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.
“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.”
by Lindsay Hinshelwood,
assembly line worker at Ford Oakville, candidate for Unifor President on August 31, 2013
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.
Watch video of Lindsay Hinshelwood candidate speech for President of UNIFOR:
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.
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.
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.
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.