Tuesday, December 18, 2007

[Le Drapeau Rouge] At Last the PQ Shows Its True Colours!

The below article in Le Drapeau Rouge; i felt it was well worth translating and sharing with you all.

At least in its newspaper, the Revolutionary Communist Party (the canadian one, not the Avakian outfit in the u.s.) is providing welcome leadership in opposing the rise of racism in Quebec, without ambiguity or compromise. While on the ground in Montreal most of the anti-racist organizing against the "reasonable accommodation" bullshit has come from groups like No One Is Illegal, the RCP benefits from greater organic ties to the Québécois revolutionary tradition, witness the forthright analysis of Pauline Marois' agenda in the Parti Québécois which follows:

Pauline Marois Demands a Makeover

At Last the PQ Shows Its True Colours!

With her proposed Québécois Identity Bill, the new Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has shown that there is no limit to how low she will stoop to get back in power – even hunting for support on the ADQ’s terrain and leaping into racist and xenophobic manure. After several days of debate in which she did her best to defend her infamous Bill, the Lady of Île Bizard[1] once again tried to justify herself during the November 4 PQ commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the death of its former leader René Lévesque.

Sharing the stage with a follower of the Church of Scientology (the popular singer France D’Amour), Pauline Marois first denounced her Liberal and ADQist adversaries “who are using a populist and demagogic approach but have no concrete proposals” as to how to affirm Québécois identity. “Well I do!” she added proudly. It is true that on top of joining the others in adopting a populist and demagogic approach, the new deputy from Charlevoix had done them one better, shamelessly proposing that certain civil rights be withdrawn from immigrants who, having already obtained Canadian citizenship, fail to show an “appropriate knowledge” of the French language.

It is obvious that this initiative from the PQ’s leader is simply politics, as she is sure to have known that her Bill had no chance of being adopted, and even if it was passed it would have likely been struck down by the courts. Ever since the last elections, the Parti Quebecois has been worried that the conservative section of its traditional supporters might leave it permanently for the ADQ. So, under the influence of political strategist Jean-Francois Lisée (the king of all gimmicks, who has himself just written a pamphlet in defense of cultural nationalism[2]), Pauline Marois decided to outflank Mario Dumont on his right and do her part in feeding the climate of fear and xenophobia which has polluted public debate in Quebec for over a year now, all in the hopes of leading her troops back into the fold.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if her Bill becomes a dead letter: public opinion will remember that Marois wants to put “the others” in their place (the others being all those who are not like us) and oblige them to conform to the dominant bourgeois ideology in Quebec. The PQ is betting that this rhetoric will pay off in terms of votes. And what does it matter if the verbal attacks, mainly against the Arab and Muslim communities, end up also leading to physical attacks: this would just be “collateral damage” in this PQist march back to power.

When she delivered her first speech to the National Assembly on October 16, Pauline Marois devoted most of it to defending cultural nationalism and stigmatizing the “foreigners,” going so far as to beseech Québécois, “don’t give up your place to others.” She joined the chorus insisting that everyone must submit to the famous “common values” imposed by the Québécois ruling class, which boil down to speaking French, complete secularism and that famous “equality between men and women,” which apparently constitutes one of the most important elements of Quebec society. Need we remind Pauline Marois that Quebec was the last Canadian province to grant women the right to vote in 1940? That it was only in 1980 (quite a bit less than a century ago!) that women in Quebec won the right to sign a mortgage? That not so long ago the dominant model was still the woman in the home, submissive to her husband, whose main role was to bear children and perpetuate the “French Canadian race” (remember Lionel Groulx?).

The PQ leader – and all those others who are condemning, in the name of gender equality, the fact that Muslim women “dare” to wear the Islamic headscarf – would do better to worry about the fact that the song of the year which was crowned at the last ADISQ[3] gala (a demagogic hymn entitled Dégéneration, from the reactionary group Mes Aïeux[4]) sings the praises of “the good old times when our grand mothers had fourteen children,” and when, of course, we did not have that awful right to an abortion… we think that things like that are much more worrisome than the purely hypothetical possibility that one day a woman wearing a niqab might ask to vote without showing her face.

