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February 23, 2017

Quebec Steelworkers Resist Attacks on Their Pension Plans

Defend the Unity and Dignity of
the Working Class


Workers at CEZinc in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield take strike action against attacks on pensions
and retirement rules, February 12, 2017.

Quebec Steelworkers Resist Attacks on Their Pension Plans
Defend the Unity and Dignity of the Working Class
Uniting in the Fight to Defend the Rights of All
The Strike at CEZinc - K.C. Adams

Canadian Pacific Expands Use of Office Workers to Drive Trains
Hold CP and Federal Government to Account for Attacks on Workers and Rail Communities - Pierre Chénier

Nova Scotia Government Legislates Contracts for Teachers
Working People of Nova Scotia Reject Government Dictate and
Violation of Rights

Meetings on Future of Forestry in BC
Stand Up for Our Jobs, Forests and Communities!

Quebec Steelworkers Resist Attacks on Their Pension Plans

Defend the Unity and Dignity of the Working Class

Striking workers at Samuel et Fils in Laval, February 12, 2017.

Quebec steelworkers are waging two strikes at this time where the main issue is defence of their pension plans. Eighty workers of the steel distributor Samuel et Fils in Laval began a strike on February 4, against the company's attempt to impose a defined-contribution plan on new hires. Eight days later, the 371 unionized workers at the CEZinc zinc refinery (Canadian Electrolytic Zinc) took action in a strike against the company's attacks on their pension plan and retirement rules. CEZinc is jointly owned by the Noranda Income Fund and the Glencore oligopoly.

The strike at Samuel et Fils forms part of the United Steelworkers' campaign against the disparity in treatment of workers, commonly called orphan clauses. These clauses impose two-tiered conditions in pension and insurance benefits on workers who are doing the same job. Steelworkers are demanding the Quebec government pass a law to prohibit orphan clauses.

Steelworkers are waging this struggle to defend the unity and dignity of the working class as part of the resistance movement against the deterioration of living and working conditions and in defence of their organizations and the unity of workers of all ages.

Workers have waged several struggles in recent years to block the imposition of two-tiered conditions and the deliberate attempt by owners and management to split the working class and weaken the organized defence of its rights. Lafarge Cement workers in Saint-Constant went on strike for more than three months in 2016 to resist such attacks. The cement workers' staunch resistance defeated the company's attempt to impose a defined-contribution plan on future employees instead of enrolling them in the existing defined-benefit plan, without any concessions. During their struggle they journeyed to several cities in Quebec, participated in demonstrations with their giant banner calling for the banning of orphan clauses, and mobilized many workers to support and join the fight for the rights of all.

Workers at U.S.-owned refractory brick manufacturer Resco, in the Outaouais, also waged a three-month successful strike blocking the imposition of an inferior pension plan for new hires. However, they were not able to fend off wage concessions as the owners threatened to close the plant. They brought their message of defence of the rights of all to the World Social Forum this summer in Montreal and to several other events.

(Photos: USW)

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Uniting in the Fight to Defend the Rights of All

Picket at Samuel et Fils in Laval, February 12, 2017 (FTQ)

Workers across Quebec are determined to join and support one another in defence of their rights. Workers from Lafarge Cement and Resco came to the picket line at Samuel et Fils on February 12, to express their unity in the fight to defend their rights. In a gesture displaying the unity and determination of the working class, the visiting workers handed over to the striking workers the Lafarge Cement workers' giant banner against orphan clauses.

François Cardinal, Vice-President of United Steelworkers Local 6658 representing the Lafarge Cement workers told Workers' Forum: "We came here with our leadership, and the workers were happy to see us and to receive accurate information about the battles we have fought. We must stop this trend of imposing inferior conditions on young workers. We must stop the disparity of treatment for young people. All it does is undermine our solidarity, and solidarity is our strength as unions. When you look at my employer, or you look at Resco or Samuel, you realize that their pension funds are in good shape. Why are they attacking them, if not to undermine our solidarity?"

Alain Desjardins, President of USW Local 6213 representing Resco workers said, "We want all employees to work as equals. We do not want a two-tiered workforce. We're better off standing up outside than being on our knees inside."

Alain Paiement, President of USW Local 9441 on strike at Samuel et Fils said, "We are out to defend the next generation. We have the same fight [across Quebec and Canada]. That's why we're here together."

