Communities Not Cuts MB aims to be ‘big tent’ for organizations feeling pressure from provincial cuts
By Hiatt Abendschoen
The Pallister Government’s reaction to COVID-19 has grass-roots movements like Communities Not Cuts MB reinvigorating their anti-austerity efforts in Winnipeg.
Austerity can be described as the economic conditions created by the government taking measures to reduce a budget deficit, especially by reducing public expenditure.
Joe Wasylycia-Leis partnered with various community groups and unions to form CNC in 2016. The coalition was focused on addressing provincial issues. Efforts by the group faded away after a year.
“When COVID-19 hit, and it became clear Pallister was taking the opposite approach of how to navigate a recession, we sensed an appetite in the community to organise again,” Wasylycia-Leis said.
Wasylycia-Leis believes governments must stimulate the economy through large scale injections of financial support. He exemplifies governments like Denmark, which used the welfare state to promote social solidarity.
Wasylycia-Leis, a Political Science grad from the University of Winnipeg, described CNC’s two pillars simply: Organize concerned members of the community against budget cuts and austerity, and advocate for a better future for the province.
Since CNC’s revival, it has mobilized two Honkathons comprised of over 400 cars occupying the Legislative Building grounds in May. More recencently, CNC mobilized a People’s March on July 1, with 250 participants down Wellington Crescent, stopping in front of Pallister’s home.
David Camfield, an eco-socialist activist, participated in the People’s March.
“I don’t know when or if there’s ever been people on the left taking to march on Wellington Crescent,” Camfield said. “That was breaking new ground for Winnipeg.”
CNC collaborates with organizations like Solidarity Winnipeg,the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, Manitoba Health Coalition, Canadian Federation of Students, and various unions depending on the issue at hand.
Solidarity Winnipeg was started as an anti-austerity group in 2015 by a small team including Camfield. He said it has now evolved to lay the political basis necessary to make room for an eco-socialist political organization.
Camfield, a long-time activist, said the aim of eco-socialism is to replace the prioritization of the market with democratically determined priorities of human life by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a way that would make most people’s lives better.
“The priority on profit and rule of class power over human life has been so evident in the pandemic,” he said.
CNC intends to be a “Big Tent” organization which allows a broader scope of support and representation for its participants.
“People who might feel silenced by the fact their wage is paid by the government may not stand up to their employer,” Wasylycia-Leis said. He describes CNC as a way to pressure the government, to show that citizens are paying attention, while attracting new participants. CNC has no party affiliation.
“Regardless of where people’s starting points of political opposition stems, whether it be employment standards, indigenous rights, or social services, we all have a common interest in opposing austerity,” Camfield said.
He referenced Gordon and McCormack’s analysis of Canadian economics in Briarpatch Magazine which anticipated a recession in February, before COVID-19 impacted Canada.
“This is still very early days. This pandemic is not a flash in the pan…The economic crisis was triggered by the pandemic but was not caused by it. It was brewing anyway.”
Having moved to Winnipeg in 2003, Camfield claims that 17 years of NDP governance (1999-2016) fostered complacency on the Left, allowing room for the Tories to take power.
“[Pallister] has taken the pandemic as an opportunity to do things they wanted to do anyway,” Camfield said. “They were talking about huge cuts and then dialed it back because they got pushback from all quarters.”
Wasylycia-Leis commends the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ budget proposal for 2020. He said CNC endorses the document.
“Manitobans are reasonable people, and if you start a conversation about how they are impacted, they will listen.” Wasylycia-Leis said.
CNC is currently rolling out their summer social media campaign.