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Organizing Thoughts 19: Women at the Center

“It is worth noting in this respect that the original proletariat was not the blue-collar male working class. It was lower-class women in ancient society. The word ‘proletariat’ comes to us from the Latin word for ‘offspring,’ meaning those who were too poor to serve the state with anything but their wombs. Too deprived to contribute to economic life in any other way, these women produced labour power in the form of children. They had nothing to yield up but the fruit of their bodies. What society demanded from them was not production but reproduction. The proletariat started life among those outside the labour process, not those within it. Today in an era of Third World sweatshops and agricultural labour, the typical proletarian is still a woman . . . . In Marx’s own time, the largest group of wage labourers was not the industrial working class but domestic servants, most of whom were female.”

Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (Yale University Press, 2011), page 169.

Occupy Edmonton Sets Up Camp at the University of Alberta

Police are descending upon the camp even as we speak, in the name of protecting the University of Alberta from the destruction that the little sign-tents may wreak. The Tents say they are not afraid, and will do whatever is necessary to bring into being a better world. There is some trepidation that Feet will trample them, but the Tents have a prepared Teach-In strategy for convincing the Feet to become Human.

Organizing Thoughts 18: Back to the Future, or Time for a Teach-in!

Teach-in at the University!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012, 1pm to 2pm: Tory Basement Rm38

And the times, they are a-changing: doing what they need to do, in preservation of the commons!

The University is yours!

C’mon out for what the times require: a good 60’s-style teach-in.

Here’s the formal announcement:

The Department of Sociology will present a teach-in on social scientific perspectives on Nestlé’s past and present activities around the world, on water privatization, on the concepts of the commons, of entitlements and other related issues. We are doing this because of the urgency and gravity of the question of a water commons. We are also doing this because of the need for a critical discussion of the University’s promotion of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chair of the Nestlé’s Group, “as a worldwide leader in water resource management” by conferring on him an honorary degree.

Organizing Thoughts 17: Water as a Human Right

Thanks to the efforts of Sheila Pratt and Paula Simons, readers of the Edmonton Journal have been treated, over the last few days, to two pieces on the controversy at the University of Alberta surrounding the University’s decision, announced on 7 February 2012, to give an honorary degree, in a ceremony scheduled for 1 March 2012, to Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, former CEO and current Chairman of Nestlé.

The University states that it is awarding this degree to Brabeck-Letmathe as “a worldwide leader in water resource management.”

The question is what this “management” involves.

Amongst other things, Pratt’s piece reminds readers of the controversy surrounding Brabeck-Letmathe’s report last spring, after a trip to Alberta, that he was having discussions with Rob Renner, Alberta’s environment minister at the time, about the sale of Alberta’s water to Nestlé. You may recall that Renner had to rush to deny that any such discussion had taken place. Why? Well, because Albertans regard their water as a public good that cannot simply be turned into a commodity for sale to one of the world’s largest corporations.

University President Indira Samarsekera would not speak to Pratt about the University’s decision, but Simons reports that Samarasekera has now defended the decision in terms of the University taking a stand against political correctness: “We did our due diligence. That’s what the community has to respect,” she says. “I think they should admire this university, for not taking the politically correct route under pressure.”

By this it seems that the University is choosing to align itself against the “politically correct” — which means in this case those standing up against the privatization of water. This cannot really be what President Samarasekera means to do. Views designated as “politically correct” are “correct” for a reason. Surely Samarasekera does not really want to position the University against the liberal and progressive thinking (in its many forms) traditionally characterized as “political correctness” by those who are well, generally, not so liberal, not so progressive, and sometimes downright reactionary.

If this really is the position the University is taking, everyone should be urging the University to reconsider it, for the position is much, much worse when one acquires some knowledge of what Brabeck-Letmathe stands for.

Consider what Brabeck-Letmathe has to say for himself, and his ideas about water as a resource, in this video [], which has gone into circulation on Facebook, as members of the University of Alberta and Edmontonians try to make sense of the controversy:

“It’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. This means that as a human being you have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. And the other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally I believe it’s better to give foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware that it has its price, and then that we should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to water, and there are many different possibilities there.” Brabeck-Letmathe then goes on to speak about his responsibilities as a CEO, which are to produce benefits for the employees and shareholders of Nestlé. The implication is clear: Brabeck-Letmathe stands for the privatization of water of in the name of corporate profit.

