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December 3, 2013 - No. 141

Urgent Need to Hold Harper Government to Account

Canadian Involvement in the GM Bailout


Mass protest at GM Canada Headquarters in Oshawa to oppose the closure of
GM's truck assembly plant, June 12, 2008.

Urgent Need to Hold Harper Government to Account
Canadian Involvement in the GM Bailout
Airline Workers Present Conservatives with Petition
Stephen Harper to Undertake First Official Visit to Israel - Nathan J. Freeman

Quebec's Crisis-Ridden New Forestry Regime
Forestry Workers Protest Degradation of Working Conditions
The Government Chose Not to Improve the Law - Interview, Ubald Desgagné, President, Unifor Local 3000-Q

Coming Event
Toronto: Injured Workers 22nd Annual Christmas Demonstration at Ministry of Labour - Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups


Urgent Need to Hold Harper Government to Account

Canadian Involvement in the GM Bailout


Workers in auto parts sector participate in Day of Action in Windsor (left) and Burlington, October 27, 2010.

During the 2008-09 economic crisis, the collapse of vehicle sales and production in North America to about half previous levels generated enormous insecurity and hardship amongst Canadian autoworkers. The Harper federal and Ontario Liberal governments used the crisis to demand concessions from autoworkers and hand an enormous sum of public money to finance capital.

The state linked the concessions from workers with handouts to finance capital as a single policy to save General Motors from collapse. The state refused to allow discussion of any alternative. Obama, Harper and McGuinty demanded that if GM (and Chrysler) auto jobs were to be saved then autoworkers must give concessions on wages, benefits and pensions, and public money must be handed over to finance capital. The essence of the blackmail engineered by the rich and their state is not to solve economic problems or jobs but to perpetuate the capitalist status quo and class privilege. Public money channelled to finance capital plus worker concessions guarantee no security for the working class; in fact, they guarantee that economic crises will continue to occur with regularity and the situation for current and retired workers will worsen. A pro-social alternative is necessary beginning with a loud and clear No! to concessions and handouts to finance capital. A new direction for the economy is possible.

Since the early 1990s, GM Canada has received from Industry Canada alone more then half a billion dollars supposedly to secure employment. But that public money was mostly used to close facilities, automate and introduce robots at a frantic irresponsible rate throwing autoworkers out of work and their communities into chaos.

From 40,000 GM workers, the number has fallen drastically to 15,000 in 2006 and a little more then 6,000 today. During that period, GM shuttered assembly plants in Toronto and Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec, a truck assembly facility in Oshawa, and a transmission factory in Windsor, Ontario. The federal and Quebec governments even gave GM $220 million in interest-free loans to decommission its plant in Sainte-Thérèse! Last December, GM announced it was shifting the production of the Chevrolet Camaro to Lansing, Michigan in 2015, with a projected loss of 1,000 jobs in Oshawa. That decision was announced a week after Michigan passed its "right to be a slave" legislation. Autoworkers bitterly remember that they gave major concessions during bargaining in 2006 for GM promises to keep Camaro production in Oshawa.

Statistics show assembly work has moved out of Canada in recent years, in particular to the southern United States and Mexico in spite of worker concessions and pay-the-rich schemes, which prove that a new direction is required. Canadian autoworkers produced roughly 2.5 million vehicles last year, up from the crisis year in 2009 of 1.5 million units, but down from roughly 3 million in 2000. Canada's share of North American vehicle assembly has fallen from 16.8 per cent in 2000 to 14.2 per cent in 2013, well behind Mexico, which has nearly doubled its share over that period to around 19 per cent, with U.S. production amounting to 65 per cent. Coupled with robotic technology, this has resulted in the number of Canadians employed in vehicle manufacturing falling from roughly 53,000 in 2000 to 37,000 in 2012, according to Statistics Canada. Tens of thousands more jobs have been lost over that period in spin-off industries, including body and parts manufacturing and steel.

State-organized monopoly extortion for pay-the-rich bailouts and handouts, and worker concessions have become endemic in the economy and in particular in the auto industry These anti-social practices, which make the situation worse, have become the norm for a crisis-ridden economy and state under the control of finance capital.

