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September 21, 2012 - No. 118

British Columbia's Social and Trade Union Movement

The Necessity of an Independent Working Class Political Movement

Townhall Meetings Against P3 Hospitals
Keep Our Hospitals Public!

Campbell River
Wednesday, September 26 -- 7:00 pm

Labour Hall, 830 14th Ave.

Thursday, September 27 -- 7:30 pm

Filberg Centre, Rotary Room, 411 Anderton Ave.
For poster, click here.
Organized by: Citizens for Quality Health Care

British Columbia's Social and Trade Union Movement
The Necessity of an Independent Working Class Political Movement

Governments Must Uphold Public Right
Community Social Service Workers Hold Rally in Vancouver
Government Attacks on Public Sector Wages and the Public Interest - Interview, James Cavalluzzo, Chairperson, Community Social Services (Component 3) BCGEU
Townhall Meetings Against P3 Hospitals

Transit Police and RCMP Assault Anti-War Activists
Condemn Police Brutality and Attack on the Right to Conscience - TML Correspondent

Fruit Production in the Okanagan Valley
Agriculture and Social Consciousness - Brian Sproule

British Columbia's Social and Trade Union Movement

The Necessity of an Independent Working Class Political Movement

A British Columbia social and trade union movement is in revolt against the neo-liberal politics of the ruling elite. The downward pressure on the standard of living from the unresolved economic crises in forestry and other sectors has been compounded by deliberate attacks on the working class and social programs by the Liberal Party in power.

Provincial public sector workers refuse to accept the worn-out thesis that austerity with declining wages, benefits and working conditions and degraded public services will solve the crisis in favour of the people. Nor does the public accept the neo-liberal lies that destroying public services and social programs and bowing down to the demands of the global monopolies can do anything good for the economy or social and natural environment.

The people are strengthening their organizations to oppose the corrupt sell-off of public assets such as the warehouse section of the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. People are rejecting with contempt the assault on public education and health care where vultures constantly circle to pounce upon and devour whatever public and social assets they can, using their control of capital and contacts within government to pave the way with P3s and other fraudulent practices.

The social movement also opposes the Harper dictatorship and its imposition of decrees from Ottawa on what should happen in the province such as his unilateral closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard search and rescue station and the building of bitumen and oil pipelines across northern and southern BC without the actual consent and conscious participation of the First Nations and polity in making those important decisions.

The issue of developing the independent political movement of the working class has arisen squarely as something that has to be resolved as the BC social and trade union movement struggles to overcome the destructive assault of neo-liberalism on the public institutions and authority. The working class armed with its own independent politics based on a modern pro-social outlook and modern definitions of governance where those who produce the wealth can participate in setting agendas and in adopting the decisions which affect their lives -- such a political movement can break new ground and open a path forward. With its central decisive role in the socialized economy and using its own thinking and independent organizing, the BC working class has the capacity to deprive the ruling elite of its power to deprive the people of their right to chart a new direction for the economy that favours them and to create new political arrangements that open up an era of the empowerment of the people.

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Governments Must Uphold Public Right

Community Social Service Workers Hold Rally in Vancouver

Community social service workers rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery September 13, 2012. (BCGEU)

Unions representing Community Social Service workers in BC rallied at the Vancouver Art Gallery on September 13 to draw attention to their demands for improvements in their wages and working conditions, and an end to government cuts to the vital services they provide.

Strike votes were taken in July in which community social services workers around the province voted in favour of job action to back their bargaining proposals. Members in General Services voted 85 per cent in favour of strike action. Members in Community Living Services voted 90 per cent in favour.

Community social service workers, 15,000 strong in 10 unions that negotiate as the Community Social Services Bargaining Association, have been without a contract since March 31. These workers are the lowest paid in the broad public sector but provide critical services to children and families, youth, people with physical or developmental disabilities and other vulnerable people.

Negotiations broke down in early June with the Community Social Services Employers' Association demanding concessions including removing gains made in the last round of bargaining, which concluded only months before the expiry of the collective agreement, and with no progress on improvements to wage, benefits, sick leave and reimbursable expenses.

Speakers at the rally called on the government to invest more in social services, including the wages of these workers. Darryl Walker, President of the BC Government and Service Workers Union (BCGEU), the largest and lead union of the 10 in the bargaining association, pointed out that since 2004, Community Social Service workers have been forced to take $40 million in concessions every year with no wage increase in the last two years. He said, "The government needs to step up and invest in the sector and its workers, and improve the critical services provided by these caring professionals to the most vulnerable British Columbians."

