By Darrell Rankin, People’s Voice, March 1, 2012

Unless a court overturns Bill C-18, the so-called “Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act”, the loss of the Canadian Wheat Board will be a heavy blow to prairie farmers, to all Canadians, and to the global food system. The millions who rely on grain imports are now more firmly in the grip of giant transnational corporations, based mainly in the U.S. The Harper Conservatives destroyed the CWB as a way to boost their profits and for no other reason.

It is a good time to look at the fight to save the CWB, and to discuss strategy to stop the Conservative campaign to dismantle Canada and turn it over to their favourite bidder.

By killing the Wheat Board, the Conservatives declared war on the family farm. Thousands of small farms will be ruined if the CWB’s single-desk mandate ends in August. This places the matter of building labour-farmer unity as a key strategy to defeat Harper’s big business agenda.

A crack is being created in the relationship between big business and farmers. To find a comparable conflict between small and big business in Canada, we have to go back the Mulroney Tories’ introduction of the GST in 1991, the last time a general strike was considered by the Canadian Labour Congress.

An anti-CWB farmer, Jeff Nielson, told MPs at a House of Commons committee last fall that there were “about 20,000 commercial grain producers in western Canada,” and complained the CWB sent out plebiscite ballots to 66,000 producers. The significance of this figure is enormous.

Nielson’s comment reveals a sharpening struggle between large and small farms in Canada, sparked by the giant corporations/ Tories, where the commercial farms have the upper hand. These larger capitalist farmers hope to prevail and profit from the demise of 46,000 smaller farms.

Most family farmers have small operations and have to make ends meet with offfarm jobs. They are partly in the working class and partly self-employed capitalists. Many are already members of trade unions.

They are often close to losing their farms and joining the ranks of the working class. These farmers can work with the labour movement in creating a better society, where the family farm has a future and city dwellers have food they can trust.

When the labour movement picks the time for a battle in its own name to bring down the Harper Conservatives, it will have a potential ally in the majority of prairie farmers. That is the crowning achievement of the last several months.

Two tactics: the NDP and the Communists
When Tory agriculture minister Gerry Ritz vowed after the May 2 federal election to destroy the Wheat Board, the NDP said it would do all in its power to block such a law. It assigned MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) to head up the effort.

Martin spoke often to Parliament and the media. But he never tried to engage groups outside parliament to block Bill C-18 or to build support for farmers in the trade union movement. That says much about why the Conservatives were able to pass the bill without paying a much higher political price.

On the eve of the first big protest by farmers in October (soon after C18 was introduced), Martin declared defeat: “This is a runaway freight train and I don’t think there’s any stopping it.” The comment was not warmly received by farmers who had worked all summer to build alliances and protests.

The only way to defeat the Conservative agenda is to help mobilize and unite all sections of working people – something the NDP is failing to do. The exclusively parliamentary path to defeating the Tories is one of disappointment and defeat.

Since the federal election, the Communist Party fought to save the Wheat Board by building labour-farmer unity, helping to organize protests and establish coalitions to defend the family farm. We were part of the effort that helped win the support of the CLC and the prairie provincial labour federations for the CWB. We are planting the seeds of a better future.

Anti-communist slander

Anti-communist slander is one of reaction’s most crude and dishonest weapons. An internet search contains at least a thousand references to the “Communist Wheat Board.”

Some top Conservative politicians took part in the effort, such as David Anderson, the Tory minister responsible for the Wheat Board. Anderson posted a video on his website portraying a CWB official telling a wheat farmer who wants to sell his grain to a baker “Slow down, young man. You are talking Eskimo. You cannot do those things in Saskatchewan.” The farmer questions how the CWB can exist, arguing that it seems “kind of communist.”

This anti-Aboriginal racism was condemned by Inuit leader Mary Simon. The video also promotes the false idea that the main market for farmers’ grain is small bakeries across the prairies, and thus there is no need for single-desk selling. I’d like to live in Anderson’s world, without the giant grain transnationals!

Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz sent out a statement in early September, complaining about the large farmer meetings organized by CWB directors to discuss the board’s future. He huffed that “pro-board participants had to be bused in to legitimize the process. Even cousin organizations of the CWB, such as the Communist Party of Canada, were fully represented” (Western Producer, Sept. 15).

Buses had nothing to do with bringing more than 2,000 farmers to seven large meetings last summer. The Communist Party handed out leaflets at these meetings, which is our democratic right.

In fact, farmers have direct experience how the government cancels democracy by dropping them off voters’ lists and replacing their elected directors. Some sent letters to the Producer rebuffing Ritz’ anti-communist outburst (Stooping low; Waste of Energy, October 27), and the struggle continued.

Then there is Nielsen’s comment to the Commons committee that looked at Bill C18. He said the “so-called producer meetings where special interest groups and the Communist Party of Canada were allowed to attend and spread their propaganda” was all part of the CWB’s “constant standoff” with the government.

Although Nielson is deeply offended by democracy, farmers will continue to meet across the prairies to resist the Tories. And the Communist Party will continue to distribute literature as it has for more than ninety years, legal or not.

Anti-communism is the crude weapon of people who want to disguise their real agenda. Stephen Harper’s agenda is being more loyal to the giant U.S. grain transnationals than to prairie farmers. U.S. reactionaries consider Canada “communist,” because for many years we have had medicare, the CBC and the Canadian Wheat Board. Harper is working hard to please his masters in Washington, selling out Western wheat farmers and the country along with them.