March 23, 2017

Algoma Steelworkers Confront Kangaroo Court

Bankruptcy Court Judge
Drunk with Police Power


Algoma Steelworkers Confront Kangaroo Court
Bankruptcy Court Judge Drunk with Police Power
Essar Global Letter
No Means No! 

Finding a Way Forward for the Forestry Sector
Successful Meetings on Forestry in Central and Northern British Columbia

Strike of Quebec Paramedics
Support Paramedics' Just Demands!

Algoma Steelworkers Confront Kangaroo Court

Bankruptcy Court Judge Drunk with Police Power

The abuse of rights and the arbitrariness within the CCAA court expose the dangers of governments of police powers rather than governments of laws.

Bankruptcy court Justice Frank Newbould is raging against the world from his perch on a Superior Court bench in Toronto. He issues order after order dictating what Algoma steelworkers and salaried employees should and should not do. He orders their USW Local negotiating committees sequestered in Toronto until they consent to concessions under the police powers of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). He tells them not to speak to anyone especially the press and their own members, and stop any preparations to defend themselves through job actions.

"Leave public discussion of the negotiations or threats of action out of it," he warned Algoma steelworkers. Just to make his order clear he added, "The mediation is to be held in private without any public pronouncements or discussion of any nature or kind by any person." The entire negotiating committees of both Algoma USW Locals are to be held in Toronto from March 22 until negotiations are complete with concessions in place including a 10 per cent across the board wage cut for their 2,650 members.

After an uproar in the North that could be heard all the way to Toronto, Newbould demanded the CCAA lawyers change his order somewhat by drawing up their own sworn statement, which included the following: "4. The mediation was to be held in private with no public announcements or discussions by anyone. There was no requirement that the negotiating committees of Locals 2724 or 2251 could not discuss the negotiations with their membership."

Curiously, even the lawyers for the USW Locals involved had to sign Newbould's revised statement. Did the USW Locals have to pay for the time involved for their lawyers to do so, many wonder. For Local 2251 alone, lawyers' fees to be present during this fourth go-around in a CCAA inquisition will soon reach one million dollars! If you do not agree to go along with a CCAA kangaroo court then you pay through the nose.

Someone reminded this autocrat that the lawyers' statement does not amend a judge's order. Some think this autocrat is losing it because his self-declared retirement in June is approaching. Who will he order around after that? Others believe he wants to make a big splash before his possible removal from the bench for illegally using his influence and privilege against the Saugeen First Nation and its land claim, which would bring the reserve too close to his summer cottage on Lake Huron. Heaven forbid that happening!

Do this! Don't do that! The work of a CCAA autocrat is very taxing. After ordering workers against practicing their right to free speech and conscience, and talking openly to the press, Newbould unleashed his ire against the imperialists of Essar Global from India. He denounced them for being "oppressive" against certain other friendlier imperialists, especially the U.S. and German main secured creditors and debtors-in-possession in the Algoma CCAA bankruptcy process.

Taking sides arbitrarily in an inter-imperialist squabble routinely occurs under CCAA. Justice Newbould in collaboration with the bankruptcy monitor (Ernst & Young), the two largest secured creditors (Golden Tree and Bain Capital), and the debtors-in-possession led by Deutsche Bank have denied Essar Global, the legal owner of Algoma Steel, from making a bid to bring the company out of CCAA. A bitter imperialist competitor of Essar Global in Minnesota, Cliffs Natural Resources, also joined the fray saying it would refuse to supply Algoma Steel with iron ore pellets if the CCAA court accepted Essar Global as a legitimate contender. Interestingly, Essar Global is the only applicant that has said publicly it would not seek concessions from the workforce. Working people and the socialized economy are forced to suffer in silence this disruption to their lives from the recurring economic crises and imperialist infighting while the real problems in the economy are never addressed and fixed.

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Essar Global Letter

Regarding Essar Global's bid to repurchase the company it owned, Justice Newbould reacted strongly against, a local news outlet in Sault Ste. Marie. In its own words SooToday provides some background to Newbould's ire:

"A letter, purportedly written by Essar Global Fund on January 28 and filed the following day as part of a court affidavit by a lawyer representing Essar Capital, was published by SooToday on February 2.

