Tag Archives: CLC

Right position for NDP on Venezuela is a left one

What should the leader of Canada’s left wing party say about what’s happening in Venezuela? Here are a few suggestions: “Canada should respect international law in its dealings with Venezuela.” Or, “Canada shouldn’t select the president of Venezuela.” How about, “The US has a long history of overthrowing governments in Latin America and Canada should never take part.”

Any (or all) of these statements would be clear, reasonable positions for a social democratic party that claims to be in favour of international law and to represent the interests of ordinary people, rather than billionaires, to express. Instead, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has issued vague, contradictory words about the Liberal government’s aggressive effort to topple Venezuela’s elected president.

Over the past two years Justin Trudeau’s government has steadily ramped up their campaign to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government. Ottawa has adopted illegal sanctionssupported opposition groups, built an anti-Venezuela regional coalition, pressured Caribbean countries to join their campaign and taken a complaint about the Venezuelan government to the International Criminal Court. Last week it recognized a little-known opposition politician — who has never garnered even 100,000 votes — as president of the country. And before making this Trumpian, anti-democratic, over-the-top-interference-in-another-country’s-internal-affairs decision, Canadian diplomats spent months preparing the move with the opposition to ratchet up tensions in the South American country. It seems the “Trudeau Doctrine” has been proclaimed, similar in purpose to the USA’s “Munroe Doctrine” first issued in 1823.

All of which should have offered a wonderful opportunity for a political party of the left to differentiate itself from the pro-big business, pro-American, pro-imperialist Liberals. But, despite Ottawa openly violating the UN and Organization of American States charters, the NDP leadership has barely mustered any criticism of Canadian policy. After Ottawa recognized National Assembly head Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela last week Jagmeet Singh tweeted a largely meaningless general message. Under pressure from activists — and with NDP MP Niki Ashton, as well as current candidates Svend Robinson and Jessa McLean, making much stronger interventions —the party subsequently published a slightly better statement.

The Canadian Green and Communist parties’ statements are far better. So are those released by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canadian Labour Congress, Vancouver and District Labour Council, Common Frontiers, Rights Action, Kingston Peace Council, Hugo Chavez People’s Defence Front, Canadian Network on Cuba, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and the NDP Courage Coalition.

While many of the party’s activists are probably confused by the leadership’s indifference to Canada’s push for a coup/invasion, NDP foreign-policy is run by a former Canadian diplomat who has aligned herself with Venezuela’s far right. A year ago I published an article Canadian Dimension titled “Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?” Among numerous criticisms of Venezuela’s government, foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière called the vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.” Laverdière should have been removed as foreign critic the day after repeating this obviously absurd claim from Venezuela’s lunatic far right. (In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus submitted a motion to last February’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”)

Beyond Laverdière, the party leadership is largely aligned with the foreign policy establishment or those, as long time NDP MP Libby Davies put it, who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs. As I detail in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada, the party leadership fears corporate media backlash and only challenges official international policy when activists force the issue. (Can you imagine if the NDP never challenged government policy inside Canada? There would be no reason, aside from providing a third set of faces, for the party to exist.)

On Venezuela the party leadership would probably prefer the issue simply disappear from public discussion. But, that’s unlikely. The Liberal government has made Venezuela, reports the Globe and Mail, “one of the government’s top foreign policy priorities.” In a town hall speech on Thursday that Global News headlined “Trudeau says clause in Venezuela constitution shows Guaido is interim president”, the PM boasted that “I’ve been making calls to a significant number of global leaders” (including the heads of France, Spain, Ireland, Colombia, Italy and the EU) to convince them to join their campaign against Venezuela.

For his part, Donald Trump, reports the Wall Street Journal, has “long viewed Venezuela as one of his top three foreign-policy priorities, including Iran and North Korea.” The clique of extremists driving US policy have set up a situation that may require an invasion to succeed.

On Monday the “Lima Group” of governments opposed to Venezuela’s elected government are meeting in Ottawa. A protest is planned there, as well as in at least two other Canadian cities. Before the “Lima Group” summit the NDP should release a statement challenging Canada’s coup planning and Niki Ashton, or another MP, should be allowed to speak at the rally.