The monopolies in control of auto production continually denounce Ontario workers with the capital-centred accusation that they "cost too much." Finance capital refuses to make any guarantees of continued production in Canada as it scours the globe looking for cheaper workers and bigger public handouts.

In 2009, Canadian GM autoworkers made concessions similar to those of U.S. GM autoworkers under the threat of complete collapse of GM production and employment. Using the hoax of workers as a cost to the value they produce, GM Canadian and U.S. collective agreements were shredded with wage and benefit cuts, the loss of the defined-benefit pension plan for new hires and the creation of a health care trust, partially funded with public money to relieve GM of its contracted social obligation towards worker health care.

The federal and Ontario governments gave $10.8 billion to the 2009 GM bailout taking new GM shares in return. Of the $10.8 billion, not to speak of the other handouts both prior and since the bailout, the governments have so far received back about $3.7 billion through a repayment by GM of $1.5 billion and government sales of GM shares in September and during the initial public offering of the new GM shares in 2010.

The two governments still hold $403 million worth of preferred shares, and their remaining 110.1 million common shares are worth about $4.2 billion. Using those figures, the remaining Canadian shortfall from the 2009 bailout alone is about $2.4 billion. To recover this full amount the remaining shares would have to increase in price from $38 to around $60 per share.

In the Harper government's usual opportunistic manner, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty admitted in his recent economic statement that the sale of the remaining federal GM stock would probably take place just prior to the 2015 federal election. No doubt, the Harperites are hoping the GM stock price by then has risen to near $60 so they can grandstand on how great they are at managing the economy to serve the narrow private interests of finance capital.

Also, autoworkers must prepare for a state-organized GM attack on their pension plans. GM Canada is making considerable noise that all pension plans for which it is responsible are underfunded by several billions of dollars. With the threat of another crisis hovering over the economy due to the unresolved social, political and economic problems, several GM debts are coming due such as the interest-free $220 million state loan to decommission its plant in Sainte-Thérèse, other payments to the state amounting to $1.28 billion, which were part of the state-organized wrecking of retiree contracted health care and replacement with a health care trust, and more then $200 million a year into the pension funds. GM Canada, along with the federal and Ontario governments seem to be preparing conditions for a GM Canada bankruptcy to destroy the pension plans, which may possibly end GM production in Canada altogether. This must not pass!

Worker Concessions and Public Bailouts for Finance Capital Are Not Solutions!
Autoworkers Must Gird Themselves to Battle in Defence of Their Rights and for a
New Direction for the Economy! Stop Paying the Rich!
Manufacturing Yes! Nation-Wrecking No!

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Passenger Safety and Working Conditions

Airline Workers Present Conservatives with Petition

On November 29, 80 flight attendants, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employee's (CUPE) Airline Division, held a vigorous protest at federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt's constituency office to demand the Conservatives uphold their working conditions and passenger safety.

The delegation of safety professionals, led by CUPE National President Paul Moist and CUPE Airline Division President Michel Cournoyer, also presented a petition with 13,000 signatures calling for the proven safety standard of one flight attendant for every 40 passengers to be maintained by all Canadian airlines.

The petition denounces the Conservative government's decision to allow Canadian airlines to adopt less strict and more dangerous standards for passengers, such as a one flight attendant for every 50 passenger seats ratio.

"The Conservatives need to understand a simple fact: fewer flight attendants means less security for passengers. The recent civil aviation history clearly demonstrates that an adequate number of flight attendants trained to deal with emergency situations greatly increases the safety of passengers," said Cournoyer.

Cournoyer underscored this point by recalling what happened during the July 6 crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco. In the burning aircraft there was one flight attendant for every 24 passengers and the cabin crew managed to evacuate almost every passenger. Closer to home, in August 2005 at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, an Air France Airbus ran into a ravine and caught on fire. All passengers were evacuated in less than two minutes. Again, the ratio was high: one flight attendant for every 30 passengers.