The silence emanating from the “PQ left” regarding this racism and xenophobia is deplorable, but not at all surprising. The leaders of SPQ libre[5], Marc Laviolette and Pierre Dubuc (or as we have called them, the Laurel and Hardy of left nationalism), narrowly avoided the new leader’s cutting block, as Marois apparently wanted to dismantle their “political club.” Marois finally agreed to leave them their toy, but not before she grilled them and seems to have received the promise that they would stay in their place and not criticize her in any way. In any case, these two representatives of the alleged “left” of the PQ are 100% in agreement with the turn towards identity being carried out by Marois, as they were already attacking the “civic nationalism” promoted by her predecessor, Andre Boisclair.

The only criticism from within the ranks of the PQ has come from the Groupe d’action politique des Québecois et Québecoises issus de l’immigration, which is the body responsible for questions of immigration within the party. In an open letter published on October 18 in the newspaper le Devoir, the group’s spokesperson Kerlande Mibel protested against the emergence of a “populist cultural nationalism” within the PQ, “which demands that everyone share the same values and way of life.” “If tomorrow everyone must share the same values as white francophone Catholics, that isn’t progress,” notes Mibel, adding that every Quebecker should have “the same rights and responsibilities” – a position which is clearly not in step with the rest of the PQ!

One is forced to admit that Pauline Marois is at least consistent: her right turn on questions of identity is perfectly in step with her social and economic positions. Remember that when she was crowned in June, Pauline Number One came with certain conditions, “take it or leave it”: amongst these was the “rejuvenation” of the PQ’s social-democratic rhetoric, in the style of Tony Blair’s British Labour Party.

Under her leadership the PQ will adopt the line of the “lucides”[6] (which is not at all surprising when you note that the “lucides” included many well known PQists). From now on the emphasis will be on “creating wealth before we redistribute it.” Amongst other things, Pauline Marois has come out in favour of the university tuition hikes proposed by the Charest government. Loyal members of the Lady’s Praetorian Guard that they are, over the past few weeks the young PQists within the student movement carefully maneuvered to sabotage the campaign for a general student strike which had been initiated by the Association pour une solidarite syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), and which as we know ended in failure.

The fact that the PQ is a reactionary bourgeois party is nothing new to Quebec workers, who have been subjected to its policies for 17 of the past 30 years. That the party is finally getting rid of its “progressive” window-dressing may have some noteworthy consequences. The PQ seems to be trying to compete with the ADQ to claim the political space traditionally held by the bleus[7] (i.e. the conservative right) in Quebec. As to the army of “followers” and civil servants which the party has generated within the civil society organizations, the question is how far are they willing to go down this path? There is a question which it is still too early to answer.

As workers, perhaps we should take advantage of this “political recomposition” within the Quebecois bourgeoisie to get rid of this scum once and for all; without a doubt, that would be the best result we could hope for.

Serge Gélinas, Le Drapeau Rouge Nov.-Déc 2007 translated by Kersplebedeb

all footnotes by the translator

[1] Marois, who was elected to represent the riding of Charlevoix, actually resides in a three million dollar mansion on a 41 acre estate in the suburb of Île Bizard.

[2] i have translated the term “nationalisme identitaire” (literally, “nationalism having to do with identity”) as “cultural nationalism.” Whereas the terms may not be a perfect fit, it strikes me as a more accurate translation than “ethnic nationalism.”

[3] Association québécoise de l'industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo : the Quebec Association of the Recording, Festival and Video Industry.

[4] My Ancestors.

[5] A social democratic ginger group within the PQ.

[6] In 2005 the debate about which way forward for Quebec became characterized by two public manifestos, “For a Lucid Quebec” representing the economic right-wing and “For a Quebec in Solidarity” representing the social democratic position.

[7] Traditional party colours in Quebec have the liberals being the reds (!) and the conservatives being the blues.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Red Brigades in the 21st century

A comrade sent me the following article about the capture of some people trying to re-establish the Red Brigades in Italy. It's from the Wall Street Journal, and so bound to be neither sympathetic nor necessarily even accurate, but nevertheless worth a quick read.

For more on the historic Red Brigades, be sure to check out the first chapters of the book Strike One to Educate One Hundred, scanned and uploaded on the Kersplebedeb site.

