Category Archives: Labour

OPS benefits cut, but NDP’s Horwath silent, and OFL’s Ryan pissed

Following the lead of the federal Conservative regime, the Ontario Liberal government announced that, starting in 2017, it will force its public service workers to pay more and work twice as long to qualify for retirement benefits such as life insurance and health coverage.

The measures, which require retirees to pay half their benefit premiums, now fully funded by Queen’s Park, and necessitate 20 years’ service instead of the present 10, are not subject to negotiation, which they will be at the federal level. Liberal Government Services Minister John Milloy simply imposed the changes, aimed at saving $1.2 Billion over five years. This will be directly at the expense of provincial workers, and indirectly harms all workers by the example it sets.
Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union President Warren (Smokey) Thomas denounced the “out of the blue” move. “We are looking at our options.”
According to President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Sid Ryan, when Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was asked by reporters about this, she said “No comment.”
horwathThat was coupled with Horwath’s avoidance of the minimum wage issue for months. Then she proposed a measly increase, over two years – just $1 more than the insulting Liberal increase of 75 cents to take effect this Spring. While Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne sets the poverty wage at $11/hour, Horwath would make it $12/hour (in 2016). Labour and many anti-poverty groups demand a $14/hour minimum now, indexed to the rate of influation. Socialists, and some unions like CUPE-Ontario call for $17/hour now, fully indexed. Apparently, that doesn’t fit with Horwath’s appeal to ‘middle class’ voters, and to “making life more affordable.”
Sid Ryan delivered a scathing report to the Ontario NDP provincial council on the morning of March 2. He said he was “perplexed” by the process and by the weak position taken on the minimum wage.
Ryan minced no words in stating how disturbed he was to hear that NDP MPPs voted in the Ontario Legislature for a Conservative motion that opposes any increase in corporate taxation. He additionally denounced Horwath’s call for a reduction in taxes on small business, from the present 5% to 3.5%, to support a tiny increase in the minimum wage. “How will an NDP government pay for improvements in transportation, health, education and other vital services if it doesn’t plan to tax those who can afford to pay more?”
On the topic of pensions, Ryan bluntly warned that if Queen’s Park initiates an Ontario pension plan because Ottawa refuses to increase the CPP, it had better be a universal plan, with no opt-out features, or Labour will vigorously oppose it. He explained, in advance, his reasons for concern.
“There is no consultation with unions by the party leadership. Policy decisions are just announced. There may be a wise and grand strategy behind it all, but it’s certainly not evident to me,” Ryan complained.ryan_syd
Finally, the OFL President insisted on the importance of the campaign to defend postal services, to reverse the Tory-backed Canada Post plan to eliminate door-to-door mail delivery. He pointed to this writer as the organizer of a mass picket, set for March 15 at the Toronto office of Conservative Cabinet Minister Joe Oliver, and urged everyone to participate in the protest.
To those who claim that, no matter what the NDP does, labour has no where else to go, the OFL head warned: “Look at what happened in British Columbia. Workers there were alienated by the NDP, and when the election came, many just stayed at home.”
Sid Ryan concluded by confiding to the council that the harsh things he’d said were necessary to say, all true, and told from the heart – and that being frank about these matters may be the only way to get a real dialog going.
And he’s correct. But much more must be said, and done, to force the ONDP leadership off its present course, increasingly distant from the union movement, and increasingly cozy with the business class.
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Budget targets federal workers

