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Defending public services during the election and beyond

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Wendy Goldsmith and Dru Oja Jay. They work at Friends of Public Services, a very new organization that is mobilizing people during the election campaign to fight against cuts, the threat of privatization, and attacks on home delivery at Canada Post, and is developing a longer-term vision to defend and enhance public services more generally.

The current federal Conservative government did not invent attacks on public services. In fact, the single biggest assault on them was probably the 1995 federal budget delivered under the Chrétien Liberals, and you can make a good case the attacks started even earlier. But the Harper Conservatives have, in this age of global austerity, carried such attacks forward with an unprecedented vigour and ideological resolve. Despite that, however, such issues have occupied less space in public discussion during the current federal election campaign than many had hoped, in large part because of the distraction created by the most blatant and awful deployment of racism in modern Canadian electoral history by the incumbent Conservatives, but also because the differences among the major parties are smaller on the issue of public services than might have been the case in earlier generations.

Yet as the election clock ticks down, there are groups out there working tirelessly in the closing weeks of the campaign to give voice to the simmering anger that is indeed present among many ordinary Canadians at the way cuts, privatization, and the imposition of the logic of the market have been used to attack the imperfect but substantive mechanisms that have been built over decades for us to meet urgent needs and to foster equality. One group insistently raising this issue is Friends of Public Services.

Friends of Public Services has only been around for a few months. It sprang out of a generalized sense of the urgency of campaigning against austerity and in favour of public services, and out of a sense of both crisis and opportunity specifically produced by Canada Post's plan to abolish home delivery (likely as a prelude to privatizing much of the postal service) and the growing but fragmented resistance to that plan in communities across the country. After a rapid, intense process of strategizing and organization building, the group is focusing on supporting, reinvigorating, and providing infrastructure, materials, and social media support to local grassroots campaigns, with a particular emphasis on the very direct threat of the end of home postal delivery supported by the governing Conservatives. In the longer term, the group hopes to catalyze conversation and action focused not only on defending public services that currently exist, but on improving, strengthening, and radically democratizing services such that they can more successfully realize the vision of meeting needs, redistributing wealth and power, and knitting a supportive social fabric.

Goldsmith and Jay talk with me a bit about public services and the attacks on them in general, about the planned cuts at Canada Post and resistance to them, about their organization and its initial high-energy campaign, and about what a transformative vision that centres public services might look like.

To learn more about Friends of Public Services, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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