(From Statistics Canada)
Canadians Marginalized from Federal Budget
Canadians are marginalized from the federal budget in much the same way they are marginalized from politics in general. Not having a clear idea of the purpose of a federal budget, its content or what it is supposed to accomplish leaves Canadians vulnerable to manipulation by the political party in power and that is exactly what Harper's Conservative Party is doing.
Harper's party is using the budget to micro-target various groups in hopes of winning votes to maintain power in next October's federal election. One way is through what the media call boutique tax cuts aimed at very specific income groups or demographics. These boutique tax cuts are possible given the overwhelming form of individual taxation in which the country is mired. Individual taxation takes government money from individuals, not from the economy and its centres of production of goods and services. Boutique tax cuts mean a little to the targeted group but next to nothing in terms of its overall well-being and the solving of the country's economic and social problems.
Boutique tax cuts and other measures to micro-target groups strengthen the marginalization of Canadians from the overall economy and politics, and consolidate the stranglehold of class privilege over the country. People are conditioned to view themselves as powerless individuals in the face of this mysterious economy that is presented as being mostly beyond human control and understanding, something which may give them a tax cut but may just as easily make them unemployed, living in poverty and chronic insecurity.
The mass media promote a sense of helplessness with an atmosphere of secrecy and privilege surrounding the buildup to public budgets, a splurge of PR noise and electioneering when delivered, and then everything mostly forgotten in a day or two. Individuals feel preyed upon and targeted by some monster beyond their control.
Those with economic and political power decide everything while the people's concerns and needs are dismissed as costs. In fact, the basic needs of the people for livelihoods, health care, education, assistance to injured workers, daycare, housing, food security and the protection of Mother Earth from pollution are all belittled and dismissed as costs that must be reduced through austerity to balance the budget or accomplish some other fantastic feat that is idealized endlessly in propaganda. The only issues that seem to gain traction are spending for a police state and predatory wars abroad, and the grand idea of helping the economy grow and prosper somehow by handing over public money to big business and powerful private interests through pay-the-rich schemes.
With no power over public budgets and discouraged from participating in politics, as something that should be left to professionals organized in business cartels, Canadians are directed to look after their own personal interests as paramount and in isolation from others and the integrated socialized economy, or in the crude terms of the neo-liberals, to fend for yourself. In this way, Canadians are marginalized and become the objects of micro-targeting for votes with Harper's party using its power over federal public funds and friends in the media such as the former CTV personality Mike Duffy, as PR weapons.
What is the antidote to all this manipulation and marginalization? The answer begins by starting fresh with new organized voices of those at work and in the community who are questioning austerity, the cartel party system and the police state that the Harper dictatorship is pushing. What does the organized opposition amongst the people have to say about the current affairs of state and the economy? What is all this noise about Bill C-51 for example? What does the organized opposition have to say about it? Join in! Participate in politics! Marginalization from politics and economics is shed surprisingly quickly when you take a bold step in defence of the rights of all and in defence of your own right to participate in the political and economic affairs of the country.
Federal Public Sector Workers Prepare for Battle to Defend Their Rights
Federal public sector workers' March 19, 2015 day of action in Gatineau, in defence of their rights. Monthly days of action are being organized countrywide.
The Harper dictatorship is attempting to intimidate public sector workers. It has violated the collective agreements with federal public sector workers by absconding with $900 million of sick leave benefits. The Harper government booked the additional revenue as part of his balanced budget fraud. Without negotiations or even informing the seventeen public sector unions involved, the Harperites used the budget to misappropriate these funds with the clear threat that if workers do not give in he will use legislation to have his way.
The unions held an emergency conference call and denounced the Harperites' action as a violation of collective bargaining. They reiterated their united stand against concessions. The $900 million that appears as gained revenue in the federal budget clearly reveals the move as taking funds directly from workers' pockets.
"How can they book something they don't have?" asked Ron Cochrane, co-chair of the joint union-management National Joint Council.
This is not the first time the Harper dictatorship has used this tactic to misappropriate monies from the public sector working class. Last year's Flaherty budget booked $7.4 billion in new revenue by unilaterally changing the health care plan for federal public sector pensioners. The Harper government then said that if unions and pensioners refused to agree to the changes an even worse plan would be brought in through legislation.
"It's the same thing Clement [Harper's Treasury Board President in charge of negotiations with workers] said last year with health care negotiations," Cochrane said. "If we can't come to an agreement he will use his trump card and legislate. Setting preconditions on collective bargaining is an unfair labour practice, and booking money you don't have is like fraud."
Sahir Khan, former Assistant Parliamentary Budget Officer said for this government taking sick pay money from workers trumps improving wellness or dealing with what is driving up disability claims, especially for mental health, which account for half of all claims.
The working class rejects with contempt the Harper government's attempt to excuse this misappropriation as somehow defending taxpayers. All Canadians are taxpayers in one form or another; even the poorest child who buys something pays sales taxes and user fees. The richest, the poorest and certainly all workers pay taxes. Taxpaying is not a distinguishing feature of social classes. The Harper government stands for the richest of the ruling capitalist elite organized as global monopolies. It uses state power to pay-the-rich and attack the working class such as this attempt to abscond with public sector workers' money.
Workers stand in opposition to this attack on their rights and declare that concessions are not solutions! Our security depends on our fight as workers to defend our rights and the rights of all!
All Out to Isolate
the Harper Conservative Gang as Enemies of the
Public Service Alliance of Canada Press Release
April 28, Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job
The working class faces great battles to defend its rights on the front of workplace injuries, illness and deaths. These rights include:
- the right to livelihoods and full pensions for all injured workers and those stricken with a workplace disease;
- the right to the best and immediate state-provided health care and rehabilitation for all injured and sick workers and reintegration into work at Canadian standard wages;
- the right to state-guaranteed care for the families of dead workers; and
- the right to safe working conditions.
The right of workers to their livelihoods when injured and sick is not up for debate. Employers through their state are duty-bound to guarantee livelihoods and pensions to injured and sick workers without exception and to provide them with the best medical care, rehabilitation, and reintegration into work at Canadian standard wages.
In the 21st century, the right to a livelihood and care after injury while working must be considered absolute and be universal. The arrangement between the working class and employers that comprises the exchange of workers' capacity to work contains the guarantee that all injuries, illness and deaths arising from work will result in employers and their state providing a livelihood, full pension, medical care and rehabilitation in all cases without question, and assurances that victims' families are cared for at a Canadian standard without exception.
The onus to provide a livelihood and the best medical care for injured and sick workers lies with the state. How the state gathers revenue from employers to fund the livelihoods and rehabilitation of injured workers is not for workers to organize. The responsibility rests with employers and their state.
Workers agree in principle to exchange their capacity to work with employers with the stipulation that when injured at work or after becoming sick from workplace hazardous materials, workers will receive a Canadian standard livelihood until completely rehabilitated, and thereafter be reintegrated into work at Canadian standard wages, benefits and pension. This principle extends to all workers who exchange their capacity to work with employers regardless whether the work is full-time, part-time or otherwise irregular.
Workers are injured and killed in modern industrial production of goods and services and become sick from hazardous materials. Statistics Canada predicts with ghoulish accuracy the number of workplace injuries and deaths that will occur each year throughout the country. The fact that this workplace slaughter can be precisely and accurately predicted is beyond dispute. Workers enter into the arrangement with employers for the sale of their capacity to work knowing that during one year alone, working conditions will injure 246,000 members of their class and kill another 975. With this knowledge, the working class upon the sale of its capacity to work demands its rights and certain assurances and guarantees regarding workplace accidents and exposure to hazardous materials:
1) livelihoods and pensions upon workplace injury or illness will be guaranteed, as well as workers' health care and rehabilitation, including state-guaranteed care for families of workers killed at work;
2) the state will take action through a public authority to reduce the carnage at the workplace with regulations enforcing tough standards for safer working conditions.
The objective and subjective conditions causing injury and death to workers should be constantly improved to reduce the carnage. The necessity to improve working conditions so they are safer is separate from caring for the injured and their families thus relieving them of all stress during the long or short period workers require to recover from their injuries or illness. Making the objective and subjective working conditions safer is not directly connected with caring for injured workers and providing them with a full livelihood and all possibilities to recover without stress. To mix up the necessity to make working conditions safer with the necessity to provide for the injured and sick is a fraud and disgrace and an attack on the rights of workers.
Two distinct problems require attention and resolution to uphold workers' rights:
1) The necessity to provide injured and sick workers a livelihood and to care for the families of workers killed;
2) The necessity to improve the objective and subjective conditions at workplaces to make them safer.
Under the capitalist system, the working class does not control the working conditions at private and public workplaces. Employers direct the operations at the workplace whereas workers can only apply pressure for improvements and defend their rights. The ultimate responsibility for safe working conditions rests with employers and their state. They cannot evade the truth and social responsibility this entails.
To mix up the effort for safe working conditions with caring for the injured is revolting and a disgrace. Even administratively within governments and workplaces, the effort to improve working conditions and assess blame for particular accidents should have no connection whatsoever with caring for injured workers and the families of the dead. Injured workers should be left to concentrate in peace on their health and rehabilitation; injured and sick workers should not be burdened with the stress of correcting and improving the objective and subjective conditions leading to their particular injury or illness.
