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December 15, 2016

Bedrock Proposal to Take Control of Stelco

Stelco Steelworkers and Retirees
Face Morton's Fork


Steelworkers rally for pensions, November 25, 2016.

Bedrock Proposal to Take Control of Stelco

Stelco Steelworkers and Retirees Face Morton's Fork

Stelco steelworkers have been handed an unwelcome dilemma: say yes to Bedrock, U.S. Steel and the Ontario government's deal to bring Stelco out of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) and consequently face the uncertainty of smoke and mirrors and negation of their rights; or, say no to the deal and face what Shakespeare would call "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" piled on them from all quarters.

The entire establishment media and vested interests of the financial oligarchy and their allies are howling for steelworkers to accept the deal or else. What could possibly be wrong with accepting a deal that the Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa says saves jobs, protects pensions, supports economic development and ensures environmental protection. What more could you people possibly want, scream the mass media!

To say steelworkers have heard it all before would be an understatement but that does not make the dilemma any more palatable. The reality of Morton's Fork is the royal prerogative held today by the financial oligarchy in power.[1] The royal prerogative denies steelworkers their right to be and tramples on what is theirs by right.

The CCAA fix was in from the beginning and everyone knows it. U.S. Steel will now scurry back to its palace somewhere along the Allegheny River knowing its partners in Bedrock have saved its bacon and will not be held to account for their crimes in Canada. Hurray, they cry! We don't have to pay back the $150 million Ontario loan; we don't have any creditors suing us for losses; we don't have the Canadian government demanding restitution for all the broken promises made under the Investment Canada Act; all the pension, post-employment benefits and environmental problems around our neck have disappeared with this deal and those gullible Canucks are even giving us $126 million to send us on our merry way to cause trouble somewhere else in the world. And you dear brother U.S. oligarchs in Bedrock and fine friends in the Ontario government have concocted a deal of tens of thousands of words of lawyer-speak to guarantee that we will not have to face retribution and loss even though more than a few Canadians will complain that the deal backed by the state has guaranteed the robber barons an "outrageous fortune" and not "slings and arrows."

Mr. Sousa has graciously wiped clean U.S. Steel's debt to the province of $150 million. Gone are the angry words that USS has reneged on its promises and written agreements sworn in the media and Investment Canada Act on employment, production and making the pension plans whole. To assist U.S. Steel's U.S. cousins at Bedrock to shape a new Stelco as a takeover target for a quick score in a few years, Mr. Sousa is providing "financial support of up to $76 million in fully secured loans and various forms of regulatory relief and a release of certain legacy environmental liabilities." My yes, what good are environmental or any regulations for that matter, if the financial oligarchy cannot release themselves from them.

Sousa also revelled in the prospect of Stelco retirees governing a land trust of polluted lands and putting them in shape for redevelopment. Every steelworker's dream is to retire into the bliss of managing a government controlled polluted land trust. Well sirs, Mr. Sousa may mumble, we cannot give you land without expecting something in return. The province doesn't want to see you spending your golden years without anything to do and simply having defined-benefits fall into your pockets until you die. We don't recognize the lifetime deal for pensions in exchange for your capacity to work. Once you stop working, what good are you to the oligarchs? Go fend for yourself!

And you youngsters at Stelco still working or just starting. Don't even worry about retirement because defined-benefits and even retirement are things of the past. This deal says that only "benefits for service accrued prior to the transaction" are entitled to claims on the polluted lands. "Pension coverage for future service would be addressed in separate agreements," which of course means that we are back prior to the strike of 1946 when pensions, especially defined-benefit pensions, were a dream of the working class to fight for and win after we had destroyed the hated oligarchs' concept of "fend for yourself" in the great war against fascism.

The government makes the deal's intention clear to sever the new Stelco from its earlier social obligations and promises declaring: "While the new company is committed to making contributions to the pension plans, it is not obligated to fund any deficit in the pension plans for service accrued prior to completion of the restructuring transaction."

