June 22, 2017

Stelco/Bedrock Plan of Arrangement

The State Deprives Steelworkers of
Their Right to Sum Up Failures of
U.S. Steel and Chart a New Direction


Stelco/Bedrock Plan of Arrangement
The State Deprives Steelworkers of Their Right to Sum Up Failures of U.S. Steel and Chart a New Direction - K.C. Adams
Plan of Arrangement Attacks Steelworkers, Salaried Workers, the Steel Communities and Canada's Economy and Independence

Government Response to Truckers' Request for Recognition of Their Profession
"Everything's Fine, Just Fine." - Normand Chouinard

Liquor Control Board of Ontario
This Fight Is About Justice, Dignity and a Condemnation of Liberal Hypocrisy
- A Reader in Toronto

Quebec Paramedics Continue Strike for Their Just Demands
Government's Refusal to Negotiate Is Despicable - Pierre Chénier

Stelco/Bedrock Plan of Arrangement

The State Deprives Steelworkers of Their Right to
Sum Up Failures of U.S. Steel and
Chart a New Direction

The state-organized Stelco/Bedrock Plan of Arrangement (PoA) to exit bankruptcy protection shows that the present economic direction is exhausted and a failure. The PoA reveals that the oligarchs in control of the economy are incapable of solving problems and charting a new direction that serves the working people and society. The ruling elite are overwhelmed with their aim for empire-building to serve their narrow private interests in opposition to the needs of the economy and the desire of working people for a modern nation-building project. The Stelco experience shows once again that without an organized determined intervention of the Workers' Opposition to bring into being a new pro-social direction for the economy nothing will change and the old problems will resurface causing yet more crises, destruction and suffering.

The Companies Creditors' Arrangement Act (CCAA) process and PoA refuse to answer the question: why did U.S. Steel's takeover of Stelco in 2007 end in abject failure and bankruptcy? USS could not fulfil its promises on quotas for jobs and production let alone renew Stelco's productive capacity and make the pension plans whole. The decade leading to bankruptcy protection at Stelco, and also at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, saw no effort to control the widely fluctuating steel prices or bring Canadian steel production into conformity with apparent demand. Instead, USS went on a rampage of wrecking and attacking the claims of active and retired steelworkers, stripping Stelco of its research and development department and engineers, transferring its automotive contracts to U.S. mills, blaming all problems on competitors within the imperialist system of states, and finally threatening liquidation upon entering CCAA bankruptcy protection and its state police powers in 2014.

The PoA presents nothing to sum up the experience of Stelco and the Canadian steel sector during the past decade so that Canadians can find a way out of the recurring crises and participate consciously in building the new. Without a vibrant steel sector under the control of Canadians, which meets the internal demand for steel, the economy cannot hope to be resilient and capable of withstanding the inevitable crises in global trade.

This is the second time Stelco has been under the police powers of the CCAA and the fourth for steelworkers at Algoma Steel. With no fundamental problems resolved, the situation is so precarious that University of Toronto academic Peter Warrian, considered by the ruling elite as "Canada's leading steel economist," predicts another steel and general economic crisis in 24 to 36 months.[1]

Time for a New Direction for the Economy

The working class can never accept the bankrupt direction of ignoring fundamental problems in the economy. Nor can it afford to watch as the oligarchs use the destructive symptoms that emerge spontaneously from an economy in crisis as an excuse to attack workers and deprive them of what is theirs by right. But that is exactly what the ruling class wants workers to do. One form this takes is to reduce workers who are under attack to begging the political parties to do something, to begging the very parties that have formed a political cartel to keep the people out of power and from solving problems. Those cartel parties are not political. They themselves ignore problems and use the destructive symptoms of economic crises to adopt self-serving measures to strengthen the narrow private interests of the oligarchs at the expense of the broad interests of the people, economy and society. When Stelco was under CCAA in 2004-06, the cartel parties in Parliament used the occasion to strengthen the police powers of the CCAA and make it even harder for workers to defend their interests and rights. The role these cartel parties play is to protect the power of the oligarchs and weaken the independent power, politics and organization of the working class. This blocks the emergence of the new. Unless economic and political experience, both good and bad, is summed up seriously with objectivity of consideration no understanding of the root problems will emerge and a way forward established. Only with conscious participation in summing up the failures of the steel sector and economy in general, and by giving themselves the resources and freedom to chart a new economic and political direction can Canadians develop their understanding of what needs to be done to build the new that serves the people and society and does not soon fail again.


