May 4, 2017

First Anniversary of Fort McMurray Wildfire

Salute to the People of Fort McMurray
and Wood Buffalo Region


First Anniversary of Fort McMurray Wildfire
Salute to the People of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo Region - Peggy Askin

CEZinc Workers Rally in Toronto
Hands Off Our Pensions! Workers Stand as One!

Interview with Montreal Blue Collar Workers
Workers' Campaign to Defend Municipal Employees - Nicolas De Ciccio, Coordinator of "Auxiliary Action," Syndicat des cols bleus regroupés de Montréal

Imperialist Interference in Venezuela
Stand with Venezuelan Auto Workers and Government in Holding GM to Account! - Margaret Villamizar 

Note to Readers

First Anniversary of Fort McMurray Wildfire

Salute to the People of Fort McMurray and
Wood Buffalo Region

Calgary city workers lend a hand in Fort McMurray

Workers' Forum sends greetings and pays tribute to the workers and people of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo on the first anniversary of the devastating forest fire that ravaged the city and region beginning May 3, 2016.

The city of Fort McMurray held day-long events beginning at 5 am on May 3 with a community breakfast and sunrise yoga to bring people together on this difficult day.

The people of Fort McMurray and emergency workers have been widely recognized for their strong community response in accomplishing the evacuation of their city under extremely perilous conditions. Close to 90,000 people were forced to evacuate, with two deaths. About 3,500 firefighters were involved in battling the blaze, and many workers remained behind to carry out essential services.

The fire damaged about 2,500 buildings, such as condos, homes and apartments. It hit roughly 90 more structures such as hotels and airport facilities. Most critical infrastructure, including the hospital, municipal buildings and all of the schools, save for one under construction, were saved. The fire burned in the Wood Buffalo region for two months, covering 1.5 million acres before it was finally declared under control.

Fort McMurray is now home to about 73,500 people, about 5,000 fewer residents than were reflected in the 2015 municipal census. Many of those who have not returned lost their jobs as the oil sands monopolies cut staff in response to low oil prices, even before the fire.

Despite heroic efforts and the strength of community spirit, recovery has been slow and difficult. One University of Alberta survey estimates that 12.8 per cent of the residents suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) six months after the fire, while 14.8 per cent "likely" suffered a major depressive disorder (MDD).

The study further revealed that those without support from family and friends were far more likely to suffer from PTSD or MDD, showing the terrible toll due to the lack of needed supports for those most in need.[1]

Rebuilding efforts have been slow. Only 645 development permits have been issued since the fire. The Wood Buffalo planning department expects as many as 2,000 applications by June 30, still far short of the number of homes destroyed. While seasonal considerations and the need for complete clean-up of the toxic materials the fire left behind, the slow pace is also a result of the innumerable difficulties with insurance claims. These include attempts by the insurance companies to rebuild with cheaper -- and sometimes more flammable -- materials, to long delays in processing of claims. Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) researcher Rebecca Davidson who interviewed residents in Fort McMurray in November 2016 said, "Insurance is something that came up in every one of those conversations."

Another big problem is that homeowners see the need to rebuild with more fire-resistant materials, but the financial hardships they have faced makes this impossible. While the big oil sands producers protected their investments well, both in building materials and firebreaks, the workers have been left to fend for themselves. For years the province of Alberta refused to release land for housing. The government opted to keep land available for the oil sands monopolies at the expense of housing. The government did virtually nothing to build the needed firebreak around the city that the Slave Lake fire proved necessary. Houses built with highly flammable materials were often crammed together, close to the forest and extremely vulnerable to a forest fire. Now the burden falls on the workers to protect themselves and their families in the future, while no one is held to account.

The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) Managing Director Glenn McGillivray said, "Our investigation concluded that wind-driven embers were the cause of the majority of the home ignitions, not direct contact with fire or radiant heat. We know how to mitigate against that with building materials, vent sizes, landscaping and such. In Alberta, it's required that basements have backwater valves because they're prone to flooding. We want fire resiliency features to be a requirement for properties in areas like Fort McMurray which are prone to wildfires." The Globe and Mail stated, "Mr. McGillivray admits that a change such as this is 'unlikely' to come into effect in time to make a difference to the Fort McMurray rebuild, but he's 'hopeful that it will happen in the future.'" How is this acceptable?