Mr. Sousa, the pension plans with an almost $900 million deficit at last count are precisely "for service accrued prior to completion of the restructuring transaction." You are reneging on the deal steelworkers and other employees made with the financial oligarchy of the old Stelco for the sale of their capacity to work. The deal was for certain wages, defined pension benefits and Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEBs) until death, guaranteed by Stelco steel production or government revenue. As for new hires and "service" after "completion of the restructuring transaction," you have effectively destroyed their pension dreams and devalued their capacity to work. For steelworkers its "déjà-vu all over again" from before 1946 and even back before the victorious war against Hitlerism.

The lawyer-speak negating OPEBs and pensions is a provocative attack on workers' dignity and a betrayal of a solemn agreement for pensions in exchange for a lifetime of work. The benefits "would be administered through a new trust or corporate entity" with value coming from "a land trust. These lands would be sold, leased or developed, with proceeds going to fund the pension plans and the OPEBs entity."

Sousa hopes to turn retirees into a particular form of liberal real estate hustlers and land speculators. "Ontario would provide a fully secured loan of $10 million to the land trust to support the start-up operations. The province would also provide a loan of up to $66 million, fully secured, to the OPEBs entity to ensure there is sufficient funding available to fund the OPEBs while the land is developed and the new company is established. Both loans would be fully secured against the land and other assets."

How magnanimous of you Mr. Sousa. You have let the U.S. Steel and Bedrock oligarchs off the hook for their obligations to the pensions and OPEBs through the smoke and mirrors of a land trust of polluted lands providing "fully secured loans" to send the trust on its merry way. Interesting that the provincial loans to the polluted land trust are "fully secured" when you have thrown out the window the $150 million loan owed to the province by U.S. Steel. Not only have you disappeared that loan but also have no shame in announcing that the "[Ontario] Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) in connection with environmental conditions on the land would provide [to the new Stelco] a release of certain legacy environmental liabilities associated with the Stelco lands."

The over three hundred pages of lawyer-speak make it all grossly unintelligible to Canadians who speak whatever language they are comfortable speaking, which most certainly is not lawyer-speak. This dog's breakfast of a deal starts and ends without any recognition of the rights of steelworkers, salaried employees, the steel communities and Canadian economy. Without recognition of the rights of Canadians as the premise what deal can anyone expect except one to pay the rich and serve the narrow private interests of the ruling oligarchs. No one from the financial oligarchy is held to account for Stelco (and Essar Steel Algoma) being in CCAA in the first place. Apparently, CCAA just fell out of the sky without any connection with U.S. Steel and its destructive practice in Canada or the long-festering problems in the steel sector, which steelworkers have consistently exposed and presented positive alternatives to wrecking, pay-the-rich schemes and sellout.

This deal solves no problem confronting the steel sector in Canada. It does not even recognize that economic problems exist. It turns the work-time of steelworkers and their production of steel value into "anti-value," into a "cost of production" that the poor oligarchs do not want to bear. Mr. Sousa sir, do you even want a Canada with its own stable prosperous economy and steel sector? You are finance minister but do not appear interested in building a self-reliant diverse Canadian economy and steel sector capable of pricing its production, meeting the apparent demand of Canadians for products and engaging in trade for mutual benefit with other collectives of peoples in the world in a spirit of cooperation and friendship. Do you seriously believe that some oligarchs from New York have our or anyone's well-being at heart and will sacrifice their time, effort and social wealth on our behalf? That is not their nature. We don't need them. We are quite capable of producing and distributing steel. We have been doing it for over a hundred years. We have the expertise, the human factor, the mills and raw material. Show them the door Mr. Sousa if you have any backbone and are truly Canadian and one with us.

This deal has no legitimacy because it does not have a legitimate premise. The deal severs the pension and benefit rights of workers from the production of value at Stelco and from government revenue. It casts steelworkers adrift to suffer the "slings and arrows" of the vagaries of a land trust that produces nothing.

