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April 30, 2014 - No. 50

Build the Independent Politics of the Working Class!

Call to Alberta Workers:
"All Out for May First -- International Day of Working Class Solidarity!"


Defend the Rights of Workers! Defend the Rights of All!
  Thursday, May 1 -- 5:30 pm
Gather at the Legislature grounds, march down Jasper Ave.
Rally at Grant Notley Park at workers' memorial,
116 Street and 100 Ave.
Light dinner to follow, Oliver Community League, 10326 - 118 St. Donation requested.
For information: office@edlc.ca or 780-474-4747

Picket and Rally
Thursday, May 1 -- 5:00 pm
Gather at Memorial Park, corner of 4 St. and 12 Ave. SW
Potluck and get together follows, Central Memorial Park Library, 1221- 2 St. SW,
Downstairs Meeting Room
For information: Peggy Askin, 403 283 7054; Grant Neufeld, activist@activist.ca; maydaycalgary@gmail.com

For May Day actions cross Canada:

Build the Independent Politics of the Working Class!
Call to Alberta Workers: "All Out for May First -- International Day of Working Class Solidarity!"
Resistance Continues as Workers Defend Their Right to Security in Retirement
In the Alberta Legislature

Abolish Worker Trafficking in All Its Forms! Jason Kenney Has Got to Go!
End the Temporary Foreign Workers Program Now! - Peggy Askin
Research by Alberta Federation of Labour Shows Temporary Foreign Workers Program Intended to Drive Down Wages

Stop the Privatization of Public Services and Social Programs!
No to Plans to Privatize Hospital Labs!
Keep Edmonton Hospital Labs Public! - Peggy Morton

Build the Independent Politics of the Working Class!

Call to Alberta Workers:
"All Out for May First -- International Day of
Working Class Solidarity"

Workers in Alberta are organizing to celebrate May First -- International Day of Working Class Solidarity. Actions are being organized in both Edmonton and Calgary.

May First is a day for the working class internationally to affirm its independent political demands and fight for its rights, the rights of all and the people's empowerment. Here at home, the Battle for Alberta is on!

Workers and their allies refused to be silenced and intimidated by the anti-worker, anti-social measures of the federal and provincial governments. They have responded with actions and words saying Canadians will never stand for the use of force and violence by the state in place of peaceful negotiations to solve problems. These nation-wreckers in government must be deprived of their power to deprive the people of their rights!

All out to make May Day a time to step up the organized resistance! The Alberta government must be forced to withdraw its anti-worker Bills 45 and 46 and stop its attacks on public and private sector pensions, stop blocking the expansion of the Canada Pension Plan and abandon its illegitimate austerity agenda.

May Day is also an occasion to highlight the fight against Harper's low wage agenda, and the growing momentum to put an end to worker trafficking and boot the worker trafficking Harper/Kenney dictatorship out of office. The pending Ft. McMurray-Athabasca by-election will be an opportunity for workers to send a message to Harper as to what they think of his low wage agenda and abuse of vulnerable workers. Whenever the by-election is called, workers should discuss what course of action will best serve to affirm their demands, rights and political empowerment within the circumstances, despite the blocks imposed by the cartel-party system.

The working class of Alberta is a modern social force very capable of representing itself politically with its own thinking and outlook determined to bring into being a new direction in economic and political affairs. The time is now to build the organizations capable of analyzing the situation so as to overcome the subjective and objective blocks to empowerment and bring the workers' strength of numbers to bear to change the situation. The times are calling on workers to organize for the new on every front. The times are calling for the people's empowerment!

All Out for May Day!

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Alberta Workers Continue Defence of Their Right to Security in Retirement

Rally at Misericordia Hospital to Defend Pensions, Edmonton, April 22, 2014.

Resistance to the Alberta government's assault on public sector pensions continued during the week of April 22. Workers at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton organized a lively noon-hour picket on April 22 to send a message to the government: Hands Off Our Pensions! Workers expressed their determination to defend the right of all to pensions.

The picket was hosted by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2111. They were joined by members of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and Unifor. Others joining the picket were Canadian Labour Congress Secretary-Treasurer Hassan Yussuf; Edmonton and District Labour Council President Bruce Fafard and representatives of member unions; members of the Seniors Action Liaison Team; retired workers and NDP MLA David Eggen.

