Category Archives: Labour

NUPGE – Costly and Ineffective

nupge

by Julius Arscott

The triennial National Union of Public and General Employees’ Union (NUPGE) convention, held June 20 – 23, drew 350 delegates to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Many of them witnessed the unveiling of the Winnipeg General Strike memorial, situated across from City Hall, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic strike when workers took control of their city, and laid the basis for the expansion of the labour movement – which today is threatened by aggressive employer and state actions.  NUPGE is a federal umbrella of provincial unions.  To affiliate to the Canadian Labour Congress and its over three million members, unions like OPSEU across the country (except for Quebec and the Territories) must join NUPGE.

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Singh drifts left, Horwath treads water

by Barry W.

The convention was on Andrea Horwath’s home turf, but Jagmeet Singh stole the show.  The federal New Democratic Party leader grabbed national headlines when he spoke to Ontario NDP delegates about his New Deal for People.  It seeks to expand public health care to include universal pharma care by 2020, followed by free dental, vision, hearing, mental health services, long term home care and addictions treatment.  He proposes to pay for it by upping the federal corporate income tax from 15 to 18 per cent, and by creating a new, 1 per cent tax on people whose net worth is more than $20 million.  In a break from Tom Mulcair’s no-deficit, soft-austerity 2015 campaign, Singh vowed to fund green programs and infrastructure through a new $3 billion “climate bank”, to push to retrofit all buildings by 2050 (in the process creating 300,00 new jobs), and to build 500,000 new affordable housing units within a decade.

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Labour rallies downplay job action to stop Ontario Tory agenda

by Sam Cheadle

Over 800 labour activists from across the province responded to the call of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) on March 25 to attend a “Take Back Ontario Conference” at the Metro Convention Center, just a few blocks from the Toronto Stock Exchange. The event was billed as a discussion to initiate a coordinated fightback against the Conservative Doug Ford government. But it was not a decision-making body — more like a public forum. Since Ford’s election last June labour and activist groups like Socialist Action have been calling for an emergency OFL convention where elected delegates could set policies and make plans for a general strike. With the “Progressive” Conservatives holding a majority of seats in the Legislature, many on the left emphasized that we cannot afford to wait until the next election to challenge this government directly. It is imperative that labour make the province ungovernable and thwart the hard-neoliberal austerity agenda, before irreparable damage is done. SA members Julius Arscott and Barry Weisleder spoke early from floor mics to argue for escalating actions towards a general strike to oust the Tories. Many folks applauded. To deflect this sentiment, former UNIFOR staffer and current OFL President Chris Buckley asked “Can we mobilize 100,000 people tomorrow in Ontario to fight the Ford government?” But isn’t this the wrong question? What we need to know is: How do we prepare to mobilize 100,000 people? Sending activists back to their communities, to have tea with their neighbours, is not going to reverse the Ford agenda. An effective response from labour is needed. It is time to draw a line in the sand, to unequivocally state that the movement will defend every union local and every public service from further privatization and theft. That means when Ford tells teachers “don’t even think about strike action”, the response should be “See you on the picket line!” It means when a PC politician’s office is messed up, don’t make sappy apologies; double down and denounce the violence inherent in taking over $3 billion in wages away from Ontario workers when the planned $1/hour increase in the minimum wage was cancelled just before Christmas. It also means putting resources into community groups to engage in direct actions, not telling rank and file activists to go build the movement, while the labour brass thinks about getting on board. The labour leadership has been putting the rank and file to sleep for the past 30 years. Now witness the full consequences of that.

What are some highlights of the conference? Injured workers issues were discussed, the idea of an OFL rapid response network was promoted, and one speaker, migrants’ rights activist Preethy Sivakumar laid out some stunning truths that are not often aired in official union gatherings. She spoke about the connections between racism and inequality, how right wing political leaders use racism to divide the working class and maintain economic equality, and how union members are not immune to these types of narratives. She maintained the number one job of unions is to “eliminate competition between workers and lift the floor for everyone.” Massive support was pledged for a health care rally on April 30 at Queens Park. Attacks on the construction unions were analyzed. Again, for effective actions to come from these discussions we need uncompromising leadership. Organizers of the April 30 rally should look to shut down Queen’s Park and fan out from the lawn, stop traffic, push aside the barriers, and take over the front steps. Who knows, workers might decide to address the legislature. Union leaders representing members in the construction trades who tacitly supported Ford during the June 2018 election need to be replaced.

The OFL conference was followed by an evening “Stewards Assembly” convened by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, with attendees seated by electoral district. While it was interesting to connect with local area activists, the assembly severely limited cross-city input (there were no mics on the floor). By the end of the evening the mood of disappointment was palpable. Chris Buckley gave another tiresome speech, dolling out a few contradictory and self-serving phrases. After the event organizers released a statement that accurately reported the “massive turnout for yesterday’s Stewards Assembly spoke volumes about the appetite to get organized and build solidarity.” But the nearly one thousand rank and file activists in the room received little more than platitudes. Exceptional was a speech by author Linda McQuaig and some short videos featuring rank and file activists who are battling austerity within their workplaces.

