The more Rio Tinto turns truth on its head, the more it discredits itself. Its anti-worker attacks and the abuse of its position of power and privilege add to its disrepute and increasing isolation. The monopoly has failed to impose its self-serving fiction according to which the only way to build the aluminum sector is by imposing conditions that are drastically inferior to those which the previous generation of workers fought for and won. It has failed to pit the population against the Alma workers in spite of its slanders that workers are opposed to investment and regional employment and are vandals who sabotage machinery jeopardizing the safety of the region's workers and people. The opposite has happened. Not only the workers but people from all walks of life are becoming more than fed up with Rio Tinto's arrogance. Support for their struggle is growing, as was seen on March 31 during the mass rally held in Alma with broad participation and enthusiasm for the workers' principled stand. Everyone recognizes that the workers are fighting to defend decent union jobs that can sustain their region and the coming generations, as befits the people who came before them who made the sacrifices to raise their standard of living. It is the workers who defend the interests of Quebec because the government will not do so.
Even after being abused and assaulted by security goons brought from outside the region and being locked out, the workers have continued to fight for the need to keep well-paying jobs in the region. But Rio Tinto is arrogant to the extreme and keeps repeating the most ridiculous stories, like the one which says that except for Alma, it has settled all its labour relations issues without conflict for 15 years. Everyone knows this is not true but in the world of neoliberal dogma, the company declares that only if the workers agree to be treated like slaves and transform unionized employment with conditions won through decades of struggle into precarious jobs with substandard conditions can they prosper!
Now Rio Tinto has become more desperate, going so far as to accuse the union of blackmailing it to force the company to give concessions! It claims it is the target of aggression for purposes of extorting concessions! Attempting to extort concessions is precisely what RTA is doing by demanding that workers recognize its unfettered right to subcontract.
Rio Tinto's crazy accusations about blackmail and aggression show that it continues to believe that it does not have to negotiate with the workers in good faith. For the moment it seems to think it can continue to benefit from the lockout to drive aluminum prices up while the Government of Quebec continues to give it hydro-electricity for free, which is the biggest competitive advantage the company has anywhere in the world.
This is where it must not be allowed to act with impunity. The Government of Quebec must rescind the secret deal and stop intervening in the labour conflict in a manner that so barefacedly assists the company to act with impunity.
The more hysterical Rio Tinto becomes, the more everyone must add their voices to the demand that Rio Tinto recognize the just demands of the workers and their union.
Wild Accusations Against Electricity Workers' Union
According to the media, the formal demand accuses the union and its president of a series of activities it describes as harmful to the company and a breach of loyalty. The focus of the accusation is the public revelation by the union and its president of allegedly confidential information regarding RTA's hydro-electric production and the agreements between the company, the Quebec government and Hydro-Québec on hydro exchanges. The so-called breach of confidentiality is a fraud because the once secret deal between Rio Tinto, the government and RTA that commits Hydro-Québec to buy all Rio Tinto's unused electricity during the lockout is now common knowledge. What the union website does is point out how much money Rio Tinto receives from Hydro-Québec for this electricity. This information can be found on various websites including that of Radio-Canada. Local media also report the union and its president are accused of taking unauthorized leaves of absence from work to support the Alma workers on their picket lines, putting up stickers in support of the Alma workers in the Énergie électrique facilities and refusing to work overtime. The media reported and the Rio Tin Alcan media representative confirmed that the formal complaint characterizes these actions as a breach of loyalty to the company.
Mayor of Saguenay Jean Tremblay publicly denounced Rio Tinto for this attack on the union and its president and said the agreement that governs use of the region's natural resources should be known publicly and not kept secret.
At the beginning of April, the CAW regional body filed a request with the Labour Relations Commission demanding the reference in RTA's formal complaint of breach of loyalty be withdrawn and that RTA pay an indemnity of $10,000 for damage to Simard's reputation. The request states that the union will seek an injunction if disciplinary measures are taken against the union president.
On behalf of the locked-out Alma workers, President of the Syndicat des travailleurs d'aluminium d'Alma Marc Maltais expressed his union's support for Simard and the Énergie électrique union. He said the use of a formal complaint against these workers and the injunction Rio Tinto obtained from day one of the lockout to restrict the Alma workers' pickets are part of a campaign of fear being waged by Rio Tinto to silence the workers. It is a sign, he said, that public opinion is on the side of the workers and fear is all that remains in the hands of the company.