1. Predicting another steel crisis, Peter Warrian said in a speech in Sault Ste. Marie, as quoted by SooToday, "Steel prices will drop, maybe a hundred dollars a ton. I'm not trying to scare people, but you've got slow growth in the economy. It will go down. But I'm not saying disastrous down. Unless someone has repealed the laws of economics, somewhere around 24 to 36 months out there, there's going to be a recession sometime."

SooToday continues, "The 2007 purchase of Stelco by U.S. Steel set the Canadian industry back a decade, [Warrian] said. 'U.S. Steel bought and operated Stelco like a classic Canadian-U.S. branch plant. Basically, U.S. Steel stripped out all the product development and marketing stuff and they stripped out all the engineers.... We all thought Stelco was the big cheese in the shop. In North American terms, Stelco became a Tier 2 asset. Looking back, we're the problem. If we knew that was going to happen, Canadians shouldn't have let a prime industry like that to be taken over by foreigners without a peep.'"

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Plan of Arrangement Attacks Steelworkers,
Salaried Workers, the Steel Communities and
Canada's Economy and Independence

Instead of addressing the problems and finding a way forward, the Stelco/Bedrock Plan of Arrangement (PoA) attacks the working people and lessens their current and future claims on the value they produce. This does not solve any problem; it merely concentrates social wealth in the hands of the privileged few, in this case oligarchs from the United States. Redistribution of the produced value, both past and potential value, is the main component and preoccupation of the PoA. It directly reduces the claims of the working people and shifts around and even eliminates the claims of many others including a $150 million loan from the provincial treasury.

Taking the pensions and Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEBs) off the balance sheet for both current and future retirees, directly restricting their claim on legally promised future Stelco value, does not address any fundamental problems of steel production and distribution at Stelco or in the sector generally. It increases the claim on produced value of U.S. private interests who have seized control, and reduces the claims of retired workers who mostly still live in the steel communities.

According to the current relations of production, what the U.S. owners do with their increased claim on the value Stelco steelworkers produce is their prerogative. The imperialist aim of production -- to find the highest return possible -- dominates the thinking and outlook of the oligarchs in control. The added-value the new Bedrock owners will claim from the value workers produce will chase the highest return possible wherever that may be within the imperialist system of states. They are not motivated to solve Canada's economic or social problems as that contradicts their aim. They did not come to Ontario to renew the steel sector. They will refuse to come under the control and direction of working people, who demand a say and control over what to do with the value steelworkers produce, because such a demand contradicts their imperialist aim. The U.S. oligarchs are autocrats who have come to Hamilton to satisfy their motivation to find the highest return for their money and to do with their claim as they wish without restrictions. To believe otherwise is irrational.

The PoA reduction and elimination of the many claims of those who are owed for services rendered or material supplied to Stelco, does not solve any problem. In fact, it causes problems in the steel sector and communities, as contractors, suppliers and others who are owed money by Stelco will be denied 90 per cent of their claim. This weakens those claimants, their businesses and the local steel economy. The amount is not minor, as those in this category in the Stelco PoA, the General Unsecured Creditor Pool, will receive only 10 cents on the dollar of Stelco outstanding accounts payable to them of $154 million. In addition, the $150 million plus interest owed to the Province of Ontario was summarily dismissed in its entirety without concern for the damage this causes.

Unite to Build the New; It Can Be Done!

Working people and businesses in Hamilton and Nanticoke are left with a weakened local economy from the reduction of the claims of retirees on future production of value, the refusal to pay local suppliers, contractors and others for services and material rendered, and denial of the use of future value Stelco workers produce for Hamilton land environmental remediation. This transfer of steel value from the local economy to the foreign imperialists strengthens their control over the Canadian economy and concentrates greater social wealth in the hands of the financial oligarchy. This solves no problem; on the contrary, it makes the situation worse, as control over the economy slips even further out of the hands of Canadians.