Any government of the Canadian state that refuses to guarantee injured workers the right to a Canadian standard livelihood during rehabilitation, the right to modern health care, rehabilitation and suitable employment upon becoming healthy, and is reluctant or slow to use public authority to enforce safe working conditions is not fit to govern. The exchange of the capacity to work with employers cannot occur unless a great effort is made to improve workplace safety and guarantee workers' right to a livelihood after workplace injury or illness without exception.
The rights and dignity of workers are inviolable. When employers enter into an arrangement with workers to buy their capacity to work, this entails the social responsibility to guarantee workers a safe workplace, a livelihood and pension when injured or sick, the best medical care during rehabilitation, and care for the families of workers killed on the job. All employers and their state are duty-bound to agree to guarantee workers' rights and dignity under the arrangement for the exchange of workers' capacity to work.
April 28 marks the 31st anniversary of the first Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the job. Workers around the world are holding ceremonies, meetings and moments of silence to mourn the dead and fight for the living. For example, Quebec workers are holding an overnight vigil at the Quebec National Assembly on April 27-28 and a solemn march in downtown Quebec City on April 28. In all these actions, the demands are raised to put an immediate end to work-related deaths and injuries; that the right to safe and healthy working conditions be recognized and provided with a guarantee; and that governments, state agencies and monopolies be held accountable for their refusal to protect workers' health and safety. Genuine action, not just talk, is a pressing demand that workers are putting forward through various means to bring about real changes to their situation.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), every year 2.3 million deaths take place worldwide due to occupational injuries (300,000 deaths) and work-related diseases (2,000,000 deaths). This means 6,300 workers die each day of work-related injuries and diseases. According to the ILO, the biggest killers are work-related cancer (32 per cent); work-related circulatory and cardiovascular diseases and stroke (23 per cent); communicable diseases (17 per cent); and occupational accidents (18 per cent). Deaths and injuries take a particularly heavy toll on workers in the countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean due to the super-exploitation of the peoples of these countries by the monopolies. Free trade agreements and other forms of monopoly dictate over developing countries turn their economies into open zones of plunder, without legislation to protect labour or the public interest, under the hoax of getting investments. Such neo-liberal arrangements are used to increase the super-exploitation of the peoples of these countries by the monopolies and the governments in their service, which is causing, among other things, massive amounts of work-related casualties and injuries.
In Canada, official figures state that about 1,000 workers die each year from workplace injuries and work-related diseases. This is well below the actual number because governments and their compensation boards refuse to recognize many work-related diseases, especially those that stem from the use of toxic materials. According to the latest figures, there were 902 recognized work-related fatalities in Canada in 2013, the deadliest sectors being construction (221) and manufacturing (198). The accepted time-loss injuries in 2013 amounted to 241,933 (151,000 men and 90,000 women), compared to 245,365 in 2012 and 249,511 in 2011.
Governments upholding monopoly right instead of public right is the leading factor in the deterioration of the health and safety of the workers. Health and safety are considered a cost and a burden to the monopolies that makes them less competitive on global markets. In the railways, the successive federal governments since the Chrétien Liberals have been implementing a safety management system that rests on the idea that health and safety have to be managed by the monopolies themselves as part of their overall costs, to be balanced against their other costs in their drive to be competitive. The very idea that the safety of the workers and of the public is a principle and a condition without which there can be no production has been thrown out of the window. The monopolies decide their own safety programs and the government rubber stamps them. The railways and other monopolies have coined the hideous expression "risk management" as their guiding principle in health and safety for the workers and the public. This outlook persists despite several derailments and explosions of trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous materials in the last few years. The CEO of CP Rail is on record as saying that he is planning to cut 6,000 jobs in the coming years, with the government's blessing.
Monopoly right trumping public right can also be seen in private insurance monopolies taking over the management of workers' sick-days, removing them from the collective agreement. This has already been imposed on the postal workers and the federal government is attempting to do the same to the federal public service workers who are fiercely resisting this attack on their rights and safety.
In the hands of the monopolies and the governments in their service, health and safety is turned into anti-worker blackmail to silence the workers, force them to submit to the deterioration of their working conditions and to attack their unions. "Zero tolerance" for injuries in the hands of the monopolies means that the workers are disciplined, suspended or fired when they report injuries, point out hazards or fight for their health and safety.
Workers do not accept these attacks on their rights. The resistance is growing and more and more the workers are taking their fight into the arena of public opinion, making their plight known, demanding solutions and that those who endanger their lives be held accountable.
The United Steelworkers are demanding a public inquiry into the two sawmill explosions in British Columbia in 2012 in which four workers were killed and others were seriously injured. The Sudbury steelworkers have been instrumental in getting the Ontario government to hold a Mining Safety Review through their non-stop work since the deaths of two workers at Vale's Stobie mine in 2011. The recommendations that were made by the review have now been made public and the workers are carrying on their fight to make sure that they are implemented and not left on a shelf. This is how they mourn the dead and fight for the living. There is also the campaign "Kill a Worker, Go to Jail" for the implementation of the Westray Bill that amends the Criminal Code and makes companies criminally liable when their negligence causes the death or serious injury of a worker.
This year's Day of Mourning comes in an election year and the workers point out the need to defeat the Harper government, which is known for its reckless activities against workers' rights including their right to healthy and safe working conditions. Workers are demanding that the Harper government be held accountable for its changes to the Canada Labour Code definition of what constitutes "danger" and of the right to refuse dangerous work. "Danger" must now be "imminent" (any reference to possible or probable danger has been removed) and the Minister of Labour is now empowered to decide if a worker's exercise of the right to refuse dangerous work is legitimate or "frivolous, vexatious and made in bad faith" and should lead to disciplinary measures.
On the occasion of the Day of Mourning, workers around the world renew their pledge to mourn for the dead and fight for the living by demanding that their right to work under healthy and safe conditions be recognized and provided with a guarantee.
On the evening of June 8, 2011 at the Stobie Mine complex of mining monopoly Vale in Sudbury, Jordan Fram and Jason Chenier died when an uncontrolled torrent of wet ore material -- a run of muck -- burst out of an ore pass and buried them. Vale refused to cooperate with USW to carry out a joint investigation so the union did its own investigation into the tragedy. Its report provided very strong evidence and concluded that the deaths of the two workers were directly attributable to the unsafe accumulation of water in the Stobie Mine and the inadequate procedures in effect to deal with the consequences of such foreseeable developments. USW Local 6500 demanded that a full inquiry be launched into mining safety across Ontario. The Ontario government refused and the USW finally agreed instead to a mining health and safety review in which it played the leading role. The final report was released April 15.
Mike Bond is Chair of Health and Safety for USW 6500 and Co-Chair of the Mining Legislative Committee, which has union and labour representatives from across the province who study issues in the workplace and make recommendations to the Minister of Labour for regulatory change.
USW Local 6500 is very much in the middle of health and safety right now. We supported the Mining, Health, Safety and Prevention Review that was just completed. Steelworkers in Sudbury pushed for an inquiry into mining health and safety. We got a review instead, chaired by the Chief Prevention Officer of the Ministry of Labour. There were representatives of both industry and labour on it. We held public consultations, received written and verbal consultations, suggestions and recommendations, and we have a bunch of recommendations coming out of that. We are also right in the middle of the Coroner's inquest into the Stobie Mine fatalities, which is to run for 12 days.
Press conference held in Timmins in 2012 by Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support (MINES) calling for public inquiry into safety in the mines.
We want the Coroner's recommendations -- if there are any and there should be -- to be good ones that will convince people that we need safe work places. We need recommendations that will make them safer. We need people to believe the recommendations, whether they are from the Coroner's inquest or from the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review. We need recommendations that at the end of the day will open the door to good solid health and safety, that include workers, that include unions, that include employees who are willing to work hard to put health and safety in the forefront. We played a big part in the Mine Review. Steelworkers' recommendations run all through that. In these consultations, steelworkers presented many concerns. We had people in all the towns where consultations were held. In the Coroner's inquest that we are into now, three steelworkers are involved: one representing the union, one representing the Fram family and one representing the Chenier family.
There were concerns over reprisals. We know that across the province workers are not bringing forward their concerns to supervisors because of reprisals. This could be termination, there could be progressive discipline, they could be sent home, etc.
Equipment is a big concern. Our equipment is big and fast, technology on it is changing, and we have to keep up with it.
Ground control is an issue -- having workers killed and injured in relation to ground control -- workers getting hurt by pieces of muck, rocks, loose material, earthquakes underground.
Water management is a big issue in mining and it was a key issue in the Stobie Mine fatalities. Many places do not have water management plans in place.
We told the Mining Review loud and clear that we want action to be taken on these high risk categories. I believe and our Local believes and the people from across the province believe that there are high risk activities that need to be addressed. The standards are either not there or are not consistent from one workplace to another
The Ministry of Labour has to keep up with what is going on in the industry. It has to keep up with changing technologies. There is some enforcement but not the enforcement we would expect. There is not enough staff, not enough money at the level of the Ministry to support projects, initiatives, research. Right now, we have a kind of reactive approach; the proactive part of the Ministry of Labour is missing at this time. We have to pressure them, build the case and through escalation we can get them into our workplaces and get meaningful changes.
