reality is not that public employees are overpaid, but that private sector employees are underpaid. A much better case can be made for raising inadequate private sector pay rates than for lowering them in the public sector.

Commenting on the CFIB report in the Globe and Mail, Erin Anderssen pointed out that one of the main reasons for the higher public sector pay rates was that they emerged from the achievement of a narrower gender wage gap. This was partly due to the unions’ push for pay parity, and partly to more stringent pay equity legislation. A gap still exists, but is much smaller in the public sector.

Anti-government governments

It’s not just business organizations that are campaigning against what they misperceive to be “too large, too wasteful, and too tax-imposing” government. Governments run by neoliberal conservative parties — such as the previous Harper regime — have also been committed to smaller government, lower taxes, anti-unionism, fewer public employees, deregulation, privatization, and leaner public services.

A CCPA study released during the Harper reign, Scapegoating Canada’s Public Sector, found that “public services and the legislation that governs them have been seriously weakened by the Harper government, compromising our ability to help the unemployed, provide services to indigenous communities and veterans, curb climate change, and protect the environment. The ranks of the public service have been decimated, while revenue has been slashed by tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.”

The study also pointed out that the public services for which Harper cut funding have been worth about $41,000 a year for the average Canadian household, or 63 per cent of the median family income. As the study’s author, Hugh Mackenzie, noted, “Public services reduce inequality, provide stability, and promote social and environmental security. They are demonstrably more efficient, less expensive, of higher quality, and more accountable than privatized services. They constitute the best deal we’re ever going to get.”

If privatization and unregulated market forces were superior to public services, as neoliberals contend, says Mackenzie, “Why was it the public sector that was called upon to deal with and manage every major crisis of the last 100 years, from the Great Depression to Second World War mobilization to post-war reconstruction to the ‘stimulus’ measures implemented to cushion the effects of the 2008 financial meltdown?”

The “small government” madness

It’s not just the public sector’s more generous pay and benefit packages that infuriate big business leaders, investors, and lobbyists. They are also determined to reduce the size and spending of the federal and provincial governments. “The smaller the government, the better,” they claim. And over the last few decades they have succeeded in slashing governments’ ability to improve or even maintain the levels of essential public services.

Privatization and deregulation have been rampant. Health care, education, the environment, public housing, gender equality, child care, tax fairness, trade, and even democracy have all been dealt punishing blows by the oligarchs of corporate and political neoliberalism. Their jehad against “big government” has been relentless. They seem oblivious to the fact that the more they shrink and cripple the public sector, the more they damage the private sector. Why? Because the two sectors are intertwined and interdependent.

The private sector, for example, would collapse if not for the billions of dollars it derives from the public sector. The federal government alone spends about $16 billion a year on the purchase of private goods and services — everything from paper clips to aircraft, from computers to scientific research. Add the amounts spent in the private sector by provincial and municipal governments, and such vast expenditures are probably more than doubled.

And then there are the purchases of private sector goods and services by the 3,600 million public employees in Canada. I haven’t been able to get an estimate of this huge sum, but it must run well into the billions annually. And for every public sector worker who is laid off because of anti-government business pressure, down incrementally goes private business patronage and profits. But the corporate moguls remain as unaware and unconcerned about this crucial correlation today as was the grocery store manager in Corner Brook 55 years ago.

The unbreakable public-private link

The public and private sectors have become so interdependent that one cannot be attacked or diminished without hurting the other. Public expenditures often stimulate private sector activities. Many industries could not get started or keep going without government services and infrastructure. And of course governments need a robust economy to boost employment and generate the revenue they need to provide social services.

Public funds spent on making workers healthier and better educated provide the private sector with a more efficient work force. Public funds spent on roads, airports, and other utilities are essential to the operation of private industry.

So intertwined are the functions of the two sectors that it is often impossible to differentiate clearly between them. Most production is the outcome of both public and private activities combined. Consider the following example.

