Category Archives: Canada

CAW needs action plan to Stop Concessions to Detroit 3

by Bruce Allen, Vice-President of CAW Local 199, and V.P. Niagara Regional Labour Council (writing in a personal capacity)


     Just prior to the start of the 2012 Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) Collective Bargaining and Constitutional Convention, held in Toronto August 20-24, the Chrysler Corporation sent the CAW a clear and unequivocal message concerning this year’s contract negotiations with the Detroit 3 (which includes Ford and General Motors). Chrysler tabled the demand that the CAW give up ’30 and out’. This means that Chrysler demands that the CAW give up autoworkers’ right to retire with a full pension regardless of their age after 30 years of credited service.

     This is particularly significant because nothing better exemplifies the historic gains achieved by North American autoworkers over the last century than this contractual right. Chrysler’s position attests to its audacity and boldness going into this year’s negotiations. It shows the aggressive stance being taken by the Detroit 3 towards the CAW.

     Prior to 2012 none of the Detroit 3 would have dared to table such a demand. Furthermore the tabling of it illustrates the self-confidence of the auto bosses and their sense of a new found ability to attack workers’ pensions. Clearly Chrysler has noted the recent successes of Vale Inco and U.S. Steel in rolling back pensions in their collective agreements with the United Steelworkers’ union and wants to follow suit. Regardless whether Chrysler actually succeeds in eliminating ’30 and out’, the very attempt to do so constitutes a watershed development. But should Chrysler actually have any success in this regard it will give added momentum to the onslaught against pensions, not only at companies like Vale Inco and U.S. Steel, but also by the Stephen Harper Conservative federal government’s move to raise the eligibility age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67.

     Thus it is imperative that the CAW beat back the demand to end ’30 and out’ by any means necessary, including by industry-wide strike action. Moreover, such action by the CAW should be couple with a serious campaign of mass action to halt the Harper government’s raising of the age of eligibility for OAS, since it will hit autoworkers especially hard. This is because the supplements to their pensions which are integral to their retirement income, end at age 65, because the current eligibility age for Old Age Security is 65. Raising the eligibility age to 67 will cost retired autoworkers thousands of dollars in lost income between the ages of 65 and 67.

     These developments put the proceedings of the Collective Bargaining Convention into perspective. The convention was bathed in militant rhetoric and good policy papers detailing the breadth and depth of the attacks CAW members are facing. But the proceedings were detached from the everyday realities faced by CAW members who are being relentlessly attacked with no clear prospect of a serious fightback in response. Indeed the deliberations at the convention marked no significant shift in direction for a union that has been in retreat for many years, particularly in the all important auto industry. The CAW has allowed the auto bosses to set the trajectory of contract negotiations by permitting them to impose concessions in exchange for promises of new investment. As long as this approach continues, autoworkers will endure the effects of taking ever more contract concessions.

Indeed, the top CAW leadership stubbornly refuses to acknowlege this trajectory, never mind put a halt to it. The outcome of the convention effectively reinforced this recipe for continuing retreat.

     Finally, the CAW’s planned merger with the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers, sealed by unanimous vote of the nearly 1,000 delegates, promises more of the same. It will produce a larger, better-resourced labour organization. But those advantages will be of little consequence unless there is a decisive shift to the left in both the collective bargaining and political strategies of the CAW. Neither is on offer with this merger. The very few critical voices on the left in the CAW are consequently tasked with relentlessly making the case that more of the same is not acceptable and will lead to even greater retreats.

United Church votes for Israeli boycott

     The general council of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, voted in mid-August to support a boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
     The 350 delegates to the United Church council, which according to Statistics Canada represents nearly three million Canadians who identify with the church, spent close to six hours debating the boycott recommended by an internal report that named the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory as a major obstacle to a two-state settlement of the conflict.
     Increasingly, a one-state solution is seen as the only just and effective path by Palestinian, labour and human rights bodies. But the boycott idea itself is enough to raise the ire of pro-occupation forces and to expose the growing isolation of the Zionist apartheid state.
     In the months preceding the council vote, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (the ultra-conservative body that displaced the former Canadian Jewish Congress), and a group of nine Canadian Liberal and Conservative senators, heavily lobbied U.C. members against “taking sides” on the issue. But after hearing long arguments on all sides of the controversy, the church council voted to take a side, against the occupation.