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The Strike at CEZinc

Workers picket CEZinc in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, February 12, 2017.

Workers at CEZinc are facing two demands for concessions in their pension plan. They point out that their plan at this time is fully solvent and even overfunded at 114 per cent yet the company wants concessions. CEZinc is demanding the introduction of a system of gradually reducing their wages and transferring that amount into the pension fund. The company would then reduce by the same amount the value it puts into the plans. Presently the company funds the pension plan directly from the realized value the workers produce. The concession the company demands is a direct attack on the workers' wages.

A further company demand is to postpone the age when workers can go on preretirement. This particularly affects workers who through age and wear and tear on their bodies or for other personal reasons could benefit from an earlier retirement.

The workers are saying no to these concessions, no to the attack on their wages and deterioration of their working and living conditions. They underline the fact that the company is similar to a predator who once it smells blood will go for more and more. Concessions begin a downward slide leading to other demands especially on pensions at this time. Their placards on the picket lines read, among other things, "We will not back down!"

Capital-Centred Versus Human-Centred Economics and Consciousness

CEZinc is jointly owned by Noranda Income Fund and Glencore, and the plant is operated by the global Glencore empire. Spokespeople of the Income Fund say in a typical capital-centred way that workers refining zinc concentrate and making it more valuable are not producing new value through their work-time from which both workers and owners claim an amount. The fund spokespeople imply that the value workers reproduce as wages, benefits and funds for pensions are somehow "operating costs" of the company. This self-serving capital-centred line declares any amount of the new value workers produce that goes to wages, benefits or pensions reduces the amount that the owners can claim as added-value and therefore must be a "cost" to them. Equating wages in relation to profits as a cost to ownership is self-serving indeed. Workers could just as easily declare the relation results in profit being a "cost" to themselves.

Ownership insisting that wages, benefits and pensions are a cost obscures the reality that workers through their work-time reproduce the value they claim called reproduced-value, and produce the value the owners (and governments) claim called added-value. Neither is a cost to the company or economy as it represents new value the workers create. The relation between the workers and their employers is a contradictory social relation usually called capital. This contradiction results in a class struggle over the new value workers produce or the ratio between reproduced-value, which workers claim, and added-value, which owners and governments claim.

The outdated and anti-worker capital-centred economics denies what belongs to workers by right, their claim for wages, benefits and pensions on the new value they reproduce at a level determined by themselves. The modern working class is developing its social consciousness of itself as the essential human factor in production, producing all the value the economy, people and society need for their existence. The historic problem workers face is how to transform themselves, the actual producers, into the social class that controls production and the socialized economy with a human-centred aim to serve the well-being and security of the people and society.

A Conflict of Outlooks

The spokesperson of the Noranda Income Fund recently summed up the outmoded anti-worker consciousness and outlook saying: "These pension plans have become an expensive part of our labour costs, which account for one-third of our total operating costs. Therefore, we must reduce these costs in the context in which CEZinc must manage a major change in its contractual terms regarding its income."

She was referring to the internal agreement signed between the Noranda Income Fund and Glencore at the end of January 2017 called the "Supply and Processing Agreement." This is viewed by many as an insider agreement essentially within a single oligopoly, as Glencore already controls 25 per cent of the Fund putting it into a position of control. Under the insider agreement, Glencore Canada is committed to supply the Fund with all its zinc concentrate requirements and purchase all the plant's zinc metal and by-products for the 12 month period ending April 30, 2018. This is similar to most oligopolies that move product from one division to another and account for the movement in a manner that best suits those in control for tax and other purposes.

Noranda Fund's purchase of zinc concentrate from Glencore for the year will no longer be done at fixed rates established in a contract but at prevailing market prices. The exact terms regarding movement and price of the zinc concentrate into the plant for refining and the subsequent Glencore purchase of the zinc metal are termed commercial secrets and not subject to scrutiny.

The supply of zinc concentrate generally has been declining with the closure of several zinc mines by the mining oligopolies, destroying the working and living conditions of miners and communities in several countries. The Noranda Fund infers when speaking to workers and the media that it may pay more for the Glencore zinc concentrate now that the tariffs are going to be "set by the market," and that the subsequent transfer of zinc metal back to Glencore may not be as lucrative. All this manipulation and palaver are being used to attack the CEZinc workers and their claim on the new value they produce.

