The biggest BI event in Toronto since the Basic Income Canada Network congress in 2012 went off at OISE auditorium on April 13. In fact that was where the congress happened. Someone estimated that 600 people attended the event put on by the LEAP coalition at the old rumble cavern.
The inspiration was a section in the LEAP manifesto adopted by the NDP at its last policy convention. Section 13 reads as follows;
“Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currently unpaid and often performed by women, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income.”
Find the manifesto at https://leapmanifesto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/leaplet_reading.pdf
There are problems with this section. It calls only for a “vigorous debate”. Some of us are not so enamoured with debates, we do not find them too useful. What is really needed is some people getting out and doing some work. As well, more people who can actually explain what the issue is really about.
The section frames the BI solely in terms of one narrow problem; the lack of recognition of the value of care givers. This can be dangerous as it gives the idea that a BI is just about a caregiver’s allowance. As well, they use four different words to refer to the BI, but never define what they are talking about.
So to the debate itself, which came up on video shortly after the event. This video is found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfAxpc-r_EM
Here are my notes on it;
It is interesting that the vote before and after the event did not change. About 2/3rds of the hall were for a BI. Jo Grey put in a supplemental question at the end; who supports a human rights approach to BI? That was almost unanimous.
Avi Lewis. He is a journalist and documentary film maker. He is the lead organizer of the discussion and the moderator. He says he does not have his own mind made up about BI.
He notes that the section 13 in LEAP is weasel worded; it calls for a debate. It is a negotiated text among social groups with diverging ideas about it.
Avi notes that we are “among allies.” We are all on the left-progressive side of the political spectrum. But it is apparent what the big dividing line is between us all.
Avi hits on the key yardstick for measuring if a BI is good for bad. The question to ask is; does the BI plan increase people’s power over their lives, or decrease it?
He also pointed out the flaw in Caron’s a argumentation. He has this lofty rhetoric about putting forward something of our own rather than being on the defensive against Liberal and conservative attacks on what we already have. But his own proposal is not much better than what the Wynne liberals want to do.
Jo Grey. She comes from “human rights” activism and is a long time advocate of a Basic Income. She says just raising the rates does not solve most of the real problems poor people face.
She knows what she is talking about; she raised a family by herself on welfare in St. Jamestown and is still here to tell about it. People today do not have time to do anything to aid the community, they are so busy running around trying to get by. Ultimately, it is about freedom from fear.
She delivered the best rebut to the “anti” camp. That is, they do not propose anything else. The left is stuck in “anti” and cannot find anything to be for. What is their alternative?
As well, where are all these employers who are going to be able to pay a “living wage?” Small businesses provide most of the jobs and most can’t pay a living wage in the present economy. She also notices that the living cost in Toronto is about twice what it is everywhere else, and seems to grasp the consequences of that.
She likes the idea of the pilot. She says it shows the province admits there is a problem. If they do not do anything about it this gives us a way to take them to court. Jo is always a bit over optimistic about the efficacy of taking governments to court over social issues.
At the end of three years of the pilot, have we simply lost three years? What else was going to happen in those three years anyway?
As for how to pay for a BI, how are we going to pay for an increase in welfare payments? As for support from the ruling class, the big reason we are now having discussion of BI is that they realize we are this close to violent revolution and are considering an alternative to having their wealth confiscated. Over to you, John.
Guy Caron. He is a trained economist and an NDP member of parliament form Quebec, currently running to be leader of the NDP. He has BI on his platform.
He says that we have the means with the GIS and child benefit, the machinery to deliver a BI. Why don’t we use this? It will require some “investment”. It will require some restructuring of the economy and tax system.
It is not “should we do it” but when and how it gets done. Do we let the conservatives do it their way or do we do it our way? Exactly right, I say! Should I vote for this Guy? Alas, I don’t think he has a great chance of winning the leadership.
John Clarke. Most Torontonians know Clarke. He is the head of the OCAP group, the main proponents of “revolutionary class struggle” in the city. His theme, hammered hard, is that there is no end run around the capitalist system.
All talk about the positive benefits but not about the societal context in which it must be established, is misguided. All social programs are reluctant concessions by the state. He notes that the right wing views BI as a wage top up.
Oddly, he is not as optimistic as Jo about the prospects of revolution in the near future. It is likely he has the same view as most ”revolutionaries”; that the revolution is real only when we control it. It won’t happen until things get a lot worse. Then the people will rise up and from that we get to seize power and impose our ideas on everyone els, except we will get it right this time. Pft!
Yet Clarke finds a point of a agreement with Grey. He asks why the province should not just give what they are giving to these test subjects to everybody right now. Yes, that would be a good start.
Jessica Sikora. She is an official of a social worker’s union. She kept emphasizing the word “basic”. BI was “a bandaid on a gaping wound”. She pointed out that the provincial proposal for a BI pilot would have no net benefit to its recipients. All gains are taxed away.
A BI would not be implemented in a vacuum, says she. So, we wait until we have an enlightened government? When would that happen? The NDP has historically been famous for talking left when out of office and acting right when in office. The Rae NDP government in Ontario is famous for being harsh to welfare recipients and with setting up the even harsher actions of the Harris government.
What is striking about her argumentation is the very paternalistic subtext to it. She praises the “fifteen and fairness” campaign and has the idea that the BI is about undermining that campaign. But $15 an hour minimum wages only helps people we are able to work.
Further, she is hung up on this “collective bargaining” idea. She believes people should be attached to a workplace so that the employer has responsibility for paying them a decent wage. This is paternalistic and bordering on feudalistic.
In sum, the antis both talked in terms of industrial age thinking. The pros were thinking about the world of the future. Basic Income does indeed give the left a way forward. It is the key component of what has been lacking in all “left” discourse until now; an actual model of how a socialist society could work. Some who are “on the left” are able to take it up and some are still stuck in failed dogmas from the past.
My favourite line of the whole debate came from Jo Grey. She asked; “Isn’t it better for us all to be fighting for a Basic Income that all fighting in a million different directions for a million different things”? ( Minute 1:17 on the tape) This is exactly my own philosophy about advocacy.