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January 26, 2017

Steelworkers Discuss Way Forward for the Workers' Movement

The Inadequacies of Our Present
System of Government


Steelworkers Discuss Way Forward for the Workers' Movement
The Inadequacies of Our Present System of Government
NDP Leader Addresses Steelworkers' Thursday Meeting in Hamilton

Fight of Maritime Workers Against Neo-Liberal Free Trade
- Jim Given

Steelworkers Discuss Way Forward for the Workers' Movement

The Inadequacies of Our Present
System of Government

For years workers have tried to pressure politicians to defend workers' rights. Inevitably some excuse comes up and workers are deprived of their rights. Workers have even had laws passed to protect their pensions but those laws have been ignored or violated. They have fought for collective agreements only to have the state intervene with instruments such as the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) that deprive them of the protections and benefits within their collective agreements.

This shows that workers have to confront with an open mind the inadequacies of our present system of government.

Steelworkers are in a fight to defend their rights. If steelworkers say that rights depend on electing this or that politician or if they denounce this or that political party or individual, how is this going to move the struggle forward? Steelworkers' rights exist objectively whether any politicians or parties recognize them or not. The defence and affirmation of rights can only rely on workers themselves and their own efforts to organize their peers and build their own institutions and media. The defence of rights, pensions, OPEBs, jobs and standard of living cannot rely on any politicians other than workers themselves, and cannot rely on the existing political process that has shown itself to be completely dysfunctional and against the interests of workers.

Steelworkers have first and foremost the right to conscience. That right to conscience exists within our thought process and how we express ourselves. Saying steelworkers must be represented by those who rule over them to defend their rights and the rights of all is an anachronism. Declaring that the only way to defend their rights is to mobilize people to vote for politicians and trust them to make the right decisions is not an affirmation of their right to either conscience or to govern themselves.

Local 1005's program is to defend the rights of its members, pensioners and other workers in Hamilton and to find a way forward for the steel industry and economy. The fact is that today trade unions are no longer appendages of the cartel parties vying for political power. Like Local 1005 USW they must be instruments to defend the rights of their members, the community, economy and the rights of all.

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NDP Leader Addresses Steelworkers' Thursday Meeting in Hamilton

On Thursday, January 19 Local 1005 USW invited NDP leader Thomas Mulcair to address their Thursday meeting and answer workers' questions. President Gary Howe thanked Mulcair for coming to Hamilton to hear their concerns directly. Gary also thanked Hamilton area MP Scott Duvall for organizing the January 19 visit. He also extended thanks on behalf of the Local for the attendance of Hamilton East MPP Paul Miller and Hamilton Mountain MPP Monique Taylor.

Gary said Local 1005 has consistently held Thursday meetings since 2003 when Stelco was preparing to enter bankruptcy protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). At that time the Local recognized CCAA as legalized theft of what rightly belongs to steelworkers, retirees and others and this view has not changed today in 2017 with Stelco once again under CCAA. This is the central concern workers want to raise with Tom Mulcair, Gary said.

Before answering four questions prepared by Local 1005, Mulcair briefly conveyed his party's support for steelworkers and retirees in their current struggle under CCAA. Mulcair was critical of the CCAA saying very few developed countries have similar bankruptcy laws that "leave workers behind, where the value produced by labour is emptied out by the courts. Priority has to be given to the workers, their pensions and benefits under the CCAA. Workers have to come first."

In 2005, the Liberal minority government of Paul Martin pushed Bill C-55 -- said to put the interests of workers first when under bankruptcy protection -- through the House of Commons. However, Bill C-55 in no way changed the CCAA to give priority to workers, their pensions and benefits or allow them to come first in the bankruptcy process. Despite this, the bill was supported by the NDP in the name of high ideals. But as Local 1005 pointed out at the time, Bill C-55 made the CCAA an even more criminal and powerful state-organized weapon of legalized theft of what belongs to workers by right. It was pushed through to take the initiative out of the hands of the workers themselves. It was specifically designed to counter the staunch resistance of Local 1005 under CCAA in 2004 to any attempts to open its collective agreement. The oligarchs wanted more legal power to steal what belongs to workers. Bill C-55 gave a presiding judge the power to force a local union to open its contract under CCAA.