Perhaps the University will offer a full disclosure of the “due diligence” it has done in making its decision to award this degree to Brabeck-Letmathe despite these views. In the meantime, the University community is working to educate itself and members of the public further on the issue.

You can learn more about Brabeck-Letmathe’s views by attending one of two advance screenings of the film Bottled Life at the University of Alberta.

The film, a documentary by Swiss journalist Res Gehringer, deals with the “whitewashing” of the global “water business” by Brabeck-Letmathe, who is positioning Nestlé to “dominat[e] the global water market of the future.”

The afternoon screening has been scheduled for Telus 217/219 at 2 p.m. on February 28th, and the evening screening will be held in Education South 129 at 7 p.m. on February 29th. After each screening, there’ll be a free-flowing discussion of audience members’ responses to the film and the issues that it raises.

Then perhaps those who come will be in a better position to make sense of the choice the University is making, and on what basis they might reasonably ask the University to choose otherwise.

Universities traditionally use honorary degrees to affirm their values. We should all therefore be greatly concerned that the University of Alberta wants to affirm its values in relation to the head of a corporation that is seeking to seize, for corporate profit, a resource that ought to be held in common, and managed for the common good, and worse align himself as he does so against those who would defend water as a resource to which all humans have a right.

We should be especially concerned about this in relation to recent events at the University, which have involved the University designating the campus as “private property” to keep students from protesting there. The chief value that the University appears to be confirming with its recent choices is the value of privatization.

It is doing this despite the fact that it itself is a public institution, and a public institution that is, moreover, supposed to be dedicated to the common good.

If you are concerned about either of these issues, or the connection between them, please write to the University’s Chancellor, Linda Hughes, to let her know.

The Chancellor is the person charged under law with representing the public interest in the University. And in both the case of the conferring of the degree upon Brabeck-Letmathe and the designation of the University as “private property” the “public interest” is at stake.

Mailing Address
Office of the Senate
Office of the Chancellor
150 Assiniboia Hall
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6G 2E7

Phone: (780) 492-2268
Fax: (780) 492-2448

You may also want to sign the petition “Don’t Sell Our Water”:

For we should all be standing up for water as resource to which all humans have a right, and doing so in Alberta against any possible collusion between the provincial government and global corporations. For one account of NDP, Liberal, and Wild Rose concerns about Brabeck-Letmathe’s claim last spring, see

Organizing Thoughts 16: Write, write, write, write, write!

This is a great idea! When one form of democratic expression is prevented, there are always others.

If the above is too small to read, you may read it properly on Occupy Edmonton’s Facebook page.

Occupy Edmonton is suggesting that anyone who is concerned about what happened on campus on 1 February 2012 when students and visitors to campus wanted to participate in a rally against tuition fees in the University’s Quad write to the University’s President, Indira Samarasekera, to express their concerns about what happened. (As you’ve probably heard by now, they were met by the police, who prevented them from walking onto campus.) Earlier this week, in a University meeting, President Samarasekera made it clear how influenced she is by correspondence she receives from members of the community. So, write!

Organizing Thoughts 15: Can we not welcome in the “whole people”?

Everyone in Edmonton knows what happened yesterday at the University of Alberta — or everyone thinks they know what happened. Everyone thinks that members of Occupy Edmonton were prevented from walking onto the University of Alberta campus to set up “encampments” there. But this is a complex story, and many of those who were on the ground have quite different things to report about what unfolded than the position taken formally by the University’s administration here:

Amongst other things, Occupy Edmonton media spokesperson Katie Nelson confirms that no decision about whether there was to be an encampment had as yet been taken by Occupy Edmonton. Yes, Occupy Edmonton had announced its “occupation” of the University of Alberta. But “occupation” means many things. Occupy Edmonton intended to take its decision about what its relationship with the University of Alberta might be at a General Assembly to be held on campus late yesterday afternoon. And Occupy Edmonton had invited members of the University’s administration to join them at this Assembly.

As all decisions made by Occupy Edmonton are taken by consensus by those present at their General Assemblies the University’s administrators could have been present to influence the decision. What an interesting event that would have been! What a wonderful opportunity it would have been for the University to demonstrate what an enlightened institution this is.

Occupy Edmonton has already held at least one other General Assembly at the University of Alberta — on a quiet Sunday in November, right in front of University Hall.

Rather, however, than welcoming members of the public to join U of A students, if they wished, at a student rally against tuition fees, the University of Alberta “Risk Management” team arranged for the City of Edmonton police to block the entry of students and Occupy Edmonton members onto campus.

