Monday, November 18, 2013

Labour against Line 9

Last year thousands joined a sit-in in Victoria against the Northern Gateway pipeline. As Susan Spratt, organizer for what was then the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) said, “The ongoing risks that these tar sands pipelines and tankers pose aren’t worth any price. Tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. We will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in BC and our First Nation sisters and brothers.”

A similar movement is emerging against Enbridge’s plan to pump toxic tar sands through the 38-year old pipeline Line 9. Last month hundreds of people—including indigenous communities, environmentalists, students, faith groups, musicians and trade unionists—marched and rallied against Line 9. Next week the Ontario Federation of Labour is holding its convention in Toronto, and a number of unions have submitted resolutions against Line 9.

But there are a number of myths about Line 9 that threaten to drive a wedge between labour and the rest of the climate justice movement. Some claim that Line 9 is a progressive tool for controlling energy resources, making the transition to a less carbon-intensive energy regime, and providing good jobs for energy workers. Some counter-pose the Northern Gateway and Line 9 pipelines, claiming Line 9 is a smaller and safer pipeline, intended for domestic use instead of export, and part of a national energy policy that will ultimately reduce carbon emissions through regulation and respect for First Nations. None of this is true.

* Not for domestic use: Enbridge’s Line 9 project is an effort to revive its 2008 Trailbreaker project, which aimed to pump tar sands through Ontario and Quebec to Portland, Maine for export. The Trailbreaker proposal was composed of three parts: increase flow through Line 6B (Chicago to Sarnia), reverse flow through Line 9 (Sarnia to Montreal), and then reverse flow through the Portland/Montreal Pipeline (jointly owned by Suncor, a major tar sands producer). Enbridge is slowly recreating this project, first gaining approval for Line 9a, and then 9b. If Enbridge gets its way, it could then reverse the Portland/Montreal pipeline to carry tar sands to the US for export.

* Not a job creator: As climate justice activists have explained, “The 'jobs' argument for tar sands creates a fictitious division between the economy and the environment, attempting to pit employment against health and environmental concerns. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has projected that about 6335 jobs in Ontario would be related to tar sands by 2035. While seemingly substantive, this would represent less than 0.1 per cent of jobs in Ontario should an unemployment rate of 10 per cent be maintained with continued population trends -- hardly a boom for a rapidly declining economy. For Line 9 specifically, Mike Harris wrote to the Financial Post suggesting, ‘Ontario will gain 3,250 person-years of direct and indirect employment, and Quebec will gain 1,969 person-years [over three decades]." Breaking down the math, this translates at best to 108 jobs per year for 30 years related to Line 9 in Ontario, and about 66 in Quebec.’” According to the report “More Bang for our Buck: how Canada can Create More Energy Jobs and Less Pollution”—by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labour and environmental groups—the $1.3 billion of federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry could create 18,000 more jobs in the clean energy sectors. According to Dave Coles, past president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), “we need to get serious about the transition to clean energy, and that includes a plan for putting people to work.”

* Not an economic benefit: Enbridge and the Harper government don't calculate cost of cleaning up inevitable spills, or the cost that we and future generations will pay for catastrophic climate change. The 2010 spill from Line 6B has cost a billion dollars and is still not cleaned up. The Toronto floods are estimated to have cost $600 million, and the annual cost of flooding in Canada is estimated to become $17 billion by 2050. Line 9 might make money for Enbrdige, but it will do so by undermining the planet on which all our lives and livelihoods depend.

* Not safer: Line 9 is the same size and old age as Enbridge’s Line 6B—which resulted in a massive spill that contaminated the Kalamazoo River. As Toronto city counselor Anthony Perruzza warned, “The City of Toronto sits at one of the biggest freshwater supplies in the world. These pipelines cross the city, traverse it completely. Any leakage, any rupture, any break, any undetected leaks over time will have disastrous consequences for us and for our water.”

* No regulation: as the City of Toronto wrote in its submission to the National Energy Board (NEB) last month, “Neither the TTC, Toronto Fire Services nor Enbridge appear to have any specific contingency plan to manage a leak of petroleum should this occur near the TTC entrances.” Furthermore there has been no federal of provincial environmental assessment of Line 9, as provincial NDP Environment Critic Jonah Schein highlighted: “a study by Toronto Area Conservation authorities concluded that a spill from Line 9, like the one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, would constitute a significant threat to drinking water in the GTA. Under new federal rules the project will not receive a federal environmental assessment. But Quebec has committed to conducting a provincial assessment to protect Quebeckers. Why will the Ontario Minister not stand up for the safety and drinking water of people in our province? Why won’t he launch an environmental assessment that allows full public participation and full consideration of the environmental impacts of line 9?”