Workers are being asked to bear an ever increasing burden for issues and problems that stem from the outmoded system of private control of the modern forces of production that are fully socialized. The refusal to recognize the fundamental contradiction ripping apart the socialized economy is obscured by presenting problems and the recurring economic crises as natural phenomena, the so-called invisible hand of the market that will eventually sort everything out once it has driven down the working and living conditions of the working class and wrecked entire sectors, economies and communities. Meanwhile, the collusion and contention amongst the global oligopolies for profit, domination and empire is driving the world towards a catastrophic economic crisis and another world war.

The retrogressive schemes for concessions from workers at CEZinc and elsewhere to put more social wealth into the coffers of the owners and those in control of the oligopolies will not solve any problem that affects the mining and refining sector because they are not meant to solve the real problems plaguing the economy, which emerge from its social nature but private control. It should be pointed out here that one of the main problems of this contradiction between the social forces of production and their private competing control is the realization (sale) of the social product workers produce. The fight amongst the oligopolies to realize their privately owned and controlled social product is a devastating battle, which plays a large role in causing the recurring economic crises of the current imperialist system.

Within the situation, the struggle of the steelworkers for the unity and dignity of themselves and all the working class is a necessary just struggle that must be supported and waged by all. At the same time, the working class is organizing its forces, building its institutions, and advancing its social consciousness to meet its historic obligations to bring into being a new direction for the economy that resolves the basic contradiction between its social nature and private control.

(Photos: USW, D. Cantatore)

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Canadian Pacific Expands Use of Office Workers to Drive Trains

Hold CP and Federal Government to Account for Attacks on Workers and Rail Communities

Railway workers and communities crossed by railways face unsafe company practices that threaten their well-being and security

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference has revealed that Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) is steadily increasing its practice of forcing clerical workers to become locomotive engineers and conductors. The practice is said to have exploded in recent times. One employee, on condition of anonymity, told the media how CP forced him to become a locomotive engineer and work shifts of more than twelve hours with only eight hours off between shifts. CP admits using this practice increasingly. The company tries to justify the practice as a way to force office staff to understand the reality of rail transportation but also as a response to a situation whereby it is "difficult to recruit and retain unionized crews."

In fact, the stated policy of CP is to reduce its staff, both unionized and non-unionized, to expand profits for its private owners. Under the four and a half year dictate of its U.S. CEO Hunter Harrison, CP has reduced the number of its employees by 40 per cent from 19,500 to 11,700, eliminating about 1,500 unionized jobs yet hauling a similar amount of freight.

"CP management brags about getting rid of people and then measures their success by how many people they can get rid of and then complains that they have a hard time keeping people here. It is a fact that there are workers who are quitting because of CP's heavy handed management," Doug Finnson, President of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference told Workers' Forum.

Previously, the training of office workers as locomotive engineers and conductors was to prepare a scab workforce to attack rail workers' struggles in defence of their rights. The practice has now become something permanent to lower industry standards, reduce union membership, smash trade unions and generally lower the claim of rail workers as a collective on the value they produce. This raises the claim of the private rail owners on the produced value, which is the stated aim of the rail oligopoly.

Training and Safety are Compromised

Office workers receive much less training than unionized locomotive engineers and conductors. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) reports that an office worker requires only 20 training trips to become a conductor, while approximately 70 training trips are required for a unionized worker working on trains full time. Once qualified to be a conductor, the unionized worker must work for a minimum of two years before undertaking locomotive engineer training while there are no such requirements for office workers.

In addition, locomotive engineers and conductors must make preliminary trips with local crews before embarking on a new route in order to know its particularities. Office workers are not required to take preliminary trips and are allowed to assess themselves and decide whether they are capable and willing to take on new routes. These regressive practices expand the scope of the policy of self-regulation of the railways, implemented in Canada since the days of the Chrétien Liberal government.

Importantly, the office workers who operate the trains, which are steadily becoming longer and faster, find themselves in a situation dealing one-on-one with their superiors. CP wants workers to fend for themselves without organizational defence and union norms, as this allows the company to cut corners and lower the sector's operating practices. If office workers want to raise issues concerning unsafe conditions for themselves and the communities they travel through and refuse work because of their concerns, they are on their own versus their company superiors.

The organizational ties that bind workers in a common front to defend their rights, which are vital to their ability to take a stand, have been greatly weakened and in many cases do not exist. Office workers in particular must fend for themselves deprived of the strength of a collective that is determined to defend the rights of all and which forces the company to adhere to accepted practices and norms.