Googling, i found a few more things about these busts. Vincenzo Sisi writes a short defense of the fact that he was active in the trade union movement at the same time as he was trying to prepare for armed struggle, entitled Who are the rotten apples?; i particularly liked this paragraph:

How dare you say I’m an infiltrator amongst the workers and in the union. Epifani (a union leader) said we were rotten apples. He never worked three shifts, he was put there by the party system, which sold out the working class. I come from a working class family that paid for their union card and helped fill his plate with our blood. Who is the infiltrator in the working class? Who, me or him, is the rotten apple? At the congresses I said what I thought. My union are the workers! In conversations amongst the committees I always represented what was important for us delegates, the ability to build autonomy spaces at our places of work to stimulate the protagonism of the workers. But however well you do it you stay within the boundaries of the economy struggles in the factories. While the superiority of the union leadership, after years of retreats and defeats, becomes an instrument to control the class.
There are two other short texts by Sisi in english on the Secours Rouge Internationale website here as well as a text in french by Sisi and three other militants.

also in french there is an article from le monde up on the PCMLM website...

if i see anything else i will let you know, in the meantime here is the Wall Street Journal article - thanks to my correspondent for sending it to me:

In Europe, Some Still Cling To Dreams of Revolution; Group Nabbed in Italy Appears to Hark Back To Lethal Red Brigades
Gabriel Kahn and Kristine M. Crane. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Dec 13, 2007. pg. A.1

GASSINO TORINESE, Italy -- One night in February, 40 police officers in ski masks burst into a house in this small town near Turin and arrested Vincenzo Sisi. The charge: running an armed terrorist group.

Giancarla Lorenzin, his wife of 26 years, thought it was a mistake. Her husband, a press operator at a factory, had no criminal record and professed nonviolence. They spent weekends hiking, bicycling and gardening. "I'll see you in a few days," she told him as he was hustled out by police. He caressed her cheek and shook his head no.

Mr. Sisi knew things she didn't. For years, he had lived a double life, appearing as a model citizen while secretly running a radical group that plotted bank heists, bombings and assassinations, police say. They describe Mr. Sisi and more than a dozen others arrested that day as the new face of the Red Brigades, a violent left-wing group that haunted Italy during a bloody era of the 1970s called the "Years of Lead."

Some of those arrested had been underground for years. Mr. Sisi, for one, is 54 years old. Others weren't yet alive in the 1970s; they include 20-something factory hands, a call-center operator, a pony- tailed mailman and a student named Amarilli Caprio.

Ms. Caprio, 26 when arrested, seemed above suspicion. She came from a middle-class family in Padua, had good grades in high school, wrote poetry and was studying languages at a Milan university.

Police uncovered clues they say make clear members of the group were armed and preparing to act. Dogs sniffed out a Kalashnikov assault rifle buried under the garlic bulbs in Mr. Sisi's garden. They found a cache of automatic weapons buried near an abandoned farmhouse, sophisticated surveillance equipment in a Milan basement, ingredients for explosives and fake police uniforms. Among the group's targets, police say, were the Milan headquarters of oil company Eni SpA and a professor of labor law.

Hearings to decide whether the matter goes to trial began this week. Attorneys for both Mr. Sisi and Ms. Caprio said their clients planned to fight the charges but declined to discuss the case. From jail, Mr. Sisi has written letters calling himself part of the "politico- military wing . . . preparing for the struggle to finally end the barbarism of exploitation." Ms. Caprio, before a transfer to house arrest, signed prison letters "as always, with a clenched fist."

Beneath the archaic rhetoric and sweeping ambitions is a remarkable story of a political movement's survival. Long after Soviet communism collapsed, traces of a left-wing dream of revolution live on in corners of Europe, sometimes in virulent strains.

Adherents say they're motivated by profound disappointment with how political struggles from a generation ago have played out. Instead of a more equitable society, they see one more out of kilter. Partly through years of strikes, European workers have won greater job and welfare protections. But debt-laden governments can no longer pay for it all, and a system of haves and have-nots has emerged. Young people chafe at a rigid job market with few opportunities.

Communist parties espousing workers' rights still garner support. Italy has two, each with ministers in the government; France has five far-left groups. The parties retain the trappings of a militant era, like the hammer-and-sickle symbol, but most have lost their edge as they join governments and forge compromises.

One result is that some who still cherish the dream of revolution have been forced to the margins of society or gone underground. Although the mass worker movements that fed the political violence of the 1970s have long vanished, left-wing political terrorism retains a romantic appeal. Italian movies such as "The Best of Youth" and "Buongiorno, Notte" -- co-written by a former Red Brigades member -- paint a seductive picture of idealism and violence that resonates with some.