The action was organized to maximize the participation of health care workers, who take a half-hour lunch in shifts between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Lunch was provided on the line with a steady stream of workers coming in as others returned to work. More than 150 workers came out for the April 22 picket, militantly holding high union flags and picket signs and shouting slogans. Picketers got a great reception from passing motorists with many honking their horns to show support. Short speeches took place at noon. Lots of discussion took place on the line concerning the legislation the Alberta PC government has introduced and what steps to take to intensify the resistance. Workers made plans to take part in the May Day rally and march, where they will raise also the demand to Defend the Pensions We Have -- Fight for Pensions for All!

On April 23, public sector workers joined union leaders in the Legislature galleries as Bills 9 and 10 that attack public sector pensions were debated. The Legislature is presently adjourned for constituency week. The Labour Coalition on Pensions and various unions are once again calling on everyone to use this week to call, visit or write their MLAs to demand that they not support the bills. MLAs report an unprecedented number of people have already called them on this basis. Information about the campaign to oppose Bills 9 and 10 can be found at www.truthaboutalbertapensions.ca.

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In the Alberta Legislature

Debate continued in the Legislature on Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, 2014 and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014 during a three-day sitting April 22-24. Bill 9 failed to pass second reading as the opposition parties spoke against it, with debate going long into the night. Rachel Notley, NDP MLA for Edmonton Strathcona presented the first of many amendments expected on the bill. The amendment called for the bill not to be given second reading and instead be sent back to committee so that consultation with the unions could take place.

Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour; Guy Smith, President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees; Heather Smith, President of the United Nurses of Alberta; and Marle Roberts, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees-Alberta Division gave a joint press conference on April 23 in the Legislature lobby. They called on the government to withdraw Bill 9 and stop its attack on public sector pensions. Once again the unions exposed the failure of the government to provide any evidence to back up its claim that forcing workers to work longer for reduced pension benefits will stabilize the plans. They strongly opposed the PCs' move to strengthen executive dictate over the plans. The union leaders were then joined by public sector workers and their allies in the galleries to make their opposition known.

Alberta New Democrat leader Brian Mason released a statement saying, "I am very proud of the work that NDP MLAs and other opposition members have done to delay this unfair pension legislation. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build pressure on this government to withdraw this bill.

"This bill attacks the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Albertans. We encourage government MLAs to join the opposition to force the government to withdraw this bill completely. The NDP opposition will continue to stand up for the retirement security of Albertans, and we will continue to work with others to prevent this bill from being passed."

Wildrose MLAs were all over the map in explaining their positions on Bill 9. Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith opposed the bill as another use of arbitrary executive powers suggesting that attacking pensions by extracting some sort of agreement would be better. Another MLA said that the government should "lead by example," eliminate "waste" in government and reduce its own salaries and pensions. This, he said would put the government in a better position to negotiate pension cuts. Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson recanted his previous pension rants when he claimed defined benefit pensions were responsible for economic crises and all the ills of the world and said he had experienced an epiphany, realizing that stripping the next generation of workers of defined benefit pensions may not be the way to go.

Bill 10, which allows retroactive conversion of defined benefit pensions to a type of savings plan called target pensions, passed second reading April 22 with all the opposition parties voting against the bill. Target savings plans are now also the darling of the Harperites in their desperation to find something to oppose strengthening the Canada Pension Plan as a legitimate defined benefit plan for all Canadians.

MLAs return to the Legislature from their constituency week break during the week of May 5. Bills must pass second reading followed by debate in Committee of the Whole and a third reading. They must then receive Royal Assent and be proclaimed into law by the Cabinet.

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Abolish Worker Trafficking in All Its Forms! Jason Kenney Has Got to Go!

End the Temporary Foreign Workers Program Now!

Canadian and temporary foreign workers continue to come forward to expose the fast food giants, other mainly foreign monopolies as well as smaller Canadian companies for their assaults on workers' rights through the government's Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). Jason Kenney, the Harper government's Minister of Unemployment and Social Underdevelopment, has stepped in to feign concern and do damage control, ordering a temporary moratorium on the food services sector's access to the TFWP. The Harper government hopes to stem the growing demand to permanently shut down the TFWP as part of the overall demand to abolish worker trafficking completely.