A private company extracts public gas, sends it through a public pipeline to another private company with a public franchise, which sends it by a public railway to a private brickworks, where it is combined with public electricity and private clay to make bricks, which go by private trucks on public roads to a private contractor who is building public housing on public lands, to be sold to a private citizen with a first mortgage from a public housing agency and a second mortgage from a private bank.

I defy any neoliberal ideologue to sort out the public from the private sector in this not-so-farfetched example, and then explain how shrinking the public sector will enhance the private sector.

Would the result be less public gas going through a smaller public pipeline or a larger private one, to somehow make more private bricks which private contractors would put into less public housing to sell to more private citizens with fewer public mortgage loans?

That’s the absurdity of the neoliberal assault on the public sector. Somehow more private industrial development is supposed to flow from less public education and research. More private X-ray machines, MRIs, and other hardware is supposed to be made for fewer public hospitals. More private cars and trucks are supposed to be driven on fewer public highways. A smaller public police force is supposed to guard larger private fortunes.

What is more likely to happen — and what in fact has happened in recent years — is that restraints on growth in the public sector cause overall national production to be slowed down, rather than causing a shift in growth from the public to the private sector.

You would think that, by this time, our political leaders would realize just how illogical, inequitable, and impracticable this self-defeating business dogma really is. Instead, they submissively continue to aid and abet the corporate kingpins in their deranged attacks on the public sector and public employees.

As long as this ignorance of public and private sector interdependence prevails, so will the cancers of social and economic deprivation, inequality, poverty, deregulation, privatization, crumbling infrastructure, and environmental degradation. SOURCE

MEC’s Anti-Union Campaign Shows Deck Stacked against BC Workers, Says Organizer

Outdoor equipment co-op accused of using weaknesses in province’s labour code to fight employees’ union drive.

Alexandre Charron, right, stands with other staff outside the Victoria MEC store. Photo submitted by Alexandre Charron.

Despite presenting itself as a progressive organization, Mountain Equipment Co-op has fought hard to prevent staff in its Victoria store from joining a union, says an employee involved in the organizing drive.

Alexandre Charron, who has been a frontline worker in the Victoria outdoor equipment and clothing store for more than a year, says the employees’ experience shows why the province’s rule requiring a secret ballot vote before workers can join a union needs to change.

The requirement gives management an opportunity to use scare tactics to keep employees from unionizing, he said.

“A lot of people shop at MEC… and they have this idea that MEC is better, that MEC is a very progressive organization, it is a co-op after all,” Charron said.

“They’re surprised to learn that no, we basically have the conditions that prevail at any other corporate retailer in terms of pay, scheduling and other working conditions. Many assume we’re already unionized in fact.”

Several permanent part-time and full-time jobs offer benefits and better pay at the store, but they are difficult to move into, he said.

“Many people have worked years there without being able to access those status positions and remain casual staff with no guarantee on their part in terms of hours and scheduling.”

By the end of October about 70 per cent of MEC Victoria employees had signed cards certifying they wanted to join UFCW 1518.

But in B.C., there is a two-step process. If enough workers sign cards saying they want to join a union, a secret ballot vote is held to confirm the decision.

The certification vote was held Nov. 2. MEC filed an appeal arguing the vote count should not go ahead. A UFCW official said Friday that the votes had now been counted and MEC employees had voted with a strong majority to join the union.

Earlier this year the provincial government considered ending the requirement for a vote, but abandoned the change after it became clear the Green Party MLAs it relies on for support in the legislature wouldn’t back the change. Only three other provinces require secret ballot votes in all unionization drives. MORE

Top 5 Reasons the Green New Deal is Workable, Winnable and the Idea We Need Right Now.

This text is an edited excerpt from a speech given by Avi Lewis on the Leap’s “Green New Deal for All”  tour in June 2019.

1.The Green New Deal Will Be a Massive Job Creator, Swell the Ranks of Unions, and Increase Workers Rights For All, Especially The Most Vulnerable.