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Government Attacks on Public Sector Wages
and the Public Interest

On September 5, the day of the third and largest BC Government and Service Employees' Union one-day strikes against the BC government, James Cavalluzzo, Chairperson of the Community Social Services (Component 3) sector of the union, was interviewed on Vancouver Co-Op radio. Over 20,000 direct government employees struck across the province that day. "After months of negotiating with the provincial government," he explained, "we are unable to get a fair settlement and I think it's important to point out that this is actually the first time that the public service in BC has been out on strike in over 24 years."

In 2010, he said, public sector workers across the province, not just government employees, "settled" for zero wage increases in a climate of the financial crisis caused by the banks and corporations, in exchange for some employment security. These contracts largely expired in March of 2012. By Cavalluzzo's account, the actual wages of the workers he represents have decreased by at least six per cent based on the increase in the cost of living since the last wage increase they received.

"If you look a little bit further back, before 2010, wage increases were either in the negative, that is concessions were taken under the Liberal government, or they were fairly modest in the period from 2006 to 2010.... Going back ten years, I think it's safe to say people are much further behind than they were ten years ago.... We hear quite often from our members that they're just not able to make ends meet in the same way they used to."

Describing the social responsibilities of the BCGEU members, he listed workers involved in government liquor retail and wholesale business, social services and social assistance, health care in residential care and supporting people with developmental disabilities, prison guards, environmental protection, highways and transportation infrastructure, and a large number of administrative workers who support all of those workers in all the government ministries.

He gave the example of the forest industry, which plays such a crucial role in the BC economy, and the role of government workers who oversee the sector and the cuts to this critical service. He explained that the Campbell/Clark Liberals have "handed over any kind of regulation or oversight to the industry itself. The Resource Ministries, including forestry and other resource and extraction industries have been really gutted so the public interest is not being protected. The industries have been largely left to their own devices to kind of self-regulate. It's a shame because forestry is a key element of the economy of British Columbia. There's currently a crisis and yet there is really no one minding the public interest in all of this."

Discussing the phenomenon of the defence by government of the private interests of the oil and gas, mining, forestry and other monopolies at the expense of the public interest, he said, "In many respects the public interest has been lost here and you see that in a lot of the government's initiatives. There has certainly been an impact on jobs and our members' jobs, but more broadly, the public interest has been sacrificed and you see that everywhere, for example, how services for developmentally disabled adults in BC are in a state of crisis. They have been degraded largely because the government has taken a business model to a social service type of agency. We see that with health care as well such as privatization of some of the administrative functions around health care, including putting the citizens of BC's private information in corporate private hands. We don't know the extent to which that information is totally secure and we have big concerns about that.... This government is governing in the interests of a few and associated corporate interests and not for the wider citizenry of British Columbia."

In defence of public sector workers and the crucial work they do, he said, "The climate has been one of pitting public sector workers versus everyone else. The media fuels that. The government fuels that [suggesting that] somehow public sector workers are a privileged bunch. We saw the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, just today, claiming public liquor store workers make 30 per cent more than the private liquor store workers and that's wrong and we should stop that [by driving down wages]. So there's a lot of anti-public sector sentiment out there [in the media] and I think that affects our members because they feel that maybe the general public has been swayed by that kind of argument. My experience today [on the picket line] was the opposite. There were many members of the public who came by and were supportive or drove by and honked their horns."

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Townhall Meetings Against P3 Hospitals

Citizens for Quality Health Care has organized two upcoming meetings "to discuss the plan of the Vancouver Island Health Authority to have our new hospital built and operated for 30 years as a public-private partnership, a P3." One meeting will take place in Campbell River on September 26 at 7:00 pm and the other in Courtenay on September 27 at 7:30 pm (details at top of page). Organizers are calling on everyone to come out to the meetings "to find out more about what this means for health care in our community. Who pays? Who profits? What has been the P3 experience in Canada and elsewhere? What can we do to keep our hospital care publicly funded and publicly delivered?"

The Campbell River meeting will include the participation of a panel made up of: 

- Dr. Vanessa Brcic MD, a graduate of the UBC St. Paul's Hospital Family Practice Residency Program, currently practicing as a locum in rural communities, urban community health clinics and teaching practices;

- Stephen Elliott-Buckley, a healthcare policy researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Hospital Employees Union and journalist; and

- Lois Jarvis, member of Citizens for Quality Health Care, retired BC government worker, Vice President Campbell River Branch of the First Open Heart Society. 