Nonetheless, the small opening offered by the labour bureaucracy should be seized. Resolutions passed in community and labour groups that call for mass action are needed. Support striking workers. Defy back to work legislation. Confront and shut down alt-right and white supremacist groups where they appear. Occupy spaces that are under threat from the Thug Ford government. The slogan of ‘educate, agitate, organize’ must take on a more radical meaning, and come to life, to spark mass resistance and force an entrenched labour bureaucracy to join us on the street as we confront the major assault on the working class in Ontario that is taking shape at breakneck speed.

In Canada, the Right to Strike Exists… Until you Try to Use it

Postal workers, power workers, teachers and bus drivers are recent victims of a disturbing trend – loss of the right to strike. In the case of members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, federal Liberal back-to-work legislation on November 27 put a halt to five weeks of rotating strikes. Up to then, no cross-country work stoppage occurred, and there was only a minor mail backlog. On December 20, the Conservative Ontario government passed a no strike law aimed at 6,000 Power Workers’ Union members who run hydroelectric stations and nuclear plants; this occurred before any job action began. Back in the Spring, a Liberal Ontario regime broke the strike of teaching assistants, members of CUPE Local 3903, at York University. In May 2015, Queen’s Park stopped secondary school teachers from exercising their ‘right to strike’ at three school boards. In 2009, the government imposed a back-to-work law on striking Toronto Transit Commission workers.

According to the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights (CFLR), a serious erosion of the fundamental and universal human right to organize into a union, and to engage in free collective bargaining is spreading. Federal and provincial governments in Canada passed 224 pieces of legislation since 1982 that have limited, suspended or denied collective bargaining rights.

Authorities restricted the right of unions to organize. Collective agreements have been torn up. Negotiated wages and benefits have been taken away. Employers’ proposals have been legislatively imposed on workers and the right to strike removed. Both the private and the public sectors have been hit.

The CFLR finds that:

There has been a major change in the frequency and severity of back-to-work legislation in Canada in recent years. Since the early 1980s, the number of instances of back-to-work legislation is higher than any other period in the history of labour relations in Canada. In the last three decades, the federal government alone passed 19 pieces of back-to-work legislation while provincial governments across the country have enacted 73 pieces of back-to-work legislation.

Most of this legislation (50 of the 92 pieces of legislation) not only forced workers back to work after taking strike action, but also arbitrarily imposed settlements on the striking workers. In 2011 postal workers were locked out, then had terms and conditions imposed on them.

A common phenomenon in the public sector throughout the 1980s and 1990s has been the suspension of collective bargaining rights. With the exception of Saskatchewan, public sector workers across Canada gained the right to collective bargaining in the decade between 1967 and 1977. In the three decades that followed, most public sector workers have had their collective bargaining rights suspended anywhere from three to ten years.

There have been 53 pieces of legislation passed in the federal Parliament and provincial legislatures that have suspended the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

Since 1982, there have also been 80 instances where federal and provincial labour laws have been amended to further restrict unions’ ability to organize and bargain collectively. Nine pieces of legislation have actually denied certain categories of workers the right to join a union and nine pieces of legislation have restricted the certification process hurting the labour movement’s ability to organize the unorganized. There have been 62 instances where the federal and provincial governments passed legislation that restricted the rules and/or scope of bargaining, denied the right to strike and limited the mechanisms available for settlement of disputes or allowed for greater government and/or employer interference in internal union matters.”

In a recent news release, Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario asked:

When are we going to see ‘back to the bargaining table’ legislation forcing employers to deal with workers’ representatives fairly and appropriately?

Clearly, the bosses’ agenda is not about bargaining. It is about squeezing workers, and using the law to deprive workers of a legal recourse. Thus, what pressure can workers hope to apply?

Traditionally, less than two per cent of collective bargaining led to a legal strike. Today, even that low incidence is being reduced to a rarity.

Why? Because the capitalist rulers have fewer crumbs to offer. They seek to solve their deep economic problems on the backs of working people. Conservative labour leaders and cowardly social democrats compound the problem by acquiescing to concessions demanded by management. General Motors, after milking the public for billions of dollars in aid, is planning to shut down auto production in Oshawa – and seems to be getting away Scot-free.

What is the solution? Workers should look to history to see how the first unions were built, and how improvements were won. May 1, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.

A general strike – now there’s an idea whose time has come again. History teaches that struggle decides, not the law.

(The above article was compiled by Barry Weisleder.)

GM shareholders get a boost. Workers get the boot.

by Gary Porter

On November 29, analysts making 12-month price forecasts for General Motors Co. projected $45.16 per share — an increase of almost 23 per cent over the current $36.76. This is great holiday news, if you are shareholder. That includes the GM Directors who receive 60 per cent of their compensation in stock options. It is critical, according to business schools, to tie the interests of your Directors to the interests of the shareholder owners. But the interests of the workers are not considered so tenderly.

The joyous forecast coincides with announced plans by the auto giant to halt production at five factories in North America and cut about 14,000 jobs in the company’s most significant restructuring since its bankruptcy and taxpayer bailout in 2008 by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama.

