#PSF2014: The launch of a partnership for the 21st century

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On August 21-24, 2014, dozens of social movement sectors from across the country will converge on Ottawa to attend the Peoples' Social Forum. At this critical moment in our history, social justice, labour, environmental and Indigenous social movements must answer the question: "Are we ready to do what it takes to stop the Harper government's aggressive neoliberal agenda?"

In recent years, two social movements have shown what we are capable of when we really organize.  

Firstly, the Quebec student strikes of 2012, which a half million people, comprised mostly of young peoples. Collectively, they beat back a proposed hike in the price of post-secondary education in Quebec's universities and educated a generation of Quebecois about the ravages of the global austerity agenda.

Secondly, a rising tide of Indigenous social movements, such as the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls movement as well as Idle No More, have been actively resisting Harper's $650 billion "economic action plan" and its resource colony agenda. This plan has been made on the backs of First Nations, Metis and Inuit, whose lands, waterways and collective rights have been targeted through various omnibus super bills and the ongoing "Termination Tables" aimed at a final surrender of collective rights and assimilation of Indigenous Peoples.

Bill C-38, the Omnibus Bill, and Bill C-45, the "budget implementation" bill -- super laws used by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to consolidate his executive powers -- have resulted in a shift in movement power to the most historically marginalized group in our society, First Nations. While these bills have successfully stripped away any democratic mechanism for Canada's social movements and environmental sector to participate in environmental oversight of resource projects, First Nations' Peoples and our collective rights base have remained a force with considerable constitutional power to stop Harper's economic action plan in its tracks.

In the labour movement, we have seen two of the biggest unions -- the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) -- converge in the launch of the biggest labour force in country, "Unifor: The union for everyone." At their launch last year, they made a major commitment to invest ten per cent of their operating budget (approximately $50 million) into a social unionism strategy to politicize their base "from the local to the national" and suggested investing in existing social movements external to the union with the ambition of ridding the Canadian worker of Conservative attacks on labour's collective rights.

All three of these groups will be among the thousands meeting at the Peoples' Social Forum in Ottawa, which will be a proving ground for all social movement sectors in the lead up to the 2015 federal election.

It is very clear that there are major polarities and fractures in the left of this country. There is much apathy in the hearts of Canadians and First Nations about the alternatives to Harper, with Mulcair, the leader of the NDP, looking more and more like a Canadian Tony Blair and Justin Trudeau moving his party so far to the right that you cannot tell the difference between their economic policies and those of Harper. For the Liberals, this is especially true on matters related to the tar sands and climate change.

As a movement, our vision to dethrone Harper must be broader than an electoral strategy; it encompass an economic strategy and a willingness to stop business as usual in the country.

On the Atlantic coast, we see the Irving family of New Brunswick attempting to broker a free trade super corridor to capitalize on and service the comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement signed by Harper with the European Union.

On the west coast, the Pacific Gateway economic partnership is promoting the expansion of energy infrastructure, including pipelines, freeways, trains and shipping ports, to facilitate FIPA, the bilateral free trade agreement also signed last year with China. Both of these agreements promise to destroy our already bleeding manufacturing sector and the remaining power of Canadian labour unions. They also have both been negotiated without the consultation and accommodation of First Nations Peoples, which in this country is required by law. If ratified, these free trade deals promise to lock Canada into the role of being a raw resource export colony to the three biggest economic forces on the planet, the European Union, the United States and China.

To combat this consolidation of neoliberal power over our shared economy, I see one partnership as having the legal and structural leverage, as well as the political base, to stop the fire-sale of Canadian and First Nations' peoples lands, resources and water in its tracks. The social movement partnership of the 21st century will be built into a very clear concept: "There is no justice on stolen land."

Indigenous Peoples hold title to Canada's natural resources, water and air. Our individual communities and our national social movement Idle No More must extend a hand to the workers of this country, who are represented by a newly invigorated vision of social unionism being brought to the forefront by Canada's unions. If we are to combat neo-liberalism, then we must work together to develop our own vision of what the new economy of the future will be.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by the federal government and the oil and gas lobby led by Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in order to convince the public that jobs in Canada's extractive industries -- the tar sands in particular -- are more important than the environment.

Both labour and green groups have spent millions trying to fight this massive propaganda campaign with little success. The Conservative government has used this disproportionate battleground to their advantage to control the narrative. It's time to change the narrative.

Indigenous Peoples in Canada are positioned to be major leaders in the new zero energy footprint economy. Indigenous Peoples are also the fastest rising demographic in the Canadian workforce, 55 per cent of our peoples are under the age of 25, and this generation of youth in particular are more educated, resourced and decolonized than any generation since the colonization of our lands. Indigenous workers in the near future will represent more of every dollar in Canada's GDP, which translates into a significant transfer of economic and political power to the most oppressed and marginalized population in the country's history.

As Indigenous Peoples, we need to continue to organize and consolidate our power effectively, just as we did in our recent victory against the Harper government in the campaign to stop Bill C-33, the "First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act." This victory shows that our social movement, Idle No More, has experienced sustained growth in power since it emerged on the snowy streets of this country in late 2012, but to defeat Harper and his Conservative government we cannot fight this alone.

As social movements, we have a shared intention to walk away from the Peoples' Social Forum with serious commitments in terms of resources from unions, who have always been a great partner to the First Nations. Harper has been a revolutionary who has moved aggressively to implement his destructive neoliberal vision on many fronts. First Nations have been one of the key targets of this government, as it cannot abide the idea of collective rights that impede the power of governments, corporations, and private wealth alike. Whether it is in education, land rights or self-determination, Harper's government is desperate to fast track its assimilation agenda.

We all know what kind of movement it will take to confront this vision -- a movement that is like Idle No More was when it first started, but deeper, sustained, more focused and more strategic. We know from wide-ranging consultations with the member communities of Idle No More that they are ready to fight, as long as it is strategic, intelligent and effective. We have an incredible legacy of collaboration to build upon. We need to shift the narrative. We need to lay out a clear and strategic movement that can tactically build a strong base. At this year's social forum, Idle No More, the Quebecois Student Strikers and Canada's labour movement can do just that.

Clayton is a facilitator, public speaker and writer on environmental justice and Indigenous rights. He is the co-director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of the Polaris Institute and is an organizer with Defenders of the Land and Idle No More. Follow him on Twitter @CreeClayton

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