by M. Cooke
MONTREAL – “We are foreign temporary workers, any day we could be expelled. That’s why we need a strong and flexible association” said Enrique Llanes, a temporary foreign worker from Spain
Enrique was speaking to a group of over 50 temporary foreign workers who had gathered in Montreal this past Saturday to launch the Temporary Foreign Workers Association (TFWA).
They had gathered not only to fight for their rights, but also for the over 300,000 temporary foreign workers currently in Canada and those who will come in future years.
Mohamed and Helena, temporary foreign workers from Tunisia and Spain, welcomed the workers at the start of the day.
“I would particularly like to thank you for your dedication despite the cold and the distance” said Mohamed.
The workers had come from throughout Quebec: the Laurentians, the Eastern Townships, Chicoutimi, Quebec City, Montreal. These workers came from a range of industries including working as farmers, butchers, machinists, welders, translators, lab technicians among others.
Helena continued the introduction saying: “The obstacles temporary foreign workers face are infinite. The system is created to keep us misinformed and isolated”.
Shortly after, one after another, the workers introduced themselves and shared their experiences of working in Quebec.
One group of farm workers talked about recently discovering that their employer had withheld an average of 2 hours of wages per day for over 6 years.
Several workers complained about being tied to a single employer. One worker explained that the company had laid him off for 3 months, and due to his work permit he could not apply to other jobs, nor could he apply for employment insurance. He was forced to work under the table to survive.
In the legal workshop held earlier in the day, groups of workers shared stories about their employer forcing them to rent his apartments or else being fired.
Workers also shared stories of being told to apply as “single” despite being married and having children back home, putting their future plans to apply as permanent residents in jeopardy.
Other workers shared stories about language barriers. They were not allowed to take French courses and they could not access translation services at hospitals nor within some unions.
But these are only a few of the stories of what is happening throughout Quebec and Canada.
The number of temporary foreign workers has been steadily increasing in the past few years. In 2011, there were over 300 000 temporary foreign workers in Canada.
There has been a shift in the Canadian immigration system says Manon Perron, a union leader with the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN).
“Last week, I was in meetings with a top immigration bureaucrat and he told me that they are looking for workers, not citizens” said Manon Perron to the group of workers.
The temporary foreign worker programs are set up to bring cheap labour in to Canada. The workers work here for low wages and no benefits and once they are no longer needed, they are sent back to their countries.
In 2011 there were more temporary foreign workers than immigrants accepted into the country.
The launch of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association is a big step in challenging a program that is set-up to, as Helena said “keep [workers] misinformed and isolated”.
The association will provide workers with access to legal aid clinics, workshops on labour rights, as well as translation services.
In addition, the association will fight to address the policies that lead to the issues faced by foreign temporary workers. The association hopes to win access to employment insurance and health care, open work permits, easier access to apply for permanent residency, as well as the right to unionize.
Despite the obstacles the workers face, there was something electric about having workers from throughout the province meet with each other and begin building an association that would break the isolation and fight for their rights.
Frustrated delegates at CUPE National Convention launch ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’ movement from the floor
by Steve da Silva, CUPE 3903 member
In ancient Rome, politicians were known to secure the votes of Roman citizens by doling out wheat (drawn from conquered territories, it should be noted) and providing cheap entertainment. This, the Roman poet Juvenal satirically referred to as “bread and circuses”. But what happens when bread supplies run out?
Last week, Canada’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), held its largest-ever convention in Quebec City to mark its 50th anniversary. As the austerity policies of capitalism continue their attacks on public sector workers and the working class in general, it sometimes felt like we delegates were being made to suffer a sideshow of countless speeches, video greetings, and a video montage of CUPE through the decades, as a diversion from the fact that CUPE’s leadership actually has no strategy for defending its members in these times. That is, of course, unless you consider the state of our union as an electoral and lobbying machine that is staking it all on an NDP victory in the 2015 elections a viable and comprehensive strategy.
“A Guided Democracy”
For five days, over 2500 delegates representing some 627,000 workers in hundreds of locals across the country – which cost locals millions of dollars in transportation, registration, and accommodation fees – spent well over half their time in their seats as spectators, listening to speeches and watching videos that quite frankly did more to entrench an incumbent leadership than it did provide time for debate around the future of our union.