Kenney's announcement came after workers across the country exposed how the food service monopolies and other employers were using the TFWP to violate workers' rights and increase job insecurity, poverty, and unemployment. Young workers in BC spoke publicly about receiving reduced hours or not being hired by fast food chains due to the widespread use of the TFWP to fill positions. Workers in Saskatchewan spoke of being fired after as many as 28 years on the job and replaced with workers trafficked through the TFWP.

Workers trafficked from Belize to work in Edmonton have spoken out about how McDonald's Canada treats them like slaves. McDonald's not only fails to deliver on the promises made to lure the workers to Alberta, but deducts almost half their take-home pay as rent, charging $600 a month more than the actual cost of the suite. Other similar exposures confirm this is a widespread practice of the large food service chains.

Minister Kenney is now trying to disinform Canadians that the problem with the TFWP is abuse by rogue employers not complying with the program's rules. This covers up that the government's aim for the TWFP from the get go is to ensure a cheap pool of labour for the monopolies and to undermine the working conditions and rights of all workers. Thus Kenney tries to portray himself as a saviour of mistreated workers in order to save the anti-social anti-human global trafficking of workers and Harper's low wage agenda. He pontificated on April 24, saying, "Abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will not be tolerated."

However, any headway Kenney had hoped to make was quickly dashed by the leak of an exchange McDonald's Canada CEO John Betts had with franchise operators. Betts' big concern is the negative publicity and possible loss of profits from not being able to use trafficked workers and keep wages low in the food services sector. He puts his faith in the ability of Minister Kenney to ride out the storm and save the TFWP for McDonald's and others. Betts says, "This has been an attack on our brand. This has been an attack on our system. This is an attack on our people. It's bullshit OK! I used those words when I described my conversation with the minister last week. He gets it." Lavishing praise on Kenney, Betts says he is "incredibly impressed" with the Minister, adding, "He really knows his stuff. And I'll say he knows his stuff from a business person's perspective."

Betts became animated during the conversation, showing his contempt for workers' rights and making light of his company's abuse of workers saying, "The fact of the matter is we are a big bad company, corporate, you know, bad company, and these poor maligned employees are who they are. Yes, they are disenfranchised. Some of them don't work for us anymore. But in the scheme of things, it doesn't matter."

Canadian and temporary foreign workers alike know that abuse of rights is an integral part of the normal operations of the TWFP and that the Harper government's worker trafficking operation is integral to its low wage agenda.

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan stated that the situation has "only gotten worse since Jason Kenney took over Employment and Social Development Canada.... Ultimately, he's the one responsible for these permits. If ministerial responsibility means anything, Jason Kenney has to resign."

By speaking out against the Harper government and its TWFP, Canadian workers and temporary foreign workers alike are taking a stand for the rights of all. The program must be shut down at once with all temporary foreign workers given permanent residence status.

The Harper dictatorship must not be allowed to use a phony audit to declare that it has eliminated the bad apples and now it is business as usual. Worker trafficking must be ended once and for all as a relic of medievalism similar to the evils of the slave trade. The TFWP must be abolished and replaced with a modern immigration policy that serves nation-building and the public interest, that upholds the rights of all.

Shut Down the Temporary Foreign Workers Program!

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Research by Alberta Federation of Labour Shows Temporary Foreign Workers Program
Intended to Drive Down Wages

Research conducted by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) confirms that Employment and Social Development Canada routinely issues Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) to employers allowing them to bring in temporary foreign workers at less than the prevailing regional wage rate as established by Service Canada. Data released by the AFL on April 25 show that 224 unlawful permits were issued in Alberta in 2012-2013 by Minister Kenney's department, each of which allows many temporary foreign workers to be hired.