* Not sustainable: According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, “exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” All tar sands pipelines, including Line 9, aim to expand tar sands production, which threatens planetary survival and local health. According to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, “air pollution kills about 20,000 Canadians a year and with tar sands expansion, it will only get worse. If we care about our health we need to leave tar sands oil in the ground.” This health threat reaches genocidal proportions when it comes to indigenous communities most impacted by tar sands production and refining. According to Ron Plain from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia: “the lands these companies operate upon were stolen from my community and turned into a toxic wasteland without our consent or consultation. Shell’s plant is located directly on my father’s hunting ground and today, instead of feeding my family these lands kill my community. Shell’s plant to expand bitumen refining in an area already devastated by pollution is effectively a death sentence for our culture, lands and people.”

Indigenous communities are leading the movement against tar sands—opposing tar sands production, the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines, and Line 9—and the climate justice movement is expanding to include the labour movement. As Jim Britton, then Regional Vice President of CEP said in the lead up to the Victoria sit-in, “we want a transition from dependence on fossil fuels that is fair to the workers in the sector, as well as a national energy strategy that includes good green jobs and long term energy security to Canadians.”

This means opposing Line 9—out of solidarity with indigenous communities and as part of a green jobs strategy that is central to rebuilding the trade union movement and averting climate catastrophe. As Naomi Klein said at the founding of Unifor, “If we want to lower our emissions, we need subways, streetcars and clean-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone. We need energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy…The renewal of the public sphere will create millions of new, high paying union jobs – jobs in fields that don’t hasten the warming of the planet. But it’s not just boilermakers, pipefitters, construction workers and assembly line workers who get new jobs and purpose in this great transition. There are big parts of our economy that are already low-carbon. They’re the parts facing the most disrespect, demeaning attacks and cuts. They happen to be jobs dominated by women, new Canadians, and people of colour. And they’re also the sectors we need to expand massively: the care-givers, educators, sanitation workers, and other service sector workers. The very ones that your new union has pledged to organize.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Austerity and the politics of the Ford scandal

Considering all his budget cuts and bigotry, it’s no surprise people are taking pleasure in the scandal surrounding Rob Ford. But while 60% think he should resign, polls also show his popularity has increased from 39% to 44%. The scandal seems to present opportunities for the left, as the Toronto Sun anxiously wrote in its article calling for Ford to resign: “Ford’s enemies on council, beyond calling for him to resign, are going to use his personal troubles and controversies to try to discredit his agenda of fiscal conservatism.” We certainly do need to discredit his agenda, and have through a series of mobilizations. But the scandal can just as easily erase these memories, and substitute right-wing moralism that fuels his support and reinforces his agenda. We should remember why he was elected, how he was challenged, and the real scandal of the Ford agenda if we want an alternative.

Why was Ford elected?
Ford was elected in a landslide victory, which confused many. Two years into the economic crisis there was visible resistance to austerity—24,000 city workers went on strike in 2009, and 40,000 people marched against the G20 in 2010. Any left candidate giving electoral expression to this sentiment could have won the election. But the left in office, supported by the left candidate, did the opposite: David Miller fought against the city workers, and then passed a unanimous motion applauding the police for the largest mass arrest in Canadian history during the G20. The silence of the left on council opened up a right-wing backlash that Ford rode to office—similar to the Tea Party’s emergence in the wake of disillusionment with Obama.

With no left alternative to the crisis, Ford articulated a right-wing populism that tapped into people’s anger against austerity (defending “the people” and “the tax payer”, demanding “respect”, and calling for an “end to the gravy”), but channeling it into a right-wing direction. As a result the millionaire mayor was elected by contradictory groups—the 1% eager to impose austerity, and much of the 99% with a confused opposition to it.

How was Ford challenged?
This contradiction, revealing the limits of right-wing populism, was important to recognize. In the opinion polls Ford had massive support, leading many to claim Toronto had surged to the right, and that people were unwilling or incapable of resisting austerity. But seeing opposition to austerity—even in a section of those who voted for Ford—was crucial to mobilizing against him. On International Women’s Day, in March of 2011, thousands marched for jobs and services, and on April 9 a labour and community mobilization brought 10,000 people into the streets, to demand “respect for communities, public services and good jobs.” As John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and one of the speakers, said: “This is not a rally against an individual politician. This is a rally that talks about the kind of city we want to have together, the kind of city we want to invest in together, the kind of city we want to build together.”