In fact, the elected leadership would have been completely acclaimed were it not for the courageous young worker from CUPE 4600 Lydia Dobson, who disrupted what convention floor delegates were mocking as “a coronation”. Dobson challenged CUPE National President Paul Moist from the floor, even after an older CUPE staffer told the Young Workers Caucus that it would be “political suicide” to run against Moist. Dobson did so alone, and without the support of the Young Workers Caucus. Because she ran from the floor, Dobson was denied a right to make a campaign speech. Notwithstanding being a completely unknown candidate for the Presidency of Canada’s largest union, Dobson took 21% of the votes cast.
Dobson told BASICS, “I stand by my actions. I believe in direct action and think that it is imperative that our young workers NOT become intimidated and subjected to power structures and politics that do not represent our best interests. The commotion that this caused today is a blatant demonstration of our the complacency of our members to directed voting, imbalanced power structures and a guided democracy. It should not be shocking that there was a vote at an election.”
Sham democracy aside, many of the threats facing workers were enumerated throughout the convention, but with particular attention given to Bill C-377 and the looming threat of “right to work” legislation. While these two coming attacks on unions will deal a huge blow to the working-class, it is noteworthy that the effect of these two pieces of legislation would be felt first and hardest at the top of the union movement. Bill C-377, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Conservative MP and backbencher Blaine Calkins from Alberta, would impose financial reporting requirements that are far above what exists for any other entity in Canada, and is widely recognized as discriminatory towards and clearly aimed at destroying unions. Bill C-377 would strangle unions in the redtape of their reporting requirements, starving them of their resources; not to mention making it very difficult to certify new unions. It becomes clear how threatening this legislation would be to union bureaucrats who would see their resources wasted on paperwork, an attack that would eventually trickle down to rank-and-file unionists and workers in the form of weak, cash-strapped, defenceless organizations, and eventually defunct organizations.
Fights to be fought
If C-377 is the jab, “right to work” legislation would be the blow from the other side. The so-called right to work legislation, which PC opposition leader in Ontario Tim Hudak is promising, would starve unions of their dues from the other end by whittling down their membership, giving union members to opt-out of paying dues, even though they would be covered by a Collective Agreement.
However, with or without these deathblows to unions (at least as they exist in their current form), the attacks on workers are taking place everyday and are not limited to these threats on the horizon. Impossible to enumerate briefly, these consist of “austerity” cuts that lead to lost jobs, privatizations that break unions and cost taxpayers more in the long run by subsidizing corporate profits, two-tiered bargaining that sell-out young and future workers, the deterioration of workplace safety and conditions of work, and the shift from “defined pensions benefits” that guarantee hard numbers for people’s retirements to “defined contributions” plans that tell you what you must put in pension funds, but not what you’ll get out of them.
Then there are the conditions that affect workers outside the workplace and beyond their working years: record-levels of household, consumer, and student debt; cuts to social and community services; the environmental destruction of capitalism; the $34 billion loss of federal healthcare transfers to provinces if the Health Accord is not renewed in 2014; the genocidal-colonial violence faced by Indigenous peoples in their communities on reserves or in cities. CUPE members are experiencing all these attacks, and more.
Lobbying, Electoralism, and the Complete Absence of Working-Class Strategy
From the convention floor, the anxiety of delegates could be read from the numerous resolutions debated and passed speaking to and taking stances against the deteriorating conditions of workers. But there was no real space to discuss the strategic requirements to actually arm workers for the fight to successfully fight on many fronts. Opening up such a discussion would have subjected to scrutiny the complete failure of electoralism and social democracy to serve the interests of even the “middle-class” workers in the labour movement, leaving aside the broader working poor and hyper-exploited workers.
What is CUPE’s actual plan to fight on all these fronts? Lobbying and elections, basically. One the one hand, there is the public relations campaign called “Together Fairness Works,” which the Canadian Labour Congress has rolled out in the form of a national television advertising campaign from October 7 through November 17. The Fairness project is also directing the energy and resources of staffers and union activists to engage the rank-and-file members around the benefits of being in a union and the contributions of union to society (they mean, capitalist society!). “We need to reintroduce ourselves to our members by having one-on-one conversations about the value of the labour movement and their union,” guest speaker CLC President Ken Georgetti told the Convention. A perusal of the “Fairness” literature seems to reveal, however, that the architects of this campaign didn’t get the memo that corporations and banks are actually posting record profits through austerity and neoliberal policies. As long as “the economy” remains synonymous with capitalism, we lose to the political Right on the ideological terrain because a capitalist economy grows to the extent that it exploits labour.