The NDP voted to include the following clause in Bill C-55:

"65.12 (1) [A debtor company considered a person under commercial law] who is a party to a collective agreement and who is unable to reach a voluntary agreement with the bargaining agent to revise any of its provisions may, on giving five days notice to the bargaining agent, apply to the court for an order authorizing the insolvent person [company] to serve a notice to bargain under the laws of the jurisdiction governing collective bargaining between the insolvent person [company] and the bargaining agent." This additional state-organized threat and weapon now hangs over the head of all union locals under CCAA.

The bankruptcy process does not consider alternate proposals for a company under CCAA. It concerns itself narrowly with the restructuring of existing assets, which becomes a dogfight between the most powerful to seize control. The health of the economy in which the company operates and its relationship to that economy and community and the rights of workers are not a concern of CCAA. This invariably means no new direction is discussed, allowed or attempted, workers lose what belongs to them by right and the fundamental problems facing the company and sector continue or are papered over and not addressed.

The Local 1005 executive prepared the following four questions for Mulcair:

1. "The company is allowed to remain under bankruptcy protection even though it is rolling in cash. This is why we say the CCAA is legalized theft. How can the judge take benefits away from pensioners when the company has over $200 million cash on hand?"

Mulcair: Benefits are wages workers forgo. The benefits are wages put aside for later in life. People like you cannot be left behind. Hold Bratina to account. [Bob Bratina is Liberal MP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and former Hamilton Mayor. It must be noted that Bratina as Mayor or MP has never publicly attacked steelworkers or Local 1005 and has in fact attended many of its rallies.]

2. "With the first secret deal, the hedge funds made $1.2 billion dollars. [Sale of Stelco to U.S. Steel in 2007 approved under the Investment Canada Act ] USS committed to definite levels of production, employment and to fund the pension plans. A USS CFO put in writing that the pension plans were safe with USS. The Investment Canada Act is not taking care of us. Where is the net benefit for hourly and salaried workers, the city and environment? The provincial representative of FSCO (Financial Services Commission of Ontario) repeatedly told us our pensions were safe. Now their lawyers are telling us, it is none of our business when we ask what is going to happen now that the pension plans are underfunded by $800 million. 20,000 retirees need their pensions and now they [Bedrock] plan to take them off the balance sheet. What is to be done?

Mulcair: Workers have to be protected first and foremost. What you are facing is the new way of businesses. Vale bought Inco and locked out its workers. It would not respect the existing contract. The government did nothing. We are asking why pensions, wages and benefits are not protected.

Duvall: I tried to get answers about the secret deal [under the Investment Canada Act ]. I went to McQuade [U.S. Steel Canada President] and asked for permission to see the secret letter. He said it was OK with him but we would have to get permission from the federal government. When I asked them they said I would have to get permission from USSC. We need to find out how the government measures a deal to determine if it is a net benefit. We have to get people on board, make sure workers come first. The CCAA is like a cancer spreading across the country being used to fleece workers. I can't even raise it in the Steel Committee [in Parliament] which is focussing on trade. Nothing has changed from the first CCAA [Stelco in CCAA 2004-06].

3. We have given a call for a public inquiry into the CCAA. Under it, workers have no rights. Any attempts to launch human rights complaints are stayed. The government criticises other countries for their lack of human rights while they are taking away ours. It is legal to take away our deferred wages. The company has the money but it does not want to restore our benefits because Bedrock does not want to take them on.

Duvall: Even Dave Sweet [Flamborough-Glanbrook Conservative MP] signed on for a public inquiry. A judge can take away benefits from pensioners at the same time as he allows the company to give managers bonuses. And the judge allows the company to get out of paying city taxes. The public inquiry has to be worked on. The Liberals need to be asked if they are on board.