This has been allowed to happen because the federal government is negating its responsibility to ensure the safety of workers and the rail communities. The state has become an instrument of CP's dangerous anti-social restructuring. The government turns a blind eye to all the warning signs, claiming with typical liberal hypocrisy that things are going well and are balanced, and how could they not be when the profits are rolling in for the private owners and the stock market value is approaching record levels. And then a catastrophe occurs such as the Lac-Mégantic disaster and they all scurry to cover themselves with pathetic excuses.

Reports say Canadian Pacific submitted to Transport Canada its training program for clerical employees to become conductors. CP argued that the practice does not constitute a change of an operational nature and subsequently does not need an official risk assessment. Transport Canada agreed! After all, the railway oligopolies are permitted to self-regulate. They know what is best for workers and rail communities, they argue. They know best how to improve profits for their private owners, which is the aim of running a railway according to their imperialist outlook.

The working class movement finds it unacceptable that the Canadian government has not intervened to prohibit CP's unsafe practices while pretending that rail safety is its primary concern. One can only conclude that private profit for the financial oligarchy is the government's real concern and that the aim of the oligarchs for imperialist profit without restrictions has seized direct control of the reins of political power.

CP's practices and Transport Canada's acquiescence under the banner of company self-regulation creates situations where accidents -- if such events can even be called that -- or even greater disasters will inevitably recur. In opposition to this, workers demand that all locomotive engineers and conductors must be trained to the highest professional standards and represented by an organized defence collective that defends their interests in opposition to the narrow private interests of those in control whose aim is focussed on greater and greater profit.

Blaming Workers and Not the Imperialist Aim in Control

CP is at the forefront of the demand of all the railway oligopolies to have onboard video and voice recorders to spy on workers' every move and utterance. CP has even offered to help pay to install the devices if the state allows it unrestricted access to the recordings. Currently, under the law, only the TSB can access recordings in the case of accidents. Of course, CP wants these instruments to spy on workers and criminalize them. The oligopolies want to blame worker behaviour for accidents and not their anti-social and irresponsible drive for imperialist profit at the expense of safety.

Using company funds, CP has launched an anti-worker advertising campaign to promote spying on workers and to suggest their bad behaviour is the cause of accidents. CP says:

"Our industry and regulators have an obligation to take all available measures that enhance the safety and security of the communities surrounding our railways. Effective use of inward-facing camera technology would include the ability for it to be used for investigation after an incident, as well as allowing railways and regulators the opportunity to proactively reduce unsafe behaviours such as tampering, cell phone use, sleeping and noncompliance with other safety-critical rules and regulations before incidents occur."

Contrary to CP's vicious anti-worker suggestion of irresponsible behaviour on the part of workers as the cause of accidents, no example exists where a worker's behavior is to blame for an accident in the multiple investigative reports of the TSB on railway accidents. Not only does CP blame worker behavior to excuse itself, it suggests that workers engage in fraudulent practices that lead to accidents. This anti-worker slander coming from a large employer whose aim is not safety but imperialist profit is truly disgusting.

The federal government in the most hypocritical manner has not denounced this anti-worker campaign and apparently accepts the fraud that CP is using the slander in a proactive way to avoid accidents. Proactive indeed! Proactive criminalization, fear-mongering spying and invasive supervision, with disciplinary action hanging over the heads of workers for their every deed, word and thought while at work. Words and even gestures will be open to interpretation especially against any workers raising concerns about unsafe company practices or even yawning because of fatigue. Working life would become unbearable for crews who are already subjected to disciplinary action when they raise safety issues and are often working in conditions of exhaustion.

CP's attack to deflect attention away from its unsafe aim of imperialist profit without restrictions is an attack on the dignity of workers, their security and working conditions, which are the conditions for the security of the population in the rail communities. Railway workers have solemnly warned the Transport Ministry not to change the law to provide yet more "legal" ways for companies to harass and criminalize railway workers.

Workers' Forum considers these attacks on the dignity and working conditions of railway workers to be attacks on all workers, the rail communities and society. Working people must step up their organizing and resistance and not allow this to pass.

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Nova Scotia Government Legislates Contracts for Teachers

Working People of Nova Scotia Reject Government Dictate and Violation of Rights

Teachers rally outside Legislature in Halifax during one day teachers' strike, February 17, 2017.