There is a lot of work being done by labour in Sudbury and Ontario. The doors are open for industry and for workers to work on safety. We know what some of the issues are, we have identified the issues that we are willing to tackle. It is up to the industry to take ownership of that and it is going to be up to the industry to make it all inclusive, to include the workers. The workers are the most important part. The door is open now, we have to take this work to the next step and have people work hard on safety.
All of this is to prevent these tragedies from happening.
On April 28, we will have a ceremony at our union hall for everybody, for the public at large. People from different companies and unions will lay wreaths and I will speak there on behalf of USW Local 5795.
Since 2009, we've had a couple of people killed in accidents and a lot of people have died since then because of industrial diseases. The biggest thing for us is the dust issue, silicosis, and trying to get things fixed up in the workplace. We have to keep the place clean.
The worst thing is that the company just announced that they are cutting back and laying off a lot of our members. They are getting rid of all the janitors right across the site. You can imagine what the dust conditions are going to be like now. The janitors keep the place clean so you can imagine our dust levels are going to start going up again.
Another of our concerns is the changed shifts, seven days on and seven days off. They actually went ahead and did it. You can imagine what it is like driving a haul truck for 12 hours, especially on night shift, going from point A to point B, back and forth and back and forth. Workers do that for 12 hours a night and for seven nights in a row. The fatigue and number of accidents that will result from this will be very high. It is just deadly. Already a lot of accidents have happened since that change. Fatigue is setting in. Seven days off is great for our members but the seven days in a row that they work is an awful lot of shifts.
It is a bit of a tough fight right now because in general our numbers are going down and we just got the announcement the other day that 150 of our members are being laid off. So the shift changes do not seem as significant as people losing their jobs. In regard to safety itself, working seven days in a row is causing a lot of fatigue for a lot of our members. My biggest concern is that they are getting rid of 150 of our members. They are going to be pushing the rest of our members to work extra hours and with the janitorial service across the site gone, there are going to be increased dust levels. We've got some hard times ahead of us.
1. For an interview with Ron Thomas about these inhuman shift changes, read Workers' Forum Online, January 30, 2015 - No. 1.
The Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) will hold an all-night vigil on April 27-28 to mark the Day of Mourning. We will plant crosses on the lawn in front of the National Assembly to commemorate the workers who have died on the job and we will stay there overnight. Also on the Day of Mourning, we will hold a demonstration in downtown Quebec City. It is being organized by the FTQ but everyone is welcome. The Public Service Alliance of Canada is holding its National Convention that week so they will join us. Our aim is clear: to convey the message that we will not stop fighting; we will keep pushing our demands. There are ways that fatalities and injuries at work can be prevented and these must be implemented.
In Quebec, some of these ways are already included in the Act respecting occupational health and safety, which dates from 1979, but the sections on the construction industry have never been promulgated! They include the nomination by the workers of safety representatives -- workers on the construction sites who look after safety full-time, particularly accident prevention.
Safety conditions were among the issues in the Construction workers strike in Quebec
in June 2013.
We have made some headway on large construction sites, those that at some point have 500 workers on the site. We have been able to get safety representatives on some sites -- one rep for each of the five unions involved in construction. It is difficult because many employers are opposed to having safety representatives and there is nothing in the Act that makes it mandatory.
The ways and methods of work that can prevent casualties and injuries are known, but the employers do not want to use them; they prefer the method of individual protection but that does not reduce the hazards and can actually create the harmful illusion that the worker is safe even if it is not the case.
The problems are the same as before. The methods being used are not suitable to the new context where the delivery deadline for a project is "yesterday" and there are more and more trades working together at the same time on the same project, more and more tasks being performed simultaneously, and more and more workers working at the same time. No planning is being done in regard to prevention -- everything is centred on production. Workers are told that prevention is their business, that they have to make sure they work safely, that they wear their individual protective gear -- safety glasses, gloves, boots and so on. There is no planning in terms of looking at what are the hazards and how to eliminate them one by one, etc. We are still fighting to have employers install railings to prevent workers from falling from heights. They do not want to do it. They want the workers to wear safety harnesses. Harnesses do not prevent workers from falling from heights. They can only reduce the impact of a fall, but workers still fall and, even then, if they are suspended in the air in their harness for five minutes or more, it can kill them!
Responsibility is transferred from the employer to the worker. The worker is given so-called training -- a one-hour explanation on safety -- and then he is let loose on the site. He is told that he is aware of safety now, so "go to work and be safe!"
Another problem is the political refusal -- the refusal of governments to make changes that will make the construction sites safer. They do not give us reasons for not implementing the regulations in the Act. They listen to us and that is basically it. The five construction unions have presented a proposal, a whole, well thought-out project, on how to have safety representatives on the sites. We have answered the concerns that have been raised in the past: safety representatives would do labour relations; it would lead to raiding; it would mean more union reps on the sites and so on. The five unions agreed that it is not possible to have one safety representative per union on all sites, so we would decide among ourselves who would be the safety representative on each site for all the workers there, no matter which union they belong to. They will not be union reps and they will not do labour relations. They will be there to push accident prevention. We will do it for health and safety. And still we get no answer and no headway is being made with the governments -- the Parti Québécois or the Liberals.
As far as FTQ-Construction is concerned, we have about 150 union reps who go onto the sites and check for the hazards and accident prevention. They make representations to the employers about hazards and may call the Compensation Board when the employer refuses to take action to eliminate hazards. And we sometimes organize work refusals although there are not many of them in construction because workers fear reprisals if they exercise that right.
(Translated from original French by TML.)
On April 28, CUPW National will hold a minute of silence across Canada to commemorate the workers who have died or been injured on the job.
Our first problem regarding the health and safety of our workers is bad weather conditions, especially in winter, and this winter was particularly difficult. This is a serious issue: there are snowstorms, workers go into places that are not kept clear of snow, they fall on the ice, etc. This has been made worse with the introduction of community mailboxes that "replace" home mail delivery. Workers are forced to stand in one spot in extreme cold conditions, sorting the mail and putting it into these huge mailboxes.
Then there are the letter carriers' walks that are getting longer because, among other things, more and more flyers are being delivered and no time values are given for the delivery of flyers. There is a monetary value in that letter carriers sometimes have to work overtime to finish their work, but then the corporation often uses disciplinary measures against them, arguing that they should be able to finish their walks during a regular shift. So the walks are getting longer and the letter carriers have to work faster.
There are workers who won't report injuries. The insurance companies pressure some workers not to report injuries. But still a lot of injuries occur.
More and more, our workers are suffering from exhaustion. We are not only talking about physical exhaustion but about mental exhaustion, too. Mental problems amongst the workers are increasing. We have to do a lot of work to look after these workers who face mental problems. Our union reps who deal with these problems often get called to go and meet these workers and provide them with help in terms of where to get medical assistance. We believe that there is a link between these problems and the working conditions. Part of the problem is the kind of society we live in but, for sure, there is a link with the working conditions. People work longer hours so balancing work and family becomes more and more difficult and workers become more and more tired. These longer hours are not safe for our workers, especially women letter carriers, who have to extend their shift into the evening. Some wear headlamps because they have to work after dark.
As far as the inside workers are concerned, one of the main problems is that because the work is more and more mechanized, the movements are always the same and lead to repetitive strain injuries. However, the Compensation Board does not recognize that there are repetitive strain injuries at the Post Office.
Our union defends the health and safety of the members through its participation in the health and safety joint committees. We put the emphasis on accident prevention. In terms of the letter carriers' walks, we work through our collective agreement and at the moment we are involved in projects, such as the pilot project at the Marseille depot in Montreal to assign time values to the distribution of flyers, where we have won more than 20 positions.
(Translated from original French by TML.)
Government Cutbacks Undermine Public Health and Safety
Sometime in the afternoon of April 8, bunker fuel started leaking from a ship anchored in English Bay in the outer harbour of the Port of Vancouver as it waited to load its cargo of grain at the docks. At 5:10 pm, a recreational boater noticed a large oil slick and called 911. The call was passed on to the Canadian Coast Guard, the designated lead agency for incidents like this. A Port Metro Vancouver boat appeared on the scene around 6:00 pm. Also at 6:00 pm, the Coast Guard alerted the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation -- a private company set up to handle harbour spills -- which was officially activated at 8:00 pm, arriving on scene at 9:25 pm. The Coast Guard initially reported that an oil-absorbing boom was secured around the vessel by midnight. However, it later reported that this was not done until 5:53 am on the morning of April 9. Meanwhile, the oil slick had spread throughout the harbour and onto surrounding beaches. It took 48 hours for the oil to be identified as bunker C, an extremely heavy, toxic and viscous form of fuel that most freighters use. All this took place just two weeks before Earth Day, April 22.
This bunker fuel spill took place in the context of two contradictory and simultaneous trends in the economic agenda of the financial oligarchy with respect to the Vancouver Port: the intensification of port activity and the massive cutbacks in the marine safety network.
