Saturday, September 22, 2007

U of R Free Knowledge Day

It took little guessing which room Free Knowledge Day was being held in. A paper 'carpet' with the words Free Knowledge brightly painted on it stretched out into the halls at the U of R Ridell Centre. The room was not as full as I expected it would be, but it was lunch time. The speaker for the What is R.P.I.R.G.? workshop was still setting up. I took the opportunity to look at the various booths around the room.

A lady from the Tetra Society of North America explained how they built custom designed assistive devices for people with disabilities. These products are not available commercially. Volunteer engineers and technicians make the devices to suit the specific needs of those with disabilities. Their representative at Free Knowledge Day, Terri Sleeva, is having a page turner built for her because she does not have use of her hands. What an innovative and useful organization! Terri is trying to get a Regina Chapter established, but she needs volunteers. If you are interested, please contact her, or if you happen to know anyone with a disability that could benefit from their services, please pass on Terri's contact info:
Terri Sleeva
Regina Chapter Coordinator
I continued around the room and picked up a pile of handouts on nuclear energy, The Council of Canadians, and Fair Trade. It will take me a while to read through my trip to this 'political candy shop'. The Fair Trade booklet was made by a Grade 8 classroom, and it is surprisingly loaded with great info on our local Fair Trade scene. The handouts definitely made Free Knowledge Day worthwhile for me.
But wait! The speaker hadn't even started yet! I saw a familiar political science face in the crowd and took a seat. The sound system had more echos than perhaps it should have, and the speaker could have pulled the audience into his presentation a bit more, but the essential info I came for was certainly delivered.
P.I.R.G.'s started in 1970 with Ralph Nader advocating students to take a more involved role in public affairs. The initials stand for Public Interest Research Group, and the first R in What is R.P.I.R.G.? stands for Regina. The Regina group is the first in Saskatchewan and are new as of last spring. They are looking for volunteers who are interested in making a difference in their community. They have funding available for research projects. This would be a great group for students interested in positive social change in the environment, labour, human rights, equality, and democracy.
The R.P.I.R.G. also needs students interested in being on their Board of Directors. Elections will be held mid-October. Since last spring, they have lost four of their eight board members. They have also changed their name form S.P.I.R.G. to R.P.I.R.G. with Saskatchewan changing to Regina. They are now seeking a new logo. There is a contest, and if you are good at graphic design, you might be the lucky winner of a gigantic compost box! This is certainly a unique prize!
If you are interested in learning more about the R.P.I.R.G., there is a meeting at the U of R at 4:30 p.m. this Monday. As a political activist, I would love to get involved. I hope many others do.
Free Knowledge Day is a worthwhile event at the U of R. I wish more students would take a half hour out of their busy days to take part. I was glad I had the chance.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Good Deed by Conservatives for Rural Communities

The Conservative federal government is on the right path with an effort to increase rural sustainability in Saskatchewan. They announced $27.3 million in funding for the Regional Rural Water Supply Systems (RRWS) project. The funding was supplied through the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund (CSIF). Palliser M.P., Dave Batters, made this statement in a recent news report, “Funding for these regional infrastructure projects proves our Conservative government’s commitment to the sustainability of Canada’s rural communities. We want to ensure a healthy and vibrant rural sector for generations to come.” The article can be seen here.

I would not say this proves their commitment, but it is a good first step. What rural Saskatchewan needs badly is a high speed passenger train system that would link our towns and cities province wide. My home city of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan would benefit greatly considering our unemployment rate has gone up by a whole percentage point due to Worldwide Pork Packers and Raider Industries shutting down. Saskatchewan workers would not be the only ones to benefit. Many more post-secondary students would be able to live at home and commute to school. Maybe more of our young people would chose to make Saskatchewan their home. Keeping our youth in the towns and cities they grew up in, instead of handing them to Alberta on a silver platter is important to the rural sector for generations to come.

The Florida Bullet Train Project demonstrates the benefits on their website. High speed trains are not only better for the environment, but they can travel from 200 to 320 kilometres per hour. In a province as geographically spread out as Saskatchewan, this couldn't make more sense. This is a project I would like to see built across all of Canada. Yes, it would be an expensive one, but I stand for maximum wages. And the excess money our wealthy people make (and I mean wealthy which is far worse than rich), would be able to be put directly into projects like this one, benefiting everyone.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We Need More Jellos

It has only been three years since I first heard Jello Biafra speak on one of his political spoken word albums. He is a political activist whose message touches and inspires many to get involved and take action, including Canadians. He has spoken at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan a few years ago, where I am currently a student. At 49 years of age, Jello has come a long way since the start of his musical career, and his political career as the lead singer of the 1978-1986 punk band, the Dead Kennedys. He has stayed involved in the music scene by collaborating with many talented artists and bands. Jello is founder and owner of perhaps the longest running underground record label that is still active, Alternative Tentacles. Since 1986, he has released many political spoken word albums. His latest album In The Grip Of Official Treason, released in 2006, goes in depth about Iraq, the New Orleans flood, voter fraud and so much more. Jello Biafra reminds me as a Canadian that in the current day corrupt U.S.A., there are still many Americans who are unwilling to tolerate what is becoming of their home and unwilling to give up the fight for ultimate justice. His message on corporations is also quite relevant in Canada where many of our retail outlets are mass conglomerates and are often owned by Americans.

Jello Biafra was born in Boulder, Colorado. His real name is Eric Boucher. When he was five, J.F.K. was assassinated and Jello saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot live on T.V. The Vietnam War was amongst other events that convinced him to fight against corrupt governments and corporations during 1969-1972. His stage name came from the Jell-O brand name and the country of Biafra which existed for less than three years before failing its attempt to secede from Nigeria in 1970. His stage name represents the brand of mass produced food products with little nutritional value and how hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people died of starvation when Nigeria blocked supplies from entering Biafra.

