Two miners, Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were killed on June 8, 2011 while working underground at Vale's Stobie Mine. They were overcome by a run of 350 tons of muck that flooded into their work area. An investigation of the incident by United Steel Workers (USW) Local 6500 and the USW safety staff revealed that the accident was totally preventable if Vale had followed adequate safety procedures and if the Ministry of Labour had implemented a coroner's mine-safety recommendations made 15 years earlier.
The deaths in Vale's Stobie Mine were the last straw for miners and people in Northern Ontario. Since 2007, eleven people have died in Ontario mines -- two in Sudbury, one in Levack and six in Timmins. Miners and their organizations began demanding a full-scale commission of inquiry into mine safety. Thousands of people in the communities of Northern Ontario have signed a petition calling for such an inquiry but the Ontario government has stubbornly refused to commission one.
The last commission of inquiry into Ontario mine safety was the 1975 Ham Commission which resulted in the major changes to mining regulations contained in the 1978 revisions to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Although there have been changes to the regulations, as shown by the numerous mining deaths, incremental changes have not kept up with the huge changes in mining since the last inquiry 35 years ago. There have been major technological changes in this period and Vale and other global mining monopolies have adopted ever more aggressive practices. Miners and smelter workers are demanding a full inquiry to bring the regulation of mines and smelters up to date with the current reality.
On May 16, USW Local 6500 President Rick Bertrand and USW Ontario Director Marty Warren sent a request to Premier Wynne for a meeting to discuss mine safety and the need for an inquiry. Despite her posturing as being labour friendly, Wynne did not even respond to the urgent request until two months later. In her July 24 response, Wynne refused to meet with the leaders of these organizations representing 2,600 Sudbury miners and 74,000 other Ontario workers and referred them to the Ministry of Labour.
In a press release at the time, the Local 6500 President Bertrand said, "It's disgraceful that the Premier has no interest in discussing the pleas of the grieving families and co-workers of deceased miners, who know only too well that a mine safety inquiry in Ontario is long overdue,"
The Ministry of Labour let it be known that it rejected worker and community demands for a commission of inquiry and began pushing for a watered-down "review." In media statements Bertrand said the review the Ministry is pushing for is an unacceptable alternative to a full commission of inquiry and it is disgraceful for the government to try to placate miners and Northern communities with a "review."
On August 15, a meeting on mining safety was finally arranged between Minister of Labour Nasir Naqvi and representatives of Local 6500 and USW safety representatives. During this meeting, Naqvi stuck to the government's refusal to hold the commission demanded by the workers. He proposed instead a "review" of mine safety. Bertrand said the union would look at the proposal made by Naqvi but is continuing to demand a full commission of inquiry.
Workers and their organizations have every right to decide what restrictions need to be imposed on Vale and other global mining monopolies to ensure the lives and livelihoods of workers. The demands of the miners and smelter workers for a commission of inquiry to bring mining regulations up to date are totally just and have broad support in Northern Ontario and among all working people.
The Liberal government's position of rejecting workers' demand for a commission of inquiry has no legitimacy. It blocks working people from having a say on issues important to their lives and it serves the narrow interest of the global monopolies and the privileged elite aligned with them.
Ford Motor's Extortion Results in Big Payoff
Federal and Ontario governments expected to pay Ford up to $142 million
Let's discuss the social responsibility of the organized working class movement to set a new direction for the economy that removes it from this recurring cycle of productivity, economic crisis, working class concessions, public payoffs to private monopolies, jobless recovery, unemployment and on and on
The Federal and Ontario governments have announced they will pay the Ford Motor Company up to $142 million ($70.9 million from Ontario, $71.6 million from the federal government) to upgrade its Oakville assembly plant.
Earlier reports indicated that Ford had resorted to typical monopoly extortion, refusing to make any further investments in the plant without a substantial government payoff and concessions from autoworkers. The company implied its threat not to make the facility more flexible with a global platform system essentially meant shutting the plant down.