Spread the Quebec Students’ Strike to Ontario

by Tyler Mackinnon
College and university students are now just entering or returning to school after summer vacation. However this year things are a bit different. Many students are asking this question:  Are we going to go on strike?
Since student strikes and mass street protests are still going strong in Quebec, many post-secondary student activists are working to spread the strike across English Canada – at least in Ontario where fees are the highest. The Great Recession, the result of an overproduction crisis compounded by a high stakes financial gamble lost by the super rich, is now being used as an excuse to raise tuition fees and slash a variety of public services.  It is also the rationale for furthering the agenda of corporatization of universities and colleges.
Sky rocketing tuition fees range anywhere from $6,000-$10,000 a year for a full course load.  To some, these charges seem manageable when compared to the crippling debts and related interest charges they must bear afterwards.  Students should realize that now is the time to hit the streets and demand what has always been our right:  Free, quality public post-secondary education!
Students should begin organizing for something more potent than a mere single day of protest. Sadly, the various student unions have been vague about their plans for action.  They claim to be waiting until the school year resumes to unveil their strategy. It is obvious that an action plan should be made public as soon as possible, particularly since Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty lied about reforming the tuition debt regime — not to mention McGuinty’s current war on elementary and secondary school teacher’s fundamental bargaining rights. No longer should students and education support workers trust the false promises of McGuinty and his Liberal party – bought and paid for by the 1%.
With rebellion in the air and high enthusiasm for following in the footsteps of our Quebec student comrades, one would think that the Ontario student revolt will happen any day now. Sadly this is not the case, largely due to the existing student union leadership.
Instead of demanding free post-secondary education and the cancelation of student debt, student bureaucrats are playing it safe.  They ask for small concessions from the provincial government, such as freezing tuition fees, or lowering them by a small percentage over a period of time. Not only would these concessions do very little to help the least affluent students, but they’d fail to affirm the most vital aspect of the growing student movement globally — that education is a RIGHT, not a privilege! It should be the rich, whose system caused the economic crisis, who ought to bail out the economy, and not only that, but to pay for tuition-free education for all.
At a time when Ontario student unemployment is the highest in the country, at a time when obtaining one’s OSAP cheque is an Olympian challenge, at a time when universities are more corporate-branded and controlled than ever, we need bold, not petty demands. Now is the time for rebellion, in the classes, in the work places, and on the streets. The student union leadership has a choice.  Lead, follow, or get out of the way.  On every campus, students should organize debates, conduct strike votes and resolve to initiate action to drop fees.  This is the perspective that Youth for Socialist Action will be advancing everywhere.  Join us.  Together we can fight to win.

Spread the Quebec Strike! Solidarity with the Students!

As the winds of mass protest and demands for change continue to surge across Quebec, now is the time for students and working people in English Canada to march in solidarity with the students’ movement. What began as opposition to tuition hikes in Quebec has grown into a fight against austerity and a defence of fundamental civil liberties. Thousands, almost every night, for over 100 days, and up to 300,000 students and workers on several occasions, have marched in Montreal and across the province.

Because Quebec has a history of mass protest action, its people have the best public transportation system, the lowest tuitions and the most affordable provincial childcare system in the Canadian state. The Liberal government under Jean Charest is worried about the potential power of a united front of students and labour to advance an agenda for the 99%. Charest’s use of the police to crack down on protestors, and the launch of a war against democratic rights is his answer. Law 78 restricts freedom of assembly, protest, even picketing on or near university facilities, indeed anywhere in Quebec without prior police approval. The law also places restrictions upon education employees’ right to strike. This bill has been heavily criticized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, and by dozens of legal bodies, as a “violation of fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression.” Despite every attempt by the Charest government, by the police and the right-wing media to defame the protests, students continue to hit the streets, incredibly ever growing in strength.

In Ontario, with the rapid corporatization of universities, with tuition fees hiked by over 300% in the past decade, it is no longer enough to endorse the example of the Quebec students from afar. It is time to emulate their actions. While capitalist governments deliver bail outs and tax breaks to the 1%, students are being forced to pay for a recession we did not cause! Students: from Vancouver to Toronto to Halifax to St. John’s, now is the time to show Charest, McGuinty, Harper and the other bourgeois leaders that an attack on any one of us, is an attack on all of us!