On the other hand, there is the NDP and the 2015 elections. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair graced the membership with his presence and a speech - essentially promising nothing more than the status quo, holding back or reversing a select few of Harper’s attacks – but could not find the time to take a single question from Canada’s largest union.
The pillar of the convention was the “Strategic Directions 2013-2015: Proud of our Past, Ready for the Future” document, where one would expect to find an elaborated strategy. While identifying many aspects of the crisis faced by the working-class and CUPE’s membership, the document falls short on questions of how we will actually defend ourselves against the panoply of attacks coming from all directions. Insofar as there is any strategy in the document, it was limited to electoralism and tied to the success of the NDP. To the shock of many delegates, a first draft of the document actually read that “We know that the ultimate power over bargaining and strikes lies in the hands of the government of the day” – a statement that was slightly modified only by a revolt from the floor during discussion around the document. Despite opposition to that statement, the amended document retained a phrase from the first draft that basically amounted to the same capitulationist position: “As long as we do not have worker-friendly governments, anything we negotiate at the bargaining table can be taken away from us through legislation.”
“Why is labour the only partner still playing by the rules?”
So, when yesterday’s labour laws are legislated out of the law, what is to be done? Well, nothing but wait for the next elections, and vote. Maybe a bit of lobbying in between. In essence, the CUPE leadership’s stance seems to be passively accepting giving up the historic birthright of the working-class – its right to withdraw its labour as its ultimate source of leverage over capital – and just wait for the next elections. Such are the honest truths presented by a union leadership that is frankly unwilling to stick their necks out and lead us in the struggles that are necessary to defend our livelihoods, let alone fight the greater fights of radically transforming Canadian society to end colonialism, imperialist wars abroad, massive wealth inequalities, and Canada’s leading role in ecological destruction and climate change.
And why would they? Unjust labour legislation, like back-to-work legislation, is making illegal any strike that would actually make a difference and tip the balance of power back into the hands of labour. To break these laws would hurt labour leaders the most: their assets would be seized, they would be jailed, they would face fines that would within weeks of illegal action run into the hundreds of thousands or millions. Do we have the faith in leaders that get paid six figure salaries to lead these fights? According to our Convention’s financial statement, Paul Moist took home a $159,015 salary in 2012 alone, which doesn’t include benefits, and his office used over $370,000 in travel costs. Is it any wonder that the Russian revolutionary Lenin once referred to the likes of Moist as a labour aristocrat?
Frustrations Spark ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’
It was the growing frustration of delegates with the lack of debate around a viable strategy that sparked midway through the convention a caucus of more radical CUPE members that began calling ourselves “Rebuild Militant Labour” - a caucus formed initially just to coordinate interventions at the mic.
By Day 3, however, with the problems with our union coming into sharper focus, and a growing number of people joining the conversation, Rebuilding Militant Labour (RML) put out an interim basis of unity, holding an impromptu meeting outside convention hours at the end of Day 4 that attracted almost one hundred people, representing much of the country, most of CUPE’s sectors, and the whole demographic spectrum of the union.
Kelly O’Sullivan, President of CUPE 4308, held up an image of a triangle encompassing labour, government, and capital, illustrating the postwar “social compromise” from the 1940s onwards. O’Sullivan asked the leadership why “labour is the only partner still playing by the rules” when capital and government have long ago abandoned the welfarist social contract.
“‘If not now, when?’ may sound cliché,” CUPE 4308 President Kelly O’Sullivan told BASICS, who represents personal support workers in Toronto. “We got the sense that the ‘now’ really is now. ‘RML happened at this national convention because now is the time. You could hear the frustration from the delegates on the convention floor and in casual conversation that we have had enough playing by the rules and that more militant action is needed. RML was a response to our own anger over lack of strategy in our union to not only protect ourselves from the attack on workers and community but also a narrow and limited focus on election of an NDP government in 2015 as the only coordinated response.”
Established on a strictly anti-capitalist basis of unity, according to its founding points of unity RML has taken on the mandate of developing a militant strategy beyond electoralism, entrenching amongst rank-and-file membership and “grassroots power”, and “a program of education for workers in our unions to understand how capitalism is the problem.”