It is evident that the efficacy of the Canadian Coast Guard has been seriously undermined by closures and cutbacks under the federal Conservative government. Within sight of the ship that leaked the bunker fuel is the former Kitsilano Coast Guard station on Jericho Beach, closed in February 2013 (saving $700,000 a year for the federal Conservatives in their quest for the holy grail of a balanced budget). Fred Moxy, the former commander of the Kitsilano station, said that the response time to the spill would have been minutes instead of hours if the station had still been open. Retired Coast Guard Captain Tony Toxopeus, a coxswain who worked out of Kitsilano, said the base was equipped with a purpose-built oil pollution response vessel, 300 metres of self-inflating boom and other equipment, and crews were trained regularly to deal with oil spill response. "As soon as we saw there was bunker oil we would have hit the alarm button and got moving," he said. "We could have backed the boat in, towed the boom there and been alongside the boat in 30 minutes."
One year before the closure of the Kitsilano base, six regional offices of the Environmental Emergencies Program of Environment Canada were closed across Canada, including in Vancouver, leaving only an office in Montreal and in Gatineau, Quebec. Sixty jobs were cut.
Unifor, the union representing Coast Guard communications officers has raised concerns about further budget cuts to the West Coast marine safety network. "When a serious pollution incident happens, quick notification and response is key to limiting the spread of pollutants," said Allan Hughes, western director of Unifor Local 2182. "The Harper government is dismantling the West Coast's prevention and emergency response system that has been in place for decades." The Vancouver Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre (MCTS) is scheduled to close on May 6, along with the Regional Marine Information Centre. With the closure of the MCTS centre next month, the Coast Guard will no longer be able to provide anchorage assistance to ships, including oil tankers.
These closures are all the more reprehensible in view of the vast expansion of port activity that is taking place.
Since the election of the federal Conservatives in 2006, the Vancouver port has undergone a vast expansion under the umbrella of a federal government-funded plan called the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative. More dock and shipping facilities have been and are being built along with more railroads, highways, and bridges to service a vast increase in the movement of commodities for export, including grains and grain oils, coal, sulphur (a by-product of western Canada's oil extraction industry), chemicals, lumber and paper products and (to a lesser extent) manufactured goods. The Kinder Morgan corporation has an application before the National Energy Board (NEB) to expand pipelines to carry bitumen from the tar sands of Alberta to Vancouver, which would result in a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through the harbour, and a concomitant increase in large-scale, even more deadly toxic spills. Rather than merely sitting at anchor in English Bay, oil tankers that would receive this oil would have to squeeze through the narrow shallow Second Narrows channel with less than two metres of under-keel clearance during a slack-water high-tide window lasting less than 20 minutes. Both the federal Conservatives and the provincial Liberals are supporting the application by Kinder Morgan. The Kinder Morgan group is refusing to release details of its emergency response plan even to local governments, citing "personal, commercial and security reasons," and the federal regulator sided with that corporation when the City of Vancouver petitioned the NEB to release this critical information.
The MV Marathassa, the ship that leaked the bunker fuel on April 8, was brand new, built in Japan in February of this year, sailing under management of Alassia NewShips, a Greece-based ship management corporation. The ship had departed from Korea on its maiden voyage. According to Transport Canada, the spill appears to have been caused by mechanical problems with the ship's pumping system combined with a valve leak that sent the fuel into the water instead of being contained in the ship. Taking into account the general intensification of working conditions under neo-liberalism globally, one may well suspect that work speed-ups in ship construction along with a lack of sufficient training and number of ship personnel could have played a part in the mishap. The owners and managers of ships have no vested interest in avoiding or reporting spills (the managers of the Marathassa at first denied that the spill was from their ship). The potential for causing spills and damage is just part of doing business, for which they take out insurance to protect against financial liability. There is a $28-million liability cap on the ship owner's contributions, while $162 million is available through the Canadian Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund, which can be used if owner contribution caps are exceeded. But as Penny Ballem, Vancouver City Manager said, "There's no guarantee that we will get [back] every nickel we have spent on the clean-up."
Along with the cuts to marine communication and emergency response capacity, the federal government has diminished the capacity of scientists to study and understand the long-term effects of the spillage of oil and other toxic material on the health of marine life. The federal Conservatives cut millions in funding from the Department of Fisheries in 2012, and more than 50 scientists lost their jobs.
Peter Ross was one of those scientists -- his marine toxicology program was shut down. He told the Canadian Press in an April 16 interview that, "There is no official clarity around who is to monitor the effects of a spill," adding that there is a major gap in research and readiness because of federal cuts to science programs. Ross noted that there is no cohesive long-term monitoring of British Columbia's coastal ecosystems, and the lack of baseline data makes it difficult for scientists to assess the spill's impact. "We think there is a gap in terms of our capacity to understand the ocean, document our impact on the ocean and consequently that renders very, very difficult our ability to protect the ocean," he said. "These sorts of spills simply underscore out lack of understanding and preparedness for anything like this."
During the bunker fuel spill and its clean-up, the provincial Liberals have been vociferous critics of the Coast Guard under the federal Conservatives. Premier Christy Clark on April 10 said, "Somebody needs to do a better job of protecting the coast, and the Coast Guard has not done it [...] We could do it better." Yet the Clark Liberals, along with the federal Conservatives, are enthusiastic apologists for an expansion of the transport and export of bitumen and other raw resources through the Port of Vancouver. No other avenue of economic development is offered for consideration, nor have they proffered any concrete plan for preventing or mitigating the destruction and disasters that would accompany the expansion of primary resource exploitation. The message, "Trust us, we can manage things better," is the same message that the cartel political parties always give, while attempting to divert attention from the destruction of the natural and social environment taking place under their noses.
The chaotic events around the bunker fuel spill demonstrate that the monopolies and heads of finance capital (along with their loyal political parties) are incapable of managing the economy in a way that does not harm the interests of the majority of the members of the society. They are incapable of developing the economy in an all-sided manner. They interfere with the ability of members of the working class and Indigenous nations who are capable of managing the economy and natural environment for the benefit of all. And despite their false promises that they can learn the needed lessons from their "mistakes" (like President Obama who said after the latest killings of civilians by U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East that the U.S. unlike other nations "can learn from its mistakes") they have proved again and again that they cannot learn from their misadventures. However, in their insanity, they keep repeating the same dysfunctional behaviour while expecting a different result. The only lesson they are capable of learning from these events is the imperative to try to conceal the disasters they create, and to stifle by any means (through Bill C-51 and other measures) the growing opposition from those adversely affected by their destructive actions. It is only the working class, Indigenous nations, and collectives of the peoples of Canada and Quebec who have the potential to learn the needed lessons and who are capable of turning things around.
(With files from Canadian Press, Metro News, rabble.ca, 24 Hour News, Times Colonist, The Tyee, Vancouver Sun)
In a press release dated March 31, the Agriculture Union writes that faced with a financial crisis due to insufficient funding from the Harper government, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the agency responsible for food safety in Canada, is quietly unraveling measures that were intended to prevent a repeat of Canada's largest incident of food borne illness -- the 2008 outbreak of listeriosis caused by contaminated Maple Leaf Foods' cold cuts that left 22 dead and many others sick. The Agriculture Union's more than 8,000 members work for several federal government departments and agencies such as the CFIA, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canadian Dairy Commission.
The union points to a heavily redacted internal CFIA document in which public safety is treated as a matter of risk management in the context of cost-cutting, not ensuring public safety: "[T]o ensure we live within our resources, we need to be smart about deciding what work we will do now, what we will defer and what we won't do at all." As of January 5, the CFIA has instructed its staff in Northern Alberta to cut general sanitation inspection activities by 50 per cent and pre-operation inspections by 30 per cent. These cuts apply to establishments producing for domestic and export markets.
Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union, states in the press release:
"After Maple Leaf, CFIA tightened verification of meat production facilities' sanitation because Sheila Weatherill [appointed by the Harper government to investigate the 2008 listeriosis outbreak -- TML Ed. Note] found lingering contamination was a factor contributing to the disaster. To deal with its financial crisis, the CFIA is now starting to roll back those measures."
According to CFIA forecasts, the Harper government plans to cut spending on food safety by 21 per cent by 2016-2017. This is going to translate to staff cuts of 16.5 per cent or 548 positions, according to the union.
The communiqué states:
"As a result, CFIA is facing a critical inspector shortage. In Northern Alberta, for example, only 12 of 18 meat hygiene inspection positions are currently filled. New hiring has been frozen and training has been deferred. Sheila Weatherill cited a shortage of inspectors and an absence of training as factors that contributed to the Maple Leaf Foods disaster."
On April 20, the Agriculture Union released a staffing survey it conducted showing that every federal meat inspection team in Quebec is working shorthanded, leaving most slaughtering and meat processing facilities in Quebec operating with fewer meat inspectors than are required to ensure compliance with safety requirements. According to the union, CFIA food safety programs are short staffed across the country.
"The federal government has lowered its guard since the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak that killed 22 Canadians. I sincerely hope another major outbreak is not required to force the government to protect Canadian consumers," Kingston says in the press release.
