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February 15, 2013 - No. 19

All Out to Rescind Anti-Social Changes to Employment Insurance

More Rallies in Quebec

February 23 Day of Action Against
Anti-Social Changes to Employment Insurance


Demonstrations against Employment Insurance changes in La Malbaie and Mont-Joli, Quebec, February 4, 2013

CALENDAR OF EVENTS



All Out to Rescind Anti-Social Changes to Employment Insurance
More Rallies in Quebec

Opposition to Quebec Government's Anti-Social Offensive
Government Scientists and Researchers Strongly Oppose Cuts

Health Care Is a Right!
Capital-Centred View of Private-for-Profit Health Care Delivery to Pay the Rich

Latin America
Elections in Ecuador
Progress in Colombian Peace Talks


All Out to Rescind Anti-Social Changes to Employment Insurance

More Rallies in Quebec


Montreal

Nearly 300 people held a militant rally February 12 in front of the Guy-Favreau Complex in downtown Montreal to denounce the Harper government’s recent changes to Employment Insurance (EI), which they say are destroying EI. Most at the rally were workers, including striking workers from the MAPEI plant in Laval which produces chemical products for the construction industry and locked out workers from the Maritime Hotel in Montreal, members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) and the Quebec Federation of Labour (QFL), lecturers from the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) and several groups fighting for the rights of unemployed workers. The Guy-Favreau Complex houses the Service Canada Centre and the Quebec regional Employment Insurance offices.

Slogans, banners and statements declared that the changes have nothing to do with reforming EI, and everything to do with an unprecedented attack on the most vulnerable.

The Harper government’s ideological offensive against unemployed workers, contrary to what is conveyed in the monopoly media, will impact all workers, not just in the regions, but in Montreal and other major cities as well. According to Montreal’s Department of Economic and Urban Development, 48 per cent of Montreal residents of working age work part-time -- 52 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men do not work full-time. Conditions of employment in several sectors are deteriorating and full-time work is no longer the norm.

"Precarious employment status remains largely the preserve of women, youth and immigrants," said the treasurer of the Central Council of Metropolitan Montreal CSN, Manon Perron, who denounced the social impacts of the Conservative attacks. "Several of Montreal’s employment sectors are particularly affected by this reform. Seasonal industries such as tourism or hospitality immediately come to mind, but tens of thousands who work in school transportation, construction or who teach will also be hurt, not to mention job placement agencies, which will also be strongly affected. The obligation to accept a lower paying job will inevitably bring all wages down. There is nothing but bad news for the workers here," she said.

The vice-president of the CSN, Jean Lacharité said: "The federal government is torpedoing the EI program by refusing any form of consultation. Worse, it is going ahead despite opposition from the unions, advocacy groups for the unemployed, federal political parties in Quebec, all the members of the National Assembly, municipalities, the socio-economic development agencies and by many employers and representatives of the business community, in a rare unanimity of Quebec civil society. And don't forget, the government has not put a penny in the fund since 1990; it is funded solely by contributions from workers and employers. This contempt must stop."

The coordinator for the Autonomous Movement in Solidarity with the Unemployed (MASS), Marie-Hélène Arruda, said that the Conservative government is disconnected from the reality of ordinary workers. "When the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley encourages lecturers to change careers if they cannot teach full-time, she is denying the reality of the sector. It is the same for all precarious jobs. Who will drive the school bus? Who will work in hotels during the summer? Who will work the tourist season? Nobody, because everyone will be working for a pittance at a fast food restaurant irrespective of their qualifications or experience. This is a net loss for Quebec’s economic competitiveness. Is this the social project of the Conservative Party?"

Rallies in Sherbrooke, Victoriaville, Lévis, Dolbeau-Mistassini, the city of Saguenay, Shawinigan and Joliette were among the many held in Quebec.

All these gatherings highlighted the determination of the workers and their allies to defeat the Harper government’s EI reforms. Everyone is called on to participate in the national action on February 23.


Victoriaville


Dolbeau-Mistassini


Dolbeau-Mistassini (left); Shawinigan


Saguenay


Levis (left); Tracadie-Sheila, NB

(Translated from original French by TML.)

