The Constant Image Gardeners

As the somewhat freshly minted, seatless leader of the federal NDP, Jagmeet Singh is on a continuing mission to “visit communities to build momentum for the party’s brand and ideas” whilst compiling an extensive photo op folder. Singh is as photogenic as Trudeau Jr., perhaps more so, with social media forever bringing an end to the previous political style era of tragic comb overs, rumpled Eaton’s blazers and public smoking. Singh’s recent foray into the fruit and vegetable mines of southwestern Ontario was a beautifully framed masterpiece of visual symmetry; the eager well manicured rookie stands tall among the irrigation hoses, nary a leaf out of place. This image suggests at any minute he will be shedding the jacket to fill the flats behind him to the brim, ready for shipment by the skid load to warehouse shopping members nationwide. Undoubtedly on this day the ventilation system was cranked full bore before his arrival and the insecticide spraying put on hold for a while. The temporary foreign workers have been cleared off and given a brief respite from their work while their potential saviour gets the perfect shot for the growing Instagram portfolio. Was their pay docked during the stoppage? 

jagmeet_singh.jpg.size-custom-crop.1086x0

A group that represents the workers who slog it in this environment (so you don’t have to) are not particularly happy with Singh’s sunshine and lollypop spin on his fact finding mission. “This industry has basically been built on the blood sweat and sacrifices of low wage, racialized, precarious workers,” Justicia for Migrant Workers advocate Chris Ramsaroop said in the Toronto Star. Beyond the well worn Farmer/Labour mojo that Singh is trying to harness here, the history of agriculture in Canada has a dimension that remains hidden for the most part, until an event such as the carbon monoxide poisoning of 42 greenhouse workers in Delta BC grabs a headline for the weekend. An aerial view makes it very clear that this isn’t some Little House On The Prairie Ma and Pa outfit, it’s a factory that just happens to have plenty of natural light and colourful edibles within it instead of widgets and punch presses. 

delta greenhouse

Our agri-food system doesn’t like it when temporary foreign workers have down time. Injured and sick labourers are regularly taken off the job and sent back home if they can no longer cope with the grunt work that they were hired to do. Complaints about conditions, pay and ill treatment can lead to varying degrees of punishment. Harassment is rife both on the job and in the community. Gangsters regularly take a cut of some of the hardest earned wages in the nation. TFWs pay into Canadian benefits that they can never claim or access. There will be a fee for every ambulance ride required during this recent emergency which will put a divot in meagre savings, if there are any savings at all. It’s a tough, segregated, shitty life, with the potential of becoming a full fledged Canadian well out of reach of the majority. This award winning primer, Migrant Dreams, will make you pause for a moment the next time you are among the bags of peppers and poly pacs of on-the-vine tomatoes: 

https://tvo.org/video/documentaries/migrant-dreams-feature-version

Migrant-Dreams-poster

Moments like this add fuel to the great, never ending internal debate of the NDP; do they align with the workers and risk being branded unelectable pinkos or do they schmooze with the bosses and alienate the traditional base? With the temporary foreign workers out of the frame and unable to vote, it’s clear who the target was on this brand building mission. Here is a shot of some berry pickers in Milton from the Toronto Star a decade ago, the only mainstream media outlet in the nation to give the TFWs any regular ink. If the goal is to be firmly on the side of the working class in Canada, Singh will need to get the sleeves up and physically step into the gritty frame with the sweat, tears and toil. Until then his party should be prepared for the grumbling to continue. 

sikhs at andrews

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/12/05/migrant-workers-group-slams-ndps-singh-for-online-posts-on-farm-visit.html

https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/foreign-workers/median-wage/low/requirements.html

http://windsor.ctvnews.ca/ndp-leader-singh-goes-back-to-his-roots-1.3704622

http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/42-hospitalized-after-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-at-delta-farm

