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.
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.
On 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.
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?
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).
*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
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.
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.
The legislation has been called draconian and undemocratic in its sledgehammer approach to denying freedom of expression to 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 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.
The 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.