Simcoe, Ontario – Migrant workers stage Wildcat Strike

This press release describes the situation at Ghesquiere Farms, where

Over a 100 migrant farm workers employed at Ghesquiere Plants Ltd. are  facing imminent repatriation (deportation) after staging a wildcat strike to demanding thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.

The migrant workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados came together across racial, linguistic and ethnic lines to organize this wild cat strike and strengthen their collective power. The workers employed by this farm described numerous rights violations and complaints about their living conditions including the following:

•    Workers are each owed from $1000 to $6000  in unpaid wages
•    Workers are to be evicted and will be homeless as of Thursday, November 25th, 2010
•    Most of the Mexican and Trinidadian workers will be repatriated by this Thursday. All Jamaican
workers have been repatriated.
•    Electricity and heat has been cut off in one bunk
•    Deplorable and very crowed living conditions

Some good blog coverage of the situation is available on “Youth and Work“.

Open letter to the Prime Minister

Motivated by a plea in Catherine Porter’s report on the current G20 hearings by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and National Union of Public and General Employees, I decided to write to Stephen Harper on the issue of police abuses of power at the G20 summit in Toronto. I encourage anyone who is upset about what happened to do the same. He can be reached at pm@pm.gc.ca.

Dear Stephen,
I’m sure we have many differences – but one thing we share is a belief in freedom, and the importance of a country where individuals can exercise their creative freedom without undue interference by the state. In fact, although you would probably call me evidence that “satan has his hand in the works of men” because I support the NDP, or rather don’t even support the NDP because they tend far too much to the right, we in fact share beliefs in liberty. I understand you have libertarian tendencies, and these motivated your changes to the census regarding the obligatory long form.

Not to say we are the same kind of libertarians. I don’t know for certain, certainly, but considering your political affiliations I would not be surprised if you think of yourself as an Ayn Rand style libertarian. Like the members of Rush. Do you listen to Rush? You would probably like “2112”, “Farewell to Kings”, and “Hemispheres” – these albums, along with being excellent musical achievements, are philosophical works (penned mostly by the drummer Neil Peart) on the place of the individual within the Mass in modern society. More specifically, they concern the ability of an individual to remain free, on the edge between love and reason, when their right to determine their own path is at risk of being swallowed up by the nanny state.
Myself, on the other hand, identify as an anarcho-socialist or libertarian-communist. That means I emphasize, with John Rawls incidentally, the importance of primary goods allotted to all individuals such that they can pursue their individual projects. This requires strong programs of wealth re-distribution. I think this is required in order to have a society where people are genuinely free – one can not be free if one is so poor one must sell oneself into tyrannical wage-slavery just to make ends meet.

But, while we may have different ideas of how freedom for individuals can best be enabled or promoted within contemporary society, one place we should share both values and practices concern the use of police force without warrant against individuals. For instance, my house was raided by the police during the G20 without a warrant, and people’s bags were illegally searched while I was forced to prove to the police I had a right to be in my own home and invite guests into that home. Although our manners of owning property are different – I own my property collectively as part of a housing cooperative – I’m sure you agree that people have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their property, and protection against warrentless searches.

There are many more instances of police use of force and breach of protocol that bother me. The use of the “breech of peace” charge to detain large numbers of individuals who were not charged suggests our police force is willing to use mass arrest as a means of politically motivated crowd control, rather than as a means of putting criminals in prison. The many reported instances of police abuse of detainees, including sexual abuse, are not acceptable and do not appear to be simply the effects of a few “bad apples”. It appears rather that the police were given free reign, and that the violent tendencies already present in a portion of the police officers were used to intimidate protestors – especially nonviolent ones. Many videos demonstrate that much greater violence was used against non-violent protestors than was used against people actually engaged in vandalism – this is not acceptable to me, and neither should it be to you.

It may be true that the large majority of those who gathered on the Saturday to protest the positions you took up in discussions with other G20 leaders did not vote for you, and will not vote for you. Regardless, as a person who values freedom and liberty, you have a duty to allow individuals to express themselves freely without undue intimidation or force being used against them.

Sincerely,

Tristan Laing

Banking: your personal contribution to extinction

It’s easy to blame RBC for the tar sands, and we should. But RBC are by no means the only Canadian financial institution which is enabling perhaps the biggest climate crime ever committed by humans against their own habitat. The Rainforest Action Network’s “Climate friendly banking” site pegs TD-Canada Trust’s’ Co2 from total financed emissions at 124 million tonnes, or nearly a tonne per 10,000$ of checking account holdings. This isn’t to say TD is as bad as RBC; according to Tar Sands Watch,

TD Bank pursued a different course from RBC, engaging with senior RAN [Rainforest Action Network] representatives and signing some environmental accords. In June 2007, TD Bank announced a new environmental policy that pledged to “manage and minimize the impact of environmental risks and issues from its business operations.”

