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C orporate and government leaders across North America have been busy since the advent of NAFTA. Hardly satisfied with the current stranglehold of corporate globalization over this continent, big business leaders have pushed ahead the notion of a “deep integration” of U.S., Canadian, and Mexican economic, security, military, and social policy.
Since 9/11, the United States has championed the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), an initiative launched at George W. Bush’s ranch in Waco, Texas in 2005 by then-Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Mexican President Vin- cente Fox, and Bush. The SPP initiative, dubbed “NAFTA 2.0” by one Canadian journalist, looks poised to move free market fundamentalism into the era of national security paranoia.
In practice the secretive SPP initiative, due for further negotiations this summer, effectively transfers control of things like state oil and gas policy, industry regulation, and possibly even immigration policies to CEOs of the continent’s largest corporations.
Ron Covais, North American president of Lockheed Martin and member of the SPP-created North American Competitiveness Council, in describing the creation of the council, effectively confirmed this last fall by openly stating that “the guidance from the [government] ministers was, ‘Tell us what we need to do and we’ll make it happen.’” The North American Competitiveness Council is composed of CEOs of large corporations, including Bell Canada, Wal-Mart, and General Motors.
Needless to say, the corporate- led plans of “deep integration,” as set out in the SPP, have never been openly debated by an elected government in any of the NAFTA countries. A key component of the SPP strategy, called “Atlantica,” may serve as a regional prototype for further “integration” of the continent.
Atlantica as Gateway
A tlantica would link the Atlantic Canadian Provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland with Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and upstate New York. Proponents of Atlantica—largely business lob- bying groups—view this initiative as a plan to bring prosperity to “have-not” regions on both sides of the border. The Atlantica plan encompasses a harmonized energy grid between Atlantic Canada and New England, the development of an “energy hub” in New Brunswick, and harmonization of transportation, security, and military policy in key areas.
However, unlike other economic and security “gateways” on the West Coast, Atlantica’s proponents readily admit that the initiative has little to do with the exchange of goods and services produced between the U.S. and Canada. In a speech during a conference entitled “Reaching Atlantica: Business Without Borders” held in New Brunswick last June, Brian Lee Crowley, former director of the business think tank the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), explained that “within the global network, you must either be a destination in your own right (like Chicago, London, Hong Kong, or Tokyo) or you must be on the route to a destination.”
For Crowley, the key factor for the Atlantica “concept” is to ensure that Atlantic Canada and New England act primarily as a transit point for goods and services being trucked through the region. According to this vision, the Canadian coastal city of Halifax would serve as an east coast “gateway” for Asian goods traveling on cargo containers too large to cross the Panama Canal, while the rest of the region would amount to an asphalt gateway for goods traveling to Boston, Montreal, and New York. According to Sean Cooper, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce, At- lantica will simply “move wealth” and, as a result, will apparently “create wealth.”
Critics are less enthusiastic. In February the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a social policy think tank, released a report entitled Atlantica: Myths and Reality . The report’s author, Scott Sinclair, questioned the notion that economic benefits will simply accrue as a result of this “gateway” strategy. “I think that there’s something wrong with an economic development strategy that’s based on turning the region into a conduit for goods that are produced outside the region in Asia and are intended to be consumed outside the region,” Sinclair argued.
The Atlantica proposal would require a harmonization of trucking legislation in both regions to allow “truck trains”—multi-trailer transport vehicles sometimes stretching up to 125 feet in length. The CCPA report argues that this would bring greater costs associated with upkeep of the region’s highways and would have negative environmental and public safety impacts. In addition, the report argues that the advantages of this “trade corridor” have been grossly overstated by Atlantica’s proponents. Most glaringly, the planned expansion of the Panama Canal, due for completion by 2015, would eliminate much of the strategic advantage of the Halifax port for the entry of Asian cargo containers.
T here are some aspects of Atlantica that appear to be already in place, such as infrastructure around the oil and natural gas resources in Atlantic Canada. Energy resources from such oilfields as Newfoundland’s Terra Nova oilfield and Nova Scotia’s Sable Island are currently Atlantic Canada’s biggest exports to the United States. The Atlantica initiative aims to accelerate such exports to the ravenous energy market of the United States on terms favorable to large oil and gas multinationals.
Such initiatives are not new for Canada. Currently, it stands as the biggest energy supplier to the United States, due largely to oil and gas resources from the Alberta tar sands. Yet, despite its enormous oil and gas resources, Atlantic Canada and Quebec rely on imports for 90 percent of the petroleum they consume. In addition, the main electric utilities in the region import and burn coal, one of the most environmentally damaging sources of energy on earth. Most of the natural gas reserves produced in Atlantic Canada are currently piped to markets in large urban centers such as Boston, which falls outside of the borders of the “Atlantica” region. By contrast, there is no current infrastructure linking natural gas terminals in New Brunswick with the rest of the Canadian Maritime region. NAFTA’s proportionality clause effectively locks Canada in place as an energy colony to the U.S., by requiring that the Canadian industry cater to U.S. energy “needs” before those of Canada.
