All posts by Julius

Corporate Greed, Gov’t Collusion fueled train disaster

lacmegantic
by Barry Weisleder
Lac-Mégantic fell victim to a deadly combination of greed, deregulation, and a mad rush for energy profits that devalued the environment and human life. Five years ago the small Quebec town was not even on the route for shipping ‘fracked’ shale oil from North Dakota. But since the boom in dirty, unconventional fuel, energy companies in pursuit of record profits are using a wide range of means to convey this oil to market. That includes rail. In 2009, companies shipped 500 carloads of crude oil by rail in Canada; this year, it will be 140,000. New oil-dedicated rail lines, truck routes and the use of barges on waterways are now under consideration. These are among the ways to get around the growing popular movement to block pipelines from the Alberta tar sands.
Thirty years of neoliberalism have fostered corporate recklessness. Ottawa, and other governments in Canada, and elsewhere, have freed the owners from environmental, labour and safety standards, and oversight. It opened the public sector for private profit-seeking.
The railway in Canada is a prime example. Through the mid 1980s, the publicly-run industry was highly regulated. But Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney enacted ‘reforms’ that deregulated the sector, and allowed companies to rewrite safety rules. What followed was an era of cost-cutting, massive lay-offs, speed-up on the job, and eventually, the full privatization of companies and rail-lines.
The Liberal government completed the transition by turning over what regulation remained to rail companies themselves. A rail safety report issued in 2007 concluded: Canada’s rail system was a disaster in waiting to happen.
It’s no wonder that today’s oil and rail barons so easily cut corners. They’ve been using old rail cars to ship oil, despite the fact that regulators warned the federal government they were unsafe, as far back as 20 years ago. A more recent report by a federal agency reminded the government that the cars could be “subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.” All were ignored. To top it off, the federal government gave the go-ahead last year to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to operate with just one engineer aboard their trains. In the 1970s, North American freight trains usually carried five-man crews constantly. As companies cut crews, workers competed for the scarcer jobs, which drove down wages – including, eventually, the wage of the one person left running the train.
The over-riding issue, beyond malfunctioning brakes or weak regulation, is the mad scramble for resources whose reckless exploitation dooms a fragile planet. The profit system is the culprit, driving the doomsday machine.
The road to meaningful change requires re-regulation of the industry, linked to public ownership under workers’ and community control, and a rapid transition towards green energy generation. That won’t come from any government enquiry, but only from a raucous social movement that forces it onto the public agenda.
The U.S. residents of Fairfield, Maine, 160 kilometres across the border from Lac-Megantic, Quebec, took up this challenge in July. Several got arrested blockading a train carrying North Dakota fracked oil to the refinery in New Brunswick, Canada. Their message was: End the reliance on oil.
The deaths of nearly 50 people in the July 6 train derailment and explosion touched a nerve, on a continental scale. It sent bureaucrats and politicians scurrying.
Canada’s Transportation and Safety Board called for an urgent review of railway safety procedures. It issued two safety advisories on July 19, echoing ignored recommendations from a 2011 Auditor General’s report. New Democratic Party transportation critic Olivia Chow demanded an emergency meeting of the House of Commons Transport Committee. Conservative MP Larry Miller, the committee chair, brushed aside her request.
In response to mounting pressure, the Conservative government, through Transport Canada, imposed a series of country-wide directives on July 23 which it claimed set more rigorous standards of brake application and procedures for leaving trains unattended. It also outlawed one-person crews, which were standard with Montreal, Maine and Atlantic. Meanwhile, Quebec police raided the headquarters of MM&A in Farnham, Que., after the firm failed to pay more than $4 million (as of July 30, close to $8 million) in disaster cleanup bills, forcing the town and the provincial government to pick up the tab.
Law suits, court challenges, enquiries and studies will, no doubt, drag on for years. Justice, however, will require more than those avenues have to offer.