Still, TD is a corporate bank, which means it’s primary duties are to its shareholders not humans or the planet or the people who’s land they help poison. This is obvious from a 2010 report TD released to its shareholders on tar sands investments. The report contains no reference to first nations communities, or even the term “first nation”, “native”, “indigenous” (I even searched “indian”, nothing came up). On the topic of environmental issues there is shit short bullet point, which looks like it would be more at home in 2001 than 2010:

Environmental issues, specifically cumulative impacts on watershed and airshed, may become increasingly difficult and costly to deal with

– Alberta has been very oil friendly and very development friendly and no project has been rejected outright

– more likely an issue of time, cost and patience than go/no-go – Kyoto?

What’s even more frightening is found under the heading “Key Drivers”:

Long life assets – projects normally have 30+ years of reserves – non-declining production

Expected growth from expansions – virtually all projects have been expanded and contemplate further expansions

To look at this report today, in the year 2010, is deeply depressing. The banks have no fear that these projects will be compromised by an eventual recognition of the catastrophic environmental impacts they have on a local and global level. And why should they be afraid – we live in a political context where it is normal for a federal environment minister to quit without notice to take a post at a financial institution. The state of corruption with respect to environmental catastrophe and the world we are leaving for our children is deep. While comparisons to Nazi germany are rarely useful, we might think about comparing the current state of Canada and the world to the last few decades of the USSR – the combination of a sense of overwhelming chaos, but a faith that the state of things could be held together with force. But, in fact, the corruption in the current global powers is far worse because they are not merely gambling away the welfare of their citizens, but the welfare of citizens of other states, and of future generations.

We will live through an era where individuals will be forced to make serious choices about the role they will play in resisting, or through tacet consent approving of crimes against future generations. These crimes will be committed in the name of national interest, the economy, and human welfare, but are in fact pursued for the sake of existing power structures. In this context of perpetual disguised emergency, we can not afford to not learn what we can from other kinds of resistance movements – to try to understand what works and what doesn’t work, and under what conditions different tactics can be effective.

But, before we contemplate serious questions about the legitimacy of violence, we can start with where our money is being invested, and what is being done with the profits made from the loans we take out. Insofar as the people actually have any money, their money is actually required for business to maintain its power – if we take the money away, they can’t build the projects. Banking is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of modern society – it’s potentially democratic (well, it would be in an equitable society anyway), and yet we treat our banking like consumers rather than as citizens – insofar as capitalism means you vote with your money, this is meaningfully done not as a consumer but as a conscientious investor. On this question I don’t actually have an answer – do any readers of this blog have good information on the investments of various Canadian banks and credit unions? Are there Canadian banks or credit unions which offer mainstream financial services, but which are committed to divesting from projects which empower forces against action on climate change?

Against Blood Commodities: A Proposal for a Consumption Boycott

Earlier this year a group named Falling Whistles spent a few days couch-surfing at my house. Their project is simple: raise awareness about the conflict in the Congo, and the role of blood-commodities such as Coltan in it.  (Alight fine, to be technical the term “blood commodity” doesn’t exist, but I think it’s clear what it means, as it derives from the common term blood diamond and the notion of a commodity).

They are called “falling whistles” because of the high proportion of child soldiers in the congolese conflict – and the smallest children, too young to bear a rifle, go into battle with whistles to scare the enemy and to act as human shields.

To raise awareness, they sell expensive whistles at high end retail stores by setting up mini “museums” which display information and loop videos about their project. All the proceeds go to programs rehabilitating child soldiers in the region.

You can buy a whistle if you want. I did. I wear it, mostly. Hardly anyone ever asks about it, but if they do, I get to go on a rant about how I want ethically sourced Coltan. But, seriously, there is no certification for conflict-free electronics, and it is probably not feasible that we could continue current electronics production and while switching over to conflict-free sourcing. But, there is an alternative.

We could boycott consumer electronics. We could say – “no more cell phones”, and we could go back to writing things on paper in quill pens. We could do that, but as wonderfully steam punk as it would be, it’s not realistic. But, we could do something else – we could boycott new consumer electronics. What would that mean? Well, it’s pretty simple – it would mean rather than getting a new cell phone ever 3 years (“oh, but it comes free with my contract!”), you could just keep using your old one. And, when that one breaks, you could try craigslist instead of the apple store to find a replacement. And the same for computers. And this would hardly be a hardship – since computers (and digital cameras, incidentally), are already basically as good as they are going to get. Sure, there will continue to be incremental improvements, but no new product really does anything that you couldn’t do on an 11 year old clamshell or brick phone from 1995. Ok fine, you can post from your blog on your iphone – but you certainly don’t need to buy one of those new either.

