Ken Coran: A Working Class Hero is something to Be

June 30, 2013 at 2:43 am (Uncategorized) ()

In Ontario last year, in an effort to prove who knows what, the Liberal government turned on its teacher allies. For years, since the days of Mike Harris’ Conservatives, the Liberals could count on education unions endorsing and giving money to their candidates and providing foot soldiers for their campaigns.

So it must have been a bit of a shock then, when the government announced they wanted teachers to voluntarily accept wage freezes (actually roll-backs), and other concessions. Well, OK, but the government added a kicker: if the unions didn’t accept this deal, the government would pass a law making them. In other words, commit suicide or we’ll kill you.

After a war of words, but very little in practical terms, the law was passed, the conditions the government wanted were imposed and that was that. In the meantime, the premier, Dalton McGuinty, resigned and a new leader was chosen.

The Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation played a shrewd game. While Elementary were the radicals apparently about to break the law in illegal wildcats (they didn’t), OSSTF engaged in rhetoric but did very little. Nevertheless OSSTF leader Ken Coran publicly took responsibility for driving McGuinty out of office and for Liberal defeats in by-elections last September. It was curious to some then that OSSFT still gave money to various Liberal leadership candidates. Not as strange as the news today that Ken Coran who is, until the end of June, still OSSTF leader will be running for the Liberals in a by-election.

Now there will be some who argue that Coran will be better in a position to influence policy from the inside. Most though will see Coran as a traitor to the cause. Me? No, I don’t see him as a traitor. A traitor is someone who betrays you. Who was your friend and joins the other side. Nah, Ken Coran was never the friend of the teachers, and neither are the unions. They are the cop in the workplace. There to enforce the rule. Oh sure, they squawk a little about certain things, but fundamentally they are no different. Opportunist. Sure. A hypocrite in light of his earlier rhetoric, absolutely. A traitor not for a long time.

Plus ca change.





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Music Notes June 2013

June 29, 2013 at 10:20 pm (Uncategorized) ()

After the last couple of columns about old stuff, here’s New Music Month! New Music Month! And videos too!

1. Sudden Death of Stars – “I’m not among Believers”

The joke about Cornershop was they were the Jesus and Mary Chain with sitars. OK, how about Spacemen 3 with sitars. My general preference is young, loud and snotty, but there’s something about drone that hooks me in.

2.Sigur Ros – Kveikur

OK, to tell you the truth, I can’t remember any song title let alone pronounce one by Sigur Ros. Nevertheless, as I said about the drone thing, there’s something hypnotic about them. I heard one album ad before I knew it I was getting all of them and learning whatever I could about Iceland. The video is from the Tonight show.

3. Primal Scream – 2013

The first track on Primal Scream’s new record More Light is a return to form. After the back step of Riot City Blues and the sidestep of Beautiful Future, both of which had their moments, this is the Scream back on top. Great song and a creepy video with bondage and butterflies (they’re beautiful insects, but they also weird me out)

4. Beat Mark – “What I want the most”

A pop group from Paris that simultaneously sounds as if they are a Brit indie-pop band recording in California. I’ll admit I’ve not been fond of French pop, but the stuff is growing on me (yeah, I know this is Anglo sounding, but I stand by my point)

5. Noah and the Whale – “Heart of Nowhere”

OK, like the violin, and the song is catchy, but for me the appearance of Anna Calvi on the record is the real reason to listen. New album coming soon.

6. Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo – Dear River

The new record from the tremendously talented Ms. Baker is out on July 8. Please listen. Please buy.

7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Mermaids

While Grinderman was sweaty, gritty fun, this is really the sort of thing I expect from Nick Cave. These immensely sad, personal songs. Quite beautiful. I’m not religious, but who can resist a line like “I believe in the rapture because I’ve seen your face…”?

8.  Nine Inch Nails – Come Back Haunted

I’m adding this one even though I don’t really like it. To my ears, it’s not terrible, but for the first half it’s unremarkable, and only serves to highlight how much more interesting Rezner’s side project How to Destroy Angels is. Oh, and WARNING: The Video is full of strobe effects which can cause seizures in some. Directed by David Lynch though.

9. M.I.A. – Bring the Noize

For a moment I dared to hope it was a cover of the Public Enemy song, but hey, it’s fun M.I.A. stuff. Electronica, rap, eye-straining visuals, profanity, odd politics etc. (Hey Richard – if you still read this blog let me know what you think)

10. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Sacrilege”

Ooh, a video withoout Karen and the boys. Had to watch it twice to work it out. Lovely song though.

