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The neo-Conservatives are at the gates

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The neo-Conservatives are "at the gates." If polls at the end of the first week of Canada's election campaign do not change substantially, a majority is only barely outside Harper's grasp. The emergent and urgent issue will be whether Canadians are willing to permit a majority government that would put in jeopardy everything that could be considered progressive about this country.

Five years of minority government has given Harper a somewhat less extreme image. During this lengthy period of imposed constraints on the government, social conservatism and ideological attacks have been piecemeal rather than across the board. At times, it seemed that the Harperites might even be reasonable people that we could deal with. Even the Canadian Labour Congress was able to lobby on pensions and almost endorsed the 2011 budget.

But Monday -- April 4 -- is a day of powerful symbolism which shows that this is no time for sanguine complacency. April 4 is the anniversary of the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He was shot after a march and rally in support of public sector sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. This anniversary is the context for over 1,000 actions throughout the United States in defence of human rights, and labour rights in particular.

This massive mobilization is the latest wave of U.S. labour activism resulting from the Republican victories in state elections last November. It didn't take long for the Tea Party zealots who took over state governments to launch an historic assault on social programs and trade union freedoms. And for months, U.S. trade unionists have been forced into a furious fight for their lives, including a six-week occupation of the Wisconsin capital building and multiple demonstrations of tens and hundreds of thousands.

Last weekend, over 400,000 trade union and social activists took over the streets of London -- a necessary response to the re-election of neo-cons in the U.K. and the most massive public service cuts ever imposed.

But in the early going of the campaign to determine our democracy there is a curious disengagement by labour and social movements. It is unclear yet whether our movements are simply unfocused on politics, slow to organize or fearful of consequences should Harper achieve the majority that seems possible. Regardless, failure to act now will mean that our mobilization, like the American and British, will be postponed until after Harper has the power he seeks.

In political time, the four weeks of concentrated politics ahead is long enough for thousands to be organized into action. Canada's largest citizen organization, the Council of Canadians, has stepped up to the challenge and national chairperson Maude Barlow is giving weekly video commentaries on the election. The first can be seen here.

Labour is beginning to organize, but still largely in the background and without any public statements framing the election from the Canadian Labour Congress to appear yet on its web site. The CLC is organizing on the ground in priority ridings and held training workshops for election activists this weekend in Halifax, Toronto and Winnipeg, with another planned next weekend in Vancouver.

This week, Quebec's powerful Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) will meet to determine its election strategy in that province. We can expect a mobilization from labour in that province to defeat Conservatives, with pressure on the Bloc and NPD to subordinate their competition to that task.

The image that stays with me during the first week of the election, is the PM standing on a tarmac with the media about 20 meters away shouting to him from behind a metal fence. The Conservative campaign is being run by political colonels and a propaganda machine that has no need for people or media debates. They are ruthlessly strategic and at near 40% they are at the gates of unrestrained power.

There is an urgent need for a stirring of popular resistance. The memory of Dr. King and the American trade unionists who this week are marching for their human rights in his name, should arouse us to get engaged now. We can do it now, or later.

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