Tar Sands Toxic Deeds Go Unpunished

tar_sands_tailings_pond_pipes
Less than 1 per cent of the environmental violations arising out of Alberta’s tar sands have been penalized. So says a survey by Kevin Timoney, a biologist and environmental consultant, and Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch.
The authors of the 677-page report found the same problems recurring again and again, suggesting that the province’s claims to having strict control over the industry’s environmental impact are false.
“What we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg”, said Timoney, who filed a massive number of Freedom of Information applications, starting in 2008, in order to see details of breaches of environmental regulations and conditions that were kept under wraps in Alberta Environment’s data library in Edmonton.
Timoney and Lee eventually compiled a list of 9,262 infractions since 1996 – ranging from spills into the Athabasca River, to excessive smokestack emissions, to the discovery of random waste dumps in the bush.
Nearly two-thirds of the violations were of air quality, usually involving emissions of gases like suphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in excess of the hourly limits on the tar sands facilities.
Of the total number of incidents, about 4,000 were reported as “alleged contraventions” – a breach in a facility’s license conditions. Since 1996, the Alberta government took action in 37 of those cases for an enforcement rate of 0.9 per cent.
The median fine was $4,500. Call it a minor cost of doing this dirty, but highly profitable business.
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Demand the Truth about Experiments on Aboriginal children

RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLS-large570by Carrie Lester
In July, old news became new again. The commercial media published stories about medical and nutrition experiments conducted in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Why call it ‘old’ news? Because an article on this topic appeared in the Vancouver Sun in 2000 (http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/keynewsnativekidsusedforexperiments.html). In fact, along with the research that Dr. Peter Bryce, Chief Medical Officer of Canada, conducted in the early 1900’s about the condition of children in the ‘schools’, as directed by Duncan Campbell Scott, Canada’s Superintendant of Indian and Affairs, these results were printed in The Ottawa Citizen in November 1907, (http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/keynewsschoolsandwhiteplague.html) only to be promptly buried and forgotten, causing hardly a ripple. It seems that the only person who took much notice of Dr. Bryce’s research, that the death rates in the Western ‘schools’ ran between 30 and 60 per cent, was D.C. Scott himself, and he was not pleased. By 1913, Dr. Bryce’s services were no longer required.
Information about these experiments was also reported in a 2006 documentary on Canada’s Indian Residential Schools titled “Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide”. The United Church de-frocked minister Annett when he blew the whistle on Church abuses of survivors and victims of British Columbia’s Indian Residential Schools on Vancouver Island, and illegal land sales conducted by that church to a logging company.
This ‘old-new’ story was contained in the report published by one Ian Mosby, a post-doctorate fellow of Guelph University in Ontario, written in his capacity as a food historian. It provided information about the treatment of the health of Native populations, and of Indigenous children in Residential Schools across the country. Mosby found it in an article he came across in May 2000, in the Anglican Journal — the same piece found by the Vancouver Sun, and by Kevin Annett, back in 2000.
Digging deeper, Mosby found government documents that revealed an experiment conducted on some 1,300 indigenous people, most of whom were children, beginning in northern Manitoba in 1942, and eventually spanning the country through the early 1950’s. The experiments targetted First Nations people, it seems, because rampant malnourishment prevailed in most of their isolated and poverty ravaged communities. Indigenous peoples were forced to live on ‘Reserve land’ and be ‘assimilated’, ‘civilized’ and ‘educated’ within the confines of church and state policy. After the collapse of the fur trade, they proved to be ‘ideal’ test subjects for different diet regimens. Some children were given vitamin enriched diets. Others were denied vitamins. Still others were limited in their intake of milk rations. In terms of milk consumption, doctors knew that tuberculosis could be contracted through non-pasteurized milk, but many schools still served it to children.
The medical experimentation consisted of depriving children of dental care, since the health of one’s gums is a health indicator, and the treatment of gum disease could have skewed experiment results. Ironically, an “Indian person” could not refuse medical treatment, according to Canada’s Indian Act.
The response of some prominent Canadians and Native people to this ‘news’ is shock and surprise. The Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo expressed awareness of the situation: his father had gone to the school in Port Alberni, B.C. But he said he did not realize that a government experiment had taken place. The Aboriginal Affairs critic for the Official Opposition New Democratic Party, Jean Crowder, spoke about the life of poverty that still dominates First Nations’ communities, and how poor nutrition remains an issue.
I was dismayed, but not surprised by Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) into Indian Residential Schools. On his Facebook page, Sinclair expressed shock and surprise. However, subsequent media coverage reported that he was not surprised by the news of the experiments because of revelations at the TRC Hearings, now in the final year of its five year mandate to collect data and listen to survivors.
Murray Sinclair has disappointed me on other occasions, including when, during an interview with CBC’s news anchor Peter Mansbridge, Sinclair stated he was most surprised that children actually died in these ‘schools’.
On another occasion, Sinclair had the audacity to apologize publicly to the Catholic Church on behalf of the TRC, and on behalf of his head researcher, John Milloy, (who was also a researcher on the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples), for pushing the Catholic Church too hard to fully open ALL of their archived documents … which they refused to do … and still refuse to do. John Milloy also apologized to the church. He subsequently resigned from the TRC. By the way, the Canadian Government is also withholding archival materials, and has acknowledged that it destroyed documents on at least three occasions, allegedly to make space for more important stuff.
Canada’s current Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister, Bernard Valcourt wonders aloud whether this story is true — but if it is, it is “abhorrent and completely unacceptable”.
In a July 17, 2013 article in The Globe and Mail, Shawn Atleo states: “We’re going to call on the Prime Minister to give effect to the words that he spoke when he said: ‘The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a government.’” This refers to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 official apology for residential schools.
On July 25, after a call-out for action went viral, protests took place across the country on the theme “Honour the Apology”. We’ll see where this ‘old – new’ story takes us. Harper’s Conservative government pledges to follow a court order to hand over ‘relevant’ documents to the TRC. But who knows when that will happen?
Carrie Lester is a Native rights, environmental activist of mixed Mohawk / Bearfoot Onondaga / UK-Canadian-settler heritage, and is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, based in Toronto.