It’s not too late to do the right thing.

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The world needs more union involvement in foreign affairs

Unions are a force for good in the world. Too bad not all of them are a force for good everywhere in the world.

Canadian unions are largely indifferent to international affairs. And when they engage it’s rarely to challenge Ottawa’s foreign policy.

Over the Labour Day weekend the Ontario Federation of Labour and some affiliates published a 14-page supplement in the Toronto Star highlighting the union movement’s progressive face. It discussed Indigenous and LGTBQ rights as well as racism and domestic violence and the fight for a $15 minimum wage, improved work standards and pharmacare. The stories and ads in the supplement also touched on improved patient care and public education as well as climate change.

But, there was barely a mention of the rest of the world. The only exception was a few words about legislation in New Zealand giving victims of domestic violence time off. There was nothing about international workers rights, let alone Canada’s role in enforcing an unjust global economic order.

Between April 2012 and July 2014 I worked for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), which merged with the Canadian Auto Workers during this period to create Unifor. In my position as CEP researcher I was assigned to meetings about Employment Insurance and the Canadian Pension Plan as well asFriends of Medicare and the Canadian Social Forum. The leadership also gave me considerable latitude to write articles (under the president’s name) criticizing exorbitant CEO pay, master servant relations at work andthe social/health impacts of inequality as well as calling for a public telecommunications provider. Yet, even though I’d written a handful of books about Canadian foreign policy, the CEP had little use for my experience in this domain. I only did one minor project related to foreign policy.

While they challenge corporate power on many domestic issues, unions generally remain silent on international affairs. In fact, it’s often worse than that. The ‘House of Labour’ and individual unions have often echoed official policy.

My new book Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canadadetails unions support for the creation of NATO, Korean War, assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Bay of Pigs invasion, etc.. For decades unions openly backed Canadian participation in British and US imperialism. Antiwar and international solidarity activism in the late 1960s and 1970s significantly shifted unions’ alignment. But, the 2004 coup in Haiti offers an example of labour openly supporting imperialism. Québec unions assisted the Canadian/Québecois ruling class’ role in overthrowing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and thousands of other elected Haitian officials, which spurred widespread human rights violations.

The Canadian Labour Congress has extensive historic ties to External Affairs (Global Affairs Canada) and has received much of its international relations budget from the official aid agency. CLC ties to government-backed institutes and NGOs have also shaped unions’ international policies and statements. For instance, the CLC has long been represented on the board of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC),an umbrella group representing dozens of major government funded development NGOs (a representative of the United Steelworkers is currently on its board). To get a sense of their politics, the CCIC often invites Canada’s aid minister to speak at its annual conference and the promotion for its upcoming congress is an embarrassing sop to its government financiers. It notes: “Inspired by Justin Trudeau’s 2015 proclamation ‘Canada is Back’, we are presenting panels that illustrate or challenge Canada’s role in global leadership. Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?” Formulating the discussions this way ignores Trudeau’sarms sales to Saudi Arabia,backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments,antagonism towards Palestinian rights,efforts to topple the Venezuelan government,refusal to support nuclear weapons controls, etc.

In A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and ExploitationI outlined the main obstacles Canadians face in understanding their country’s role in world affairs. Every year the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs and Global Affairs Canada spend hundreds of millions of dollars articulating a one-sided version of Canadian foreign policy. In addition to massive PR departments, DND andGAC also operate history departments, university initiatives and their own media.Alongside government communications initiatives, international and military focused corporations finance university programs, think tanks and PR efforts. Additionally, the corporate media (and CBC/Radio Canada) only permit a narrow spectrum of opinion regarding Canadian foreign policy.

The structure of influencing what we perceive about the world outlined in A Propaganda Systemis 90 percent of the answer to why Canadians think their country is a force for good in the world. But, the broad left has also played a part in justifying Canada’s role within an unfair and unsustainable world economic system.

Organized labour’s failure to forthrightly challenge foreign policy decisions is one element in the multifaceted, self-reinforcing, dynamic that yields popular ignorance of Canada’s role in the world.

Unions can and should do much better. An injury to one is an injury to all, no matter which part of the planet we are from.

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