"The dangerous door that the Conservatives have opened in granting exemptions to WestJet [in May] and Sunwing [in October] must be closed as soon as possible. We ask the Conservatives to listen to reason and to step back in the best interests of passengers. However, due to the Conservatives' stubbornness, CUPE won't ignore any avenue to ensure the safety of passengers. This is why we are challenging this rash decision before the courts," said Moist.

(CUPE)

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Not in Our Name! No to Israeli War Crimes! End the Occupation Now!

Stephen Harper to Undertake
First Official Visit to Israel


Toronto protest against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Toronto for Zionist fundraising dinner, December 1, 2013.

Flying in the face of international opinion and the Canadian people, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has chosen this moment in history and contemporary international relations to honour the State of Israel with his first official visit as Canadian head of government.

This development was announced in connection with Harper's appearance Sunday evening, December 1, as guest of honour at the Toronto Negev Dinner, a Zionist fundraiser.[1]

According to a report filed on the website of CBC News, his Zionist hosts sang Harper's praises as a bird-loving environmentalist. On this basis they are going to be naming the Hula bird sanctuary in northern Israel after Harper.

The gesture is pathetic, calculated to deny's Canada's negative role in international climate talks and the widespread rejection of the negative environmental and political consequences of the resource rape being committed all over Canada but specifically across northern Alberta in the Athabasca tar sands by U.S. and Canadian energy resource development monopolies.

The Hula Conservancy Sanctuary is built on lands belonging to dispossessed Palestinian fishermen and their families, who are banned from ever returning. It is less than five miles west of the Golan Heights, a parcel of Syrian territory occupied by Israeli forces since the June 1967 war. In line with the mandate of the United Nations Truce Services Organization (UNTSO), Canadian Forces stand on the Golan Heights supposedly to separate the armed forces of both countries, who remain officially at war having signed no peace agreement or official truce since June 1967.

The proposal to name the Hula Bird Sanctuary after Harper richly illustrates how desperate the Harper gang and its Zionist fellow-travelers are becoming. They are determined to push the discreted direction the Harper government is taking Canada in all fields while they can.

Clearly, it's high time Canadians gave Stephen Harper the bird.

The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is especially enamoured with the Harper government's parroting of every one of Tel Aviv's unsupported allegations against the government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, on this front, Stephen Harper is further entrenching the Canadian government in the same circle of hell reserved for and occupied not only by Tel Aviv and Washington but also by the absolute monarchy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ottawa, Tel Aviv and Riyadh remain the only world capitals openly supporting the lunatic notion of unleashing acts of aggression against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Not in Our Name!
It is Time to Give Harper the Bird!

Note

1. The Toronto Negev Dinner is a major annual fundraiser for the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Canadian tax laws treat the JNF as a "charity." This is despite the fact that, within Israel, the JNF is an NGO that exists to violate -- "legally" in the sense of no formal government approval nor disapproval -- the specific proscription of the Fourth Geneva Convention against the involuntary transfer of the Palestinian populations of the Occupied West Bank and the transfer of their lands to Jewish citizen-settlers from the Israeli occupier.

This dispossession carries on despite the fact that both Israel and Canada formally recognize the Fourth Geneva Conventions as part of international humanitarian law applicable to all the Convention's signatories. Notably in this particular regard, the JNF has also financed Canada Park.

The Canada Park war crime is JNF's true face. Albeit with decreasing effectiveness, this remains hidden behind the JNF's semi-official posture as a humanitarian charity. In that context, it raised money to finance the planting of trees, and also teamed with some other Israeli-dominated Jewish community charities involved in attending to the health needs of aging and retired Israeli survivors of the World War Two Nazi judeocide.

The particular zone of Canada Park was developed by the JNF as a "family recreation area" for Israeli Jewish families. It was carved out of the Latrun Salient inside the occupied West Bank literally on the bones and stones of three Palestinian villages razed by the Israeli Army at the start of the Six-Day War in June 1967. This outrage was actually inflicted deliberately by the Israeli Army on the Palestinians of that area. Heroically, and denied ammunition resupply, the Palestinians of the Latrun Salient kept the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem out of the Zionists' hands up until three weeks before the end of the British Mandate (and final withdrawal of the last colonial police and other British armed forces from the area). Under the "Not In Our Name" banner, progressive Canadians since the June 1967 war have been repudiating this Canada Park outrage.