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Opposition to Quebec Government's Anti-Social Offensive

Government Scientists and Researchers
Strongly Oppose Cuts

Researchers at several Quebec research institutions are taking action to oppose the Marois government's cuts to their budgets announced December 6, which will negatively effect their work and consequently the well-being of Quebeckers. In a statement December 7, the government announced its expenditure estimates for government departments and agencies for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It stated, "Along with many other Quebec government departments and agencies, the Quebec Research Fund is being called upon to contribute to the government's effort to achieve the goal of a balanced budget." The statement continued:

"According to the budget of expenditures tabled by the President of the Treasury Board, the budget for the Quebec Research Fund -- Nature and Technology (FRQNT) will be cut from $50.1 million in 2012-2013 to $35.2 million in 2013-2014, a reduction of 30%. The Quebec Research Fund -- Health (FRQS) will be cut from $79.8 million in 2012-2013 to $69.8 million in 2013-2014, a reduction of 13%. For the Quebec Research Fund -- Society and Culture (FRQSC), the annual budget will be cut from $49.1 million in 2012-2013 to $42.8 million in 2013-2014, a reduction of 13%. The total budget cuts amount to $31 million for [2013], representing a reduction of $14.8 million for the FRQNT, $10 million for the FRQS and $6.2 million for the FRQSC."

Since the announcement on December 6, hundreds of scientists and researchers from the FRQNT have denounced the cuts. More than 10,400 people have signed a petition addressed to Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology Pierre Duchesne demanding that he maintain the full integrity of the budget and review the government's decision. The researchers have also posted a satirical video in which they collect empty bottles, wash windshields and hold car-washes to fund their work.

On January 30, managers, researchers and students from 18 research centres at health facilities in Quebec began a campaign to demand the immediate cancellation of the $10 million in cuts to the FRQS related to the ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology.

The Laval University Students' Union and the Laval Graduate Students' Association added their voices to those denouncing the Marois government's decision. They point out that this decision sets a negative tone for the Education Summit scheduled February 25-26 on the issue of higher education in Quebec, and in particular the funding of universities.

To support the campaign, several health research centres have posted on their websites the testimonies of researchers, students and patients about the importance of the research and their opposition to the cuts.

Doctors and scientists have criticized the cuts. "Our 2012 budget is less than in 2002. There has not been an increase since 2002 and now it have been cut even further," said the director of the Research Centre at the University Hospital Centre of Quebec City (CHUQ), Dr. Serge Rivest. Approximately 3,500 people work at the Research Centre of the CHUQ, said Rivest. This figure includes 1,500 students and 500 researchers.

"These sudden cuts have amputated health research in Quebec in a radical and definitive way, and undermined the hopes of thousands of patients who require advanced health care and experimental treatments," said Dr. Jacques Turgeon, Director of the Research Centre at the University Hospital Centre of Montreal (CHUM).

"The cuts affect student scholarships at the Masters and PhD levels," said Cyril Schneider, professor and researcher in clinical neuroscience. "They are full-time researchers, so that’s a loss of wages. For researchers with grants, salaries for technicians and research professionals have to be paid. Some teams scrape the bottom of the barrel to pay them. These professionals will lose their jobs. Laboratories may be less well run."

Louis Bernatchez of Laval University, winner of the 2012 Marie-Victorin award for science, said FRQNT grants finance the operation of research teams and the training of graduate students, as well as the scholarship programs available to masters and PhD students. Graduate students or young Quebec scientists will likely be the main victims of these cuts, he said.

The scientists and researchers denounce the government's double-speak as Premier Pauline Marois' says her government is committed to scientific research but imposes cuts that will undermine it. The government claims that the cuts will not affect services to the population. Whether in education, health care or social programs, Quebeckers from all walks of life are very aware that years of cuts "that do not affect services to the people" have gradually destroyed the social fabric and the existing arrangements, with real and often disastrous consequences.

Government Cuts to Research Followed by Pay-the-Rich Schemes

Meanwhile, the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology announced on January 29 a government grant of $2,560,000 over two years to the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Medical Technologies of Quebec (MEDTEQ). This amount is the maximum permitted, it is reported. Established in 2012, the Consortium's mission is to accelerate the development of the medical technology industry by facilitating collaboration between companies and public research institutions.

The Minister has also announced a national conference in April that will be used in the development of future policy on research and innovation, which will be launched later this spring. What direction will research take?

In the context of pay-the-rich schemes with money taken out of social programs, what this research money will be used for is suspect. The people of Quebec will remain mobilized against the anti-social offensive.

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Health Care Is a Right! 

