Poverty

International Women’s Day: Reinvigorating Marxist-Feminist Struggles in Canada

From Rebel Youth and written by a YCL comrade and friend

This March, the Young Communist League and the Communist Party of Canada will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) by expressing solidarity with the ongoing and past struggles of women. While IWD is widely celebrated in civil society today, often little is known about the holiday’s socialist roots. IWD would not have been possible without the struggles of socialist women.

The political activism of Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) and Luise Zietz (1865-1922) was particularly influential. Zetkin and Zietz were committed communists dedicated to organizing working class women and educating their male comrades on the importance of women’s struggles. They understood that the success of socialism depended on proletariat women and men “fight[ing] hand in hand…against capitalist society.”1 In August 1910 at a general meeting of the Second International, Zietz suggested holding an International Women’s Day to bring attention to equal rights, the suffrage and the struggles of working class women. Zetkin seconded the motion and over a hundred women from seventeen different countries voted in support of creating IWD. The next year on March 18 (chosen to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Paris Commune) the first IWD demonstrations were held in Europe. It was a tremendous success with an estimated 300 demonstrations being held across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1922, with the help of Zetkin, Lenin would name International Women’s Day an official communist holiday.

Since its formation in 1911 IWD has been used as a platform to rally the masses around a number of issues including exploitation, poverty and war. It is useful to revisit a couple examples here. In 1915 in Berne, Switzerland, Zetkin led socialist women from both neutral and warring countries in a demonstration against the ongoing destruction of World War I. Demonstrators distributed manifestos arguing that the working class had little to gain from the bourgeois war and called on women to organize in its opposition. Zetkin argued:

Who profits from this war? Only a tiny minority in each nation: The manufacturers of rifles and cannons, of armor-plate and torpedo boats, the shipyard owners and the suppliers of the armed forces’ needs. In the interests of their profits, they have fanned the hatred among the people, thus contributing to the outbreak of the war. The workers have nothing to gain from this war, but they stand to lose everything that is dear to them.2

In 1917, Alexandra Kollontai led one of the most dramatic IWD demonstrations in protest of the deteriorating living conditions in Russia. Women marched from the factories to the breadlines in protest of high food and rent prices and along the way they persuaded a number of male workers to join in solidarity with the march. The Czar felt so threatened by the women’s rebellion that two days later he ordered it to be stopped by means of gunfire if necessary.3

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Gender Wage Gap in Alberta Increasing

From Canadian Labour Reporter 

A new report from the Parkland Institute says the wage gap between men and women in Alberta is heading in the wrong direction.

According to the report from the University of Alberta research group, full-time working women earn about 37 per cent less per year than men.

When comparing the average total income in Alberta, women earn about 42 per cent less per year than men.

In comparison, the gender wage gap for full-time earners sits at about 20 per cent in Saskatchewan, 25 per cent in Quebec and 26 per cent in Ontario.

Ricardo Acuna, the executive director of the Parkland Institute, says the wage gap has been growing since 1993 and he worries the looming provincial budget will only make things worse.

Premier Jim Prentice has promised a tough budget that will reshape the foundations of how the province raises and spends money, a move prompted by the steep slide in the price of oil.

“Right now the premier is talking about changing things around, he’s talking about maybe cutting what we’re spending on the civil service, maybe rolling back civil service salaries,” says Acuna. “These are jobs that are predominantly held by women.”

Canadian Job Quality Sinks to Record Low

From Canadian Labour Reporter 

The quality of jobs in this country is fading fast, according to a new report from CIBC.

Released on March 5, CIBC’s latest employment quality index noted job quality in Canada is now at a record low, showing declines in all measures.

According to CIBC, its report indicates that the drop in job quality is “more structural than cyclical in nature and likely can’t be reversed by monetary policy.”

This mirrors the latest warnings from the Bank of Canada cautioning that the headline unemployment rate is not as rosy as perceived, added Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC and the study’s author.

“In many ways, the (Bank of Canada) has a point. Our measure of employment quality is now at a record low, suggesting that the composition of employment is suboptimal,” Tal said. “But a closer examination of the trajectories of our index’s subcomponents suggests that the bank’s prescribed remedy of low and lower interest rates might not cure what ails the labour market.”

Since the 1980s, the number of part-time jobs has risen much faster than the number of full-time jobs, which Tal explained is often seen as the most important measure of employment quality.

Another contributing factor is that self employment versus paid employment was also skewed. Over the past 25 years, the number of self-employed workers has been on a steep decline, but in the last year grew at a rate of four times faster than the number of paid employees.

