So last week, Canadians across the country celebrated the Labour Day weekend with their families and friends. That is, in as much as they were able to given the realities of the current COVID-19 pandemic. And right on queue, political parties in Canada were also celebrating Labour Day with their standard brands of messaging. But this time around, there isn't as much to celebrate. People are struggling, jobs have been lost, and Canadians are feeling the financial squeeze of having to make do with less disposable income. On top of this, there is the overwhelming pressure from federal and provincial governments to send adults back to work, and children back to school.
But why is there so much onus on the workers to get back to their jobs, and for kids to go back to schools, when the pandemic is clearly in a second wave? We've seen cases go up by the hundreds in Canada, with BC and Alberta alone accounting for over 1000 cases over the Labour Day weekend. The answers lie in the numbers. According to Statistics Canada, the annualized rate of GDP growth in Canada fell by 38% in the second quarter. Who cares about GDP, though? The bankers, economists, large corporations and their shareholders, and governments do, that's who. And the way that GDP is measured, means that they need the workers back in their jobs. They can't do that unless their kids are in school.
Over the summer, we have seen back to school plans from various provincial governments. Notably, the ones under the most scrutiny in the news have come from Ontario, Alberta and more recently British Columbia. And while the provinces have provided some measures to deal with sanitizing, physical distancing and PPE, class sizes remain a thorny issue. In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford is facing more action from the teachers' unions. In Alberta, Jason Kenney has been fighting workers on two fronts, against the teachers and physicians, with the latter staring down even more cuts to funding.
Meanwhile, there have been numerous posts on social media from concerned teachers showing that there is little to no opportunity for physical distancing in the classrooms, as well as raising questions about the scope of the measures put in place by the provincial government. As if that wasn't bad enough, we have already seen several school closures over the past week due to confirmed or suspected outbreaks of COVID-19.
For all of the talk about how important workers are to the Canadian economy, governments in this country sure seem to act strangely when it comes to keeping them safe. Take for example the federal government's missives last week on a guaranteed liveable income when the NDP proposed it, versus what they are now saying privately and as part of their caucus retreat agenda. So what changed their tune? Was it that the Liberals realized how popular the idea has become over the years? Or could it be that they are seeing what Conservative leader Erin O'Toole has been doing on social media lately?
Now, I'm going to go into this particular issue in much greater detail in my next episode, but suffice it to say for now: ERIN O'TOOLE IS NO FRIEND TO LABOUR. The Conservatives, like the Liberals, have fought workers many times over back-to-work legislation, imposed cuts to services, and under Harper's last government were taken to the Supreme Court over multiple constitutional cases and lost all of them. If you want a well written summary of the many indiscretions of the last Conservative government (Erin O'Toole was a cabinet minister) go here.
The point I really want to illustrate here is that the Conservatives see an opportunity to go after blue collar workers in this country who have been disenfranchised by a system that is rigged against them. And O'Toole is using rhetoric similar to Trump's in order to do it. If the left isn't careful and doesn't coordinate similar messaging quickly to counteract this, we will start to see a return to Harperism. In the midst of a pandemic, no less.
A New Economy?
But what to do about it in the meantime? How did we get into this mess in the first place? It seems like some of the answers are starting to come from how we measure global economic prosperity. Basically, wealth is measured by GDP, which looks at all of the money generated by a particular nation. However, while the original intent was to measure a nation's economic progress, real GDP looks at the "good and the bad" money, meaning that even in times of environmental crisis, or in war time, any money generated counts towards a nation's overall GDP. This is why imperialist nations like the US and the UK LOVE GOING TO WAR. It makes them money. It doesn't matter how the politicians spin it, war means more profits.
Canada has been nothing but complicit in these trade deals, and in no small part due to the fact that it is a soft power, and the US's #1 trading partner. And now with Trump holding the reigns in Washington, the tough talk has been amped up over the past few years, causing huge headaches for all parties involved. But it's hard to feel sorry for anyone in this conversation, when it's always the workers that end up getting screwed on the deal. Do you know who isn't getting screwed though? The same economists, politicians and corporate shareholders who keep pushing for those trade deals, and who rely on GDP to measure THEIR wealth. And this is why bringing up Erin O'Toole is so important. He represents them, not you.
While there are many discussions yet to be had on the future economies that could be sustainable and more equitable, it remains clear that the current systems are not working. No matter what sunny pictures politicians give us, we know for a fact that the economy as it stands today does not represent the lived realities of working people and the lower and middle classes. Until we start to see our politicians and policy makers change the fundamental way in which wealth and income are represented, all the good faith messaging to workers is meaningless. And whether it's how we treat workers, or folks who cannot work, or students going back to school, the current situation certainly calls for a better way to handle the distribution of wealth.
THE LB PODCAST BLOG
A blog for the revolutionaries.