We know that investments in renewable energy and efficiency create many more jobs than investments in fossil fuels. 5 times more, per unit of electricity generated, according to one UK study.1 But that only scratches the surface of the transformation required to cut our emissions at least in half in a decade. When you start thinking about the rest of the low-carbon economy: health care, education, local agriculture, land and water defense, and other forms of care work, the job creation potential is far greater.

Imagine the job-creation from the range of programs in a real Green New Deal:

  • retrofitting every building in Canada in a decade,
  • building hundreds of thousands of new units of public and non-market housing
  • planting hundreds of millions of trees
  • building free electrified mass transit in every community
  • Universal daycare, rebuilding our education system with thousands of new teachers

These measures will create more than a million jobs – and even more when we include a federal jobs guarantee with at least a 15 dollar minimum wage, decent benefits, holidays and pensions.

And while we’re embarking on the greatest job creation program in our history, why would we not simply make it a goal to double the unionization rate in Canada, extending collective bargaining rights and protections to those millions of workers?

So, when people tell you that the GND will hurt workers, set them straight – tell them that the Green New Deal is a job program of epic proportions. A tool to fight for working people across this land that will leave no worker behind.

 2. Ignoring the Climate Crisis will Bankrupt us — But The Green New Deal is Our Chance to Create a Much Fairer Economy Than We Have Right Now

The economic damages of allowing global temperatures to rise by 2°C would hit $69 trillion globally.2 And we are currently headed for twice that level of warming, at least.

For too long, we have had climate policies that dumped the burden of paying for transition on working people while letting big polluters off the hook entirely. Moving forward, fairness in climate financing must be non-negotiable – and that means the polluters have to pay.

It’s not hard to figure out who we’re talking about here: the “Carbon Majors” – the 100 corporate and state fossil fuel giants responsible for  a whopping 71 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Also, the richest 10 percent of the world’s population, who produce almost half of all global emissions today.

Any climate policies that are going to be backlash-proof have to reflect that reality.  We can increase royalties on extraction. We can slash absurd fossil fuel subsidies. And we can sue for climate damages.

But it’s not just fossil fuel companies that are failing in their obligations to the rest of society.

If Canada’s top 100 corporations just paid their damn taxes at the legislated rate, we’d have an extra 10 Billion dollars in public revenue – each and every year.3

And then there’s an even higher annual amount that Canadian corporations are stashing in tax havens. More than $1.6 trillion dollars left Canada for offshore financial centers last year. If only 10% of that sum was offshored in order to dodge taxes, cracking down would generate $25 Billion a year. That’s a helluva down payment on a Green New Deal, and would begin to tackle inequality head-on. The Green New Deal is our opportunity to address structural inequality and tackle the climate crisis at the same time.

We can afford a Green New Deal, as long as we have the courage to do what so many political parties in this country refuse to do, which is to go where the money is, and get it back.

3.This is our chance to defend life on earth and Indigenous land rights at the same time.


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

Solving the ecological crisis requires a mass movement: system change, not climate change

“Solving the ecological crisis requires a mass movement to take on hugely powerful industries. Yet environmentalism’s base in the professional-managerial class and focus on consumption has little chance of attracting working-class support. This article argues for a program that tackles the ecological crisis by organizing around working-class interests.”

Image result for working-class interests Had it not been for working class movements, what would our society be like? We should ask: In Sweden and Norway, where the working class took power and set the direction for a democratic society, what were the results?