At its founding meeting, RML organized an Interim Coordinating Committee under the mandate of coordinating the implementation of the points of unity in our locals and communities; developing an anti-capitalist educational program; coordinating our organization going into conventions in two years time, and preparing for a separate national convention of Rebuilding Militant Labour in late 2014.
The labour movement in its current form – strictly committed to the institutional arrangement of postwar social order – can no longer defend the working-class; and frankly, they never really represented the whole working-class to begin with. The bread line is closed. A growing proportion of workers can see through the empty promises of social democratic labour leaders and politicians. The circus no longer amuses. Nowhere in the world is social democracy stemming the tide of capitalism’s attacks.
It is time we return to the days when militant labour actually fought for another world, a world that would be free of class division and exploitation. The first stage on that road has always been called ‘socialism’, however you define it and whatever means you think we need to actually get there. If RML lives up to its name and mandate, we may just have one of the central means by which to resume that struggle where Canadian labour left it in the 1940s.
by Steve da Silva
With the consciousness of people in Canada taken up a notch on the issue of “fracking” by the Mi’kmaq-led resistance in New Brunswick, it’s only a matter of time before people’s sights and struggles shift to the next major shale-gas frontier: Ontario. The US Energy Information Administration estimated in 2013 that there were 573 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in Canada.
“Fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, is the process by which oil is withdrawn from harder to access sources by blasting water, sand, and chemicals into shale rock formations.
High gas prices have opened the way for the oil industry to push fossil fuel exploitation into the realm of more difficult to reach fossils fuels, what are known as “the unconventionals”: tar sands, shale-gas, and deep-water oil wells.
Most people in Ontario are unaware that a Canadian oil firm out of Alberta has for years been acquiring land rights across southwestern Ontario, in order to explore and drill the extensive shale-gas deposits in the province. Although up-to-date information on its operations are scarce, by 2011 Mooncor Oil and Gas Corp. already owned some 20,000 acres of land in Chatham-Kent and Lambton County, in southwestern Ontario.
In Ontario, geologists have broken down shale-gas deposits into three major zones: the Kettle Point Formation known as Antrim Shale; the Collingwood-Blue Mountain formations known as Utica Shale; and the northernmost limit of the Marcellus Shale that extends up from Pennsylvania and New York State.
While Ontario shale-gas exploration is reported to have not yet used the fracking method, the even greater danger of tapping shale-gas is the planetary danger posed by carbon emissions through new fossil fuel exploitation. Although natural gas emits half the greenhouse gas that coal gives off, most of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels cannot be exploited without initiating irreversible levels of climate change.
by Steve da Silva
Many of us have the impression that immigration policy in Canada is driven by so-called “Canadian values” like humanitarianism. This may have been part your or your parents Citizenship test, or maybe you learned this in school.
However, since the 1870s, Canadian immigration policy has primarily been about attracting workers to feed its expanding capitalist economy. In the century leading up to that, immigration policy was primarily focused on colonizing Indigenous lands with British settlers.
By 1942, just as most of Canada’s 23,000 Japanese were about to be branded as “enemy aliens,” dispossessed of their property, and removed to concentration camps, the government began thinking seriously about the crisis of legitimacy they would face after the war, especially in the eyes of non-Anglophone peoples. They did not want a repeat of WWI, which sparked the takeover of Winnipeg by workers in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
In the same year, the Department of National War Services established an Advisory Committee on Cooperation in Citizenship that was charged with studying the views of immigrants for the purpose better cultivating their allegiance and loyalty.
Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, a large section of the immigrant population and a growing section of the lower middle class were orienting towards the Communist Party and their vision for an egalitarian society; and communists played a leading role in building unions for industrial workers. So cultivating the allegiance of certain sections of labour in postwar Canada would be just as important as cultivating the allegiance of immigrants in general.
In February of 1944, the federal government passed an executive order recognizing trade unions; by March 1945, 133 new unions had been certified; and a fierce 99-day strike at Ford over the summer of 1945 led to the compulsory check-off of union dues from members’ pay cheques (the ‘Rand’ Formula, which is being threatened today). But these moves were not a concession to the communists: rather, bringing labour relations within the law went hand-in-hand with the subsequent policy of isolating and fiercely attacking communism during the Cold War period that followed.
In 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act was passed, and in 1950, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent made clear that the goal of the Act was “to make Canadian citizens of those who come here as immigrants and to make Canadian citizens of as many as possible of the descendants of the original inhabitants of this country.” In other words, the objective was assimilation, for immigrants as well as for Indigenous peoples.
