Category Archives: Labour

Free PDF is available: Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity

Below is a copy of “Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity”, a collection of talks presented at Socialism 2013, the annual international educational conference hosted by Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste, held May 10-12, 2013 at the University of Toronto.

socialism conference book final

McQuaig nomination challenges Mulcair’s policy

by Barry Weisleder
    When close to 400 New Democrats crowded a YMCA auditorium on September 14 to choose Linda McQuaig to be their candidate in the Toronto Centre federal by-election, they bucked a trend. The trend is exemplified by federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s embrace of the status quo: pipelines to the east, pro-Israeli apartheid foreign policy, reliance on the private sector to generate jobs, and no new taxes on big corporations and the super-rich.
    Particularly on the latter point, Mulcair now has a vocal challenger – one with a good chance of joining his parliamentary caucus. The labour-based NDP placed a close second to the Liberal Party in the riding in the May 2011 general election.
    Linda McQuaig, former Toronto Star columnist and author of many books on economic inequality, proclaimed after her nomination victory in Toronto’s downtown core that she has no intention of backing down.
    “They should pay more,” she told the Huffington Post on September 16. Over the past 20 to 30 years the very rich have got richer, but the proportion of taxes they pay has dropped.
“We definitely need higher taxes on the rich,” she said. “First of all, we need the revenue to do what we want to do and, second of all, we need a better distribution of income in the country. We’ve developed too big a gap between the rich and the poor.”
McQuaig co-authored a book with Neil Brooks, “The Trouble with Billionaires,” calling for steep marginal tax rate increases of 60 per cent for the rich — those earning above $500,000 a year — and 70 per cent for the super-rich — those earning $2.5 million a year — in order to address income inequality in Canada. The problem right now, McQuaig said, is that the top marginal rate kicks in at about $135,000 at the federal level but stays flat after that.
“So, whether you are earning $135,000 or $1.5 million or $3 million, you pay the same top marginal tax rate,” she said.
McQuaig rejects the claim that advocating higher taxes on the rich is political suicide for a party. She says right-wing arguments against tax increases — that the rich will flee and the use of tax havens would increase — have not proved true, and have only limited the capacity of the state to provide public services.
But Mulcair has categorically ruled out taxing the very rich.
“If you look at the combined federal and provincial rate in several provinces, it’s over 50 per cent,” Mulcair said. “With regards to personal income taxes, it’s not on the table to increase them. That is a consistently held position.”
    While McQuaig is no anti-capitalist, her articulate, well-documented and dogged insistence on a more progressive tax system marks her as a radical on the political landscape. Her policies on equality, housing and the environment may rally grassroots NDP members and voters against Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Tories, and also against an increasingly conservative NDP establishment.
    That’s why a bevy of party bureaucrats pushed and plumped for her opponent, former network TV journalist Jennifer Hollett.
    That made McQuaig’s win all the sweeter. And it opens up space for the party left, including the Socialist Caucus which actively backed her candidacy, to fight for socialist policies. The biggest winners in this episode are working class people who want more democracy in the party and in the unions, and who are looking for leadership in the fight against rising inequality and deadly austerity measures.
    The date for the Toronto Centre by-election is not yet set. But when it is, those who want the NDP to turn left should pull out all the stops to get Linda McQuaig elected MP.
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UNIFOR – will Action match the Rhetoric?

by Lindsay Hinshelwood,

assembly line worker at Ford Oakville, candidate for Unifor President on August 31, 2013

Uniforbuzz

As a 15 year member of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) I couldn’t buy the line that my union was merging with the Communication, Energy and Paper Workers Union (CEP) just to have greater strength in numbers. The labour movement already had the numbers; what it needs is greater solidarity in action. So why this merger to form Unifor?

The CAW name was tarnished for many reasons, not just the lack of democracy and vision, or the plague of appointed reps, or nepotism and tokenism. It was also because of the 2009 auto bailouts in exchange for massive concessions, and for not supporting any other workers.