One of the JNF's latest crimes involves the forcible displacement of a Bedouin community of 30,000 to 70,000 people from 35 villages in the Negev region to make room for settlers transplanted from Canada. This and other Zionist crimes and the Harper government's collaboration were vigorously opposed by protestors at the December 1 Negev Dinner.



Toronto, December 1, 2013

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Quebec's Crisis-Ridden New Forestry Regime

Forestry Workers Protest Degradation of
Working Conditions


Saint-Félicien, November 21, 2013.

On November 21, more than 100 forestry workers held a demonstration in Saint-Félicien, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. They were protesting the deterioration of the living and working conditions, which is exacerbating the situation in areas already affected by the forestry crisis. The event took place on the occasion of the Quebec National Forestry Rendezvous in Saint-Félicien, an initiative of the Quebec government involving companies, trade unions, representatives of First Nations communities, environmentalists and municipalities. The demonstrators were unequivocal that the government must take responsibility for protecting the working and living conditions of forestry workers. The same day, forestry workers in the riding of Baie-Comeau occupied the office of their MP to make the same demands.

These actions were directed especially against the deterioration of working conditions under the new Quebec forestry regime, unanimously adopted by the National Assembly on April 1. Protesters opposed in particular the auction of approximately 25 percent of the timber harvest, for a so-called free market of wood. Wood that was previously allocated to businesses under timber supply and forest management agreements (CAAFs) are now sold at auction. CAAFs included the payment of stumpage fees between the Quebec government and companies that own wood processing plants. A CAAF included the companies' obligations with regard to forest regeneration. As well, the notion of a link between the harvesting and processing of wood and a definite community was central to the CAAF system. The CAAFs have now been replaced by supply guarantees where the link to the community's is much more tenuous. For auctioned wood, there is no link at all and workers must go wherever the auctioned wood is located, losing any job security and union certification while working in very substandard conditions, without a pension or benefits. This is exacerbating the massive de-unionization taking place in the forestry sector over the last twenty years.


  Baie Comeau November 21, 2013

The protesters addressed both the current government and the previous Liberal government and called them to account for their responsibility for working conditions in forestry and the general living and working conditions in the region. Governments cannot shirk their responsibilities with big talk about a modern Quebec forestry sector, said the workers.

Monopolies like Resolute Forest Products are using the new system to increase the de-unionization of the sector, lowering all conditions and eliminating more stakeholders.

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec (PMLQ) issued a statement expressing its firm support for forestry workers who conduct important work for the regions and society and who should have their rights recognized, the right to remuneration commensurate with the work they do and the right to representation in organizations that collectively defend their interests. The crisis in the forest industry clearly shows that Quebec needs to steer the economy in a new direction that serves the interests of the people not those of foreign monopolies.

(Republished from Chantier politique. Translated from original French.)

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The Government Chose Not to Improve the Law

TML: Who does Unifor Local 3000-Q represent?

Ubald Desgagné: The local represents workers who cut timber in the forests, and subcontractors who use their own forest machinery. I myself am a forest machinery operator. Our local, with its 14 certified unions, is made up of all the forestry workers who work for Resolute Forest Products. The great majority of our members work in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, whether it be in Girardville, Saint-Félicien, Roberval, etc., with some members in the Côte-Nord and Abitibi, especially in Senneterre. We also represent workers from the cogeneration plant in Saint-Félicien. We are now approximately 700 members in our union local. Since the new forest regime has been put into place, we have lost close to 400 members.


Saint-Félicien, November 21, 2013.

TML: How did you lose so many members?