Miller: I have been after both governments for years about the CCAA. We need to get thousands onto Parliament Hill and in front of Queen's Park. Stand up en masse. Get our sisters and brothers across the country to stand up and demand that the Liberals have to give answers. We need to change the government.

4. The CCAA was enacted in 1933 to help companies restructure so they would stay in business. Now it is being used to extort the earnings of the workers. How can it be changed to be used for its original purpose?

Duvall: It's the great Canadian train robbery to steal money out of this country to another. The law has to be rewritten so that the money can't go to another country. Thanks for inviting us, we have to go.

Mulcair: I like the idea of getting a mass action on Parliament Hill. It will make a strong statement on the CCAA. It's the right time. There are allies across the country. Workers in Quebec are facing the same thing.

After this exchange, discussion with the invited guests was cut off abruptly at 4:30 pm as Mulcair and Duvall who arrived at 3:50 pm said they had another commitment.

Comments from the Floor

Rolf Gerstenberger, retired President of Local 1005 said that since 2004, the workers have recognized the CCAA as legalized theft. None of the political parties in elected positions took this issue up. Some said we need to change the legislation. When the need to change the legislation to put workers first was discussed in the Senate, senators and big business lobbyists opposed the idea saying if workers came first under bankruptcy then global companies would refuse to invest in Canada and the economy would suffer.

For these characters the issue is to make the workers suffer, not the business interests. To say that the only way the financial oligarchs like Bedrock will invest in Canada is by making the workers suffer is unacceptable, Rolf said. He said he wanted to ask the invited speaker how we are going to deal with that argument in Parliament. This is not just an issue for Local 1005. Workers are facing this legalized theft across the country. How should they deal with this in the House of Commons and in the country? It would have been good if the MPs who came had provided the workers with some direction on this matter as they are sitting in Parliament.

Local 1005 and others have raised the necessity of a public inquiry into this CCAA legalized theft. There is no indication of a campaign in Parliament to make the matter a priority or to see how the MPs can use their positions to advance the cause. If an inquiry is to begin, the full weight of the political establishment has to be put behind it, which is not the case now even from those MPs who say it should be done, Rolf pointed out.

Another worker pointed out that the CCAA was enacted in 1933 and soon faded out of use until the 1980s when it began to be used to attack the workers and strip them of everything they worked for. The NDP supported Bill C-55, which was criminal in his view. The change to CCAA allows a judge to force unions to open their collective agreement before they expire to extract concessions.

Since 1992, the provincial governments (NDP, Progressive Conservative and Liberal) have had a hand in the demise of our Stelco pension plans, another worker pointed out. The province is legally responsible if our plans are wound up without being made whole and capable of paying the defined benefits, he said.

Another worker pointed out that Bedrock, the U.S. company that wants to take over Stelco, says it will register Stelco as a Canadian holding company separate from its U.S. assets. Apparently, the registration is to be in Delaware for tax and other benefits. U.S. Steel registered Stelco as a separate company and has used this farce to pretend that its investments in Stelco were all loans that it now wants back through CCAA. "I wanted to ask our guests what they propose to do about this farcical arrangement, which stomps on our sovereignty as an independent country," this worker said.

Another worker said he wanted to ask the guests what they could do about the proposed Bedrock underfunding of the cleanup and environmental remediation of the Stelco lands. The $80 million spelled out in the Bedrock PSA falls far short of the $300 million the Province previously told U.S. Steel was not enough to do the job. They should also be raising a stink about the Trudeau Liberals' Bill C-27 to attack federal public sector defined-benefit pensions, which forces workers to accept defined-contribution "target" pension plans instead. These attacks on workers' rights to defined benefits in retirement must be stopped!

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Fight of Maritime Workers Against
Neo-Liberal Free Trade Agreements
"Now Is the Time for Transportation Unions to Come Together
and Formulate a Plan and Solutions"

Maritime workers at Montreal demonstration against CETA, October 21, 2016.