The devastating events of the fire showed just how precious the working class and First Nations are, whether the emergency workers, all the workers and people of Fort McMurray, or those who welcomed the people evacuated into their communities. The duty of governments to make sure they are looked after when injured on the job must be enforced. The status quo where the rich look after themselves at the expense of the workers and all of society is not sustainable.


1. The study found that adults who said they had "absolutely no support" were about nine and a half times more likely to develop PTSD and 13 times more likely to develop MDD at six months compared with those who said they received "absolute" support.

(With files from CBC, Globe and Mail)

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CEZinc Workers Rally in Toronto

Hands Off Our Pensions! Workers Stand as One!

Hands Off Our Pensions! Workers Stand as One! was the message the striking CEZinc workers and their allies delivered to the Noranda Income Fund (NIF) shareholders who were attending their annual general meeting inside the Toronto Stock Exchange on April 28.CEZinc is owned by Glencore, which has a controlling interest in NIF and operates the CEZinc refinery in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. Hundreds of flag bearing steelworkers gathered outside the Stock Exchange shouting, "Hands Off Our Pensions! Retirement in Dignity!" The CEZinc workers, members of USW Local 6486,were joined by District 6 steelworkers including workers from Hamilton USW Local 1005 and the Steelworkers Toronto Area Council.

The 371 CEZinc refinery workers of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec have been on strike since February 12. They are refusing to submit to concessions Glencore is demanding in the current round of contract negotiations. These concessions include attacks on their pensions they have fought to achieve over many decades. The workers chose the NIF shareholders' meeting in Toronto to launch their global campaign against Glencore and NIF.

Speaker after speaker, including Manon Castonguay, President of USW Local 6486 and Alain Croteau, Quebec Director of the Syndicat des Métallos (United Steelworkers) spoke of the growing unity of the workers of Quebec and Ontario and across Canada in the fight to defend the rights they have won over many years through their struggles. A line has been drawn that the workers will not allow be crossed, one speaker said."We will not back down on the issue of our pensions. In the cold on our picket line we say 'We are standing on the picket line because we do not want to be on our knees in the plant,'" he concluded. Representatives from USW District 6 in Ontario vowed to support the striking workers. Your fight is our fight. Your gain is a win for us, they said.

With flags waving and horns blowing, steelworkers continued their action by marching to the site of the Toronto Day of Mourning, to join in the ceremony remembering those who were killed or injured at work and recommiting to fight for the living.

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Interview with Montreal Blue Collar Workers

Workers' Campaign to Defend Municipal Employees
"With the defence movement, we are standing up, saying enough
is enough, that we cannot accept the attacks against the
municipal public service."

Montreal municipal workers rally in Quebec City, May 12, 2016.

Workers' Forum: The Montreal Blue Collar Workers' Union has launched the "Auxiliary Action" defence movement. What is the purpose of this movement?

Nicolas De Ciccio: "Auxiliary Action" concerns auxiliary workers and all workers in the municipal civil service. Our union, our president, asked the administration of Mayor Denis Coderre and City Manager Alain Marcoux to show reason, to act in good faith. The Coderre-Marcoux administration has completely spoiled labour relations in the city, with blue collar workers, police officers, with all municipal employees. It has no consideration for us. What has happened recently, the mass dismissal of 51 auxiliary employees who are members of our union, is the straw that broke the camel's back. The Coderre administration does not even hide it. It wants to cut the workforce, replace only one worker out of two who are leaving, get rid of 1,000 auxiliaries. These 51 workers who lost their jobs en masse were classed as auxiliaries but they were working full-time for the city, many of them with 15 years of service. It's a shock for us but it's part of a trend. We have just lost the housekeeping at the municipal court which has been privatized. There are other places in the city where auxiliaries have lost their jobs to the private sector or to NPOs (non-profit organizations). [It is the practice of the City of Montreal to contract work which has historically been done by the city's blue collars to NPOs, which are often created by the City itself, where wages and working conditions are much lower than those of the city workers. The contract workers also have inferior health and safety conditions - WF note]. A brief that has just been produced by the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Quebec describes this situation well.