Investigators were struck by the sympathy the arrests kicked up. Graffiti in support of the Red Brigades and those arrested appeared on factory walls around Padua, and there were two protest marches. A Molotov cocktail was left, unexploded, at the home of a police investigator. That has left investigators with nagging worries. "We have dismantled this wing, but we don't know if there are others," says Bruno Megale, head of Milan's investigative police unit. "I think the siren call of revolution is buried deep inside this society."

In the 1970s and '80s, a bloody ideological struggle in Italy pitted workers against bosses and left against right. Communists garnered up to 34% of the vote in elections. Strikes were frequent and often violent. Some elements, impatient with the pace of change, began seeing the unions and even the Communist Party as obstacles to a profound transformation.

A group with roots in the sociology department of the University of Trento in northern Italy evolved into the Red Brigades. Highly secretive, they counted 5,000 members, many with training in explosives, firearms and forging documents. Their attacks were brazen, including bank heists and prison breaks, and hit factory owners, politicians, journalists, police and military officers.

Attacks organized by the Red Brigades and other extremist groups killed more than 1,000 and wounded thousands. In 1978, the brigatisti kidnapped former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in broad daylight, killing his bodyguards. After 55 days, they shot him and left his body in a car trunk in central Rome. The brutishness of the assault isolated the Red Brigades from many of the workers they claimed to represent, but it didn't stop them. Attacks continued, including the 1981 kidnapping of a U.S. general, James Dozier, who was later rescued.

Authorities who'd infiltrated the movement finally broke the back of it around 1984.

History seemed to do the rest: The Soviet Union collapsed, China embraced capitalism. Yet on a spring day in 1999, a man stepped from a parked van near the University of Rome and shot to death Massimo D'Antona, a professor and government labor adviser. In a dense manifesto, a group calling itself the Red Brigades took responsibility. In 2002, Marco Biagi, an economic adviser to the government, was slain with the same gun.

Not long after, Mr. Sisi, unknown to his wife, began recruiting militants to plot more attacks, according to his arrest warrant and other police reports.

Mr. Sisi had quit school at 15 for a factory job. He joined a union to fight for better pay and safer conditions. By the time he met Ms. Lorenzin in a disco in 1975, he was deeply involved in the ideological battles of the time.

Three decades later, he was still at the bottom economic rung, making around $1,900 a month after tax, according to his former employer, for operating a press at an auto-parts supplier. He was still fighting the same battles, railing against his employer over working conditions and safety standards.

At home, he and his wife focused on eating healthily, cooking the vegetables from Mr. Sisi's garden. "He doesn't have vices. He doesn't smoke, drink coffee," says Ms. Lorenzin, sitting in her living room under a crocheted "No Smoking" sign. Yet in between pursuits such as his garden and bicycling or hiking, Mr. Sisi was cultivating a violent plan, police say.

One thing he did, they say, was procure false documents and plan a clandestine border crossing for an associate from decades earlier. The comrade, Alfredo Davanzo, had been on the lam in France for 15 years after drawing a seven-year Italian prison sentence for subversive activity and arms possession. Investigators say Messrs. Sisi and Davanzo, with a third longtime radical, Claudio Latino, formed the core of the group.

In 2004, they began anonymously publishing a journal called Aurora, which pushed a Maoist-type strategy of "long-term class warfare." The plan was to recruit followers in places where social tensions ran high, such as certain factories, universities and immigrant neighborhoods. The chance discovery of sophisticated surveillance equipment and bomb-making manuals in a Milan apartment building's basement storage area put police on their trail. But they took elaborate diversionary measures when they got together.

While walking to a meeting, Mr. Sisi would duck behind a wall and emerge a moment later with a different-colored shirt, up to three or four times in a single outing, according to a police surveillance report.

Mr. Sisi's arrest warrant says he would arrive in Milan from Turin by train and switch to the subway. He would take a zigzag route, jumping out of a subway car just before the doors closed and then taking another subway in the opposite direction.
Mr. Latino would arrive by bicycle. To elude a possible police tail, he would ride the wrong way down Milan streets and run red lights. He looked over his shoulder so frequently, say police, that more than once he crashed his bike into parked cars.