The climate and ecological crisis is dire and there’s little time to address it. In just over a generation (since 1988), we have emitted half of all historic emissions.1 In this same period the carbon load in the atmosphere has risen from around 350 parts per million to over 410 — the highest level in 800,000 years (the historic preindustrial average was around 278).2Human civilization only emerged in a rare 12,000 year period of climate stability — this period of stability is ending fast. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests we have a mere twelve years to drastically lower emissions to avoid 1.5 C warming — a level that will only dramatically increase the spikes in extreme superstorms, droughts, wildfires, and deadly heat waves (to say nothing of sea-level rise).3 New studies show changing rainfall patterns will threaten grain production like wheat, corn, and rice within twenty years.4 A series of three studies suggest as early as 2070, half a billion people will, “experience humid heat waves that will kill even healthy people in the shade within 6 hours.”5You don’t have to be a socialist to believe the time frame of the required changes will necessitate a revolution of sorts. The IPCC flatly said we must immediately institute “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”6 The noted climate scientist Kevin Anderson said, “… when you really look at the numbers behind the report, look at the numbers the science comes out with, then we’re talking about a complete revolution in our energy system. And that is going to beg very fundamental questions about how we run our economies.”7

The radical climate movement has long coalesced around the slogan “system change, not climate change.” The movement has a good understanding that capitalism is the main barrier to solving the climate crisis. Yet sometimes the notion of “system change” is vague on howsystems change. The dilemma of the climate crisis is not as simple as just replacing one system with another — it requires a confrontation with some of the wealthiest and most powerful sectors of capital in world history. This includes a mere 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of the emissions since 1988.8 The fossil fuel industry and other carbon-intensive sectors of capital (steel, chemicals, cement, etc.) will not sit by and allow the revolutionary changes that make their business models obsolete. MORE


    1. Paul Griffin, The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017(London: Carbon Disclosure Project, 2017), 5.
    2.  Elizabeth Gamillo, “Atmospheric carbon last year reached levels not seen in 800,000 years” Science.
    3.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5 °C.
    4.  Maisa Rojas, Fabrice Lambert, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, and Andrew J. Challinor, “Emergence of robust precipitation changes across crop production areas in the 21st century,” Proceedings of The National Academy Of Sciences (early view, 2019).
    5.  Climate Guide Blog: “Non-survivable humid heatwaves for over 500 million people,” March 9, 2019.
    6.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC approved by governments,” October 8, 2018.
    7.  Democracy Now, “Climate Scientist: As U.N. Warns of Global Catastrophe, We Need a “Marshall Plan” for Climate Change,” October 9, 2018.
    8.  Griffin, 2017.

Green New Deal for Canada requires changing Capitalism’s systemic failures

Capitalism is being unmasked as a systemic failure in this study of the US economy — one has not delivered on several objective measures: wealth inequality; racial wealth inequality, healthcare costs; criminal justice; democracy . The Canadian economy shows signs that a crisis is systemic, rather than purely political or economic, is that key indicators decline or stay the same regardless of changes in political power or business cycles. 

These numbers drive the debate for system change: Introducing The Index of Systemic Trends

Image result for change everything climate protest
More than 300 high school students marched in downtown Halifax to demand action on climate change.

This week The Next System Project releases its first “Index of Systemic Trends,” a series of economic indicators that together make the case for systemic solutions that get at the roots of the nation’s most critical economic and social crises.

“While it is tempting to blame Donald Trump and the virulent form of right-wing extremism he represents for the nation’s ills, this is, unfortunately, an inadequate reading of our recent history—and a dangerous one at that,” reads the introduction to the index. “In many ways, the rise of Trump is actually a symptom of a much longer systemic crisis that has been building over the last several decades. This first-ever edition of The Next System Project’s Index of Systemic Trends is an effort to begin to quantify, track, and visualize this crisis.”

