The people are fighting back and in glorious fashion — peacefully and with creativity and imagination.
Driven by the power of social media and the frustrations of citizens, by mid-week the Occupy Wall Street movement had spread to over 1,500 cities around the globe. It included a stunning display of solidarity on Oct. 15 which saw people by the thousands and thousands occupying public space, holding sit-ins, setting up tent communities, in cities around the world, including St. John’s.
And all week they have stayed at Harbourside Park inspiring even the most jaded with their commitment to bringing attention to an economic system that delivers stunning gains to one per cent of the world’s wealthiest citizens and corporations.
Not just the United States
If you think that is just true for countries like the United States, you’d be dead wrong. As pointed out by economist Armine Yalnizyan recently, during the strongest period of economic growth in the last 30 years (1997-2007), a full third of all income gains went to the richest one per cent of Canadians. She says this is by no means normal.
Yalnizyan also notes that in the past 30 years, median earnings for full-time workers in Canada increased by just $1,500 (after inflation) despite a more educated workforce.
Economist Jim Stanford’s analysis of Canada’s ultra-rich also illustrates why income inequality is not just a U.S. problem.
Deep pockets of the few
Canada’s 61 billionaires have a combined wealth of $162 billion — equalling about six per cent of all personal net worth in the country. By contrast or comparison, the bottom 50 per cent of Canadians (or 17 million people) own about three per cent of the country’s personal net worth. Wow.
While some media reports have bemoaned the lack of focus of demands by the Occupiers, these reports miss the point.
The fact is, for the first time since the financial crash of 2008-09, an intense and sustained light is being shone on a system of unfettered capitalism and globalization that produces billionaires, super-sized multinational corporations and startling inequality.
But it is not just the unfairness of this system that is being held up for ridicule and examination, it is how governments around the world have catered to the interests of the one per cent and how government policies have supported the greed, while oftentimes telling citizens to tighten their belts and get used to the austerity.
It is also the fact that since the financial and economic crisis, banks, financials institutions, corporations and their CEOs continue to rake in their fine salaries and even finer profits, while everyone else is being told the world can’t afford pensions or decent wages for them.
It is about the fact that this is happening after public money was used to bail out many of these banks and corporations and they returned to greed as normal, while people are losing their homes, fighting concessions at the bargaining table, or wondering if the dream of doing better than their parents is just that — a dream.
And no government can claim they have not catered to the interests of the those in the richest percentage, certainly not Stephen Harper’s government with massive tax cuts to wealthy Canadians and corporations.
Not even the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has clean hands.
It recently announced in its election bluebook a plan to get rid of the health and education tax. The big beneficiaries of that $120-million tax cut? The biggest and wealthiest employers in the province. Banks, oil companies and mining corporations do not need another tax break.
And when they fulfil this election promise, it will only worsen the already strikingly lopsided way our wealth is currently shared or divided in Newfoundland and Labrador.
We are a province where, in the last decade, corporate profits as a share of our GDP were twice the national average and the share to workers in wages and salaries was the lowest in Canada, considerably below the national average. In other words, corporations are making a killing in this province. Most of these profits do not even stay in this province and our government has just made it worse.
It’s not unlike the direction of the Harper Conservatives who consistently hand out billions and billions of dollars in tax cuts to wealthy corporations while dismantling important public services like the maritime rescue centre in St. John’s. It’s about catering to the one per cent.
Last week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty noted in patronizing fashion that protesters in the United States had a point, but in Canada we had no beef.
This, of course, is not true and Mr. Flaherty knows it.
Even Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, acknowledged that the Occupy movement had a point and was understandable given the increase in inequality as a result of globalization. He called the protests “entirely constructive,” perhaps shocking the entitled financial sector with his frank analysis.
Mr. Flaherty knows that under his government, income inequality is now growing at a faster pace in Canada than even in the United States. And some of that is because of government tax policies that favour high-income earners and the wealthy.
The people of Canada have lots to be angry about. And politicians should beware: a blasty bough has been lit and it continues to burn.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her column returns Nov. 5.