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/delta-carbon-monoxide-1.4441803

http://www.metronews.ca/news/canada/2017/10/02/can-the-ndp-new-leader-jagmeet-singh-become-our-next-pm.html

https://nowtoronto.com/news/why-jagmeet-singh-is-no-jack-layton/

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the-crumbling

In the midst of the all consuming vortex that was The Inauguration, Tom Mulcair went to Hamilton to visit with some retired steelworkers in their union hall. People tend to always call it The Hammer now but those of us of a certain vintage know the place as Steeltown and remember the particulate haze of its glory days. The federal NDP seems to be trying to get back to where it once belonged but it might be a bit late for Tom himself. It’s uncertain as to whether this trip was his initiative or something the party brass decided would be a good mission to rediscover it’s raison d’etre. It would be a welcome homecoming for those holding out for a political hero or two. 

The workers seem happy enough that someone is finally paying political attention to them. Thousands of pensioners at the once mighty Stelco are still left to wonder in the fallout of US Steel’s predatory assault on the business as to whether they will have a pension to survive on. U.S. Steel bought Stelco in 2007 and after years of asset stripping and beating it to within an inch of its life, it has been turned back over to a private equity investment firm called Bedrock, who have brought back the Stelco name. Fred Flinstone was not at the ribbon cutting. It is unlikely that Stelco 2 will become the powerhouse it once was but the legacy issue of the pensioners still needs sorting, among other things.

There is a striking difference in tone between the Liberals and NDP on the matter. Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Singh Bains has said he “hopes” the workers and pensioners are treated fairly. The NDP is saying that they must be. The signals would suggest that Mulcair and Co. have got their backs. They are hinting at the rebirth of the party of old that some of us remember you could always count on to represent the workers both current and retired in the political realm. But will it translate into action? 

As a young politicized punk kid light years ago, I dared to venture into the old Rubberworkers hall in Etobicoke to watch the travelling NDP leadership debate that eventually led to the election of Audrey McLaughlin, who replaced Ed Broadbent. This would not happen there now. New Toronto was brimming with industry then but as the ink was drying on the Free Trade Agreement that eventually became NAFTA, it was clear the trashing of the factories was looming large. The area once had the highest value of manufacturing per square mile in North America, now it’s vying for the most condos. If you squint you can see the ghosts of the workers. 

Many of these spirits are still living breathing people, trying to piece a life together in the fallout of the great industrial cave in. These are the folks that Trump so cleverly rallied in the USA, caught between the rubble of their old workplaces and a wifi driven world of artisanal cupcakes and overpriced coffee. There is plenty of spare real estate capacity on main street where the old-timers once bought vacuum bags and typewriter ribbons. Developers salivate at the thought of this languishing square footage, as every budding mogul aspires to be a baby Trump. Will the slide continue or will we see thee rise to challenge the wholesale neo liberal thrashing of the place? Hopefully somebody reliable will have our backs. The clock ticks on. 

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/7075914-mulcair-rallies-stelco-retirees-at-1005-meeting-in-hamilton/

The Corbynite Maneuver

My social media feeds have been aflame since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour party in the UK. Most Canucks would say “Jeremy Who?” and that’s understandable – as a dual citizen I probably pay a bit more attention than most to political goings on across the sea. I don’t really have a horse in the race but a lot of my friends both real and Facebook do. Over the past few days I’ve noticed something is afoot. Loads of disaffected Labour people have suspended their grievances and are heading back to their original political home. When New Labour under Tony Blair became America’s key partner in the Iraq War, numerous old school lefties quit the party in disgust. Some packed it prior to this due to Labour’s support of the first Gulf War in 1991. They bailed in droves and formed smaller factions that lacked any amount of mass political clout but that is rapidly reversing. Not everyone is pleased of course; if there is one thing The Left is exceedingly good at, it’s dishing out a critical beating on one of their own who doesn’t completely align with the vision of their faction. A unity candidate can only carry things so far but it looks as if the reunification of Labour is on. Scores of people like what they are hearing from the top and are returning to the fold. Dust off the banners from the days gone by and reprint the songbooks, the bike riding pinkos are returning to the village.