Humans have faced variations of Morton's Fork in the past and have overcome the dilemma with a new direction. That is the task facing the working class. The ruling oligarchs are exhausted; they have no solutions; all they do is trample on the rights of the working class and deny them what is theirs by right. Another direction is possible. The organized working class must bring that new direction into being. It can be done!


1. Morton's Fork is an argument used by the English prelate John Morton (c.1420-1500), as Chancellor in demanding gifts for the royal treasury. If a man lived well he was obviously rich and could contribute a portion of his wealth to the King, and if he lived frugally then he must have savings and could contribute a portion of his savings to the King (The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).

(All quotations are from a press release and backgrounder from the Ontario Ministry of Finance website.)

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Defend the Dignity of Unemployed Workers

Calls Intensify to Repeal Harper's Changes
to Employment Insurance

Organizations defending the unemployed, members of the Autonomous and Solidarity Movement of the Unemployed (MASSE), together with unions are demanding the complete repeal of the Harper government's anti-social reform of the Employment Insurance system. The Trudeau government promised to abolish the entire reform but among other things it left the Social Security Tribunal intact. The Harper government created this institution to make it more and more difficult for unemployed workers to challenge unfavourable decisions of the Employment Insurance Commission and to discourage them from appealing.

The Trudeau government is playing tricks with halfway measures. For example, it has changed the arbitrary criteria dividing the unemployed into categories as a step towards introduction of labour mobility as a key criterion for eligibility for EI. This has long been a demand of big business.

Harper's Social Security Tribunal has been left in place, which replaced the Boards of Referees and the Umpire in the processing of appeals by unemployed workers. The Boards of Referees were tripartite government-employer-worker boards based in the communities where the unemployed workers lived. Decisions of the Boards of Referees could be appealed to an Umpire. The Trudeau Cabinet appoints members of the Social Security Tribunal who are given complete power to hear appeals. An individual member of the tribunal entrusted with the case is the sole decision-maker. Those Cabinet appointees do not have to hold a hearing in the presence of the unemployed worker who is appealing or even live in the same region.

In a document published last October, MASSE describes the functioning of the Tribunal in detail, including the impact of its decisions on the lives of the unemployed with regard to their right to present their case and to have access to due process and their right to receive benefits.

Under the Harper anti-social reform, the only recourse for the unemployed who disagree with a decision on their case is to ask the Employment Insurance Commission for an administrative review. Research reveals that out of 50,388 administrative reviews in 2014-2015, about 45 per cent cancelled or modified the initial unfavourable decisions taken by the EI Service Canada agents regarding applications for EI. According to MASSE, this shows the enormous pressure on Service Canada agents to reject applications from the unemployed on their initial application so as to remove them from the program and force them into a lengthy review.

If the administrative review rejects the appeal, as in 55 per cent of the cases, the unemployed may lodge a further appeal with the General Division of the Social Security Tribunal. This appeal can be refused by a summary rejection without the unemployed even being heard. MASSE reports that the number of unemployed who appeal a summary rejection is minimal as it appears unlikely to workers that such an appeal would succeed.

The Appeal Division of the Tribunal received only 427 appeals of decisions taken at the General Division in 2014-15. Twenty-eight appeals were summarily rejected. By comparison in 2012-13, appeals to the Umpire in the former system totalled 1621. MASSE explains that much of the 74 per cent fall in appeals under the Harper reforms results from the lengthy and documented written application to the Appeal Division of the Tribunal. This discourages many unemployed from appealing unless they are represented by a defence organization.

Another discouraging feature of the new appeal process is the inordinate length of time it takes to process the cases. According to the MASSE study, the processing of a file in the general division takes 262 days on average and 395 days on average at the appeal stage.

