Step up the Work to Oppose the Anti-Social Offensive
Harper Throne Speech a Sop to the Resource Monopolies and Wrong Direction for the Country
The Harper Throne Speech pushes resource extraction as Canada's strategy for prosperity. The government vows to do everything it can to assist the resource monopolies extract and ship as much resources as they can in the shortest possible time. It even generates panic on this issue suggesting, "The window for gaining access to new markets will not remain open indefinitely." The government wants Canadians to believe that our very lives and security depend on resource extraction and rapidly transporting it to the far ends of the earth. Any hindrance to this is considered against the national interests and even national security.
The government declares that any consideration, which slows down the march to extract and ship raw material will be criminalized including the following:
Considerations based on building an integrated all-round economy where resource extraction bolsters manufacturing and the creation of strong communities with social programs, public services and infrastructure;
Those where the rights of First Nations are upheld with full respect;
Those where equilibrium at the resource extraction worksite and in transportation is upheld based on recognition of the rights of workers and public safety;
Those where Mother Earth is treasured not just in an obvious short-term way but also through science examining the long-term consequences and the effects of the particular technology and methods employed.
The Harper government justifies its focus on the resource extraction sector with claims that 1.8 million workers are employed either directly or indirectly by the sector. Even if true, it leaves out other important considerations. First, workers in and serving the resource sector contribute significant wealth to the economy but they represent only 10 per cent of the entire workforce. By concentrating on this one sector, while ignoring or dismissing others, the government sidelines in importance the remaining 90 per cent of workers and their sectors. Such one-sided concentration also ignores those sectors that do not exist but should in a modern diverse economy. To be consistent, healthy and avoid crises, a modern economy must be all-sided with an internal dynamic of production, consumption, reproduction and interrelated realization and growth in all sectors.
Employment in the resource extraction and shipping sector as it stands in Canada is mostly lacking in the front end of manufacturing, otherwise the steel sector and industrial production, especially of heavy machinery would be humming along, which they are not. For example, Caterpillar recently closed its last manufacturing plant in Canada but still sells into Canada a tremendous volume of value in heavy machinery and parts, much of it destined for the resource sector. This importation of heavy machinery restricts production of Canadian added-value, the source of our collective wealth. This should not be allowed. If particular machinery is used in Canada on a regular basis for production, it should be manufactured in Canada from resource to finished product and replacement parts.
The greatest front end employment today in resource extraction is mostly in site construction and infrastructure. Provision of infrastructure is a scandal of pay-the-rich schemes providing the global resource monopolies with everything they need without forcing them to realize (buy) the value of the infrastructure at its price of production.
Operations and transportation, especially pipelines, provide little work and as a result return little added-value. The real bulk of added-value from resource extraction, mostly ignored n Canada, is its use downstream in the production process such as refining and in development of secondary and tertiary industries including for example a modern petrochemical sector or one using forest product in innovative new ways.
Within the resource sector, the government asserts no national interests, allowing monopolies full rights to do as they please including the right to reinvest their claim on added-value wherever they want. This ensures that resources and their added-value are not used according to a plan that serves the public interest to open up manufacturing of the equipment used in resource extraction, to expand diverse manufacturing using the available resources or the building of viable stable communities.
Value from resource extraction is not used to realize value transferred from other sectors in particular the public health and education sectors. The transferred-value from social programs is not realized and returned to the social institutions that create the value. The resource monopolies, as do other monopolies, simply pocket the transferred-value as if it is theirs to claim. This is another way for them to bolster their rate of return on invested capital at the expense of the overall economy, the people and the country's social programs.
Resource projects themselves are also subject to stops and starts based on narrow private calculations and the global rivalries of the resource monopolies. This reflects both the people's lack of control over resource development and the denial of their right to decide and to apply a broad view that takes into consideration the public interest towards humanizing the social and natural environment and strengthening the entire socialized economy.
Not long ago with constant press releases and speeches, the government was hailing as the next colossal opportunity for Canada projects worth tens of billions of dollars in the Labrador iron ore fields, Ontario's Ring of Fire and Saskatchewan potash deposits. Recently, the talk has dried up as all of these projects have been stalled or rolled back because of inter-monopoly rivalry amongst global resource monopolies and squabbling over prices and control of the resource wholesale sector. Even oil and gas projects stop and start according to the narrow interests of the global monopolies and the needs of the U.S. war machine, which are detached and in opposition to Canada's national interests, the public interest and the seamless development of a productive diverse socialized economy.
