People need to be protected from these monopolies. If the Quebec government was serious about leveling the playing field, it would increase the protection of the workers so that they are not vulnerable to the assaults of the monopolies which not only do nothing to solve the crisis but make it worse. The government would intervene to restrict the monopoly right of these private empires to lower the living standards of the workers and their communities through the theft of wages, benefits and pensions. It would ensure that the productive facilities cannot be wrecked, that living standards are defended and improved and that there is discussion on how to renew the industry so that it serves the people and is as immune as possible to crises. It would do something to protect and expand the playing field of the workers and their communities.
Instead the government guarantees that the crisis in the forestry industry is used to intensify the exploitation of labour and further concentrate wealth in the hands of the most powerful monopolies. The government is pitting workers against workers, trying to line them up behind "their monopolies" and even behind "their units" within the same monopoly in a downward spiral of working conditions and living standards.
This must not pass! Workers are firmly demanding that
Charest government do its duty to protect the people who have
already suffered so much from the forestry crisis by restricting
Kruger Workers Demonstrate Against
Kruger workers lay a wreath to signify the loss of jobs in the recent layoffs, Trois-Rivières, June 15, 2011. (La Presse)
On June 15, over 100 workers from the Kruger newsprint facility in Trois-Rivières demonstrated over the lunch hour against the announcement by Kruger that it is going to permanently lay off 95 workers in its two facilities. The layoffs are expected to take place between June 24 and October 1. The union local at the newsprint plant estimates that it is mostly the younger workers who will be let go. Kruger has two plants in Trois-Rivières: a newsprint facility and the Wayagamack plant that produces coated paper used to print magazines. Both plants have faced huge downsizing of the workforce in the past years. There were about 1,200 workers at the newsprint facility in 2000 and now there are about 350 in the plant.
At the demonstration the workers expressed their anger at this new blow against them, in addition to an already untenable situation marked by labour concessions, including a 10 per cent wage cut last year and concessions on the working conditions of the skilled trades workers. The layoffs also happened as the local prepares to bargain a new collective agreement on June 30. At the demonstration, workers pointed out that Kruger did not even wait for the beginning of the negotiations to announce the layoffs. This is a deliberate provocation and shows the company's intentions, they said. The CEO of Kruger is currently touring its facilities in Quebec demanding the lowering of "labour costs" and threatening plant closures if workers refuse to assist Kruger to increase its profits.
In Defence of the Rights of All
A public meeting was organized by the Industrial Accident Victims' Group of Ontario (IAVGO) in Toronto on June 15. IAVGO is a community legal aid clinic that provides free services to injured workers in Ontario, including legal advice, legal representation, public legal education and training in public speaking.
One of the main points made at the meeting was the need to step up the work to eliminate the Workplace Safety Insurance Board's (WSIB) practice of "deeming," where injured workers are arbitrarily assigned a fictitious income so as to cut off the benefits on which they rely. With this practice, WSIB decides or deems that an injured worker is well enough to have a job and what the income generated by such a job would be. The WSIB then effectively declares that the worker in fact has this job and income and deducts this amount from the injured worker's compensation claim.
Participants at the meeting said that the practice of deeming is based on the dirty propaganda of the government and the WSIB that injured workers are abusers of the compensation system. Their real life experience, they say, is that they are generally not able to find a job because of their injuries. Deeming denies this experience and calls their integrity into question. This propaganda is unworthy of governments and state agencies such as WSIB and it is aggravating the condition of the injured workers, making them even sicker, injured workers said.
The meeting adopted the decision that during the summer and fall, actions against deeming and to push for injured workers' other demands will be held in front of WSIB and Ontario government offices.
TML: On April 29, the Supreme Court ruled that the 80,000 Ontario farm workers have no right to organize into a trade union and defend their good faith bargaining through strike action. This means that a collective of farm workers who attempt to bargain in good faith with their employer cannot legally back up negotiations with a withdrawal of their work-time.
The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Ontario government's challenge of a 2009 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that declared the labour relations legislation governing farm workers unconstitutional. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has firmly denounced the ruling of the Supreme Court and pledged to carry on its fight to defend the right of the Ontario farm workers to unionize. Can you tell us more about your work on this issue?
Stan Raper: The Supreme Court ruled that farm workers have the freedom to associate but that it does not necessarily mean that they have the right to organize under Ontario's Labour Relations Act. It ruled that the Courts are not going to tell a provincial government how to legislate. It argued that the separate Ontario legislation that regulates labour relations in agriculture, the Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA), basically says that the farm workers in this province have the freedom to associate but how that is implemented is not up to the Courts but to the legislators. They paid little attention to the evidence that was presented and made no mention at all of the interim report of the United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO) that ruled that Canada and Ontario have breached the ILO Conventions.