The press release goes on to state, "Meat inspectors working in meat processing plants throughout Alberta that produce the highest risk ready-to-eat products have been operating 33% below required minimum staffing levels for more than a year. Inspection tasks in meat plants there have been reduced as a result and a two-tier system has been introduced that inspects meat destined for dinner tables in Canada to a lower standard than meat produced for export. After Health Minister Rona Ambrose called the Union's revelation 'inaccurate and irresponsible' an internal CFIA document was leaked substantiating the Union announcement. There is only one consumer protection inspector responsible for every restaurant and retail food outlet in the entire city of Toronto. Meanwhile, the entire consumer protection unit in British Columbia has been disbanded."
The union is calling on the government to increase food safety inspection resources and place them on the front line to allow the agency to meet its minimum inspection staff requirements.
Kingston told TML about the work that the union is doing to make these issues public and have the problems fixed so that CFIA can fulfill its mandate to protect food safety:
"The main issue is that CFIA, the agency responsible for food safety, is not doing its job and does not have anywhere near the resources it needs to do its job. The government has been told about this now for a long, long time. We have been pushing for a serious audit of the CFIA's resources against its mandate to ensure it has the resources needed to carry out that mandate and the government has refused. The government has been told repeatedly where there are problems, in some cases it has admitted that there are problems but the office of the Minister of Health Rona Ambrose assured us there were resources available to fill the vacancies that were required to do this work. And yet the positions are still vacant and the work is not being done. We are exposing this situation. We have no choice."
40th Anniversary of Vietnam's Reunification
Victory monument in Xuan Loc.
In one of the most heroic and remarkable wars of national liberation and at the cost of millions of lives, the Vietnamese people succeeded, in the space of a little more than 30 years, in defeating three foreign occupying armies.
The Japanese occupation of Vietnam began in September 1940 but under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party of Vietnam, the imperial army was driven out by 1945. The heroic Vietnamese people also totally defeated the French colonialists, with the final battle taking place at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
In their struggle against the U.S. imperialist aggressors from the 1960s until 1975, the Vietnamese people won the support and admiration of people the world over. In the U.S. and Canada youth and students built a strong anti-war movement which grew year after year in spite of police attacks and imprisonment. University campuses across Canada, the U.S., Europe and around the world were sites of mass political organizing and battles in support of the national liberation struggles of the Vietnamese people and in opposition to U.S. imperialist foreign policy and aggression.
The brilliant victory of the Vietnamese people on April 30, 1975 led to the reunification of Vietnam, proclaimed in 1976 with the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Once in control of their own destiny, the Vietnamese government and people succeeded in building a stable and prosperous economy and overcoming the devastation caused by decades of imperialist occupation, plunder and indiscriminate U.S. bombardment.
April 30 has been and will always be celebrated in Vietnam, Canada and all over the world as a great chapter in the history of national liberation struggles. The Vietnamese people showed the world that a people determined to defend their freedom and sovereignty are more powerful than any foreign army, no matter how strong and arrogant.
On April 23 Royal Assent was granted to Bill S-219, Journey to Freedom Day Act, officially designating April 30 each year as "Journey to Freedom Day" in reference to individuals who left Vietnam for Canada after the victory over U.S. forces on the same day in 1975. Despite amending the name of the bill from the Black April Day Act in the face of opposition to the divisive and provocative legislation, the debate in the House of Commons and the text of the bill itself makes it clear that what is being targeted is the historical verdict rendered against U.S. imperialism and the tremendous victory for freedom and independence.
The final text of the bill claims that on April 30, 1975, "the military forces of the People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front invaded South Vietnam," which it associates with "the conditions faced by individuals in Vietnam, including deteriorating living conditions and human rights abuses." No mention, much less any criticism is made of the millions of Vietnamese killed by the U.S. or the imperialists' outright devastation of the country by mass aerial bombardment.
Canadians of Vietnamese nationality have been speaking out against the bill, smashing the Harper government's historical falsification and vitriolic anti-communism. Thirty-five-year-old Canadian electrical engineer Hoang Nguyen told Embassy Magazine that the comments made by Conservative MPs do not reflect his views or the views of his peers. "After a war, every country is torn apart...when you go to a war zone, you know it's difficult. [Vietnamese Canadians] left Vietnam for a number of reasons, not because of the Communist Party," he said. Julie Trang Nguyen, leader of the Canada-Vietnam Association spoke at a press conference, saying the association was insulted by the choice of April 30, Vietnam's liberation day. She stated that the Harper government is "imposing their view on the rest of the community."
The bill proved to be so controversial and divisive among Vietnamese Canadians and Canadians of all backgrounds that last minute attempts were made to amend it during third reading and final debate on April 22. The most important consideration among Vietnamese Canadians was to remove any mention of April 30 from the bill, a day celebrated with pride and joy in Vietnam and around the world as National Reunification Day. MPs said that while many Vietnamese in Canada would like to celebrate the government's acceptance of refugees after the end of the war, doing so on April 30 divides the community in an unacceptable way. Liberal MP Judy Sgro pointed out that the government is "pitting one part of a community against another." Dismissing these important considerations, Conservative MPs cynically declared, "Vietnamese Canadians have spoken."
Despite the serious concerns raised, no MP was willing to take a stand against dishonouring the Vietnamese people's victory over foreign occupation or imposing an anti-communist narrative on Vietnamese Canadians. The bill was adopted unanimously on April 22, the day before receiving Royal Assent.
The Foreign Ministry of Vietnam issued a response to the bill's passage on April 24, making it clear that the bill amounted to falsification of the history of the Vietnamese people's struggle for national liberation and reunification, which won the support of Canadians and people around the world. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Hai Binh said, "This is a backward step in the relationship between the two countries, adversely affecting the growing ties between Vietnam and Canada and hurting the feelings of Vietnamese people as well as a great part of the Vietnamese community in Canada." The same day, the Canadian ambassador to Vietnam was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and was made aware that the passage of Bill S-219 will have a negative impact on Canada-Vietnam relations.
Canadians will not stand for anti-communist falsification of history and futile attempts by the Harper government to overturn the glorious victory of the Vietnamese people. The Canadian working class and people, who gave their undying support to the just struggle of Vietnam for freedom and independence, will forever celebrate April 30 as a day which affirmed the right of the Vietnamese people to control their own destiny. The Harper government's crusade against everything the people have won cannot take it away.
Activities are underway across Vietnam in preparation for the 40th anniversary of the historic liberation of Saigon from the U.S. imperialists and the reunification of the country on April 30, 1975.
The national celebration, taking place April 29 and 30 in Ho Chi Minh City, will be conducted by the Communist Party of Vietnam's Central Committee, National Assembly, president, government and the Vietnamese Fatherland Front. Ceremonies will be held April 29 in Hanoi at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Martyr Monument and in Ho Chi Minh City at the Martyrs' Cemetery and Ben Duoc Memorial Temple. April 30, National Reunification Day, will see parades and marches in Ho Chi Minh City attended by leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam, government and armed forces, those involved in the 1975 Spring Offensive, representatives of youth, workers', farmers', women's and social organizations, international delegations and diplomatic representatives. The night of April 30 will feature a special artistic program involving 4,400 artists in Ho Chi Minh City, followed by fireworks displays in eight locations across the city. Activities will carry on into May 1, International Workers' Day.
Leading up to the anniversary of reunification, events across the country will honour the historical significance of the April 30 victory, commemorate individuals who sacrificed their lives for Vietnam's liberation and highlight the achievements of the country over the past four decades.
A national workshop was held in Ho Chi Minh City on April 3 on the significance of the spring victory in 1975. Nhân Dân, the central organ of the Communist Party of Vietnam, reported that speeches at the workshop "affirmed that the struggle for liberation was not only a decisive military victory, but was also a victory of the people, leaving an inspirational legacy of human dignity which resulted from the long and enduring struggle and great sacrifices of the Vietnamese people all over the country under the sound leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam."
On April 14, a workshop in Hanoi highlighted the role of the general headquarters at the Hanoi Old Citadel in the success of the 1975 Spring Offensive. The general headquarters produced strategies and directions for the struggle against U.S. forces between 1965 and 1975. Within the headquarters, the Vietnamese people's leadership, consisting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the Central Military Commission, and the General High Command worked for over 7,000 days and held more than 1,000 meetings there to ensure the success of their fight for liberation and national reunification.
Ho Chi Minh City hosted a conference on April 14 to honour those who made significant contributions to the 1975 Spring Offensive. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam expressed the gratitude of the Party, state and people to the heroes who sacrificed their youth and in some cases their lives for the national revolutionary cause. Dam affirmed the importance of the resistance war for the national independence, peace, happiness, sovereignty and justice of the Vietnamese people.
Other victories of the Spring Offensive were celebrated in March and April, including the liberation of Quang Nam province on March 24 and of Lam Dong province April 3.
President Truong Tan Sang paid a visit on April 16 to revolutionary veterans who had been imprisoned on Phu Quoc Island during the war against the U.S. imperialists. Phu Quoc jail was originally constructed by the French colonialists in 1949-50 to house Vietnamese who resisted their control of the country, and during Vietnam's struggle for national reunification held more than 40,000 prisoners at a time. President Sang was himself jailed in Phu Quoc from 1971 to 1973.