The Harper sop to the resource monopolies is the wrong direction for the economy. The time is now for a new direction!
More Monopoly Blackmail by Cliffs Natural Resources
Cliffs Natural Resources, one the largest global mining monopolies, is again blackmailing the Ontario government with threats to collapse development of the mineral resources it controls in the Ring of Fire unless its demands are met. Cliffs' latest demand is that the Ontario government expropriate property rights on a transportation corridor in the region owned by a rival mining company and hand them over to Cliffs.
This follows earlier threats by Cliffs to extract government concession regarding its development of chromite mineral deposits in north western Ontario. Cliffs is demanding commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding of transportation and electrical infrastructure and waivers on environmental assessments and First Nations consultation requirements. To back up these demands Cliffs announced its suspension of work on permitting processes in June and closed down its exploration camp at the Black Thor deposit, saying activities were suspended, "due to delays related to the environment assessment process, land surface rights, and stalled negotiations with the Province of Ontario."
Cliffs' latest demand follows from a decision in September by the Ontario Lands and Mining Commission. The decision recognized land use rights of KWG Resources along the only viable transportation route from the Ring of Fire mineralization area to markets. It rejected Cliffs' request for an easement through KWG claims so a 340 kilometre road to Cliffs' mining properties can be built. Cliffs wants immediate government intervention to void KWG's property rights. KWG, which also has chromite and other mineral claims in the area, is part of a group that wants to build a rail link along the corridor.
At the time of the Land and Mining Commission decision in September, Cliffs issued a press release which denounced the decision and said, "Without access to the surface lands to develop the needed infrastructure, there is no project...While we are open to possible solutions, without a pathway developing quickly to overcome this major setback, it is going to be difficult for us to justify continuing with the project at this point in time."
While Cliffs says it is open to possible solutions, company spokesperson Jason Agenes made it clear the solution the company was looking for is government intervention, "We feel that if the Ring of Fire is to precede this needs to be addressed by the government." Cliffs has initiated a court challenge of the Land and Mining Commission decision but complains that this could be in the courts for years and the outcome is uncertain. Other solutions available to Cliffs, such as a cash settlement with KWG for an easement or even buying out KWG, have been rejected as too expensive.
After it launched the court challenge of the Commission ruling in October, Cliffs launched a media blitz aimed at pressuring the government to intervene on its behalf. Bill Bloor, the head of Cliffs' ferroalloys division made the threat very bluntly in press interviews, calling the Commission ruling in favour of KWG, "a possible showstopper." He is quoted as saying Cliffs, "will consider pulling out if the Ontario government doesn't ensure the company has access to the chromite deposit...The only viable solution is for the government to step in. It could expropriate the surface rights or withhold a portion of the surface Crown land for the public interest."
The threats issued by Bloor on behalf of Cliffs were taken up October 22 in the Ontario Legislature and the MPPs of all the parties disgraced themselves. None of the MPPs took a stand against this aggressive U.S. monopoly for arrogantly holding the economy hostage to its private interests or for so blatantly attempting to blackmail the government.
Instead, opposition MPPs made partisan attacks on the government for scaring off international investors by not doing enough to uphold Cliffs' monopoly right. "The company is about to pull out of Ontario because of the mess this government has made of the Ring of Fire development plans" they said, and the Ring of Fire project is "being put in jeopardy by your bungling of this file."
The government response was to keep insisting it knows very well how to look after mining investors. It repeatedly cited as proof the 23 mining projects it has pushed through during its 10 years in power. It pledged to solve the road access problem raised by Cliffs.
By so blatantly trying to harness the power of government to serve its own interests at the expense of a rival, Cliffs has revealed the way dominant monopolies wield their economic power to achieve their aims. The willingness of self-serving politicians to accommodate themselves to the dictate of dominant monopolies is also revealed. The case at hand involves Cliffs politicizing its narrow interests to subordinate a rival, KWG Resources, but it subordinates broad public interests in the same way. Cliffs' economic power enables it to command government expropriation of KWG and in the same way uses its economic power to command public funds for infrastructure, to command waiving of environmental regulation and to trample on First Nations sovereignty.
Ontario needs politicians who will not accommodate themselves to the dictate of the dominant monopolies, who will restrict monopoly right and uphold public right.