During this time, unemployed people do not receive benefits and often have no income. Defence organizations report cases where the unemployed become homeless while awaiting their appeal. In other cases, the unemployed may earn an income during the appeal period by taking a job at a much lower wage than they were receiving before losing their job. The inevitable consequence of all this is that a large number of unemployed workers abandon their appeals. The absurdity, in addition to the inhumanity of the situation, is that a decision favourable to the unemployed will often be merely symbolic because the worker will have found an inferior job to survive, a job that the worker cannot leave without becoming ineligible for benefits, while others have suffered terrible deprivation and despair.

The unemployed are also discouraged from appealing by the total inhumanity of the appeal process during which they will often not be heard in person by the Tribunal member in charge of their case. In 2014-2015, 55.5 per cent of the decisions at the appeal division were made without the unemployed being entitled to a face-to-face hearing to explain their case. Hearings are mainly conducted by telephone or videoconference.

In 2014-2015, 68.5 per cent of the hearings at the general division were done by telephone, 16.4 per cent in person and 6.4 per cent by videoconference. In addition, the successive anti-social reforms of the EI regime have created a climate of fear. The Harper government criminalized workers applying for EI or receiving EI.

France Simard, the coordinator of Mouvement Action Chômage Lac-St-Jean in Quebec told Workers' Forum, "A climate of fear has been created amongst the unemployed workers by the Harper reform as unemployed workers fear to speak to a camera because they do not want to be on the radar of the government and that fear still exists."

MASSE reports that this deliberate attack is meant to drive the unemployed out of the programme and by all reports this has succeeded as fewer than 40 per cent of unemployed workers are currently even eligible for EI.

MASSE reiterates its demand for the immediate repeal of the Social Security Tribunal and at least a return to the Boards of Referees and Umpires. In general, the organizations of the unemployed want an atmosphere where unemployed workers are allowed to live in dignity and not be criminalized. Such an atmosphere would include, among other things, an eligibility threshold of 350 hours or 13 weeks, a benefit rate of at least 70 per cent based on the best 12 weeks of the wage prior to the worker losing a job, and a minimum floor of 35 weeks of benefits.

Workers' Forum congratulates the organizations of the unemployed for their efforts to defend the unemployed who are often amongst the most vulnerable workers. The working class is not in control of the economy and cannot in any way be held responsible for unemployment, which is a cancer of the capitalist system. To deny workers a livelihood for being unemployed is a serious indictment of the present direction of the economy and system of governance and rule by the financial oligarchy. People have rights by virtue of being human and no circumstance, including unemployment, can negate their rights.

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Ontario Injured Workers' Rally

Demands for Compensation System
to Be Investigated

The Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) held its 25th Annual Christmas rally on December 12 to demand an end to the violation of the rights of all workers to support and just compensation when they are injured or made ill at work. This year's rally was held outside the Toronto headquarters of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). In a break with past years, the Minister of Labour was not invited to speak.

The annual rally is organized on a Christmas theme to contrast the spirit of good cheer which is supposed to characterize the holiday season with the poverty and misery faced by injured workers and their families throughout the year due to the refusal of the government and employers to provide just compensation. The austerity agenda being implemented by the Wynne government in Ontario, continues to exacerbate this situation.

Injured workers came from Niagara, Hamilton, Barrie, and as far away as Ottawa, to participate in the action. They joined activists from ONIWG member groups in Toronto; Injured Workers Action for Justice, Women of Inspiration, Bright Lights, the Chinese Injured Workers Group, and Injured Workers Consultants. Other workers, including a large contingent from the Toronto area council of the United Steelworkers, joined in.

The Justice Singers energized everyone with their street theatre performance of "Kathleen Wynne's Crocodile Tears" and a new song.

In his introductory remarks to the rally Willy Noiles, the newly elected President of ONIWG, outlined the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's unjust denial of claims of injured workers. He stated that "We are delivering a letter today to the Ontario Ombudsman's office to demand that they investigate what is going on with the WSIB: to find out why the WSIB is not listening to our doctors; why injured workers are being forced back to work while they are still not recovered; why the WSIB is cutting off injured workers and denying them their rights while handing millions over to the employers; why the WSIB and the government are not upholding the law."