We say:

  • Support the Canadian Federatin of Students call for mass rallies, debates and votes across Ontario in September in favour of a student strike to drop fees. Plan actions now to spread the Quebec strike.
  • Create a common front of students’ organizations and labour unions to support the Quebec students and fight the capitalist austerity measures everywhere.
  • ELIMINATE ALL TUITION FEES!  Free post-secondary education is a fundamental right, not a privilege.
  • Cancel all student debt!
  • Repeal Quebec Law 78 and all laws that restrict the right to association, assembly, and expression! Protest is a fundamental right.

Youth for Socialist Action – Jeunesse pour l’Action socialiste

Quebec Student Revolt Continues

On May 19, 2012, Quebec’s Liberal government passed draconian legislation, Law 78, to smash the mass student strike which has shaken Quebec society over the past 4 months. The so-called Loi de Matraque (truncheon law) is an attack on the rights of association, demonstration and free speech. It suspends academic sessions at all Quebec colleges and universities affected by the strike, prohibits picket lines at educational institutions, forces professors (who had largely been supportive of the strike) to report to work when classes resume in August, authorizes withholding of dues check–offs for any student association deemed responsible for disruption of courses, and outlaws any demonstration that is not pre-approved by the police. Student associations found in violation of the law’s provisions will be punished by fines of up to $125,000 per day.

On May 22, 200,000 people took to the streets to oppose this repressive law and support a negotiated settlement. Later the same day, the first “concert des casseroles” to show popular displeasure with the law was organized by inter net ‘word of mouth’. The banging of pots and pans, borrowed from the Argentinian masses, has turned into a regular evening occurrence in many Montreal neighbourhoods.

The police have chosen to use their new powers selectively and are biding their time. Even so, there have been more than two thousand arrests since the conflict started (four times the number arrested during the invocation of the War Measures Act in October 1970). Several students have been seriously injured by police weapons. Certainly, the huge demonstrations of March 22, April 22, and May 22 were virtually free of incidents as both police and provocateurs bowed to the law of massive numbers.

The students have won widespread admiration for their courage, tenacity and creativity. Yet the government remains intransigent. Why?

Of course, there has been the inevitable backlash. Thirty years of “retro-liberalism” have had an impact on popular consciousness. Many believe the students should “pay their share” since austerity appears inevitable. Many want to see order restored.

The corporate media of course actively promote this view and try to taint the students by playing up every violent incident (though not, of course, the violence of the police). Remarkable in this respect is the difference in tone of the French versus the English speaking media. The most vitriolic hostility to the students comes from the right wing media outside Quebec; and inside Quebec, attitudes are highly correlated with mother tongue.

But this alone does not explain the government’s tough no-concessions stance. The Liberals are very much the party of the Quebec capitalist class and Charest their lieutenant. The Quebec bourgeoisie is anxious to impose austerity in a vain attempt to improve the competitive position of Quebec capital. The Liberal years in office have been dedicated to rolling back the legacy of the so-called ‘Quiet Revolution’, that is, the gains that the labour upsurge of the 1960’s and 70’s secured for Quebec workers and the Quebec nation as a whole. Indeed, the government was able to wring major concessions from the Quebec public sector unions in 2005 and 2010. By contrast, in 2005, the Liberals were forced to retreat before the student mobilizations that greeted their first attempt to force through a tuition hike. This time they are determined to win.

In order to prevail against such a determined opponent , the students would need the support of the labour movement, and not just the resources which the unions have donated, but the preparation and organization of at least a one-day general strike. This the union leaders have refused to contemplate. Unfortunately, although the idea of a ‘social strike’ is in the air, no significant political force has been prepared to take this demand into the unions and fight for it.

Whatever the outcome of the strike, Quebec’s young students have shaken the neo-liberal status quo to its roots. The fight for a freeze on tuition fees linked to the goal of achieving free higher education has struck a nerve. Two different visions of society are posed: on the one hand, relentless commodification of both natural and human resources to benefit the few, drive down the living standards of the many while degrading the environment; and on the other, collective democratic control over the commonwealth so as to provide a decent life for all, and promote the stewardship, rather than the ruin, of the planet.

by Robbie Mahood

(Robbie Mahood is a member of Socialist Action living in Montreal. Several of his pots have been bent out of shape.)