Once the flow of cheap European labour began drying up in the 1960s – the last waves of which were the Greeks and Portuguese – the Canadian state began looking towards other pools of immigrants, and to varying degrees grudgingly ‘tolerating’ non-white peoples migrating and gaining citizenship.
Canadian immigration policy responded to these labour needs by introducing the “points system” by 1967, which formally lifted the racial criteria (which identified “preferred races”) for immigration and set out ‘objective criteria’ for the recruitment of prospective immigrants, such as education background, language skills, occupation or professional experiences, as well as family ties to Canada. These policy shifts in immigration became institutionalized with the Immigration Act of 1976.
Meanwhile, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (DCI) oversaw Indian Affairs from 1949 to 1966, at a time of the height of the Indian Residential Schools. A 1961 report from DCI explicitly stated that the government intended using off-reserve educational opportunities – such as the Residential Schools – as a means of depopulating reserves and effecting the assimilation of Indigenous peoples.
By the mid-1960s, however, the Federal government became frustrated with the pace of assimilation of natives, and the Trudeau government decided to proceed with its infamous ‘White Paper’ of 1969, which called for a complete dismantling of the Indian Act and the direct assimilation of natives as ‘Canadians’ – which would have made them into the most dispossessed and poorest strata of the working class, and completely eliminated their self-determination.
The policy of native assimilation, the demand for cheap labour, and the need to tame Quebec nationalism, therefore, were driving forces behind the policy that we have come to know in the benign terms of multiculturalism.
But in his own day, Trudeau was clear that his policy of multiculturalism sought to “promote creative encounters and interchange among all Canadian cultural groups in the interest of national unity”. What national unity? Whose nation?
Many would point to Canada’s refugee policies (at least until very recently) as an example of Canada’s humanitarianism. However, as Pablo Vivanco analyzed in BASICS recently, it wasn’t until solidarity activists forced the Canadian government to accept Chilean refugees fleeing the Western-backed dictatorship that Canada’s refugee policy was partially opened up to refugees who weren’t anti-communist. Until the Chilean refugee crisis, Canada’s Cold War refugee system only granted asylum to people leaving ‘socialist’ countries, like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Vietnam. Recruiting anti-communist refugees had a lot to do with national unity as well: the unity of Canada as a capitalist country.
With the banning of religious symbols in the public service in Quebec’s new Charter clearly directed at Muslims, many are wondering what happened to ‘tolerance’ in this country. But the emergence of the policy of ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada was never the product of some progressive enlightenment of Canada’s political system, its nationals, or its elites. It was developed in the postwar era as a strategy for the assimilation of immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and containing Quebecois nationalism. It was a policy for assimilating and managing an increasingly diverse population in the interests of capitalism and colonialism.
Many of us want to live in a diverse society where all peoples from all nations are genuinely respected and can fully participate in society for the benefit of all. But that was never Canada. Not yesterday, not today. That’s a society we have yet to build.
 See p.444 of Bohaker, H. & Iacovetta, F. (2009). Making Aboriginal people ‘Immigrants Too’: A comparison of citizenship programs for newcomers and Indigenous peoples in postwar Canada, 1940s-1960s. Canadian Historical Review 90(3), 427-461.
by Christopher C. Sorio (MIGRANTE Canada)
Migrante Canada (Ontario) which is an alliance of 19 Filipino organizations in Canada and have 5 members organizations in the province of Ontario, supports the campaign to increase minimum wage from $10.25 to $14.00 per hour.
For the last three years, the minimum wage in Ontario is pegged at $10.25 and there is a mechanism to address a review process that will look at the necessity of increasing minimum wage.
In a study conducted by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in 2008 the report showed that calculates a living wage in Toronto should be more than $10.25 per hour.
The CCPA study which was conducted in 2008, by Hugh Mackenzie and Jim Stanford, calculated that a two parent family with two children would need to make at least $16.60 an hour, working full-time year round, in order to obtain a reasonable standard of living that promotes health, well-being and participation in the full life of their community.
The living wage for a single parent with one child would be $16.15.
According to Sonia Singh of Worker’s Action Centre, there are 544,000 people in the province of Ontario that subsist on a pay of $10.25 an hour, and more than 750,000 earn around $11 or $12 an hour. Singh further adds says many low-wage earners are older and have families to support. They are mostly women, recent immigrants, and people of colour.
