Premier Pallister’s April 11 budget will take a flamethrower to health, public sector wages and access to higher education, among other social atrocities.
But Manitoba’s unions and movements are rallying on Saturday, April 22 to reject the reactionary budget. The rally is at Oodena Circle at the Forks in Winnipeg starting at 11:30 a.m.
The Pallister government announced ahead of the budget it will freeze public sector wages for two years, close half of Winnipeg’s emergency care centres, and allow universities to hike tuition 5 per cent annually over inflation.
Pallister’s budget cuts are just the latest of several reactionary measures. The Tories ended freshwater fishery single-desk marketing, ruining hundreds of mainly Indigenous fisher’s families.
They attacked the working poor by refusing to increase the minimum wage, a measure condemned by the Manitoba Federation of Labour.
Devastating crises in Indigenous communities have intensified, prompting a significant rise in suicides. Nearly 2,000 First Nations people are still ‘evacuees,’ spread out over the province after losing their community to flooding in 2011, caused by a provincial diversion of water to save the City of Winnipeg.
Last year, the Pallister Tories massively defeated the Manitoba NDP which had been in power for 17 years. Pallister promised to reduce the hated sales tax, hiked by the NDP, and to protect ‘front line’ jobs. Many workers voted for the Tories expecting a few hundreds dollars more in their pockets from a reduced sales tax. The NDP vote dropped 43% to 112,748, a number not matched since before the first NDP government in 1969.
But now Pallister is showing his true agenda, intensifying neoliberal austerity for workers and boosting corporate profits.
With a slogan “Better jobs, steady growth”, the NDP campaigned as if working people could shoulder more austerity and bank-induced impoverishment. The sale tax hike, a two year ‘wage pause’ on government workers and a platform to raise property taxes twice higher than the winning candidate in Winnipeg’s latest election did not help the NDP’s reelection chances.
This year, the strong response by unions to resist the Pallister budget shows that working people are fed up with the rising cost of living, insecure jobs, a debt crisis and growing inequality. Working people are ready to protest for real change in their favour.
The NDP in opposition is as tepid as it was in government. NDP MLAs are not pushing for an independent fightback by unions and peoples’ movements. The mobilization must continue after the rally.
Only a massive, sustained antiausterity movement can block Pallister’s corporate agenda. It must have the power to compel Pallister meet its demands or lose in the next election. There must be large meetings and assemblies to develop a popular agenda, a real coalition. In neighbouring Saskatchewan, a wealthier province compared to low-wage Manitoba, a similar fightback is starting to develop after a reactionary budget last month. The struggles in both provinces would grow stronger with cooperation. The basis to establish a broad, coalition for a peoples’ agenda in Manitoba is growing stronger all the time. Pallister’s budget may be the trigger for that coalition