Denying a fundamental problem exists in the way the economy is structured and shifting value away from working people and others and into the hands of U.S. oligarchs deprives the working people of their modern right to solve the economic problems they face, learn from doing so, control those affairs that affect their lives and open a path forward in a new pro-social direction within an independent Canada.

Canada Needs a New Independent Direction!
Let Us Together Build the New!

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Government Response to Truckers' Request
for Recognition of Their Profession

"Everything's Fine, Just Fine."

Convoy of trucks arrive in Quebec City for demonstration at National Assembly to affirm
their dignity and rights, November 19, 2016.

If the issue was not so serious, one might laugh to read the reply of Patty Hajdu, Canada's Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, to the petition asking for recognition of the trucking profession and truckers' right to a say on their working conditions. The response from the federal government can be summarized as "Everything's fine, just fine." The arrogance brings to mind a popular French song from the 1930s called "Tout va très bien madame la marquise" that mocks aloofness in the face of a desperate situation.

The degree of bureaucratic detachment of state institutions from the problems faced by workers is extreme. The processes through which the various collectives of society can legitimately present their claims are inoperative. Canadian truckers have bitter experience with both official detachment and uselessness.

Here in part is Minister Hajdu's response to the truckers' petition:

"The Government of Canada (Employment and Social Development Canada) funded Trucking HR Canada (THRC) to update the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Professional Truck Drivers. A NOS defines the knowledge, tasks and subtasks which collectively describe the occupation, and the updated NOS is formulated around the following elements: supportive competencies, functional competencies, and driving competencies."

The Minister refuses to acknowledge that the truckers' petition was specifically designed to provide Canadian truckers an official method to decide on new transportation standards. How can repeating the standards that already exist be considered a response or even a recognition that a problem exists? The current standards and enforcement are precisely the problems that need changing and updating.

Truckers themselves are in the best position to know the problems and solutions of their industry, not the Minister or members of her Ministry. The truckers demand their modern right to a say and control over their working conditions and an official mechanism that can guarantee that right in practice. They want a modern decision-making process through which they can materialize their say and exercise control over their working conditions.

The Minister's detachment from truckers' reality is profound. She says: "In the development of the NOS, every provincial trucking association was involved as an official partner on the project, and consultation sessions were held in each region of the country, with each province represented. The NOS is the foundation for mandatory entry-level training in Ontario, as announced by the Ontario Transport Minister in 2016. THRC has noted 2,000 unique downloads of the NOS since it became available on their website."

The petition was launched precisely to express the desire of the truckers to be represented with regard to the decisions that affect them. If we felt represented by the provincial associations and the other "official partners," then we would not have felt the need to circulate this petition; we would already be one of the decision-makers, which is not the case.

The Minister talks about consultation sessions across the country. Why has no trucker ever heard of them? Who were they for and who did they serve? Presumably, the provincial "employers' associations" she mentions that participated in developing the NOS. Unacceptable! They do not represent us or speak for us! The petition was a declaration from thousands of truckers in affirmation of our right to decide things that concern us and to declare that we will never again accept the decisions of others. Canadian truckers have rejected the disgraceful response of the Minister with all the contempt it deserves.

The Minister sinks farther into a deep hole stating, "Part III of the Canada Labour Code establishes minimum working conditions in federally regulated industries, such as hours of work, minimum wages, statutory holidays and annual vacations, as well as various types of unpaid leave."

If the Minister knew anything about what is going on in our industry, she would know that for a large number of truckers in all categories of transportation even "minimum working conditions" are not met. An example of this is that Part III of the Canada Labour Code defines the maximum length of the work day before the rate of pay is increased by 50 per cent, commonly known as time and a half. According to the Labour Code, the provisions on normal hours of work are intended to enable employees to enjoy a reasonable period of rest. For most truckers operating under federal jurisdiction, overtime pay should begin after 60 hours of work within a week. Does the Minister know how many truckers are never given this overtime pay as prescribed by law? Would she be shocked that the reality in the field does not correspond with her fancy words or the standards she spouts?