Jim Given, at Rally against CETA, Parliament Hill, September 27, 2014

Posted below is an interview with Jim Given, President of the Seafarers' International Union of Canada (SIU). Maritime workers are actively opposing neo-liberal free trade agreements such as the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as well as the deregulation and privatization of transportation industries, including the maritime industry to benefit global private interests. One example is the "Emerson Report," a report on the review of the Canada Transportation Act commissioned by the Harper government in June 2014. The committee mandated to conduct the review was chaired by David Emerson, a former member of the Harper cabinet.

The report was tabled in Parliament on February 25, 2016 by Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport in the Trudeau Liberal government. The Trudeau government is considering implementing parts or all of the Emerson Report which promotes all out deregulation and privatization of Canada's transportation system and further annexation of Canada to the adventures of global oligopolies for empire-building and domination through the trade and energy corridors.


Workers' Forum: Thank you for speaking with Workers' Forum to inform workers across the country about your fight. Please explain to us the stand of the SIU on the Canada Transportation Act Review Report, commonly called the Emerson Report, and on the consultations that were held by Transport Canada in 2016.

Jim Given: The Emerson Report, as far as maritime transport is concerned, is totally flawed.

They talk about skills shortage at a time when the unemployment rate within the union is running at 11.25 per cent. There may be a projected shortage of officers in the future but that is strictly because Canada does not have a viable training program to become an officer. If you want to become an officer you basically have to either go without income for quite a while in order to obtain it or you don't get it. They are creating their own skills shortage when it comes to officers. I think the whole idea of skills shortage works back into the government notion on trade. If you look at some of the trade agreements, the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) is one of them that is coming which features a chapter on labour mobility and that would include ship officers within that labour mobility program.

The total elimination of cabotage within 7 years and liberalization of cabotage is totally ridiculous and there is absolutely no need for it. That gets into the whole issue of the environment, of security, of everything. If you want to get rid of cabotage, you are killing a whole skills set in the country.

The consultation process was a joke. I was invited to the round table in Vancouver with Minister Garneau. There was myself and CSL (Canada Steamship Lines) who were there from the domestic fleet side. Everybody else was from import-export and they were quite happy to liberalize the industry. When the draft report came out and CSL and I were the only ones to stand up for domestic shipping, none of our comments were included in the draft report. They had to change it because we complained that they had to include our comments on domestic shipping. I give them credit for going through the exercise but that is not what I consider a consultation process.

As far as the privatization of ports is concerned, we work quite closely with the longshore unions that are part of the coalition that we got together to try to maintain what we have. I look at this in the big picture and I keep going back to different things that we are dealing with when it comes to trade. In order to have free trade, not fair trade, you have to deregulate. Privatizing ports is a form of deregulation. It has never worked in favour of labour in other countries where it has been done and that goes for cabotage and privatization of ports.

It does not work within our industry and our industry is the poster child for globalization, as you know. We live on trade, without trade there is no shipping industry. We are in favour of trade but it has to be fair trade not free trade where you deregulate and liberalize the industry within your country. They keep talking to us that this is about reciprocity. There is no reciprocity for the Canadian fleet. We can't take our ships that are purpose-built for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway and the Coast and start running in deep seas. The Emerson Report also talks about a Canadian Second Registry which is another fancy name for Flags of Convenience. Norway, Denmark, UK, have Second Registry. You take Norway, there are no Norwegians on this registry, it is all flags of convenience. They also keep claiming that it will make things cheaper, that it will drive down the costs if foreign carriers have access to the Canadian market. The reason they are pushing it so hard now is because freight rates on the outside are low. If they drive out Canadian domestic shippers they are going to raise the price. You cannot rely on a foreign carrier for your domestic cargo, because at any given time they can leave, whereas the Canadian ship owners, the Canadian base, they want to be here. Their ships are made for here, their ships are made to serve that market.