The benefits of boycotting new products are obvious: you can continue to use awesome stuff, you can destroy capitalism, and you can reduce the demand for blood commodities which fuel atrocious conflicts. Even better – you can continue to use wonderful Apple products while you pressure them to adopt conflict-free materials sourcing.

UN S/121119

There have been many UN general assembly resolutions, and US vetoed security council resolutions, calling for a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. There is now, and has been for some time, an Arab-Peace initiative which calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories, the recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state, and the resolution of the refugee crisis in accordance with UN general assembly resolution 194. And yet, it remains dogma here in North America – which means it can be asserted without evidence – that Arab states care little about the plight of the Palestinian people. The hypocrisy of this, speaking from within states and knowledge-structures which uphold American interests, when it is not deniable that America has for so long and so persistently blocked peace in the region, is beyond recognizability – we don’t see it.

In this context, I think it’s meaningful to go back to a failed UN security council resolution from 1976: S/12119. S/121119 was presented by non-permanent security council members on behalf of the Arab states involved in border disputes with Israel, and it called for a resolution to these disputes by approximately exactly the same solution which continues to be supported by the Arab states today. But rather than explain it, I’ll just cite it:

 

“Guyana, Pakistan, Panama and United Republic of Tanzania:
Draft resolution

The Security Council,

Having considered the item entitled “The question of the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights”, in accordance with the request contained in paragraph 8 of General Assembly resolution 3376 (XXX) of 10 November 1975,

Having heard the representatives of the parties concerned, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, representative of the Palestinian people,

Having considered the report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (documents S/12090 ), transmitted to the Security Council in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 7 of General Assembly resolution 3376 (XXX),

Deeply concerned that no just solution to the problem of Palestine has been achieved, and that this problem therefore continues to aggravate the Arab-Israeli conflict, of which it is the core, and to endanger international peace and security,

Recognizing that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East cannot be established without the achievement, inter alia, of a just solution of the problem of Palestine on the basis of the recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people,

1. Takes note of the report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document S/12090);

2. Affirms the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right of return and the right to national independence and sovereignty in Palestine, in accordance with Charter of the United Nations.”

 

 

 

While it would probably help, you don’t need to be an international lawyer to understand what is going on in this document. What is astounding is that it reads as if it had been written today – the situation has changed but so slightly. Some of the actors are different (notably, the PLO has been successfully marginalized by Israel, leaving the far more reasonable religious radicals to speak for Palestine), but the content of what a solution would look like remains the same. And, moreover, if we look at the way states voted on this resolution, we find that hasn’t changed much either:

The Security Council on 29 June 1976 voted on the draft resolution as follows:

In favour: Benin, China, Guyana, Japan, Pakistan, Panama, Libyan Arab Republic, United Republic of Tanzania, Romania, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Against: United States of America.
Abstained: France, Italy, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Sweden.

What this shows is that US client states have two options: vote with the US, or abstain. The abstention, therefore, of Western European states can be read as the strongest show of support for the the solution as they could manage. The vote against (a veto) by the USA marks an early instance of what has become a long history of obstructing peace in the region.

UN HRC Report on the Flotilla Raids: the IDF’s Extra-Legal executions

If you’re in search for evidence of Chomsky’s propaganda model, you might want to wonder why the UN Human Rights Council’s report on the flotilla raid has received approximately no news coverage. It’s been on a few blogs, and there is a piece at globalresearch.com. But in general, there seems to have been zero coverage in the mainstream and most alternative media. I don’t have time to fully cover the report, so you should read it yourself, as it is easily downloadable as a PDF.

The report contains many condemnations of IDF actions, most which centre around the use of violence over and beyond what was required. While the soldiers did meet resistance, likely kitchen knives and perhaps slingshots, the report asserts:

168. In such circumstances the use of less extreme means, such as available less-lethal weaponry, would have been sufficient to achieve the required objective as required by Principle 4 of the Basic Principles on the Use of Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.79

A well-trained force such as the Israeli Defense Force should have been able to successfully contain a relatively small group of passengers armed with sticks and knives and secure control of the ship without the loss of life or serious injury to either passengers or soldiers.