Public Forum – DISARM THE COPS!

sammy-yatim

Youth for Socialist Action

presents a public forum –

DISARM THE COPS!

The July 27 police killing of 18-year old Sammy Yatim, another in a long string of unarmed victims shot to death by Toronto cops, raises questions: What is the root cause of these murders, often of immigrant, working class, and visible minority youths? Should street patrol cops be disarmed? Can police in capitalist society ever be held accountable to the majority? Whose interests are served by the cops, the courts, the military and the entire capitalist state apparatus? What should youths, racialized minorities and working people do about this? Join us for a panel of speakers, followed by an open discussion.

Speakers:

Tyler Mackinnon, YSA chairperson, Ryerson U. student, recently returned from Greece where he visited a ‘cops-free’ neighborhood in central Athens.

Ben Rostoker, YSA secretary-treasurer and U of Toronto student activist.

Wangui Kimari is an organizer with the Network for Pan-African Solidarity and the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.

An open Q & A, and discussion period will follow the presentations.

Thursday, August 29 7 p.m.

OISE, 252 Bloor St. West, Room 2-211

(above the St. George Subway Station)

Everyone is welcome. $2 donation requested, or PWYC.

This event is endorsed by Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste. For more information,

e-mail: socialistactioncanada@gmail.com

visit the SA web site at: http://www.socialistaction.ca

or call   647-986-1917  or 416-461-6942

Photo (the featured picture): Tony Smith / CBC.ca

CAW-CEP Merger – Undemocratic from the start

by Bruce Allen

UNIFOR

At the end of August 2013 a new union, called Unifor, will be launched in Canada with a membership of over 300,000 workers.  At a convention in Toronto, the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP), will officially merge, creating the largest private sector union in the country.