"The letter is the only known document from Essar Global indicating an interest in re-acquiring Essar Steel Algoma, but Judge Newbould points out that it was never sent directly to the monitor and he's questioning the curious signature (see illustration at right):

"[Newbould speaking in court says,] 'While the Essar Global letter appears to have been signed, there is no information on the face of it as to who executed the letter or what position the person executing the letter holds with Essar Global.... The monitor has no record of having received the letter other than as an exhibit to the... affidavit.

'The letter, however, was quoted on January 28, 2017 in the SooToday, a local newspaper in Sault Ste. Marie.... Who provided the letter to the SooToday is not in the record but it is passing strange that the letter on Essar Global letterhead with a Cayman Island address and signed by an indecipherable signature was dated the same day that the letter appeared in the local newspaper. 'If it truly was a letter from Essar Global and Essar Global was honestly trying to engage the monitor, it was not any kind of way to do that.

'I find it hard to give any kind of bona fide credit to the letter.'

"SooToday has advised the court that it is misinformed as to the date we published the letter. It was not January 28, but February 2, after we found it in a court file."

Justice Newbould's hostile characterization of the letter from Essar Global and his refusal to have the monitor authenticate the sender could be called disingenuous. The letter clearly states that talk by those in control in the CCAA court of possibly liquidating the 115-year-old Algoma Steel facility prompted Essar Global to become more vocal and prepare a plan to repurchase the company. Justice Newbould, the monitor and the bidding consortium, which wants to seize the company and block any competing offer, seem to be talking of liquidation as a tactic to scare Algoma Steel workers and salaried employees into quickly agreeing to concessions. The imperialist elite in control of the police powers of the CCAA appear upset that Essar Global suggests that concessions are not necessary and even counterproductive to a successful restructuring. Just prior to Essar Global sending its letter to the monitor, Newbould agreed with the insertion of a requirement for refinancing of debtor-in-possession funds that insists Algoma Steel must prepare "a comprehensive liquidation plan by the end of this month."

Justice Newbould and the monitor are playing with facts in saying, "The monitor has no record of having received the letter" when the Essar Global letter is a matter of public record in the court documents. What is the motivation for denying something that is a public fact and to dismiss with such contempt the letter and its writer, if not the pursuit of the private interests of others who want to profit from Algoma Steel's restructuring?

Essar Global's January 28 letter to the monitor Ernst & Young reads in part:

Dear Sir:

We have been ESAI's owner for nearly a decade and, as such, are familiar with that company's operations, properties, employees and local interests.

We invested a great amount of time and resources in pursuing a possible acquisition of ESAI's (Algoma Steel) assets and businesses last year.

Essar participated in ESAI's sale and investment solicitation process (SISP) and, even after being pre-emptively disqualified at the initial stage, Essar followed up with a second unsolicited purchase offer.

That offer was also quickly rejected and, since that time, Essar has been blocked from advancing any further purchase interest.

Essar repeatedly attempted to engage with representatives of ESAI, only to be actively discouraged from moving forward.

We understand further from court filings that it has been inferred that a liquidation of ESAI may be necessary or otherwise considered should the bidding consortium's troubled bid not proceed. Such a motion: fails to consider that there are other viable options not being pursued by ESAI; and ignores the considerable improvement in market conditions and the circumstances of the company since the inception of the SISP, including that ESAI is cash-flow positive.

It makes little sense to raise the spectre of liquidation given market conditions and the company's recent financial performance, and such tactics are both feeble and transparent.

Accordingly, Essar is again considering its interest in ESAI. We are writing to you to ask that you: advise the court of Essar's continuing interest in a possible acquisition of ESAI's assets and businesses, either alone or in partnership with others.

We believe that a wholesale reconsideration of ESAI's restructuring and sales process is warranted, and we are hopeful that the court-appointed monitor and the court will enable this to occur with a view to fairness and the best interests of all of ESAI's stakeholders.

Thank you, Yours truly, Essar Global Fund Ltd.

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No Means No!