Continuing Court Action Against Saskatchewan Government Anti-Union Laws
On October 17, the Supreme Court of Canada announced that it would hear an appeal by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and other trade unions concerning two pieces of anti-union legislation of the Saskatchewan Party government of Brad Wall. In April the Saskatchewan Appeal Court ruled that the Public Service Essential Services Act, 2008 (PSESA) and the Trade Union Amendment Act, 2008 (TUA) are constitutionally valid. The trade unions in Saskatchewan are appealing these decisions in the Supreme Court
Immediately after being elected in November 2007, the Wall conservatives unleashed an anti-union, anti-worker offensive. Within six weeks of the election the government introduced two pieces of labour legislation. The PSESA declared a broad section of public sector workers to be essential service workers and stripped them of their right to strike. More than 30 per cent of workers in the broad public sector were declared "essential" and the government gave itself arbitrary power to add more workers to the list. Amendments to the TUA suppressed workers' right to join a trade union by creating barriers to union certification and sanctioning employer intimidation of workers. Unions challenged these laws in court on the basis that they violated freedom of association under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and have been pursuing these court actions for the past five years.
In February, 2012 the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench made a decision on the union legal challenge on both of these laws. It upheld the Wall government's law for suppressing union organizing but overturned the law stripping public sector workers of the right to strike. The unions appealed the decision regarding union certification and the government appealed the decision on essential services.
A year later the Saskatchewan Court of Appeals took the government side on both counts. In an April 2013 ruling it declared the new law increasing the obstacles to union organizing and the new law stripping workers of the right to strike were both permitted by the Charter. These decisions are the ones the Supreme Court has agreed to review.
The Wall government's changes to the union certification process eliminated automatic certification when 45 per cent of workers have signed union cards. The threshold for an automatic certification vote was raised from 25 per cent card signing to 50 per cent cards signing. They also eliminated previous restrictions on employer communications with workers during organizing campaigns. Both the lower court and the appeal court took the position that as long as the government stopped short of making joining a union impossible through "substantial impairment," the Charter allows the government to make union organizing as difficult as it likes.
According to the courts, workers right to associate is not a right at all, but only a function of government policy. As the Appeal Court said in support of the lower court ruling:
"Some governments will see unionization in positive terms and will emphasize its benefits. As a result, they will be inclined to structure The Trade Union Act so as to make certification easy, at least in relative terms. In the eyes of the Constitution, that is an entirely legitimate course of action. Other governments might take a less enthusiastic view of unionization, choose to stress the rights of employees as individuals and believe that, in order to maintain economic competitiveness, the hurdle for certification should be relatively high. In the eyes of the Constitution, that too is an entirely legitimate course of action. Thus, to repeat, the fact that the TUA Amendment Act has made it somewhat more difficult to obtain certification does not, in and of itself, mean that s. 2(d) of the Charter has been breached. As indicated, the real question is whether the changes in issue substantially impair the exercise of the s. 2(d) associational right."
The Appeal Court sharply rebuked the lower court for overturning the Wall government's law stripping public sector workers of their right to strike. Part of the rebuke was on a legal technicality of precedent and jurisdiction which the appeal court judges said the lower court had not respected. It said that although recent Supreme Court rulings have undermined its earlier position, a 1987 Supreme Court decision that workers right to strike is not protected by the Charter still stands. The lower court was also rebuked for its reasoning.
The Court of Queen's Bench had agreed with the union side which had said that a right declared in the Charter must have an effect on people's lives in the real world or it was a meaningless declaration. The unions argued that for freedom of association to mean anything to working people it must include the right of employees to bargain collectively with their employer through that representative; the right of employees to speak with one voice through a recognized bargaining representative and the right of employees to strike. But the Appeal Court said no to this approach.
The appeal judges quoted from the Fraser decision in which the Supreme Court said the phony form of collective bargaining the Ontario government set up for farm workers was good enough. The Charter, the decision said, only protects "associational activity" and not "a particular process or result." In other words, empty pro forma protection is all the Charter provides for workers' rights.
One final rebuke of the appeal judges on the Court of Queen's Bench decision was for its excessive reliance on international law. The Wall government labour legislation was reviewed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and condemned by the ILO as a violation of UN conventions on labour rights which Canada is signatory to. The appeal judges dismissed violation of these conventions as a serious consideration by Canadian courts.
It is expected that the Supreme Court will hear the
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour constitutional challenge in its
spring sessions next year. By the time a decision is rendered, the
court challenge will have been dragged out for almost 7 years.
