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Austerity, racism and resistance

Kevin Taghabon

April 5, 2017

After nearly three months into the new political era ushered in by a shocking American election, the emerging fault-lines and crises around the world have become ever more pronounced. Countries such as France, the Netherlands, and Britain, conventionally considered stable in the international political order, have instead been experiencing shockwaves of turbulence and unrest. Racists around the world are mobilizing, including across Canada, but there are also growing mobilizations against racism and the austerity agenda that drives it.

The fight against Trump

Trump is going on the offensive for the 1%, trying to ban Muslim immigrants, deport undocumented migrants, gut healthcare, approve pipelines, cut corporate taxes and give billions to the military. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre hate crimes have spiked in the past year, mainly Islamophobic and white supremacist in nature. This has coincided with the high profile legitimization of politicians' xenophobia not only in the US but across the West, including Canada.

But mass resistance, like the global women’s marches, have stalled many of Trump’s initiatives like his Muslim ban—and driven his popularity to a record low of 36%. This has opened up fissures in the Republicans, and the combination of opposition to Trump and splits on the right defeated his attempt to repeal Obamacare.

While the Democrats remained focused on Trump’s scandals with Russia instead of building resistance to austerity, it is movements on the ground that show the way forward. Trump’s election on November 8 caused a spontaneous outpouring of protest, and this took an organized form in the Fight for $15 strikes and protests on November 29 and the massive women’s marches on January 21. While Trump tried to install fast food CEO Andy Puzder as Labour Secretary, minimum wage workers with the fight for $15 forced him to withdraw.

On April 4 activists with Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter joined forces in dozesns of cities across America for the “Fight Racism, Raise Pay” mobilizations, consciously invoking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s linking of the fights for racial and economic justice.

Racism and resistance across Europe

Mainstream media claimed the Brexit vote was simply a racist vote against immigrants. But on March 18, anti-racist organizers were able to pull 30,000 people into the streets of London, UK for the March Against Racism. While the fascists tried to take advantage of the recent attack in London, anti-facists drowned them out. “They have yet to benefit from the racism that the Tories and Ukip are pushing”, said Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism.

Similar anti-fascist mobilizations in Holland were key for defeating far-right xenophobe Geert Wilders in the Dutch election. The far right has benefited from the Labour party’s commitment to austerity, but anti-racist parties also increased their vote as opinions polarize. The fascists pose a similar threat in France, with Marine Le Pen feeding off the mainstream party’s support for austerity and blaming of migrants. But 10,000 marched in Paris on March 20. As Senegalese worker Lhadji explained, “We are told that our ‘way of life’ causes problems. But this is a racist excuse to divide and isolate migrants. Unity is our strength and that is why we are organising in our neighbourhood with the help of left activists. We are demonstrating today to show that we will not be intimidated by the police.”

Canada: racism and attacks on civil liberties

The Conservative Party's leadership race has been rife with anti-immigrant sentiment. This is encouraging ultra-right racist groups, who have begun organizing periodic protests across the country—including three in March alone in Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. These protests have been self-branded as “protecting free speech” against Parliamentary Motion-103, which simply calls on the government to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”. These groups claim that they will continue to march on City Halls and Parliament every Saturday, despite M103 introducing no restrictions to free speech and having already passed in Parliament. This has stripped the veneer of a political discussion off the rallies and exposed them for what they are—public gatherings espousing racism.

While the Liberals (with the support of the NDP and Greens) passed the commendable M103, they have done nothing to undo Harper-era civil liberties eroding laws. Despite campaigning to reform the draconian national security Bill C-51 in 2015, Trudeau has not begun any repeal or reform effort. Now law, Bill C-51 disproportionately targets Indigenous and Muslim communities with surveillance and actual speech criminalization. C-51 also opens the door for terror charges to be levelled against political activists.

Trudeau has doubled down on this antidemocratic poison. His government is currently levelling criminal charges against The Independent journalist Justin Brake for covering an Indigenous-led resistance action in Muskrat Falls, Labrador. Additionally, Trudeau has taken VICE journalist Ben Makuch to court to force him to turn over private chat logs between himself and a source. The Ontario Court of Appeal to their shame recently sided with the RCMP and the government in a ruling that will chill press freedom. Turning journalists into evidence-collection arms of the state security is dangerous. Whistleblowers, as well as sources in dangerous organizations, will be unwilling to approach journalists who research these issues.

Resisting austerity and oppression

Despite the spread of austerity and bigotry there are significant movements of resistance. In Toronto, Aramark food service workers with Unite Here Local 75 at York University went on strike to demand a $15/hour minimum wage and fair workplace practices. They have emerged victorious, and their wages will go up to $15/hour within a year. This fight largely involved women and racialized people, many of whom were supporting families on poverty wages and enduring workplace mistreatment. Such victories prove that organized demands in line with the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign are achievable and help build working class solidarity. With the Ontario Liberals sagging in the polls, they may tack left and include a $15 minimum wage as part of their election platform—which would put austerity at the heart of the debates.

The annual International Women's Day March was held in Toronto on Saturday, March 11. Contingents from multiple struggles were present across the march including the Fight for $15, Indigenous rights, and several Latin American women's groups. One sign prominently read “Ni Una Menos”, a reference to Argentina's current fights against rampant sexual assault. The IWD March had record numbers in attendance, estimated at over 11,000. This is a sharp incline from previous years, likely inspired the massive global Women's Marches on January 21 that pulled in millions of new demonstrators against global Trumpism.

Local anti-racist efforts are becoming increasingly organized. The March 4 protest against Islamophobia in Toronto was especially well attended with an estimated 1000 anti-racist demonstrators. The racist side was able to bring roughly 40 people, caged in by police with bikes.

Formal organization against the far-right has been carried out by disparate organizations including newly solidified groups like the Coalition Against White supremacy and Islamophobia. CAWI held an organizing meeting with hundreds of activists on March 22. One day earlier the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) along with the Toronto & York Region Labour Council held an event marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in City Hall Council Chambers. Several hundred people attended to denounce racism, with speakers including progressive city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff.

Join the conference One Solution, Revolution: 2017, April 21-22 in Toronto, including the session “Fighting racism in the age of Trump” with Weyman Bennet of Stand Up to Racism UK, and Nigel Barriffe of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and Chantal Sundaram of the International Socialists

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