Oct 202015

Suzanne MacNeil, Executive Vice-President of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and member of Solidarity Halifax, shares her thoughts on the work to be done now that the election is done. Suzanne has just finished working as campaign manager for Sydney-Victoria NDP candidate Monika Dutt.

Originally published in Our Times Magazine.


Suzanne MacNeil. Photo: Our Times Magazine.

Congratulations to all the people who worked, voted, and campaigned hard to get Harper out.

I’m disappointed that we lost so many good, progressive MPs, and that an NDP campaign that proposed substantial reforms like national child care couldn’t succeed the way we needed it to.

I am, however, feeling no small amount of relief that we got rid of a government that was particularly nasty and determined to attack: union workers, the working class in general, women, Indigenous people, immigrants, folks who live in poverty, all manner of public institutions, our environment.

Bear in mind, this is just a moment of relief. The work ahead of us changes, but still needs to go on.

Contrary to the mainstream framing of this, governments are not neutral vessels that can be steered in just any direction by electing the right people and the right ideas.

Government operates under a structural dependence on capital and so, right away, any government that is elected, “progressive” or not, is dealing with a structural bias against social spending.

Governments deal with enormous pressure from large corporations, wealthy elites, and key industrial heavyweights to keep taxes for top income brackets and corporations low, and to keep regulations “business friendly.”

I often refer to this group of interests as “capital” — perhaps an old fashioned word, but the most accurate way to refer to this grouping.

These structural realities directly work against any role government wants to play in setting up new social spending programs, maintaining or improving current ones like universal medicare, and cracking down on environmentally destructive activity.

If government goes “too far” in acting in the interests of the environment and the 99%, the interests of capital go into major pushback mode. The usually idle threat of “taking business elsewhere” takes on a new and sinister manifestation.

We’re familiar with the labour term “strike,” when workers withhold their labour.

The flip side of that is that capital strikes become reality when big business faces the threat of a determined, socially minded government. There are endless examples of this globally, and this is why it will never ever, ever, ever be enough to elect the right people. And never enough to just hope they’ll keep their promises.

Without strong, disciplined organization from supporters of a more just society, governments are forced to choose between the public coffers drying up completely or making major concessions to capital in the interests of keeping basic programs running.

We are still dealing with an historic low-point in the kind of strong organizing we need, and although we have seen a resurgence of social movements in the last five years, the independent building of social movements in our era is still in its infancy. Unions have a long way to go to be strong enough again to make significant gains for the working class.

Our failure to make anti-racist work a priority means that not only do racialized people in Canada face violence and oppression on a daily, ongoing basis but they are also actively targeted by cynical politicians.

We saw what happened with the niqab debacle. The interests of capital have long exploited racism as a dividing tactic.

By failing to deal with this head-on, we not only see progressive policy victories forestalled, but even more crucially, the people who suffer the most real and violent consequences in this scenario are people of colour in our communities. This will keep happening until we can smarten up and do better.

For non-Indigenous Canadians, we also need to be more cognizant of our responsibilities as treaty partners with First Nations people. There is a lot of work to be done in untangling the toxic legacies of colonialism, and doing our part for truth and reconciliation.

We have a lot of work to do, both in holding our new government accountable and in the difficult, complicated, but joyous work of organizing for victories for the people.

As hard as it is at times, there is dignity and self-realization through working in service and solidarity with others for a better world.

I need a day or two of rest and good coffee. Then I’ll confer with friends and comrades to see what needs to be done from here on in.

Taking a cue from J.S. Woodsworth, I am happy to take my place in the world’s work and the world’s struggles.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Oct 142015

Larry Haiven, member of Independent Jewish Voices and of Solidarity Halifax, says the lack of response from Jewish institutions to the Conservatives’ Islamophobic fear mongering is hypocritical. Founded in 2008, Independent Jewish Voices – Canada is a national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the dispute in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.