Noiles pointed out that the situation needs to be ended where almost one third of all injured workers are in workplaces not covered by the compensation system. If WSIB wants to solve its mythical "unfunded liability," it could do so by making the compensation system universal and collecting money outstanding from employers.

Merv King from United Steelworkers, Terri Aversa from Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, Vinay Sharma for Unifor and Andy Summers for the Ontario Nurses Association brought messages of solidarity from their unions to the rally. They spoke to the situations in their workplaces and emphasized that the fight of injured workers was just and belonged to all workers.

L to R: Speakers from United Steelworkers, OPSEU, Unifor and ONA.

Chris Ramsaroop of Justice 4 Migrant Workers closed out the rally highlighting the plight faced by migrant workers when they are injured. He cited a recent case of a migrant worker who was injured and rather than receiving support and assistance the owner of the farm called the OPP who escorted the worker to the airport to be deported. "We are calling for an end to the deportations. Migrant workers have a right to proper health care and support when they are injured," he said.

Delivering the letter to the Ombudsman's office -- an official was sent down to receive it.

Christmas picket outside WSIB office in Windsor, December 12, 2016.

Following the rally everyone boarded a school bus to the Ombudsman's office to deliver a letter calling on him to investigate the WSIB. The letter read in part:

"... In the past year, at least two systemic complaints have been submitted to you, asking for you to undertake investigations into the Board's unfair practices and policies. To date, both of these complaints have gone unanswered.

"The first one, entitled Prescription Overruled, gets at the heart of how injured workers -- particularly those with more serious and complex injuries -- are being mistreated. When our doctors are systematically ignored, then the WSIB can justify any rejection or denial. If this is allowed to continue with impunity, then the integrity of the system itself should be called into question.

"We know that dozens of injured workers contacted your office to share their stories about how their doctors were ignored. You may not be aware that it is very difficult for many injured workers to tell their stories to others, as it is often painful for them to share what they have gone through. In this instance we did not share our stories with you as a mere formality, or so that they could be filed away on a shelf. We shared our stories because they are direct evidence of a systemic problem that needs immediate action. We shared our stories because we need change, and we are calling on you to help make that change happen.

Thunder Bay picket demands inquiry into WSIB, December 12, 2016. (Injured Workers Online)

"The same question goes for the second complaint, about chronic mental stress in the workplace. The legislation and policy around chronic mental stress has been found to be contrary to the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. This means the government and WSIB are violating our Charter rights. And yet nobody is doing anything about it.

"These are not trivial matters. People's lives and livelihoods are at stake. Many injured workers have lost everything -- family, friends, income, physical and mental health -- because of the systemic problems we have brought to your office.

"We are aware of your mandate as the provincial watchdog to investigate systemic issues that result in the mistreatment of Ontarians, and we believe strongly in this mandate. We need you to step in and stand up for those of us who are being abused by a callous system. We need you to launch an investigation into these matters...."

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Workplace Injuries Among Healthcare Workers

Below are extracts from the presentation made by Andy Summers, a hospital emergency room nurse and Toronto area Vice-President of the Ontario Nurses Association, to the ONIWG Christmas rally on December 12.


I'm here today speaking out on behalf of our injured Registered Nurses (RNs) and allied health professionals -- injured while providing care to our patients.

I can tell you nurses are suffering injuries at a staggering rate. In hospitals alone in 2015, 754 lost time injury claims were allowed for Registered Nurses. There were 901 allowed lost-time injury claims in total for 2015 for RNs across the health sector.

When we look at lost-time injuries by sector, the health care sector in 2015 has higher claims than manufacturing, construction and mining sectors for exposures, falls, soft-tissue injuries and workplace violence.

Lost-time injuries as a result of workplace violence in the health care sector are rising at an alarming rate -- rising 6.4 per cent in 2014 and by 11 per cent in 2015. This is unacceptable and something must be done to stop violent incidents that nurses are experiencing in their workplaces.

