Organizers of the April 20-22 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City were following standard protocol for meetings of trade-pact negotiators when they invited multinational corporations to pay $500,000 Canadian (about $320,000 US) for the right to deliver "welcoming remarks" to US President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the representatives of thirty-two other Western Hemisphere nations gathered to promote the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. But the summit sponsorships have stirred a furor among Canadians over the selling of access to corporations in a position to benefit from a trade scheme that
Council of Canadians
says "will give unequaled new rights to the transnational corporations of the hemisphere to compete for and even challenge every publicly funded service of its governments, including healthcare, education, social security, culture and environmental protection." Conservative Party leader Joe Clark called the arrangement "insulting to anyone who believes in democracy." Referring to elaborate security precautions being put in place to prevent protesters from getting near the summit,
New Democratic Party
says, "Half a million dollars and you are in, no problem, instant access. No money, stay behind the chain-link fence. Is the real reason the Prime Minister is ignoring critics that they do not have half a million dollars to put their message on a tote bag?" Jean-Pierre Charboneau, speaker of Quebec's National Assembly, has called on provincial officials to release 900 pages of secret summit negotiating texts to the media and trade foes. Under pressure from NDP and Bloc Quebecois members, Canada's parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade has scheduled hearings on the summit and FTAA, and "liberate the texts" protests are planned for Ottawa.
PARTY OF PROTEST
The controversy surrounding the summit and Canadian participation in the FTAA has given impetus to forces seeking to reshape Canada's democratic socialist New Democratic Party. Battered in recent elections, the NDP has been under pressure from traditionally supportive but increasingly frustrated unions, particularly the militant 220,000-member
Canadian Auto Workers
, to identify itself as a more explicitly anticorporate and activist political force. All thirteen NDP members of Parliament will be in Quebec City to join mass protests. Rabble-rousing NDP parliamentarian
hailed the new direction as "long overdue" and seized the opportunity to invite Montreal-based protest group
to Parliament Hill to provide nonviolent civil disobedience training.
Because of Canada's stronger labor protections and broader social safety net, Canadian corporations often look to leap across the US border in the same way that US firms ponder moving operations to Mexico. In Manitoba, 250 striking Canadian Auto Workers members are fighting to prevent a move by Winnipeg's Buhler Versatile tractor plant to Fargo, North Dakota. The union has demanded that federal and provincial governments move to nationalize the plant, which was purchased by current owner John Buhler with substantial government assistance. "We're not going to sit back and allow this factory to be dismantled and moved," says CAW official
NURSING A GRIEVANCE
Six years ago the
California Nurses Association
--a militant union that has become a prime mover in campaigns for national healthcare reform, an ironclad patients' bill of rights and whistleblower protections for nurses--broke with the American Nurses Association. Now, following the CNA's lead, the 20,000-member
Massachusetts Nurses Association
has voted by a 4-to-1 margin to end a ninety-eight-year affiliation with the ANA. The ANA has come under increasing criticism for being too cautious in challenging the worst excesses of healthcare corporatization: managed-care abuses, staff shortages, mandatory overtime and limits on the ability of nurses to advocate for patients. The Massachusetts nurses' plan to forge links with the CNA and the
Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses
to create what MNA president
predicts will be a national nurses' "movement for real reform and dramatic change."
George W. Bush's campaign on behalf of his $1.6 trillion tax cut has been running into trouble not only in Washington, where senators are balking at the scheme to make the rich a whole lot richer, but also at the grassroots. Recent Bush barnstorming visits to Chicago and Portland were confronted by protests organized by
Citizen Action of Illinois
, which are aligned with the new
Fair Taxes for All Coalition
, organized by
People for the American Way
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
and more than 100 other union and civil rights groups. Many of the groups began working together in the fight to block the confirmation of John Ashcroft as Attorney General, says
. The twist is that the coalition is now stronger on the ground, with organizing continuing in twenty-eight states and April 11 rallies planned to counter Bush's pressure on wavering Democrats.