Making poverty an election issue FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 2 Nov 1998 09:32:26 -0400


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http://www.montrealgazette.com:80/PAGES/981025/1963251.html
FWD  Montreal {Canada} Gazzette - Thursday 29 October 1998


MAKING POVERTY AN ELECTION ISSUE
What is needed is a return to the militant spirit that won
victories in the past

David Fennario FENNARIO - Freelance [writer]


In The Gazette Oct. 17, an excellent article by Michelle Lalonde pointed
out that none of the mayoral candidates in the civic election feel it's
necessary to mention poverty as a campaign issue.

Is it because there are no visible poor people in Montreal? I doubt it,
because according to Lalonde an astonishing 41 per cent of Montreal's
population falls below Revenue Canada's low-income cutoff. Call me
cynical, but judging from the interchangeable smiles on the campaign
posters, I'd say that poverty will only become an issue in this civic election
if the poor make it an issue.

Why aren't the poor making themselves part of the political agenda? Why
aren't they forcing the issue? Certainly the history of past struggles by
anti-poverty groups in areas like Verdun-Point St. Charles demonstrates
that militancy can make a difference.

Back in the 1930s, anti-poverty groups organized rent strikes and protests
to stop evictions in Verdun. They also got militants elected to the city
council who pressured the mayor into making work projects for the
unemployed a priority. That's why Verdun has the Auditorium, the
Natitorium and a boardwalk, all dating back to that period of mass
unemployment.

Again in the 1960s and 1970s, Verdun played its role in the "rattrapage"
epoch, when general strikes and mass demonstrations propelled the
workers of Quebec out of their traditional status as cheap labour. Through
door-to-door mobilizing, anti-poverty groups were able to win rent
control, better housing laws and welfare benefits. Those were victories that
made a difference in the way people lived and how they interact, victories
that were won by groups organized by militants who believed in
grass-roots democracy, from the bottom up.

Starting in the 1980s, however, the concept of grass-roots control began to
change. That was partly because of the pressure put on groups by various
government funding agencies to refrain from militant action, a manoeuvre
that seems to validate an argument held by some militants that the
government, through its grants system, planned to sabotage the grass-roots
concept from the very beginning.

I tend to agree with that argument because of my experience with the
Verdun Citizens' Action Movement group back in the 1970s. I remember
at the peak of the fightback, when we had hundreds of people involved, the
government agencies were literally pleading with us to take money. Then,
when the movement went into a decline and the group became more
dependent on its full-time salaried organizers, suddenly we were informed
that monthly assessments of our work were now obligatory. The following
year, we were told point blank by a government official with an
interchangeable smile that we would have to change the name of our group,
because it was not only repetitious, but too militant in tone. So we dropped
Action from the title and became the Verdun Citizens' Movement. Then we
became the Verdun Citizens' Committee, then we disbanded before we
were forced, as others were, to refrain from demonstrations.

That's why there is a lack of fightback among the poor: so many of the
community groups became co-opted by the government. Too many of them
became fringe bureaucracies functioning only for the benefit of their
salaried executives rather than for the community, a process that started
when they allowed government control over their activities.

What is needed is a return to the spirit that won us our victories in the past,
a spirit I will illustrate by telling a story an old-time Verduner told me
about being unemployed back in the Depression days.

Some guys on relief were working on the construction of the Verdun
boardwalk with pick and shovel, under the direction of a foreman who was
a relative of the mayor. The foreman was a bossy guy, always pushing the
workers to work harder and faster. So the guys talked to him, told him to
lay off because, after all, they were only working for their relief cheque.
But the foreman wouldn't listen. So one day, six of the workers grabbed
the foreman, shoved him into the tool chest, then rolled it down the
embankment, with him in it. "After that," said my friend, "the foreman
was just sweet as sugar.

END FORWARD
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receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

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FWD  Montreal {Canada} Gazzette - Thursday 29 October 1998



<paraindent><param>right,left</param>MAKING POVERTY AN ELECTION ISSUE

What is needed is a return to the militant spirit that won

victories in the past


David Fennario FENNARIO - Freelance [writer]

</paraindent>


In The Gazette Oct. 17, an excellent article by Michelle Lalonde
pointed

out that none of the mayoral candidates in the civic election feel
it's

necessary to mention poverty as a campaign issue. 


Is it because there are no visible poor people in Montreal? I doubt
it,

because according to Lalonde an astonishing 41 per cent of Montreal's

population falls below Revenue Canada's low-income cutoff. Call me

cynical, but judging from the interchangeable smiles on the campaign

posters, I'd say that poverty will only become an issue in this civic
election

if the poor make it an issue. 


Why aren't the poor making themselves part of the political agenda?
Why

aren't they forcing the issue? Certainly the history of past struggles
by

anti-poverty groups in areas like Verdun-Point St. Charles
demonstrates

that militancy can make a difference. 


Back in the 1930s, anti-poverty groups organized rent strikes and
protests

to stop evictions in Verdun. They also got militants elected to the
city

council who pressured the mayor into making work projects for the

unemployed a priority. That's why Verdun has the Auditorium, the

Natitorium and a boardwalk, all dating back to that period of mass

unemployment. 


Again in the 1960s and 1970s, Verdun played its role in the
"rattrapage"

epoch, when general strikes and mass demonstrations propelled the

workers of Quebec out of their traditional status as cheap labour.
Through

door-to-door mobilizing, anti-poverty groups were able to win rent

control, better housing laws and welfare benefits. Those were victories
that

made a difference in the way people lived and how they interact,
victories

that were won by groups organized by militants who believed in

grass-roots democracy, from the bottom up. 


Starting in the 1980s, however, the concept of grass-roots control
began to

change. That was partly because of the pressure put on groups by
various

government funding agencies to refrain from militant action, a
manoeuvre

that seems to validate an argument held by some militants that the

government, through its grants system, planned to sabotage the
grass-roots

concept from the very beginning. 


I tend to agree with that argument because of my experience with the

Verdun Citizens' Action Movement group back in the 1970s. I remember

at the peak of the fightback, when we had hundreds of people involved,
the

government agencies were literally pleading with us to take money.
Then,

when the movement went into a decline and the group became more

dependent on its full-time salaried organizers, suddenly we were
informed

that monthly assessments of our work were now obligatory. The
following

year, we were told point blank by a government official with an

interchangeable smile that we would have to change the name of our
group,

because it was not only repetitious, but too militant in tone. So we
dropped

Action from the title and became the Verdun Citizens' Movement. Then
we

became the Verdun Citizens' Committee, then we disbanded before we

were forced, as others were, to refrain from demonstrations. 


That's why there is a lack of fightback among the poor: so many of the

community groups became co-opted by the government. Too many of them

became fringe bureaucracies functioning only for the benefit of their

salaried executives rather than for the community, a process that
started

when they allowed government control over their activities. 


What is needed is a return to the spirit that won us our victories in
the past,

a spirit I will illustrate by telling a story an old-time Verduner told
me

about being unemployed back in the Depression days. 


Some guys on relief were working on the construction of the Verdun

boardwalk with pick and shovel, under the direction of a foreman who
was

a relative of the mayor. The foreman was a bossy guy, always pushing
the

workers to work harder and faster. So the guys talked to him, told him
to

lay off because, after all, they were only working for their relief
cheque.

But the foreman wouldn't listen. So one day, six of the workers
grabbed

the foreman, shoved him into the tool chest, then rolled it down the

embankment, with him in it. "After that," said my friend, "the foreman

was just sweet as sugar.


END FORWARD

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **


HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page

ARCHIVES  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN

TO JOIN  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <<wgcp@earthlink.net>

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