I can tell you as well that the ONA has written to the Minister of Labour calling for amendments to subsections 13 (4) and (5) of the WSIB's [Workplace Safety and Insurance Board] traumatic mental stress policy as a result of WSIAT [Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal] rulings that these sections are unconstitutional and discriminatory for workers suffering mental stress injuries.

I find it shameful that the government has not acted since the ONA's Charter Case win in April 2014. It is well past time for government to take action for workers suffering mental stress injuries.

I can also tell you that the ONA is deeply disappointed that the government excluded nurses from the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] presumption that now applies to all other first responders. We won't rest until we see coverage for nurses as well.

We've been fighting for one nurse working in a dialysis unit of a very large hospital who was repeatedly exposed to Glutaraldehyde, a toxic chemical used to disinfect and clean blood from the dialysis machine. She developed numerous adverse health effects from the exposure and became very ill and could never return to work. A psychiatrist diagnosed her with PTSD and indicated she thought she was also going to die from this exposure. Despite the diagnosis of PTSD, WSIB denied her claim. It wasn't until the ONA appealed her case that it was finally heard at the Tribunal after almost 10 years and subsequently won.

ONA won't sit by while this government's legislation and policies continue to discriminate against nurses facing mental stress injuries.

The WSIB's new return to work philosophy for injured workers is equally problematic. WSIB now forces workers to recover at work, which will result in more denials as workers are pushed back to work prematurely, putting them at risk of harm.

It's time to take a firm stand! Time to make some noise so the government hears us!

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Opposition to Saskatchewan Government's Anti-Social Measures

Workers Condemn Austerity Agenda

Since the Saskatchewan Party led by Brad Wall won a majority in the April 2016 provincial election, threats to public services and the workers who deliver them have escalated. Besides the ongoing privatization of liquor stores there has been wide speculation about the privatization of SaskTel, a Crown corporation. In recent years the government has used Private-Public Partnerships to finance nine schools, a Regina bypass and the North Battleford Hospital currently under construction.

In a November 22 news release, the government announced new "restraint measures," which it claims are necessary to deal with an increasing deficit. These measures include a public sector hiring freeze and $217 million of "in-year restraint measures and savings undertaken across government, including Crown corporations." In addition, the news release states, "The government is also committed to holding the line on labour costs across all sectors of the public service."

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Saskatchewan issued a statement on November 23, called "Hands Off Public Services." Tom Graham, President of CUPE Saskatchewan is quoted as saying, "Public sector workers did not cause this deficit. Bad government decisions caused this deficit. And now the quality of the public services that Saskatchewan families depend on is at risk."

Public services, including health care and education, are already underfunded in spite of election promises of increased funding. In June, following the release of the budget and government plans to cut public services to deal with the deficit, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Larry Hubich said, "The Saskatchewan Party is always looking for expensive experiments in healthcare. They spent millions to find only a few dollars of 'efficiencies' -- taxpayers were left holding the bag. Now they have another money-saving scheme." Hubich went on to say, "We already know the real solution to improving healthcare -- invest in a publicly-funded and delivered system emphasizing frontline healthcare staff, and stamp out any signs of costly privatization."

Workers and communities throughout the province are continuing their resistance to attacks on their rights and the wrecking of public services through cutbacks and privatization.

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Manitoba Government's Austerity Agenda

No to Attacks on Public Sector Workers
and Public Services!

The Pallister Conservative government in Manitoba is preparing for an all-out attack on public services and public sector workers under the guise of responding to "realities of Manitoba's challenging economic climate including the province's large budgetary deficit."

The organized collective resistance of the working class to attacks on its rights and the rights of all is a bulwark against the neo-liberal anti-social offensive. The right to social programs and public services and the rights of workers who provide the services are interdependent. For example, workers who provide care and services in health care and seniors' care need adequate staff and working conditions which allow them to provide patients or residents with the care they need and which is theirs by right.

Attacks on public sector workers are aimed at eliminating the collective organized resistance of the working class and the first line of defence of public services and programs. Organized collective resistance by public sector workers to attacks on their rights is based on defending rights and in opposition to the wrecking of public services and programs.