Arriving at their destination, usually a Milan street corner, the three didn't greet one another but loitered on opposite corners. One would begin to walk and the others would follow at a distance. They might walk for miles before stepping into a cafe; or Chinese restaurant, never the same one twice. Ms. Lorenzin says she wondered about Mr. Sisi's absences: "He would leave for whole days and not tell me where he was going, and not answer me when I asked him." She assumed his trips had to do with union activism.

In the summer of 2006, the couple rented a cottage in the Alps. When Mr. Sisi and his wife returned after a walk, he would check to be sure nothing had been moved, according to the police surveillance report. He insisted testily that his wife never say "Milan" or "leaving" on her cellphone. When she told him he was being too cautious, he snapped, "You just don't think about anything."

Police were indeed watching. Through surveillance that sometimes included 30 agents across a single Milan neighborhood, they began to piece together the outlines of the group's plans, such as amassing explosives.

On Aug. 31 of last year, at a meeting in a bar across from Milan's Teatro Piccolo -- recorded by the police -- Mr. Latino said he had moved two people from Padua to Milan, where they had enrolled in the university to canvass students and "see if there are others who might be interested." One of the two was Amarilli Caprio.

The daughter of a middle-class engineering consultant and a high- school literature teacher, who had named her after a demigod in a Virgil poem, Ms. Caprio attended the University of Padua. She also worked in a customer-service call center and became active in the local union. A co-worker recalls her as "combative but hard-working."

Ms. Caprio was eager to earn financial independence, but the call- center job offered meager pay and few prospects. Like many other students in Italy, she languished in the university, with no degree six years after high school. In 2006, Ms. Caprio told her parents she was leaving Padua to enroll at the University of Milan. She said she wanted to learn languages that would allow her to teach Italian to foreigners, and there were more immigrants in Milan, recalls her father, Roberto Caprio. "She was independent," he says, and he saw nothing odd about her move.

In Milan, Ms. Caprio and her boyfriend held meetings with other students and advanced a radical agenda, police say. The warrant doesn't say whether they recruited anyone. After Ms. Caprio's arrest, police say, they found her notebooks to contain lists of possible targets, the same ones discussed by others.

Her arrest came at 5 a.m. one day last February, in the Milan apartment she shared with her boyfriend. When her father in Padua got home that evening, his wife told him something terrible had happened and turned on the TV news. "I thought: 'My daughter?' I felt the whole world coming down on me for something that couldn't be true," Mr. Caprio says.

It was five days before he and his wife could visit Amarilli in jail. When they did, "she looked at her mother and said, 'I did it for love,'" Mr. Caprio recalls. The love, he says, was for the working class.

In solitary confinement at first, Ms. Caprio spent her days writing poems, as well as letters home and to a radical Web site. In one poem, she saw herself as part of a long struggle of the working class. "We have callused hands," it began, forged by "centuries and centuries of exploitation."

Ms. Caprio turned 27 in jail on June 19 -- a date, her father notes, that is recognized as the international day of political prisoners. In September, a judge let her finish her pretrial custody under house arrest at the home of an uncle near the town of Urbino, hundreds of miles from her home in Padua.

"When I can't sleep at night, I try to make sense of what's happened," Ms. Caprio's father says. "She was accused of proselytizing. We all do some form of proselytizing. Look at priests." He adds, "Why couldn't she have just taken to golf or something?"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Justice for Quilem Registre! Protest This Police Murder-By-Taser!

WHEN: Saturday, December 15, 2007

This past October 18, 2007, Quilem Registre died as a result of injuries suffered after a brutal arrest by police. Subjected to at least 6 Taser Gun shots, as well as the excessive brutality used by the police, Quilem died several days after his arrest.

[translated from the original French]

[Press Release (in French) linked HERE. ]

WHEN: Saturday, December 15, 2007

This past October 18, 2007, Quilem Registre died as a result of injuries suffered after a brutal arrest by police. Subjected to at least 6 Taser Gun shots, as well as the excessive brutality used by the police, Quilem died several days after his arrest.

Should we continue to submit to this kind of abuse by the police? What can we do against this? Come march with us this Saturday, December 15, 2007 from 11am. The goal is to denounce these abuses and others that are kept silent.

