Tag Archives: working class

Conservative MP for Essex Jeff Watson a working class hero?

Sycophant: “a servile self-seeking flatterer

In a June 15th Windsor Star article, Chris Vander Doelen did a marvelous job of portraying Conservative MP for Essex Jeff Watson as a working class hero. In reality, Mr. Watson is a middle class sycophant to power and a traitor to his working class roots.

Mr. Watson’s very real struggles to ‘get ahead’ are repeated millions of times by working class people around the world. According to Vander Doelen, Watson plugged away at multiple jobs at minimum wage and finally made it to a unionized Chrysler Canada assembly line with a living wage. All the while he struggled to pay tuition for a degree in history and help raise a family while his wife also worked. Watson had his eyes on something other than an assembly line job for the long term. Like Watson, all workers’ desires are determined by complex social, political and economic forces. Workers are usually in the position of reacting to these forces with precious little opportunity to influence them proactively. For hundreds of years workers have struggled to extract wealth from the capitalist class at great peril requiring enormous sacrifice. Today we all still reap the dwindling social rewards of those struggles; however, the past thirty years or so have seen the dismantlement of the accommodation between capital and workers manifested in free trade deals after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A new global order emerged featuring the primacy of corporate personhood, and workers have not yet been able to effectively reorganize to confront and challenge it. The current economic regime places global ‘free’ trade and competition as the top priorities which in turn have devastated the manufacturing sector in Windsor and Detroit, and not because we lack the competitive drive – on the contrary; the work was simply taken away.  What working people lacked was the political and economic power to confront the new global order which specifically excluded labour. Our slow transmutation from working class to middle class overshadowed the knowledge of our own history. We forgot the struggles but the capitalist class never has.

What workers did get out of the new global order was a snow job called  the ‘knowledge economy”, a murky concept that generally translated into getting more education – a move that made sense on the surface in a time of massive down-sizing (which became “right-sizing” and could now be referred to as ‘capsizing’) since living wage work was disappearing. What has the knowledge economy produced? Mathematicians creating derivative trading and a global financial collapse, and an MP history major with no sense of history. In the meantime, Canada cannot produce enough skilled tradespersons who actually make things we need. Don’t misunderstand: more education is always a good thing; just not when it is sold by those who know that under their plan there will never be enough meaningful, well paid work to go around – there must always be a pool of surplus labour in a capitalist system.

That Mr. Watson could get a job at even $9 an hour was thanks to the efforts of thousands of workers who campaigned and agitated for an increase in the minimum wage. That Mr. Watson could find a unionized factory job with a living wage is because workers, through their union, fought for decades to gain a living wage and improve working conditions. But does Mr. Watson understand at all the context of these tumultuous times? Apparently not. When he made the admirable decision to enter politics, he chose or was recruited to run as a conservative under Stephen Harper, a leader who has made it abundantly clear he will dismantle every social, political and economic tool workers have to defend and improve our interests. Already, it appears too many working class people will never make it to a job with a living wage, never be able to raise a family because of that, and will remain stuck in low wage and precarious work with shamefully weak provincial labour laws.

On top of this, the stage is set for ugly social unrest as Watson’s boss has set into play a wage regime that will see migrant workers earn 15% less than Canadian workers, as all workers start to compete for ever scarcer jobs. Has Watson used his working class experience to speak out to his leader that if present trends continue all workers will suffer further and so also civil society? He has been silent. The Omnibus budget bill, itself a crime against the democratic process, will make it harder to retire, harder to collect Employment Insurance, harder to protect the environment, and harder to regulate corporations – in short harder to be a worker. Mr. Watson stood in the House of Commons, and while other MPs stood against the obvious injustice that was the “budget” bill, gladly did what his masters told him to do and voted against everything that got him to the House of Commons. Mr. Watson is more than an embarrassment. He is a sycophant to a regime bent on making Canada a hell hole for workers and a ‘free-for-all’ trade zone for corporations wanting to enrich themselves with Canadian resources: resources that belong not to them, but to the people of Canada, with a special emphasis on First Nations.

John Lennon sang that “… a working class hero is something to be” in a song that decried the slow and easy transition of workers into the illusion of the middle class. A working class hero Watson is not and rather than celebrate him,  he should be roundly denounced for the class traitor that he is.

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Windsor’s Aquatic Centre: The Tyranny of the Middle Class?

By Paul Chislett:

The term middle class is in the news a lot these days, usually cast as that downtrodden lot getting hard done by in the economic downturn. But the middle class is not a homogenous group; rather, it is a complex creation of industrial capitalism and some in it are better off financially than others. Blue collar and white collar are a terms going back decades to describe waged workers vs. salaried. Lately, I found it handy to use managerial or professional class to differentiate doctors, teachers, editor and publishers, lawyers, and the like who often gravitate to positions of economic and political power. However, the layers must be further pulled back to expose those at higher executive and CEO level ranks. I think you can see what I am getting at. The further we go we’ll find ourselves in the rarefied atmosphere of global elites like Bill Gates, leaders of nations, IMF types, and so on. The air is thin here so let’s just dive back closer to where we can pick up the odor of the chlorine in the pools at Water World and Adie Knox in Windsor.

