With rising inflation and cost of living, what has this meant for the most marginalized groups in society? If groceries are expensive for the middle class, what about low-income families? John Clarke spent most all his life working for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and is now a lecturer at York University. John discusses the gargantuan challenges the poor face in this environment of high inflation.
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💻 Website https://ocap.ca/tag/john-clarke/
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👥 Linkedin - www.linkedin.com/in/christopherbalkaran
📚 RESOURCES MENTIONED
John Clarke’s Blog - https://johnclarkeblog.com
John Clarke, “Cost of Living Crisis,” April 2022 - https://johnclarkeblog.com/node/87
Stephanie Kealton, The Deficit Myth - https://amzn.to/3JXTjKx
📄SHOW NOTES & TRANSCRIPT available for this episode
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John, thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you so much for asking me.
You're one of my first guests in the new relaunched podcast, now called Open Minds from Strong and Free and I think that those two words best describe the podcast, but it also describes the conversations that we've had especially on your life at OCAP and now and continuing that as an anti poverty activist. First of all, how is 2022 been for you?
Well, been going quite well. So I continue to now that I'm no longer an OCAP organizer, I continue to be the packer visitor in social justice at York University. Which is great because I'm getting to actually although I come from anything but an academic background. But I've got the opportunity to teach a course to students at university. A couple of courses actually. Which is really interesting. Help to design them and then taking that stuff out into the community and based on all the work I've done doing lots of writing and speaking and such like. So pretty busy and I hope continuing to make a contribution. How has that transition been from activists to academic or at least surrounded by academics now? Well, I mean, the truth is that I'm not really immersed in an academic setting. I go into the university, I teach a course to students who tend to be interested in social justice issues. I take the things out into the community. So I'm not really part of an academic setting in any great way. It is sort of funny because I take a little bit of personal pride in it that I didn't go to university, I didn't get a degree, and back in England, the headmaster he was still referred to in those days told me that I was simply not intelligent enough to go to university. And I'd like to be able to tell you right now, you may be so jump, but I'm teaching at once.
I went to York as well. And what I found in the post secondary institutions is there's a lot of flexibility in terms of who the lecturers are. They come from all types of backgrounds, including yourself.
Yeah, that's true. I think the stuff I'm doing there is actually very rewarding. I think a body of incredible students get a great deal out of it. York University less the faculty, I must say. But in terms of the students, the student body really reflects the city in which we live, people from overwhelmingly working class backgrounds reflecting all the diversity of this city. So it's a real privilege and it sounds cliche, but I always learn more than I get to teach. Talking to a bunch of incredible younger people about all of the experiences they've had and all of the issues and struggles they're involved in and such like, it's incredibly rewarding.
What was one of the kind of “a-ha moments” you had when you were teaching a group of young people at York?
Well, I think I could point to individual situations, but people come from communities where I mean, they come from countries that have been directly affected by colonialism and have emerged, come from those backgrounds, come here, come to this city and find themselves digging with all the issues of inequality and injustice that exist here. And so people bring an amazing wealth of international experience to the thing that I think has been enormously important. And I've had people involved who have been involved in sort of challenging racist policing, organizing around housing conditions. So, yeah, really, I think enormously rewarding. And I'm able to bring to it practical experience. But at the same time, I think a lot of the studying and such like that I've done in the course of trying to build up the political knowledge. And it's really great to have those kinds of discussions with people. That was one of the things that I really enjoyed about university, was just surrounded by all these people of different walks of life. And it was just so fascinating listening to their stories, international students from all over the world telling me about what it's like in their country and how hard it is to come like Canada, and to say the things that we can say openly and freely here. It was so eye opening in my university time. I'm sure you probably see that all the time too.
