All posts by YK

Ford workers must say NO!

The never-ending drive for concessions by the big auto bosses is right back in the face of car workers at the Ford Motor Company of Canada.

Canadian Auto Workers’ president Ken Lewenza is deep in discussions with Joe Hinrichs, vice-president of global manufacturing and labour affairs for Ford. The automobile giant employs about 7,000 workers at plants in Oakville, St. Thomas and Windsor, Ontario.

Ford wants labour concessions comparable but not necessarily identical to those given by the union affecting some 20,000 GM and Chrysler workers in Canada. These will include, though not be limited to a freeze on wages and pensions, an extension of the two-tier wage structure, contracting out of some in-plant work, cuts to vacation time and reduced benefits until 2012.

GM and Chrysler demanded concessions as a convenient condition to receive almost $15 billion in loans from the federal and Ontario governments amid the industry’s worst sales slump in decades. Ford asked for up to $2 billion in a line of credit last December, but later withdrew the request. Still, it demands the roll-backs to ‘remain competitive’.

When the next deal is done, Ford auto workers will be asked by the CAW tops to ratify it. Anyone paying attention can see that this has nothing to do with ‘economic recovery’, and has everything to do with lowering workers’ living and work standards, and raising profit margins, for the anticipated post-depression period.

This pattern is now evident in numerous disputes, from strikes involving railway car builders in Hamilton to civic employees in Windsor and Toronto to newspaper workers in Montreal. Windsor municipal workers have been on picket lines for 10 weeks at the time of this writing. Toronto’s 24,000 inside workers and 6,200 outside workers, including garbage collectors, walked off the job on June 22. The strike was provoked by city bosses who insist on clawing back long standing sick leave benefits and seniority rights, and on providing a lower pay raise than the city gave several other groups of municipal workers.

Yet another battle taking shape is at the Globe and Mail newspaper where union members voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike. The Globe workers could be out as early as June 30 because management is seeking to reduce the wages of 30 per cent of the staff, and to cut up to 50 per cent in pension benefits for future retirees.

While officials at the Canadian Labour Congress and its major affiliates limply campaign to ‘fix E.I.’, ‘protect penions’ and ‘put people before banks’, a more proactive struggle to reject backward steps and to make Capital pay for its crisis is sorely needed.

If Ford workers, who are in a stronger position than many on the economic battle front, say No to the latest round of concession demands it would be a powerful indictment of the policies of the CAW leadership and might have an electrifying effect on the entire workers’ movement. It could be a positive turning point – which is why socialists and militant unionists will be campaigning for a clear and resounding No vote at Ford. -Barry Weisleder

NDP breakthrough in Nova Scotia

Since the Atlantic coast province of Nova Scotia joined Canadian Confederation in 1867 only the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties have held the reigns of government there. That changed on election night June 9 when the labour-based New Democratic Party emerged with 31 of 52 seats on the strength of 45.3 per cent of the votes cast.

Voters reduced the PC’s to 10 seats. The Liberals, with 11 seats, form the official Opposition. The turnout was at a record low of 58.8 per cent.

The first-ever NDP Premier in Atlantic Canada, Darrel Dexter, a lawyer and former journalist, pledged to balance the budget, despite the global economic crisis. He also promised action on rising gas prices, health-care wait times and emergency room closings.

Under Dexter, the party won 15 seats in 2003, and 20 seats in 2006. Prior to 1998, the NDP was mired in a distant third place.

The self-serving lesson NDP officials want everyone to draw from the breakthrough in Nova Scotia (population 940,000 in 2005) is that conservative, ‘good government’ promises and dogged electoral perseverance bring victory.

The truth is that working people in Nova Scotia, and across Canada, are looking for something better. Otherwise, they would have replaced Rodney MacDonald’s Tories with Stephen McNeil’s Liberals, as they have done so often in the past.

Keep in mind that the conservative policies of the British Columbia NDP helped to re-elect the right wing B.C. Liberal government of Gordon Campbell in mid-May.

The Nova Scotia election result challenges the claim that voters are turning to the right everywhere.

But the question remains: what will the NSNDP do with this victory? If it makes Capital pay for the crisis created by big business and the banks, the NDP will win the admiration and support of the working class and poor. If, like the treacherous Bob Rae-led NDP government in Ontario 1990-1995, it places the burden of ‘recovery’ on the shoulders of workers, women, youth and the unemployed, it will leave little behind other than wrecked public services and a very bad taste.

Another important lesson from the Ontario Rae-days is that labour and the social movements should not give the Dexter team a honeymoon of any duration. Now is the time to press Nova Scotia’s first NDP government to tax the rich and move quickly to provide jobs, housing and decent incomes for all who need them. -Barry Weisleder

Who’s calling the shots for Iggy and the Liberals?

What’s behind the ignominious retreat of Michael Ignatieff? The federal Liberal Leader backed off the threat to cause an election this summer over the lack of job creation and access to unemployment insurance. And he voted for the corporate bail-out budget of the federal Tory minority government in January.

We got a behind the scenes glimpse of how the Canadian elite exert their power thanks to the well-connected federal Conservative Minister of Natural Resources, Lisa Raitt. It comes from the secret recording by her aide in which Raitt famously describes the shortage of medical isotopes as “sexy” and as politically advantageous to her career.

According to Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig who quoted from the tape, Raitt describes how three major bank presidents stood up at a meeting of the Canadian Council of (Chief) Executives in January and said, “’Ignatieff, don’t you even think about bringing us to an election. We don’t need this. We have no interest in this. And we will never fund your party again.’”

While Raitt was not at the meeting, she suggested that she may have heard the account from CEOs who claimed that Ignatieff was forced to tow the line.

And what was that line? The bankers were keen to have Parliament pass the Conservative budget, which included a measure called the Extraordinary Financing Framework that provided banks with up to $200 billion in loans and asset swaps.

Once again, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie prevails over …. bourgeois democracy. -Barry Weisleder

Household debt soars

Rising debt levels are putting Canadian households under growing financial strain while job losses mount, incomes stagnate and personal wealth declines.

The Bank of Canada’s bi-annual Financial System Review, released on June 15, said that households are increasingly vulnerable to “adverse shocks” such as an even bigger jump in the unemployment rate, which officially rose to 8.4 per cent in May and is expected to hit double digits this year. (Typically, these figures understate the situation because they do not count ‘discouraged workers’, those awaiting recall from a layoff, and the under-employed).

“Income growth has slowed, and personal wealth levels have been eroded by lower house prices in some regions; credit growth has continued to outpace income growth, contributing to higher debt levels”, stated the Bank’s report.

“At the same time, sharp increases in unemployment are raising the incidence of financial stress among households.”

Although the extent to which Canadians are in debt is less than that of Americans or the British, Canadians’ debt-to-income ratio hit a “new high” in the final quarter of 2008, meaning the average household has borrowed the equivalent of 1.38 years of disposable income.

Commercial banks, meanwhile, are setting aside more money to cover bad loans. Some analysts predict that loan losses are unlikely to peak before the industry’s 2010 financial year. -Barry Weisleder