Here are two examples from my own experience. 1) My Local (now Unifor Local 707) President tried to get a court injunction against the CEP-represented workers at the Ford Oakville Assembly Complex, both in 2006 against an information picket line they set up, and in 2010 for being locked out by the company, instead of supporting those workers and blaming the company. 2) The Local invited Lisa Raitt, the former federal Minister of Labour, to the union hall as a guest speaker after her government legislatively broke the strike of Air Canada and CP Rail workers.

The merger also provided an opportunity for the founding unions to rewrite their Constitutions and tighten up their Policies and Procedures. Which is exactly what they did. The new Unifor constitution protects the National Officers a little more, it reduces the role of the Public Review Board, diminishes the appeal procedure for members who want to grieve decisions, and it allows the union to collect dues from laid off workers who have found other jobs to help them pay bills while they are waiting for a return to work call from their employer.

Back in 2009, during the auto industry bailouts, the CAW was not prepared with a plan. It has yet to come up with a vision, other than the Auto Policy Plan which is full of absurdities, often enacted at the expense of other industries and taxpayers. At the Unifor founding convention officials made claims about union renewal and moving forward. So why didn’t the National Officers, who brag about their experience and knowledge, implement a measure of democracy at the initial convention?

It was an opportunity to implement One Member One Vote, and to invite nominations for the new 25 National Executive Board positions elected at the convention. But this didn’t happen. The retiring National Officers declared it wasn’t the right time — an excuse I’ve been hearing for 15 years.

However, I did get nominated by Bruce Allen, Vice President of former CAW Local 199 and one of the most outspoken militants. I proudly accepted. Never in CAW history had the top positions been contested. It was necessary that Unifor’s first National President be elected instead of following the usual practice where people at the top pick and choose the people at the top.

With a modest grassroots leaflet and only 4 minutes to speak, I managed to snag 17.49% of the vote. That sent a strong message that members want change at the top. It hopefully set the precedent that these positions in future will be contested. The other 24 nominees, all promoted by the National Officers of both unions, were acclaimed. Acclamation should be a dirty word in an organizaton that purports to be democratic.

In 2012 many autoworkers were hoping for a strike. But a strike was avoided by hyping threats of plant closures, followed by more frightful concessions. Unifor has since ‘moved forward’ by ratifying the same massive concessions for GM Cami workers. It accepted that the ‘supplementals’ in those bargaining units will now become full time — but with a 10 year phase in period to reach the top pay rate, so these workers will be working nearly 15 years before they achieve it. And they will never receive the same benefits as those on the first tier. This is shameful. Unifor’s new National President, Jerry Dias, was at the Ford Plant in Oakville on September 19along with Lisa Raitt, now federal Minister of Transportation, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and company executives to celebrate the $135 million in taxpayers’ money to bribe the car bosses to retool for new product lines. Sadly, this P.R. Exercise came on the heels of Unifor Local 707’s fundraising for school supplies.

These latest examples show why the union needs to be independent of, and not a lobbyist for, the government and corporations, because the outcome of subservient lobbying is almost always in favour of the employers and not workers.

Unifor needs to acknowledge the dissension in the rank and file and come up with a vision to bring the ‘supplemental’ and lower waged workers up to a living wage, and address the plight of youth unemployment and underemployment, to truly move forward. It will not thrive if it refuses to lead the fights workers are facing now.

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Watch video of Lindsay Hinshelwood candidate speech for President of UNIFOR:

Jobless Recovery isn’t Working

jobless recovery    Chronic job insecurity, uneven growth and declining living standards mark the so-called recovery from the Great Recession that killed so many jobs in 2008-09. Statistics Canada reported in mid-August that, while the private sector gained 34,600 jobs, the public sector lost 74,000. The net loss of 39,400 belies the claim of Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that his government’s austerity policies are working.

But it’s worse than that, according to Citizens for Public Justice, a faith-based social action organization that produced a sophisticated study of labour market trends since 2008. It paints a grim picture:

Although the official unemployment rate is 7.2 per cent, it is actually 10.3 per cent if ‘discouraged workers’ (those who have given up their job search in frustration) are included.

In April 2013, there were six unemployed workers for every job vacancy.

