Tuesday, September 11, 2007

LABOUR DAY SEPTEMBER 2007: Reviving the Labour Movement Through Reviving Class Solidarity

by Socialist Project Labour Committee

As Canada and Ontario's labour movement marches in this year's Labour Day Parade it does so with something to celebrate: an increase in the provincial minimum wage. That victory, all the more significant for victories being so rare in recent times, was partial – amongst other things it is only being phased in over three years – but all victories for working people are partial. Why this achievement merits special celebration is that:

  1. It materially matters for hundreds of thousands of workers.
  2. It demonstrated the exciting possibilities of creating spaces through which immigrant workers and youth could express their frustrations and mobilize to improve their conditions.
  3. It opened a new door through which the unionized labour movement – in various stages of crisis since the Days of Action – might be revived: supporting the struggles of non-union workers because it is both the morally right thing to do and because it contributes to uniting and building the working class as a potential social force agent.

What next?

That victory poses a number of questions. First what will the labour movement now do to build on this momentum? One option is to move on to fight for improvements in other standards (such as paid time off). Another is to raise the ante and get unionization itself more clearly on the agenda. New minimum standards are themselves an opportunity to do so because in many cases, these minimum standards are not enforced. And so there is a powerful opening for the need for a union just to get what the law allegedly guarantees you. A further campaign might be to take on the 'temp agencies' – parasites that live off the back of workers – and restore this function to public agencies providing a social service.

Second, having experienced the potentials of collective action at the community level, how can the labour movement strengthen these capacities? One step is internal: if we really want to make some organizing breakthroughs, we will have to overcome our sectionalism (divisions over who 'gets' new members) and develop an effective degree of cooperation that puts workers and the movement first. Another is external to formal unionism: there are groups like the Workers Action Center in Toronto that currently provide services to non-union workers (and have been long-time activists in the struggle for raising the minimum wage); they should be encouraged and supported in expanding their work.

What about the people on welfare?

A third question relates to the shameful conditions of those members of the working class who, for various reasons, are currently not in the workforce or only marginally attached and who consequently depend on welfare. Welfare rates are today 40% lower in purchasing power than they were when the Conservative government launched its own version of the 'War on Poverty' in the mid-90s (and they were hardly overgenerous before then). This too must be of fundamental concern to all working people simply because of the injustice it exposes in how we treat those with disabilities, single mothers trying to raise a family on their own (poverty rates are stunningly higher for women and 280,000 Ontario children live in families who rely on social assistance), and workers who have been laid off (such as those now benefiting from the higher minimum wage but at risk of not getting full-year employment or seeing rising housing prices and the lack of affordable housing eroding any gain they thought they made). Furthermore, the low standards brought on by unemployment represent pressures to stay at any job, no matter how poor the pay and conditions and no matter how sick you might be. And this can't help but increase pressures on standards for other workers.

A coalition of anti-poverty and related groups is planning a protest this fall (September 26) to profile their plight as the Ontario election takes place. Their goal is to 'raise the rates' (bring the $10 minimum wage forward and return welfare and disability rates to their former levels with a 40% increase), build affordable and accessible housing, and access without fear to government services for non-status immigrants. This coalition – Toronto Anti-Poverty (TAP) – is committed to continuing that struggle after the election. For organized labour, the question is where do we stand? Will we identify the fight against poverty as not just a matter of charity, but a dimension of solidarity against all the manifestations of exploitation and injustice working people experience?

We have no alternative

It is crucial, in all our struggles, to recognize that we are not simply fighting against 'bad policies', but something deeper. Governments seem to have concluded that capitalism in its present phase can only reach and maintain the profits it needs by: a) limiting 'diversions' to those not in the labour market and therefore not contributing to profits; and b) keeping those in the labour market insecure and fragmented from each other – insecure about their jobs, increasingly cut off from essential services, and struggling to survive on their own rather than collectively. This will not be fundamentally changed unless we can mobilize in a way that scares them the way they have worked so hard to scare us. Real change will only come if we reject their cramped and debilitating vision of what is possible and develop the solidarity, structures and capacities to move towards an alternative vision. Their own mantra of 'there is no alternative' within capitalism is essentially an admission that capitalism has itself become a barrier to human progress and that we 'have no alternative' but to challenge capitalism itself. •

This article was originally published in The Bullet, a Socialist Project e-bulletin.