by Barry Weisleder
New Democratic Party MP and Finance Critic Peggy Nash called the February 11 Conservative federal budget a “do nothing budget”.
We should be so lucky!
In reality, it is a broadside assault on workers. Federal public service retirees, including from the military and the RCMP, will be asked to pay 50 per cent of premiums for their health care plan. The average annual retiree contribution will jump from $261 to $550, saving Ottawa $7.4 Billion. This goes towards a whopping $12.3 Billion in targetted cuts. The government will also require of its employees six years of service before qualifying for the health plan at retirement.
Combined with the Tory-backed Canada Post Corporation decision to end door-to-door mail delivery, which will eliminate about 8,000 letter carrier jobs over the next four years, the Conservative financial statement deepens the one-sided class war known as ‘austerity’.
What about job creation? After all, officially there are 1.3 million unemployed — more if you count the hundreds of thousands of ‘discouraged’ workers.
OTTK105164029_highOn that score Finance Minister Jim Flaherty claims that a centre piece of his budget is the $500 million a year earmarked for “skills training”. But training for what jobs? At the same time he scrapped a $200 million annual hiring credit for small business.
Compared to $279 Billion in overall federal spending, the sums that are allocated to training and related initiatives, like the $12 million-a-year loan programme to help apprentices pay for training, the $10 million a year to help boost new companies, and $500 million over two years in repayable loans for new vehicle technology, are truly miniscule.
The 419 page fiscal document offers nothing to improve pension security, nothing to provide affordable medical drugs, or fund care givers to the growing senior segment of the population.
Yet there’s plenty of money for prisons, spying and the armed forces.
If Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his way, between 2010 and 2017 federal spending will have been slashed by $90 Billion.
The only visible spark in the financial parleys arose from the dispute among Tory politicians over ‘income splitting’, a measure designed to reduce the taxes of couples with children and a stay-at-home spouse. Flaherty sidelined this Tory promise of the 2011 election campaign because, according to him, it would mostly favour the rich. But Harper wants to keep it. The $5 Billion it would cost, ironically, could fund a national childcare programme.
So, what is this exercise really about?
“It’s all about next year’s budget”, said NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.Mulcair Actually, counting the government’s contingency fund, a slim surplus already exists, after a decade of deficit slaying. In 2015 the surplus is expected to hit $6.4 Billion. That’s enough to generate more tax cuts for the affluent, and a few pre-election gimmicks aimed at winning another Harper majority.
The budget, as political pundits are wont to say, is a political document. The next Omnibus bill is where the government will tightly pack its goodies for the rich, together with an array of anti-social and undemocratic measures. That’s where the rubber hits the road.
So, what should the labour-based NDP do about it? The Official Opposition NDP should show where the deficit and debt originated: in the government bail-out of the big banks and giant auto firms, in tax cuts for the corporate elite, and in military spending ($3.1 Billion of which has been simply deferred, for the sake of appearances).
The NDP should demand an end to ‘socialism for the rich’, including the $1 Billion in subsidies to oil companies whose tar sands oil produces deadly spills and fuels climate disasters.
The Council of Canadians responded to the federal budget arguing that it is being used to distract public attention from the government’s actions on trade, water, climate and energy, mining, health care, and democracy.
The Harper government “remains on track to cut $90 billion in federal spending by 2017. This hurts our public health care system, it denies help for seniors and veterans, it withholds needed funding for the Great Lakes, and it fails to invest in clean water for First Nations and a renewable energy future for all of us. This is not a ‘do-nothing budget’, it’s an intentional assault on the public interest”, said Brent Patterson, CoC Political Director.
These are points the NDP should make, instead of focussing on high bank fees and simply repeating the mantra about “making life more affordable.”
Mulcair should follow the lead of the labour-backed Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in demanding national childcare and pharmacare, affordable housing, improved employment insurance, lower university tuition, restoring 65 as the age of eligibility for Old Age Insurance, getting decent housing and water for First Nations, and reinstatement of the funding for the Interim Federal Health Programme.
It’s clear that the fight for such measures, as part of a Workers’ Agenda that includes public ownership under workers’ control of big industry, will have to be advanced outside of Parliament by working people, from the grass roots up.Ar0qK08CIAAt1YU


SArallypostlsrvc201451*UPDATE: Below is the video showing the picket and rally held recently to defend Canada’s postal service.
    Protest against the plan to terminate door to door mail delivery hit Toronto streets and the mass media on Saturday afternoon, March 15.  Close to one hundred people answered the call of Socialist Action and braved freezing high winds to picket the constituency office of Conservative Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, located at Lawrence Ave. and Bathurst St., a busy uptown intersection.      VIDEO HERE

    Members of more than a dozen labour unions, political parties and community groups rallied to demand that Canada Post Corporation and the Conservative federal government of Stephen Harper reverse the decision to phase out home mail delivery to over 5 million addresses, and refrain from increasing the price of postage.

Protest against the plan to terminate door to door mail delivery hit Toronto streets and the mass media on Saturday afternoon, March 15.  Close to one hundred people answered the call of Socialist Action and braved freezing high winds to picket the constituency office of Conservative Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, located at Lawrence Ave. and Bathurst St., a busy uptown intersection.

    Members of more than a dozen labour unions, political parties and community groups rallied to demand that Canada Post Corporation and the Conservative federal government of Stephen Harper reverse the decision to phase out home mail delivery to over 5 million addresses, and refrain from increasing the price of postage.
    Demonstrators walked in an oblong loop on the sidewalk next to the MP’s office entrance and chanted:  Stop the Cuts at CanadaSArallypostlsrvc201442 Post, Save Letter Carrier Jobs, No Cuts No Price Hikes – Defend Postal Services, and Seniors Demand Home Mail Delivery.
    About one quarter of the crowd appeared to be members of the Toronto Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).  The rest identified as partisans of UNIFOR, UNITE HERE, OPSEU, CUPE, secondary school teachers, and a host of local groups including Put Food in the Budget and the United Jewish People’s Order.
    Placards signed by Socialist Action, plus a large SA banner were highly visible on the street, and in the TV coverage of the event broadcast by CBC, CTV, CITY-TV, OMNI-TV and CP24.  Participants sported buttons ‘Save Canada Post’ distributed by CUPW, and bought 13 bright yellow buttons produced by SA bearing the slogan ‘Capitalism is Organized Crime’.
    Protest organizer and SA federal secretary Barry Weisleder told the crowd, “The scheme to curtail home mail delivery is part of a plan to gut the federal public sector.  It is part of a plan to shrink postal workers’ pensions and to break a progressive, democratic union.  It is part of a scheme to sell profitable parts of Canada Post Corporation to private sector vultures.”
    SArallypostlsrvc201492Darryl Ellis, President of the Toronto Local of CUPW, pledged that the campaign to save home mail delivery “is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  We will continue to fight until we win.”
Representatives from OPSEU, UNIFOR, PFIB, the NDP Socialist Caucus, UJPO and Youth for Socialist Action also addressed the shivering crowd.
    Weisleder, two days earlier, submitted a written application for a meeting with MP Joe Oliver.  Should the request be granted, organizers would like all the groups involved in the Saturday protest to send a rep to that close encounter with the Tory MP for Eglinton-Lawrence.