While 950,000 new jobs have replaced the 400,000 lost during the downturn, the population grew by 1.8 million. Thus, 61.7 per cent of Canadians are employed today, compared to 63.8 per cent four years ago.

Temporary, contract and casual work grew by triple the rate of permanent employment since the recession.

Part-time work is the lot of 3.3 million Canadians, as of March 2013 – an increase of 93,000.

Workers are unemployed for a longer time. In 2008, the average job seeker took 14.8 weeks to find work. Today it takes her/him 20.3 weeks.

Young people are very hard hit. In July, they lost 46,000 jobs; more than any other group. Their unemployment rate is 13.9 per cent, officially. But it jumps to 19.8 per cent if discouraged workers are counted.

Certain sectors have done better, including construction, health care and natural resources (in the latter case, at what cost to the environment?).

The CPJ urges “significant action to tackle labour market disparities and improve job quality.” But it does not specify what actions are needed.

With billions of dollars in “dead money” hidden in corporate coffers, untaxed off-shore accounts, mega-mergers and acquisitions, there is no lack of capacity to generate jobs to meet human needs. All that stands in the way is the outmoded system of private ownership of the means of production.

 

Labour Day 2013 marred by unions bowing to austerity

 
And the downbeat goes on. In sector after sector, from auto to steel to forestry to railways to the Ontario and Federal Public Service, to the federal postal service, bosses usually get the concessions they demand from labour.
In the latest move, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union agreed with General Motors to organize special early retirement buyouts at its two assembly plants in Oshawa, Ontario. This is designed to accelerate the automaker’s drive to replace higher-paid veteran workers with workers earning low wages. Temporary workers will get about $10 per hour less than their counterparts, receive an inferior benefits program, and be barred from enrolling in the pension plan. New hires will begin work at $14 per hour below the regular-tier rate, will receive reduced benefits, and also will be ineligible to participate in the pension plan.
To supplement threats at the bargaining table there is the hammer of strike breaking law. Government back-to-work legislation in 2011 broke strikes in the railway, Air Canada, and at the post office, with scarcely a murmer from the labour movement tops. Union heads kept mass job action, urgently needed to counter the anti-labour coups, off the political agenda.
Unions in Canada now encompass 31 per cent of the work force, 9 per cent less than in 1983. Average wages are lower now than in a generation. Morale is even lower.
Some union leaders talk about confronting the threat of so-called ‘right to work’ laws (which would end compulsory deduction of union dues at pay source). Meanwhile they side-step the need to fight rollbacks in wages, benefits and pensions, and the insidious lower wage rate increasingly imposed on new hires. Such heinous measures undermine all workers’ (especially young workers’) confidence in unions.
Is the 30 year pattern of retreat by Labour due primarily to an inherent lack of self-confidence, to ingrained passivity, or to false consciousness on the part of working people? Are unions no longer suited to their task, as some academic ‘Marxists’ argue? Or does a sense of powerlessness simply feed off bureaucrats’ self-inflicted failures? Does Labour’s retreat arise from an aversion to struggle by union officials?
Plenty of evidence suggests that where a good, strong lead is offered, large numbers of people are willing to fight the austerity agenda of growing social inequality. The massive Quebec students’ uprising, the global Occupy protests, and the cross-Canada Idle No More movement testify to that. What’s lacking, especially at the top, is a will to fight, or even to allow the ranks to exercise the option.
 