Rio Tinto is unable to attack the justness of the cause of the workers and their allies, but it desperately continues resorting to criminalization and slanders to try to block this struggle.
Manufacturing Crisis in Quebec
Workers Express Their Concerns
TML spoke to workers from different industrial sectors in Quebec on the consequences of the manufacturing crisis. Posted below is what they had to say.
Canadian Pacific Worker, Lachine Terminal
Canadian Pacific is simply acting irrationally. Its sole purpose, it appears, is to constantly implement new measures either cutting jobs or further cutting overtime hours. Their primary objective is no longer to make the trains run from point A to point B but to reduce operating costs. This creates a huge pressure on us -- we have to constantly justify our work. For example, they watch us all the time to see if we talk for too long with the truckers who bring the containers, always creating needless stress which can be dangerous in our line of work. This pressure was always there, but in recent years it's gotten worse. One can understand why: the economy is so slow, especially since the 2008 crisis. Canadian Pacific had plans to move its operations to Montreal's West Island to bigger grounds that could accommodate more containers and would be close to the major railway lines and the major terminals and warehouses in Cornwall. But since the crisis, it has abandoned that project. The volume coming in is so low compared to before the crisis that even our terminal in Lachine is too big. It's the same with all the plant closures that we've seen in Canada for the last ten years. Production is sabotaged everywhere. For example, here in Lachine, we used to send out trains loaded with containers three or four times a day; it was the same for receiving what came from other terminals. Now we send out three or four trains per week. The trains are longer and carry bigger loads. There is a huge difference in volume levels. In addition to the decrease in production, there's the reduction in salaries. How are workers supposed to buy the products we produce if our salaries decrease and the cost of living goes up? The situation is totally impossible.
Intermodal Truck Driver (truck-train-boat)
We are directly affected by the factory closures. What's produced in the factories gets put on a truck. As a result of the factory closures, our trucks are empty and our insecurity increases. When I say insecurity, I mean you never know what's waiting around the corner. If there's a little boom, we work like mad for long hours without complaint. When the volume declines, we quickly see our wages reduced. It's inevitable. In short, we're always under stress. All this weakens the transport industry; I mean our drivers are bearing the full weight of this. It seems to me we should be looking out for the truckers and the industry, otherwise the problems will get worse.
The other day, there was an accident where a truck driver was transporting bananas to the Costco warehouses in Saint-Bruno. The truck rolled over on its side. His truck and cargo were totalled. The consequences of this accident were that the big box Costco stores across Quebec couldn't sell bananas for several days, affecting the retail sales of these stores. I'm sure this had an effect on the economy, small perhaps, but an effect all the same. Now imagine if several factories closed in Quebec, the consequences that could have on the economy. What isn't produced can't be distributed and therefore can't be sold. It's a net loss. Factory closures are too damaging to the economy for the government to do nothing.
Retired IBM Factory Worker, Bromont
For the last 30 years governments have done nothing to stop the bleeding of the industrial sector. In Granby, where I lived during my years working at IBM (30 years of service), I saw factories close one after the other. It's a pity because in the early '60s, we had hopes of developing strong cities and regions with guaranteed futures. But as soon as the textile factories started to close one by one -- and there were a lot, believe me -- we quickly saw the situation change. Huge factories like Simmons that made saws became empty or nearly empty. The furniture industry is not what it was and there's only two Agropur factories left in the agricultural industry. I recently read in Granby's newspaper, La voix de l'est, that the Agropur factory Aliment Ultima, a Yoplait franchise that supplied yogurt across Canada, was just bought by the American company General Mills and may lose its contract to produce yogurt. The Canadian production may possibly go to the General Mills plants in the U.S. We don't know why yet but we are following the situation closely.
In regions like Bromont, Cowansville and especially Magog, several other factories have also closed.
(Translated from original French by TML Daily.)
BC Teachers' Working Conditions Are Students' Learning Conditions
Compromising Views and Position of Mediator in Teachers' Negotiations
Dr. Charles Jago's
views on eliminating teacher
The BC government unilaterally appointed Dr. Charles Jago as mediator in its dispute with the BC Teachers' Federation. Citing "numerous factors that create an apprehension of bias," the BCTF has asked Jago to withdraw or that his appointment be quashed.
When asked why he appointed Jago "mediator" between the BC government and the teachers' union, Education Minister George Abbott replied, "I think everything around the life and the achievements of Dr. Jago point to him possessing the requisite skills to make some progress in what has been to date an intractable dispute where there's been little progress."