The meeting point of the demo will be at the corner of St-Michel and d’Hérelle, and we will march to 23e Avenue and Jean-Rivard (where Quilem was arrested). We will be heard! Let’s struggle together in peace against police abuses in the name of all victims! Enough!

[Organized by the Registre family with the support of the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP).]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière
Collective Opposed to Police Brutality
(514) 859-9065
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Aqsa Parvez, Rest In Peace

Sixteen year old Aqsa Parvez was murdered by her father, who strangled her to death, we are told, because she did not want to wear hijab.

She had already tried moving out of her Mississauga home, ongoing conflicts about how to dress and behave becoming too much to bear. She went home to get some things and ended up on the front page of the Toronto Sun.

Oppressed people, and most especially women, suffer for being metaphors to their oppressors. How they talk, walk, fuck and dress "represent"/"symbolize"/mean so much to their menfolk, and so controlling/punishing/murdering them becomes a compensation prize for not being able to control much else. Because once he has lost control of his daughter/wife/sister he has symbolically lost control of all that matters.

In life, how Aqsa Parvez dressed and acted meant a lot to her father. She died because of this.

As we focus on the next link in the Great Circle Jerk of Oppression, that patriarchal chain of being, it is only normal that Parvez' death is going to mean so much to so many writers, spokespeople, bloggers - until of course her five minutes are up and we all move on.

Needless to say, white volk are already keen on de-gendering her death. She wasn't killed at the hands of male violence, or as a result of teenagers having so few options when they decide the need to leave home. She was killed by Islam, by Immigrant Culture, by Multiculturalism and a lack of Western Values.

Blog the google on Aqsa Parvez and you'll see what i mean.

At the same time , you can be sure that others will be intent on de-Islamicizing her death, of insisting that her murder is just like the murder of any other woman, except that in her case she is to be denied any specificity at all (always the curse of those who die inconveniently). People will talk about how teenagers in all cultures and religions are having trouble with their parents, as the racist use of her death makes us recoil, hoping to find refuge in an explanation which whitens the whole affair.

In point of fact, in death the sixteen year old Parvez joins two sororities. She is one of the hundreds of Ontario women and children who have been murdered by the Head of the Family, by the One Who Wears The Pants. She is also one of the hundreds of thousands of women who have been killed for wanting to negotiate their own relationship (or lack thereof) to Islam and the various interpretations of its rules.

Rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Trade Unions Line Up for a "Neutral" Racist Quebec

Well, you know what i think: this is a white stain on the Quebec trade union movement, certainly not the first and certainly not the last.

In the present context it is clear that arguing for a "ban on religious symbols" is at best riding the wave of racism for one's own purposes, and we know that in politics, to ride a wave is to contribute to it. (At worst, well, at worst such a position is just a chickenshit way to promote one's own racism.)

Never mind the fact that "neutral State" is an oxymoron. It is always someone's State, meant to serve someone's interests. This is not about keeping the State "neutral," it's about establishing (once again) whose State it is, whose interests it will serve. For people on both sides, the hijab is becoming a powerful symbol, and women's bodies are once again metaphors , stand-ins for social conflicts. And in Quebec, when we talk about men forcing women how to dress, we are talking about men forcing women to reveal their faces as an ersatz pledge of allegiance to "our" nation.

Of course, a certain abstract class analysis pretends that the State only belongs to a few thousand of the wealthiest citizens, that everyone else is equally oppressed. Those who like this fairy tale then see no issue with trade unions asking the State to enforce "neutrality", because as far as they are concerned their interests, their culture, their heritage is indeed neutral. If the State's decision is not clearly biased in favour of Westmount (or perhaps Ste-Foy) well then it's not really biased, is it? Or at least, not in a bad way...

That there is hypocrisy and open racism amongst those who wish for the State to be simply anti-Muslim, or post-Catholic, like the ADQ argues, should not obscure the fact that there is also racism, and there is also hypocrisy, in the "progressive" option of riding the racist wave to suddenly pass a "Charter of Secularism," one which we all know would never come into existence without the current Islamophobic brouhaha and which in practice will be enforced primarily against Muslim women who wish to work in the public sector.

(As a corollary to all this, let it be noted that the public sector remains one of the most highly unionized work sectors, that the public sector already discriminates overwhelmingly against people of color and immigrants, and that exclusion from unionized sectors has been identified as a key factor pushing immigrant communities into the poorest layers of the Quebec proletariat, separate from and oppressed by the greater national class structure.)