We provided the evidence of our experience that going before the AEPA tribunal has brought no results at all. Farm workers are not going to go to a tribunal where they know that there is no possibility of securing any kind of justice. For eight years that tribunal has been functioning and only four workers have gone before it. It is UFCW who took those workers there at the end of 2006 to test the tribunal and basically it was a nightmare. Those workers had been fired for union activities by Rol-Land Farms and going before the tribunal provided no justice to them at all. When you have a system that has been around for eight years and farm workers are not using it because they are terrified that employers will target and fire them, how can it be said that this is a protection for them? Under the AEPA, the employers have to hear the complaints of the workers but they do not have to respond in any way, shape or form. There is nothing that forces them to deal with the complaints. When we sat with employers and tried to negotiate contracts for the three farms that we organized in Ontario, they sat across the table from us, took our proposals and we never heard from them again. They had heard us! Where is the good faith bargaining there? Where is the collective process for farm workers where their issues can be dealt with?
Ontario Labour Minister for the Liberal government, Charles Sousa, applauded the ruling of the Supreme Court, daring to say that the relationship between farm owners and farm workers is as harmonious as it can be. He is not going to do anything in regards to agricultural workers. Sousa did not read the evidence and he does not understand the dynamics of the power balance in Ontario. The Minister of Agriculture also applauded the decision. Who then is speaking for the 80,000 farm workers in this province? Not them, that is for sure.
TML: What are the UFCW and the Agriculture Workers Alliance planning to do?
SR: The issue is political and we are mobilizing. We take it to Dalton McGuinty's doorsteps. We are going to do some work in the Minister of Labour's riding, in the Minister of Agriculture's riding, in Dalton McGuinty's riding and in all the areas where large populations of agricultural workers live. We are organizing educational campaigns, going door to door with postcards and information pieces about the lack of justice for farm workers -- the people who are putting food on your table and are basically being treated like dirt. We are going to be very busy organizing "in your face" activities, educating the people in the communities who will be voting in October. Even though their wages and benefits are minimal, the workers are telling us that this is not first and foremost about money but about justice. UFCW is doing collective bargaining on behalf of farm workers in other provinces and the farm owners have not been put out of business and the sky has not fallen.
This issue is not going to go away.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) is accusing the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver of blacklisting Mexican migrant farm workers involved in unionizing farm workers who come to BC under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP). With respect to charges now before the BC Labour Board, UFCW Local 1518 has given evidence that the Mexican consulate in Vancouver blacklisted some workers from returning to Canada because they were union sympathizers, and warned some workers at two farms that are being unionized to stop visiting union support centres for farm workers in the Lower Mainland. The charges also refer to decertification petitions being circulated by the farm owners amongst the workers who are threatened with being blacklisted if they refuse to sign. This is just one recent example of the constant threats and arbitrary measures used against migrant farm workers by the big agricultural interests, the Canadian government and the governments that send these farm workers to Canada. Through this abuse -- which includes repatriation and preventing these workers from returning to Canada if they protest or organize to change their working conditions -- workers are kept under extremely poor and unsafe working conditions.
UFCW Local 1518 represents about 25,000 workers in food retail, production and agriculture throughout BC. Lucy Luna, a union organizer with Local 1518, stated on May 28 that Mexican seasonal farmworker Victor Robles Velez was denied his right to return to work at Sidhu & Sons farm in Abbottsford by the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver.
Luna stated that the national office in Toronto recently received leaked information that the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver made a notation that Robles Velez should not be given his visa to return to Sidhu & Sons farm because of his union activity.
The background to this story is that in 2008 Local 1518 signed up a majority of seasonal agricultural workers working under the Canadian government program to certify two farms: Sidhu & Sons and Floralia Plant Growers, both in Abbottsford in the Fraser Valley.
Speaking on the public affairs program Red Eye on Vancouver radio station CFRO, Luna said the union went through a difficult process to obtain a negotiated agreement that guaranteed the workers the right to be recalled to work according to seniority, grieve disciplinary action and other union rights. The union informed the Mexican Consulate that the certification process had taken place and urged that it not interfere with the organizing work of the union.
However this year when Robles Velez applied in January to be recalled to his job at Sidhu & Sons, he was not granted a visa, even though he provided all necessary papers. The leaked document makes clear that the reason is his involvement in the union organization. Luna said that Robles Velez is an experienced farm worker with four children and reports about his work performance in the past were favourable. In other words, it is only his involvement in unionizing the farm that resulted in his being denied entry back into Canada.
Further evidence of the Consulate collaborating with the employers to deny the workers' union rights is that the number of temporary workers hired by the two unionized companies declined steadily over the past three years. Sidhu & Sons had 73 workers from Mexico and Caribbean countries in 2008, only 32 in 2010 and 28 this year. At Floralia the number of temporary workers dropped from 29 in 2008 to 6 today. The farm, which grows berries and other plants, presently has a standing advertisement for 12 seasonal workers to start at the end of June.
Luna says that the reason workers joined the union in the first place is that temporary farm workers have no voice. If they get sick or the employer is not satisfied with their work, the workers can be sent home arbitrarily. By having union representation, workers gained a voice, had seniority and a right to be recalled to work, she said.