Dr. Jago was more humble. He thought he would merely be a "shot in the dark" in "mission impossible." But he added coyly, "One would have to question the wisdom of the government for appointing someone like me, but I do have related skills, and maybe the fact that mediation hasn't worked out in the past has influenced the thinking that it's timely to take a new approach."
Behind this deceptive flim flam, lies the fact that Jago has already articulated a clearly delineated position attacking teacher seniority contract provisions in his 2006 paper, Working Together to Improve Performance: Preparing BC's Public Education System for the Future published by the BC Progress Board.
Jago writes, "Principals ... are expected to be school leaders, but they function without the authority to select teachers when openings occur in the schools because seniority trumps all other qualifications within the framework of the labour agreement.... Nor do principals generally control district time or resources for teachers' professional development. Such control in many instances rests with the teachers. As a result, principals operate without the tools to change the methodologies or priorities of the teachers they supervise."
Jago concludes, "Principals occasionally find ways to work around these constraints, but this seldom happens without a struggle and usually with little recognition or reward."
In short, Jago the "mediator" is the author of the very policy the Liberal government wants to impose! The anti-teacher, anti-public education Bill 22 guts teachers' contracted seniority provisions, which presently gives them limited control over internal hiring in opposition to the discriminatory order of some administrators; imposes a new general dictate of employers over the teachers' working conditions, reducing their influence on the public education system and their desire for its betterment such as smaller class sizes; seeks to control their multi-faceted and successful professional development programs, and enforces the arbitrary "net-zero" dictate on salaries that marginalizes BC teachers and their peers across the country from any input on that front.
Jago is one of those successful professionals willingly groomed by the financial oligarchs and amply rewarded for his services. "According to Elections BC's donations database, Jago personally gave $1,000 to the BC Liberals in payments made in 2007 and 2010. Jago said the money was for entry to a golf tournament and that he normally does not contribute to political parties," writes The Tyee.
More significant are Jago's connections with the entire "old boys' network" within the BC financial oligarchy. Jago is Chairman of the Board of Canfor Pulp Limited Partnership (CPLP). According to its website: "Canfor Pulp Limited Partnership (CPLP) is a leading global supplier of pulp and paper products with operations in the central interior of British Columbia. CPLP owns and operates three mills in Prince George, BC which are among the lowest cost [Northern bleached softwood kraft --NBSK] pulp producers in the industry. CPLP is the largest North American and fourth largest global producer of market NBSK pulp and is the leading producer of fully bleached, high performance Kraft Paper. CPLP employs approximately 1,200 people throughout the organization."
Jim Pattison and ex-NDP premier Glen Clark, who is presently president of the Jim Pattison Group and president of The News Group, both sit on the Canfor Board of Directors, the company that owns CPLP. The BC financial oligarchy centres closely around those two magnets of finance capital in the province. Both are home-grown BC multi-national capitalists with myriad ties to political parties, leading professional firms in law, engineering and forestry, and philanthropic organizations. They promote the neoliberal agenda of "less taxes and government."
Pattison is notorious for undermining the strength of BC's construction unions through his running of the Expo '86 project. At that time Pattison had government change legislation that had made it illegal for non-unionized contractors to work on union construction sites. Without legal authority to ensure union status and Canadian-standard wages and working conditions at worksites, construction unions have lost any control they had gained with the social contract, and conditions for all construction workers have worsened considerably. Pattison also undermined the retail clerks union by imposing a two-tier work force, with start-up workers earning half the salary of senior workers with no guaranteed hours and minimum benefits.
Even the highly organized sawmill workers in the United Steelworkers union and their fellow workers in the pulp mills find defending their members at Canfor plants increasingly difficult as the company has reached a near monopoly position in the BC interior. The Liberal government strengthened Canfor's monopoly rule with the annulment of the appurtenancy rules governing local milling of local logs.
Another feature of Jago's close ties with BC ruling circles is reflected in a speech by Pat Bell, Liberal Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie. He told the Legislature February 16, 2011, "The Olympic legacy in Prince George was the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre, and what a legacy that has been. This was a $30.75 million investment."
Bell fails to remind residents that the Winter Olympics held in Vancouver cost the BC public treasury a reported $925 million, well above the projected $600 million. The Canadian government also paid $1 billion for security. BC residents, especially those from outside the lower mainland, strongly criticized and opposed the pay-the-rich Olympic extravaganza with its attack on genuine amateur sports and bleeding of public funds away from social programs, especially public education and health care.