The Canadian working class faces a serious dilemma. Workers must have a way to hold their employers to account on basic issues that arise from the sale of their capacity to work to those who buy it. A great effort and step forward was made with the organizing of unions and the demand for legally accepted agreements on certain relations of production or terms of employment, commonly called collective agreements. However, without the power of a government of laws giving legal standing to collective agreements and other arrangements such as pensions with severe penalties for abusing those arrangements, and with the increasing use of police powers to deprive organized workers of an effective means to hold employers to account through actions such as strikes, the agreements on wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions become unenforceable.

The oligopolies with their massive supranational arrangements and structures and the social wealth they control through multi-billion dollar funds are using their private power along with governments of police powers and their institutions such as the CCAA to pursue and satisfy their narrow private interests and deprive the working people of their rights. They routinely negate collective agreements and other legal arrangements, and deprive workers of their ability to hold their private and public employers and rulers to account.

Relations at the place of work have become arbitrary. Abuse of rights through police powers is now commonplace. Workers are regularly denied Canadian standard pensions, benefits and wages, which are theirs by right in exchange for their capacity to work. The oligopolies use their power of size and governments of police powers to force anti-worker concessions, deny pensions and benefits, and wreck production and the broad economy whenever it suits their narrow private interests.

For the working class a new pro-social direction for the economy within a government of laws is not only necessary but possible. The working class is determined to have relations of production wherein workers can hold their employers to account for Canadian standard wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions. The working class is determined to have a government of laws wherein working people can hold the rulers to account for a pro-social direction of the economy and a guarantee of the rights of all, rights which they hold by virtue of being human.

The abuse of rights and the arbitrariness within the CCAA court expose the dangers of governments of police powers rather than governments of laws. Organized, united and determined, the working people can open a new pro-social direction for themselves and the economy within a government of laws.

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Finding a Way Forward for the Forestry Sector

Successful Meetings on Forestry in Central and Northern British Columbia

Prince George, March 13, 2017

A tour of forestry meetings across Central and Northern BC, organized by the Stand Up for the North Committee in partnership with other groups and sponsors (see below), concluded on March 17th. Successful meetings were held in Prince George (75 people), Mackenzie (45 people), Quesnel (30 people), Williams Lake (70 people), and Fort St. James (30 people).

Audience members included 3 mayors, 7 town councilors and regional district directors, forestry workers, Indigenous people, professional foresters, community activists, environmentalists, Chamber of Commerce members, small and medium forestry businesses, and value-added wood producers. Peter Ewart, spokesperson for the Stand Up for the North Committee, made a presentation to introduce the meetings and Ben Parfitt, forestry analyst for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, was the keynote speaker.

One of the most striking things about the comments and questions from the audience was the deep concern expressed about the multitude of problems forestry workers and communities face today. There is a strong feeling that, under current government and corporate structures and policies, people are deprived of any say or meaningful decision-making regarding the future of forestry in their communities. Because of huge cuts to forest service oversight, community members are even deprived of elementary knowledge about forest inventory in their region, as well as the flow of logs in and out of their communities. Many people believe (and this has been supported by evidence from governmental bodies) that massive over-harvesting by the big companies has taken place and continues on today.

Particularly disturbing for audiences in all five communities was the cancellation of the provincial government's appurtenancy policy back in 2003. That policy required logs to be processed in the communities where they were harvested. As a result of this cancellation, forestry companies, as in Merritt, Fort Nelson and elsewhere, have closed down operations but are still allowed to hold onto the timber rights -- either sitting on these timber rights or shipping raw logs out of the communities, thus acting as a block to industrial diversification and development.

Also disturbing is the big forestry companies setting up operations in the U.S. south, while closing mills in BC and refusing to re-invest in BC operations, despite gathering huge profits from the BC workforce and forests over many years.

Mackenzie, March 14, 2017

In the course of the five town meetings, various mechanisms and proposals were put forward by audience members to move things ahead, including more community control of forestry, increased oversight, a new form of appurtenancy that would require local processing, a requirement for the big companies to re-invest in BC operations, a wood marketing board for value-added producers, and regional log markets that would get the right logs to the right users.

