Category Archives: Canada

Union Merger and Innovative Organizing: Is it the way Forward?

Two major unions in Canada, now in merger talks, want to include workers who lack collective bargaining rights.

Is it a step forward, a way to reverse decades of decline, or just a cynical move to make bureaucrats look good?

The 195,000 member Canadian Auto Workers union and the 120,000-strong Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, both of which have lost thousands of members since the 2008 economic crash, are exploring ways to include temporary workers, contract workers and the unemployed in their ranks.

This is the return of a good, old idea. In the 19th Century, when modern unions began, they first offered tangible benefits like burial insurance and summer camp for kids. They sought also to engage the widest layers of the working class in mass action for progressive social and political change.

That led to union-based political parties like the CCF and the NDP in English Canada. But it morphed into an arbitrary division between economic (union) action, and political (party) action, along with the abandonment of non-unionists by a largely co-opted and conservative labour bureaucracy.

That CAW and CEP leaders now express a desire to incorporate unemployed, laid-off, part-time, and young workers may be a sign that they want to overcome the prevalent image of unions as distant or privilege, and that they see Labour as a social movement.

But how does that square with concessions bargaining and with backing for Liberal politicians by these same unions, among others?

And what rights will non-bargaining unit members enjoy for the modest dues they will pay in the merged union? Will they be an active, democratic influence on the direction of the organization, or just campaign cannon fodder?

The truth is, for any good tactics to be fully realized, good leadership is required. That means leaders who are accountable, and committed to class struggle policies. Qualities like those will come only from the bottom-up. So beware of schemes and panaceas from the top-down. Without workers’ control, they aren’t worth a tinker’s damn. — BW

CP workers Railroaded Labour Tops Fail to Defend Right to Strike

First it was postal workers. Then Air Canada workers. Now 4,800 workers are the victims of aggressive concession demands, backed up by federal back to work legislation.

The question is: What are the Canadian Labour Congress and its major affiliates doing to resist the gutting of workers’ rights?

Conductors, locomotive engineers and rail traffic controllers represented by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference walked off the job on May 23, shutting down CP’s entire freight service from Vancouver to Montreal. Management laid off another 2,000 employees, with a further 1,400 affected.

The strike impacted many economic sectors, including coal, fertilizer, grain and auto. CP operates 24,000 kilometres of tracks across Canada, and into parts of the U.S. Mid-west.

Doug Finnson, vice-president of Teamsters Canada, told the media that CP bargained in bad faith, hiding behind the federal government to roll back workers’ pensions and to ignore serious health and safety concerns.

CP boss Ed Greenberg demands the same concessions CP squeezed out of workers at other railways. Conservative Labour Minister Lisa Raitt proved eager to help the bosses, introducing legislation on May 28 to end the work stoppage. The dispute now goes to an arbitrator, who is likely to impose a settlement right down the middle… of the company demands. NDP federal labour critic Alexandre Boulerice said the most the NDP Official Opposition could do is delay passage of the strike busting bill.

The truth is, much more could and should be done – including mass sympathy strikes – before free collective bargaining, not to mention decent pensions, employment insurance benefits and many other past gains, disappear entirely.

by Barry Weisleder

Protest against the NATO Summit in Chicago

Dozens of anti-war demonstrators picketed Saturday across the street from the U.S. consulate in Toronto to condemn NATO talks on the future of the Afghan mission ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago, which begins Sunday.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan is expected to be centre stage when leaders from 60 countries gather to discuss the war in Afghanistan and other international security issues.

The protesters said they’re afraid that leaders at the summit will approve a plan that would keep foreign troops, including Canadian forces, in Afghanistan longer than originally scheduled.

“Rather than be a strong supporter of the occupation, I would like to see Canada strongly opposed to the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement,” said Ali Ibrahimi of Afghans for Peace, one of the groups involved in the rally.

“I imagine a Canada that can be successful, be affluent and have influence in the world without the need to support injustice, to support people dying. So I would like our government to leas.”

The demonstrators urged Ottawa to call back the soldiers now deployed on a training mission to the war-torn nation.

Several protests have already taken place in Chicago ahead of the summit, but the main one is set to coincide with the start of the meeting on Sunday.

Photos: SA; Text from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/19/pol-nato-summit-canada-protests.html

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Ottawa ignores Kyoto

A previous Liberal government cynically entered into it, and systematically violated it. The present Conservative government thumbed its nose at it from the start, and unceremoniously quit the treaty on Dec. 12. Despite its abject weaknesses, including low targets and unenforcability, the Kyoto Protocol still signifies the need to address escalating carbon emissions, climate change, and the dire threat they pose to civilization.