Premier Pallister's latest salvo shows the underhanded methods at work to attack the rights of health care workers and the rights of all. He took the occasion of his first "State of the Province" address on December 8 -- which he delivered at an event hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce -- to announce that he thinks the 169 union bargaining units in Manitoba's health sector are far too many.

Under the hoax that he would like to see the process "streamlined" to make it "more efficient for both government and labour," Pallister referred to "union bosses" in a thinly-veiled attempt to incite workers against their leadership. He claimed that his aim in reducing the number of bargaining units would be to "save time and money for both sides" and said, "I need our union bosses to understand that this is a positive endeavour that will help their own people." When he was asked what he would do if the unions do not cooperate, the premier said, "That's hypothetical" and added, "I don't see that happening." People are asking whether this is intended to be a threat.

The premier is attempting to destroy public opinion in favour of public sector workers. This is how the set-up takes place. First, the workers and their unions are blind-sided by a "proposal" made at a Chamber of Commerce event, with the Premier stating that he has already discussed this "informally" with the unions. The message here is that he does not recognize the right of workers to decide how to organize their collectives.

The unions pointed out that, in fact, no such discussions have taken place between the government and the unions representing health care workers and reminded the premier that he needs to be talking to the unions if he has proposals that concern the rights of workers. But the Premier has already started working to introduce the idea that his proposal is great for "both sides" and to imply that if the "union bosses" do not agree, this means they are being obstructive or uncooperative or generally not acting in the best interests of their members as defined by the premier.

To show how reasonable he is, Pallister gave as an example that there are, he says, 47 different bereavement-leave provisions in health-care collective agreements. "Your uncle passes on, and you want to go to the funeral, but your wife can't go. She's under a different bereavement provision. Surely, we can work together to make these systems simpler and more effective to benefit the people who work on our front lines."

That sounds reasonable, but what is the reality? Workers know from experience how these things go -- that the government will demand that the least favourable conditions for the workers become the standard for each clause of a unified collective agreement.

Is the intent of the Premier to use the legislature to dictate to workers what union they will belong to? Is it the intent of the government to toss out collective agreements that have been negotiated and impose contract language? It certainly looks that way.

Workers and their collectives have lots of experience with these methods of replacing negotiations and good-faith bargaining with dictate. Public sector workers are the front line defence of public services and programs and their greatest champions and this reality must be recognized. Any attack on the right of health care and seniors' care workers to wages, working conditions and pensions commensurate with their work and contribution to society and the added-value they produce is an attack on the rights of all. The response of the workers to these attacks is to demand that governments carry out their responsibilities towards the people and society, to defend the rights of workers and the rights of all, and to give those rights a guarantee in law.

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Throne Speech Outlines Attack on Workers' Rights

The Conservative government of Brian Pallister signalled in the November 21 throne speech its intent to impose an "austerity" agenda. This includes attacks on the wages and working conditions of public sector workers and the removal of obstacles to privatization including those in the form of Public-Private Partnerships.

With regard to privatization, the throne speech says, "Our government will also eliminate the current legislation governing private public partnerships, which in its current form actually discourages the use of such innovative funding partnerships in rebuilding Manitoba's infrastructure."

According to the throne speech, "Manitoba's government is setting a new course, one that will focus on longterm, sustainable measures to fix our finances, repair the services relied upon by our citizens, spark the rebuilding of our economy and put our province back on a responsible fiscal track."

The government stated that "savings" had already started "at the top, with a reduction in the size of our provincial cabinet." The government then declared that Crown corporations and regional health authorities will be expected to reduce administrative and senior management costs saying, "Legislation will be introduced, following consultation and dialogue, to ensure that the province's public sector costs do not exceed Manitobans' ability to sustain the services they receive in return."