So I brought you on because I wanted to talk about poverty. I want to talk about inflation and the cost of living. Right now, so often in our news cycles, we hear only about the cost of living in terms of the grocery store, in terms of the price of cars and luxury items all going up and housing going up. But one thing that's constantly lost in that discussion is the impacts of the poor. So specifically, it's that if the bag of walnuts at Metro now costs $23, that's expensive for the middle class. What that does to the low income communities across Toronto, across Canada, is just devastating. Living $20K to $30K and lower the inflation can be very devastating. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I think ‘devastating’ is the word. This is an unprecedented situation ever since the stagflation of 50 years ago or whatever. So we're seeing the causes can be discussed, but we're seeing this skyrocketing cost of living increase that is hitting mainstream working class people very hard, of course, but is hitting the poorest people absolutely brutally. It means that the great numbers of people who function as low wage precarious workers are facing impossible increases in their cost of living, impossible increases in their rent. People living on social assistance have had their already unbelievably inadequate sub poverty income now frozen for the last couple of years. And they are being hit by a rate of inflation which understates the increase in the cost of living for the poorest people who pay the most part of their income on staple items and housing and such like. So the strain that is being placed on people is absolutely unbelievable. We're seeing now a 5% increase in Ontario disability support program payments, which is utterly inadequate and nothing for all of the people living on Ontario works, which includes many disabled people who can't access ODSP, a crisis of unimaginable proportions. I mean, since social assistance rates were cut by 21.6% in 1995, which is going back a long time now, people have fallen deeper and deeper into poverty. But the last period has been it's impossible to overstate the enormity of what is happening in terms of people on the edge, unable to provide themselves with housing unless they go without the basic necessities. Now, in a situation where even then they cannot keep themselves housed unless there is an immediate redress, we're going to see a vast decline in living standards for working class people generally, but we're going to see an absolute cataclysm strike. The poorest working class people.
John, on that point, I wanted to raise with you a question that I had as you were speaking, which is, as we know, inflation really ramped up. I think I made a comment on this podcast last September saying inflation is going to be a big deal because we pumped so much money into the economy as a result of Copen 19, and some of the measures many governments have taken, it really started hitting March, April, May, when we started seeing those reports from the bank of Canada. Given that time frame and the fact that we went to a provincial election in June, what do you think the government could have done to prepare for the moment we're in now for the poorest of the poor across Ontario and across Canada?
When you say that, do you have in mind specifically the provincial government?
Well, I mean the provincial government, obviously, whoever is in power, if the most progressive government imaginable were in power, and that's certainly not the case, but if the most progressive government imaginable were in power, a provincial Ontario government is a provincial Ontario government. It's not in a position to deal with the global inflationary crisis, but what a government could do and should do in this situation. And it's not a proposal to put to Doug forward, it's a demand to set before him and we must win it from him. There's no way that he's going to take these kinds of measures. But obviously there must be movement on questions of minimum wage and workers rights. There must be a massive increase in social assistance rates at this particular time. The demand is emerging from the community for the doubling of social assistance rates. So to talk in terms of 100% increase may sound to people who are not familiar with how wretched the income is, that may sound a big demand, but actually it's a demand to have an income that would enable people to stand a chance of surviving. So there must be a massive increase in social assistance rates and doubling is sort of in the realms of talking about survival. There must be protection for tenants so that rents cannot be pushed up in the way that they're being pushed up at the moment. So on every front there needs to be real protections for people and a provincial government that had a progressive agenda or was compelled to implement one would move in those kinds of directions. It's fair comment that dealing with the inflationary crisis is a global question and more in the purview of a national government. But there is a great deal that could be done, of course, by the provincial government and of course the Ford government is, in my estimation, a right wing servant of the few and not the many of corporations and banks and such like. So it's not surprising that under Ford, people are precisely not getting the protections that they need.
In April you published an article titled Canada's Spiralling Cost of Living Crisis. And one of the points you raised were interest rates. Now this is fascinating because interest rates are in the news, people's mortgage rates are going up, cost of borrowing is going up. But you say when it comes to interest rates, the use of this method, which is central banks raising the interest rate is a standard weapon of class war and even a modest set of increases would have serious adverse effects in this period of economic fragility. Can you describe to those that may be less familiar, you myself why raising interest rates from the bank of Canada would be characterized as a standard weapon of cost war? Well, I mean, first of all, we have an inflationary situation.