Capital-Centred View of Private-for-Profit
Health Care Delivery to Pay the Rich

Delivery of health care adds value to people and society. How this should be done in the most efficient manner to serve all people without prejudice and without value being drained out of the health services system to pay-the-rich is a pertinent question. Most Canadians believe public not-for-profit health care delivery accessible to all without user fees is the necessary and best way to guarantee the people's right to health care. This belief arises in part from the negative experience of an early Canada without public health care delivery. Many chronic diseases ran rampant through the country causing havoc and misery for the people and their communities, especially as Canada became more urbanized and diseases more easily transferable. Something had to be done to protect the common good. A uniform national form of public health care delivery was established called Medicare.

Many in the ruling elite have never been comfortable with public health care delivery and even less so with its extension to the production and delivery of pharmaceuticals and hospital supplies. This reluctance is born out of class bias and their sense and expectation of privilege; it has nothing to do with efficiency, productivity, combating illness, treating injuries or anything else related to meeting the people's need for modern health care. The class bias arises from their position as privileged owners of capital and the narrow belief that every pore of the economy must be available to them to make private profit in one way or another. Within this world view, if economic activity does not generate private profit to pay the rich then such activity, no matter how laudable it may be, is of no use.

Even worse, this outlook contends any activity that does not generate private profit to pay the rich is more damaging than any social good it may produce because it deprives owners of capital of already produced value. This restricts owners of capital from using potential capital for projects that may generate additional private profit. Their capital-centred worldview is in constant battle with a human-centred one. The human-centred worldview keeps persisting against the capital-centred worldview because the well-being and security of the people and future of society depend on its success. Also, the human-centred view is in harmony with the objective modern conditions and represents the progressive trend of history. It constantly strains to bring the subjective conditions and authority controlling society into harmony with the objective socialized conditions.

The capital-centred worldview senses that its existence is in contradiction with the objective socialized economy. It knows this not in any theoretical way based on science but in a pragmatic reactionary way forcing it constantly to defend its privileged private interests in the face of an objective world that is not in harmony with its outmoded view.

An example of this incoherent action to perpetuate the capital-centred view is found in the constant pressure to privatize the delivery of health care. The mass media play an important role in this retrogressive pressure as they push the public will and opinion to give up adherence to a human-centred outlook demanding public not-for-profit health care delivery accessible to all without user fees.

Patient Transfers

Emergency and non emergency patient transfers are necessary features of health care delivery. The capital-centred view wants to seize control of patient transfers to generate private profit to pay the rich. Owners of British capital have apparently undermined public delivery of patient transfers in the UK and decided to expand their business into Canada. They recently established a private enterprise called SN Transport Ltd, built a large facility in Abbotsford, BC and purchased 50 vehicles including vans and full service ambulances. Using political contacts within the provincial government, they acquired service contracts with Lower Mainland Health Authorities, WorkSafe BC, ICBC and others to transfer "medically stable clients whose condition requires professional assistance and care -- but does not require transport by Ambulance." The agency in question pays a contracted fee for each patient transfer. The individual patient must also pay a $50 user fee.

As this private for profit delivery of health care to pay the rich goes against the trend of history, the mass media are doing everything in their power to make sure no pro-social opposition develops. They are running farfetched stories of oodles of money the public agencies are saving by using private for-profit patient transport. The "savings" are apparently calculated based on the difference between the value provided by a full service public ambulance with a crew of highly trained paramedics versus a non-emergency transport vehicle staffed with lesser trained and lower paid personnel. The mass media also said the reliability of the private for-profit service is better because a full service ambulance can be called to an emergency at any time leaving a scheduled patient transfer for a later time. The mass media left unsaid the private profit extracted from the value provided by the service to pay the rich nor did they mention that a public ambulance system could easily organize a non-emergency program of patient transfers using less expensive vehicles and equipment and lower trained personnel. This already exists in many regions of BC through HandyDART, which is an accessible public transit service using vans or small buses to transport disabled or elderly passengers directly from their homes to travel destinations. This system could easily be expanded throughout BC to include bedridden patient transfers needing more specialized vehicles, equipment and trained personnel. That would strengthen public not-for-profit health care delivery available to all without prejudice or user fees and the progressive trend of history.

The working class must take up the challenge to refute the anti-social capital-centred view on all issues, including health care delivery, and counter with a pro-social human-centred outlook. Groups of Writers and Disseminators in workplaces, educational institutions and neighbourhoods need to be organized to discuss and publicize the human-centred view on all problems and concerns facing the people and their socialized economy.