Friday, September 7, 2007

TORONTO STAR: Public historically cool to faith-based funding

Doug Hart and D.W. Livingstone
September 06, 2007

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory's new position on funding all faith-based schools is a poor fit with public opinion.

In 20 years of polling, we have never found more than a minority in favour of any extension of public funding to private schools.

Moreover, the views of this minority do not privilege faith-based schools but prefer funding extended to all private or independent schools meeting provincial standards.

Since 1984, the OISE Survey of Educational Issues has asked Ontarians every two years about extending public funding beyond the current public and Catholic systems. In 10 separate surveys over this period, support for funding religious schools has only once reached 10 per cent (in 1992) and has usually languished at between 4 per cent and 7 per cent. In contrast, support for extending funding to all private schools has fluctuated between 17 per cent and 27 per cent.

In 2004, the last year for which specific data are available (a different question was used in our soon-to-be released 2007 survey), 7 per cent favoured government funding of religious schools but 20 per cent wanted financial support extended to all private schools. This strongly suggests that among the minority who favour extended funding, the key issue is parental choice, not equity among faith communities. (In 2000, in the wake of the United Nations Human Rights Committee finding that Ontario's policy of funding Catholic schools but not other denominational schools was discriminatory under international human rights provisions, we asked people their preference if they were forced to choose between funding schools for all religious groups or no
religious groups, including Catholics. Forced to choose on this basis, the public split down the middle: 46 per cent to fund all religious schools, 47 per cent to fund none.)

Overall, willingness to extend funding at all to private schools has been and remains a distinct minority position. Between 1984 and 2004, support has fluctuated between 25 per cent and 35 per cent. Most Ontarians continue to support either a single public system or the status quo of public and Catholic systems.

The split between these options has fluctuated over time but neither option alone has ever come close to commanding majority support.

Since full funding was extended to Catholic schools by the Conservative government in 1984, around 40 per cent have supported this option. Support for funding a single public school system, with Catholic schools converted into it or losing their public funding, has hovered around 30 per cent.

Our 2007 survey uses a more general question (suitable for the national survey conducted with the Canadian Education Association this year) asking whether only currently funded public schools or all public and private schools should receive funding. In Ontario, we find 58 per cent in favour of currently funded public schools and 39 per cent willing to extend funding to all public and private schools.

The Conservative party proposal is in line with public thinking in making acceptance of the provincial curriculum, province-wide testing and teachers certified by the Ontario College of Teachers necessary conditions for public funding.

There is widespread unanimity on these conditions among all political parties and the general public. In 2002, when the issue was tax credits for parents of private school students, the OISE
survey asked whether the public agreed or disagreed that to be eligible for the tax credit system private schools should have to accept each of those three conditions. The overwhelming
majority (around 80 per cent) agreed that all three should be conditions for eligibility.

The whole issue of which schools should be funded is caught in a long-term gridlock as far as public support is concerned. There is no consensus on any basic option – a single public system, the status quo or extending funding to all private schools.

Hence, there is no net public pressure for change. The current Conservative policy to fund faith-based private schools charts a course through a political landscape at odds with most public opinion on the issue.

If politicians are going over this ground again, they might pause to check that their maps take account of the landscape as the electorate actually sees it.

Finally, while strong views on each of these options surely will be expressed in the current election, it should be kept in mind that whatever their views on extended school funding, Ontarians show similarly strong support for greater government funding of elementary and secondary education, and a willingness to accept higher taxes to improve public education.