We're seeing this inflationary situation that's quite incredible. It's been interesting to watch it unfold. I've followed the ruminations of the central bankers and their assaulted sort of the power brokers that they work with an answer to. And so you start to see coming out of the pandemic, you start to see definite inflationary pressure. Of course there's been paint up demand and the supply chains are disrupted and this is leading to the basis for some inflation. Then, of course, you have the Ukraine conflict which has taken it to another level. And in that situation, yes, you're seeing some definite inflationary pressure. There's various theories, of course, about inflation. The monetary theory says that it's all a question of money supply, which is a perverse way to look at things. When you consider that since the Great Recession of 2010 there's been a great deal of putting money into the system through quantity of easing and other such stuff and it didn't lead to massive inflation. Then there's sort of the Keynesian notion that you have too much confidence on the part of workers because unemployment levels are fallen lower, so you need some more unemployment. And that sort of notion of driving up interest rates to slow the economy, which is really another way putting people out of work, that is the way to get inflation under control. I mean, of course, the obvious efficiency in that reasoning from a logical point of view is that to say that wages, there's a wage spiral, that wages are driving inflation, it makes no sense because people are not keeping up with inflation, wages are falling behind inflation. So it's rather like arguing that someone chasing a bus is the one who's making the bus move faster than they are. It makes absolutely no sense. But of course, the solution that is being sought is to impose interest rate increases. And the effect of that will be, I mean, those of us that are old enough live through the Volcker shock in the early 80s when the Federal Reserve in the United States raised interest rates to enormously high levels above 20%. And that deflated the economy and caused a massive recession. And insofar as it destroyed vast amounts of capital and such like, did deflate the economy and did create the basis for coming out of it. And that's the direction that they're moving in now. So what has been interesting, I think, is that you listen to sort of like the Federal Reserve speaking and they're still talking in terms of a controlled level of economic slump, but they're not going to push the economy into recession. The Deutsche Bank, the economist at the Deutsche Bank are openly declaring that a major recession will be needed to bring the situation under control. Larry Summers in the United States is making essentially the same argument. So what you have is the possibility of what has been sometimes referred to as creative destruction. We've gone through a long period since the Great Recession when there has been only the most sluggish form of economic recovery which has now come to an end. And during that period, because of very low interest rates, you saw the emergence of the zombie company. You saw a situation where companies that would normally have been driven out of business as uncompetitive were kept afloat by zero interest rates. And there has long been a section of thinking in high places that what must be done is to introduce this round of creative destruction so as to create a major deflation, a major recessionary situation and then out of the rubble have a new round of profit making and good times. And that's, I think, starting to it's been striking that during this whole period there's been a sort of a division between the modern hawks in the corridors of power and the hawks have become increasingly influential. And that's, I think, beginning to take effect. Now in Canada, of course, where household debt is the highest in the G Seven and where the housing situation is probably more precarious than any other country within the OECD, you have a situation where a high interest rate policy has horrendous consequences, and the governor of the bank of Canada is very aware of that. But he's made clear that his mantra of controlling inflation through driving up interest rates is more important than what happens in terms of people's right to be housed. Absolutely horrendous situation. So I think the term class war is an entirely valid one because of course, in this situation as workers struggle to keep up with inflation and demand wage increases, they are denounced as evil incarnate. Whereas the price gouging capitalists who take advantage of the situation and push prices up and feed inflation enormously by doing so, get virtually a free pass. As always, the cure is always imposing pain on working class people. It's never about reigning in profit making.
John, it's so fascinating you say that because I actually see what you're saying, crossing paths with those on some may consider them right wing or even extreme right and saying that exactly what you said, which is increasing interest rates is artificially destroying the economy. Those on the on the right or even far right would say, government created this. It's the government's mess. And now we as investors, as people, have taken out large amounts of debt during low interest rate time periods, are now being charged the price for doing what we investing back in economy creating jobs. That's typically the characterization those on the right would say. So it's fascinating that you say that what the government is doing is also kind of going down that path of destroy and then rebuild. Do you see that linkage as well? I do see that sometimes on both the left and the right that sometimes the edges kind of converge on the same issues. Totally off topic, but I was kind of fascinated to see if Bernie Sanders would ever win the nomination to debate Donald Trump because I do see some policy similarities. They're just coming at it from totally different ends. But I'd love to know what your thoughts are on that.