An auxiliary worker performs the same tasks as a regular worker. It is his or her employment status that is different. An auxiliary is not necessarily a temporary worker. Many auxiliaries work year round. Those who are going to be laid off, who worked in security at City Hall, had between five and 15 years of service. They worked full-time. To help them keep their jobs and maintain a good working relationship, we signed letters of understanding that allowed the auxiliaries to work less than the 36 hours that constitute full-time work. In spite of everything, the city is outsourcing, hiring cheap labour that always ends up costing more at the end. We lose efficiency, we lose expertise, we lose experienced blue collar workers. We do this work year round. We know the work. We are not working for a boss, to fill someone's pockets. We serve the citizens.

When the announcement was made, the union leaders, the president, once again asked the city administration to sit down and negotiate with us. We have contract language stating that we must try to work together and find solutions, but the administration did not want to hear anything. The goal is to eliminate the public service, at least the auxiliaries, to reduce the civil service as much as possible. So the union decided to set up this "Auxiliary Action" defence movement. Our president has always said that a blue collar is a blue collar, be it auxiliary, retired or permanent, the union defends them all. When we say "Auxiliary Action" you have to understand that this will affect all blue collar workers. Auxiliaries are the first victims. The regular workers will also be affected, as well as those who retire. There will be fewer contributors to the pension plan, so the whole public service is being attacked. This is really the perspective from which the administration is functioning now. Certainly if there are no contributors, it will have an impact. Already, retired workers have been hit with the elimination of indexing of their pensions. With the city replacing only one worker out of two who leave and getting rid of the auxiliaries, we are certain that in five or ten years they will tell us that they are in deficit, that they have no money to finance the pension plan and will go after the retirees again.

The Coderre-Marcoux administration is attacking the new generation of workers as well as the pensioners.

How many years has Mr. Coderre served the city? Only a few years. We blue collar workers have been here for 30-40 years. The last two mayors have tarnished the reputation of the city while we have continued to serve the citizens. We do not serve politicians, we serve Montreal. We have knowledge that comes from doing the job for so many years. It's a professional job for us.

Look what happened with snow removal this winter. The city is contracting out to private entrepreneurs who have no experience and pay their employees badly. Their turnover is very high because people are always looking for a better paying job, and we end up with the results that we all know.

WF: What kind of mobilization is "Auxiliary Action" going to do?

NDC: With the defence movement, we are standing up; saying enough is enough, that we cannot accept the attacks against the municipal public service. The initiative is being taken by the Syndicat des cols bleus regroupés de Montréal. We need this defence movement because we are being attacked from all sides, from all levels of government, both the retirees and the auxiliaries.

We want to try to work with the employer, to be recognized by the employer. People have to remember that when he was campaigning for mayor, Denis Coderre said that the blue collar workers are important, that he would undo subcontracting, that the Charbonneau Commission had shown that with the private sector being awarded public contracts there is more corruption and more collusion. That is what the mayor said during his campaign.

For now, our aim is to make our presence felt. The Coderre administration must understand that we are not in agreement with its plan, with its disrespect for city employees. We are hoping for change. For the moment, we are carrying out visible actions, we are standing up. This is the first step -- we denounce his plan. We want something else. In a recent action we went to a benefit brunch held by the mayor to support his candidate in the election in Montreal North. We went with trumpets and placards. It went well and we had the support of lots of citizens who shook hands with us.

We want to remind the mayor and the people of what he said in 2013. Has he forgotten? These are the type of actions that we are organizing at the moment.

City employees deserve recognition and respect. We cannot allow the city to set a precedent that you can get rid of employees and their expertise and replace them with cheap labour at minimum wage which ultimately costs more. Montreal is a metropolis that must set an example of providing quality jobs. Otherwise it's a race to the bottom and it sends a very bad signal to private companies.

Our defence movement is in defence of our working conditions and of all workers.

Photo from Montreal Blue Collar Workers' facebook page.