To be clear: a State does not become a theocracy, or "religious," because a schoolteacher or a secretary or a bureaucrat or a politician does or does not wear a hijab, yarmulke or crucifix. That is not what constitutes a religious state, any more than a revolutionary State is one where some public sector employee wears a Che Guevara t-shirt. (joke: i guess an anarchist State would be one where a civil servant goes to work naked?)

Here's the article from today's newspaper. Now excuse me while i go and puke.

Unions against religious symbols
WANT THEM BANNED IN CIVIL SERVICE This would ‘ ensure the secular character of the state,’ SFPQ vice- president says

No public servant – including Muslim teachers and judges – should be allowed to wear anything at work that shows what religion they belong to, leaders of Quebec’s two biggest trade union federations and a civil-servants union told the BouchardTaylor commission yesterday.

“We think that teachers shouldn’t wear any religious symbols – same thing for a judge in court, or a minister in the National Assembly, or a policeman – certainly not,” said René Roy, secretary-general of the 500,000-member Quebec Federation of Labour.

“The wearing of any religious symbol should be forbidden in the workplace of the civil service ... in order to ensure the secular character of the state,” said Lucie Grandmont, vice-president of the 40,000-member Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec.

Dress codes that ban religious expression should be part of a new “charter of secularism” – akin to the Charter of the French Language – that the Quebec government should adopt, said Claudette Carbonneau, president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux.

Such a charter is needed “to avoid anarchy, to avoid treating ( reasonable- accommodation) cases one by one,” Carbonneau said yesterday, presenting a brief on behalf of the federation’s 300,000 members at the commission’s hearing at the Palais des congrès.

Same point of view at the 150,000-member Centrale des syndicats du Québec, which includes 100,000 who work in the school system, the commission heard.

Quebec needs a “fundamental law” akin to the Charter of Rights that sets out clearly that public institutions, laws and the state are all neutral when it comes to religion, said Centrale president Réjean Parent. The new law would also “define (people’s) rights and duties ... in other words, the rules of living together.”

Under a secular charter, employers would understand that they don’t have to agree to accommodate religious employees if, for example, they ask to be segregated from people of the opposite sex, Carbonneau said.

Similarly, religious students in public schools would understand they can dress as they like, but not if it means wearing restrictive clothing like burqas, niqabs and chadors, which make communication difficult, she told commissioners Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor.

And in the courts, “there are cases that are clear – I wouldn’t want to see a judge in a veil,” she said. Judges need to appear “neutral” so as to inspire confidence in their judgment, she added.

The unions’ anti-religious attitude – especially the CSN’s idea to ban hijabs on teachers – got a cold reception from groups as disparate as a Muslim women’s aid organization and the nationalist Société St. Jean Baptiste of Montreal.

“What that would do is close the door to Muslim women who want to teach,” said Samaa Elibyari, a Montreal community radio host who spoke for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. “It goes against religious freedoms that are guaranteed in the (Quebec) Charter of Rights.”

Elibyari said Muslim women routinely face discrimination in the workplace. They don’t need unions on their back, too.

“When a young teacher calls a school to see if she can do an internship, and is asked on the phone straight out: ‘Do you wear the veil?’; when a cashier at a supermarket is fired and her boss tells her: ‘The customers don’t want to see that,’ referring to the veil; when a secretary gets passed over for promotion even if she succeeds in all her French exams, and is told: ‘Take off that tablecloth’ – is that not discrimination?” Elibyari asked.

The commission is holding its final week of hearings this week in Montreal, bringing to an end a cross-Quebec tour that began in early September.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Immigrant Workers Centre Statement On Racist Reasonable Accommodation Bullshit

Here is an excellent statement on the racist "reasonable accommodation" hearings in Quebec, from Montreal's Immigrant Workers Centre:

Whose Reasonable Accommodation ?

The debate raised in Quebec on ‘reasonable accommodation’ is built on a number of false assumptions about the relationship between majority groups (‘we’) and minorities (‘they’) and what ‘we’ believe the correct behaviours of ‘they’ should be. It is the wrong debate. Reasonable accommodation should begin with the rights of workers. Accommodating reasonably implies the protection of basic rights, decent wages, rapid recognition of credentials, and terminating ‘guest worker’ programs that deny rights. We have to remember that historically Canada/Quebec has been created and developed through the colonization of First Peoples on the one hand and the exploitation of migrant labour on the other, in order to build the ‘nation’. These processes continue unabated.