Originally posted at rabble.ca


mq1My grandfather came to Canada from the old country — Poland — during the First World War, and for the next 35 years he dressed like a typical Orthodox Jew of his day. He wore a yarmulke and a long black coat in all seasons and had a large white beard. He refused to change his facial hair and his clothing to suit Canadian tastes.

When I was a child, people (including some fellow Jews) would ask me “Why does he insist on dressing like that?” My grandmother, too, wore clothing that clearly marked her as Jewish. Neither spoke much English, content to use Yiddish and let their children translate for them. But they had five surviving children, who had a score of their own children, who spawned a legion of grandchildren, and all of them spoke English and all of us are proud Canadians.

My mother told me that during the late 1930s she would accompany her father to The Beaches and Toronto Island, both places with swastika signs and warnings to Jews to stay away. One day, they were surrounded by a gang of youths who taunted and assaulted my grandfather. According to my mum, he struck out at them with his cane and drove them away. How dare he? I’m sure that, looking down the lens of history, nobody begrudges him this act of self-defence. Long before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, you had to defend your rights yourself.

This was around the same time that Canada’s attitude to Jews and Jewish immigration was summarized by federal government official F.C. Blair in the infamous phrase “None is too many.” In a letter to a colleague, this vicious anti-Semite wrote of certain Jewish cultural practices (which he no doubt believed to be barbaric):

“I often think…that it would be far better if we more often told them [the Jews] frankly why many of them are unpopular in Canada….If they would divest themselves of certain of their habits I am sure they would be just as popular in Canada as our Scandinavians.” (cited by Irving Abella and Franklin Bialystok)

We are reminded of the history of Jews in Canada as we watch the disgraceful reaction to Zunera Ishaq’s refusal to uncover herself at her citizenship swearing-in ceremony. She is perfectly willing to show her face to a female immigration official to prove who she is, and the ceremony itself is a formality. Twice the courts have defended her. Yet Prime Minister Harper and his party, as well as the Bloc Québecois, have shamelessly stirred the ugly cauldron of racism for calculated political gain. And way too many Canadians are buying in.

Surely we have learned that a person’s clothing is a personal choice and a basic human right, whether they are influenced by religious or ethnic custom or not. Haven’t we?

That’s why I am doubly disappointed and saddened by the non-reaction of the official Jewish organizations in Canada. Where is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs? Where is B’nai Brith, once a stalwart champion of human rights for all? Indeed, when Justin Trudeau last March compared the rising tide of Islamophobia to Canada’s anti-Semitic past, B’nai Brith denounced his remarks as “inaccurate historical parallels” and “highly inappropriate.”

How quickly and conveniently our Jewish “leaders” forget. Or perhaps they are simply glad that it’s not the Jews who are the subject of xenophobic scorn nowadays. The widely quoted poem by German pastor Martin Niemöller describes the perils of standing by while evil flourishes, and contains the words “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew….Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” Obviously, that famous poem deserves some updating.

I’m a proud member of Independent Jewish Voices — Canada, a national Jewish human rights organization. Our mission includes rights for everyone, not just Jews. And we unequivocally condemn the verbal pogrom being waged against our Muslim sisters and brothers.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Oct 052015

October 5th, 2015 – unceded Mi’kmaq territory.

BetweenNationsPoster-Final-Web2To say that we are on unceded Mi’kmaq territory is a simple affirmation. Yet, it seems for many to affirm a complex and confusing reality.

All of us in K’jipuktuk (Halifax) are standing or sitting, reading, talking, living and going about our daily routines on unceded Mi’kmaq territory. What does that mean? What does that mean for whom? And what do we do about it?

Definitive answers to these questions are not easy to find, but the need – in fact, the responsibility – to seriously address and consider these questions is what has motivated the organizing of Between Nations: We Are ALL Treaty People. It is the intent of the event’s organizers to look at what it means for us all – distinctly and collectively – to live where treaties outlining access to the land and its resources have been drafted and signed long before us.

Canada recognizes (at least on paper) over a dozen treaties within its claimed borders. These treaties are intended to govern the territorial rights and obligations of the Canadian state and of the Indigenous Nations who find themselves within the borders claimed by Canada.

