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Conference highlights movements for real change

April 26, 2016

The International Socialists’ annual Marxism conference tackled some big issues and saw attendance from socialists and other activists from across the country. 2016’s Ideas for Real Change brought together around 150 activists from diverse social movements and speakers from around the world—with activists from Europe fighting fascism and anti-migrant racism.

Friday night’s opening panel featured former Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan, leading member of the IS Carolyn Egan, and Steelworker activist, Mike Seaward discussing the Easter Rising of 1916—which was one of many anti-colonial struggles that took place in the 20th century, where women played key roles. The speakers—members of the Irish diaspora from Dublin, Boston and Newfoundland respectively—discussed the importance of the fight for Irish freedom and the role of James Connolly, a socialist and trade unionist who played a leading role in the 1916 rebellion.

The Saturday of the conference opened with a moving session hearing from speakers directly affected by Bill C-51 and the Canadian government’s security certificates program. Azzezah Kanji, Sophie Harkat and Crystal Sinclair shared their experiences of racism and surveillance by the Canadian state and explained the impact of the government’s attacks on civil liberties.

At the lunchtime session on “How do we win real change,” Ontario NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo expressed sharp criticism of the party’s direction, emphasized the importance of the Leap Manifesto and advocated her vision for the future of the party. André Frappier joined the conversation from Québec solidaire, speaking on the work they are doing to build a left alternative party of the ballot box and the streets. From the International Socialists, Ritch Whyman emphasized the need for parties of the left to speak to the big ideas facing the working class today while seeking to build fighting movements outside of Parliament.

At a time when the environment and jobs are being pitted against each other, the “Climate Justice Now” discussion brought together Ken Smith, a member of Unifor who works in the Tar Sands, on a panel with Myeengun Henry of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. Facing 50,000 layoffs, Smith emphasized the urgent task of transitioning oil workers into a sustainable economy. Myeengun Henry spoke of the battle against pipelines on their territory, and the meeting raised almost $1000 for the Chippewa of the Thames’ upcoming Supreme Court challenge.

The weekend featured more than a dozen sessions and a Sunday “Skills for Socialists” workshop. These powerful presentations provided spaces for discussion and equipped activists with ideas and connections to continue these struggles. 

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