“While full-time paid-employment jobs are on average of higher quality than part-time and self-employment jobs, not all full-time paid-employment jobs were created equal,” Tal went on to say. “The number of low-paying full-time jobs has risen faster than the number of mid-paying jobs, which in turn, has risen faster than the number of high-paying jobs.”

CIBC’s report also revealed that job quality has already taken a hit in Alberta, falling three per cent by the end of December 2014. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have seen similar declines, with Ontario falling by four per cent. However, British Columbia, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec have bucked the trend and seen an increase in quality.

There are implications for unions, Tal explained, saying that the fastest growing segment of the labour market is also the one with the weakest bargaining power.

“That works to weaken the link between labour market performance and aggregate wage gains,” he added.

BC Budget 2015: Government of the Rich, By the Rich, For the Rich

Commentary from the Communist Party of BC

February 17 was Budget Day in British Columbia, and the corporate media dutifully lauded Finance Minister Mike de Jong for bringing in a surplus, plus “a few small tax breaks for families” and so-called “modest increases” for health care and education.

The reality is that working class and low-income British Columbians were hit hard again by Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals, while the wealthy get a major financial boost.

Virtually the only good news is that people on income or disability assistance will finally be able to keep child support payments which until now have been seized by the government. Thanks to a powerful campaign by anti-poverty groups, this vicious clawback is finally gone, resulting in a net benefit to several thousand poor families adding up to $13 million per year.

This amount is dwarfed by the elimination of the temporary personal income tax rate of 16.8 per cent on individuals earning over $150,000, as of next January. That slightly higher tax bracket for the wealthy elite was introduced by Premier Clark two years ago, in an effort to create some political distance from the elitist image of her predecessor, Gordon Campbell. Apparently the rich have now endured sufficient pain; the move to phase out this tax bracket will put an estimated $200 million per year into the bank accounts of the wealthiest 2 percent of the population – more than 17 times the clawback “gift” to the lowest income British Columbians.

Similarly, the budget contains no help for those who need it most – minimum wage earners and those on social or disability assistance, whose rates have been frozen for eight years while the cost of living keeps climbing. The Finance Minister ignored the bi-partisan committee of MLAs who held pre-budget consultations, and unanimously recommended a comprehensive poverty reduction plan, and a review of income assistance rates and the minimum wage.

The Liberals will spend $516 million on tax credits to corporations this fiscal year, compared to just $460 million for the combined total of tax transfers to low-income individuals (the sales tax credit, the early childhood tax benefit, the low income climate action benefit, and the seniors home renovation tax credit).

Following the strategy of the Harper Tories, the BC Liberals are using targetted tax breaks to troll for votes: a one-time training and education savings grant of $1,200 for children born since 2007, an “early childhood” tax benefit of $660 per year for children under six, and a new tax credit for spending on sports equipment, worth just $12.65 per child.

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Helping the Wealthy at Your Expense

From NUPGE

A recent study (link is external) by Jonathan Rhys Kesselman, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Public Finance with the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University and who is a fellow at the Broadbent Institute, shows doubling the amount people can contribute to a tax free savings account is Robin Hood in reverse. Poor and middle-income Canadians will pay so the wealthy can get more.

You need $200,000 a year to benefit

According to the study, Double Trouble: The Case Against Expanding Tax-Free Savings Accounts to get a significant benefit from the increase in tax free savings account limits people will need an income of at least $200,000 per year.

It’s not hard to figure out why. Most of us don’t have a lot left over once we’ve paid for things like housing, groceries and a car or bus pass. For what we are able to save, the existing tax deductions for tax free savings accounts and RRSPs are more than enough.

$24.5 billion less for services like health care and education

But while most of us won’t benefit, we will pay for any increase in the tax free savings account limit. It’s estimated that the cost of this tax break will grow to the point where it’s costing $24.5 billion a year — $15.5 billion from the federal government and $9 billion from provincial governments.

One of the biggest myths politicians peddle is that tax cuts for the wealthy don’t cost anything,” said James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). “We pay a huge price for those tax cuts through things like user fees, longer wait times in hospitals and higher college or university tuition for our children.”

We get more from public services than from tax breaks

While it was beyond the scope of the report, the reality for most families is that we all benefit more from a dollar put into improving public services than a dollar spent on tax breaks. For a household with a median income, the value of the public services they use will be 63 per cent of their income. So when there is a surplus, why not put it into services that make life more affordable for everyone?