Ostensibly, Unifor will be more powerful and influential than either of its founding parts. It will have more members and more resources at its disposal. But that means only that it has potentially greater power and influence. The merger in no way guarantees that these qualities will be fully realized. Size is certainly not synonymous with effectiveness. In fact, increasingly there are compelling reasons to view this merger with considerable apprehension. In fact, the more one sees of this merger and the process giving rise to it, the more there is cause for concern.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the merger process.  A short time ago CAW National President Ken Lewenza, when interviewed by the Windsor Star, had the audacity to claim the merger process could not be more open and transparent.  If he actually believes that, he has a unique concept of openness and transparency. CAW rank and file members have next to no idea what is going on. Even local CAW leaders have largely been left in the dark until very recently.  Many readily acknowledge this.

The merger process has in fact been driven from the very top of the two unions downwards and effectively shaped behind closed doors.  Few even know who are the people on the committees which have been assembling the terms of merger of the two unions.  Certainly the rank and file have not in any way shaped the process, nor have local union leaders. The bureaucracies of the two unions have exclusively shaped the process. Only now are they engaging, in a very limited and controlled way, local union leaders and members via a series of information meetings and a conference call. The membership has essentially been told they can’t just show up at a meeting of their own union to discuss the new union they are about to become members of, and pay union dues to, and be profoundly affected by.

Consider the following. Initially, fourteen information meetings about the merger were scheduled to take place across Canada.  Half were in Ontario.  Only one meeting each was held in the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  None was held in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.  This was hardly conducive to accessibility and transparency.

But the most damning thing is that neither individual members nor local unions can send resolutions to the founding convention of the new union. What this effectively means is that the bureaucracy of these two unions is going to present a complete merger package to the delegates to the founding convention. Basically, the delegates will be told to take it, in its entirety, or leave it. Thus, the delegates chosen by the membership will have a choice between rubber stamping the entire merger package, or voting against it and effectively scuttling the merger.

This is not the worst of it. When the critical vote is held, if brutal past experience is indicative, there will be an element of intimidation at work. The person chairing the convention will likely make it a standing vote. Delegates vote by standing up to vote, rather than by raising a hand — never mind having a secret ballot. Thus, delegates who want to vote against the merger package will find themselves having to stand up with the eyes of everyone in the room glaring at them.

These things must be stressed because the process reveals that there will be a real absence of democracy in the new union which structurally, and in practice, will perpetuate the absence of meaningful democracy — which has been absent in the CAW at the national level since its inception, exemplified by the fact that, at the CAW’s national council meetings, not one recommendation of the national president has been voted down since 1992.

Consistent with all of this, another thing is noteworthy. Back in 1985, when the then Canadian Region of the UAW broke from the UAW to form the CAW, large general membership meetings were held where the union’s rank and file could go to microphones and express their views without facing a wall of intimidation. They actually debated the issue of forming a new union, and then voted on it. The vote was by a show of hands, not forcing people to stand up to vote. Nothing comparable is happening this time around.

What this reveals is a considerable regression in terms of there being democracy within the union. What this shows is that rather than moving towards a stronger, more influential and democratic organization, what is emerging is one big unaccountable, self-perpetuating, privileged bureaucracy over which the rank and file will have very little control.

Despite this generally bleak picture, there is some reason for hope.  That hope lies in the fact that this union is being arbitrarily cobbled together by the bureaucracies of the two unions with huge unresolved issues.

Foremost among these is the question of political action, which centres on the future relationship to the NDP. They have no answer for this question and it is certain to spark intense debate.

I am hoping this debate will lead to what veteran CAW and socialist militant Joe Flexer used to call “an outbreak of democracy.” The task then will be to pour gasoline on the fire and break things wide open. That opening should include challenging the longstanding embrace of contract concessions by both organizations, and the tepid, selective support given to social movements resisting the austerity agenda.

Only if these things are done will the merger constitute a historic step forward for the labour movement. It is imperative that they are done.