Category Archives: Labour

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.

Zellers workers on Target for their rights

by Evan Engering (member of the YSA and UFCW)
Scores of labour activists converged on a quiet business park in Mississauga (west of Toronto) on August 22 to deliver a message to Target Stores CEO Gregg Steinhafel. The American retail giant recently bought out more than 100 former Zellers stores in a takeover deal leaving at least 12,000 jobless.
The Stephen Harper Conservative federal government approved the takeover this year without ensuring that any of those workers would keep their jobs, much less retain their hard-earned benefits and seniority.
“What they’re saying to you is this is going to be the fate of all workers in this country and this province in the years to come” said Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan, “This is what we can expect, unless of course, the Labour movement gets it’s act together.”
Ryan’s dire warning could not be more pertinent. This predatory takeover, just like the flight of a Caterpillar diesel engine plant from London, Ontario to union-busting Indiana earlier this year, is a reminder of the increasingly precarious nature of work in the capitalist system.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union is challenging the dismissal of the few unionized workers in this sector, trying to invoke ‘successor rights’ as Target takes control of the Zellers chain. But employers’ more frequent use of strike-breaking legislation and other anti-union laws are making the legal system less and less a recourse for pursuing any justice for workers.
Militant talk must be matched by more militant action, including mass pickets that shut down anti-worker enterprises. Only then will workers realize their power.

Organize Youths in the schools and in the work place

by Tyler Mackinnon

As young people are organizing at schools and hitting the streets to protest rising tuition fees, what are young workers doing in their fight against the 1%? The unfortunate truth is: not enough. Young workers are among the most exploited in the country.  We are offered very little hope – other than the ‘promise’ that if we work hard, we might be lucky enough to get a better deal. Now is the time for young workers to lead the charge in building unions and showing the corporate bosses that we will no longer be pushed around. That’s what I’m doing, and I invite you to join the effort.

Unionization is no simple task, as management has most of the cards in its favour. Many young workers read the statistics and see only a bleak future. In Ontario, the youth (16-24 years old) unemployment rate is officially a staggering 17 per cent.  Since the Great Recession is far from over, the ability to find employment remains very difficult. However, assuming one is lucky enough to find employment, one faces a barrage of propaganda:  “You don’t realize how lucky you are to get work, and if you mess up you can easily be replaced. Hundreds of other applicants are waiting for a job.”

The fun does not stop there. In additional to facing the usual turmoil at work, such as high levels of stress, caused by rude customers or being constantly watched by management, young workers quickly come to the dark realization that we do not get paid an even remotely liveable wage. Employees are expected to work two or three jobs in order to afford basic necessities such as rent, food, hydro, etc.  Additionally, it is important to note that if young workers need to work two or three jobs it is safe to assume that post-secondary education will be postponed or just tossed out the window.

Now is the time for young workers to unite and demand a bigger fair share of the profits our work creates. For if it was not for those of us who are the work force, not a single product or service would be made, put on the shelf, or sold. We are the backbone of production, but we need to unite to become the brain of production as well. Young workers need to find the courage to overcome the fear tactics thrown at us, and advance change that will improve our desperate situation. We should fight to increase our wages and no longer allow our age to be used as an excuse to pay us less. We should get a decent amount of work hours, instead of the scraps management doesn’t want to assign itself. We must revolutionize our workplace to reflect the goals that we, as a vital part of the working class advance.  That’s what the Youth for Socialist Action stands for.  We are union organizers, fighters against every kind of discrimination, and revolutionary movement builders.  Find out how you can be part of this exciting work.  Join the YSA!



Union Merger and Innovative Organizing: Is it the way Forward?

Two major unions in Canada, now in merger talks, want to include workers who lack collective bargaining rights.

Is it a step forward, a way to reverse decades of decline, or just a cynical move to make bureaucrats look good?

The 195,000 member Canadian Auto Workers union and the 120,000-strong Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, both of which have lost thousands of members since the 2008 economic crash, are exploring ways to include temporary workers, contract workers and the unemployed in their ranks.

This is the return of a good, old idea. In the 19th Century, when modern unions began, they first offered tangible benefits like burial insurance and summer camp for kids. They sought also to engage the widest layers of the working class in mass action for progressive social and political change.

That led to union-based political parties like the CCF and the NDP in English Canada. But it morphed into an arbitrary division between economic (union) action, and political (party) action, along with the abandonment of non-unionists by a largely co-opted and conservative labour bureaucracy.

That CAW and CEP leaders now express a desire to incorporate unemployed, laid-off, part-time, and young workers may be a sign that they want to overcome the prevalent image of unions as distant or privilege, and that they see Labour as a social movement.

But how does that square with concessions bargaining and with backing for Liberal politicians by these same unions, among others?

And what rights will non-bargaining unit members enjoy for the modest dues they will pay in the merged union? Will they be an active, democratic influence on the direction of the organization, or just campaign cannon fodder?

The truth is, for any good tactics to be fully realized, good leadership is required. That means leaders who are accountable, and committed to class struggle policies. Qualities like those will come only from the bottom-up. So beware of schemes and panaceas from the top-down. Without workers’ control, they aren’t worth a tinker’s damn. — BW