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OK, One Last Dig at Thatcher

June 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm (Uncategorized) ()

I was at the public library today rumaging through the magazine section when I saw the cover of The Economist after Thatcher died. I did a double-take when I read the headline “Freedom Fighter,” but you know they probably didn’t mean it in  the same way as I initially read it.

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A Victimless Crime?

June 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm (Uncategorized)

Last night I finished watching the third season of Justified, an enormously entertaining crime drama starring Timothy Olyphant, set in Harlan Country, Kentucky and based on an Elmore Leonard story.  (Also has a theme song by Gangerstergrass, but I digress).

I showverdosed the season, burning through the 13 episodes in a few days, but at the start of each disk, I received an FBI warning that piracy was NOT a victimless crime. Now my wife and I thought about this. We came to the conclusion that it must refer to the concept of corporate personhood, where by corporations are people too. Uh huh. Hard to really shed a tear for them though.

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June 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I lived in Calgary for two years in the 1990s. I suppose if I were still there and blogging, this would be called Notes from Under Water. It’s surreal to see the streets of Calgary (and I lived downtown) under that much water. True, the Bow River was about half a mile from my apartment, but still…

On the other hand, without wanting to seem uncharitable or unsympathetic, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to call it, as did Alberta premier Alison Redford, “a tragedy.”  Especially since the news reports from India suggest as many as 1,000 may have died as a result of flooding there.

I moved to Calgary for a job in 1996. The job lasted two months, but we decided to stay. Two years later, we returned to Toronto.

When I left Toronto for the west, I could probably be described as a critical Trotskyist in transition to something else. The previous year I had quit the International Bolshevik Tendency, but was still broadly supportive (two months before I moved, I had sold the IBT press at one of the Days of Action rallies).Still, I was also a subscriber to the Discussion Bulletin and Collective Action Notes and was beginning to discover what I would later identify as council communism.

The left in Toronto is large, and has a large Trotskyist contingent. the left in Calgary does not. It took me a few months to discover the variants. It was not large.

  • The Communist Party – the Party as in other parts of the country had shrunk dramatically. Most of the members were elderly, but a few younger members had organized something called the Marxist Study Group which was less a party forum than a discussion circle.
  • The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) – I first encountered the CPC (ML) when I was a student in Hamilton. While the “Bainsites” were no longer pro-Albanians, they still seemed to have the quirky cult features down pat (the obits for leader Hardial Bains makes the ones Stalin wrote for Lenin perfectly normal).
  • The New Democratic Party – A little to the left of the regular party given its marginalization. There was also something called Prairie Rose News, promoted by NDPers
  • Labour Council – Made up of a mixture of the above. Generally open to anyone who wanted to be involved.
  • Food Not Bombs – the local @ group. I hung out with them, even though I was two decades older than most of them.
  • Me. I started to publish Red & Black Notes while I was living there

I should also mention that Edmonton, the provincial capital three hours to the north and known locally as Redmonton because they sometimes elected Liberals and New Democrats also had a socialist challenge group which was in the process of merging with the New Socialist Group and a member of Socialist Action. The International Socialists often listed contacts in each city, but it was usually a student writing to them and when they graduated that was that.

The odd thing about the left in Calgary was that possibly due to the seemingly totalitarian nature of the province’s view of opposition (“Alberta: love it or leave it”), we all more or less got along. There didn’t seem to be much of the bitterness and generally arsehole-like behaviour found in Toronto. Of course, the Spartacists weren’t there (sorry, cheap, but not entirely inaccurate shot)

While I was there, I worked on a couple of strike supports locally and helped organize tours for members of Women of the Waterfront and the Detroit newspaper workers.  We raised thousands of dollars for both.

In April 1998, I moved back to Toronto.

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Hannelore Headley Old and Fine Books

June 18, 2013 at 7:12 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

For the first two years that I lived in Canada, I was in St. Catharines, Ontario. St. Catharines is the sort of town with a great future behind it. The big industry is GM, but when that plant eventually closes that will be in. You can see the town decaying just by driving on its streets.

But I digress. 

I bought my first copy of Marx there. A copy of the Communist Manifesto from Coles in the Penn Centre. It felt very special reading it, although I’ve no doubt I didn’t understand much of it then (I hope I do now).

Some time after that, I made a trip downtown to visit a used bookstore a friend had mentioned. Hannelore Headley’s used bookstore on Queen Street was, well, something to be experienced. Crammed into a relatively small space, with what seemed to be almost no order within the sections were thousands and thousands of books. From floor to ceiling in precarious piles and old bookcases. Every inch of the store was filled with books. Over the years as I returned to the store more books filled it, but the level of chaos seemed about the same.

