by Enver Harbans
Basics Issue #13 (Apr/May 2009)
The current economic crisis is being repeatedly used to justify capital’s assault on the working-class. Whether it’s in the form of cutbacks on hours in a non-union grocery store, a freeze or cutback of wages and benefits at the bargaining table, or closures at unionized car plants, the recession has been used as an excuse for owners to cut labour costs at every opportunity.
Job losses in Canada for the month of January alone were at 129,000, the largest since the government started recording such data. February wasn’t much better, with 82,600 jobs shed mostly in the construction and manufacturing sectors. Ontario in particular has been hit hard, as 1,500 workers at the Stelco plant in Hamilton were laid off and 900 workers at the Dofasco plant got pink slips in March. With the unemployment numbers growing (officially, 7.7%, but in reality much higher) employed workers can expect an attack on their wages and benefits. Just ask union members who are in the process of bargaining new collective agreements and being expected to make countless concessions before talks even begin. Owners and bosses are telling us that we should be happy that we even have a job and they threaten cutbacks, layoffs and closures when we demand a share of the company’s profits.
However, while the attacks on workers have been hard and swift, workers’ resistance is beginning to develop. Workers at Aradco in Windsor, Ontario occupied their car parts plant after the company withheld over $1.3 million in severance pay, vacation pay and other benefits. On March 18, workers welded the doors of the plant shut, refusing to take the measly $200,000 the company offered to share amongst the 80 workers. Unfortunately, to date, this example of workers uniting to take control over the factories to demand a little bit of justice has not been replicated to meet the gross injustices unfolding around us.
In the 2009 Federal Budget, the Canadian government passed another $200 billion in bailout money for the banks, on top of the $75 billion already passed in the end of 2008. With banks and other major financial corporations in the U.S. and Canada getting bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions, why are workers being asked to forget about their severance pay, and why is their EI lost in the mix? While the rich can count on the State for bailouts and assistance, workers need to count on each other, and organize in their communities, workplaces and schools to fundamentally change the way this system works.