You can arrive at the same conclusions for very different reasons. Exactly. I see some people in the right at the moment in the United States arguing for the defunding of the FBI, and if I was in the United States, I'd be issuing calls to defund the FBI but for very different reasons for Trump and his supporters. But I think it's important to say that it's not just that everything was going well and now suddenly this mischievous cabal of central bankers are coming in and raising interest rates. And that's the problem. The system itself was already in major crisis. We've had a pandemic we're seeing out of that along with the Ukraine conflict, which is itself connected to global rivalry within this system. We're seeing this crisis break out and it appears more than anything that shocks to the supply chain have been driving the crisis. But the Pandemic, the Ukraine conflict and over and above that, the climate crisis, we're living in a period when those kinds of shocks to the supply chain are very likely. And moreover, the supply chain itself, it's very fragility, has been created by this system, the just in time globalized workforce with products like iPhone put together in different parts of the world wherever labor and suppliers are cheapest and then all brought together. And a supply chain that is designed to maximize profits by being incredibly fragile and tenuous. The vulnerability of that supply chain itself is a product of how the system is organized to generate profits. So interest rates are indeed a class war measure, but the crisis that they're addressing is a very real crisis.
John, I want to go back to a point you raised at the beginning of our chat, which was thinking about drastically increasing minimum wage, drastically increasing funding for social assistance. Those potentially right, moderate, right, wherever they are, wherever folks are on the spectrum, could even be on the left, would say that money printing got us to this position of inflation and then they would say that increasing minimum wage and increasing social assistance would increase government deficits and increase money printing may in fact continue that path of inflation. What say you to folks that raise that point when it comes to raising social assistance and minimum wage in this high inflationary environment?
Well, I think we live in a society that is massively unequal and massively unjust and that indeed is fundamentally exploitative. And I think those who are on the receiving end of that exploitation have to organize to win the things that they need. So I don't take seriously arguments that we can't afford living wages. I don't take seriously the arguments that people who find themselves having to turn to social assistance should live in abject poverty when you have multibillion dollar corporations racking up their prices in order to maximize their profits and doing far more to feed inflation than somebody trying to feed themselves on social assistance.
So I don't think really and truly, if we're going to, in this period of crisis, make gains, I think we have to be prepared to put the needs of workers and communities ahead of the wise council of those who serve an agenda of inequality and profit making. I think that's emerged with remarkable clarity at the moment back in the UK where you have a strike movement emerging that's beginning to become a generalized working class movement. Organizing the slogan is being advanced enough is enough. And people in that instance are putting forward the basic notion that as Mick Lynch from the RMT union has put it over there, the working class is back and we refuse to be poor any longer.
And I think we have to have that perspective. We have to have that perspective of putting forward demands and taking up struggles that are based on our needs. And they're always going to be performing seal economists of wealth and privilege. You're always going to say that it's an unwise course to follow for working people to demand enough to live on decently, but they're just going to have to sharpen up their pencils and come up with better theories because I don't think we're really interested in what they think.
This reminds me of a book I recently finished called The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton. I'm not sure if you read that. It’s basically - the idea that governments don't have enough money to support the working class and the poor is a myth. It's government's who tax first and then spend. And so we just have to figure out what we're spending on.
Yeah, absolutely. They always come up with these outlandish theories. In England in the 19th century, there was an economist who seriously argued when legislation was introduced to limit the working day for 12 hours, he seriously argued that businesses didn't begin to make any profits until the 13th hour of the day. So if you limited the working day to 12 hours, the country would fall apart. So those kinds of theories are always bound. I think we just need to have to take them, to say the least, with a pinch of salt and move on.