However, Charles Cirtwell, president of AIMS, argues that the current policy of shipping natural gas southward from Atlantic Canada is contributing to environmental sustainability. He believes that the supply of Canadian natural gas to New England has allowed the region to use liquid natural gas as an energy “transition” while New England utilities adjust to using more sustainable energy sources. He argues that without U.S. investment in natural gas projects in New Brunswick, the resources would still be untapped and New England consumers “would be burning oil.”
“From a green perspective,” says Cirtwell, “this kind of symbiotic relationship has worked out quite nicely for everybody.”
But not everybody agrees that this energy strategy is environmentally sound. According to Matt Schlobohm, a coordinator with the Maine Fair Trade Campaign, “There’s very little recognition” among the proponents of the Atlan- tica energy corridor of “the ecological crisis we’re in.” Schlobohm argues that Atlantica fails to address the immediate need for a move to “a different energy paradigm that’s based on much more sustainable energy production, local energy production.” He sees little hope for the recognition of this immediacy without more of a public role in determining the energy policy on both sides of the border.
“What we’ve seen in Atlantica is a process that’s been entirely sha- ped by the largest corporations in the region,” Schlobohm argues. “It’s been a very exclusive process that hasn’t included labor unions, community organizations, environmental groups, [or] indigenous organizations.”
T he key sponsors of the first “Reaching Atlantica: Business Without Borders” conference in June 2006 were largely Canadian corporations such as JD Irving limited and the Bank of Montreal. Atlantica’s critics outside the conference far outnumbered its proponents. A coalition of environmental, labor, and community organizations held a counter-summit and a demonstration of 400 people in the small harbor town of St. John drew key leaders, as well as rank-and-file workers, from large unions such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and the Canadian Labour Congress. Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, spoke at the opening event of the counter-summit to a packed audience. Atlantica, which had previously maintained a low media profile, became news headlines in Canada after a group of 35 protestors attempted to interrupt a speech by conference keynote speaker J.D. Irving.
Aside from the elite nature of the decision-making behind the Atlantica process, much of the controversy around the initiative has focused on the free-market zeal expressed by Atlantica’s backers. The Atlantica website lists “minimum wage legislation,” “union density,” “government employment as percentage of total state/province employment,” and “size of government” as “public policy distress factors.” Such displays of unabashed dislike for progressive social policy have served as a stark reminder to many people of the dismal effects that the NAFTA agreement has had on New England and Atlantic Canada. While the state of Maine lost close to 20,000 manufacturing jobs between 1995 and 2003, Canadian workers have experienced stagnating real wages, a decline in union protection, and an increase in the gap between rich and poor since 1994. In Atlantic Canada and New England, small family farms, once a staple of the local economy of the region, are facing a crisis point.
When asked whether the political program of Atlantica included a lowering of minimum wages, Cirtwell responded that such talk was a “red herring” designed to be a “scare tactic” of Atlantica’s opponents. However, when I spoke to Cirtwell’s predecessor, former AIMS Director Brian Lee Crowley last May, his response was somewhat less definite. Crowley, who has since been appointed a key economic advisor in Canada’s Department of Finance, argued for the need to “ask the questions” about social policies such as union density and minimum wage legislation, noting that “all of these things involve trade-offs.”
The “trade-offs” for workers in North America as a result of globalization in Atlantic Canada and New England reveal a cruel irony. The advent of globalization in these two regions has seen the migration of manufacturing and textile jobs to third world “export processing zones” where workers are paid a tiny fraction of the wages in North America. Under Altantica, goods produced in these sweatshops, particularly in China and Vietnam, are now to be shipped back across the Atlantic, only to bypass the entire New England-Atlantic Canadian region via large highway “corridors” en route to the U.S. “heartland.”
For Sean Donahue of the Bangor-based Peace through Inter- American Community Action, a grassroots community economic justice organization, this logic reflects a continuation of the destructive process of corporate globalization. For Donahue, this vision “undermines the idea of building from local regional economies and makes us just another piece of infrastructure in a global machine for moving goods from countries where production can be done cheaply to consumers in the wealthiest parts of the world.”
Recognition of such trade-offs perhaps explains why opposition to the Atlantica proposal has served as a focal point for coalition building and coordination between environmental organizations, labor unions, NGOs, and community organizations on Canada’s east coast. Such coalition building has not been seen in this region since the run-up to the anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) mobilizations in Quebec City in 2001. National organizations such as the Canadian Labour Congress, Canada’s biggest trade union federation, and the Council of Canadians, a 100,000- member citizen’s advocacy coalition, have both weighed in against Atlantica and are also involved in the planning for a large mobilization against an upcoming confer- ence on Atlantica in Halifax in mid-June of this year.
Although Atlantica has yet to galvanize the same degree of public opposition in the New England states, such organizing efforts are a clear indication that the Atlantica “gateway” is far from a done deal.
Stuart Neatby is a community activist and independent journalist based in Halifax. (For more on Atlantica mobilizations see www.stopatlantica.org.)
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.