Throughout this period the Wall government has been implementing
its anti-worker anti-union legislation and cooking up more, such as its
proposals for Saskatchewan version of "right to work" slave labour laws.
1. The Fraser decision ruled as
constitutional the Ontario Agricultural
Employees’ Protection Act which stated that farm workers had
the right to form or join an employee association, the right to
assemble, and to "make representation to their employers, through an
employees association" but did not require their employers to
bargain a collective agreement with them.
Vigorous Demonstration in Support of
Bangladeshi workers hold militant action in Dhaka, April 26, 2013, to denounce the deaths of garment workers in the
recent factory collapse and the brutal exploitation of workers by local employers and foreign monopolies.
At the time of the mass deaths in Savar, the global monopolies also pledged to compensate the families of the workers killed on the job and those injured in the Rana building collapse and also at the Tarzeen factory fire. This also turned out to be empty public relations spin. There are 3,300 victims and families still waiting for compensation from the Rana collapse and thousands of more injured workers and grieving families from the Tarzeen fire and other recent disasters left with no means of survival.
A conference was organized by international trade union organizations under the auspices of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) in September with the aim of ensuring that the international retailers producing garments in Bangladesh took responsibility for compensating victims of workplace tragedies. But the aggressive monopolies exploiting the low wages and lax worker safety regime in Bangladesh refused to step up and take responsibility, despite their previous pledges to do so.
A system of compensation had been worked out for creating a compensation fund of $75 million for those killed in injured in the Savar collapse and $6 million for victims of the Tarzeen fire, with the global retailers putting up 45 per cent of the funding. This would have provided about $33,000 for survivors who had lost a family member in the Rana and Tarzeen incidents.
Of the 28 global retailers who were requested to attend, only nine sent representatives. The boycott of the conference was led by U.S. based Wal-Mart, the dominant global retail monopoly and joined by several other of the largest retails, including Benetton and other European-based companies. These companies arrogantly proclaimed that the activities of their sub-contractors are none of their business. Of the nine who did attend, only one made a commitment and that was only for three months of emergency relief. The monopolies all agree to vague and flexible arrangements for "improving safety" but refuse to take responsibility when harm is done to workers producing their wealth. Their main excuse is that contributing compensation funds might make set a precedent of liability for worker safety throughout their supply chains. In the conditions of a globalized production and distribution system totally under the control of a few dominant monopolies, this is a ridiculous and unacceptable excuse.
The dangerous workplaces in Bangladesh and other countries exist in part because they enable the international moneybags to escape one of their most pressing problems, the trend of the falling rate of return on capital. Garment production is organized as labour intensive production in low wage countries and by organizing production in overcrowded, substandard buildings with poorly maintained equipment fixed capital costs are also kept very low. Each garment produced under these conditions has a very small amount of value transferred into it from the fixed capital of the buildings compared to production carried out in a proper, dignified and safe workplace. Monopoly pricing by the global retail chains enables them to reap benefit by monetizing goods produced using not only low priced labour but also utilizing cheap fixed capital.
Some of the most exuberant public relations spin about workplace deaths in Bangladesh has come from representatives of a global food and retailing empire based in Canada, the George Weston Group (Loblaws). Weston was identified as one of the employers of workers killed in the Rana building collapse and has been on a public relations campaign to save its brand image since then. It is the Weston Group that made the commitment of three months of emergency relief at the Geneva conference and following the conference issued statements complaining that other retailers weren't doing enough. Yet, a few days after the conference ended, more workers died in a Bangladeshi factory connected to the Weston Group.
This has been the pattern of the Weston moneybags for many years, in Canada and abroad, and it will not pass. Weston ruthlessly exploits labour and steals resources around the world and combines this with a sprinkling around of philanthropic crumbs to create "good will" for its low-priced monopoly brands. Safe workplaces and just compensation for workplace harm is a basic human right and a non-negotiable claim of workers on the wealth they create. These rights cannot be treated as a whim of marketing strategy in the Weston style.
The failure of the ILO-led compensation conference and the continuing mass deaths and disasters in Bangladeshi workplaces show that the global monopolies and their accomplices among the elite of Bangladesh cannot be relied on to stop their criminal violation of the human dignity of workers and are not really interested in doing so. The government of Canada and other countries where the international operators retail their goods must ensure that these goods are produced in safe workplaces and that just workers' compensation systems are in place.
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