"In 2012-13, unlawful permits were found for hotels, gas stations, truck stops, casinos, ski lift operations, convenience stores, greenhouses, industrial farming operations, feedlots, nurseries and various occupations in restaurants," the AFL states. Other AFL research reveals that in 2012, 239 LMOs were issued to hire workers at minimum wage. This included 140 food services establishments, including both large monopoly-controlled chains as well as smaller establishments, 75 employers in the agricultural sector, including greenhouses, nurseries, sod and tree farms and 24 hotels.

A 2011 report by the Alberta government revealed that according to the government's own records, close to 75 per cent of all employers hiring temporary foreign workers in the province violated labour laws. The most common illegal practice was failure to pay premiums for working on statutory holidays and overtime. After three years, not one Alberta employer has been put on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) blacklist announced that same year.

The AFL research corroborates the fact that corporations use the TFWP to drive down wages and benefits, and exploit foreign workers with lower wages, less benefits and denial of rights. Not only are temporary foreign workers hired at lower than prevailing rates and illegally denied wages required under labour standards, but the prevailing wage rates are pushed down by the use of temporary foreign workers. If employers could not access this program, they would be forced to offer higher wages to attract workers. Thus the real impact of this low wage agenda is much greater than what is revealed by comparing the wages offered to temporary foreign workers and the prevailing regional wage.

This underscores how the owners of capital impose their private interests through their domination of state institutions. It shows that the Harper, Alberta and other governments on behalf of the monopolies are the biggest human traffickers of workers. Their aim is to expand the labour market globally to drive down wages, benefits and working conditions, and weaken the defence organizations of the Canadian working class. It must not pass! Abolish the Temporary Foreign Workers Program!

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Stop the Privatization of Public Services and Social Programs!

No to Plans to Privatize Hospital Labs! 

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a new privatized superlab in Edmonton. This is an offer the global monopolies cannot refuse because profits of medical laboratories are guaranteed by government funding. The RFP specifies that the successful bidder will finance both the land and the building of the superlab. The public treasury will repay the winning bidder with interest in addition to the direct profit from operating the enterprise. If the 15-year contract is not renewed, the company is guaranteed that the land and equipment will be bought back.

The RFP guarantees profits called a "fair and reasonable return" yet actually suggests 8 per cent as a proposed minimum return on investment with potential for much more. This is far higher than today's returns on investments that carry no risk. A number of mechanisms are added into the proposal that allow the bidder to increase profits even further.

Profits in excess of 8 per cent, at least on paper, would be shared 50/50 with AHS. In reality, global monopolies are past masters at shifting profits to the parent company from their Alberta entities so as to retain this added-value as private profit. Also, within six months of entering the contract, the winning bidder can petition AHS to revise the deal.

The reality of these pay-the-rich schemes reveals an economic system in crisis and in need of a new direction. The private monopolies refuse to risk their capital without the state guaranteeing the success of the investment. Instead of the public benefitting from the public guarantee, private interests transfer value into their own pockets and often right out of the Alberta economy.

No public money should guarantee private investments under any circumstance. All forms of use of public funds for narrow private interests should be outlawed. In fact, the value generated within social programs and public services should stay within the public domain both to enhance the program or service or for investment in other public enterprise.

The RFP for a new Edmonton superlab should be stopped at once. The proposed lab should be part of the Alberta Health Services public delivery of health care and should be publicly financed, publicly constructed and publicly operated, staffed and managed. The value reproduced and produced in the public lab should remain in the public domain and not be stolen by narrow private interests.

(With files from Susan on the Soapbox at http://susanonthesoapbox.com)

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Keep Edmonton Hospital Labs Public!

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has announced that four global monopolies have submitted bids for the $3-billion contract for a new privatized superlab in Edmonton. Hospital labs are now under public control, but the out-of-hospital labs are owned and controlled by DynaLife, one of the four bidders for the superlab contract. DynaLife is a corporate entity of Borealis Investments and the Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp).

All hospital labs except the lab at the University of Alberta Hospital were privatized and handed over to Dynalife (then DKML) in 1997. The Capital Health Authority quietly reversed this disastrous decision and brought the hospital labs back under its control and ownership.

The out-of-hospital labs' contract with Dynalife is now set to expire, providing the opportunity to establish public control over the entire lab system, which serves Edmonton and the surrounding area. Instead of doing so, AHS is now deciding which global monopoly will take control of the superlab. AHS dismisses entirely the fact that it is handing over the profits and control of lab testing in Edmonton to a foreign monopoly and the harm this does to the health care system, the lab workers, and the local and Canadian economy.