Here in Nova Scotia, and throughout Mi’kma’ki (Mi’kmaw territory), it is the Peace and Friendship Treaties that outline the territorial rights and obligations of Indigenous Nations and of the Canadian state. These treaties were the first to be signed and recognized by the British Crown and set the stage for all future agreements between Indigenous Nations and the British (later Canada) on this continent. Interestingly, the province of Nova Scotia is the only Canadian province to recognize Treaty Day, on October 1st of every year, to commemorate the Peace and Friendship Treaties.

Unfortunately, within the non-Native population, there’s a general assumption that treaties and Treaty Day are a “Native thing” only – something that doesn’t concern those who are non-Native. But of course, treaties are agreements between two parties. So whether you’re a First Nation person or not, if you live here, the treaties apply to you. We are all, all of us who live here, treaty people.

Over the last decade, thanks to the recent struggles and campaigns waged by courageous and determined Indigenous activists across the continent, there’s been an increased sense of awareness about the treaties among the non-Native or settler population. There’s also been alliances formed between Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists in common struggles against exploitative resource extraction and other campaigns, the likes of which have not been seen for generations.

But with a growing awareness of the existence of the treaties has come also a growing sense of questioning about how to honour those treaties at a personal level and at a societal level. For both Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, agency over the treaty relationship is extremely limited. Control over how the treaties are interpreted or respected is concentrated almost exclusively in the hands politicians and bureaucrats of the Canadian state, and to a lesser extent the governmental bodies within First Nation communities that are sanctioned by the Canadian state through the very restrictive Indian Act.

Between Nations is an attempt to examine avenues for people to understand and engage in the shaping of our treaty relationship today. By generating a process of reflection, accompanied by small personal and collective actions, we can begin to move away from Canada’s Indian Act and move toward a People’s treaty relationship that genuinely follows in the spirit of the Peace and Friendship Treaties. That is to say, we can collectively rebuild a relationship where all peoples can genuinely feel we belong to and can truthfully engage in.

However, in doing so, we fully recognize that the responsibility to address the injustice and suffering caused by centuries of broken promises rests squarely and heavily on the non-Native population, most especially those of European settler descent, who continue to benefit economically and politically from the theft of Indigenous lands.

At Solidarity Halifax, our interest in this discussion, and sense of responsibility to act, flows from our understanding that capitalism and colonialism go hand in hand. Today’s capitalist imperative for perpetual economic growth continues the suppression of Indigenous ways of living that have already been severely damaged by centuries of oppression. By fuelling a drive for land and resource privatization in the name of profit, capitalism structures our society in such a way that the suppression of differing worldviews and the repression of those who stand in the way of profit are justified. And so, the Peace and Friendship Treaties that recognize Indigenous sovereignty over this land, and those who attempt to live by the treaties, come in direct contradiction with the capitalist economic system which underlies Canadian society. If the treaties are to be enacted, capitalism must go and be replaced by economic relationships and structures that give true democratic and collective power to all those concerned.

Further to this, our treaties contain an inherent obligation to protect our shared land and its resources for future generations. Already, treaty rights upheld repeatedly in courts have had the ability to stall environmental degradation for profit accumulation on numerous occasions. Support for legal treaty recognition and the collective enactment of those treaty relationships may very well be our only chance to stop our destructive economy as it relentlessly drives us into climate crisis. Fighting for a new democratic economy, fighting for climate justice and fighting for treaty rights are all parts of a same struggle.

With recent attention to front-line resistance against resource extraction from First Nations communities, with the revelations and recommendations that have resulted from the Truth and Reconciliation Report, with the intensifying calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women – all this in the follow up to the widely spread Idle No More movement – it seems there’s no better time to talk about the treaties. But really, when it comes down to it, we’re 400 years late. Indigenous peoples have always been very aware of the acute need to respect the treaties. As non-Indigenous peoples become increasingly aware of the legal and political obligation we have to do the same, it becomes a moral imperative that we not waste any more time.

Msit No’kmaq. (All my relations)