May 4, 2017
First Anniversary of Fort McMurray
Salute to the People of Fort McMurray
and Wood Buffalo Region
• Salute to the People of Fort McMurray and
Buffalo Region - Peggy Askin
CEZinc Workers Rally
• Hands Off Our Pensions! Workers Stand as One!
Montreal Blue Collar Workers
• Workers' Campaign to Defend Municipal
Employees - Nicolas De Ciccio, Coordinator of "Auxiliary
Action," Syndicat des cols bleus regroupés de Montréal
Interference in Venezuela
• Stand with Venezuelan Auto Workers and
Government in Holding GM to Account! - Margaret
• Note to Readers
First Anniversary of Fort McMurray
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
recommiting to fight for the living.
Interview with Montreal Blue Collar
Workers' Campaign to Defend Municipal Employees
"With the defence movement, we are standing up,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Imperialist Interference in Venezuela
Stand with Venezuelan Auto Workers and
Holding GM to Account!
Workers from GM plant joined by members of other unions in Valencia,
against company's decision to close factory, April 28, 2017. (D.
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
GM is in fact the party operating outside of the law
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
Workers in Canada and the U.S. know from their own
experience that companies like GM use bankruptcy laws like the Companies'
(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
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
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
so-called 21st century socialist revolution in Venezuela started
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)
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
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
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.
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 cpcml.ca.
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