This becomes very important, more so to immigrant newcomers in this province. Most immigrant newcomers are earning minimum wage and are at times working two or more jobs in order to meet the needs of their families.
Increasing wage increase will be good for poverty reduction for this province.
by Kitchener- Waterloo BASICSNEWS
“Ronald McDonald,” joined by approximately 30 other people, targeted a McDonalds located in Kitchener, ON, to demand a living wage for all workers. McDonalds is part of a larger lobbying group that wants to keep the freeze on minimum wage (which is currently $10.25/hr in Ontario), forcing workers to live in poverty. This action is part of a larger provincial campaign that seeks to raise minimum wage to $14/hr. According to Statistics Canada, full-time workers making only minimum wage have incomes that are 19% below the poverty line, with limited to no benefits.
“In KW alone, we’ve lost manufacturing jobs and tech industry jobs (ex. RIM), due to temporary agencies, precarious part-time work, and outsourcing,” says community activist Mark Corbiere. “While the cost of living increases and minimum wage stays the same, the gap between rich and poor increases at an alarming rate,” stated Di, a member of various community organizations.
Businesses from the targeted lobbying group include Tim Horton’s, Wal-Mart, Loblaws, and McDonalds, as well as others. For more information on this campaign or to get involved/sign the petition to raise minimum wage, please visit www.raisetheminimumwage.ca.
by Moshe ben Velvl and Megan Kinch
Two of Canada’s biggest unions, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and Canadian Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) have merged into a new mega-union, Unifor. They have sketched out an ambitious vision that promises to revolutionize the way unions have traditionally organized and the way they have related to the rest of society and the working class who are not organized in unions. Unifor is now Canada’s largest private sector union. But is it a new day for the labour movement, or is it business as usual?
Rank and file workers, especially in the auto sector, have long been demanding a more democratic unionism — for example, Soldiers of Solidarity in the United States. But in a disappointing turn, the “Unity Team” slate ran almost unopposed for 25 leadership positions at the Unifor convention. Long time union leaders Dave Coles of CEP and Ken Lewenza of CAW resigned their presidential positions shortly before the new convention, paving the way for the official choice for new president, Jerry Dias. Dias was being referred to as the new president before the convention even took place, as if it was just a formality. And that’s almost what it was. All of the leadership positions had “Unity Team” members acclaimed, meaning no one ran against them. All, that is, except for one.
Lindsay Hinshelwood, a rank and file worker at Oakville Ford and member of Unifor Local 707, threw in her hat to challenge the leadership at the last minute. Not only that, but she provided a real alternative vision to the business-as-usual attitudes.
Hinshelwood gave an interview to BASICS, in which she was also quite critical of the cheerleading culture being promoted at the convention:
At the CAW convention yesterday, Ken Lewenza gave the exact same speech. We didn’t address the issues that are really affecting us. It was the old cheerleading speech, we fought for this, we fought for that, rah, rah, rah, and meanwhile our economy’s been going backwards for the last 40 years. We weren’t addressing the problems and we weren’t offering solutions to those problems.
After Hinshelwood was nominated to run for the election, co-chair Dave Coles (the outgoing CEP leader) wasn’t even going to allow her to make a speech, supposedly because of time constraints and the fact that there were 24 more “elections” scheduled for that afternoon.
He only changed his mind after someone issued a challenge to the chair from the floor, meaning that he would no longer be able to run the meeting if it was actually put up to a vote and passed. He noticed that the rest of the room was very upset with the fact that he wouldn’t let her speak and probably would have ousted him as chair if he continued to refuse her this right. Hinshelwood had this to say about that important moment at convention:
I’m very proud that the crowd challenged the chair and allowed me to speak. I really appreciate getting the time to speak. And that wasn’t rehearsed, that just came out of my mouth without me thinking about it, and it was really great that the audience responded to it, so obviously people were identifying with what I had to say.
Hinshelwood’s speech made strong criticisms of the practice of the CAW heading into the convention, for agreeing to continuing concessions over the course of the past 15 years that would essentially sell out the new hires and lead to continually declining wages and benefits for workers in the automotive sector.
In the election for president of the union, Hinshelwood got 17.5% of the vote against Jerry Dias. This is an impressive number for a last-minute candidacy with no campaign literature or official backing.