There are things to look at in the Canadian shipping industry and the Canadian supply chain. There are certain things you can change, that you can streamline when it comes to some of the fees that are imposed, but not the cabotage aspect. We have in place right now the ability that if there is no Canadian ship you can bring a foreign ship to do the job. That ability is there, there is no need to open it any further. They say it is protectionism on our part. None of it is protectionism. It is simply the right to work in your own country. With CETA there are thousands of jobs that are going to be lost. TISA would go further and with the Emerson Report it would be 13,000 seafarers alone that are gone and then you have to look at what happens with the ports' privatization. It is an industry that directly and indirectly supports 250,000 jobs in Canada.

That would be the end of domestic shipping.

I do not believe in coincidence. When I am looking at CETA, at TISA, at what happens with the Ukraine Trade Agreement, it is not coincidence how these papers were formulated. They were formulated for deregulation and liberalization in order to fit into the corporate globalization that is going on around the world. It was worded to get more freedom for corporations on how they are going to run the country not the little guy. How are you going to run a country when everyone is making $11 an hour? They are saying that the tax base is going to come from the corporations. Look at Hamilton. U.S. Steel left, they took $18 million worth of tax revenue out of Hamilton. Who is going to replace that 18 million? The guy who works at Tim Hortons?

Deregulation in the shipping industry does not work. It just creates more flags of convenience. Canada needs a strong merchant marine, for our own security, for environmental reasons, we have to develop a policy.

WF: What work is SIU doing at this time to oppose this deregulation and privatization?

JG: We work to educate the public on the importance of our industry. This industry could be a job creator in Canada. Then we will continue to look after the environment, get a Canadian flag fleet that has adapted so they are environmentally friendly or are getting there. We have to educate the public, educate the politicians, sit down and have meaningful discussion with policy makers on how we carry the industry forward to keep it relevant and viable.

We consider ourselves as the drivers. We spend so much time in our union to educate ourselves on what these policies mean and the effect they have. We are working with the ship owners and the other unions to develop policies. We are at a crossroads. We are either successful or our industry dies. But it is not doom and gloom. It is actually an opportunity to sit down and create a policy that will maintain our industry for decades to come.

Talking to the people within government we can see that a good number of them do not know our industry. Ours is a ghost industry because we never went for government subsidies, government help. We are self-sustaining. They are not aware that 90 per cent of everything they touch everyday comes on ships. And these are the people who are in charge of our future! We are truly a ghost industry even within government.

We are not about to be ignored. We consider ourselves as being reasonable when it comes to this industry but if we are ignored we are going to get down on the streets. We made that clear to the politicians that if they want to ignore us they are going to have a hell of a battle on their hands. Our members believe in what they do and take pride in their industry.

I had a meeting recently with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). We were able to get, for one of the first times in a very long time, all of the transport unions in one room; airlines, rail, trucks, maritime. Everyone was there and the Emerson Report was a big topic of discussion. We agreed that we have to keep the transportation sector within the CLC going, exchange our ideas, which we have not done in a long time, and formulate plans. With everyone under the gun, all of us when it comes to transportation, now is the time those unions are going to come together, formulate a plan and solutions to take to the government people and I hope they are going to listen. I think they are going to listen.

I am also Chair of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) Cabotage Task Force. Our work is to support countries that want to strengthen their cabotage and develop it. Our Cabotage Task Force goes a lot into things like the Emerson Report because as a world industry I take that report back to the task force to see what other countries have done to fight similar legislation. I see a lot of similarities. We look at CETA. We are still working at defeating CETA within Europe. With the Cabotage Task Force unions we are figuring out what countries we can influence to turn it down. We are still hopeful to defeat it in Europe. Even in Canada, since it has come through Parliament with C-30 [the bill before Parliament to implement CETA], there are Senators, because of what we have done in the press and everything, who want to know when it goes to the Senate how it is going to affect Canadian shipping. This is far from over.

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