Speaking of basic needs, in your article you talked about basic needs from the ODSP, the Ontario disability support program that has remained unchanged for the past three years. Excuse me. And this is a time during as inflation rises up, and so you say, for basic needs and shelter, ODSP provides single recipients with up to $1,169 a month. It has not kept up with inflation or increased at all since 2018. Research also shows that approximately 55% of ODSP recipients are falling behind on debts, and roughly half of all recipients said they went without food. And so this is what, I guess, drove me to talk to you, because now with inflation, now in this six to 8% inflationary environment, $1,169 might as well be less than $1,000. It's so challenging to live. What are some of the mechanisms the poor have to supplement their ODSP in these high inflationary times?
Well. I mean. There's really very little. And it needs to as well be stressed that the Ontario works system. That people who might say are characterized as unemployed. But also enormous numbers of disabled people who are not able to access ODSP because it is so restrictive. Are living on. Are even in even conditions of even more dire poverty. Less than $800 a month is the maximum payment for ODSP. So you have an impossible situation. I mean, that's really what's driving all these movements that are starting to emerge. It's why people are taking to the streets, and it's why people are going on strike where they haven't before. The strike figures for this year in Ontario are the highest for 13 years. People are starting to fight back, and they're having to fight back in this situation. So, yes, I mean, we do need to articulate demands. There's a very valid and important demand around social assistance right now, but it's an absolutely vital one. But the question is, to win it, there's going to have to be action to win it.
So if we have now a strike wave starting to emerge in Ontario, we need that to take an organized form. So we need to have a link between workplace struggles and community based struggles. We need to hammer out clear demands for our rights as workers, our rights as people on social assistance, our rights as tenants. We need to start putting those things forward, articulating demands, and actually engaging in action to win them. We need large scale action, social action, strike action. These things have to be taken up in this particular situation because the central bankers are engaged in class war. They do have a notion of how to solve this crisis and they can live very well. I see the Governor of the bank of England recently made a statement in which he said he feels so much for people who are feeling pain at the moment. His tender thoughts are all very well, but he's, of course, following a course that is imposing that misery on people. And I suspect that probably he doesn't sleep that badly because of the impact on people's lives. So they have their solution. We have to fight for our solution.
I use the term class war to describe the strategy that's being pursued. I think it's a clinically accurate term. But one thing about class war is that it really needs to be a two sided affair. You really have to have a fight taken up on both sides, and that's emerging. But it needs to be broadened and it needs to be deepened. And that, I think, is the solution. I mean, to pose it as a question. We ask a question like, what should Doug Ford do? Well, Doug Ford is a nasty right wing businessman who has no intention of meeting the needs of workers or poor people, disabled people, tenants. He has no interest in doing that. He's allowed a horror to unfold in the long term care facilities during the pandemic, and seems to sleep quite fine as a result. So there's not going to be any mercy shown by the Doug Ford to this world. The question is, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to organize? And that's really the challenge that I think we face.
John, you mentioned that the Ontario Disability Support program is a very restrictive program. In fact, you mentioned this to me before. Being a government worker myself. Can you describe why first of all, what are some of the restrictive what's the restrictive nature of the program? What makes it so hard for those on disability to fill it out, to become eligible? Is there just a litmus test you kind of have to do to even be eligible for the program? And what can be done? How can you kind of get rid of that?
Well, I think the first thing to say is that this notion of driving against disabled people is very much part of the whole agenda that's emerged over the last period. The notion of questioning the concept of disability and demanding that everybody joined the scramble for low wage work, regardless of sickness or disability, is very much part of the whole neoliberal agenda that we've been up against. We've seen that in Britain. We've seen it brutally with measures that have been taken against disabled people, with things like the work capability assessment and such like. We see it in Ontario with particular sharpness in the horrible changes that have taken place to the WSIB system that injured workers rely on, which have become incredibly brutal. People have been abandoned by WSIB on a huge scale, probably with regards to ODSP. It hasn't gone as far as it has in Britain, or it has with WSIB, but it's still a really restrictive system. And anyone who's ever functioned, anyone who's ever applied, or anyone who's ever functioned as an advocate is aware of the fact that with ODSP, in effect, the appeal system is a de facto part of the application. I mean, people are turned down on a very widespread basis and have to be able to put forward appeals, summoning arguments, medical evidence and such like as a de facto part of the application process.
