Friday, 29 January 2016

What Solidarity Winnipeg is all about, in the words of their spokesperson

Poster advertising a Solidarity Winnipeg forum.

Image Source: Facebook/Solidarity Winnipeg
Solidarity Winnipeg is a grassroots, leftwing movement in our city mobilizing as a force of independent left opposition. Their prime concern is opposing a potential Pallister CON government should one form after the 2016 provincial election. If that does not happen and the NDP is re-elected, they plan on pressuring the party into a more progressive policy direction. Given the history of any large, vaguely leftish group in the province being fairly direct auxiliaries of the provincial NDP this is certainly an interesting turn of events. A fairly independent, growing leftwing movement not shackled by partisan considerations has great potential for injecting balance and perspective into the "NDP vs NDP are evil socialists" politics of our province.

Centre-right blogger Derick (of Around This Town fame) asked if the group was the "anti-Manitoba Forward". The assessment sounds fair, as Manitoba Forward was a group organized at the elite level by rightwing folks with their own grievances against the Manitoba NDP. Solidarity Winnipeg, on the other hand, is a deliberative, street-level movement critical of all major Manitoba parties that has just nominated a spokesperson in Geoff Bergen. The group seems to be heavily, if not entirely, dependent on volunteers whereas Manitoba Forward was launched into the media as a fully formed organization with paid staff. This truly is an "anti-Manitoba Forward" in terms of both ideology and their approach to political organizing.

I have emailed Winnipeg Solidarity. They took a bit of time to get back to me - the nascent, grassroots organization had not yet chosen a spokesperson. Once Geoff Bergen was chosen as spokesperson for the organization he agreed to answer some questions I had.

Bold = My Questions
Blue = Solidarity Winnipeg spokesperson Geoff Bergen's answers

1) What was the main motivation for forming? Was there any core group that coalesced to form Winnipeg Solidarity and are there ties to earlier groups?

The main motivation for forming Solidarity Winnipeg was to create some sort of grassroots fight back against the PC's should they form government after the provincial election. Solidarity Winnipeg aims to attract people who do not want to see a PC victory but don't want to be involved in an NDP campaign. Though Solidarity Winnipeg is not campaigning for the NDP we are hoping for an NDP victory. If that should happen Solidarity Winnipeg will shift its grassroots campaign to putting pressure on the provincial NDP to resist austerity and make real progressive changes for Manitobans. Their was no core group that coalesced SolWpg and it has no ties to earlier groups. Some members of SolWpg are members of the NDP, some are not and never will be. Some members have worked together before and some are meeting for the first time. Our membership includes, but is not limited to student activists, environmental activists, anarchists, socialists, feminists, and trade unionists.

2) What, in particular, makes members of Winnipeg Solidarity fear that Brian Pallister would implement an austerity agenda of harsh program cuts? Are there any statements of his or the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba that are particularly concerning? 

The track records of the PC's and Liberals in other provinces is very telling as to what either of those party's may do should they win after April 19th. We only need to look at the Manitoba PC's in the 1990's to see how their party feels about spending on the public service. People shouldn't get caught up in the nice sounding rhetoric coming from Brain Pallister, he has already mentioned numerous times how he will cut "waste" in government. Should the PC's win it is to be expected that they will try to run the province differently then the NDP. This means things the NDP left alone, like the Labour Relations Act may be opened and changed by the PCs. Its extremely likely that if they win they will look at the books and announce that they have less money then they thought (true or not) and will institute austerity measures that will effect social services and workers livelihoods in Manitoba.

3) Based on social media posts, it seems Solidarity Winnipeg members are sceptical of Manitoba Liberal Party Leader Rana Bokhari and the type of administration the Manitoba Liberals would run. What is your main cause for concern? 

The Liberals are in the envious position where they can promise all kinds of things and never actually have to implement any of them nor follow through. At this point they seem to be making grab bag promises; change student loans to grants (good), privatize liquor sales (bad). Because the Manitoba Liberals are not likely to win this election they will likely continue to make campaign promises this way, with no way of being certain of what they will actually follow through on. Again, the Liberal Party's track record in Ontario also creates some skepticism of how the Liberals would actually run the province of Manitoba.

4) Winnipeg Solidarity, based on social media posts, seems to be critical of the Manitoba Liberal Party's pledges to privatize liquor sales. What would your main concerns with liquor sale privatization be?  

By privatizing liquor sales the government would be giving up revenue generated by those sales. That loss of revenue would result in more pressure to cut spending which would hurt Manitoba's social services. Secondly by privatizing the sale of liquor, good paying unionized jobs in the retail sector will be lost.

5) Does Winnipeg Solidarity perceive a role for participating with the labour movement? If so, could you elaborate on the type of relationship you would see? 

We would hope to be partnering with labour movement, however some parts of the mainstream labour movement are rather entrenched with the NDP. Some may not like our critical stance on the party. I personally hope to work with labour movement as I consider myself a labour activist. I was drawn to Solidarity Winnipeg as I had become frustrated with the fact that getting involved with labour initiatives ultimately meant I was going to campaign for the NDP. Its hard to say what this relationship will look like, but possibly partnering on pickets or demonstrations to start while we build a relationship with one another.

6) If the Manitoba PCs win next election, what type of political action - if any - do you see Winnipeg Solidarity partaking in? 

This is a great question. What I would like everyone to know about Solidarity Winnipeg is that the provincial election is just the short aim of the group. Our long aim is to form a solid group of grassroots activists to put pressure on which ever government is in power. We did not form to work for a few months before the election and then disappear. When we formed the group, the feeling was we couldn't wait till after the election to build our fightback. We are using the election period as a time for form our group, get input from different groups and community's and recruit activists who are in this for the long haul. I can't speak to what our political action will look like after the election, I feel that depends on who wins. But what I can say about our political action is to expect it, regardless of who wins on April 19th

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