For the Liberal government to name the Olympic "legacy" project in Prince George after the man appointed to "mediate" the government's attack on teachers and public education underlines his close connection with the Liberal regime and his unsuitability to mediate a conflict with public workers. Moreover, Canfor enters this warm and fuzzy "legacy" story involving the tightly knit clique that rules BC. Its website boasts, "Canfor is a key sponsor of the new Charles Jago Northern Sports Centre.... Together, Canfor and Canfor Pulp contributed $500,000 to the construction of the 145,000 square foot facility."
Jago was Chair of the 2010 Legacies Now organization, which in February 2011 evolved into LIFT. According to its website 2010legaciesnow.com, "LIFT is a venture philanthropy organization that accelerates the growth and impact of selected not-for-profit organizations. LIFT applies the concepts of venture capital finance and business management to its philanthropic investments."
Indeed, the role of philanthropy is fundamental to the monopoly capitalist arrangement of society today. The neoliberal line of "less taxes and government" includes the privatization of public services so that the delivery of public services profits corporations directly, and the general elimination of government provided services and their replacement with philanthropic organizations controlled directly by owners of monopoly capital such as Pattison and their representatives such as Jago. With the philanthropy of monopoly capital, the government is not held accountable for its lack of social responsibility to defend the public interest of the people, guarantee the people's well-being and claims on society and solve problems in a manner that favours the people and progress.
At the dawn of the modern era the poet William Blake with clarity of mind recognized philanthropy as a pillar of class privilege, saying, "Charity would be no more if we did not make somebody poor." Defence of class privilege is a most important issue for the financial oligarchy. This explains Bill 22's fanatical stand to marginalize teachers from influencing the learning conditions of their students and promoting public education. It explains in part the government's continuing efforts to privatize health care and education, and its attacks on the entire public service.
In contrast with privatization, the spread of public education and health care, other social programs and public enterprise, gives rise to a social consciousness amongst the people. A notion arises spontaneously that class privilege is behind the refusal to eliminate poverty, the refusal of government to solve the basic economic problems of the modern age, and the denial of the ruling oligarchy to empower people through democratic renewal. The human factor/social consciousness requires the elimination of class privilege and its state-organized power to deny progress and to replicate itself as politicized private interests and its opposite, depoliticized public interests.
Jago also chairs the Fraser Basin Council, "a partnership of federal, provincial, local and First Nation governments. Its 38 directors include the province's Environment Deputy Minister Cairine MacDonald, and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Deputy Minister Doug Konkin."
In 2006, Jago was appointed Member of the Board of the Canada West Foundation. Four owners of monopoly capital from the west formed the Canada West Foundation in 1970. They were G. Maxwell Bell, Arthur J.E. Child, Frederick C. Mannix, and the Honourable James A. Richardson. In 1996, they established a Founders' Endowment Fund, "Based on generous donations from the families and estates of all four founders, and grown through donations from the Philanthropy Club (an innovative fundraising initiative from 2006-2008), the market value of the fund as of December 31, 2009 was $7,500,576."
Jago's ties to the ruling oligarchy in BC run from participation in thousand dollars per person golf tournaments to enrich the Liberal Party and writing neoliberal policy objectives, through to close association with Jim Pattison, Canfor, Canada West Foundation and a dozen other relationships. This made him a "natural choice" for the Liberal government to bring into being through "mediation" Jago's very own neoliberal vision of a teachers' union stripped of seniority rights and without any meaningful control over their working conditions and the learning conditions of students, and a government dictated "net-zero" salary.
In addition to Jago's overt stand in 2006 to liquidate teachers' seniority contract provisions and his direct links with the Liberal Party and leading members of the ruling oligarchy, it has also been revealed that Education Minister Abbott asked Jago to mediate the dispute as far back as February, and he accepted. This was before Abbott in the most cynical fashion asked the BCTF to make two recommendations for mediator. Moreover, Jago apparently admitted to the union in their one and only joint meeting April 4, that he had a chance to review and "wordsmith" the anti-teacher, anti-public education Bill 22 before it went to the Legislature. That is how the ruling oligarchy works in the "wild west": corrupt and mendacious to the core.
In light of Jago's obvious unsuitability as a mediator, the BC Teachers' Federation is entirely justified to request that he withdraw, and if he does not, that the BC Labour Relations Board or government quash his appointment.
Health Care Is a Right
Hold the BC Government to Account for