This raises the question of how Unifor can claim to be forging a vision for new fights against corporations and governments, and new organizing drives, when the CAW leadership has shown little desire to actually fight against concessions that will hurt their members. In the last round of negotiations with the big three automakers in 2012, CAW leadership agreed to a concessionary contract without calling a strike in any of the three negotiations. This despite the fact that they had received strike mandate votes of 97% or higher at all three automakers, with Chrysler having a 99% strike mandate overall and the Chrysler Etobicoke plant garnering a rare 100% strike mandate vote. What a strike mandate vote does is give the union representatives a mandate to call a strike at any time during the negotiation of a new collective agreement. The fact that the CAW representatives at Chrysler failed to utilize a strike in 2012 as a bargaining tactic despite the obvious willingness of their members to do so does not provide much promise that the new union, Unifor, will do things any differently.
On the second day of the convention, Hinshelwood provided more concrete ideas about how to fight back:
I’d like to see improvements to the Rand Formula. Workers should have the right to strike between contracts. And I have a question about the Supplemental Workers (SWEs) in the union. For example the SWs on GM lines who pay union dues but are not covered under the collective agreement. How are you going to convince these workers who have no representation but pay dues to fight to protect the first-tier workers?
Currently, the Rand Formula only allows workers to strike at designated times when a contract is over and negotiations are occurring for the signing of a new contract. What Hinshelwood was calling for was for workers to be able to strike between contract negotiations at essentially any time, which has historically been the quickest and most effective way to deal with dangerous conditions or any violations of the collective agreement by the employer.
In this very short comment and question on the second day of the convention, she brought up two of the main problems with the way unionism has been done since World War Two. While Unifor is working to bring the SWEs into the union as regular full members with full union rights at work, the new leader Jerry Dias did not even respond to her first recommendation about the right to strike between contract negotiations and updating the Rand formula. This is despite the rhetoric of Dias and other leaders about the need to change the way unionism is done in this country and really go on the offensive.
It remains to be seen how Unifor will fulfill the tasks it has set itself in the coming years and how it can be changed by rank and file activists like Hinshelwood, who had this to say to BASICS about how Unifor could address these issues and the consequences that will result it if doesn’t:
They have to listen to the dissidents instead of trying to shut the dissidents down. The dissidents are speaking for a lot of people and a lot of people are afraid to speak within their unions because you get the ‘union shun’. And you have to acknowledge where you’ve gone wrong and you have to acknowledge what people are angry about and address that situation. Sometimes it’s okay to do some cheerleading, but not when we’re facing losing our country. When you drive workers down, your social structure declines, your infrastructure declines and your civil liberties disappear too.
by Noaman G. Ali
Paved with Good Intentions: Canada’s Development NGOs from Idealism to Imperialism
Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay
303 pages (262 pages excluding notes and index). Fernwood Publishing. $25.00.
Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay’s book is about the world of NGOs, or non-governmental organizations — like Oxfam Canada, Plan Canada and the Montreal-based Alternatives — that are supposed to be helping lift people overseas out of poverty. The general misconception with NGOs is that they selflessly help poorer people, without concern for their political views or without concern for what our politicians try and impose.
Barry-Shaw and Jay pop this bubble at the outset by showing how Alternatives supported the violent overthrow of a popular, democratically elected government in Haiti in 2004. Alternatives used its reputation as a left-wing, pro-development NGO to support the actions of the Canadian government, which played a central role in the coup by funding all kinds of anti-democracy groups and putting Canadian boots on the ground. It just so happens that Alternatives was receiving funding from the official Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Read more…
by Errol Young
A plan called “Tower Renewal” is being promoted by the City of Toronto, and some property management companies and other institutions.
The idea, on the surface, is a good one. The high-rises that we are living in now were built between 1950s to early 1980s. The majority of these building are located in the so-called ‘priority neighborhoods’ in Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York including Jane and Finch. They are reaching the end of their usefulness. Elevators break down, windows leak water, heating problems is ongoing, roofs are crumbling and parking garages are badly off.
But instead of landlords using part of our rent to keep the buildings in good shape, they have let them deteriorate and have pocked the profits.
So the City and its partners are now promoting the tower renewal and offering incentives (more landlord profits) to encourage the landlords to buy into the renewal.
That will be good for the tower owners but what about tenants? There are serious concerns that this “Tower renewal” could eventually lead to thousands of tenants displaced temporarily or even permanently.
What is Tower Renewal truly all about? Ask for full transparency.