Luna concluded her report on this important case by emphasizing that diplomatic offices are supposed to give their nationals support in a foreign country. In this case, the Mexican government is actively attacking the rights of their nationals as workers on BC farms, thus directly coming to the assistance of the farm owners. The situation facing farm workers at Fraser Valley farms is notoriously bad, with low wages, inadequate housing and cleaning facilities, lack of respect and dangerous working conditions. The BC Labour Board has yet to hear the UFCW Local 1518 case involving the Mexican Consulate.
First Anniversary of G8/G20 Protest
It has been one year since the militant days of action in Toronto in which over 30,000 people opposed the anti-social anti-human agenda of the G8/G20 and faced the batons, tear-gas and rubber bullets of the Canadian state led by the Harper Conservatives. To date there has been no accountability at any level of government for the paramilitary Gestapo-style assault carried out by the police and military of the Canadian state with the participation of U.S. Homeland Security and NORAD. The people have refused to conciliate with this and are standing as one to demand justice and full accountability from the Harper government and for an impartial public inquiry that would reveal who was responsible for this crime against the people, so that they can be brought to justice and the victims compensated.
To date, everything has been done to block this just demand of the people to get to the truth. Bogus "inquiries" floated by the state including one conducted by Ontario's Special Investigation Unit and the Toronto Police Services Board have been aimed at diffusing the outrage of the people. These public relations exercises have only sharpened the demand of the people for governments at all levels to take responsibility for what happened at the G20 protest in Toronto. Various actions took place in Toronto on June 25 to affirm the human rights of all Canadians to dissent and to organize politically for their demands including for an impartial public inquiry into the G20 crimes that were committed against the people.
A massive premeditated assault took place at the G20 in which over 1,105 people were arrested and detained in inhuman conditions for long hours, and scores of others were beaten and threatened. This state violence along with a systematic campaign of terror undertaken through the monopoly media to criminalize all the protesters and to "hunt down" the organizers and other activists (47 people are still awaiting trial and others are still "at large") indicates the degree to which political dissent is being criminalized in Canada.
This issue of police repression is not that of excessive or disproportionate violence by the police forces during these events. The issue is the premeditated use of fascist violence against the people to suppress their political opposition to the reactionary agendas of these imperialist summits. The Canadian state, led by the new Harper majority government, is a state beholden to the biggest North American monopolies and financial institutions driving the agenda of the G8 and G20 and other imperialist institutions. This government is arrogantly using its self-proclaimed "mandate" in the 41st Parliament to increasingly use force and violence against other nations and peoples such as the illegal war against Libya where innocent people are being killed and dismissed as so much "collateral damage." Force and violence are increasingly being used to suppress the workers struggles such as criminalizing the Air Canada and postal workers' just struggles and that of all those who are fighting for their rights including other workers, the First Nations, youth, immigrants and refugees.
Canadians are experiencing the savagery of economic and political power concentrated in fewer and fewer hands under the Harper regime. The right of the Canadian people to set the political, economic and social agenda of the society they live in and depend upon has been usurped by a small economic elite whose interests are alien to those of the Canadian people. This anti-social and anti-human agenda can only be imposed by force. The consciousness of the people as well as the peoples of the world is to reject this usurpation and to oppose the fascization of the state that is being imposed under various false pretexts including "the security of Canadians," "economic recovery" and so on.
The striving for justice for the victims of the G20 state violence is a political fight. It requires the building of the Worker's Opposition to unite all the workers and their allies to block the increasing fascization of the state and to renew the political arrangements of this country so that the working class and people are the ones who set the agenda for society. This agenda must be based on the aim of guaranteeing the rights of all and rejecting violence and force and "law and order" as the means to solve political and social problems at home and abroad.
On Saturday, June 25, the one-year anniversary of the police attack at Queen's Park, close to 1,000 people rallied in front of the Provincial Legislature to renew the demand that police and civil authorities responsible for the G20 violence and violation of rights be held to account.
Among the speakers at the rally were Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour; Natalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; and John Pruyn, a man with a prosthetic leg who was beaten and arrested at Queen's Park, detained for 27 hours, but ultimately never charged with any offence. The tone and message of the one-year anniversary rally was that the people have not forgotten and they renewed the demand for a public inquiry to identify who was responsible and that they be held to account.
At the conclusion of the Queen's Park rally, several
marched through the streets of downtown Toronto concluding at the
headquarters of the Toronto Police Service where they demanded that
responsible for the G20 events be identified and held
accountable for the crimes
against the people.
Among the other events to mark the anniversary was a panel discussion on June 23 which included civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby; Canadian Labour Congress Executive Vice-President Barbara Byers; former Toronto Mayor and spokesman for the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, John Sewell; and Megan Daniel, a lawyer who was one of those unlawfully arrested and detained without charge.
Ruby characterized the official inquiries to date as a "sleight of hand" by civil and police authorities who have no intention of identifying those responsible and holding them to account. Byers recounted the brutal attack by riot police at Queen's Park. She said that one year later it has yet to be revealed who was responsible for unleashing that police violence. Panelists and audience members alike reiterated the demand that those responsible be identified and held accountable.
Website: www.cpcml.ca Email: firstname.lastname@example.org