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Imperialist Interference in Venezuela

Stand with Venezuelan Auto Workers and
Government in Holding GM to Account!

Workers from GM plant joined by members of other unions in Valencia, Venezuela march
against company's decision to close factory, April 28, 2017. (D. Blanco)

On April 20, right after U.S.-backed opposition forces in Venezuela escalated violent street actions demanding the holding of early elections and agitating for foreign intervention, U.S. auto giant General Motors announced it had been forced to cease operations in Venezuela because of an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets."[1] GM's claims are a fraud aimed at covering up its attempts to get out of its commitments in Venezuela and its participation in an orchestrated economic war against the working class and people of Venezuela and their government.

GM did not assemble one vehicle in all of 2016 despite its access to preferential exchange rates to buy imported materials and parts which were never turned into vehicles! At the time of announcing it was leaving the country the company even pointed out that there were only around 350 employees working in the plant carrying out administrative and post-sales functions, ie. no production. Last November, union leaders denounced company management for failing to use the factory to assemble vehicles, instead using it as a front for the purpose of reselling auto parts.

Two days after GM's official announcement, its workers who had all been on indefinite layoff because of a lack of production and receiving a paltry "nominal payment" of less than one dollar a week from the company, were informed by text message that their employment was terminated and that a separation payment covering any benefits owed to them had been deposited in their bank accounts. The workers were enraged to discover that GM had deducted from their final pay the cost of benefits the company was obligated to cover under the collective agreement and want the company held to account.

On Friday, April 28, unions representing workers in different sectors in Carabobo state marched in solidarity with the workers from the GM plant through Valencia's industrial zone to the State Legislature. There they denounced GM's "irregular" closure and met with a commission of state deputies and called on them to take up their cause. "If GM gets away with what they are trying to do, others are going to want to follow their example," said a GM worker and member of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers' Central. He called the closure a ruthless act to sabotage the national economy, adding that GM was accustomed to fraudulently acquiring foreign currency from the country's supply of U.S. dollars to engage in illicit currency trading and opening the door to full scale importation of vehicles rather than just parts.

A member of the Ford workers' union said he and his co-workers, along with workers from other auto plants and industries in the area were marching in solidarity with the GM workers as there had been reports for some time of Ford and other companies engaging in similar activities. He said the threat of plants closing and companies shifting to importing instead of producing anything in Venezuela was a sword hanging over the heads of many families in the region. When the march was first announced, an executive member of one of the GM workers' unions spoke positively of the work being done by the government of Nicolás Maduro to ensure the company fulfilled its obligations to the workers.

Rally and march April 28, 2017, by GM workers and their fellow workers from other sectors.

Can anyone believe the world's number one automaker is really unable to access dollars to import parts and other materials it needs to continue assembling vehicles in Venezuela when the Venezuelan government is offering financial and other types of assistance so that production can be carried out? Or, that demand has suddenly dried up in the country compared to just five years ago when 100,000 vehicles were produced, such that for over a year now GM could not produce a single vehicle and only sell replacement auto parts out of its Valencia plant?[2]

What actually took place was nothing like GM's cooked-up story aimed at portraying the Venezuelan government as acting unlawfully and the reflection of this in the media. In fact the government of Venezuela is upholding the country's constitution and the rule of law in the face of GM's deliberate violations of their commitments in the country, something GM is not used to. The Venezuelan judicial system has ordered an embargo on GM's assets in the country, including the assembly plant from which no fixtures are to be removed.[3]

GM is in fact the party operating outside of the law and the Venezuelan legal system is holding it to account for that. Despite this action the Venezuelan government has also made it clear that it is not expropriating the plant and has no such plans, and in fact has informed the company it is willing to work with them with the aim of restarting production.[4]

Workers in Canada and the U.S. know from their own experience that companies like GM use bankruptcy laws like the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) for judicial protection for their legalized theft and failure to comply with their commitments. These private monopolies are used to having governments and the courts as willing accomplices, rather than being held to account by them. In Venezuela however, they are being held to account for their legal obligations while at the same time being offered support to keep producing as a way to protect workers' jobs and serve the needs of the population for cars and other vehicles -- even under trying economic conditions when there are many other pressures on the government. This is what all the clamour about "expropriation" and "irreparable damage" is about. Canadian workers should stand with the GM workers and government of Venezuela to demand GM live up to its commitments and start producing.