Cultural and artistic events are also being held to mark the important anniversary.
An exhibition highlighting international support for the Vietnamese people's struggle for independence and national reunification from 1954 to 1975 will open April 24 at the Vietnam National Museum of History in Hanoi. The exhibit features almost 130 photos and artifacts from close to 50 European, Asian and African countries, alongside nearly 30 displays of the work of international workers', anti-war, student, legal, youth, women's and democratic organizations, as well as organizations across the world that supported and contributed to Vietnam's success in defeating the U.S. imperialists. The fourth International Choir Competition will be held in Quang Nam province on April 30 and May 1 in celebration of National Reunification Day and International Workers' Day. More than 1,500 performers from 15 countries will compete in the event.
Thirty-two sculpted busts of Vietnamese women who contributed to the resistance wars against the French and U.S. will be on display at the Women's Cultural House in Ho Chi Minh City in celebration of the anniversary until May 4. The sculptor, Thi Kim Thanh, travelled around the country for ten years meeting women who fought for Vietnamese independence and reunification, including generals, soldiers, spies, messengers, guerilla fighters and those who lost children in the war.
A nationally broadcast video conference celebrating the anniversary took place April 11 in Ho Chi Minh City featuring cultural and artistic performances, short documentaries and interviews with people and soldiers who took part in the campaign to liberate the city. The same day, the exhibition "Stories of Generals Imprisoned in Colonial Jails" opened in Ho Chi Minh City, showcasing nearly 150 photos and documents reflecting the revolutionary lives of generals such as Vo Nguyen Giap, Van Tien Dung, Hoang Van Thai, Nguyen Chi Tanh and Chu Muy Man.
(Nhan Dan, Vietnam News, Vietnam News Agency)
Vietnam's 40-year reconstruction since its reunification in 1975 has been hailed as a success story, with major international organizations and media taking note of the country's rapid socio-economic development, the Vietnamese press notes.
The United Nations noted that after reunification, due to the severe damages caused by many years of war, policy weaknesses and a difficult international environment, Vietnam's economy experienced a long period of crisis during the 1970s and 1980s. To overcome these difficulties the Doi Moi (renovation) process was initiated in 1986, and on the back of the reforms, the country has seen rapid economic growth.
Since 1990, Vietnam's GDP nearly tripled based on an average annual GDP growth rate of 7.5 per cent -- up until the global economic crisis in 2008. Growth suffered in 2008 (6.2 per cent) and 2009 (5.3 per cent) and remained sluggish in 2010 (6.3 per cent). Nevertheless, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line, estimated at 58 per cent in 1993 decreased to under 12 per cent in 2009. Domestic resources for development have increased and international trade and foreign direct investment have dramatically expanded over the past two decades.
The UN said the country's two Socio-Economic Development Strategies (SEDS) for 1991-2000 and 2001-2010 have helped Vietnam advance from a largely poor, agricultural-based economy to a wealthier, market-based and rapidly developing one, increasingly integrated into the regional and global community, and the new SEDS from 2011-2020 aims to establish the foundation for Vietnam to become a modern, industrialized country by 2020.
According to the UN, these strategies and collective efforts have taken Vietnam from being one of the poorest countries in the world only a few decades ago to a rapidly growing middle income country. In general, Vietnam's growth over the past two decades has been largely driven by a combination of steady economic reforms, integration into the world economy and a stable macroeconomic environment.
The World Bank also attributed Vietnam's development success to the Doi Moi, noting that political and economic reforms launched in 1986 have transformed the country from one of the poorest countries in the world, with per capita income below U.S.$100, to a lower middle income country within a quarter century with per capita income of more than U.S.$2,000 by the end of 2014. To date, Vietnam has achieved most and in some cases surpassed a number of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly the goals for poverty reduction, education and gender equality. The percentage of people living in poverty dropped from almost 60 per cent in the 1990s to under 10 per cent today.
The World Bank cited figures that showed Vietnam's growth rate has averaged 6.4 per cent per year for the last decade, adding that while the growth has begun to slow recently, Vietnam has managed to improve macroeconomic stability, with headline inflation falling from a peak of 23 per cent in August 2011 to about 4.1 per cent for 2014. The external sector continues to be an important engine of growth.
It underlined the country's SEDS 2011-2020 which gives attention to structural reforms, environmental sustainability, social equity, and emerging issues of macroeconomic stability.
The World Bank also pointed to the fact that the Vietnamese government has recently paid more attention to improving the business environment, with two Resolutions issued in March 2014 and March 2015, setting out concrete actions to remove obstacles to doing business in Vietnam, with a goal of achieving a business environment comparable to the average of the ASEAN+6 group (i.e., the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam -- plus their six major trading partners: China, India, Japan, south Korea, Australia and New Zealand).
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) highlighted that Vietnam has been among the fastest growing economies in the world since 1990, but the pace slowed down during 1998-2003 due to slow structural reforms and the instability in the global economy.
During a visit to Vietnam in 2014, ADB President Takehiko Nakao said in order to strengthen the achievements and restore rapid and comprehensive economic growth, the country should intensify structural reforms, particularly in state-owned enterprises and the banking sector, while the government should tighten public debt control through increasing tax revenue and rationalizing public spending.
The ADB President also noted that the private sector plays an important role in improving the country's competitiveness and avoiding the middle-income trap. According to him, Vietnam should try to optimize benefits from global economic integration through enhancing trade and investment on the basis of deeper integration into the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and free trade agreements.
The ADB's latest report on Asia's development outlook in 2015 stressed priority should be placed on strengthening the banking system and outlining a clear strategy to tackle bad debts in the short term.
In addition, Vietnam needs to speed up divestment of state-owned enterprises and accelerate their equitization process, according to the ADB's report, which also urged local enterprises' greater participation in the so-called global value chain -- i.e., to play a role in the global chain of production of various goods -- so as to "leverage the fullest growth potential."
Bloomberg recently ran an article which said Vietnam is once again poised for greater economic growth. "Money pouring into the Southeast Asian economy from the likes of manufacturers Samsung Electronics Co. and Intel Corp. is giving Vietnam a second run at becoming Asia's next tiger economy," it said.
The article quoted PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as saying that the country has the potential to become one of the world's fastest-growing economies over the period to 2050, adding that the Southeast Asian nation is gaining ground as a cheaper manufacturing alternative to neighbouring China, and is also a destination for Japanese firms boosting investment in the region amid recurring Sino-Japan spats.
The article cited reports that in 2014 the country overtook other ASEAN members to become the biggest exporter to the U.S., while disbursed foreign investment in the country reached U.S.$12.35 billion in 2014, up 7.4 per cent from 2013 and compared with U.S.$2.4 billion in 2000.
It reported the Vietnamese government is working on some of the economy's biggest milestones, and quoted Dang Quyet Tien, Deputy General Director of the Finance ministry's Corporate Finance Department as saying in an interview March 13 that Vietnam will attempt to sell a record number of shares in state-owned companies this year.
Summit of the Americas in Panama City
On April 11, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of Cuba's Council of State and Ministers, addressed the OAS Seventh Summit of the Americas. It was an historic event given that Cuba had been unjustly excluded from the proceedings of the organization since 1962. Cuba's presence in Panama City was made possible thanks to the solidarity of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which enabled Cuba to participate on an equal footing in this hemispheric forum, as well as the President of the Republic of Panama who invited Cuba to attend and gave a generous time allotment for President Castro's speech.
(Council of State Transcript)
It was high time I spoke here on behalf of Cuba. I was told at first that I could make an eight-minute speech; although I made a great effort, along with my Foreign Minister, to reduce it to eight minutes, and as I'm owed six summits from which we were excluded, 6 times 8 [equals] 48 (laughter and applause), I asked President Varela a few moments before entering this magnificent hall, to allow me a few minutes more, especially after we have been hearing so many interesting speeches, and I am not only referring to that of President Obama, but also that of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, President Dilma Rousseff and others.
Without further ado, I will begin. His Excellency Juan Carlos Varela, President of the Republic of Panama; Presidents: Prime Ministers; Distinguished guests: Firstly, I express our solidarity with President Bachelet and the people of Chile, for the natural disasters that they have been enduring.
I thank all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean for their solidarity, which enabled Cuba to participate on an equal footing in this hemispheric forum, as well as the President of the Republic of Panama for the invitation to attend he so kindly extended us. I bring a fraternal embrace for the Panamanian people and those from all the nations represented here.
When on December 2 and 3, 2011, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was created in Caracas, a new stage in the history of Our America began, which made clear the hard earned right to live in peace and develop as its peoples freely decide, and plotted a path for future development and integration based on cooperation, solidarity and the common will to preserve independence, sovereignty and identity.
The ideal of Simón Bolívar to create a "great American Homeland" inspired true independence epics. In 1800, the U.S. had considered adding Cuba to the Union of the North, as the southern boundary of the vast empire. In the nineteenth century, the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny emerged with the aim of dominating the Americas and the world, together with the Ripe Fruit theory regarding the inevitable gravitation of Cuba toward the North American Union, which rejected the birth and development of a particular and emancipatory thinking.
