By C. L'Hirondelle

Behind the smokescreen of war... More welfare cuts for poor people in BC. While Premier Gordon Campbell was attacking Sunera Thobani and calling for harmonization with US immigration policies... his BC Liberal government was slashing public services and attacking BC's poor.

We all knew the big welfare cuts were coming but it is finally official. '"Province to Slash Welfare Rolls; Get a job minister tells recipients,'" was the front page headline of the October 6 Victoria Times Colonist.

In the article, Minister of Human Resources Murray Coell announced that his ministry would be slashing their $1.7 Billion budget by 20-50%. 100,000 recipients have received a '"seek work'" letter warning them that income assistance is temporary. '"A job is the best social safety net that you'll ever have, Coell said. '"People who find themselves on income assistance or find themselves untrained need to take responsibility.'"

Coell added that those applying for welfare in the future would be given a back-to-work plan, training and a timetable and indicated that the government will cut people off welfare once the timetable expires. Workfare will be used to '"aggressively'" move recipients to the workforce. Even people with disabilities will be encouraged to work part time. Changes go to cabinet this fall and will be implemented in the spring.

While Coell spouts the wonders of jobs as a safety net, business sections of every newspaper announce thousands of job cuts all over North America.

But of course '"get a job'" is often directed with hate towards those who are at the economic bottom of the working class. Many employed members of the working class often froth at the mouth at the thought of the lazy welfare bum, but they don't realize that pushing more people into the workforce will ultimately depress their own wages. Divide and conquer works brilliantly. The fact that the growing numbers of unemployed have been either ignored officially or despised unofficially by the shrinking numbers of unionized workers plays right into the hands of the corporate rulers.

In his 1998 article Why A War On The Poor? (http://www. imprisoned US activist (on death row) Mumia Abu-Jamal describes why governments attack welfare: '"when most workers are employed, business is pressed to react to wage demands. However, when there is significant unemployment, business knows they can find labor at lower wages. Who would've thought that the poorest among us, those on welfare, strengthened and stabilized the wages of workers?'"

This is echoed repeatedly on the business pages of any newspaper: '"low unemployment can lead to a rise in wages.'" (Globe & Mail July 8, 2000) or '"Unemployment rise heartwarming for economists,'" (Aug. 5, 2000, Financial Post).

It becomes evident that what is happening goes beyond electoral politics especially when we look at how the former NDP government laid the ground work for the current slash and burn welfare '"reforms'". Anyone who was on welfare under the NDP will never forget the $46 cuts (for single employables, $92 for couples) in 1996; the proliferation of '"fraud'" investigators; and the '"early intervention program'" to scare off possible applicants. In February 2000 they began the Job Wave program in which they kindly put into place all the infrastructure needed for an easy conversion to a full scale workfare program.

Voting in a new party will not change the fact that capitalism, faced with shrinking profits, is forced to tighten its grip on the working class. Poor people in BC and Canada have been squeezed for decades.

However now all workers will be pressured to do more work for less money. Unions will be busted by using the hungry and desperate. The fact that there is now an ongoing '"war'" will be used to distract us from the real war that has been going on for years: the class war waged by the rich against the world's poor and the soon to be poor.

Those who should be at the forefront of leading the fight back against welfare cuts should be the unions. After all their very existence is essentially a fight against poverty as they try to ensure that their members earn enough money to pay for the things they need to live.

However there is now a Grand Canyon-sized gulf in the working class. The lower end of the working class is so far away from the upper end that neither side realizes they have anything in common. Those at the bottom look up and see greed and self-interest; those at the top look down and demonize and scapegoat the poor. People at the bottom of the working class have already lost everything. People at the top of the working class are set to lose it.

In Ontario they have had ten years to come to the conclusion that all those under attack by Harris must join together to fight back. They have formed the Ontario Common Front (made up of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, First Nations, unions, students and other allies) and on October 16, 2001 they will begin their campaign of economic disruption against the Harris government. They will be fighting to win in Ontario. The question is, will we fight to win here in BC?