On Tuesday February 21 the Liberal government of Nova Scotia passed Bill 75 the Teachers' Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvements Act imposing a contract onto 9,300 teachers in the province without their consent. The legislation will be challenged in the courts by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. In the most cynical fashion the Premier of Nova Scotia Stephen McNeil stated during debate on the legislation that "This piece of legislation will allow classroom teachers to have their voices heard."

Teachers rejected three tentative agreements in 14 months -- all under the threat of imposed contracts -- because the agreements did not address key matters relating to class sizes, composition and salaries. Teachers and education workers joined by parents and students refused to submit to threats to close schools and lock out students, instead rallying together to affirm their right to say No! This shows clearly that the working people of Nova Scotia will not be blackmailed.

Nor will they accept the councils and commissions the government says it will establish under the imposed contracts to "improve classroom conditions," meant to divert from the specific demands of working people to decrease and cap class sizes and improve support for students with special needs. The fact that the government followed through on threats to impose contracts only shows its refusal to address the actual problems which real life is bringing forward. By resorting to dictate to impose an anti-social austerity agenda, the McNeil government has once again shown it is unfit to govern.

The move to impose contracts is vindictive and unacceptable and is being met with widespread opposition. On Friday, February 17, teachers and education workers held the first province-wide strike action in the history of Nova Scotia, to defend public education and to protest the Nova Scotia Liberal government's decision to legislate contracts.



Falls River


10,000 Rally in Halifax

The biggest convergence was in Halifax where some 10,000 people marched at the Nova Scotia legislature as Members of the Legislative Assembly at the Law Amendments Committee heard from witnesses.

Four hundred people including parents, professors, teachers and many others also signed up to speak at the Committee while the government only permitted 80 to speak. Nova Scotia has a unique tradition in its legislation whereby citizens can speak and propose amendments directly to legislation at the Law Amendments Committee. When they tried to do so en masse, the government used its majority to limit this mechanism. During presentations witnesses spoke eloquently about the improvements required for the actual learning conditions of children and their firm stand in support of the teachers. Others opposed the attack on workers' rights and spoke about the hypocrisy of the Liberal government who criticized the NDP government of eliminating the right to strike of paramedics while it does the same thing today.

Halifax Rally Against Passage of Bill 75, February 20

Workers' Forum salutes the ongoing resistance of the working people of Nova Scotia. It joins working people across the country in demanding the Nova Scotia government withdraw its imposed contracts on teachers and education workers and end its attempts to dictate to wages and working conditions on public sector workers who provide the vital services Nova Scotians rely on for their well-being.

(Photos: NSTU, Richmond Local NSTU, P. Gallagher, T. Harrison, P. Healey-Laker, Mrs. Gillis, P. Day, A. Joyce, M. Ferguson)

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Meetings on Future of Forestry in BC

Stand Up for Our Jobs, Forests and Communities!

Community Forum organized by Stand Up for the North Committee in Prince George,
April 12, 2014.

Workers and their allies are organizing community discussions at a time when jobs, forests and communities are facing threats from mill closures, lack of forest oversight, runaway forest companies, timber shortages, ramped up raw log exports, an unreliable U.S. export market and other problems.

A major focus of the discussion will be how to move things forward so that the economy is more diversified, added value stays right here in Canada where it is produced, and workers, communities, First Nations, and small and medium-sized companies/contractors have more say and more control over the future of forestry in BC.

Meetings on the Softwood Lumber Agreement, Trade,
and the Future of Forestry in BC

Prince George
Monday, March 13 -- 7:00 pm
1-306, College of New Caledonia

Tuesday, March 14 -- 7:00 pm
Mackenzie Recreation Centre

Wednesday, March 15 -- 7:00 pm

Arts and Recreation Centre, 500 N. Star Road

Williams Lake
Thursday, March 16 -- 7:00 pm
Central Cariboo Arts and Cultural Centre, 90-4th Ave. N.


Speakers: Ben Parfitt, forestry analyst, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Stand Up for the North Committee; Indigenous representatives; forestry union representatives.

Meetings in Prince George, Mackenzie, & Quesnel organized by Stand Up for the North Committee.

Meeting in Williams Lake organized by Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society; Council of Canadians; USW 1-425.

Sponsors: BCGEU; Faculty Association of CNC; North Central Labour Council; PPWC -- Local 9; PPWC -- National; Professional Employees Association; Unifor; USW 1-424.

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