HD: We lost them because of the forestry crisis and things have gotten worse because of the new forest regime with its timber auction system. In our region, on top of losing 10 per cent of the wood which used to be reserved for exploitation and which has now been transformed into protected areas, 30 per cent of the wood is now sold in auctions. This means that just about anyone can bid on the timber. For example, to take the case of the Jean-Charles camp, Resolute Forest Products bid and won 110,000 cubic metres of timber that were auctioned off. Resolute hires workers other than unionized workers to cut this timber. It's the same timber that used to be reserved for Resolute Forest Products through timber supply and forest management contracts (CAAFs).

But we won't be cutting this wood. Resolute Forest Products has asked workers from the Beauce region to come and cut the timber here. With this auction system, you can fell timber here in Saint-Félicien, which doesn't mean that this wood will be going through the saw mills in Saint-Félicien. It can go through any other mill.

When we suffered this 40 per cent loss -- 10 per cent to the protected areas and 30 per cent to the auctions -- we lost 40 per cent of our workers. They went elsewhere to cut timber for auctioned wood, notably for small companies, both preexisting and newly created.

It must be said that these workers no longer work under the same conditions. They no longer have any benefits whatsoever. Companies can pay workers whatever rate they deem fit and never have to pay overtime. There are no pension plans or disability insurance. There is a huge discrepancy between a unionized worker and a non-unionized worker. For example, say a worker falls ill to cancer, that requires a six to nine month period of treatment. Without disability insurance, this worker will receive only 15 weeks of employment insurance sick benefits. Without disability insurance, he will start dipping into his own money set aside for his retirement. He will use it up to overcome his illness and none of it will go towards his retirement. This type of case happens all the time. In the end, the worker pays out of his own pocket, and this is deplorable.

TML: The new forest regime, then, has actually worsened the crisis in the sector?

HD: Yes. The result of the 30 per cent loss of timber because of the timber auctions is that many workers have retired and sold their machinery. It is becoming more and more difficult to stay in the industry and to find new forces to take over. As for young workers who want to be loggers, it is increasingly hard for them to buy up to $1.2 million-worth of equipment and to hope to recover their expenses. The same scenario happens every year and contracts must be renewed every year. So there is no security whatsoever. The auctions are also an annual event. Who will want to invest such significant amounts under such uncertain circumstances? The workforce is aging and there is no new blood to take over. From one year to the next, you have no idea what company you'll be working for. There is nothing to rely on, no job security to speak of.

Moreover, certain companies which win a timber auction will eventually have to sell that wood. In some cases big companies like Resolute Forest Products will make such a company an offer for its wood. It is a free market so the small company will sell wherever possible. Where will that company get the money to make up the difference for the amount received for the sale of that wood versus how much was paid at auction? It will get it from the workers by lowering their conditions, that's clear. The company which wins a bid in the timber auction does not even know if it can be sold -- the market is not at all reliable. You don't know from one year to the next if you will be able to sell or not. This company could just as well be stuck with the wood, unable to sell it.

TML: How is the union trying to change the situation?

HD: At Committee in the National Assembly, we asked that the timber auctions be reserved for those who actually have sawmills, that they not be open to just anyone. We did everything possible to change Bill 7, the bill that set up the new regime, which before that was the Liberal government's Bill 57. We explained our position. The Parti québécois government said that it found our position to be most reasonable, that it would examine the situation, that, yes, the bill could be improved, but then they just went ahead and adopted the bill as is. When the Liberals were in power they also said that what we had to say made a lot of sense, but neither government raised a finger to improve the law. They could have done so had they wanted. In fact, the new forest regime was adopted unanimously.

We have had a union drive but it's painstaking because workers are so dispersed and it's harder still when governments are not on your side. We want to attain a situation whereby anywhere in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint Jean the hourly rate of forest machinery operators is the same wherever they are and everyone is a union member.

This is the reason we held a demonstration Thursday [November 21] in Saint-Félicien. The aim of the demo was to denounce the fact that 30 per cent of secure quality jobs have disappeared because of the timber auctions.

(Translated from original French.)

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Coming Event

Toronto: Injured Workers 22nd Annual Christmas Demonstration at Ministry of Labour


Click image to download poster (PDF).


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