A previous Liberal government cynically entered into it, and systematically violated it. The present Conservative government thumbed its nose at it from the start, and unceremoniously quit the treaty on Dec. 12. Despite its abject weaknesses, including low targets and unenforcability, the Kyoto Protocol still signifies the need to address escalating carbon emissions, climate change, and the dire threat they pose to civilization.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries spent two weeks in Durban, South Africa trying to reach an agreement on a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.
The original treaty was a concession to the mobilizing power of the global environmental movement. Its limitations reflect the class nature of that movement, its failure to collectively articulate a socialist agenda—the prerequisite to democratic control and economic planning in harmony with nature.
The Harper Conservatives seem not to be troubled that their unilateral exit of Kyoto violates domestic law. The Kyoto Implementation Act, adopted by Parliament in June 2007, remains on the books. It was not rescinded. The latest Tory decision was not even debated. The law still requires Canada’s environment commissioner, Scott Vaughan, to inform Parliament annually of the government’s progress in meeting its targets under the climate accord. That is bound to be a bitter pill the government will want to ditch a.s.a.p.
After six years of Conservative rule and $9 billion budgeted to curb green house gases Canada’s output remains very high. Even if Prime Minister Harper keeps his promise to cut emissions by 2020 in lock step with the U.S., by 17 per cent from 2005 levels, Canada will continue to generate some 600 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. That is the same as in 1990, the Kyoto benchmark year.
Skepticism about the pledges made at the United Nations conference in Durban is no excuse for inaction at home. The United States, China, and India, the world’s biggest carbon spewers, pledged to negotiate a common binding agreement in the next few years. Even if they do, it won’t have much impact until 2020, which means another wasted decade in the drive to cap the rise in Earth’s temperature to a barely tolerable 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era, instead of a disastrous 3.5 degrees.
But at least those governments acknowledge the problem and set themselves a target. Ottawa, on the other hand, closes its eyes and sticks its head into the dirty oil sands, failing even to provide tax incentives for renewable energy, or measures to curb coal-fired electricity, and car and truck emissions.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau was certainly justified in denouncing Tory Environment Minister Peter Kent when Kent blamed an NDP MP for not attending the Durban conference. It was Kent who had barred opposition MPs from the Canadian delegation to Durban.

So, Trudeau was right to call Kent “a piece of shit.” But the same can be said for the whole Canadian establishment, from the hypocritical eco-posturers to the climate change deniers. The world is in a soggy mess, and time is running out, not only on capitalism but on the human species. 

> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.

Will 2012 be year for Labour fightback?

The big business Conference Board of Canada predicts that 2012 will be a year of major labour-management strife across the Canadian state. 
The big business Conference Board of Canada predicts that 2012 will be a year of major labour-management strife across the Canadian state.

In a report released in early December, the Board points to Toronto, where the right-wing administration of Mayor Rob Ford has been waging a war on workers to cut costs, and to privatize city services. The report also noted that the Toronto District School Board is set to negotiate a new collective agreement with teachers in 2012 “on a course of bargaining that is unlikely to be resolved peacefully.”
In 2011, Canada Post workers staged rotating strikes, got locked out by management, and were ordered back to work by the federal government, which imposed a wage rate lower than management’s last offer. The threat of legislation kept Air Canada workers from striking, despite workers voting twice to reject management’s position.
According to McMasterUniversity labour relations Professor Charlotte Yates, governments aren’t just trying to keep deficits in check; they are cutting for political reasons. Unions, per se, are the target. They believe they can succeed at this time knowing that the bosses are permitted to cut jobs without any real challenge from the working class, including its unionized sections. When postal workers challenged the Stephen Harper Conservative government agenda, the labour movement across the country failed to back them up with job action. The NDP filibuster in the House of Commons made many workers feel good, but it did not threaten to deter the government’s course of action.
The Conference Board is now worried that the potential for strikes in the public sector will be greater in 2012 because those workers gave concessions at the outset of the recession/depression in 2008. Rank-and-file frustration is rising. The average public sector raise will be 1.5 per cent in 2012—below the predicted inflation rate of 2 per cent. In contrast, private sector workers will earn an average raise of 2.3 per cent. Overall, workers’ wages have been falling or stagnant for over 30 years.
Health care workers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba will be negotiating new collective agreements in 2012, as will employees at the Canada Revenue Agency.
By alerting its well-heeled members to potential labour conflict, and by countering the arguments that unions make (for example, that government revenues are down due to corporate tax cuts and concessions to the rich), the Conference Board is helping to get the Canadian capitalist class ready for the big fight ahead. But what is the labour leadership doing to get workers ready for this fight?
The Ontario Federation of Labour, at its November biennial convention in Toronto, promised to expose the one-sided class war being waged by bosses and their governments. But OFL leaders have no plan to challenge the rulers’ agenda with mass action in the streets and work places.
There is talk about a possible merger of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ Union. A democratically conducted merger would be good. Much better than a raid, which too often is the resort of shrinking unions. But a merger is no substitute for organizing the unorganized, much less for an anti-concessions strategy.
Can workers fight back? Transit workers in York Region, north of Toronto, show that we can. Those employees of private bus companies that pay $7 an hour less than what Toronto transit workers earn, are in the third month of a strike for a wage and benefits catch-up. Their weekly mass pickets and bus occupations are attracting tremendous attention and inspiring considerable hope in broad sections of the working class.
They show the way forward—to a coordinated labour struggle against the bosses’ “austerity” agenda.
If 2012 is to be the year for a labour fight back, now is the time to start talking up the idea of a general strike. Nothing less than escalating, mass job actions are needed to stop the attacks on jobs, public services, and workers’ rights. And that’s what we need to win nationalization of the banks and big business under workers’ democratic control—to lay the basis for an economy that serves the majority.> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.