In Montreal and Quebec City, tens of thousands of people have joined student-led marches. Trois-Rivières, Shawinigan, Joliette, and Longueuil have all seen protests this year. The people of Quebec are alive to the farce of austerity, pushed by governments claiming that revenues fall short and cuts must be made, while continuing to shield the wealth of corporations and the rich.
But in the rest of the country, communities seem slow to wake up and respond to the austerity agenda.
A national campaign aims to galvanize English Canada. Launched on March 25, Unite Against Austerity endeavours to help people make connections between their lives and the Harper government’s austerity policies.
According to the campaign website, austerity isn’t a lack of money or cuts to public services. More precisely, it’s “sacrificing the common good for corporate profits.”
The organization behind the campaign, Smart Change, was founded by Vancouver real estate and property developer Michael Goodman, who remains on the board.
Dru Oja Jay, a board member with Smart Change, told Ricochet that “the organization is starting with a bit of a clean slate since January, when the new board met and decided to devote our resources to bringing the anti-austerity movement to the rest of Canada for at least the next eight months.”
He said the board hopes to “establish the word austerity as something that people can use to describe their problems that implies an alliance with a lot of other people who also have problems. The idea is that if we can get this concept of sacrificing the common good for corporate profit out there far enough, it can provide an alternative way to make sense of the world that people can use.”
“The lived experience is one of conditions getting worse and worse as inequality increases, jobs are cut, and lower-quality jobs replace them, along with a constant chorus of economic action plan and tax cuts. There’s no other narrative, and I think it’s really disorienting for people,” said Jay.
Chris Ramsaroop, a member of Justicia for Migrant Workers, described two effects of austerity: a “scapegoating of the most vulnerable members of our society” along with “a heightened level of surveillance” of those opposed to it.
The Conservative government’s decision to deport tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers beginning April 1 demonstrates why migrant justice groups are needed in the fight against austerity, said Ramsaroop.
Instead of showing solidarity with migrant workers, much of the working class accuses them of “stealing jobs and driving down wages. A broad-based fightback against austerity needs to simultaneously counter xenophobic and racist attacks against racialized communities but also develop a social and economic analysis that doesn’t further pit the working class against one another.”
According to Jay, a lack of social movements and political leadership has led to “a rise in xenophobia and a search for targets for this general rage: ISIS, terrorism, migrant workers.”
“Keeping migrant workers in a situation of fear and precarity is a way of sacrificing human well-being to line the pockets of the ultra-rich,” said Jay. He added that other strands of austerity may also not be immediately obvious, such as the way that “cuts to environmental regulations are actually a subsidy of corporate profits because we’re despoiling the commons that humanity depends on for survival” and the continued massive spending “on military hardware at the same time as these cuts are happening.”
The Unite Against Austerity website contains sections detailing austerity’s consequences for migrant workers, the environment, peace, indigenous communities, union members, and women, with the option of sending a message to parliamentarians on these issues. People can check a list of anti-austerity groups to see what’s happening in their area, apply for small grants to support local organizing, as well as order stickers and posters free of charge.
Smart Change doesn’t seek to drive the mobilization against austerity, said Jay. Instead, its role is “to distribute materials, get people talking about austerity, and facilitate relationship building. To this end, we’re organizing events in Toronto and Vancouver in April.”
Ramsaroop will be speaking at the Toronto event on April 25.
“Austerity won’t be fought by having a limited discussion about civil liberties, but a broader holistic discussion of how communities are impacted differently by government cutbacks and regressive legislation,” he said. “Fighting against austerity is a matter of survival.”
A Vancouver panel is scheduled for April 28. Arielle dela Cruz Yip, of the Philippine Women Centre of BC, is one of the featured speakers. She described austerity programs as “assaults that the current Harper government continues to inflict upon the working people of Canada,” adding that “as marginalized working women, the Philippine Women Centre of BC persists in the struggle and resistance against these austerity programs.”