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Ban on just talking about job action

by Julius Arscottalisonredford2
The assault on labour in Canada intensified recently with new legislation rushed through the Alberta legislature. It targets the actions of public sector unions prior to collective bargaining. The ruling Progressive Conservatives, under Premier Alison Redford, passed Bills 45 and 46, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act and the Public Service Salary Restraint Act. They came into effect on December 11. Both bills were introduced only a week earlier, and without warning.
The law applies to the province’s negotiations with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents 22,000 public sector employees. Many are furious at the Redford Government for its plans to gut their pensions in a scheme announced in mid-September. The union has been without a collective agreement since late March 2013. The law eliminates AUPE’s option of going to binding arbitration. Instead, there is a negotiation deadline of January 31. After that, a legislated four-year deal with no increases over the first two years and one-per-cent increases in each of the next two would come into effect. This law significantly increases fines for illegal strikes or strike threats. Specifically, discussion of labour actions, such as an ‘illegal strike’, by the union or by union activists will be deemed illegal. There are heavy fines to be imposed on the union if rank and file members even raise job action in public or at union meetings. Punishment ranges from fines of $500 to $1 million per day.
Bill 45 includes a prohibition on “strike threats,” vaguely defined in the bill as “an act or threat to act that could reasonably be perceived as preparation for an employees’ strike.”
Also: “(1) No employee and no trade union or officer or representative of a trade union shall cause or consent to a strike.
(2) No employee and no officer or representative of a trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat or a strike.
(3) No trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat.
(4) No person shall counsel a person to contravene subsection (1) or (2) or impede or prevent.”
Point No. 2 makes it illegal to canvass the opinion of “employees to determine whether they wish to strike”, or to freely express a view which calls for or supports strike action. The fourth point appears to extend beyond public sector employees and union leaders to the general public, prohibiting counselling union members to strike or threaten a strike. Activists not directly involved with an Alberta union, like yours truly, could be prosecuted for suggesting that a strike is the only recourse to protect public services, pensions, benefits or to draw attention to unsafe working conditions that put the health of workers and the general public at risk.
The legislation has been called draconian and undemocratic in its sledgehammer approach to denying freedom of expression to20131128-LegRallyBills45-46_jpg_800x800_q85 the public. Even the
Calgary Herald, an ally of the ruling P.C. party wrote, “the passing of Bills 45 and 46 on Wednesday night marks a dark chapter in Alberta History.” Even the more right wing Wild Rose Party voted against this legislation.
Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason called the bills “legislation that would make Margaret Thatcher blush.” He added, “I am prepared to resist this bill in order to defend the rights of all Albertans to freedom of speech and freedom of association.” How far he’d go to resist it is not clear.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vows to fight the bills in court. Guy Smith, President of the union, says AUPE is filing another complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board, as well as a complaint with the United Nations International Labour Organization. He told the Canadian Press the conditions placed on negotiations is akin to the government bringing “a gun on the table” and he won’t negotiate on that basis. The response by organized labour to this brazen attack has been tepid. Litigation can take up to a decade to complete. Meanwhile, the impact on the working class in Alberta and beyond will be staggering.
The Alberta Federation of Labour launched a tepid campaign calling Premier Redford a bully. “Alison Redford has poisoned labour relations in Alberta’s public sector, perhaps for years,” Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said at the press conference. “If she thinks that threats, bullying and intimidation will stop workers from standing up for themselves and against her senseless agenda of cuts and rollbacks in the midst of prosperity, she has another thing coming.”
The President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), James Clancy, said “Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, places further restrictions on over 100,000 unionized workers in Alberta who already are denied their right to strike. It broadens the definition of a strike to include ‘any slowdown or any activity that has the effect of restricting or disrupting production or services.'” No plan of action to defeat these bills has been announced.
wildroseaupeThe AUPE has been playing footsie with the parties of big business. Recently, observers have noted that the union leadership support has tilted towards the more right wing Wild Rose Party. Its opposition to Bills 45 and 46 indicates that this may be the case. The union leadership may think that a Wild Rose government led by Opposition Leader Danielle Smith could hardly be worse than the one now led by Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford, but that is foolish. The notion that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ may put pressure on the P.C’s in the short term, but it will spell disaster for the labour movement in Alberta.
The AUPE should urge a vote for the provincial New Democrats, and fight for a Workers’ Agenda within the labour-based party.
The Alberta Federation of Labour should organize mass strike action, and seek support from organized labour across the country.
The left should organize a cross-union movement of labour militants to challenge the bureaucratic union leadership and press for actions needed to defeat anti-union laws.