One thing is clear. The domination of the big forest companies over provincial forest policy and practices is unacceptable, as is the current "cookie-cutter approach" of implementing this policy to the detriment of local needs and conditions.

Coming out of all the meetings was the overall sense that a new direction for the forestry economy is needed, one in which forestry-based communities are empowered and in control of their futures.

The Stand Up for the North Committee plans to meet soon to sum up the work of these meetings and, in discussion with local communities, work out next steps and the best way forward at this time.

Peter Ewart speaking in Williams Lake, March 16, 2017.


The first speaker at these meetings was Peter Ewart, spokesperson for the Stand Up for the North Committee. He began his presentation by criticizing "petrified thinking" and "petrified forest policy" which maintains that there is no alternative to the status quo and that nothing can be done about the many problems that plague forestry today in BC.

According to Ewart, there are two trends in this globalized world regarding forestry and other resource issues. On the one hand, there is the trend for more corporate concentration, resulting in more forestry decisions being made in faraway corporate boardrooms and distant government offices.

On the other hand, an emerging movement of workers, Indigenous peoples, contractors, small and medium businesses, municipalities and resource-based communities who want more say and more control over the management of our forests and other resources, more wealth staying in the communities where it is generated, and a new direction for the economy.

Fundamentally, it is an issue of empowerment and democratic renewal. In that regard, he argued that for this empowerment to be advanced, more "worker and community empowerment mechanisms" (WCEMs) are vital, and he gave examples of various Interior and Northern communities calling for community control of forestry and resource revenue sharing. He also gave examples of workers taking the initiative to stop mills from shutting down, such as at the Harmac mill in Nanaimo, BC.

Ben Parfitt, forestry analyst for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, was the keynote speaker at the meetings. He laid out ten proposals "to set our forests and BC's rural communities on a new course," and began his presentation by talking about the difficult situation that two communities, Merritt in the southern Interior and Fort Nelson in the far north face as a result of mill closures. Indeed, across the province, nearly 100 mills have closed their doors in the past 20 years.

Given the dramatic fall in expected logging rates across many parts of the Interior, he emphasized the importance of "getting more from less" which includes restoring health to local forests, putting an end to wasting usable wood, capturing the full value of logs through further processing, and empowering local communities and regions "to have a more direct say in forestry decisions through the creation of new regional management boards."

As a first step, Parfitt suggested that a comprehensive review of logging rates across BC is necessary, along with the resetting of logging rates in all regions to sustainable levels. In addition, an "up-to-date analysis" must be published of "fiber flow," i.e. where trees are logged in the province and where they are subsequently processed.

Other key points in Parfitt's proposed ten points included awarding "long-term, secure, area-based tenures directly to First Nations," phasing out all exports of raw, unprocessed logs from BC, creating regional log markets to create new jobs and foster more local wood manufacturing, enacting new rules requiring minimum levels of manufacturing for companies holding long-term logging licenses, and encouraging higher-value wood manufacturing by providing better access to trees for value-added producers.

In most of the towns, Parfitt's presentation was followed by brief presentations from panel members who included representatives of BCGEU, Professional Employees Association, Unifor, and USW 1-424.

In Fort St. James, Renel Mitchell, a lead researcher from the Tl'azt'en First Nation, made a well-received presentation, in which she emphasized the importance of communities, community groups and First Nations working together in common cause over forestry and resource issues.

Fort St. James, March 17, 2017

Organizers and Sponsors

The meetings in Prince George, Mackenzie and Quesnel were hosted by the Stand Up for the North Committee, while the meeting in Williams Lake was hosted by the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society, Council of Canadians and USW 1-424; and, in Fort St. James, by the FSJ Chamber of Commerce.

Sponsors for the overall tour, which was organized by the Stand Up for the North Committee, included: BCGEU, Faculty Association of CNC, North Central Labour Council, PPWC Local 9, PPWC National, Professional Employees Association, Unifor and USW 1-424.

Canada's Economy and the Softwood Lumber
Export Conundrum

This pamphlet contains two articles on the forestry sector. The first previously appeared in Workers’ Forum in January 2017. The second is a discussion on political economy which shows there is an alternative to the way the forestry industry is currently plundered for private gain.