The Canadian government has always turned a blind eye to the shameless theft of wages on the part of large transportation companies and the complicity of large manufacturing companies. Not only is she telling us not to worry because minimum standards already exist, but worse, her government is allowing companies that do not respect her own law and minimum standards to act with impunity. The clauses in the Labour Code that apply to us are useless if they are not applicable in practice, if they are not enforced. For her to repeat them in her reply and throw them in our faces as some sort of justification that nothing needs to be done adds insult to injury.

By launching their petition, truckers across Canada have taken a step forward in taking charge of their industry, to regulate it to serve the interests of those who do the work and to enforce the standards on which they decide. Truckers have had enough of these bureaucrats and ministers who call themselves "decision-makers with a mandate" and abuse their positions of authority by deciding issues behind our backs behind closed doors, which are rightfully our issues to decide because we do the work and we suffer the consequences of those decisions.

Thousands of truckers are telling the Minister that everything is not "fine, just fine" and that we reject the answer of her government. We are going to continue our campaign to ensure the safety and sustainability of road transportation, which we consider to be an essential element of the production chain of the different productive sectors of our national economy. We will continue to organize to ensure truckers are at the centre of the decisions that affect them and we will not let the old archaic institutions stand in our way to achieve what we believe is necessary for us and society.

Brampton truckers hold strike rally, September 8, 2015.

(Translated from the original French.)

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Liquor Control Board of Ontario

This Fight Is About Justice, Dignity and a Condemnation of Liberal Hypocrisy

LCBO workers present their demands at an information picket in Toronto.

Ninety-three per cent of Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) workers have voted for a strike on June 26. This is good news for everyone. As provincial employees the thousands of workers at the LCBO are subject to conditions that make a strike a necessity not just for them but for the public good. With only a matter of days before the strike deadline is met the LCBO is steering a course to create panic once again throughout Ontario to drive shoppers to stock up on Beverage Alcohol instead of meeting the reasonable demands of its workers.

Work has been reduced to mostly casual labour made vulnerable by too few hours to make employment at the LCBO livable. It's nothing more than starvation wages. The LCBO's aim is to reduce the workers' ability to survive and fight back. This strike is about changing that injustice.

Workers can be called in to work at just about any time. The hours of service are now going ever closer to a midnight closing time. Sunday is now being pushed to be a "normal" day where the pay will be the same as other days. The LCBO feels the workers do not deserve a normal family life, must work any hour they say and live on starvation wages.

Workers in Hamilton prepare their strike headquarters, June 20, 2017.

Decades ago, work at the LCBO was considered a plum job that you could only get through the corrupt practices of nepotism. That means having the connections to get you in. The injustice of using the LCBO as a dumping ground for the idiot relatives of the powerful elites of the province stank to everyone. Nepotism and other forms of corruption were even denounced in the Ontario Legislature. Some reforms of the LCBO did happen mainly because the people of the province demanded changes. They were forced to hire national minority workers and women workers.

Now the workers do represent the broad working class of this province and there are more women workers than ever before. This led to a new strategy by the management. They are making as few full-timers as possible and making as many as they can vulnerable part-time and casual workers. The only choice we have now is being let go with little compensation or trying to survive on next to no hours.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has made the situation very clear: "The way that senior management has acted, and the pressure from the provincial government to drive up profits, no matter the cost to workers, has brought us to the brink of a strike.... No worker should be treated the way these folks are being treated right now -- especially not at a profitable Crown corporation that can afford to do better. The LCBO should be setting an example for Ontario employers, not joining a race to the bottom with Walmart."

This strike is about justice and dignity and it strikes at the very heart of what the powerful political elites of this province really think about the workers. Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government are full of pretensions about caring for the poor of this province. When given the chance with the workers of the LCBO the reality is they want the workers poor and on their knees. LCBO workers are taking power into their hands and saying enough is enough.