GM warned last summer that the trade war instigated by President Donald Trump could force job cuts in the United States. Trump was irate with GM, tweeting that he was “very disappointed” with the company and CEO Mary Barra for plans to idle plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland.

“Nothing being closed in Mexico & China. The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get,” Trump wrote. But the Donald misses the point. Just like him, GM does what makes the most profit. It is moving to production of autonomous EV vehicles.

GM has a plan for the estimated $6 billion to be gleaned annually from the plant closures. The all-electric, fully automatic, no steering wheel, no-pedals version of The Bolt is supposed to be on public highways by 2019.

However, what the world really needs is non-polluting buses, street cars, trains and ships. Mass public transportation and shipping. Left to private, profit-motivated companies, the massive waste embodied in private cars will continue. GM makes more money that way. The only way to get the efficient public transportation systems we need is to nationalize the vehicle business and retool the existing hi-tech, modern plants. That way workers can be retrained, not scrapped. Workers know everything about building cars. They can manage the factories. The owners’ skill is in siphoning off profits and spiriting them away to low tax havens. We simply do not need that skill. Let’s throw the bosses on the scrap heap.

GM, over its history, has a long, very shabby, anti social record. It has been a leader in some pretty bad causes. They include: the fight against regulations to enforce auto safety for consumers, the battle against safety for its employees, and against environmental safety for the human race. GM led the resistance to greater fuel efficiency laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses emitted from engine exhaust pipes. Generations ago GM led a consortium that bought street car lines, ripped out the tracks, set up bus systems and sold them. It also bought the rights to an electric car and stifled it decades ago. GM, quite simply, is a capitalist corporation that operates exclusively for private profit. It has committed crime after crime to that end.

Under capitalism, the doctrine of individual ‘liberty’ asserts the absolute right of capitalists to make ‘free’ decisions about their property, entirely in their own interests, even when it throws thousands out of work, leaves children without support, and causes the collapse of whole communities. Their liberty is simply imposed on workers and their families without their consent.

What about our ‘liberty’ as workers? Up to November 27, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers conducted rotating strikes against Canada Post, a Crown Corporation, opposing management-imposed speed up, compulsory overtime and pay discrimination against rural, mostly female mail carriers. The Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau and the ‘opposition’ Conservative Party worked smoothly together to violate the workers’ ‘liberty’ to withdraw their labour, their right to free collective bargaining, including the right to strike, and ordered the workers to end their job actions or face stiff fines.

Bosses can impoverish thousands of workers, but workers can’t even slow down the mail, including the packages shipped by brutally low-wage employers like Amazon. Only the labour-based New Democratic Party spoke loudly against the move. NDP MPs walked out of the House of Commons in protest. So much for workers’ ‘liberty’.

The Conservative government in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, under Premier Doug Ford, a hard-right winger and scion of a rich family, has moved quickly since June 7 when it was elected. His Progressive Conservative Party attained 61% of the seats with only 40.5% of the votes cast in the first-past-the-post electoral system. The voter turnout was only 58 per cent.

Ford has stripped many rights and statutory benefits from Ontario workers, cancelled the planned increase to a $15/hour minimum wage, cut welfare increases and made disability benefits harder to obtain. Under his slogan “Ontario is Open for Business” he is forcing workers to labour under deteriorating wages, benefits and working conditions, fostering a level of desperation most convenient for the Walmart and Amazon tycoons. He seems to think he has every right to destroy the hard-won gains of workers.

But he says he can do nothing about the GM plant closures and accuses federal politicians and union leaders of peddling false hope to the workers.

UNIFOR, Canada’s largest private sector union with 315,000 members, represents about 25,000 autoworkers including the 2,500 in the GM Oshawa plant. Jerry Dias, UNIFOR President, demands that Trump and Trudeau impose a 40 per cent tariff on GM cars made in Mexico. His line is to support his Canadian members by imposing cuts on the lower paid Mexican workers. A spokesman for Trudeau said Dias’ proposal was not discussed with Trump.

Dias also says he may urge a mass autoworker walkout from all Canadian and US plants, but a United Auto Workers union spokesman in the US says his union has no such plans. Actually, a walkout is an excellent idea. But the American labour brass is even more ossified that its Canadian counterpart. The UAW still supports the capitalist Democratic Party instead of setting up an independent labour-based political party like the NDP, which the Canadian union bureaucrats dominate (although Dias and UNIFOR have backed the Liberal Party of late, with bitter results).

Dias’ proposals simply have no weight unless he gets the backing of the workers themselves. The leaders of UNIFOR like to parade as the workers’ saviours. This highly paid, privileged layer of union bureaucrats can make a big noise; however, they bargained away hard-won worker gains like equal pay and good pensions. They accept the so-called rights of the owners to do as they please and fear the power of a mobilized union rank and file.

In the end, it is only the mobilized rank and file that can force action by GM and by the capitalist politicians. Mobilizing the mass power of the auto workers and of other unions in solidarity can bring home the point that workers together can stop production, choke profits, and force boss concessions — instead of making concessions themselves.

 

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