 Last evening at city council, itself the privileged domain of the managerial class, the good people of places like South Windsor and Forest Glade saw their dreams come true for a competitive style aquatic centre to be built in the area behind the Art Gallery of Windsor. Sure, it will have other pool features, but much of the discussion last night centered on the needs of local competitive swimmers. Council basically voted on a multi-million dollar power point presentation of pretty pools in a dizzying visual tour of various European cities with aquatic centres. It was baffling because no one knows what the Windsor proposal will look like, and the implication sat as heavy as a wet hound dog that it would look like Dublin; no, Eindhoven; no, Minsk!

Windsor Water World

 The Windsor aquatic centre was the subject of a business plan with various options on how to proceed. The stumbling block was operating expenses for the new facility. Since council has pledged no hike in taxes, it was keen to accept recommendations from city staff (more managerial elites) to close Water World pool, close College Ave. Community Centre, and close the main branch of the library and move it into the new proposed facility. In the motion voted on, the Adie Knox pool was included for closure. Since the library board is independent of city council (even though Ward 10 councillor Al Maghnieh is the chair of the library board) it will deliberate that proposal on its own.

 On April 6th council directed city staff to conduct public consultations in affected areas. It did not take long for residents to see that council seemed to have made up its mind already, as the questions residents were supposed to consider all led to the acceptance of the closure of the facilities. Councillor Halberstadt, the only councillor to vote against the plan to take from some so others can have what they want for virtually free, remarked last night about what point was there of having consultations since the residents said clearly not to close their pools and community centre. Council neither cared nor listened. Mayor Francis and council seem desperate to do something with the vacant land known as the Western Super Anchor, bordered by Pitt St. West, Bruce Ave., Church St., and the south side of Chatham St. West. From arenas to canals and now to an aquatic facility, ideas have come and gone. But this one stuck. Why? Who stands to benefit the most? Windsorites are familiar with stories of a London based developer who owns land, a hotel, and car park in the area near the proposed aquatic centre. Might he be influencing the rush to build something?

 Opposition to the plan relying on the theft of assets to pay for an aquatic centre which no one has an exact idea of the cost of gained some media traction. In a CBC interview the mayor rebutted critics that the College Ave centre actually does have a future other than closure, since the city was in talks with the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre (WECHC) to take over the space. I should quickly note here, that the WECHC is a provincially funded non-profit entity charged with delivering health care services. The city is attempting to off load its responsibility for city programs, and as questionable as this is, it is by no means a certain deal. WECHC CEO Lynda Monik may be getting caught in the middle of an ugly fight over program delivery in the Sandwich area. Also what must be mentioned is the sheer dereliction of duty displayed by Ron Jones in his refusal to fight for his ward. He was first in line to call for people to do what is best for all of  Windsor. His shameful roll over was a capitulation to power and had nothing to do with the best interests of Windsor citizens.

Is Sandwich a priority? Councillor Ron Jones doesn' think so.

The mayor also claimed misinformation was being spread by critics that the Water World building would be closed. This appeared to be an attempt to show opponents as know-nothings when in fact it was well understood that the pool only was being slated for closure. Where the mayor obfuscates, however, is that it is not clear at all what will replace the pool at Water World other than cement. Ideas floated range from office space to community space for “social enterprise” ie: job skills training already provided by the YMCA and other nearby agencies. The claim is that since the Glengarry community, where Water World is located, is heavily populated by newcomers to Canada the pool is not required, but other programs are. However, council admitted they had no statistics on this. No one knows what the community wants because the city simply barged and said in so many words, ‘hey, we’re taking the pool out and what would you like to replace it with’. Any reasonable person faced with this would say the same as the residents did in the consultation meetings: we don’t want to lose anything. Like the rest of this whole plan, council is relying on assumptions because the facts simply get in the way of what they want to do: develop the Western Super Anchor Lands at all costs.

Windsor City Council

 Council used the suburban middle class, primarily the small population whose children are in competitive swimming, as the weight behind their wrecking ball. It’s clear that city council planned from the beginning to co-opt one group of middle class citizens to go along with a long promised aquatic centre, planned how to bully vulnerable residents into first giving up their necessary neighbourhood assets, then just took them regardless of valid arguments to the contrary, and then planned a public relations campaign on the run (from vocal opponents) to paper over the theft by claiming this whole endeavour was in the best interests of all Windsorites.

 What is happening in Windsor? Is the railroading of vulnerable populations evidence of a class war? That seems rather evident. Do we need to have a discussion in this city about the difference between working class and middle class? You bet we do. Do we need to discuss the realities of global capitalism and how this fits in with how the city is being run? Right again! Are we in the throes of debating who really owns this city? Absolutely. Battles between neighbourhoods and a council hooked on big ticket developments they argue are needed to increase the tax base, do not bode well for this city. Opponents to this aquatic centre plan argued from the perspective that it is neighbourhoods that are the key to a successful city. Council argued that to think that way means we are only thinking of ourselves rather than what is best for all of Windsor. However, if there are any special interests in this fiasco it is the small competitive swimming population that just wants a 50 metre pool no matter what, and a developer who wants his investments to pay off. The rest of us can politely watch from the sidelines. Neighbourhood organizing to counter the heavy handed methods of council will have to occur – and soon. Windsor, can we talk???

paul.chislett@gmail.com

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