The public debate on ‘reasonable accommodation’ remains how ‘they’ should modify their customs to accommodate ‘us’. It assumes, dangerously, that there are common values, as though such things actually exist. We are writing this because we do not believe in this false consensus, this tendency to homogenize all things except food, custom and costume. ‘Cultural accommodation’ blinds the public to the realities of migration, and how the middle and owning classes of Quebec society benefit from the exploitation of the ‘they’. The connections between immigration and labour are absent from the debate and we believe that it should be at its centre.

Let’s briefly review some of the trends in immigration and labour over the past 30 years and ask ourselves is this ‘reasonable accommodation’? Most immigrants arriving during this period are from countries in the South (Asia, Africa, Latin America) and therefore they are not white. The economic forces that push them out of their countries are the same ones that shape their conditions here. They are ‘the other’. They have arrived with high levels of education and skills. Yet over that time, most have not had their skills and training recognized and therefore, they have been forced to take jobs that many “Canadians/Quebecers” reject. They do the work that remains hidden: the caring for children and the elderly, the services and cleaning that allows the ‘we’ to function. In these jobs, there is little protection. Minimal labour standards exist on paper, but are not posted in workplaces or in private homes for caregivers and domestic workers. There are few inspectors and where these standards are abused, it is incumbent upon the workers her/himself to challenge her/his boss. They are often isolated and with few other employees. For people who are struggling to raise children and send remittance payments to family members in their countries of origin, this is a great risk. It takes enormous courage to stand up for their labour rights when the chances of their winning anything and keeping their job is remote. You might say that this is a situation of ‘reasonably accommodating’ the class interests of employers by providing a pool of skilled, cheap labour (trained and educated elsewhere) who are prepared to work in almost any conditions as the price of migration to a better place. In addition, there is little evidence to support the myth that ‘things get better for immigrants with time’.

Many Canadians and Quebecers are unaware that we have programs for ‘guest workers’, who are brought in for limited periods and sent back to their home countries when the work is done. This is the case of agricultural workers. Domestics, through the Live-in Caregiver Program, are brought in and if they comply as live-ins can apply as permanent residents. The federal government likes these programs and intends to increase their use because they allow labour to be brought in without any real ‘accommodation’ as strict rules regulate the conditions of exploitation. Workers in these programs have little recourse to protection from the laws and policies for ‘us’ and remain the ‘they’ of the labour market. Even worse off are the many workers without formal status- who remain hidden as cleaners, cooks, dish-washers and domestics, facing arbitrary and well-below the minimum wage and labour standards, not eligible to making any claims but available nonetheless to be exploited.

As the policies of the provincial and federal governments have been to open up markets and reduce ‘expensive’ state programs, immigrant labour has been one of the ways of filling the gaps left by the inadequacies of neo-liberal policies. We don’t need as many decent nursing homes if immigrant women, often trained as nurses, can provide cheap care at sub-standard private ones or in peoples’ homes. We don’t need as much public childcare if we can import nannies. We do not need to increase wages and improve working conditions if the international labour pool will continue to bring workers here who are pushed into sub-standard jobs. Accommodation implies justice for immigrant workers as a precondition for any other discussion.

Immigrant Workers Centre-Board and Staff
Tess Tesalona
Jill Hanley
Eric Shragge
Malcolm Guy
Sid de Guzman
Andre Rivard
Degane Sougal
Julia Jankousky
Valerie Lavigne
Karim Ben-Jemaa
Mostafa Henaway-Staff
Bita Eslami-coordinator

Immigrant Workers Centre Research Group
Eric Shragge
Jill Hanley
Steve Jordon
Aziz Choudry
Martha Stiegman


Onward With the Struggle!
Centre des Travailleurs et Travailleuses Immigrants
Immigrant Workers Center
6420 ave. Victoria Suite 9
Montreal, Quebec
Phone: (514)342-2111 Fax: (514)342-2786

Monday, December 03, 2007

into our second week without internet, thanks to some kind of fuck up on the part of our ISP... in any case, for once i have an excuse not to be posting!