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Vol. 80/No. 41      October 31, 2016


Five months after Alberta fire, workers face
capitalist disaster

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta — Members of the Communist League traveled here from Calgary in September to talk with workers affected by the oil industry contraction and the fire that swept the town in May, forcing all 90,000 residents to evacuate. They gave out the statement issued by Communist League Alberta organizer Joe Young after the blaze, “Wildfire Disaster a Product of Capitalism.”

The fire destroyed some 10 percent of the buildings and damaged many more. The Beacon Hill and Abasands neighborhoods remain virtually uninhabited. Working people are left wrestling with government bureaucracy and insurance companies eager to shirk responsibility.

“At the beginning, it sounded like we’d have no problem with the insurance,” Angela Halvorsen told Young. “Now they won’t even answer my calls. I have allergies, so we spent the entire summer living in a tent trailer while I cleaned the house. The insurance company was supposed to pay for the trailer, but they refused, saying if I spent 10 hours a day cleaning, obviously it was livable” during that time! Halvorsen picked up a copy of Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning Under Capitalism by Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes and a Militant subscription.

“I was laid off as a driller, and there’s no promising work in the oilfields,” said Kyle Stewart. Since late 2014, over 40,000 workers in Alberta’s oil and gas industry have lost their jobs.

“We’re under capitalism, and it’s not working,” said Betty Waquan, a laborer in an aboriginal-run company. “It’s not fair how people are being treated. I have a neighbor who’s lived with two kids in a trailer since they came home.”

Fort McMurray Today reported that only four applicants have made deposits on 65 mobile housing rental units available in October. Rent for a three-bedroom unit is $2,500 a month because the city didn’t want to undercut landlords, said city official Greg Elsasser.

“My landlord asked for May and June rent even though we weren’t here,” said Nancy Ani, a grocery worker and single mother of five. Her union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, gave each member $500 for evacuation costs.

“Working people and our unions must demand a government-funded public works project to rebuild the community and create union jobs,” I said.

In our discussions with workers, we contrasted the response to natural disasters by Canada’s capitalist government and by revolutionary Cuba. The Communist League statement explains, “Cuban working people made a socialist revolution in 1959. They took political power, and the self-confidence and self-worth they have conquered gives them the capacity to run Cuba based on human needs, not profits.”
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