I left that day with a copy of Marx’s critique of Proudhon The poverty of Philosophy   and Lenin’s The Alliance of the Working Class and Peasantry. I later bought more Marx and Lenin, Alexander Berkman, Mao Tse-Tung (a Lin Biao edition of the Red book), Crane Brinton, and countless more. Science fiction, poetry, drama, history etc.

Eventually a second location was opened on St. Paul street a few blocks away. Despite the bigger premises, the new store followed the same organizational pattern. It was the archetype used bookstore. No best sellers, but if you were lucky, you might find that book you’d been searching for.

I got an email this morning from my mum telling that Hannelore had passed away last weekend. I never spoke more than a few words to her whenever I bought stuff, and I hadn’t been in the store for years, but that store was an important resource for me in St. Catharines. I’ll miss her and that time. 

Here’s the notice from the local paper.

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Trotsky and Lasalle on The Movement

June 17, 2013 at 11:25 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

I was a Trotskyist of one sort or another from approximately 1985 to 1995. In my final phase (and also the longest) I was a member of the (now International) Bolshevik Tendency.

We took our Trotsky seriously. We read and studied all of Lev’s important works, but not just Results and Prospects, but his analysis of fascism, the united front, Stalinism and the Spanish Revolution. After I left the group, I sold some of my Trotsky back to them, but kept the main books.  My mate who bought them remarked that it was the 12 volume Writings dating from 1929 to 1940 that were the most valuable. It was the bickering, there really is no other word, among the Trotskyist groups that was the most serious study. As such, it was the PARTY-ist Trotsky rather than the heretic who is best known.

The other day I absent-mindedly picked up Trotsky’s book 1905 and thumbed through it. I came across this very interesting quotation:

“You are perfectly right in saying,” Lassalle wrote to Marx in 1854, at a time of extreme world reaction, “that the present apathy cannot be overcome by theoretical means. I would go so far in extrapolating this thought as to say that apathy has never been overcome by purely theoretical means, that is, the theoretical overcoming of political apathy produced disciples, sects or unsuccessful practical movements, but has never yet produced either a real world movement or a universal mass movement of minds. The masses are drawn into the current of a movement, not only practically but also intellectually, by the dynamic force of real events alone.”

1905 “Our Differences” (Chapter 25)

Trotsky approvingly quotes Lassalle criticising Menshevik opportunism. In my councilist days, I would have adored this quotation. I still like it although my focus has changed a little. But it’s very interesting given that Trotsky’s’ later evolution (and Lassalle’s for that matter) was the notion that the movement could be created by the party. In his book What Next? about the rise of fascism in Germany,

The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a program; the program cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party. The class, taken by itself, is only material for exploitation. The proletariat assumes an independent role only at that moment when from a social class in itself it becomes a political class for itself This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious.

The Struggle against Fascism in Germany

I was once a great admirer of Trotsky. Even now, while that appreciation of his politics has all but disappeared, his History of the Russian REvolution is a marvellous book (even if a great part of that his Trotsky’s skill as a writer). I wonder what would have happened if Trotsky had not accepted Bolshevism. Who knows what might have happened.

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Oh Yeah, Father’s Day (and I updated some links)

June 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm (Uncategorized)

I view Father’s Day as a Hallmark Holiday. Yeah, yeah, I’m unable to escape my scoialization and will be calling my own dad  later today, but essentailly it’s just an excuse for retailers to guilt-trip us into buying stuff. If you have any doubt then check out any of the fliers that were stuffed through your mail box this week encouraging you to spend hundreds of dollars (or more) for the perfect gift for dad.

Uh huh.

The boy made me a bookmark at school, and there’s talk of the girl making pancakes.

Me? Well, it’s pouring with rain, so the outdoor Amadou and Mariam show looks unlikely. I’m going to spend some time getting ready for work, and I did update some of the links on the blog.

Have a look at the work of Richard Sala .

Terror from Outer Space

Sala is the author of such delightful books as The Chuckling Whatsit, Mad Night and the GRave Digger’s Daughter. Lovely.

I’ve also added a link to Recomposition, (notes for a new workerism), and the Jacobin Magazine (leftist, but not uninteresting)

Enjoy Sunday, and if you cann avoid thinking about Monday, so much the better.