At the Courtenay meeting, the panellists will be Dr. Brcic, Stephen Elliot-Buckley and Barb Biley, a member of Citizens for Quality Health Care and health care worker at St. Joseph's General Hospital.

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Transit Police and RCMP Assault Anti-War Activists

Condemn Police Brutality and
Attack on the Right to Conscience

On August 31, Metro Vancouver TransLink transit police officers illegally sought to stop three distributers of the FIRE THIS TIME! magazine to transit users at Metrotown Skytrain Station in Burnaby, BC. TransLink's clearly posted regulations state: "Printed material for non-commercial purposes will be permitted on transit properties, other than transit vehicles or fare-paid zones," provided distribution does not impede transit traffic or operations.

When the three distributers demanded to know why they were being told to leave, police stated their refusal to leave justified their arrest and forcible removal. The police then called in RCMP backup and began to assault the distributors, subduing and handcuffing them.

Throughout this time, videographers recorded the victims repeatedly asking why they were being arrested when posted rules clearly indicated they had every right to be there. At one point an officer said there are "unposted rules" that are being broken, but refused to say what those rules are. The illegal nature of the assault and arrests was underlined when, after being taken to a police station, none of those arrested were charged with any crime or by-law infraction, but only instructed to stay away from the station for 24 hours.

Every weekday thousands of free monopoly-owned newspapers, which carry the ideo-political perspective of the very rich and make a lot of profit for the owners through advertising by large monopolies, are distributed at skytrain stations. TransLink facilitates this inundation of the public with the lowest level of journalism promoting consumerism, "fashion" and celebrity gossip, fraudulent justification for the anti-social offensive and attacks on workers' rights and general support of "might makes right" and predatory wars in international geo-politics.

FIRE THIS TIME!, which is well-known to transit police, politically opposes the Harper government's pro-war agenda and the empire-building wars and occupations of the United States. The warranted conclusion to the illegal harassment and assault against FTT! distributers is one of political repression and denial of the right to conscience of the publishers and distributers of the magazine.

Various forces in Vancouver, including CPC(M-L), have condemned the recent transit police acts of violence and denial of the democratic right of FTT! activists to lawfully distribute their magazine at skytrain stations. The right of anti-war activists, students and workers to advocate their political views and publish and distribute them is fundamental. The hypocrisy and reactionary politics of TransLink to allow multi-millionaires to distribute massively their low-level uncultured gossip sheets every morning but deny activists from FTT! their right to distribute their anti-war magazines are clear to see.

FTT! activists at a September 7 meeting outlined how they intend to hold the transit police to account. They assured the audience that they fully intend to go back to skytrain stations to continue the distribution of their magazine.

(To view videos and eyewitness accounts of the incident, click here.)

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Fruit Production in the Okanagan Valley

Agriculture and Social Consciousness

In mid-summer, the Naramata orchards in the Okanagan Valley of BC should be bustling with activity, as youth mainly from Quebec scale ladders to pick cherries. But not this year. Rob Van Westen, a member farmer of the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative told castanet.net, "You go by the orchards and they are like ghost towns with all the ladders and buckets piled up. It's a tough year for everyone, even the private growers."

Van Westen said he laid off 70 young workers August 2, after learning member farmers of the Co-operative would receive a price of 40 to 45 cents a pound for cherries, well below the usual $1 a pound.

According to Okanagan fruit farmers, BC fruit buyers are using low prices from the U.S. to force down prices paid to BC fruit growers. Many farmers say the U.S. federal and state governments subsidize the prices received by U.S. farmers.

Whatever the immediate cause, the problem of low wholesale prices for farm commodities has long been a bane for farmers, which they have struggled to overcome in various ways. Prices below the prices of production drive many farmers out of business. In this situation of cherry prices, 45 cents is said to be well below the price of production. Farmers will leave fruit to rot on trees putting themselves and their orchards at risk, which many consider is an irrational and socially irresponsible reality that must be addressed and solutions found.

The existence of the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative is proof that farmers have long struggled with the irrationality of the agricultural economy and attempted to bring social consciousness to bear but obviously in the current conditions the Co-operative is not enough.

