April 13, 2017

Parliament's Standing Committee on International Trade

Confessions of the Stelco President


Parliament's Standing Committee on International Trade
Confessions of the Stelco President - Rolf Gerstenberger

Opposition Grows to New Round of Attacks by Canada Post

Postal Workers' Protest at Laval West Depot 

Parliament's Standing Committee on International Trade

Confessions of the Stelco President

Michael McQuade, President and General Manager of Stelco Inc addressed Parliament's Standing Committee on International Trade on March 21

McQuade laid bare the primary focus of the police powers of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). He said to the Standing Committee, "Stelco emerged from creditor protection in 2006 during an unprecedented up cycle in the steel market, without having addressed the fundamental issues that led the company to initially enter creditor protection under CCAA in 2004."

McQuade expresses regret that those in control of Stelco during the CCAA from 2004-06 failed to remove pensions and post retirement benefits from the balance sheet and extract concessions from steelworkers to force them down to what he calls "North American standards." In saying this, he lays the blame for the problems in the steel sector and company on current and retired steelworkers and salaried employees. This is a consistent theme: workers and retirees are to blame for problems in the steel sector, company and economy and they must pay the price for the oligarchs to succeed. McQuade bemoans the fact that the police powers of the CCAA in 2006 failed to make workers and retirees pay the price, but this time around, the Bedrock oligarchs and their political and technocratic allies are determined to overwhelm all resistance. "Workers and retirees must pay!" is their battle cry.

McQuade says the groundwork to force concessions from workers, retirees, the economy and community began in 2007, when U.S. Steel took over Stelco. He suggests the equilibrium in class forces at Stelco shifted to more power on the side of the U.S. Empire, as USS unleashed the full might of its oligopoly against steelworkers, retirees, the Canadian economy and local community. Stelco steelworkers were pummelled with lockout after lockout both at Hamilton and Lake Erie Works demanding concessions. USS, while breaking all its promises on employment and production levels, began a systematic campaign to destroy the defined-benefit pension plans starting with denying them to new hires, eliminating the cost of living adjustment in retiree benefits and refusing to put enough money in the pension funds to make them whole.

McQuade now believes the anti-social endgame is in sight because USS reduced Hamilton Works to a shadow of its former self, eventually cratering the blast furnace. As every worker knows, any industrial facility needs constant reinvestment just to replace the value transferred into new production and to modernize, and bring new workers into the workforce, but USS was determined to wreck the Stelco steelworks and no official political force would stand in its way. It even hived off a productive Hamilton mill to German imperialists called MANA, who immediately demanded huge concessions, locked out steelworkers when they refused to submit, and brought in scab replacements to have their way.

Without shame, McQuade casually describes the descent into destruction through the actions of the oligopoly, "In 2007, U.S. Steel acquired Stelco and transformed the operations into a satellite manufacturing location centrally managed from Pittsburgh. Stelco maintained little control over market development, raw material sourcing, or ultimately, its profitability. U.S. Steel's multiple operating locations allowed Stelco's traditional markets to be served from a variety of locations. Servicing the marketplace with multiple options for manufacturing afforded U.S. Steel the opportunity to bring Stelco wages in line with North American standards. The result was three labour disruptions in the past 10 years and the corresponding negative impact on our financial performance."

My, what a weasel-way of describing the anti-social anti-Canadian actions of the U.S. imperialists: "Stelco's traditional markets [were] served from a variety of locations." Stealing Stelco's order book and serving customers from its U.S. mills, thereby destroying employment and the production of value in Canada.

"Bring Stelco wages in line with North American standards." Brutal lockouts using the power of its oligopoly to undermine any equilibrium in class forces and subvert the rights of Canadian workers and retirees and their Canadian standard of living.

"The result was the corresponding negative impact on our financial performance." Not to speak of the loss of jobs, the reduction in the production of value for the economy and community compounded with the current bout under the police powers of the CCAA to take pensions, retiree benefits, and environmental remediation off the balance sheet.

The Oligarchs and Their Backward Concept of Workers as a
"Cost of Production and Legacy Liability"

Oligarchs view the humans that do the work as a cost of production both while doing the work and producing value, and when retired. In the self-serving view of the oligarchs, the entire success of their enterprise, sector and economy depends on bringing the claims of the human factor on the value workers produce while working and in retirement, down to a "North American standard" set by the oligarchs. The aim of production is not human-centred, for the benefit of the people who do the work and their society, but capital-centred, for the benefit of a small group of oligarchs who have seized control by force, and their servile technocrats and politicians.

The oligarchs consider the retirees who produced value during their working lives as a legacy liability that needs to be discarded, similar to the legacy of polluted soil after one hundred years of producing steel. In the backward minds of the oligarchs, who are intoxicated with being rich and building empires, the working class is an unfortunate but necessary cost of production that must be denied its rights if the oligarchs are to become richer and the working people poorer.

McQuade wants to appear soft-hearted but betrays his outmoded thinking by saying, "Employees are valued, not just viewed as an expense."

How magnanimous: workers are "not just an expense." What are they "not just" Mr. McQuade? Are they human beings with rights? Are they workers that exchange their capacity to work for a lifetime guarantee of security and a Canadian standard of living acceptable to themselves? Not quite, he soon clarifies, describing how great Stelco will look after emerging from the police powers of the CCAA having wiped the slate clean of those dreadful and debilitating human and environmental liabilities.