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Pre-Summer Blues

June 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm (Uncategorized)

What was it John Lennon said, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making plans. This is one of the busiest times of the year for me, so I feel as if life, plans and everything have been put on hold for that dog called work (and there I do recognize, that’s a gross insult to all canines)

As a result, I haven’t written much here recently. But that’s all about to change. I’m traditionally under-employed in the summer, so that means lots of time to write and read and catch up on life. Of course, it also means less money, so there’s lots of anxiety too. Swings and roundabouts, swings and roundabouts.

Anyway, if you live in the Toronto area, check out the Luminato Festival this week. Tomorrow, yes I know it’s Father’s Day, you really should check out Amadou and Mariam at the hub near the CBC building on King Street. It’s free.

More soon.


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WSWS on Rob Ford

June 8, 2013 at 3:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Ah, I’ve been thinking about writing something about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for a while now. Ford was a suburban Toronto councilor who for years has advocated a ‘respect the tax-payer’ populism and projects himself as an everyman standing up for the little guy (even though much of this is made possible by the fact he is independently wealthy). Ford won the 2011 Mayoralty election on this basis, but has stumbled through blunder after blunder even as he has pushed a predictable austerity agenda.

But it’s this last that’s interesting. While the city’s powers-that-be don’t disagree with Ford’s goals (despite a few irrationalities), they seem to be deserting Ford in search of a , well, smoother, less controversial man who doesn’t threaten the broader goals simply by being himself.

Still, maybe some people can profit from this. If I were a comedy writer, I would never want Ford to go away. US late night TV hosts are having a field day over Toronto’s alleged crack-smoking gaffe prone mayor. And there are opportunities for leftists too. A few weeks back at the Montreal anarchist bookfair, an IWW comrade suggested half-jokingly people should sell “Free Rob Ford” t-shirts. Not a bad business venture; the irony mindful left could buy them, and Ford’s supporters too.

Until then, here’s a column from the World Socialist Web Site.


Toronto elite ostracizes right-wing mayor who served as their hatchet man

By Dylan Lubao
8 June 2013

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford—a right-wing populist, “law and order” advocate, and champion of the police—continues to be dogged by a drug scandal and politically shaken by defections from his administration.

The city’s big business elite, which promoted Ford as their hatchet man in slashing public services and attacking city workers, has signaled that they now view him as a political liability, whose hotheadedness and multiple scandals have become an impediment to prosecuting their class war agenda.

Expressing the prevailing mood among the ruling elite, Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne said last week that she was “worried about the situation” and vowed to monitor it “very carefully” and intervene “as appropriate.” Dwight Duncan, the recently retired Ontario Liberal finance minister-turned-businessman, called for the mayor’s resignation in no uncertain terms, citing the potentially harmful effect of the scandal on the Toronto economy.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and provincial Tory leader Tim Hudak, both prominent Ford allies, have maintained an embarrassed silence. Tory House Leader Jim Wilson distanced the party from the mayor’s older brother, City Councilor Doug Ford, who was recently “outed” in an exhaustive Globe and Mail exposé as an alleged drug dealer in his youth. Responding to the elder Ford’s much-discussed intention to run under the Tory banner for a seat in the provincial legislature, Wilson declared, “He is not our candidate.”

Underscoring the kinship between the Ford administration and the Harper government, Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, another Ford ally and family friend, reportedly met the mayor in private last weekend to counsel him on “personal” matters. Flaherty and the late family patriarch Doug Ford Sr. served together as Tory members of the provincial parliament in the late 1990s under arch right-winger Premier Mike Harris.

Ford—who was accused last month of having been recorded smoking crack cocaine while spouting racist and homophobic epithets in an video peddled by “Somali gangsters” to local and online media outlets—has witnessed his political support at city hall shrivel. Councilors Doug Holyday and Gary Crawford, who serve on Ford’s executive committee, have publicly said that they believe the video exists. Holyday previously led half of the executive in demanding that Ford respond “openly and transparently” to the allegations against him.

In the last two weeks, about a third of Mayor Ford’s staff have resigned or been dismissed. Ford fired his chief of staff Mark Towhey, reportedly because he had suggested the mayor go into rehab. Five other staffers have resigned. Ford has brought in replacements, including Eric Provost, Towhey’s former second-in-command, who has been elevated to chief of staff. Provost, a Liberal campaign specialist, has worked for former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, a fact that speaks to the essentially porous border between rival camps of the Canadian political elite.