Later, through wars, conquests and interventions, this expansionist and hegemonic force stripped Our America of its territories and extended itself down to the Rio Grande. Following long and frustrated struggles, José Martí organized the "necessary war" of 1895 -- the Great War, as it was also called, began in 1868 -- and created the Cuban Revolutionary Party to lead it and to found a Republic "with all and for the good of all," which set out to achieve "the full dignity of man."
Accurately defining and anticipating the characteristics of his time, Martí devoted himself to the duty "of preventing the United States from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America" -- those were his exact words.
Our America for him was that of the Creoles, the indigenous, the blacks and the mulattos, the mestizo and hardworking America that had to make common cause with the oppressed and plundered. Today, beyond geography, this is an ideal that is starting to become reality.
One hundred and seventeen years ago, on April 11, 1898, the then-President of the United States requested authorization from Congress to militarily intervene in the independence war, which Cuba at the time had been fighting for nearly 30 years, already virtually won at the cost of rivers of Cuban blood, and this -- the U.S. Congress -- passed a deceptive Joint Resolution, which recognized the independence of the island "in fact and in law." They came as allies and seized the country as occupiers.
Cartoon decrying the Platt Amendment to Cuba's Constitution, in which Cuba is branded with the U.S. trade mark.
An appendix to its Constitution was imposed on Cuba, the Platt Amendment -- known by the name of the Senator that proposed it -- which stripped the island of its sovereignty, authorized the powerful neighbor to intervene in its internal affairs and led to the establishment of the Guantanamo Naval Base, which still usurps part of our territory. During this period, the invasion of northern capital increased, thereafter there were two military interventions and support for cruel dictatorships.
When the Cubans, at the beginning of the twentieth century, drafted their Constitution and presented it to the governor, self-appointed by his country, a U.S. general, he answered that there was something missing, and when the Cuban constitutionalists asked as to what, he responded: This amendment presented by Senator Platt, giving the United States the right to intervene in Cuba whenever it considers necessary.
They made use of that right; of course, the Cubans rejected it and the response was: Very well, we'll stay here. That lasted until 1934. There were two further military interventions and the support for cruel dictatorships in the mentioned period. Regarding Latin America, "gunboat diplomacy" and then the "Good Neighbor" policy took precedence. Successive interventions overthrew democratic governments and installed terrible dictatorships in 20 countries, 12 of them simultaneously.
Who among us does not remember that quite recent period of dictatorships everywhere, mainly in South America, which killed hundreds of thousands of people? President Salvador Allende left us an enduring example. Exactly 13 years ago, there was a coup d'état against the dear President Hugo Chávez Frías which the people defeated.
Then came, almost immediately, the costly oil shutdown. On January 1st, 1959, 60 years after American soldiers entered Havana, the Cuban Revolution triumphed and the Rebel Army, led by Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, arrived in the capital, the same day, exactly 60 years later.
Such are the unfathomable ironies of history. The Cuban people, at a very high price, began the full exercise of their sovereignty. They were six decades of absolute domination. On April 6, 1960 -- just a year after the triumph -- Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Lester Mallory, wrote in perverse memorandum -- and I cannot find another adjective to describe it.
This memorandum was declassified decades later -- I quote certain paragraphs: "[...] the majority of Cubans support Castro...There is no effective political opposition. The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship [...], to weaken the economic life of Cuba [...] denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government."
Seventy-seven per cent of the Cuban population was born under the rigors imposed by the blockade, more terrible than even many Cubans can imagine, but our patriotic convictions prevailed, the aggression increased the resistance and accelerated the revolutionary process. That happens when you harass the natural revolutionary process of the peoples.
The harassment brings more revolution. History demonstrates this, and not only in the case of our continent or Cuba. The blockade did not start when President Kennedy signed it in 1962. Later I will make a brief reference to him for a positive initiative to contact the Leader of our Revolution to begin what President Obama and I are now starting; almost simultaneously the news came of his assassination, as [Fidel] received a message from him. That's to say the aggression increased.
The attack on Playa Girón came in 1961, a mercenary invasion, sponsored and organized by the United States. Six years of war against armed groups who on two occasions encompassed the whole country. We had no radar, and clandestine aviation -- it is not known where it came from -- was throwing down weapons in parachutes.
That process cost us thousands of lives; we have not been able to calculate the economic costs with accuracy. It was January 1965 when it concluded, and they began supporting it towards the end of 1959, about 10 or 11 months after the triumph of the Revolution, when we had not yet declared socialism, which was declared in 1961, at the funeral of the victims of the airport bombings the day before the invasion.
The next day our army, small at that time, and all our people went to fight against that aggression and fulfilled the order of the Leader of the Revolution to destroy it within 72 hours. Because if they had managed to establish themselves there at the landing site, which was protected by the largest swamp of the Caribbean islands, they would have brought in an already formed government -- with a Prime Minister and the appointment of other ministers -- which was at a U.S. military base in Florida.
If they had been able to consolidate the position they initially occupied, it would have been easy to bring that government over to Playa Girón. And immediately the OAS, which had already banned us for proclaiming ideas alien to the continent, would have recognized it.
This government formed in Cuba, establishing itself on a small piece of land, would have asked the OAS for help and that help was located on U.S. warships situated three miles off the coast, which was the then existing limit of our territorial waters, which as you know is now is 12 [miles]. And the Revolution continued to gain strength, to radicalize.
The other option was to give up. What would have happened? What would have happened in Cuba? How many hundreds of thousands of Cubans would have died? Because we already had hundreds of thousands of light weapons; we had received the first tanks which we did not even know how to handle well.
The artillery, we knew how to shoot cannon fire, but we did not know where they were going to hit; what some militia learned in the morning, they had to teach to others in the afternoon. But there was a lot of courage, you had to go along a single route, because it was a swamp where the troops could not spread out, nor could tanks or heavy vehicles be deployed. We suffered more casualties than the attackers.
That's why Fidel's order was fulfilled: to eliminate them within 72 hours. And that same U.S. fleet was that which accompanied the expedition from Central America, and it was there, from the coast where some of their ships could be seen just three miles away. What was the cost to Guatemala of the famous invasion in 1954, which I remember well because I was imprisoned on the Isle of Youth -- or Pines, as it was called then -- for the attack on the Moncada Barracks a year earlier.
How many hundreds of thousands of Mayans, indigenous peoples and other Guatemalan citizens perished throughout a long process that would take years to recover from? That was the beginning.
Once we had already proclaimed socialism and the people had fought to defend Playa Girón, President John F. Kennedy -- to whom I already made reference just a moment ago -- was assassinated precisely at the very moment, the same day on which the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, had received a message from him -- from John Kennedy -- looking to initiate a dialogue.
After the Alliance for Progress and having paid the foreign debt several times over without preventing it from further multiplying, a savage and globalizing neo-liberalism was imposed on us, as an expression of imperialism in this era, which caused a lost decade in the region.
Protest against the FTAA at the Summit of the Americas in Miami, November 2003.
The proposal then of a mature hemispheric association resulted in the attempt to impose the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) on us, associated with the emergence of these Summits, which would have destroyed the economy, sovereignty and common destiny of our nations, if it had not been run aground in 2005, in Mar del Plata, under the leadership of Presidents Chávez, Kirchner and Lula.
A year earlier, Chávez and Fidel had given birth to the Bolivarian Alternative, today the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. Your Excellencies: We have expressed -- and I reiterate now -- to President Barack Obama, our willingness to engage in respectful dialogue and a civilized coexistence between the two States within our profound differences. I consider as a positive step his recent statement indicating that he will decide shortly regarding Cuba's presence on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on which it never should never have appeared -- imposed under the Reagan administration. Us, a terrorist country! Yes, we have undertaken certain acts of solidarity with other peoples, who can be considered terrorists, when we were cornered, forgotten and harassed to infinity, there was only one choice: surrender or fight.
You know what we chose with the support of our people. Who can think that we will force a whole people to make the sacrifice made by the Cuban people to survive, to help other nations?! (Applause). But "the dictatorship of the Castros forced them," just like it forced 97.5% of the population to vote for socialism.
I reiterate that I consider as a positive step the recent statement by President Obama to speedily decide on the presence of Cuba on a list of state sponsors of terrorism that it should never have been on, I was telling you, because when this was imposed it turned out that the terrorists were we who provided the corpses -- I don't have the exact figure to mind -- for terrorism in Cuba alone, and in some cases against Cuban diplomats in other parts of the world who were killed.
The figure was just provided me by my compañeros: in that period we saw 3,478 dead and 2,099 disabled for life; plus many others who were wounded. The terrorists were those who provided the corpses. Where did the terror come from then? Who provoked it? Some of those who have even been here in Panama these past few days, such as the CIA agent Rodríguez, who murdered Che and took his cut-off hands to prove with his fingerprints, I don't know where, that it was the corpse of Che, which later we recovered with the help of a friendly government in Bolivia. But still, since then we continue to be the terrorists.
I truly apologize, even to President Obama and to others present in this event for expressing myself in this way. I told him myself that passion seeps from my very pores when it comes to the Revolution. I apologize because President Obama has no responsibility for any of this. How many presidents have we had? Ten before him, every one of them is indebted to us, except President Obama.
