Category Archives: Labour

Walmart Strike Spreads

After the success of the numerous strikes and job actions for American Walmart workers, the struggle to win respect for non-unionized workers is spreading across the continent. A week after the Black Friday walkout, hundreds of workers from fast food restaurants across New York City staged a cross-workplace strike for better wages.

While these strikes and job actions were years in the making for labour organizers, new workers’ associations are now being forged in Canada. The Canadian United For Respect campaign began in November.  It seeks to give Canadian employees of retail chains such as Sobeys, Price Choppers and IGA, a voice in their workplace.

These new workers’ associations represent a different direction for the labour movement. For the first time in nearly a century we see masses of non-unionized workers walking off the job and striking for better conditions. United Food and Commercial Workers, the force behind the original organizing drive realized that it had hit a brick wall. Faced with harsh anti-union tactics from Walmart and other employers, the union leadership decided that instead of giving up and accepting the anti-worker encroachment, they would apply some ‘outside of the box’ thinking.

This new way forward is based on learned tactics from the past. The precedent now being set opens the door to a wider variety of methods and, most importantly, for the participation of all workers, no matter how repressive their employers are towards organization.

What we are witnessing could be the start of a new chapter in labour history. Now that the established law and courts-based method of worker organization is no longer seen as the only way to win, there can be a return to the grassroots, militant spirit that gave birth to the workers’ movement.

McGuinty resigns. Let’s give the boot to his Ontario Liberal regime and the federal Tories.

Desperate to change the channel on his scandal-wracked administration, Dalton McGuinty announced this evening, October 15, that he is stepping down as Ontario Premier and Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.

McGuinty won’t be missed. But his decision to prorogue the Legislature is totally unacceptable. For months to come, his corrupt regime won’t be required to answer Opposition questions in the Legislature while he and his henchmen work behind the scenes to muscle more unions into the wage freeze zone. More cuts to jobs, to services, and more privatizations are in store — with minimal accountability.
Now is the time for labour, hopefully with active support from the NDP, to take mass job action to demand that Law 115, the anti-teacher/education worker legislation be rescinded, and that the cuts to public sector jobs and services be reversed.

Tax corporations and the rich. Index wages and pensions to every rise in the cost of living. For a general strike to bring down the wretched Ontario Liberal regime and the Stephen Harper-led federal Tory government.

Answer Boss Attacks with Solidarity in Action

by Julius Arscott, Vice-President of OPSEU Local 532
Anticipating the harsh wage restraint bill soon to be presented to the Ontario Legislature, public service workers put solidarity on display at a large, lunch-time rally on September 12 outside the Ministry of Environment building at St. Clair and Avenue Road in Toronto. Nearly 170 workers rallied to save public services and jobs. Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the union flag-waving crowd. The employer could not fail to notice.
The event was co-sponsored by locals of the bargaining units in that Ministry — the Ontario Public Service Employees Unions (OPSEU), The Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario (AMAPCEO) and the Professional Engineers of the Government of Ontario (PEGO). The event, the first of its kind in this round of bargaining, sets an example for workers across the province. Many yearn to see a mass rally fill Queen’s Park against the big business ‘austerity’ agenda, and in defense of collective bargaining rights, much like the teachers’unions demonstrated on August 28 in front of the Ontario Legislature.
OPSEU Local 532 took the initiative to organize the solidarity event. The aim was to cut across the rivalries which sometimes plague the labour movement. It was a good opportunity to show the employer that members of the Ontario public service, and working people in general, will not take lightly cuts to public services and attacks on the labour rights with which we won a decent standard of living – now threatened by the present crisis.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, in his Spring budget, demanded major concessions to balance the books at the expense of public services. He has threatened to privatize ServiceOntario. Now he is promoting the so-called Protecting Public Services bill. It would allow the government not just to freeze the wages it pays to 500,000 unionized employees — including nurses, home care workers and hydro linemen — but roll them back. It would give Cabinet the power to remove or modify salary grids — as was done to the province’s teachers. The government could also unilaterally change or eliminate any non-wage benefits unionized public sector workers now receive. And the bill would bar unions from either striking, or appealing such decisions to the courts. Authoritarian powers like those could last until 2018 – when the government expects the budget to balance.
Challenging such laws in court, as the education workers’ unions are doing, is grossly inadequate. Needed is a campaign to educate everyone – through action. The time has come for an unlimited general strike. Let’s massively occupy the front lawn at the Legislature. We should enlist the support of all working people and the entire public – because everyone stands to lose by the attacks on rights and services now underway.

CAW-Big 3 Deal a Big Setback to Labour

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

 Three years ago General Motors and Chrysler workers made massive contract concessions. In fact, GM workers experienced two rounds of concessions bargaining in less than a year, the Harper government enforcing even greater roll backs than GM said it needed. Following that enormous, historic defeat the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) leadership loudly but unconvincingly assured their members that we would fight again another day.
Three years later “another day” has come and gone, without a fight and with more concessions at GM, Ford and Chrysler. The latest concessions are unprecedented, particularly with respect to new hires.
The CAW long denounced the two-tier wage agreements accepted by the UAW in the U.S.A. Now the CAW has all but completely acquiesced to that type of arrangement. New hires will be paid approximately $14.00 per hour less than regular workers. It will take them 10 years to attain the full rate, which will remain virtually unchanged for many years to come – plus it will take a full six years just to reach 70 per cent of the full rate. Worse, new hires will see deductions from their wages go towards the cost of their pensions, which will be seriously inferior to those available to current employees, while current employees experience no wage deductions go towards their pensions. In effect, the CAW has accepted a blatant system of two-tier pensions. New hires will also get much less vacation time.
All of this will result in a windfall of additional profits for the Detroit 3 auto corporations’ Canadian operations, and it will accelerate the general decline of living standards for industrial workers in Canada. The time when autoworkers led the way in raising the living standards for industrial workers in Canada are long gone. Now they are leading the way downwards. And the CAW is functioning like a conduit for Capital’s onslaught against labour.
Current active employees at the Detroit 3 in Canada will share in the pain of these long term collective agreements – in force until 2016. There are no wage increases at all. There will be only one cost of living increase – in the last quarter. Built-in COLA is replaced by lump sum payments cynically timed to be paid just before Christmas when autoworkers used to get a seasonal bonus. Simply stated, this means autoworkers will experience a steady decline in real income over the next four years. So will retired autoworkers. They have already been stripped of COLA on their pensions and they suffer a very inferior two-tier benefit package which is steadily eroding.
None of this has been justified by declarations that new product investment has been acquired. There are no new products to be built in Canadian auto plants. Now the sorry, but all too familiar refrain is that we are living in tough times, faced with policies from hostile governments, including a high dollar. These excuses simply signal that there is no reason to expect anything but more of the same, even with the approaching CAW-CEP merger, and with very serious consequences for labour as a whole, particularly in terms of living standards. No one is now proclaiming we will ‘fight again another day’.
A very bleak future lies ahead, unless we see the emergence of a rank and file based opposition to the current leadership – a class conscious movement which recognizes that calling a halt to the ongoing retreat is imperative to keep us from going from very bad to even worse.

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.