Dear Brother John A. Costa,
International President of the Amalgamated Transit Union
I hope this letter finds you well. Let me introduce myself. My name is Blake McCall and I am an active rank and file member of ATU Local 107 in Hamilton, Ontario. I have been a member for just under five years. I am writing to express my dismay that the International Executive chose not to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders for President.
I was extremely proud in 2016 when ATU endorsed Senator Sanders. This was the correct decision then and is the correct decision now. I understand the desire to stop Trump. Yet endorsing Vice President Biden on the sole basis of elect-ability misses the ways that the far right is being fuelled by decades of failed neoliberal policies. This endorsement suggests that removing Trump alone would be enough for our members to see gains and improvements in their lives. I do not believe that to be true. We live on different terrain.This election is not about elect-ability nor is it about personalities. It’s about the future. A future that for younger generations, like myself, facing climate change, inequality, and a rising far right is getting bleaker and bleaker. Senator Sanders commitment to building a political movement capable of challenging the power of capital offers hope that crosses borders.
Trump may not be my elected leader but to think that his influence does not leap across borders is foolhardy. His influence in Canadian Politics in the last 4 years is notable with the tragic mosque shoot in Quebec City in 2017 shortly after Trump’s weeks-long demonization of Muslims. Our political parties are increasing their anti-immigrant sentiment, including our so called progressive Prime Minister Trudeau, who has actively changed immigration law to make it easier to deport and harder for folks fleeing violence to claim asylum in Canada. The general right wing turn of all parties is most evident in the creation of our own far right party“The People’s Party” that preaches libertarian economics infused with anti immigrant hate.
Since Trump’s rise in 2016 my city of Hamilton has seen a significant rise in white supremacist/fascist organizing and currently leads Canada in the number of reported hate crimes. For over a year a group of people calling themselves Yellow Vests, along with other groups such as the Soldiers of Odin, Canadian Nationalist Party, Proud Boys and others have been rallying in front of our City Hall every Saturday. These groups incite hate towards immigrants and the 2SLGBTQIA community, spout misogyny around sex education and attack progressive politicians. This culminated last June with an all out attack on Pride celebrations which left friends and trade unionists bloodied for defending themselves and left questions that still linger of police inaction and civic accountability.
This rise can’t only be blamed on Trump; there is a long history of White Supremacy in Canada that we need to fight against. But the hateful rhetoric which bounds out of phones plugged into Facebook and twitter, and out of TVs playing Fox and CNN only makes it worse and leaves racist feeling emboldened and empowered to take their hateful ideas into the public realm.
I am part of a group of labour activists that are working to educate our respective memberships on why this is a union issue and how to fight back against hate. One thing we organizers are all aware of is that there are roots to the racism and bigotry of Trump supporters and the folks in Hamilton. The stagnation of wages and living standards, the rising cost of rent and basic goods, the rise of contract flipping and temporary contracts -all work to create conditions where future imaginations are forestalled and replaced with anger and feelings of displacement.
Trump did not make these conditions; 30 years of status quo, neoliberal austerity did. Trump and others worldwide are simply exploiting them for political gain while ensuring that capital is safe for the billionaires. The far right that Trump has unleashed in the States (or Bolsonaro in Brazil, Salvini in Italy, etc.), is a many headed hydra. Chopping a head off this mythical Greek serpent (that is all too real) will only make two grow back in its place. The solution must be to cauterize the wound with revolutionary changes to the day to day lives of workers instead. Bernie is the only candidate that can offer those radical changes to dramatically improve the lives of the working class in the States while drawing and inspiring a road map for those like myself working towards similar aims in other places.
In 2017, worldwide the 1% have gobbled up 82% of all new wealth created. This is wealth that is not going to our members, or passengers, or the diverse working class worldwide. Billionaires become billionaires not through hard work, but through exploitation of their workforce, paying starvation wages, forcing longer hours, minimal benefits, demanding more and more while getting less and less. They then turn their attention to our governments demanding tax breaks and corporate loopholes, labour and environmental deregulation. This ensures a free reign in their ability to accumulate. Since the 1980s, our governments have fallen for this scam, letting a tax base go to overseas bank accounts and forcing governments to cut services necessary for us all to thrive.
We only need to look as far as our transit systems to see the damage that this has done. Old buses, overburdened routes, short staffing, stagnating wages, privatization. We cannot make changes thinking that billionaires are our allies no matter how progressive their philanthropic donations are. They are the material sources of the problem and we need someone to provide leadership against them. Beyond that, we need someone who understands the urgency of defeating them not just at the ballot box, but also by increasing union density and union activism and taking the fight right to their factory doors.
I am at the beginning of my career in transit, but it gets harder to imagine every year what my future work life and retirement will look like. The ICPP report on climate change has stated that we have at best until 2030 to drop our carbon emissions to stave off the worst of climate change. Worldwide it is looking very unlikely that this will not happen. Here again, Trump alone is not the only problem. In Canada we have the highest individual proportion of carbon output worldwide, we have the largest Carbon producing project in the world in the Alberta Tar Sands, and our governments are investing more in pipelines (the current estimate is over $12 billion) through territories of Indigenous nations who have not consented to the project, than they have on carbon mitigation projects.
We have our own fights here that I am well aware of. Yet Sander’s centering of the Green New Deal in his platform has been tremendously exciting. The idea that we can change the situation before it is too late, and we can change it for the betterment of the working class. We cannot defeat climate change with tepid reforms that attack individual consumption, but need to embrace movements like the Sunrise movement to demand bigger and bolder change. Shouldn’t a transit Union be at the forefront of the demands for a Green New Deal? Shouldn’t we be breaking down every door we can to scream about the need to transform our cities, that we need to invest billions if not trillions to reduce our carbon footprint. That one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to do this is for massive investment in public transit? Why wouldn’t we? Are our imaginations about what is possible really so small?
The far right, economic inequality, and climate change reinforce and strengthen each other. As far right governments are elected they ignore climate change and give the rich larger tax breaks making life worse for the working class and creating conditions for the further rise of the far right. Yet, I believe deeply that the power of the working class has the ability to change these conditions. I believe that the Labour movement can be a place for this change to happen. However, this can only happen if we are ready to embrace bold ideas, if we are ready to take risks that challenge the status quo at the ballot box and within our Unions.
The election sphere is only one place where we as the working class can exert our power and not even our best place. If Bernie wins he will be beset by more challenges and obstacles then we can even imagine. But his power is not what he is able to do, but the ways he is engaging and demanding more of his supporters, building a movement that we can take into the workplace, and our communities, raising our imaginations about what is possible and demanding it. This is his singular transformative power. It’s not just about the election, but what what happens after, for possibly the next generation. This is why I am so excited by him. And it is also why I think the ATU International Executive is being so short-sighted.
I was always taught that leadership is not the ability to make every decision correctly, but to be able to be held accountable and correct a mistake when it was made. It was a mistake to support Vice President Biden and to change now is not a sign of weakness but of leadership. I implore you Brother Costa to think beyond this election cycle to future generations and how we can reimagine what lies ahead. I have a week of vacation on March 8. The Michigan primary is March 10. I plan on making the 3 hour drive to help get out the vote in Detroit. It is my hope that I will see you there.
In Solidarity and Friendship,
Brother Blake McCall
Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 107