LCBO workers' information picket in Northern Ontario.

(Photos: OPSEU)

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Quebec Paramedics Continue Strike for Their Just Demands

Government's Refusal to Negotiate Is Despicable

Contingent of striking paramedics participate in May Day march in Montreal, May 1, 2017.

Some 6,000 paramedics in Quebec have been on strike since March. Their collective agreements expired March 31, 2015. The paramedics have put forward demands for wages, improvement of pensions and the abolition of on-call schedules, whereby workers are on-duty seven days in a row and on-call 24 hours a day followed by seven days off. Not only does the Quebec government refuse to satisfy these demands but it even refuses to negotiate with these emergency workers who are on the front lines of the work to safeguard the lives of the public in their times of need. The government even withdrew from negotiations, stating that the various employers' associations, all of which are publicly-funded, are "autonomous" and free to negotiate as they see fit. At the same time, the government imposes on employers service agreements that dictate their budgets and staff. That speaks volumes about the Quebec government's disdain for these workers.

The paramedics continue their just strike and refuse to give up their demands that are important to them and the public.

The 3,600 members of the Federation of Health and Social Services (FSSS-CSN) recently decided to resume their strike with the aim of making it more effective while continuing to provide emergency services. Jean Gagnon, the representative of the hospital sector of the FSSS-CSN, said to Workers' Forum in a recent interview:

"We resumed our strike. In Montreal, we stopped our strike for a few days and then we restarted it by increasing the administrative pressure on the employers, in particular by filling forms in a way that makes it impossible for employers to bill patients for the services we have rendered. We are told that employers are losing tens of thousands of dollars a day with this action, and we will see at the bargaining table whether this is going to get them to make a move and settle.

"As far as wages are concerned, the government still refuses to give us what is called wage relativity adjustment, which was granted to the other public sector workers in their latest round of bargaining. Under this wage relativity adjustment, in the final year of the agreement, there is an adjustment in wages according to the categories of employment in which the workers are classified. As far as we are concerned, in our job category, that would lead to an increase of about 2.4 per cent in the last year of the agreement, which the government refuses to grant. There is no way we are going to back down because we have been making headway in the last seven to eight years in getting our wages caught up and this has to carry on. As far as pensions are concerned, we want to improve the early retirement conditions because the profession is a very difficult one and we need to be able to take early retirement without penalty. There is also the issue of the workload that has become too heavy in some major centres and the on-call schedules in the regions that we want to abolish."

The approximately 1,000 paramedics of the Brotherhood of Prehospital Workers of Quebec (FTQ) are also on strike. Their president Benoit Cowell recently said to Workers' Forum:

"We increased our visibility: we held a press conference with the Parti Québécois on June 8, we no longer wear our uniforms at work, we distribute leaflets to our patients and their families, etc.

"We are faced with a temporary injunction prohibiting us from demonstrating at or around the riding office of Minister Barrette. The injunction was extended until October and the government wants a permanent injunction to prevent unions from demonstrating at Barrette's office. We are challenging the injunction because Minister Barrette's office is a public place and people, including voters, must have access to it. We have members who are voters in the riding of Minister Barrette. It is an attack on our freedom of expression and we are challenging it in court. With regard to our demands, we made a monetary counter-proposal on January 4, and we received no response from the employers. The employers say that it is the government's fault, the government says it is the employers' fault, that they all have the mandate to settle. They should first return to the bargaining table and present us precise offers, with numbers. We have been speaking for two and a half years and these private companies are not able to quantify our demands? In addition, there is the issue of the pension fund, which we want to improve. This is important because our workers who are over 50 years of age have a high rate of injuries and illnesses. There are not many workers who can work until the retirement age of 60. We are asking for an improvement to the pension fund to assist our members to take early retirement. Right now, we have big penalties for leaving before we are 60 and already our pension plan is not that good. It is fairly recent and the pension fund is not very big. There are also the on-call schedules that we want to gradually abolish."

The approximately 1,500 members of the Quebec Federation of Prehospital Employees (FPHQ) are also on strike and their demands are similar to those of the two other unions.

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