This was also important for distinguishing between the right and the wrong reasons to be against Ford. When he announced he was running, NOW Magazine wrote about it under the title “fat chance”, and early in his term had a cover of the mayor naked—aiming to make fun of his body size. As I wrote at the time, “There's plenty of reasons to criticize Rob Ford—from his racism and homophobia to his attacks on transit workers and public services—but his weight is not one of them. NOW defended itself on freedom of speech grounds, but that's besides the point. Free speech shouldn't pander to fat phobia or any other form of oppression.”

A focus on Ford’s policies continued to mobilize people throughout the summer—at Pride, through a Toronto library petition that went viral, at marathon deputations and neighbourhood meetings. As a result of sustained mobilizations, a poll in September 2011 found Ford’s popularity fell from 60% in February to 42% in September, with a majority of Torontonians in all wards against the cuts. Left counselors reflected the anger in the streets, and right-wing counselors like Karen Stintz began trying to differentiate themselves from Ford. Ford announced a delay in cuts, but resistance continued—including a video against the cuts, a second labour/community rally on September 26, and marches by the Occupy movement in October and November—when Ford’s approval rating was at its lowest. But the tendency to personalize Ford’s policies continued—through slogans like “stop the crazy train”, which depoliticize the austerity agenda and reinforce the oppression of people with mental health issues.

In January 2012, with a third mass rally outside, city council passed an amended budget dampening the austerity agenda. Ford then went after city workers, hoping for a repeat of the right-wing backlash that catapulted him to power. But the library workers fought back in the spring of 2012, receiving strong public support. A year ago, opposition from below and splits from above made Ford vulnerable to legal challenge, which almost removed him on a conflict of interest charge; since then the right-wing have been increasingly anxious about his ability to impose austerity.  

What's the real scandal?
The Toronto Sun’s call for Ford’s resignation began with a glowing tribute to him for having slashed budgets, contracted our garbage and revoked transit workers’ right to strike, but concluded: “He is now a liability to his own agenda of fiscal conservatism, because the longer he stays in office, the more City Hall will become a circus, preoccupied with the mayor’s personal issues and credibility rather than with spending taxpayers’ money wisely…That’s why we will continue to support Ford’s fiscal agenda, even though we can no longer support the man.”

The liability to his agenda of fiscal conservatism should be…his agenda of fiscal conservatism, which sparked mobilizations of thousands of people, who fought back against his policies and undermined his support. But the mainstream media’s main target has not been his scandalous policies, but his size, drug use and denial.

Fat phobia is in full swing, through cartoons and the front page of the Toronto Sun exclaiming “Dead weight”, with a photo of Ford’s abdomen. The media’s moral outrage over drug use is rekindling support for Ford, as a pollster exclaimed: “if you saw him during that media scrum yesterday, it might have generated some sympathy.”

It’s certainly hypocritical for a millionaire mayor to escape justice. But it’s the “justice system” itself that is the greater scandal: disproportionately incarcerating poor and racialized people, and criminalizing drug use and people with addictions. The police have taken advantage of the anger over the killing of Sammy Yatim to give more tasers to police, and could use the Ford scandal to reinforce the “war on drugs.” The media praise for the police chief—who presided over the G20 mass arrests and an epidemic of extra-judicial killings of people of colour and people with mental health issues—shows how a drug scandal amidst the 1% can still reinforce the 1%.

What next?
For the right-wing, this is Ford’s crime: that he sparked opposition to austerity, and drew attention to the hypocrisy of the system. That is why they want him out, so they can calmly continue to impose brutal austerity. As Karen Stintz explained in her mayoral announcement: “I believe in the fiscal agenda of Rob Ford, but I worry that another four years of Rob Ford may not move the city forward.”

For the left, this means that moral prescriptions—that Ford “must take responsibility for his actions” and “face up to the truth”—ignore the real austerity scandal, and let Ford off the hook. Ford simply announced on his radio show that he is apologizing but will weather the storm, will run in the next election and that people can judge him on his record. That has appeal for people disillusioned by mainstream politics, cynical about media scandals, and wooed by Ford’s statements about implementing the policies he promised.

The problem is that he did implement the policies he promised, and it's that record that needs to be challenged. It’s his policies (shared by the rest of the right-wing on council) of cuts to jobs and services that he should apologize for, and reverse. To weather the rest of his term, and beat him and Stintz, in the next election, the left needs to return to the issues that mobilized so many people in the first two years: not moralism about drug use or attacks on Ford as a person, but opposition and alternatives to austerity.