1. In a statement, GM said its assembly plant in Valencia in Carabobo state was "unexpectedly taken by the public authorities, preventing normal operations" and that this had caused "irreparable damage" to the company, its 2,678 workers, its 79 dealerships (employing 3,900 people) and its parts suppliers, affecting another 12,000 workers. GM further stated that it would be taking vigorous legal action inside and outside of Venezuela "to defend its rights." A GM spokesman was quoted by the New York Times saying the Valencia assembly plant had been shut down for 42 days previous to the company announcing its decision to leave the country as a result of a "takeover" by members of one of its two unions and that when GM asked the government for help "taking back" the plant, the government "took over" the factory itself instead.

GM's story was immediately picked up by major news outlets in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, with headlines repeating the lie about the Venezuelan government expropriating GM's plant and forcing the company to leave the country. Some called for U.S. President Donald Trump to up the economic pressure on Venezuela and used the opportunity to sound the alarm about the risks of doing business in Venezuela, demonizing the government. One of the most blatant examples was a CBC Business News story with an Associated Press byline that said, "The seizure is the latest in a long string of government confiscations of factories and other assets that have been a staple of the so-called 21st century socialist revolution in Venezuela started by the late Hugo Chavez two decades ago." A story in the Detroit Free Press quoted a Miami trade lawyer saying, "I would suspect GM is not the first and they're not going to be the last because the government of Venezuela is desperate for any assets they can take."

2. Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota all have assembly operations in Venezuela as well and have also drastically cut production with claims of "dried-up demand" and currency issues. Another frequently cited complaint of these and other monopolies is that they cannot access the dollars needed to "repatriate profits" to the U.S. or wherever headquarters is located. The New York Times reported that in 2016 automakers produced only 4,900 vehicles in Venezuela compared to over 31,000 in 2015.

3. In 2001 a private auto dealership launched a court case against GM for breach of contract, suing it for damages in the amount of 476 million Venezuelan bolivars (approximately U.S.$47 million at the current official exchange rate) for failing to deliver almost 10,000 vehicles it had promised to provide to the dealership. GM ignored a 2015 decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court ordering it to pay the dealership the damages owed. On April 4, well before GM made its announcement, a court in Zulia state confirmed the 2015 order and placed an embargo on GM's assets in the country including a prohibition against removing any fixtures from its factory until its obligations under Venezuelan law are fulfilled. In a statement, GM claimed it had rescinded its contract with the affected dealership for "inefficient performance" and called the court-ordered embargo "inappropriate, absurd and lacking any logic in law or due process."

4. In addition to making clear that accusations about Venezuela's government expropriating or confiscating GM's property are completely false, Venezuelan Labour and Social Security Minister Francisco Torrealba said that right after GM headquarters in Detroit announced it was pulling out of the country the government invited the U.S. automaker to discuss options for getting its plant producing again and indicated its willingness to assist it further in that regard. In a television interview a few days later he said the Venezuelan state wants to see the plant return to maximum production in the hands of its rightful owners and is ready to support that. The government's interest, he said, was in protecting jobs and getting the plant producing at maximum capacity to meet the internal demand as well as for export. He pointed out that the government had already given auto assemblers special treatment in recognition of the sector's importance, making financial and other types of support available to these companies to resume production and increase their productive capacity. This included giving them a preferential foreign exchange rate in recognition of their need to import parts and raw materials using U.S. dollars and by permitting buyers of new vehicles to pay for them with a combination of Venezuelan bolivars and U.S. dollars.

(With files from, El Carabobeño, Notitarde. Photos: TML, D. Blanco, )

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Note to Readers

For the views of CPC(M-L) on the matter of NAFTA and softwood lumber, see this Saturday's TML Weekly. Reports and photos of May Day activities across the country, in the U.S. and around the world will also be published in the TML Weekly Supplement. Available May 6 at


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