corbyn bicycle

Corbyn is the guy who hung around long enough that they finally had to give him top billing. He was first elected as an MP in 1983 and never gave up his firm socialist stance, which must have been tough in the “New” Labour era. The odds were very much against him to win the leadership but his landing 60% support on the first ballot says otherwise. He presents true to type, resembling and sounding like a seasoned Marxist political science professor with the demeanour of jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi. That he could still actually exist within an organization that had changed so thoroughly seems to be a part of what Labour-left people find refreshing about him. He’s very much a down to earth sort who doesn’t milk his title or give a shit as to how he is perceived by the media or establishment. Photos of him appeared taking the night bus from parliament like any other worker. His total expenses as an MP in 2010 were £8.70 for an ink jet cartridge. His first stop on the same day he was announced as leader was to attend a march in support of refugees. Political singer Billy Bragg, who quite publicly quit the Labour party 25 years ago, stood with Corbyn at the rally and sang the Red Flag – a song that was thoroughly repressed by the previous regime. The first stanza is “The people’s flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead”. A flagpole has been jabbed straight through the heart of the New Labour project. There will be no funeral.

bragg corbyn

A murmur of excitement has hit left wing circles here in Canada since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory. Many are looking to Labour’s distant cousin, the NDP, and hoping that the change in tone that seemingly happened overnight in the UK might happen here. Is it possible that the Dippers might turn back the clock and reinsert the “s” word back into their core documents? The NDP tolerate a small but vocal socialist caucus whose wish list is more aligned with Corbynite policy than anything Thomas Mulcair might support. There are no sitting MPs that will openly identify with them though. The only thing Corbyn and Mulcair truly have in common is that they are both still rocking their 1970s beards. Mulcair is certainly more progressive than Stephen Harper, which is not a difficult space to fill, but he definitely isn’t a rebel. Corbyn could not be whipped, having voted against his party nearly 500 times in the past 30+ years. He has been arrested for protesting apartheid in South Africa and unequivocally supports the Palestinian people against Israeli oppression. Taking such a radical stand in Canada would be seen as toxic and unelectable. Part of the problem with the orange left’s wishful thinking is that the NDP is lacking a Corbynesque contender of any description. There is no seasoned contrarian back bench pink menace waiting for the right moment to hop on his Raleigh three speed and mount the coup. The revolution will not be televised as it isn’t even on the horizon.

corbyn arrest

All democratic movements are larger than any one person. Every party has it’s heroes that get trotted out and name checked as being the high ideal, such as Tommy Douglas for the NDP. There has been a bit of scrubbing in his case as he’s never publicly referred to as a socialist by his own people. As his official party bio states: “As premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas made history by leading the first social democratic government ever elected in North America.” Perhaps it’s a reflection of the Canadian way, finding a pragmatic compromise and widening the tent to include those who would be uncomfortable voting for a party with an old prairie socialist or Marxist Jedi type at the helm. Will the wayward Canadian Reds condemned to the fringe ever feel the urge to head home again? This could take a while…

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/the-rise-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-the-surprising-return-of-socialism-in-u-k-and-u-s-politics

http://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/politics/islington_north_mp_jeremy_corbyn_is_the_country_s_lowest_expenses_claimer_1_748369

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jeremy-corbyn-rides-night-bus-6175223

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ndps-shift-to-centre-unsettles-socialist-caucus/article26349650/

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/who-jeremy-corbyn-everything-you-5818431

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/leap-manifesto-plan-to-overthrow-capitalism-puts-spanner-in-ndp-plans-to-convince-centrist-voters

http://www.ndp.ca/history

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/tommy-douglas/

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2015/sep/12/billy-bragg-sings-the-red-flag-after-corbyns-refugee-rally-speech-video