Five years after the most recent global economic crisis, its effects are felt everywhere. Among the rich and the investor class, the crisis is a constant struggle to maintain profits. For everyone else, the crisis is an ongoing attack by the rich and investor class on their security and dignity. In response to a collapse in profits, economic elites worldwide have sought to make workers, poor people, women and undocumented labourers pay for their recovery.
In Canada, the top tier of the investor class has mandated the all levels of government to recuperate the money spent on bailouts, military hardware and corporate tax cuts by cutting funding to health care and education, raising tuition, lowering unemployment benefits, adding user fees to public services, rolling back union rights, gutting environmental regulations and attacking social assistance and housing initiatives.
At the same time, this ruling elite is seeking to increase profits by inflating the housing bubble while protecting banks and expanding integration with the US military-industrial complex. Corporate and state power is attacking environmental regulations and Indigenous land and treaty rights to speed up profitable and destructive resource extraction like tar sands and fracking. Projects like Plan Nord or the tar sands represent billions in subsidies to the ultra rich.
Federal, provincial, and municipal governments are carrying out these attacks on behalf of the 1%.
Harper’s Conservatives have taken the lead with privatization initiatives, layoffs of almost 20,000 public sector workers, reducing Employment Insurance, changing the Old Age Security program to start at age 67, cutting arts funding, and paving the way for the reckless expansion of oil extraction. The announcement of the end of mail delivery in urban areas heralds a push for the privatization of Canada Post.
In Québec, the Parti Québécois (PQ) has cut social wages and plans to increase Hydro Québec fees by 22.2 % by 2018. And yet, Hydro-Québec anticipates profits of more than $3 billion in 2013 alone. Agnès Maltais, Ministre de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, has announced cuts to welfare payments to people aged 55 to 57 and families with one or more children. This, at a time when 10% of children in Québec are raised in families that depend on social assistance. Such moves are hardly noticed while debate over the the deeply racist Charte des valeurs québécoises does the work of distracting and dividing the people hit hardest by austerity measures.
In Montreal, the municipal government is pushing forward a process of gentrification without investing in social housing, while ramping up an attack on women involved in the sex industry. To quell the inevitable unrest, the city government has, with Law P-6, placed itself at the forefront of a legislative assault on the right to protest.
Honesty is not an option for the political class, or for the economic elite who order them about. Austerity amounts to transfer of wealth from the majority to a tiny minority of economic elites, but it can never be described as such. Instead, precarity and austerity are described as “flexibility” or “economic restructuring.”
A recent report by the Québec Ministry of Labour indicates that over 450,000 workers in Québec now have precarious jobs, which means jobs that pay low wages, have few benefits or none at all, have little regulatory protection, and no security. That same report also found that nearly 1.3 million workers face employment insecurity. And yet, massive corporate cuts across the board are portrayed as normal and necessary under austerity. Québec has introduced a 10-year tax break to foreign investors, but we already know who will bear the cost of this unjust policy.
In Montréal, many community initiatives have already staked out the front lines of this fight: anti-gentrification activists; unemployed workers; postal workers; campaigns to fight Hydro Québec fee increases; students demanding free education and an end to tuition hikes; Idle No More and Indigenous solidarity initiatives; resistance to social assistance cuts; labour organizers fighting the growth of precarious work, the stagnation of the minimum wage and mass layoffs; and many more.
Each of these struggles has specific demands and needs, but they are all fighting against the same corporate-driven policies aimed at extracting profits for the rich from the austerity imposed violently on everyone else. These efforts and struggles can find common cause. Let us clearly identify the source of this assault and confront it together.
Colonial policies are at the heart of capitalism and Canada’s austerity agenda. Capitalism began with large-scale land theft, and it continues on this basis today. Supporting Indigenous struggles for land and dignity and for the decolonization of these territories is, by necessity, of central importance to the anti-austerity struggle.
Comité d’action solidaire contre l’austerité (CASA) aims to challenge the austerity agenda through actions and solidarity, and contribute to a growing movement against austerity policies in Québec and Canada. Most immediately, CASA aims to organize a popular forum to help unite the struggles prompted by attacks from the Harper government, and to build toward a pan-Canadian day of action and economic disruption in 2014.
Austerity will not end with a change in ruling political parties. Only by building solidarity, popular power and hitting the streets can we become a real challenge to this elite agenda. But our movement can’t stop when the cuts stop. Together, we must create a fundamentally cooperative and democratic basis for economic self-governance that distributes wealth equally and embraces our abundance of creativity, knowledge and skills while operating within the ecological limits of the planet we share.
Together, we can fight back against the neoliberal crisis and austerity economics. In solidarity, let us resist these polices, but also build the collective power and direct democracy that can deliver social and ecological justice.