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Latin America

Elections in Ecuador

On February 17, general elections will be held in Ecuador to elect the president and the 135 members of the country's National Assembly. On this occasion, the 11,666,000 electors across 24 provinces will choose from among eight presidential candidates. The candidates represent: Aliance Movimiento PAIS (outgoing President Rafael Correa's party), Partido Creando Oportunidades, Partido Sociedad Patriótica, the Coordinadora Plurinacional of Izquierdas, Partido Acción Nacional Renovador, Mouvimiento Sociedad Más Acción Unida, Partido Movimiento Ruptura and Roldosista Ecuatoriano.

Since the start of the election campaign, President Rafael Correa has stressed the necessity to win the presidency and the parliamentary majority in order to ensure the development of the citizen revolution. Speaking of advances made since the start of this revolution that was initiated with his election as president in 2006, Correa said that "for years several bills favouring the development of the common good of the Ecuadorian people have been blocked by the opposition. This opposition is not democratic but a conspiracy that is an obstacle and uses blackmail." Correa said that the most important thing is to pursue the revolution and quoted Ecuador's historical hero, Eloy Alfaro, "We seek nothing for ourselves but to transform the unjust structures of the country, political power is necessary." For this reason the President is calling for the Ecuadorian people to make the saying Patria Para Siempre (Homeland Forever) a reality by unanimously voting for number 35 on the ballot, the Movimiento Alianza PAIS party.

According to the latest polls published by Opinión Pública Ecuador February 11, outgoing president Rafael Correa will win the presidency in the first round of voting which means he must get more than 50 per cent of the vote. In the poll, Guillermo Lasso of the Partido Creando Oportunidades came in second but trailed far behind.

A Union of South American Nations delegation is on site to supervise the Ecuadorian electoral process. In addition, some 35,000 military personnel have been deployed across the country to ensure security for the people and the polls and ensure the elections are properly conducted on February 17.

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Progress in Colombian Peace Talks

The latest session of ongoing peace talks in Havana, Cuba between representatives of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- People's Army (FARC-EP) was completed on February 10, ending the first three months of peace talks.

Representatives of both parties highlighted the advances made in these first three months of talks at a press conference, and each side expressed satisfaction with the progress of the negotiations. The head of the government delegation, Humberto de la Calle, said there is a reconciliation of views on the formalization of land ownership and that this will continue during the resumed session on February 18. For his part, the leader of the delegation of the FARC-EP, Luciano Marin Arango, confirmed some advances have been made.

The development of a comprehensive land policy for the ownership of land is the first of five points of discussion at the negotiating table. Its regulation, in the eyes of the FARC-EP, is a focal point for the establishment of peace in Colombia. Other points are: an end to the armed conflict, the treatment of victims and the verification process, reintegration and the trafficking of narcotics.

Official data from the Colombian government show 77 per cent of the land is controlled by 13 per cent of land owners, 3.6 per cent of whom hold 30 per cent of the total land area.

Another breakthrough achieved with the last round of talks is the release of three hostages by the FARC-EP, demonstrating their willingness to contribute to a cease-fire and to smooth bilateral peace talks. On February 12, former Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba, now spokesman for the group Colombians for Peace, said during an interview on Telesur: "With great joy, I inform you that the coordinates [where the hostages will be released] have come through. I have sent them to the Deputy Minister of Defence. We are ready to begin releases." It is expected that two policemen and a soldier will be free within 72 hours after transmission of the coordinates.

Although both parties are satisfied with the progress of the talks, thorny issues, such as that of victims of the conflict remain. On the one hand, the government party continues to treat the issue of the victims from the perspective that they are the consequences of terrorist acts committed by the FARC-EP. De la Calle said "there will be no peace agreement without the guerrilla facing its victims. In time, we will implement the systems and mechanisms to make that happen." Meanwhile Márquez, representing FARC-EP, responded that "they are thousands, the victims of the conflict, and if the government takes the issue of victims very seriously, it should render accounts to society for the historical rosary of crimes of state terrorism. There is no doubt that the state is fundamentally responsible for these crimes."

Talks will resume on February 18 with the continuation of negotiations on agricultural policy. Many politicians in Colombia, including the Polo Democrático Alternativo, strongly criticize the Santos government using the talks to be re-elected in the general elections of 2014.

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