seven stories from the suicide epidemic plaguing canadas indigenous youth 1461613689In this continuation of our two-part analysis of the repercussions of the Port of Churchill closure, we detail the economic depression facing the North, the impact of the world capitalist crisis on the resource extraction sector, the social crisis facing northern communities and the struggle against anti-aboriginal racism.

Thompson, Flin Flon, The Pas and Churchill are among the four largest towns in Northern Manitoba. Each has faced the closure of their largest employer. It is not hard to see the scale of the crisis that is developing.

As chief of the Norway House Cree Nation Ron Evans put it, “things look like they’re coming apart at the seams in Northern Manitoba.” This is no overstatement. The outlook for capitalism in Northern Manitoba is one of economic depression and unemployment. These communities are highly dependent on resource extraction.

A veritable nightmare of economic uncertainty has unfolded in the region, and it is unfortunately not limited to Northern Manitoba. The impact of the collapse in mining commodity and oil prices is affecting working class people from Newfoundland and Northern Ontario, to the oil patch in Alberta, and mining regions of Quebec. Workers are terribly disoriented in the present situation, and many are asking: what is responsible for this crisis and what can be done about it?

The reasons are to be found in the crisis of overproduction that characterizes world capitalism today. Mining was a booming industry from 2002 to 2012. This corresponded to the broader economic boom, and specifically the historic expansion of the Chinese economy.

Chinese manufacturing exports were the driving force of the growing Chinese economy. This “factory of the world” required enormous imports of minerals, oil and timber, and the price of those commodities went up in the context of expanding market demand.

Metal PricesThe 2008 financial crisis marked the beginning of a process of decline in the world capitalist economy. Shrinking markets in Europe, the USA and Japan brought to the surface the enormous global overproduction of manufactured goods. Factories began shuttering around the world.
The Chinese slowdown corresponded to the loss of these export markets for its manufactured goods – though China tried to delay the process with Keynesian stimulus spending. As a result, Chinese imports of raw materials have declined rapidly since 2012.

While there may be a temporary recovery in the price of one commodity or another, the general trend will be a further sliding or stagnation of prices. A rapid recovery is off the table altogether.The overproduction of manufactured goods has now spread to a crisis of overproduction in the commodity sectors (or as mainstream commentators call it “excess capacity”). Prices have been driven down since 2012. Millions around the world have lost their jobs in the resource extraction sector.

cp 10yr crude oil price june 7 2016

 For example, oil has recovered a little bit since bottoming out, but there is still one million barrels a day of overproduction. Furthermore, post-sanctions Iran and Libya are entering the market with more production. $1 trillion in planned capital investment in the oil sector for 2015-2020 has already been slashed.

The new world slump that many economists are predicting would simply pile disaster upon the existing disaster for workers dependent on the resource-extraction sector. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for these workers within a capitalist system in crisis and decline.

A fatal blow for working class and aboriginal communities

The tragedy of the present closures is not just their specific economic impact. These northern communities were already in a situation of profound economic and social crisis. Poverty, unemployment, suicide, crime, and imprisonment already defined life in the region.2009 0520 Thompson WolfMural

These events represent a serious blow for working class people, but could equally be expressed as a major attack on aboriginal communities. The town of Churchill is 56% aboriginal, The Pas is 46% aboriginal, and Thompson is 35.2% aboriginal.

Niki Ashton’s electoral district representing Northern Manitoba has the highest aboriginal population of any electoral district in Canada, at 61.1% according to the 2006 census. The largest indigenous group is the Cree, with 21.6% of residents speaking the Cree language as their mother tongue.

The Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives released a report in 2016 that showed that 60% of aboriginal children on reserves live in poverty. This figure rises to 69% in Saskatchewan, and further still to 76% in Manitoba. In Northern Manitoba, a full 49% of the entire population lives on reservations.

Unemployment will rise on and off reserve. Entire communities like Churchill could be abandoned, as people cannot afford to live there and would face home foreclosures due to prolonged unemployment.
While corporations are given handouts and bailouts, working class people, and especially aboriginal workers, are left to rot by pro-capitalist politicians.


The Human Cost of Capitalism

In early 2016, the Cree government of Pimicikamak declared a state of emergency at Cross Lake, Manitoba. Six people had committed suicide and there were 140 suicide attempts in two weeks. Similar emergencies have been declared elsewhere. In Attawapiskat, Ontario, 11 attempted suicide in one night. About 5% of the town’s population has attempted suicide from September 2015 to April 2016.

o LA LOCHE SHOOTING MEMORIAL facebookIn La Loche, Saskatchewan, the Dene aboriginal community suffered the highest rate of suicide in the province, with an average of 43.4 suicide deaths per year. One of the deadliest school shootings in Canadian history brought national attention to this small town in January 2016.

The main factors contributing to high suicide rates have been youth poverty and unemployment, as well as the historic and ongoing trauma of anti-indigenous racism. Addiction and substance abuse is epidemic in many of these communities, including amphetamines, cocaine, alcohol usage and gas sniffing.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents Cross Lake and many other Manitoba communities, said, “this is the La Loche of Northern Manitoba, except the shooter is society.” She further explained that, “everyone had some connection to suicide” in the town.

The problems don’t stop at suicide and addiction. The only “opportunities” capitalism has on offer for many of the people in these communities is prison and crime. The City of Thompson, Manitoba has been Canada’s violent crime capital four times in the last 7 years.

In 2014, the violent crime rate per 100,000 people was 6,084 in The Pas and 5,878 in Thompson. The violent crime rate for Manitoba was 1,836, and it was 1,039 for Canada as a whole.