Historical Developments

British Columbia's Okanagan Valley is Western Canada's main producer of tree fruit with commercial production beginning in the 1890s. Apples account for about three quarters of production with pears, cherries, peaches and apricots accounting for much of the rest.

The long, hot summers are ideal for fruit production but the semi-arid climate requires a large public investment to construct the elaborate irrigation systems necessary to divert water from the numerous lakes in the region. Irrigation development and machinery account for much of the fixed transferred-value that goes into the tree fruit.

The early growers soon realized the necessity to co-operate in order to sort, pack, market and sell their produce otherwise the competition amongst themselves drove down prices. The Kelowna Shipper's Union was established in 1893. As the local market soon became saturated, the farmers also realized that to survive and prosper they needed to develop markets beyond their rural communities and surrounding small towns. The first rail shipment of BC tree fruit to the Canadian prairies occurred in 1901, and the first overseas shipment, to Britain, was two years later.

In 1913, a non-profit central selling and distribution agency was established but failed after ten years. This was the first attempt in an on-going struggle to establish orderly and central marketing to secure the farmers' livelihoods with markets and wholesale prices at or near their prices of production.[1]

Cherries from the U.S. were on sale in Wal-Mart in BC this past August, while local cherries were left unpicked in the South Okanagan.

The volume of BC fruit production grew rapidly in the early years of the 20th century, reaching 2.7 million boxes of apples in 1921. Today some 800 orchardists belong to a growers' organization, the BC Fruit Growers' Association and other associations such as co-operatives. One thousand five hundred farm workers are employed in the production, packing and processing of tree fruit in the Valley. The industry generates over $900 million annually in economic activity.

The Okanagan farmers have always faced a price squeeze that threatens to ruin them. The monopolies control the wholesale and retail distribution of food and pressure farmers to sell below their prices of production. In the early years of the industry, Western Growers and the Nash chain dominated the markets. Today the farmers are up against Westons (Loblaws, Superstore, No Frills), Sobeys (Thriftys in BC and IGA in the east), the Jim Pattison Group (Overwaitea, Save-On-Foods, Price-Smart, etc.), Safeway and Wal-Mart.

The Okanagan farmers also have to compete with U.S. produced fruit, often from corporate-owned farms that do their own marketing. The U.S. farmers, being further south get their fruit to the market earlier than BC farmers do. Monopolies such as Safeway, which is centred in California, have year-long contracts for produce with large California farms. California strawberries, cherries, other fruit and vegetables are often on the shelves at Safeway without corresponding BC produce even though it may be available and plentiful.

1930s Economic Crisis

In the 1930s, the Okanagan farmers faced a desperate situation. Growers often earned less than the amount they paid for the transferred-value necessary to produce their fruit and at times received nothing but invoices from the packing houses. In 1933, a growers' strike took place throughout the Okanagan Valley. Using the slogan "a cent a pound or on the ground," the farmers vowed that no fruit would leave the Valley unless they were guaranteed prices that would meet their prices of production giving them a liveable income. Over 500 men, women and children spent a night on the railroad tracks in Kelowna to prevent a train load of fruit from leaving the Valley.

The growers' strike resulted in provincial government intervention. The BC Fruit Marketing Board under the control of the BC Fruit Growers' Association was established. In 1939, the Board's marketing arm, BC Tree Fruits Ltd. was established to ensure orderly, single desk marketing. BC Tree Fruits was to be the only legal seller of BC produced fruit. Shortly thereafter in 1946, Sun Rype Products a wholly owned subsidiary of BC Tree Fruits was established to process otherwise unmarketable fruit into juice, pie filling etc.

Today Sun Rype has been partially privatized. The Jim Pattison Group now owns 48.5 per cent of Sun Rype shares and holds three of eight Sun Rype director positions, including Jim Pattison and Glen Clark, the BC NDP Premier from 1996 to 1999, who is currently Pattison Group President.

The Fruit Marketing Board had only limited success in protecting the interests of farmers. Low returns to the growers year after year plus several severe winter frosts not only decimated crops but the trees themselves, especially peach and newly-planted trees forcing many farmers to give up and sell their land.