According to a September 19 government of Ontario press release, "The Oakville plant is being upgraded with global manufacturing processes, which will make production more efficient and allow the plant to quickly switch production of models, in response to changing consumer demand. Ford will bring several new models to the plant, positioning Oakville as one of its most competitive manufacturing facilities."
A global platform is a common structure for the base of a vehicle, onto which a range of models can be built, the news release informs. The release does not raise how having a universal global platform could also be used to shift production away from the Oakville plant on a moment's notice if workers do not submit to demands for concessions or governments do not agree to further extortion of payoffs from the public purse. The release also does not explain that these investments in means of production reduce the work-time required in the assembly of vehicles meaning fewer jobs per unit of production and downward pressure on the rate of return on investment. The downward pressure on rate of profit is a major reason why the Canadian economy needs a new direction to harmonize the relation between the socialized means of production and the current private ownership and control of those socialized forces of production. The present direction to maintain private ownership and control of socialized production using constant government payoffs and concessions from the working class is not rational or sustainable and simply leads to further crises.
The additional issue of importance is the principle involved in these pay-the-rich schemes or payoffs to certain private companies, which are touted to be in competition with other companies. Under what right or principle does the public authority use public funds to favour certain private interests over other private interests and importantly in contradiction with the public interest, which badly needs those public funds to serve the public good? The politicization of certain private interests is a corruption of public authority no matter how it is excused. This corruption depoliticizes the public interest in favour of certain private interests who have gained a stranglehold over the public authority.
"This partnership is part of the government's economic plan to create jobs and help people in their everyday lives by investing in people, building strong infrastructure and creating a dynamic and innovative business climate across Ontario," the Wynne Liberal government statement adds.
Both governments claim that their payoff to Ford plus the amount from the U.S. private company totals more than $700 million. The Ford monopoly has named it "Project Northern Star." The Federal portion is coming from the Automotive Innovation Fund (AIF), a "$250-million, five-year program that supports the development of Canada's auto sector." Ford is the first recipient of the renewed AIF, announced by the Prime Minister in January at the Oakville plant.
Speaking to the announcement, Federal Minister of Industry James Moore stated,
"Canada's auto sector is a world leader, employing hundreds of thousands of Canadians and contributing 12 percent of our total exports worldwide. Our government is committed to strengthening our economy while creating and keeping high-quality jobs here in Canada. This contribution will ensure that Ford's Oakville plant will be able to compete with any manufacturer at any plant in the world."
"The specific commitment is for Ford to expand this plant, to build it for a long time," Moore told reporters at the announcement.
For her part, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said, "We
are making smart investments
in innovative initiatives by companies
like Ford of Canada that will help reinforce Ontario's position as a
globally competitive manufacturing destination. This will help keep
good jobs in Ontario now and for generations to
come." [Emphasis added -- TML Ed.]
Wynne presented as "savings" for the government, the $1.8 billion in cuts to teachers and education workers wages and working conditions in Ontario, which in reality is disinvestment in public education. In sharp contrast, the Premier presents the extortion payoff to Ford, some of which comes from the disinvestment in public education, as an investment, saying to reporters, "This isn't a cost to the government, this is an investment in the future, advanced manufacturing is one of our strengths. It's what we need to keep our economy growing and cooking."
For Wynne, investments in social programs are costs to the government, for that is implied when disinvestment in social programs is said to result in savings. In speaking this way, Premier Wynne clearly regards investments in public education as costs to the government, and handouts to private companies as investments.
Trying to deflect the issue away from the blatant pay-the-rich nature of the government payoff to private interests, Wynne said Ford's investment shows Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's promise to make union membership optional and turn Ontario into a so-called right-to-work province with lower wages is off-base and a "race to the bottom."
"I believe we can as a strong Ontario create good jobs
for families and draw business here. We are competitive and we have
the talent and resources," she said.