Manitoba has had the highest homicide rate of any province for many of the past years up to 2014. According to the CBC, 65.9% of the victims and 82.2% of the accused in homicides were aboriginal in 2014. In 2015, Saskatchewan surpassed Manitoba, though both had seen a rise in the homicide rate.

The disintegration of many working class and aboriginal communities is shown by skyrocketing imprisonment in Manitoba. According to a 2015 CBC report, “Manitoba jails are bursting at the seams, with the occupancy rate currently at 127 per cent. The Pas Correctional Centre​,​ which is designed to house 114 inmates​,​ currently has 262 people behind bars.”

The incarceration rate in Manitoba is 242.5 per 100,000 people, which is three times the national average. About 70% of the prison population is aboriginal, despite representing 15% of the province’s population.

In fact, one of the only growing occupations in the province is correctional officers, whose numbers have more than doubled from 985 in 2005 to 1,977 in 2015. This doesn’t include a further 566 officers in the youth correctional system.

With the closure of mines, ports, smelters and timber works, social crisis and disintegration can only worsen. Suicide, homelessness, addiction, imprisonment, crime, gangs, despair and murder will only increase.

Capitalism is literally killing these communities. For many of the people affected it must feel like waking up from a nightmare, only to enter a more terrible one. The responsibility for this disaster must be squarely placed on the corporate shareholders and executives in glistening skyscrapers in Toronto, Calgary, New York, and as far as Riyadh and Rio de Janeiro.

Which way forward for northern working class and indigenous communities?

The demand for the nationalization of the Port of Churchill is absolutely correct, and it is a positive development that a parliamentarian of the NDP is supporting the call. It is also a breath of fresh air compared to the policies of both the Federal and Manitoba NDP in the last period.

The present crisis was caused by the Federal Liberals and Conservatives, as well as by the old reformist NDP leadership. The Manitoba NDP government gave handouts to corporations instead of promoting social ownership and nationalization. This has clearly backfired. Tax dollars that could have been spent on health, housing, and education were handed out to corporations who are now announcing layoffs.

2016 04 20T01 26 09.9Z 1280x720Echoing the defeat of the Mulcair-led federal NDP, the pro-corporate policies of the Selinger leadership brought down the Manitoba NDP government in the 2016 provincial elections. Demoralization paved the way for the victory of Brian Pallister and the Conservatives.

The lesson is clear: socialist policies such as nationalization are the way to win and defeat the bosses’ parties. The demand for nationalization and workers control should not just be restricted to the privatized Port of Churchill. It should be extended to all the workplaces facing imminent closures such as in Thompson, The Pas and Flin Flon. A factory closed is a factory occupied.

The workers at most of the announced closures (Tolko Industries, Port of Churchill, Hudson Rail, VALE Inco) are unionized. Faced with the destruction of the union and of their broader communities, it is imperative that a struggle be organized against the closures.

To gain leverage when demanding government intervention, the workers must be mobilized. Given that the bosses want to shutter the factory and most certainly sell off the machinery, these struggles must lead to factory and workplace occupations.

Using the leverage of a workplace occupation, the workers could then demand that the workplace be nationalized, and run under democratic workers control and management. There should be no compensation for the owners, who have already robbed public coffers enough through subsidies and other handouts. Arguably, we should go after these corporations and their executives to return the handouts and invest the money to improve the efficiency of the plants.

The struggle against anti-aboriginal racism

In the context of economic decline, there are significant dangers of increased racism and other divisions within the working class and poor. The poison of racism has a long and violent history in Manitoba and in many Northern communities. The ruling class constantly promotes racism, and anti-aboriginal racism in particular has deep roots in Canadian capitalism.

Where there is growing scarcity and unemployment, the ruling class will try to promote ethnic divisions to prevent a united class struggle from developing. We have seen how xenophobia and racism has been promoted by the elite in Europe and in the USA in the context of economic crisis.

The unity of non-aboriginal workers with aboriginal workers is of burning importance, both within the North and between Northern communities and the main cities to the South. The only remedy to racism is the united struggle of all workers. Despite differences in language or skin colour, all workers face common problems. The fight for good jobs, for full employment, for quality social services and for socialism can cut across racial divisions. The struggle for economic demands must be closely tied to the fight against racial oppression.

To prevent the working class, family farmers, and poor people from being divided and fighting among each other for scraps from the table, the fight must be directed against those sitting at the boardroom table. The real enemies are the billionaires, as well as the politicians that serve these corporate interests.

Socialism and working class unity is the antidote to a sick system

churchill residents

The problems of unemployment, of workplace closures and of corporations putting their profits first over the needs of working class and aboriginal communities will continue as long as the levers of the economy are in private hands. Why should we leave our communities in the hands of corporate executives on Bay Street?

The demand to nationalize the Port of Churchill should be extended to all the key sectors of the economy. The transportation companies, the grain distributors and agribusiness firms, the mines, smelters, and the timber industry should all be placed into public hands and under the democratic control of the workers, aboriginal communities and the local community as a whole. They could then be integrated through a democratic socialist plan of production that would assure that jobs are preserved, societal needs are met, and the natural creativity of the working class is unleashed. 

Fightback proposes the following program for the struggle in the North:

 1. Save Jobs! Nationalize OmniTRAX, Vale, and Tolko Industries under democratic workers' control!

2. Unions must mobilize against the layoffs! Ports, mines, and factories that are set for closure should be occupied by the workers!

3. Unity between non-aboriginal and aboriginal workers, between employed and unemployed, and between workers in the North and South!

4. Nationalize transportation, the resource industry, grain handling, and other key industries and integrate them via a democratic socialist plan of production!

5. No compensation for the corporate parasites!

6. Use the profits to massively increase social investment in northern working class and aboriginal communities! Full employment, quality education, housing and social services for all!

Read Part I

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