10 Apr 2012

How massive 'One Big Campaign'
could defeat Harper Conservatives

A massive, well-thought-out campaign involving thousands of social activist groups, labour, and grassroots organizations would have an excellent chance of handing the Harper regime a significant defeat on a hugely important issue: income disparity.

The public outrage over income disparity, brought to light by the Occupy Movement last year with its ‘99 vs 1 per cent’ slogan, is a good indication that Canadians would support a huge campaign to put the majority Conservatives in their place.

Harper’s failed “trickle down” policy has made Canada’s rich even richer, while many millions of other Canadians have lost ground:

  • More Canadians than ever before are shamed into going to food banks to feed their families; 
  • While the official unemployment rate is 7.2 per cent, the real rate is closer to 14 per cent;
  • The number of working poor has increased to the highest level ever in many parts of the country because many new work opportunities are McJobs; and
  • Ordinary Canadians have seen their real wealth stagnate over the past years. In the period between 1980 and 2005 the median earnings for workers in Canada rose by just $53.00 annually. 

In March, 2012, even the Bank of Canada urged governments to enact policies to rein in the excesses of free markets and reduce income disparities, arguing this would strengthen the economy. But Harper does not appear to be budging.

Groups should mount a huge campaign 
A number of groups, such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives  (CCPA) and the National Union of Public and General Employees  (NUPGE) and its branches, have income disparity on their agenda. However, no substantial campaigning appears to be planned. Moreover, the NDP will not have its chance to win an election for another three years.

Here is what could be carried out in an all-out campaign:

THE ISSUE: In organized campaigning, leading groups need to identify the weakness of the targeted organization(s). Given the Conservatives’ vulnerability around “99 vs 1 per cent” issues, income disparity seems to be a good choice for a first campaign.

THE TARGETS: The federal government as well as the symbol of ill-gotten wealth: the Canadian bank employing the executive who had the highest income in the sector in 2011. The targeted bank would be the Toronto-Dominion Bank, which posted a record-high profit in 2011. Its president, Ed Clark, who demonstrates his social conscience in his personal life, also was the highest paid bank executive, earning $11.28-million during the year.

STRATEGY: Choosing the right strategy and tactics is hugely important. Member groups with the best track record of developing effective campaigns would be best suited to identify the proper tactics to be used. An interesting mix might bring together Greenpeace, Dogwood Initiative, and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and the Council of Canadians.

THEME: Canadians want the Harper government to end its immoral theft of billions of dollars from ordinary Canadians, which ends up in the pockets of the wealthy.

RESEARCH: Research groups such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Canadians for Tax Fairness and similar groups could produce reports documenting the implications of wage disparity and recommending what changes could be made to create greater fairness in the tax system.

ACTIVITIES: To be successful against a huge bank and the Conservative government a giant cooperative movement would need to deploy a wide variety of activities – some of them more aggressive than those normally used by the Canadian progressive movement.

When the campaign is officially launched, ideally six or eight branches of the Toronto-Dominion would be targeted for a series of actions. As a first step, Canadians would be asked to close their TD accounts at those particular branches and move their monies and business to credit unions or other banking institutions.

A huge communications campaign, perhaps spun out by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Friends of the Earth Canada  (FoE) and others, would make use of the mailing lists of thousands of progressive groups and unions to reach out to millions of Canadians. Snappy, well-written, reports on why and how the campaign would be conducted would be circulated.

If the majority of Canada’s more than 15,000 progressive groups and unions with more than 4-million members signed on for the action, it would be possible that the number of people supporting the campaign would exceed the 5,832,401 votes received by the Conservatives in the 2011 election. This would be an amazing accomplishment, but it is possible.

A Social Media program aimed at TD-Bank and the government would be put in place. Leadnow has strong skills in this area, and there are others it could work with. A huge Facebook effort could be organized, with the strong participation of Fire the Liars and other groups. Mailing lists and other mechanisms would be used to ask Internet users to both promote the campaign and send protest emails to the TD Bank and the Conservatives on specific dates.

Moreover, the new cooperative movement would want to take advantage of its size and newly-won power. Leaders would pressure mainstream media to provide fair and accurate coverage of the campaign. Dozens of op-ed pieces, media interviews, and letters to the editor would be published during the campaign.

Partner groups, particularly unions, would be asked to contribute to a fund of at least $500,000 that would be used to buy strategically-placed ads.

From time to time, picket lines, perhaps organized by unions such as the United Steelworkers and the huge United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCWC) would be set up on public property in front of the six or eight TD branches. People would be asked to move their business elsewhere. At the same time, pickets would talk with bank employees and provide them with literature explaining why the action is taking place. A variety of prominent people would be asked to be pickets.

The Occupy Movement could play a “front line” role by carrying out disruptive protests that would involve “hit-and-run” occupations at the target branches, closing them down for an hour or two at a time.

Acting within legal boundaries, rotating teams of Internet users could occasionally flood TD Bank and government websites and email addresses with messages requesting that the bank urge the government to implement progressive tax policies.

At some point, campaign organizers could assess whether it would be possible to stage a huge rally in support of fair income distribution on Parliament Hill. A rally of 10,000 or even 20,000 people would not create enough impact. But if just one rally drawing perhaps 100,000 people were held, that would definitely send the right message. Shutting down Harper’s phoney majority government in the House for a couple of hours would be a nice bonus!

Two other possibilities:

  • The cooperative movement could ask a comedy troupe to come up with some comedy routines that would mock the way the Conservatives and the rich collaborate to keep all the resources for themselves. And Operation Maple (Need new link) could create satirical videos.
  • The movement could ask legal experts to see if they feel there are any possibilities of taking legal action concerning any aspect of income disparity. 

DURATION: A series of actions scheduled over at least 12 months.

VARYING DEGREES OF SUCCESS: If supported by a wide range of organizations, such a campaign could be successful in a number of ways. It could:

  • force the Harper government to use the tax system to decrease income disparity in the country;
  • cost the Toronto Dominion Bank hundreds of account holders and possibly millions of dollars in deposits, encouraging the bank to be more socially responsible in the future;
  • politicize and educate hundreds-of-thousands of Canadians about the need for them to actively support progressive change and to vote for change in the 2015 election, and
  • demonstrate to the progressive community, unions and grassroots organizations themselves that, if they have the courage to act as a unified force, they can be highly influential in bringing positive change to the country. 

Community leaders from the progressive, labour and grassroots sectors need to have the courage to explore a concept that could have significant rewards for the country.
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