So very restrictive. And what that means is that lots of people who should be on disability benefits have to turn to the Ontario work system, where they are treated as people who are short term recipients, where they receive grossly, even worse, even more deplorably, inadequate income than they would on ODSP, but they also face a very precarious benefit system where they're likely to be cut off. And so that is the reality, and it's by no means unique to Ontario. It's part of the whole agenda that's unfolded internationally in all the countries where there's been any kind of level of welfare state. The attack on disabled people, the war on disabled people, has been very much part of it. John I think we chatted about this last year when we were talking about basic income, but I've always had this kind of idea, which was, we give government so much information as it is, you know, through our T4 and our taxes. They know our entire employment history and they know all the money we make every year. But more than that, we do give government whether when we go to hospital doctors offices, we give a lot of health information to the. Government, all that kind of stuff. Is there a way, do you think, and this is me pine the sky thinking but is there a way for governments to say, christopher, we know that you're disabled. We know that you're making, let's say, less than $20,000 a year. We know all this information. Your ODSP now is tailored to your unique situation in the amount of X. And we're hopeful that as an able bodied young adult you may be able to this amount may kind of go down over time as you gain more long term employment. Do you see that as merit, as they're being merit to that? Well, I mean, it would take a lot.
It's one of those sort of situations where it's almost sort of saying if life were like that, in the sense that what you mentioned, the idea you put forward is entirely fair and entirely rational and entirely how things should be. We should live in a society that values disabled people. The very concept of disability is something that is socially constructed. What a society does to involve and include people who have impairments of one kind or another is a huge question about what that society is and what its values are and what its motives are and how it's organized.
And the abandonment of disabled people in this society is a travesty and a shame and a waste, an enormous, enormous waste of human potential and human value. So yes, we should live in a society where the supports that people need to fully include them in society, including, if that's appropriate, the workforce should be provided. And yes, those support should be tailored to people's individual needs. There should be a dynamic and a complex and a flexible and incredibly well resourced system. And it wouldn't be, in the end, a deduction. It would be to all our advantages to use that great of human talent and ability and utilize it on a compassionate and a decent and a just society would do those things. But unfortunately, at this point we don't live in a society like that. And so the income support systems that exist are reluctant concessions set at the lowest possible level so as to not impede the flow of people into the worst jobs on offer. That's essentially how they function. I mean, there are studies after study after studies that show that if they provided decent income to people, the costs of that, even economically, would be the benefits of that would be enormous. People would be healthier, people's lives would be better. People's involvement in society would be full and their potential would be realized. All those things are true.
But this society unfortunately, I'm going to put forward the argument that this society isn't actually run in the interests of most people. It's run in the interests of a very small group of very exploitative, very rich people. And that explains why the kind of very sensible thing you say appears in this society to be the expression of a naive person who doesn't understand how the market works. But in fact, in one sense, I agree with you, but this is something we have to fight for rather than something we have to propose, John. So I want you to walk me through something.
So the ODSP, the base amount of $1,169 a month, which I don't know what that can get you in downtown Toronto in terms of rent, let alone living off that, because it's madness. What's happening with rent right now in the city of Toronto? Is that regionally different? Not at this point. There's been some cases made for that. But the truth is, the shelter component of social assistance payments is so below what's necessary that it's not tailored to anything. It's tailored to the $1,000 or something. I don't know what it's tailored to, but it certainly doesn't have anything to do with the cost of rent today. No one. I mean, people use all of their checks pretty well to house themselves, including their basic needs component, and that's the reality of the thing.