After saying so many harsh things about a system, it is fair that I apologize to him, because I am among those who believe -- and thus I have expressed to quite a few heads of state and government that I see here, in private meetings I have had with them on receiving them in my country -- that, in my opinion, President Obama is an honest man.
I've read some of his biography in the two books that have appeared, not in full, I'll do that given more time. I admire his humble origins, and I think his nature is due to this humble background (Long applause).
I thought long and hard about saying these words, I even had written and removed them; I added them again and again I erased them, and, in the end, I said them, and I am satisfied.
To date, the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be applied in full force against the island, causing harm and scarcities to the people and is the fundamental obstacle to the development of our economy. It constitutes a violation of International Law and its extraterritorial reach affects the interests of all States.
The almost unanimous vote, apart from Israel and the United States itself, against the blockade in the UN over so many years, is no coincidence. And while the blockade exists, a situation for which the President is not responsible, and that due to past agreements and bills was codified into a law in Congress which the President cannot modify, we must continue to struggle and support President Obama in his intentions to eliminate the blockade. (Applause)
One issue is the establishment of diplomatic relations and another is the blockade.
Therefore, I ask you all, and life also obliges us, to continue supporting this struggle against the blockade. Excellencies: We have publicly expressed to President Obama, who was also born under the blockade policy toward Cuba, our recognition of his brave decision to participate in a debate with his country's Congress in order to put an end to it.
These and other elements must be resolved in the process toward the future normalization of bilateral relations. For our part, we will continue to be engaged in the process of updating the Cuban economic model with the aim of perfecting our socialism, advancing toward development and consolidating the achievements of a Revolution which has proposed to "achieve all justice" for our people.
What we will do has been outlined in a program since 2011, approved in the Party Congress. In the next Congress, which will take place next year, we will expand it; we will revise what we have done and what remains to be done in order to achieve our goal. Esteemed colleagues: I should warn you that I am only half way through, if you like I will stop, and if you're interested I will continue. I will speed up a bit (laughter). Venezuela is not, nor can it be, a threat to the national security of a superpower like the United States. (Applause).
It is positive that the U.S. President has recognized it as such. I must reiterate our total support, resolute and loyal, to the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to the legitimate government and the civic-military union led by President Nicolás Maduro, to the Bolivarian and chavista people who are struggling to follow their own path and facing destabilization attempts and unilateral sanctions which we demand be lifted, that the Executive Order be revoked -- although this is difficult given the law -- which would be appreciated by our community as a contribution to hemispheric dialogue and understanding.
We know each other. I believe that of those of us gathered here, I may be one of the few that best knows the Venezuelan process, it is not because we are there, nor that we are exerting influence there and they tell us everything, we know the process because they are proceeding along the same path which we passed and are suffering the same aggressions we suffered, or some of them.
We will continue to support the efforts of the Republic of Argentina to recuperate the Malvinas, Georgias del Sur and Sandwich del Sur Islands, and will continue to support its legitimate struggle to defend its financial sovereignty. We will continue to support the actions of the Republic of Ecuador in the face of transnational companies which cause ecological harm to its territory and attempt to impose abusive conditions.
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Brazil, and of President Dilma Rousseff, to the strengthening of regional integration and to the development of social policies which have brought advances and benefits to broad sectors of the population, which, within the offensive against diverse leftist governments of the region, they are attempting to reverse.
Our support for the Latin American and Caribbean people of Puerto Rico in their efforts to achieve self-determination and independence -- as the United Nations Decolonization Committee has ruled on dozens of occasions -- will be unwavering. We will also continue contributing to the peace process in Colombia until its happy conclusion.
We should all increase help to Haiti, not only through humanitarian aid, but with resources enabling it to develop, and support Caribbean countries so that they receive just and differential treatment in their economic relations, and reparations for the damages caused by slavery and colonialism. We live under the threat of enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons which should be eliminated and that of climate change which leaves us no time. Threats to peace are increasing and conflicts are spreading.
As President Fidel Castro expressed, "the fundamental causes lie in poverty and underdevelopment, and in the unequal distribution of wealth and knowledge which prevail in the world. It cannot be forgotten that current underdevelopment and poverty are the consequences of conquest, colonization, slavery and the plundering of much of the Earth by colonial powers, the rise of imperialism and the bloody wars for new dividing up of the planet.
"Humanity must consider what we have been and what we cannot continue to be. Today," continued Fidel, "our species has acquired sufficient knowledge, ethical values, and scientific resources to advance toward a historic era of true justice and humanism. Nothing of what exists today in the economic and political order serves the interests of humanity.
"It cannot be sustained. It must be changed," concluded Fidel. Cuba will continue to defend the ideas for which our people have assumed the greatest sacrifices and risks and fought for, alongside the poor, the sick lacking medical attention, the unemployed, boys and girls abandoned to their fate or forced to work or prostitute themselves, the hungry, those who are discriminated against, the oppressed and the exploited that make up the vast majority of the world's population.
Financial speculation, the privileges of Bretton Woods and the unilateral suspension of the convertibility of the dollar into gold are increasingly asphyxiating. We require a transparent and equitable financial system. It is unacceptable that less than a dozen corporations, mainly North American -- four or five of six or eight -- decide what is read, seen or heard on the planet. The Internet must have an international, democratic and participative system of governance, especially in regards to the creation of content.
The militarization of cyberspace and use of covert and illegal information systems to attack other States is unacceptable. We will not allow ourselves to be blinded and colonized again. In regards to the Internet, which is a marvelous invention, one of the greatest in recent years, we might say, recalling the example of the tongue in Aesop's fable, that the Internet can be used in the best way and is very useful, but in turn, can also be used for the worst. Mr. President: Hemispheric relations, in my opinion, have to change profoundly, in particular in the political, economic and cultural spheres; in order that, based on International Law and the exercise of self-determination and sovereign equality, they focus on developing mutually beneficial ties and cooperation to serve the interests of all our nations and their stated objectives.
The approval, in January 2014, during the Second CELAC Summit, held in Havana, of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, constituted a significant contribution to this aim, marked by Latin American and Caribbean unity within its diversity.
This is demonstrated by the fact that we are advancing toward a genuine process of Latin American and Caribbean integration through CELAC, UNASUR, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, ALBA-TCP, SICA and the Association of Caribbean States, which highlights the growing awareness of the need to unite to ensure our development.
Through the aforementioned Proclamation we are obliged to ensure that "differences between nations are peacefully settled through dialogue and negotiations or other means, fully consistent with International Law."
Today, to live in peace, cooperating with each other in order to confront the challenges and resolve the problems which, at the end of the day, affect and will continue to affect us all, is imperative. As stated in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace "The inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful coexistence among nations," must be respected. With this we commit ourselves to fulfilling our "obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other State and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples," and to respect "the principles and norms of International Law [...] and the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter."
This historic document urges "all member states of the International Community to fully respect this declaration in their relations with CELAC member states."
Now, we have the opportunity for all those present to learn, as the Proclamation also expresses, to "practice tolerance and live together in peace as good neighbors."
Yes, there exist substantial discrepancies, but also points in common in which we can cooperate in order to make it possible to live in this world full of threats to peace and the survival of humanity. What is stopping, at a hemispheric level -- as other Presidents who preceded me have already stated -- cooperation to combat climate change? Why can't the countries of the two Americas, the North and the South, fight together against terrorism, drug trafficking or organized crime, without politically biased positions? Why not search for, together, the necessary resources to provide the hemisphere with schools, hospitals -- even if they aren't luxurious, a modest little hospital, in those places where people die because there is no doctor -- to stimulate employment, to advance in the eradication of poverty.
Could it not be possible to reduce the inequality in the distribution of wealth, reduce infant mortality, end hunger, eradicate preventable illnesses and end illiteracy? Last year, we established hemispheric cooperation in the fight against and prevention of Ebola and the countries of the two Americas worked together, which should serve to stimulate greater efforts.
Cuba, a small country, lacking in natural resources, which has developed within an extremely hostile context, has been able to achieve full citizen participation in the political and social life of the nation; free universal healthcare and education; a system of social security which guarantees that no Cuban is left homeless; significant progress toward ensuring equality of opportunities and combating discrimination in all its forms; the full exercise of children's and women's rights; access to sports and culture; the right to life and citizen security. Despite scarcities and difficulties, we remain true to sharing what we have.
There are currently 65,000 Cuban collaborators working in 89 countries, above all in the spheres of medicine and education. 68,000 professionals and technicians from 157 countries have graduated from the island, 30,000 of which are in the field of health.
If, with scarce resources, Cuba has been able to achieve this, what, with the political will to combine efforts to support the countries most in need, couldn't the hemisphere do? Thanks to Fidel and the heroic Cuban people, we have come to this Summit, to fulfill the mandate of Martí with the freedom won by our own hands, "proud of Our America, to serve and honor her with the determination and capacity to help ensure that she is valued for her merits, and respected for her sacrifices," as Martí stated.
And to you all, forgive me for the time I have taken. Many thanks to you all. (Applause)
(Granma International. Edited slightly for grammar by TML.)
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