Fight like the Greeks

After months of proclaiming all was good in the Canadian economy, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced at the start of October that "boom times are over."

The Harper government has spent the past two years arguing that Canada was a model for escaping the depth of the recession that has hit Europe and the U.S. so hard.

Now the Tories, after claiming that they had steered Canada through a recession, are speculating that they might have to continue stimulus funding to keep the economy from sinking.

But the talk of a robust recovery conceals the reality of what workers in Canada have already suffered through for the past several years.

Claims that new jobs were created over the summer masked that the number of hours being worked actually decreased, meaning fewer full-time jobs were being created and more employees were either taking unpaid days or engaged in the job-sharing program of EI.

Personal bankruptcies soared in 2009, increasing by over 35 per cent. In 2010, the numbers have gone down, but hidden in those statistics is the rapid increase in what are called "proposals" which are negotiations for individuals to pay back a portion of the debt while avoiding declaring bankruptcy.

Wages in manufacturing stagnated as manufacturing employment dropped by close to a quarter over the past five years.

Debt

Most worrying to some economists is the growth of personal debt and the low level of savings. Indebtedness has climbed from under 90 per cent of income to close to 150 per cent of income today. This is matched by near record lows in personal savings. This means that workers in Canada have ridden out the recession by going deeper into debt and reducing their savings set aside for emergencies.

The bragging by the Tories about weathering the recession hides the reality for hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs over the past decade. The financial crisis that continues to roll across the U.S. and Europe had already begun for workers in Canada in the mid-2000s.

Before the onset of the crisis, tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs were being lost. Average wages were declining and dozens of industrial cities and towns were going into crisis.

Between 2000 and 2007, over 250,000 manufacturing jobs were eliminated, in some places like Ontario's Niagara region close to 15 per cent of manufacturing jobs were lost due to plant closures. In Toronto, over 104,000 jobs were lost. Since 2007 nearly the same number of jobs was slashed, bringing the total jobs massacre to over 400,000.

At the same time, average manufacturing wages stagnated and declined in a majority of urban areas, in some places by as much as $3 per hour. Despite claims that the Alberta and Saskatchewan resource booms would offset these declines, wages for workers have fallen behind the real cost of living in those regions.

Reality

Workers in Canada have been living with a recession for the past seven years. "Boom times" never existed as workers lost decent paying jobs and went deeper into debt.

The recession has also seen growing pools of poverty in urban areas as the gap between the rich and the rest has continued to grow.

In the aftermath of the G20, it is clear that the ruling class has no answer to the crisis or to fears of another dip in the economy. In the U.S., there are calls for a continuation of the stimulus funding. The U.K. has embarked on the deepest cuts to social programs and the public sector since the Second World War.

Regardless of the tactic, the conclusion from Flaherty to Obama is that workers must pay for the crisis.

While unemployment remains at eight to nine per cent, the Tories will continue to send out the message that on one hand workers have to tighten their belts and on the other that stimulus money needs to go to banks and big business.

The only way out of this crisis is for resistance against cuts and job losses to move beyond local fights into a more generalized resistance like that in France or Greece. To get to that we have to push the union leaders to begin to fight back.

Ritch Whyman is a regular contributor to Socialist Worker, a revolutionary, anti-capitalist newspaper.

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