"It was less about the nationality of the company and more about the scope and significance of the project," AHS spokeswoman Colleen Turner said April 25. AHS claims that it is engaged in what it calls a "fair and robust evaluation" of the bids, despite the fact that it refused to even consider keeping the labs public. AHS knows full well that the Request for Proposals as designed will result in handing over profits and control of all Edmonton health care lab facilities to a foreign monopoly. This shows once again that the public authority has been hijacked completely by private interests.

Just who will be seizing control of this valuable public asset and necessary feature of the public health care system? In 2008, LabCorp posted a gross income of $5.7 billion and declared profit of $2.257 billion. LabCorp was found to have billed U.S. Medicare $187 million for unnecessary blood tests and was caught making $49.5 million in false claims to California state medicare, as reported in the Alberta Hansard, October 30, 2013.

Also bidding on the contract are Mayo Medical Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare. Mayo and Quest are U.S.-based, while Sonic is headquartered in Australia.

Sonic Healthcare's rapid expansion shows the extent to which putting labs in private monopoly hands drains value away from the health care system, community and Canada and into the coffers of private monopolies. Sonic employs 26,000 people in eight countries. It does not presently operate in Canada. Sonic was a failing mining company when it purchased Douglass Laboratories Pty Ltd in 1987. Since the 1990s, when private interests began to gobble up the Australian health care system, Sonic has grown from a company whose shares were almost worthless to a corporation with annual revenue of close to $3.5 billion, net profits of $335 million and a 12.1 per cent return on equity. This wealth in private hands all comes from the value produced by lab workers, and seized by the owners of Sonic and unavailable for public use. Similar to the proposed deal in Edmonton, its profits are guaranteed by the state.

Quest operates in the U.S., Britain, Ireland, Mexico and India with an annual gross income of $7.4 billion in 2012. According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court in September 2013, Quest billed Medicaid as much as $10.42 for an automated complete blood count, the most common blood test routinely ordered, while it charged private corporate clients as little as $1.42 for the same test. In its statement of defence, Quest responded that there was nothing illegal in charging Medicaid and Medicare substantially higher rates than those charged to privately-owned monopolies.

This shows how important plunder of the public treasury and pay-the-rich schemes are to these monopolies. Faced with permanent crises and a falling rate of profit on invested capital, they are ever more desperate to seize control of public services and plunder the public treasury. As well, their contracts with governments and public authorities involving millions or billions of dollars are impervious to public scrutiny, on the grounds that they involve confidential private corporate information.

The examples from the U.S. show how these contracts to deliver public services are the most profitable aspect of the lab monopolies' business and allow them to seize even more value created by the lab workers and professionals. This value is claimed by the owners of the private monopoly and mostly lost to the community, the sector where it is produced and to the national economy when transferred abroad to the parent company. If lab services were all owned and delivered publicly, the value workers produce could be re-invested in health services. Such public investments in social programs and public services add immense value to the economy and act as an antidote to crises.

With privatization, not only is the value lost to the public interest, but as can be seen from the example of Quest Diagnostic Inc., the pay-the-rich schemes provide a higher rate of guaranteed profit through straight plunder of the state treasury. This further reduces the resources available for health care and other essential social programs.

When value is used to pay the rich, public enterprise is starved of the resources and control needed to sustain and develop itself. The people's struggle to control the basic sectors of the socialized economy is central to nation-building, which includes a dynamic and growing public sector that generates revenue for the public treasury. The battle against the privatization of lab services and other aspects of health care is integral to the fight for new arrangements and a new direction for the economy.

Lab services and diagnostic imaging are a fast growing feature of health care, as developments in science and technology make more accurate and earlier diagnosis possible with non-invasive or less invasive procedures. This has also transformed the landscape, with large U.S. and other monopolies exerting their domination and control of science and technology for their narrow private interests. The need for public ownership and control of all aspects of health services, integrated and working closely with well-funded public universities, is essential to a modern society and its humanization.

Keep Hospital Labs Public!

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