The Globe, the traditional mouthpiece of Canada’s banks and investment dealers stepped up its attacks on the mayor, in an editorial this week that labeled Ford a “toxic political liability” and called for a less polarizing, “fiscally conservative” candidate to run for mayor in the 2014 civic elections. Giving voice to the ruling elite’s hopes to use the scandal enveloping Ford to fashion a more effective right-wing administration, Globe columnist Konrad Yakabuski admonished the mayor for failing to implement the full gamut of social spending cuts expected of him, including steeper cuts in city workers’ wages.

In the face of dwindling big business and Conservative support and much public outrage, Ford remains defiant, “absolutely” vowing to weather the scandal and run for reelection in 2014. Reports indicating that the infamous video has now “disappeared” seem to have emboldened the mayor, who has claimed to be the victim of a smear campaign by media “maggots.”

The right-wing Toronto Sun tabloid, a devoted Ford enthusiast, has remained largely silent since imploring him to step aside if the allegations of drug use were true.

The conservative National Post, which backed Ford in 2010 and initially expressed dismay at Ford’s failure to provide a “serious explanation” for the accusations, now seems guardedly ambivalent about his clinging to office, despite reports from a right-wing insider that “Bay Street has abandoned him (Ford)” and are “looking for a new conservative candidate…to put their money behind.”

Several names have been advanced within ruling class circles as a suitable successor to Ford, with both “right” and ”left” candidates being groomed to take on the job of imposing austerity on working people, while pushing through the transportation infrastructure upgrades needed to make the city’s economy a reliable producer of profit for big business. The potential candidates include the aptly named former Progressive Conservative leader John Tory and New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, who assisted her late husband, Jack Layton, in presiding over the NDP’s further lurch right.

Notorious for flouting city rules, shirking official responsibilities, and insulting immigrants, gays, the homeless and city workers, Ford has survived two earlier charges of wrongdoing. In January, a conflict of interest conviction that resulted in his being ordered to step down as mayor was overturned on a technicality. The next month, he received a slap on the wrist for overspending on his election campaign.

The consensus among the ruling elite, indicated by copious testimony in the corporate press, is that Rob Ford, the multimillionaire who fashioned a political persona as a spokesman of “working Joes,” has long passed his best-before date.

While the specifics of Ford’s unraveling are surprising, Toronto’s elite has long been aware of Ford’s ignorant and reactionary views and of his cavalier and petulant behaviour—behaviour that had alienated him from much of the right-wing faction at city hall during his ten years as a city councilor. But determined to push politics sharply to the right, the elite promoted Ford, seeking to use him to build a popular constituency for a socially regressive agenda aimed at redistributing wealth to the most privileged sections of Toronto’s population through tax and social spending cuts.

Ford and the austerity agenda that he has championed have faced mass working-class opposition throughout his tenure as mayor. But the official left in Toronto, the unions and the social-democratic NDP, and their liberal allies are utterly opposed to any mobilization of the social and independent political power of the working class. Their opposition to Ford has centered on scandalizing the public with exposures of his petty abuses of power and critiques of his buffoonish behaviour. To call attention to Ford’s class war policies, would call attention to their own complicity in carrying out the agenda of big business.

Rob Ford’s predecessor, the NDP and trade union-backed David Miller, presided over a dramatic infusion of wealth to the city’s financial elite through a series of generous property tax breaks, grants, subsidies and grossly undervalued business land assessments handed over to big commercial developers. In 2009, Miller forced a concessions-laden contract on 30,000 striking city workers. None of the city’s nominally progressive councilors raised a voice to defend the workers, whom the press vilified as “selfish” for fighting to safeguard their modest salaries. Campaigning in the 2010 election, Ford harnessed widespread popular anger against declining living standards by promising to lower taxes, while shamelessly lying that any cuts would only affect the “gravy train” on which city employees reputedly gorged. He was elected by only a quarter of total eligible voters.

When Ford moved to impose sweeping budget cuts and gut city worker contracts, the unions and “left” mounted only token opposition. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) deliberately separated the city workers’ struggle against the destruction of job security—a critical step toward the privatizing of public services—from the fight against the budget cuts. Then, with Ford threatening to hire strikebreakers to break any strike against the city’s concession demands, CUPE signed a concessions-laden agreement and told city workers that they would be “isolated” if they dared vote it down.

Having at every step facilitated Ford’s “victories,” the unions and NDP have invoked the right-wing threat represented by Ford and his provincial ally, Ontario Tory leader Tim Hudak, to intimidate the working class. In particular, they have invoked the Ford-Hudak tandem to justify their propping up a minority Ontario Liberal government that is slashing billions from social spending and has imposed sweeping concessions on the province’s teachers through legislative fiat.

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