The pamphlet is published as a contribution to the discussion organized by BC forestry workers and fellow Canadians, who stand for nation-building against nation-wrecking, on the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement, trade, and the future of forestry in the province.     

32 pp  $5

Order from National Publications Centre
Price includes GST, shipping and handling. Send cheque or money order to:
National Publications Centre, P.O. Box 264, Adelaide Stn, Toronto ON M5C 2J8

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Strike of Quebec Paramedics

Support Paramedics' Just Demands!

On March 16, Quebec paramedics held three simultaneous demonstrations: one in front of the Urgences-Santé offices in Montreal, one in front of the National Assembly in Quebec City and the other in New Richmond in Gaspésie. The demonstrations were part of a general strike of nearly 6,000 paramedics, emergency medical dispatchers and support staff in the pre-hospital sector in Quebec. All unions representing workers in the pre-hospital sector participated in the actions.

The workers highlighted the justness of their demands for themselves and the services they provide, and demanded that they be met by the Quebec government.

Montreal, March 16, 2017

Paramedics on strike in Quebec are demanding wages and working conditions commensurate with the important work they do for the people under very difficult conditions. The paramedics' collective agreements expired March 31, 2015. They are saying, "Enough is Enough" of living and working conditions worsening, jeopardizing their physical and even psychological health and their ability to provide the services upon which the people depend. Enough, they are saying, of workers being forced to prevent a collapse of the system out of sheer will and determination. Enough of the government refusing to take responsibility.

Paramedics are asking for the same type of wage increases that have been obtained by other workers in the public and semi-public sectors. They are calling for improvements to their pension funds including early retirement without penalty. They are calling for the abolition of on-call schedules, which are called "7/14" and are used mainly in remote regions. This means that workers are on duty seven days in a row, on call 24 hours a day, and then have seven days off. These on-call schedules are out of date and unsuitable. They were supposed to be temporary but are still being used.

Paramedics demand stability, with normal shifts, paid by the hour. This includes ensuring a workload that actually corresponds to what can be done under the current conditions given the level of staffing and the ever more complex tasks they have to perform.

The paramedics' demonstration in Montreal, in which over 1,000 workers took part, put the emphasis on the necessity to maintain uniform working conditions across Quebec. These are conditions they were able to get through their struggles over the years, whether on wages, retirement, vacation time and pay, group insurance, etc. They denounced the Quebec government and its Health Minister Gaétan Barrette for withdrawing from the bargaining tables (Urgences-Santé is the exception because it is a public agency) and declaring that the various employers are "independent" while it is the government that holds the purse strings and determines the norms for delivery of services. Workers say that the Ministry is hiding behind the employers' associations to drive down conditions in the sector, pitting workers against workers.

At the demonstration in Quebec City, in which more than 300 workers participated, mostly those working for private, not-for-profit and cooperative ambulance companies, workers gave a more recent example of government abdicating its responsibilities. The Quebec government is attempting to impose unilaterally a new service contract on the Corporation des services d'ambulance du Québec (CSAQ), which represents the vast majority of the ambulance companies outside Montreal and Laval, as of March 31. According to the workers, this new contract includes cuts of $121 million over three years. The government is demanding that CSAQ "negotiate" within the parameters of the slashed budget, putting huge downward pressure on working conditions and delivery of services. The CSAQ has initiated legal proceedings against the government over the service contract, which means that the negotiations are now at a complete standstill.

In New Richmond, the paramedics also denounced the Couillard government for slashing budgets and then claiming that the "negotiation must go on" with the "independent companies."

Paramedics are participating in this general strike to claim what is rightfully theirs and immediately improve their conditions and the services they provide to the public. At the centre of the strike is the demand that the Quebec government take up its responsibilities towards hospital services and cease its cynical manoeuvring to break the unity in action of the workers and wreck services even more.

Workers' Forum joins the ambulance workers demanding that the government satisfy their just demands and calls on all to stand by their side in their courageous struggle.

Striking paramedics on picket line.

(Photos: R. Leblanc, J. Laverdiere)

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