What will happen to tenants when the work is being done? Will you have to move?
Will your rents go up?
What will stop the landlords from converting the “renewed” apartment towers into condos?
Will there be jobs for local residents during and as a result of the renewal?
How will tenants have a say in all decision-makings about their homes and communities?
There has been no serious effort by the City and its partners to answer questions like this. Almost no one knows anything about this project.
Jane Finch Action Against Poverty is tracking this and will be calling meetings in our community.
by Steve da Silva
In the midst of the financial crisis, in early 2009 the Ontario provincial and federal governments dumped more than $10.8 billion in loans and debt forgiveness into bailing out General Motors (another $2.9 billion went to Chrysler) – which translated into an 11.7 % stake in the company for the two levels of government.
In late July 2013, the rumour mill had it that the two governments were now looking to sell those shares.
In 2010, the two levels of government got back over $1.1 billion USD when they sold off 35 million shares at GM’s initial public offering. But they still hold 140 million shares, making them the third largest investor in the company, currently valued at around $5.2 billion CDN. The stock would have to be valued at over $50 a share for Canadian taxpayers to get their money back. They stand to lose billions of dollars from the sale.
But thanks to the bailouts – and years of low-financing options with the help of low interest rates set by the Bank of Canada – the ‘big-three’ automakers in North America are posting record profits in the last couple of years. In early January 2013, Stephen Harper dumped another $250 million of subsidies to the auto sector.
In the panic of the financial crisis, various levels of government and the Canadian Auto Workers union leaders past and present were defending the bailouts as a necessary move to keep auto-sector production in Ontario and Canada. But with billions of dollars dumped into GM, jobs are still disappearing and production is still drifting south in search of more exploited workers. Jobs are no more secure than before the bailouts.
Since 2001, endless subsidies and concessions to the auto companies have done nothing to stop the nearly 60,000 auto-sector jobs that have disappeared. This has been the result of restructuring of the industry to move production to countries where workers can be paid far less, as well as boosts in productivity from replacing workers with machinery.
GM upset the Canadian government in December 2012 when it announced it was shifting the production of the Chevrolet Camaro to Lansing, Michigan in 2015, moving 1,000 jobs south of the border. The decision was announced a week after Michigan passed the notorious, union-busting ‘right-to-work’ legislation. The Canadian Autoworkers Union made major concessions in bargaining in 2006 to keep the Camaro in Oshawa. The other major plant in Oshawa only has production earmarked until 2017 according to the terms of the bailout agreement.
What’s worse, is that with the legacy of the bailout dollars set to end soon, industry analysts are speculating that GM may return to troubled times almost immediately as billions of dollars worth of liabilities hit them in the coming years: pension costs are set to soar as government funds for company pension obligations come to an end; the interest-free loans will come to an end; and payments to finance health care costs will no longer be covered by the government.
In effect, it’s been public tax dollars paying for the pensions of former GM workers while the company takes the credit. Currently, GM pays its pensioners through a combination of $200-million in annual company contributions and drawing down amounts from what is known as a prior year’s credit balance. The credit balance was created by a $4-billion deposit to the pension funds as part of the 2009 bailout. The credit balance is effectively a bank account from which GM Canada was allowed to draw for five years to finance its annual pension payments, thus avoiding hefty annual cash contributions. This balance is expected to reach zero around September 2014, at which point the company will have to start using its own money.
The $220-million in interest-free loans that the federal and Quebec governments gave the company for a shuttered plant in Ste-Thérèse, Que., also come due on April 1, 2017.
In late 2014, the first of five annual payments on an $800-million note that finances a trust fund set up to pay for health care costs for unionized retirees will also come due. Those payments amount to $1.28-billion over the five-year period.
Just last month, Canadian GM retirees won a court case against the company when it broke agreements and slashed health care and life insurance benefits in 2009 as part of its restructuring. GM said it would appeal the decision. The success of the class action lawsuit would place another $1.5 billion in obligations on the company.
Anyone who has bought into the neoliberal story about welfare programs sapping state resources should take a look at the big, fat elephant in the middle of the room: big corporations, despite their ‘free-market’ rhetoric, are the biggest drain on public resources.
In a couple of years, when GM starts to find itself wracked with its financial liabilities once again, the case will be made that it’s the fault of overpaid, unionized workers that the auto-sector is in trouble and why it’s necessary for the government to come to the rescue.