Wow, 1169 can't get you, I don't think, anything in Toronto, and that's not even what you'd be using on rent, because you'd need to eat and you still need to have daily expenses. So I'm not sure what seven $800 a month can get you. I want to talk to you about the future state, but before I do that, throughout our conversation here, you've constantly mentioned social resistance, and that's what I've noticed in your written works as well. The need for social resistance, a call to action for the working class to be prepared for resistance in workplaces and in communities and spaces and residences. I wanted to ask you specifically why you think social resistance is one of, if not the only, means to truly send a message? And do you think that there may be blowback from higher ups in government or others that say, well, John Clarke is calling for resistance at a time when people may not necessarily want that right now, when they're struggling to kind of pay and make their ends meet. What do you say to that?
Well, the truth is that we live in a society in which there is a conflict. It's an ongoing conflict. It's always happening. Sometimes it's just smoldering, and there are times when it really breaks out on a big scale and is explosive. But the level of support that people get I mean, if we're talking specifically about ODSP, but we could talk about wage levels and we could talk about all the various measures of social protection, those things only reflect the balance of forces in society. They only reflect the resistance that has taken place and the resistance that's happening, and the potential resistance that could be happening. I mean, if you go back to the original model, of providing for people's needs. You deal with the English poor laws in the Elizabethan period and when they first threw the peasants off the land, they didn't provide anything. The only thing they did was the only thing they did was whipped and hung people who didn't have jobs. During the reign of Henry VII, 70,000 people were executed as vagabonds I e. They were unemployed. It was their initial attempt to come to terms with social inequality and such like. But what happened, of course, is people rebelled against those situations and they dealt with levels of social unrest that required some level of social provision and I don't think it's changed, particularly today. During the 1930, there was a huge depression.
In 1929, a delegation of the unemployed met with RB Bennett, the Canadian Prime Minister, and proposed unemployment insurance and his response was never will I or any government I'm part of put a premium on idleness. So there was no interest in providing for the needs of the unemployed during a period when people were dying on the streets. But what changed it was that there was a huge movement of unemployed people in the 1930s that organized it all across the country and it compelled the authorities at all three levels of government to provide for people's needs, not on any grand scale, but in a way that was far more than they intended to do and that's remained the situation. It's the strength we have in our unions and in our communities that gives us something to bargain with. If it were possible to go to Doug Ford tomorrow and say, Doug, you can do whatever you want and no working class person is going to fight back, I promise you. I can guarantee it.
The stuff you'd see them do would be mind boggling. They take away things you never imagined they would take away. They'd abandon people, they'd probably privatize the healthcare system tomorrow they'd do all these things, but they don't do that because there is a level of resistance in this society. So it all hinges on resistance. Resistance is vital. Resistance is vital and I believe it's also vital for that resistance to reach a level where we start to think not just in terms of resistance, but what we want to change, what kind of society you won't want to live in that's different to this one. And that's also true, but yes, I don't think it's an abstract question or a secondary choice. I think the question of resistance is absolutely fundamental to the whole issue and anything I'm doing, if it wasn't for resistance, it would just be a matter of studying things out of interest.
