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Wage Slave News



9 February 2007

"A state of Constant Dread" blazed the headlines of "The Toronto Star" on January 13 2007, with the word "Dread" written in 2-1/2 x 11 inch type. "Poverty today," it continued, "It's fear. It's loneliness. It's not knowing whether your kids will have a decent place to sleep. In 2007, hidden in plain sight, one in six Canadians live in poverty."

The Star's editors, who have a long history of advocating reforms, have obviously decided something should be done about it, as it should, though the socialist answer may not be the one they seek. The article continued by giving some shocking figures - 70 000 people living in Toronto are on waiting lists for affordable housing. 14 150 Canadians were living in homeless shelters based on a 2001 census, and probably more by now. 120 "high poverty" neighbourhoods exist in Toronto, which is an amazing figure considering Toronto is considered one of North America's most prosperous cities and the city most immigrants to Canada head for. 5% of Toronto families are earning less than $20 000 a year. 750 000 Canadians rely on food banks to feed their families.

The article, by David Olive, trots out more horrible statistics, but they all mean the same thing - for a sizable portion of Canada's work force, things are really grim. Olive complains, first, that many who live in poverty are unable to do much to improve their condition. In the piecework factories in Toronto's Spadina Avenue garment district, hourly wages are lower than even the lowest minimum wage (New Brunswick's $6.70) due to the lax enforcement of the labour laws. Furthermore, too many are too busy working two jobs to organize and lobby politicians for a "better shake." Olive's second complaint is that these same politicians don't care. In his words they lack the "political will". Nevertheless there are a few well-meaning people around who are attempting to deal with the problem. It would be laughable, were it not so pathetic, that their attempts are doomed to end in failure.

Peggy Nash, the NDP MPP for Parkdale, High Park, Toronto, a riding where poverty is all too obvious, is typical of such well-meaning advocates. She admits that her Private Member's Bill to raise the minimum wage to $10/hour for workers in banking, transportation, telecommunications and other sectors covered by the Federal Labour Law, is no panacea, "It's just a start, a renewed effort to get people talking about why a G-8 nation tolerates so much poverty and suffering." Nash says, "And with luck it will encourage provincial governments to raise their minimum wage levels. Nash, however, has a clear idea of how poverty affects people: "Poverty is fear, malnutrition, chronic bad health, loneliness, illiteracy, and inadequate job skills and no time or money to upgrade them."

John Clarke, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), believes that only a widespread sense of outrage will rid us of "This evil.you have to challenge these injustices endured by our fellow citizens.only when politicians see that the public is active on its own discontent with the status quo will we see a difference." Clarke bemoans that workers in poverty put a strain on the taxation system in the form of welfare payments, the cost of incarceration among poorly supervised kids whose parents are collectively working three or four jobs, and visits to emergency wards because they cannot afford preventive care. Clarke is obviously unaware that it is the capitalist class that pays the bulk of taxation. In November, Canada's Food Banks Association noted that, "A majority segment of food bank clientŠle are working people who complain about not being able to obtain more than 25 hours of work per week from any given employer." This makes them take on additional jobs. "Working night and day including graveyard shifts and no time for their spouse and kids and still not getting ahead," says Clarke. John Murphy, chairman of The National Council for Welfare (an advisory body to the federal government's Human Resources and Social Development Department) pointed out that, "Welfare incomes in every province remain far below the poverty line."

Hugh MacKenzie, a research associate on the Inequality Project at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, cites three key elements of an anti-poverty strategy. These would be affordable housing, pharmacare and universal child care. MacKenzie says, "A family's struggle to find housing sucks resources from nutrition and other essentials. Since going off traditional welfare means foregoing drug benefits, the absence of prescription drug coverage for working-poor families keeps them from climbing the welfare wall." Therefore, it can be clearly seen, that for a person who needs prescription drugs, they can be worse off in a low paid job than being on welfare. Child care is essential, according to MacKenzie, "Because we live in a society where as soon as kids are in school, parents are expected to work, almost always outside the home."

Nash is understandably concerned that the one hundred highest paid corporate CEOs in Canada are paid an average of $9 million a year and the $22 000 raise that Ontario MPPs recently voted themselves exceeds Ontario's $19 032 in annual welfare assistance for a couple with two children, which represents a 17% drop since 1989. In one respect, Nash sees things clearly: "Our market economy is marvelous at creating wealth but there's so little fairness in how that wealth is distributed." So little? There is none. Her final thought is: "These huge and growing extremes in wealth and poverty are not in anyone's interest." - You sure said it lady!

The comments of Nash, Clarke, Murphy, and MacKenzie are included in this review because it shows how out of touch with reality these well-meaning people are. The anarchy of production of the capitalist system means there is no overall planning to match production with human need. Anyone can start up or ramp up production when sales and chances for profit are high. Inevitably a saturation point is reached when demand is lower than production and we have an overabundance of goods. Workers must be laid off and factories closed, creating a recession. Since the seeds of the next boom are to be found in that recession - cheap labour, raw materials, machinery, and factory rent - then we have the continual boom and bust cycles familiar to capitalist production. When opportunity presents itself to the capitalist to expand production, he must be able to find the necessary labour. This is where the poor, unemployed and welfare people come in. They are `the reserve army' standing by on minimum benefits ready to be called on as required. In other words, they are a necessary part of the system and they won't go away while the profit system exists, and the people mentioned above are simply attacking the symptoms, not the disease.

The source of all social wealth is human labour. The working class produces an abundance of wealth, so much so that poverty could be eliminated very quickly if a Socialist society, based on the common ownership of the means to produce that wealth were established. Poverty is an endemic part of capitalism and it cannot be different. The fundamental aspects of capitalism are the ownership of the tools of production by a tiny minority of the world's population and the consequent wage-slavery of the majority. With production for profit, the capitalist tries to extract as much as possible from his workers, who inevitably resist and organize into unions to improve conditions as best they can, hence the class struggle.

Governments, dictatorial or democratic, exist to run the affairs of capitalism and therefore to preserve the status quo, which makes the continuation of poverty inevitable. This does not mean that there are no well-meaning politicians or political parties, but they cannot succeed in eliminating poverty within capitalism. For more than two centuries the profit system has held sway over this planet and none have succeeded in this endeavour yet. In 1945, the British Labour Party introduced the modern day welfare state which, in 1948, included medicare for all. Nobody would deny today that poverty exists in the UK and even their health system is in a mess and suffering from gross underfunding. Nor does it make sense to argue that we don't have socialism yet, so in the meantime we need to fight for reforms to at least reduce the worst effects of poverty. This argument has been voiced by so many for so long that `in the meantime' has become forever. The time is long past and too many people have suffered, are suffering, and will continue suffering until we attack the disease itself.

There is one way, and one way only, to abolish poverty, and that is to establish a socialist society in which the tools of production will be commonly owned and administered by the population as a whole in their own interests. In such a world, not only poverty but all the social evils created by the profit system will be abolished. Who would not want to abolish war, famine, crime, preventable disease, planned obsolescence, people having nervous breakdowns, and a host of other problems engendered by profit motives? Who would not want to replace them with a world where all will live in peace, harmony, and prosperity? This, dear reader, can be had as soon as people want it. So why not organize politically in the Socialist Party of Canada and its companion parties around the world to bring it to fruition.

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