In the fall of 1979 at the age of 21, Jello ran for mayor of San Fransisco. He finished fourth out of ten candidates with 3.5% of the vote. His platform included both prank-like points such as forcing businessmen to wear clown suits, and serious points such as having police officers run for re-election with voters being residents in the neighbourhoods they patrol. He wore T-shirts to campaign in from a competing candidate's previous election. His supporters rallied with two memorable signs that said"If he doesn't win I'll kill myself" and "What if he does win?". In the 2002 DVD Dead Kennedys: The Early Years, Jello makes the following statement about his campaign for mayor of San Francisco, "For those of them who have seen my candidacy as a publicity stunt or a joke, they should keep in mind that it is no more of a joke, and no less of a joke, than anyone else they care to name." With Saskatchewan on the verge of an election call, Jello carries an important message about the issues that are focused on during an election and the publicity stunts involved in campaigning.

His political career has included many challenges. He was on trial in 1986 for "distributing harmful matter" due to complaints by the Parents Music Resource Center for including a poster by Swiss surreal artist H.R. Giger entitled Landscape #XX (or Penis Landscape) with the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. The case was not about the lyrics of the album. The focus was a poster that they deemed "harmful matter". The case ended in a mistrial. Jello believes the ordeal was politically motivated and that he was used as a warning to other musicians about offensive content.

While at a club in Berkeley, California in 1994, Jello was almost beaten to death by people who believed he was a sell out. The man who initially started the incident shouted, "Sellout rockstar, kick him." He spent much time in a hospital recovering. His plans for a Canadian spoken word tour and album had to be cancelled.

In 1998, Jello was sued by fellow former members of the Dead Kennedys for refusing to allow perhaps their most well known song, "Holiday in Cambodia", to be used in a Levi's Dockers commercial. He strongly disagreed with the sweatshop labour and corrupt ways of doing business of the Levi's corporation. Staying committed to his values cost him $200,000 which his other band-members took without shame.

However, the obstacles along the way seemed to have only strengthened his fight in the political world. In 2000, Jello Biafra was drafted for the Green Party presidential nomination. He lost to Ralph Nader, who will be speaking at the University of Regina on September 19, 2007 in the Education Auditorium at 7:00 pm (tickets are $15 and available at the Conexus Arts Centre). Jello has continued to be a member of the Green Party and encourages people to use their right to vote. He focuses on real issues and spreads the truth. He encourages us not to hate the media, but to become the media.

Jello Biafra is an excellent mentor for anyone interested in political activism. It has not been an easy path for him, nor is it for anyone. I hope there are others out there who will justify his injustices in the fight against corrupt governments and corporations by taking action of their own. This world would be a much better place if we had more Jellos.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sask Labour Allowing Slave Labour?

I was born and raised in this beautiful prairie province, and I made the decision some time ago to build my future here. Perhaps that is why I am drawn into the political culture of Saskatchewan and Canada as strongly as I am. When I see obvious shortcomings in government policies, I want to see them changed. This is particularly relevant in regards to the policies and standards of Saskatchewan Labour.

I believe that a Labour Board should be there to protect the rights of workers not covered by unions. In some cases Sask Labour does this, and in others they simply don't, choosing to represent the employer's needs and wants. Our province's apparent economic boom can only worsen the problem.

According to the Saskatchewan NDP, Sask job numbers are at a record high. This next paragraph is from their website's Issues section. The full story can be seen here.

More people are now working in Saskatchewan than ever before. Our unemployment rate is consistently among the lowest in the country. Youth employment numbers are way up and more and more young people are choosing to pursue their careers and build their futures right here at home.

In contrast to the NDP website which represents that our workers have never been in a better situation, the Green Party of Saskatchewan represents this issue differently in their platform. They seek improvements to the Labour Standards Act. More in depth information on their policy can be found here.

The Sask Party's Guiding Principles include Economic growth and job creation through the private sector, not government, as the engine of the economy. I feel their party policy demands stronger protection for Saskatchewan employees since private businesses, not government, will be in the driving seat.

Many of us are lucky enough to never have a complaint against the labour practices of our employer. The subject for this post was brought to light in my eyes when a friend of mine who works in the retail sector made the brave step to stand up for his rights. His employer refused to give him two consecutive days off in a week, changed his schedule almost daily without the required one week notice of a change to schedule, refused to pay him overtime after eight hours, did not allow lunch or rest breaks, and threatened employees that if they should quit they will not get another job because he 'knows' everyone in the industry. He does not provide safety equipment, and does not follow food safety regulations for there is mold covering the walls and some of the ingredients used! I was sure that once the Labour Board was called in to investigate that action would ensue. I was shocked to hear that his employer was issued a permit allowing him not to pay overtime unless the employer has worked more than 44 hours in a week (nevermind the 5 am to 6 pm shift). He also seemed to find ways around every labour standard within our current system that he wasn't following. And as a final insult, my friend's hours were cut back because he refused to sign the Averaging of Hours Permit. Sask Labour states that no employee can be punished for filing a complaint. Obviously this is not true, at this point why would he even try to file another complaint? What good would it do?

Businesses with less than ten employees are not required to follow many of the labour standards. Employees in certain careers up North are not protected by labour standards. And there are permits, licences and variances available from Sask Labour for businesses that are not exempt. It appears that our government's labour policies are ultimately aimed at protecting the employer over the employee. Perhaps the Sask Party's guiding principle on economic growth and job creation will fit in perfectly with the NDP Government's current legislation.

On this issue I strongly agree with the Saskatchewan Green Party that our worker's rights must be protected and must come first. Until changes to the Labour Standards Act are made, do you think Saskatchewan is a great place to live, work, and raise a family, for all?