Furthermore, no amount of violence against the soldiers, even had there been firearms (of which there is no proof – and Israel’s unwillingness to HRC the medical records or evidence concerning the purported firearms injuries that soldiers suffered suggests they are fabrications), can not justify summery executions on deck:

170. The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution. Furkan Doğan and İbrahim Bilgen were shot at near range while the victims were lying injured on the top deck. Cevdet Kiliçlar, Cengiz Akyüz, Cengiz Songür and Çetin Topçuoğlu were shot on the bridge deck while not participating in activities that represented a threat to any Israeli soldier. In these instances and possibly other killings on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli forces carried out extra- legal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law, specifically article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.80

This is not something to respond to with an argument about the legitimacy of illegitimacy of the killings. The men shot were people like you and I, the only difference is they were taking action on their politics and attempting to do something which, whatever you believe, they strongly believed was right. This is therefore something at which to be deeply appalled, and to mourn for those whose lives were cut short by this action. This is something, above all, at which one should feel before continuing with one’s defence, critique, or indifference towards IDF activities.

An actual cause of concern for the Northern Irish peace process?

Dissident Republican attacks, assassinations by loyalist paramilitaries, even UVF led riots or riots associated with Orange Marches don’t frighten me, don’t suggest to me that the Good Friday agreement is in a precarious position. A return to violence is not pre-figured in crimes or acts of violence themselves, but in the public support for violence. This is why I find a recent study by Liverpool University extremely troubling:

Research by Liverpool University published last week revealed 14 per cent of nationalists had sympathy for the reasons behind ongoing violence by IRA splinter groups such as Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA.
But the 14 per cent figure was a conservative estimate classifying participants of the ESRC Northern Ireland 2010 Westminster Election as nationalist based only upon the demographics of the area in which they were surveyed.
Of 1,002 people taking part in the survey, just 240 classed themselves as nationalists, whilst 341 classed themselves as unionist. 421 said they were neither.
Professor Jon Tonge of the Department of Politics, University of Liverpool, agreed that amongst those people who openly described themselves as nationalist the level of sympathy for the reasons behind ongoing republican violence as well as the Provo campaign of the 70’s and 80’s would likely be closer to 30 per cent.
For example, 82 participants of the ESRC survey said they either had a “lot of sympathy” or “a little sympathy” for the rationale motivating OnH, RIRA and CIRA today.
Based on the assumption these 82 participants all self-classified as nationalists, 34 per cent of that group would have been sympathetic to the reasons behind ongoing republican violence.

I have not taken time to look at Jonathan Tonge‘s study itself, (this quotation is from the Londonderry Sentinel), and the methodology for such a study is certainly complex. Much seems to hang on whether the proportions are of those who self describe as republican or loyalist, or of those who live in communities normally described as republican or loyalist. Also, whether “sympathy” means “support” or not – and what the relation is between sympathy and support in various communities. It is relevant to consider that different communities might literally demonstrate different relations between public (or even personal) sympathy for violence, and willingness to actively support or protect those who engage in violence. According to Peter Taylor, although public support among Protestants for paramilitaries was never high, he believes that in practice there was overwhelming but quiet approval by the community for the actions of the UDA, UVF and other groups. This would explain help explain why the UDA and UVF have never fared well in elections since their inclusion in mainstream politics, whereas Sinn Fein, associated with the Provisional IRA, has captured a significant portion of the republican vote.

Hopefully the proportions of those who support the ongoing use of terror for political means in Ireland will continue to dwindle as the country aclimatizes itself to peace. Interestingly, only 53 percent of those surveyed support what is called “consent” – which means Northern Ireland will remain in the UK as long as a majority of the population wish that remain the case. Presumably significant portions of both the nationalist and loyalist communities continue to oppose the idea of consent for opposing reasons.

Only a single respondent (out of a thousand) desired “independence for Northern Ireland” – I suppose this means 3rd way Ulster Nationalism is near completely dead.

Sanity Restored?

This past weekend I travelled with 20 new friends, mostly from my housemate’s NGO “Operation Groundswell“, to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington DC. You can see my photos here. The trip itself was quite an adventure – friday morning we left, were interrogated at the border, went to a new england bluegrass festival in Maryland on Friday night, and I think I slept a few hours on an easy chair. Saturday we put together our costumes and drove from Betertton to the Suburbs of DC, where we caught the overcrowded metro into downtown. We arrived quite late – about 2pm, and it wasn’t until about 2:30 that we (after almost completely losing each other), found a place where we could both hear the rally and see a screen. The only part of the rally I really cognized was the closing speech, which I highly recommend you watch, or at least read these excerpts from wikipedia. To me, the most moving lines of that speech were these:

This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear–they are, and we do.

But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke.

Continue reading “Sanity Restored?”