Students claim that they were turned back not because they wished to be part of any encampment, but because they wished to be part of a rally. See, for example, this statement issued by students who wished to be part of the rally because of their concern about cuts to the Faculty of Arts:

Hopefully Edmonton’s journalists will be able to get to the truth of the matter by talking directly to the students who were kept from walking onto campus yesterday. Edmonton’s journalists have an important role to play here in ensuring that the public understands what was actually said in exchanges between police, University spokespeople, students, and members of the peaceful protest movement Occupy Edmonton. Presumably the University administration also wants the truth to be told. The University’s motto is, after all, “Quaecumque Vera” (“All Things That Are True”).

More recently, the University has been using the “tag” “Uplifting the whole people.” The phrase is drawn by a speech by the University’s founder, Henry Marshall Tory, in 1908. Tory said “The modern state university has sprung from a demand on the part of the people themselves . . . . The people demand that knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone.  The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.” Whatever the University may now be claiming about the status of the land on which its buildings sit, the fact remains that the University of Alberta is a public university founded at the “demand” of “the people,” for the betterment of their interests. The rhetoric is certainly old-fashioned, but it should translate into something urgently important, still: as a public university, the University of Alberta should be a place where all Albertans can gather, if they wish, to discuss whatever they social issues they deem important to them.

Here post-doctoral scholar Marija Cetinic responds to a policeman’s claim that the University is a “big house” that belongs to the University, who can’t just have any old body sitting down in a chair on its lawn. If the University is a “big house,” Cetinic noted, it is one that belongs to the people. The whole people.

The “whole people” includes “Raging Grannies” and people playfully wearing masks.

It also includes graduate students of social theory who wish to put their learning to work to address pressing inequities in the culture and transform society.

And let’s not forget that it includes people currently without jobs because of the irrational and unjust ways in which we manage the earth’s resources and its wealth.

And, yes, amongst the “whole people” are also those who work full-time as activists because they wish to use their many talents to bring into being a better world, whether or not anyone else deems them “productive.”

The official University statement says that “Occupy” is a “subject of interest” for the University community. With its actions yesterday, the University has suggested that it it may study protest movements important to “the whole people,” without actually welcoming their members to the University so that members of the University community may engage with them. With this decision, the University sadly reinforces perceptions that, despite its proximity to Edmonton’s downtown, and despite the fact that it is a public institution, it is a secluded place whose researchers are cut-off from “the whole people” who must be held off at their “gates.” 

As a result, a somewhat farcical scene unfolded yesterday, in which University students had to walk off campus in order to join other students and members of the public who wanted to join them in a conversation about an important social issue, how we fund post-secondary education.

The University is supposed to be the place for free assembly, free speech, and the free circulation of ideas. The primary responsibility of the University’s administrators is to advance the interests of the University. (This differs crucially from “selling” the University.) Couldn’t the University have made a choice yesterday that would have seen it advancing the interests of the University and “the whole people” by demonstrating to Edmontonians, Albertans, Canadians — indeed, the world — that it puts the principles of higher education, along with rights to free speech and free assembly, above other concerns? Is this not in fact part of its duty as an education of higher learning? And surely, in fulfillment of that duty, it would not dream of suggesting that anyone who wishes to participate in the free circulation of ideas can be, at its demand, arrested “without warrant”?

Organizing Thoughts 14: Rally at the University of Alberta

At the bi-monthly meeting of the General Faculties Council at the University of Alberta, faculty, administrators, and students were told that Stephen Harper is ‘pleased’ with what Canada’s research universities, including the University of Alberta, are doing, but wants us to do a better job of “commercializing our discoveries.” Rally at the University of Alberta this Wednesday at 2 p.m. to stand up against the corporatization of the university, the commercialization of its work, and increases in tuition fees that are increasingly making post-secondary education inaccessible to all but the children of the well-off. The University of Alberta, like all universities, should be a place for the production, nurturing, and study of ideas not bound by market laws or market ideology, and a place where everyone can afford to study, no matter what socio-economic status into which they have been born.

The word is that Occupy Edmonton will be joining forces with university students at this event.

If you’re interested in these issues, please see the petition “Sustain the University of Alberta & Freeze Tuition Fees” at The Petition is to Premier Alison Redford and the Government of Alberta, and it is meant to benefit all Albertans. Please stand up for public funding of post-secondary education in Alberta and affordable education for Alberta’s university students! And spread the word about the Rally and the Petition!

The full “Background & Rationale” for the Petition may be found at