If I look into anything and other people like me look into anything, we're doing. So from the standpoint of wanting to make a contribution to that resistance. John, in addition to protests, what would you see as some of the other resistance measures that the working class and the poor could take. Well, I think the most important weapon that we have at our disposal at the moment is the strike weapon. I think that's something that's going to be absolutely vital, and it's happening. As I said, the figures show that strike levels in Ontario are the highest this year for the last 13 years. And actually it's more than that because the year is not over and the figure is great, so the figures are shooting up. But in the years I was with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, I was organizing amongst the segment of the population that didn't have the strike weapon. So we used alternative methods of disruptive collective action of one kind or another. So protests, occupations, tenants are in organized rent strikes. We live in a country where the resisting indigenous nations have given us all incredible lessons in forms of collective resistance that are incredibly powerful. We see the wetsuitant people organizing against the pipelines being driven through their territory, and in 2019, nationwide action in support of that struggle that created a crisis for the government. So various forms of action must be taken. But I think the fundamental question is that we need to take it beyond the notion of sort of registering our discontent. And we have to think in terms of how can we actually disrupt their agenda, how can we actually make them pay a price for what they're doing? Those forms of resistance, I think, are the ones that we need to explore. I want to end our conversation by doing a bit of role play with you, John, which is putting yourself in the position of Doug Ford or a PC Party cabinet Minister, given everything that we've discussed today, knowing that they've just been elected to another four year term by convincing majority and second majority. So there clearly is a lot of support, at least amongst the voting population in Ontario for Doug Ford and the PCs. What do you see as some of the things they could implement over their next term that would actually have tangible impacts? Again, with that progressive, conservative right of center right wing lens on what would you see as some of those items? Yeah, in some ways that's an impossible question to answer in the sense that it's sort of like asking, if you were a zebra, what should the lion do? In the sense that the lion is going to try and eat you, and that's what lions do. I think that's true of Tories, I think that's true of people like Doug fault. I mean, they are the right wing edge of the political structure in this country, of the parliamentary political structure, and they are going to implement measures that are in the interest of big business. So I think we have to pose the question more as one of what can we do to stop them, what can we force out of them? I mentioned the question of RB Bennett telling the delegation of the unemployed in 1929 that he would never introduce unemployment insurance. In 1935, he actually introduced a bill for the introduction of unemployment insurance, albeit that it was for several years blocked by the British House of Lords. But why did Bert do that? He did it because he was forced to do it. He was forced to do it by a movement of people. Unless you want to believe that he wandered around the country and saw the suffering and his heart melted, I think that's highly unlikely. He was forced to do it by a really explosive social movement that broke out at that time. So we know the things they should do. They should double social assistance rates. They should massively increase the minimum wage. They should strengthen workers rights. They should introduce effective and real rent controls. They should engage in the building of social housing on an enormous scale. They should strengthen the healthcare system. There should be farmer care. This brief straying into federal territory here, but there should be farmer care and dental care, and there should be a national effective child care program. There should be a strength and free, accessible public transport system. All these things are necessary, but we couldn't put them forward. They're not going to happen on the basis of an appeal to Doug Ford's sense of rationality and fairness. There again, I'm afraid, going to emerge out of that very resistance that I was talking about. And John, I think that's exactly why I invited you on, because your specific perspective when it comes to what can be done regarding poverty and inflation and just the cost of living crisis that we're in, it's stark in comparison to other commentators that try to find that middle ground. You, on the other hand, say there is no middle ground. In fact, the system has been kind of built in a way that does not benefit. Yeah, there is middle ground, but it's quicksand.
Good. John, I can't thank you enough. This has been such an enlightening conversation. We've covered everything from interest rates to social resistance. You've walked me through your perspective in great detail and I would just ask as a final question, what do you see as the kind of I know we began saying that the next few years will be quite dire for the poor and the working class in this higher inflationary environment. What could you see as things that maybe those on Ovsp and those in the working class can look forward to with social resistance, as you mentioned before? Well, I think we can look to successfully defending basic living standards and basic rights, but we're doing so in conditions that are incredibly volatile and incredibly unstable. I mean, we see the Ukrainian conflict breaking out. We've already experienced a global pandemic that didn't come from nowhere. It was a result of how agriculture is being organized around profit making in this society. We're dealing with the effects of a climate crisis that is taking the dimensions of a global catastrophe. I do think we have to organize those movements of resistance, but we have to talk in terms of building a society that is not based on the profits of a few, but one that is based on rationality and justice.
That's I think, where we need to be going as we struggle and as we grow and as we build our confidence, we have to get beyond the notion that we're just trying to defend a status quo. We have to start putting on the agenda the kind of world that we want to live in, a world that's very different to this one.
John, I can't thank you enough for coming on the podcast and sharing this important information with us. I'm going to actually link all of your articles below and anything else, as well as toocap antio York University course if it's available online. Lots of links to that as well. This has been super enlightening. Can't thank you enough. Thanks for coming on and sharing all of your perspectives on this.
Thanks so much, Christopher. Thank you very much indeed.