Ontario Judges Declare that Housing is Not a Human Right

From People’s Voice

The first week of 2015 was bitterly cold in Toronto. The first week also saw the homeless population of the city decline ‑ not due to the housing policies of newly elected mayor, John Tory, or better affordability of rental housing. It dropped because two of Toronto’s homeless froze to death.

Mayor Tory and his Public Health department argued about when an “extreme cold weather alert” should be announced, and by whom. Tory also announced that two additional warming centres would be opened. Activists in the Ontario Coalition against Poverty (OCAP) saw this as a partial victory for their activities and pressure.

Torontonians responded by holding a candle‑light vigil by the bus shelter where the first homeless man was found frozen to death.

And the Toronto Star editorialized that the deaths “seem less a problem of flawed policy and more an error in judgement on the part of public health authorities.” (see “More flexibility is needed in issuing extreme cold weather alerts.” January 8, 2015)

But it was indeed the policies of the federal, provincial, and municipal governments that killed those two men, as well as the 158 people who died in Toronto’s shelters between between 2007 and 2013.

The vacancy rate in Toronto is 1.6%. A “healthy” vacancy rate, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), is 3%. Toronto’s official unemployment rate for adults is 8.8% while youth unemployment stands at17.6%. The national average is 7% and 13.4% respectively.

Federal governments over the last 20 years made it harder to receive unemployment insurance. There is still no national housing strategy, drawing the condemnation of United Nations. On any given night, 235,000 people in Canada are homeless. In the next three to five years federal subsidies to non‑profit co‑op housing will end. Thousands of families living in rent‑geared‑to income units will face eviction.

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The Rich Get Richer Again

From People’s Voice

Welcome to 2015. Unless you are Gerry Schwartz or another one of Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs, you actually have to work for a living. Or perhaps you are retired or a student, having worked all your life or hoping to land a decent job. In either case, Mr. Schwartz and his pals earned more before lunchtime on the first working day of January than you will during this entire year… on average, of course. If you have a higher‑paying job than most, it could take one of the top 100 until quitting time to match your 2015 income. On the other hand, a minimum wage earner was left in the dust by morning coffee break.

The annual CEO pay review published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) drives the corporate elite bonkers. It’s not fair, whines the Fraser Institute: the CCPA counts stock options and other perks as compensation! Even worse, the CCPA leaves out lower-paid executives, who would drag the CEO average figures down to “reasonable” levels.

Oh, boo hoo. Mr. Schwartz was paid $87.9 million in 2013, but even Number 100 took home $4.14 million, an increase of 30% over the 2008 figure. Working people were smacked hard by the capitalist crisis of 2007‑08. But after an initial drop, pay for the top 100 soon rebounded to pre-crisis glory days, to an average $9.2 million, or 195 times the average Canadian income of $47,358. These big bosses “earned” 237 times the average salary of women employees, showing that some things really never change.

And here’s another nugget to consider: 43 of the top 100 CEOs have a defined benefit pension plan worth an average of $1.39 million a year, and 75 received stock options as part of their 2013 pay package, worth an average of $3.16 million.

Yes, it’s tough for the ultra‑rich when their wealth is exposed for the world to see. Before long, people will start talking about taxing the greedy, not the needy. Will the horror never end?

By the Numbers: The Wealth Gap

From UFCW

Toronto – January 14, 2015 – According to a new poll by the Broadbent Institute, an overwhelming majority of Canadians believe income inequality has worsened in the last decade. To address this inequality, 73% of those polled say that the government can – and should – do something to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

67.4%

The wealthiest fifth of Canadians, or top 20% hold, more than two-thirds (67.4%) of the wealth in Canada.

0.1%

While the wealthiest fifth hold more than two-thirds of the economic wealth in the country, the poorest fifth, or bottom 20% – own almost no share at all; just 0.1%.

91%

An overwhelming number of Canadians (91%) believe that income inequality exists in Canada.

80%

Four out of five Canadians believe that the gap between the rich and everyone else has widened over the last decade.

73%

Three in four Canadians (73%) believe the government can do something to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else.

75%

Three out of four Canadians support increasing corporate tax rates back to pre-2008 levels to address inequality.

62%

More than half of all Canadians support taxing capital gains and stock options at the same rate as wages to address inequality

80%

Four of the five Canadians support increasing the federal income tax rate on the highest income bracket.

83%

Percentage of those polled who object to further tax cuts tax cuts that may increase the gap between the rich and everyone else

68%

Percentage of those polled who support an increase in funding for social assistance to low-income Canadians.

69%

Seven out of 10 Canadians support a publicly funded national child care program to address income inequality.