The index specifically tracks a set of economic and social indicators that reveal the chronic and systemic nature of economic and social inequities and our qualitative standing when compared to other major countries. Some highlights:

  • Wealth Inequality: In 1970, the top 1 percent and the middle 40% of Americans had a similar share of wealth (around 28%). By 2015, the wealth share of the top 1 percent exceeded 37% while the share of the middle 40% was almost unchanged at 27%. The wealth share for the bottom 50% was also unchanged—at virtually zero.
  • Racial wealth inequality: The median net worth of Black families had by 2016 had fallen to roughly half what it was in 1983. The median net worth of White families went from 1,600% higher than that of Black families in 1983 to 4,000% higher by 2016.
  • Healthcare costs: Per person, health costs in the US are close to five times higher than they were in 1970 in constant dollars. Yet our residents fare worse, most notably in life expectancy, than those of any other high-income country.
  • Criminal justice: While Canada, Mexico, and most European countries incarcerate fewer than 200 residents per 100,000 population, the US incarcerates 274 per 100,000 White residents and Black residents at a rate that is six times higher, 1,609 per 100,000. For Latinx, the rate is 857.
  • Democracy: When measured against other major countries, the United States finished dead last in the Index of Economic Democracy, measuring workplace and individual rights, distribution of economic decision-making, transparency, and associational economic democracy.

“This index is by no means a comprehensive or empirical study,” the introduction concludes. “It is designed purely to be illustrative of what, we believe, is an important observation: that our current political-economic system is consistently failing to deliver improvement and or competitive results compared to other advanced economies across a variety of different measures; and that this is indicative of a systemic crisis and the need to move in the direction of a new system that can and will produce better outcomes.“ SOURCE


Canada’s New Green Deal Can Learn Much From Climáximo’s Climate Jobs Campaign

Climáximo: Climate Jobs Campaign


...We [Kevin Buckland  and  Joao Comargo] talked about the role of labor and unions in ecological transitions, how movements can engage with them, and what such collaborations could mean for making deep emissions cuts a reality.

Kevin: Hello Joao, first of all. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about Climáximo’s Climate Jobs Campaign, how it started and why you think it’s strategic?

Joao: No problem. We started this climate jobs campaign about 3 years ago. At that time we had some people coming over from the UK, where they were running a campaign there, they were based more on unions but we approached them not from a unions standpoint but as a Climate Justice Movement. We thought this could be strategically and politically very relevant because it opened up a series of new possibilities for strategic alliances around a very clear political program in which climate change can be framed not only as potential catastrophe apocalypse, but as a huge opportunity. This is partially how capitalism is framing climate change anyway, as a huge new opportunity to make profits on the collapse, anywhere from the lowering of standards on oil extraction or agricultural production, lowering the value of land for land grabs, and so on. But we want to use [this narrative] the other way around, saying: “This is the greatest challenge civilization has ever faced.” So when they say “If you want to save the climate it will destroy millions or billions of jobs!” we call bullshit and say “It means more jobs than ever!”.

Kevin: What do you see as the main difference to the approach Climáximo is taking with this narrative, in contrast to the climate narrative of capitalism?

Joao:  The main difference is the objective. The goal of these jobs will not be [just] the jobs in themselves – or the wages, but rather what these jobs produce. So we decided to put up the idea of jobs where the main objective is to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The main focus at the moment is mitigation, especially in the global north. In Portugal, we think the issue of mitigation is very important because there is already a more diversified energy mix than other EU countries. Although, it’s all private – the fossil fuels and the renewables and the hydropower. And then eventually we plan to work on adaptation as well, we need to imagine that whole cities will need to be moved 10 or 20 kilometers inland – that’s a lot of work!

Kevin: So in the context of looking beyond just the vague promise of ’jobs’ and towards what those jobs are producing. How do you differentiate between climate jobs and other ‘jobs’?

Joao: We define the main axis of how we define climate jobs – and this is a purely political decision – we would want them to be public or socially owned. (Though being run by the state does not automatically mean that it’s good). They would need to be new jobs, so it isn’t talking about putting a label on jobs that already exist. It has to effectively cut greenhouse gas emissions and would be dignified jobs, with a work contract – not precarious work or temp-agencies or any of these. The objective would be to effectively cut emissions and to prepare workers in the highest polluting emissions sectors to be in the frontline for new jobs. MORE