In groups of all religious persuasions there is a similar acceptance of the need to improve the resource base for public schools.

Doug Hart and D.W. Livingstone are authors of Public Attitudes Towards Education on Ontario 2007: the 16th OISE/UT Survey.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

TORONTO STAR: Textbooks economical with words about co-ops

Jack Quarter, Daniel Schugurensky, Erica McCollum and Laurie Mook
Sep 5, 2007

A recent study conducted through the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto raises questions about the narrow focus of business and economics textbooks in Ontario's high schools.

The research by professor Daniel Schugurensky and MA student Erica McCollum of OISE/ University of Toronto, examined the contents of 22 business textbooks containing 11,375 pages currently used in Ontario high schools.

In general, these textbooks had very little about non-profits and co-operatives.

When all of the materials referring to co-operatives were totalled, they amounted to 35 pages, or 0.3 per cent of the 11,375 pages in the 22 books.

For non-profits, this amounted to 107 pages, or 0.9 per cent of the total pages. In other words, there is not a lot about these types of organizations within the business texts used in Ontario high schools.

A similar study in 1995 (by professor Jack Quarter and then PhD student Alison Davidson also of OISE/UT), upon which the current study was based, had strikingly similar findings.

Not much has changed in the past 12 years with regard to the treatment of co-operatives and non-profits in business textbooks in Ontario.

Do these types of organizations have a place in business textbooks and business programs?

Arguably, these organizations are not in the mainstream of the business world, but they do have a significant impact upon the economy. A survey of the non-profit sector undertaken by Statistics Canada in 2003 (the National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations) found that there were 161,000 incorporated non-profits in Canada, about half of which had charitable status registrations.

The same survey estimated that non-profits had revenues of $112 billion, employ 2 million people (54 per cent full-time), and have a volunteer labour force estimated to be another 1 million full-time equivalent jobs (about 2 billion hours).

The stereotype of non-profits is that their revenues are unearned (donations and grants), but the Statistics Canada survey indicates that 35 per cent is earned through the marketplace; in fact, there are a significant number of non-profits that compete successfully in the market with private sector firms (for example, the YMCAs).

Likewise, the stereotype of co-operatives as small and economically insignificant is belied by the data. For instance, the Co-operatives Secretariat, a federal government agency, reported that in 2003 approximately 9,200 co-operatives brought in $35.8 billion of revenues and employed around 155,000.

Agriculture co-operatives, although having declined in importance due to the demutualization of some of the largest ones, were still marketing and processing a large share of farmers' production, notably in poultry, dairy and hogs. Two co-operatives are among the top 12 corporations in the food and beverage-manufacturing sector in Canada.

Moreover, eight non-financial co-operatives are among the top 500 corporations in Canada; two of these are among the top 100 corporations.

Le Mouvement des caisses Desjardins, the umbrella organization for credit unions/caisses populaires in francophone Canada, is the largest employer in Quebec and, with a workforce of more than 39,000, is the sixth largest financial institution in Canada with assets of $118 billion in 2005.

These organizations, a group that we classify as part of the social economy, provide flexible, sustainable and innovative approaches to achieving social and economic objectives.

Although they are not the mainstream of the economy, they employ and train people, create economic growth, provide social support, foster community development, and have valuable assets.

Furthermore, they mobilize large numbers of volunteers who contribute to these organizations but whose contributions are typically ignored in conventional accounting.

These organizations are critical to our diverse Canadian landscape, yet the business and economics textbooks of our high-school students and future leaders are strikingly silent about them.

Our research has focused upon the approved textbooks in Ontario's high school business and economics courses.

We haven't reviewed the major business programs in universities, but we know the terrain there is also relatively barren. Something is missing!

Jack Quarter and Laurie Mook are co-directors of the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto; Daniel Schugurensky is director of the collaborative graduate program in community development at the University of Toronto, and Erica McCollum is completing her MA at OISE/UT.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.