These announcements come after weeks of speculation about wage freezes and the Premier's promise of a "pause." This means not just cuts to services but government dictates on wages and working conditions for public sector workers. The day before the throne speech, Premier Pallister was quoted in a report from the Manitoba Teachers' Society saying, "The average wage increases have been increases of two and a half times the rate of inflation for the last number of years. So what we are talking about in terms of impact on folks that work with us is that we're asking for a pause and are going to be asking for a pause in increases so we can get our financial house in order."

Representatives of the largest public sector unions were quick to respond. Michelle Gawronsky, President of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE) said, "We were looking for a clear sign that this government was going to follow through on its commitment to protect and invest in the public services Manitobans count on. Instead, the Premier is now proposing to not only strip working Manitobans of their bargaining rights, but is also threatening the very services that he clearly and publicly promised to protect."

CUPE Manitoba in a statement said, "The Throne Speech refers to reducing red tape, but does not differentiate unneeded bureaucracy from important programs and protections. It plans to remove The Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act, a law that protects the public interest by requiring thorough study and basic public consultation and reporting on projects that plan to hand over public services to for-profit interests."

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Pallister Government's Anti-Labour Legislation

New anti-labour legislation came into effect in Manitoba on November 10, which makes it more difficult for workers to form unions. The legislation called Bill 7, The Labour Relations Amendment Act, has been widely condemned since it was introduced shortly after the election that brought the Pallister Conservatives to power.

The Manitoba Federation of Labour issued a statement explaining and denouncing Bill 7, which was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on June 16. An excerpt reads:

"Fewer unionized workplaces will mean fewer working families with fair wages and benefits, fewer champions for workplace health and safety and fewer voices speaking up for workers.

"Bill 7 would end a long-standing practice of allowing workplaces in which at least 65 per cent of employees indicate their desire to join a union -- by signing a union card -- to apply for fast-track certification.

"This practice is in place in several jurisdictions across the country and is designed to prevent employers from interfering in the process through coercion or intimidation.

"In addition, there is always an independent review by the Manitoba Labour Board to ensure union cards are valid and that the law has been followed.

"When at least 65 per cent of workers sign cards, their democratic will is clear -- they support joining a union. In fact, Manitoba's threshold is the highest of all jurisdictions with this type of fast-track certification. Ottawa is in the process of reversing changes brought in by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and restoring provision for a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one, for employees in federally regulated workplaces.

"Why make these changes? What's motivating the provincial government?

"A recent federal report may shed some light. Comparing jurisdictions across the country, the former federal department of Human Resources and Skill Development (now called Employment and Social Development Canada) concluded that where governments don't allow for fast-track certification by way of majority card signup, unionization rates are lower.

"But Bill 7 goes even further to undermine working people -- it explicitly removes protections against intimidation and harassment. Bill 7 repeals the current requirement for the Manitoba Labour Board to ensure that 'employees were not subject to intimidation, fraud, coercion or threat and that their wishes for union representation were expressed freely'."

From the time the legislation was introduced, organized workers have opposed the bill. In October, union members from many sectors, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Steelworkers, UNIFOR, Manitoba Building Trades, Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, the Winnipeg Labour Council and others packed a legislative committee hearing to express their opposition to the bill.

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Readers Note

With this issue, Workers' Forum will take a break over the holidays and resume publication in the New Year.

During the break, please continue to support our important work to smash the silence on the living and working conditions of the workers countrywide and share your experiences and views with others fighting for the dignity of labour and the affirmation of the rights of all.

We also urge you to support us financially to make the work of the Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L), which includes the publication of Workers' Forum, possible.* Thank you for your all-sided support in the past year.

We wish you all the best for the holidays and success in your work in the New Year.

- Workers' Forum Editorial and Technical Staff

* To donate by mail, send cheque or money order payable to: MLPC
Send to: P.O. Box 666, Postal Station C, Montreal, Quebec. H2L 4L5
Please include full name and address for contributions over $20, as the MLPC will issue a tax receipt.

The maximum contribution to a registered political party permitted by law in 2016 is $1,500.00.

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