After exiting CCAA McQuade says excitedly with dollar signs dancing in his eyes, "We will have addressed significant balance sheet liabilities, including the legacy obligations, and that will enable Stelco to be competitive as a stand-alone business. Stelco will have new collective agreements with its unions to provide labour peace for an extended period of time. Our balance sheet will be clean, our cost of production will be low, and we will be well positioned to compete in the North American marketplace."

He wants everyone from Hamilton and Nanticoke to break out in a gleeful chorus of Hallelujah and chant, Hail to the Chief, the liabilities are off the balance sheet! All is right in the world; the economy can now thrive because the workers and retirees have been subdued and forced to fend for themselves. Rejoice! We have eliminated our human and environmental liabilities. The costs are down; the oligarchs are free to make mountains of money and live like Trump!

The oligarchs, their politicians and technocrats have no interest in building the new. They have no interest in a new direction for the economy that puts the human factor at the centre and strives might and main to humanize the social and natural environment within a government of laws. They cannot even conceive of an independent Canadian steel economy that meets Canada's apparent demand for steel and works in cooperation with all other sectors in a planned socially responsible way within an integrated powerful Canadian economy without recurring crises. They cannot imagine a society where the rights of all are guaranteed with a government of laws where the people can hold the rulers to account.

The oligarchs refuse even to recognize that the workers they employ have rights or that society has general interests that must be upheld. McQuade talks of a five-year collective agreement with steelworkers not at Canadian standards, decided by Canadians, but at North American standards decided by the ruling oligarchs. Even within that dictate, what assurances exist that a government of laws will guarantee the terms of any agreement? U.S. Steel broke every agreement it made in Canada with impunity and through the CCAA Bedrock sellout will be rewarded $126 million and allowed to continue selling steel in Canada from its U.S. mills. McQuade cannot give any assurances on anything because the oligopolies such as Bedrock rely more and more on police powers and dictate outside any government of laws or they simply give themselves police powers through so-called legal channels such as the Superior Court overseeing the CCAA.

This state of affairs is unacceptable in the twenty-first century, and workers, retirees and their allies in the community will not bow down to the negation of their rights. They will defend their rights in new and inventive ways. They accept the challenge of forging a new direction for the economy and politics that serves working people and society, which entails building a new form of governing through laws where people have rights by virtue of being human and the ruled can elect their peers so that the rulers and the ruled become one and they can hold each other to account for their actions.

Working people demand a new direction for the economy that recognizes and guarantees in practice the rights of employees, retirees and the general interests of society. The present direction of anarchy in production and distribution is accompanied by violence and bloodshed in the superstructure. A self-serving narrow aim to serve the private interests of the oligarchs is unsustainable. The modern socialized economy and working people need forms of cooperation and democratic renewal to sort out their relations at work and generally in society.

The refusal of those in power to guarantee rights within a government of laws blocks the solution of any problems. McQuade and Bedrock's aim not to guarantee retirees their pensions and benefits and to take them and environmental remediation off the balance sheet is unacceptable. The determination of working people to affirm their rights is unyielding. Their No Means No!

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Opposition Grows to New Round of Attacks by Canada Post

Postal Workers' Protest at Laval West Depot

Denounce the anti-worker restructuring of delivery operations!

Despite torrential rain, 150 postal workers demonstrated Thursday, April 6, at the Laval West depot. They expressed their outrage at Canada Post's announcement of a unilateral restructuring of delivery operations in its urban units.

Canada Post is rushing ahead with a series of unilateral changes to working conditions prior to the Trudeau government's release of its Mandate Review of the corporation. Specifically, the restructuring of delivery operations would mean night-sorters would be hired to work in letter carriers' depots to sort and prepare mail. This would greatly increase the length of the routes of letter carriers who would be forced to spend possibly their entire shift on the road delivering mail. Currently letter carriers sort and prepare the mail that they deliver, starting their shift in the depot and spending only part of their shift delivering mail. Postal workers refuse to have their working conditions restructured and dictated to them without any consultation and input. That is not acceptable in the twenty-first century.

Postal workers chose the Laval West depot because it was targeted by Canada Post to undertake preparations for the implementation of this measure. The protestors came from the Quebec and Montreal Region of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Workers also raised their voices against other unilateral changes that Canada Post wants to impose on workers and their union. These include the elimination of full-time positions in Montreal and the search for 15 facilities in the Montreal area to open franchises to replace postal outlets serviced by CUPW members. The privatization of postal outlets is part of the push to degrade wages, working conditions and services to the public while handing lucrative operations to private monopolies such as Shoppers Drug Mart. This drains Canada Post of the value postal workers produce and increases the pool of workers connected with the post office who do not receive Canadian standard union wages and working conditions. This creates downward pressure on the entire working class.

During the action, held in the pouring rain, several union representatives spoke, including the President of the Montreal Local of CUPW and the Directors of the Quebec and Montreal regions of the union.

Lise-Lyne Gélineau, President of the Montreal local, told Workers' Forum that the demonstration was an expression of the discontent of postal workers in the face of the total lack of respect shown by Canada Post to postal workers and the public. She said, "These decisions are made without consulting the union and without informing us of the details. They are trying to impose their views on us." Referring to the restructuring of sorting and delivery operations putting an unsustainable workload on letter carriers, Gélineau said, "It is quite possible that with this new decision our letter carriers could find themselves spending practically their entire shift on the road delivering mail. For us, there is no question of letting this happen."

Solidarity action in Pointe-aux-Trembles, April 6, 2017.

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