Modern highways replaced the railways as the main means of shipping fruit out of the Valley. The highways enabled individual farmers to haul their produce to the cities of Vancouver and Calgary to sell directly to consumers from the back of trucks breaking the unity of growers. Small grower-operated fruit stands set up along roads and highways further undermined the authority of the Fruit Marketing Board. Eventually many of the small stands gave way to roadside stores, which carry a wide range of goods besides agricultural commodities. These merchants were either farmers themselves operating outside the Board or retailers who purchased fruit directly from the farmers at low prices. The Fruit Board and government were unwilling and unable to stop the illegal sale of fruit driving prices lower and making life precarious for farmers many of whom sold their farms or land.

Back in 1973 fruit farmers voted 62 per cent to 28 per cent to retain single desk marketing, but later that year an organized group of farmers accompanied by widespread media publicity openly defied the Board. Several caravans of fruit travelled from the Valley to the coast for street and parking lot sales. The NDP government of the day refused to seek an injunction to enforce the Board's monopoly marketing authority. In 1974, the Fruit Board decided to let farmers opt out of central marketing. Thus, single desk marketing ended.

Real estate companies and land speculators grabbed wide tracts of farm land. The largest cities in the Valley -- Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton -- sprawled over former orchards. Walled "retirement communities" were built throughout the Valley. Tourism and recreation became big industries. Numerous golf courses wiped out large tracts of farmland.

The decline of fruit farming in the Okanagan Valley has been accompanied with wrecking of the Valley's small industrial base. The Hiram Walker Distillery closed in 1995, eliminating more than 200 jobs. Most of the buildings were demolished in 2011. A truck assembly plant, glass factory and a packaging facility have all closed along with several fruit packing plants. The Jim Pattison Group permanently shut down a trailer assembly plant during its attempt to extort concessions from workers.

In 1974, the NDP government imposed a freeze on the sale of farm land throughout BC but established a Land Commission with powers to remove farmland from the freeze and rezone it for other purposes. The land freeze has done little to save BC agriculture. Real estate speculators and developers use their resources to pressure the Board to grant their requests to remove parcels of land from the land bank. This happens frequently in the Okanagan and Fraser Valleys. In some instances, as when the Delta super-port was established in the Lower Mainland, the government itself decrees the removal of large tracks of farmland from the reserve. Farmland and agriculture have been continuously subordinated to monopolies in their anti-conscious anti-social drive for profits, with governments opening former farmlands for fast high returns.

Canadian workers, farmers and others concerned with the fate of the country are discussing its direction and the necessity for a pro-social nation-building project. An important aspect is the introduction of social consciousness into deciding the direction of the economy including the role of agriculture and the importance of guaranteeing the country's food security.

TML Editor's Note

1. A price of production for a commodity is determined consciously by a formula that first needs to find the transferred-value from the fixed and circulating means of production. The amount of transferred-value for a specified period is the sum of all necessary expenditures plus depreciation of fixed means of production such as machinery.

Once the transferred-value is found, the formula requires the workers' claim on the added-value they have produced during the period in question, which is primarily their after-tax wages and benefits.

The third item required is the claim of governments on the added-value workers have produced, which includes personal income taxes, payroll deductions and corporate taxes.

The fourth item is the claim of profit of all owners of capital who have a legitimate claim on the added-value as enterprise profit, interest profit, rent and retained earnings. The claim of profit is the most complicated to find because it is based on an average return on investment. This means the rate of profit varies from industry to industry according to the ratio of transferred-value from means of production to added-value from the work-time of workers.

To find the claim of profit on the added-value workers have produced, the first task is to add together the claims of workers and governments on the added-value workers have produced. This amount is then added to the transferred-value. The sum is multiplied by a general rate of profit established publicly. The resulting amount is the total profit for the time under consideration. The total profit, which is divided into enterprise profit, interest profit, rent and retained earnings is then used in the formula to find the price of production.

The total price of production for the period is the sum of transferred-value, the claims of workers, the claims of governments and the claims for profit.

To find the unit price of production is a matter of dividing the total price of production by a particular unit such as weight or item. The price of production should become the basis for market prices.

Workers and farmers should reflect on the necessity of introducing social consciousness and economic laws into the socialized economy, its direction and interrelatedness. For example, prices are closely related with wages and conditions of life of the average Canadian worker. If fruit market prices oscillate close to the determined prices of production, yet the average Canadian cannot afford those prices then the situation dissolves in contradiction. Further, the working class must produce enough goods and services to guarantee the well-being of the people, general interests of society and the continuous reproduction of the economy. This can only be done and sustained with the human factor/social consciousness at the centre of the economy governing its direction.

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