Treachery, Authoritarianism undermine Teachers
In the teachers’ unions we find a particularly egregious example of class collaboration, and the strangulation of rank and file initiative.
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association brass agreed to concessions before the Ontario Liberal government enacted Bill 115 (which suspended collective bargaining and the right to strike for education workers) – and did so without conducting a vote of OECTA members. Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario followed suit. Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation tops mounted token protest rallies, and simultaneously negotiated local concessionary deals. In York and Niagara districts, members voted in November to reject the deals that mirrored provincial take aways, despite heavy pressure from Federation headquarters to accept. In February 2013, OSSTF suspended its ‘political action’ protest (chiefly the boycott of extra-curricular activities, which impacted mostly on students and parents), and in April capitulated to the province’s demands, with minor tweaks. ETFO, the last holdout, gave way on June 13. Discouraged by the unravelling of what began as a common front of resistence to austerity, education workers ratified the deals. But scandal dogs the leaders who did the dirty deeds.
Outraged members of Toronto OSSTF are demanding accountability from the District 12 Executive which donated $30,000 to four candidates contending for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership.
And members’ indignation pursues former OSSTF President Ken Coran. Coran angrily denounced the Liberals for violating collective bargaining rights, right up to the front door of the Liberal Party leadership convention in February. Then Coran stood as a Liberal candidate in the byelections held on August 1. Was his candidacy a reward for services rendered?
As it turned out, Coran came a dismal, distant third in London West. The labour-based New Democratic Party surprised the pundits by winning that seat, and by making an even bigger breakthrough in Windsor-Tecumseh. The Conservatives captured Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and the Liberals retained Ottawa South, and Scarborough-Guildwood in Toronto. All five contested constituencies had been held by Liberal Cabinet Ministers. The loss of three is a serious blow to the scandal-plagued Liberal minority government at Queen’s Park, now reduced to 50 out of 107 seats, with Tories holding 37 and the NDP 20. Most observers expect the next Ontario-wide election will occur in Spring 2014.
While perpetrating treachery from on high, union officials curtail democracy below. The latest attack is a ten year ban on this writer from attending OSSTF meetings for the crime of speaking out of turn at a substitute teachers’ bargaining unit meeting in November 2012. At the time, I demanded job access data that the local executive (consisting mainly of double-dipping retirees) refused to disclose for 10 years!
A decade ago, OSSTF officials removed the entire elected leadership of the Toronto substitute teachers’ unit on petty and false charges, and put conservative retirees in control. The latter surrendered an array of job security, wage and benefit gains in short order. On July 25, activists from several unions launched a Campaign to Defend Democracy in Unions and to Rescind the 10 Year Ban. For more info, please visit: torontosubstituteteachers.tripod.com
The fact is that the teachers’ top brass, and most of the entire labour leadership, would rather suppress militant members than fight austerity-minded bosses. Bureaucrats put a premium on tight control — even if it means weakening workers’ resistence to an agenda that harms the vast majority, including ultimately themselves.
Going Forward
So, how can workers organize in a non-sectarian way to challenge both the bosses and the labour traitors? Fortunately, some positive examples exist, pointing the way forward.
In the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, rank and file members organized a large and inspiring Solidarity Caucus. Its mission: to get OPSEU to rejoin the Ontario Federation of Labour, to which it stopped paying dues without good reason. The caucus attracted much support. It helped to elect reformers to the union’s Executive Board, but it did not win the re-affiliation battle at the April 2013 OPSEU convention. The campaign continues.
In OECTA, in March, convention delegates defeated and replaced the President who signed the bad deal and denied members a vote.
Meanwhile members of OSSTF and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario formed a cross-union caucus, the Rank and file Education Workers of Toronto. REWT initiated actions to protest government policies, and is now demanding accountability from officials who approved funding and other forms of collaboration with the governing party which attacked teachers’ rights.
And in the Toronto substitute teachers’ bargaining unit, the Action Caucus, which was launched in 2003 when local control was undemocratically usurped, has been increasingly successful at winning policy and action resolutions at unit meetings. It has come close to getting its candidates elected. The ten year ban reflects the bogus executive’s fear of losing control.
What do these experiences suggest?
  1. The fight against capitalist austerity and union concessions requires rank and file organization in all the unions to promote mass job action to win a Workers’ Agenda.
  2. Rank and file organization should be based on policies, not personalities. It should actively strive to replace the current mis-leaders on political grounds. Abstention from struggle in the union arena, or giving political support to this or that wing of the bureaucracy, are a betrayal of the fight against austerity and concessions.
  3. To change the overall direction of our unions, it is necessary to build a cross union, class struggle left wing. This has been the approach of revolutionary socialists in the unions in Canada and the USA since the 1920s, pioneered by the Trade Union Education League. The TUEL, which was active prior to the Stalinist degeneration of the Communist Party, provides an example that every worker-socialist should study.