Attracting private investment is the aim, according to both Wynne and Hudak. Wynne's apparent disagreement with Hudak is how this is done at this time. The Liberal way is to pay-the-rich to attract private investment; the Hudak way is to destroy the unions and negate workers' rights to attract private investment. Pick your poison, the working class is told.
Yet Wynne refuses to admit that destroying unions and negating workers' rights is also a Liberal option, as she and her government have shown with Bill 115 attacking the teachers' unions, and with anti-worker legislation tabled and ready for joint Liberal/PC agreement in the fall session of the Legislature.
Also not mentioned, is the Ford, GM and Chrysler extortion and blackmail of the CAW (now UNIFOR) and its membership into accepting two-tiered wages and performance-based-pay in the last negotiations and collective agreements. These concessions were no doubt linked to the negotiations towards this current payoff to Ford by the Federal and Ontario governments.
In this sense, Wynne's statements comparing her Party favourably to the Hudak PCs are disingenuous, as it was precisely the attack on the autoworker unions forcing them to accept two separate discriminatory contracts in the same workplace, which was part and parcel of the past and present pay-the-rich payoffs. On its part, the Ford monopoly was not bashful in linking the extortion of autoworker concessions and the extortion of public payoffs to private interests as necessary factors for private investment. This combination of the anti-worker extortion with the anti-social extortion is precisely what Hudak proposes with his anti-union legislation in concert with pay-the-rich schemes. Hudak's legislation, similar to the extorted two-tier contracts at the auto monopolies would have workers in the same workplace operating under two, three or many different collective agreements, pitting worker against worker in a downward spiral.
Given the way the provincial and federal governments intervened during the multi-billion dollar auto company payoffs during the 2008 crisis, it is safe to say that the two governments may well have pressured the union to submit to the companies' dictate with the promise or threat that without concessions a public payoff and private investment would not be forthcoming.
A difficulty for the Ontario Liberals of course was the 2011 general election and subsequent minority government, as well as the sustained and just resistance of teachers and education workers to the attack on their rights and the theft of public funds, which the government had already promised to pay Toyota and now Ford.
An important issue that is not discussed is the result of the payoffs to private industrial companies. In addition to the billions of public dollars put into the shares of GM and Chrysler following the economic crisis in 2008, most of which has vanished into a vast wasteland of global parasites and class privilege, some of the payoffs are aimed at retooling and increasing productivity. This becomes a factor resulting in a jobless recovery. Such a recovery is not good for the working class as its direct participation in industrial production is diminished, as Canadian industrial workers have experienced with layoffs and reduced standards of living.
Also, a jobless recovery is ultimately bad for private owners of capital as the ratio of invested capital to added-value grows. Added-value under capitalism is a product of the direct participation and work-time of the working class in production. A shrinking ratio of workers and their production of added-value in relation to total invested capital puts downward pressure on the rate of profit or rate of return on invested capital. The public money put into private investment projects is an effort on the part of owners of monopoly capital to reduce the downward pressure on their rate of profit, as the public money decreases the total amount of investment capital needed from the private owners in comparison to the number of active workers. The rate of added-value available to those private owners in relation to their total invested capital is boosted upward with the infusion of public capital. However, with improvements in productivity, the downward pressure on the rate of profit grows rapidly, another crisis erupts and private investors come back to governments demanding additional public money and come back to workers demanding more concessions.
The recurring cycle is a feature of this highest and last period of capitalism and cannot be avoided without a new direction for the socialized economy provided by the organized and independent working class movement. The working class movement has the social responsibility to extricate and save the economy and society from this cycle of crisis, working class concessions, public payoffs to private owners of capital, increased productivity, jobless recovery and on and on with new and more devastating results. The working class has the social responsibility to change the direction of the economy away from this destructive cycle. This can be done by harmonizing the socialized nature of the productive forces with new socialized relations of production. Only the organized and conscious working class movement is capable of bringing into reality such a new direction and transformation in the arrangements under which Canadians work and live.
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