June 29, 2017

Intense Propaganda for Privatization of Ports

Neo-Liberal Wreckers Portrayed as
Think Tanks and Experts


Maritime workers protest in Vancouver February 23, 2017 against Emerson Report

Intense Propaganda for Privatization of Ports
Neo-Liberal Wreckers Portrayed as Think Tanks and Experts

Churchill, Manitoba Left Stranded
Residents and Neighbouring Communities Demand Immediate Assistance and Change of Ownership Model for Railway and Port - Pierre Chénier

"The Airport is Increasingly Defined as a Precarious Workplace and We Are Fighting to Improve Labour Standards - Dan Janssen, Toronto Airport Workers' Council and Vice-President of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2323

Intense Propaganda for Privatization of Ports

Neo-Liberal Wreckers Portrayed as
Think Tanks and Experts

May Day 2017 action by workers at Pearson International Airport in Toronto
opposes airport privatization.

Intense propaganda has been done for a while by government officials, so-called think tanks and experts, as well as monopoly media in favour of privatizing Canadian ports and airports. The federal government itself is promoting the Emerson Report which was ordered by the Harper government to review the transportation systems in Canada and openly recommends maximum deregulation and privatization of these systems. In 2016, the Trudeau government hired Credit Suisse AG to investigate options for privatizing major Canadian airports, while investment bank Morgan Stanley Canada was hired to study potentially privatizing 18 ports. Although their reports have been in the hands of the federal government for a long time, their content is being kept rigorously secret. This shows that the federal government considers decision-making on such important matters to be left to leading Ministers and the financial oligarchy and its private monopolies, not to Canadians. Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said in a question-and-answer session after a speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on January 25, "It is by no means a done deal. It is just a new government exploring different possibilities." As if we are supposed to find something positive and heave a sigh of relief that the federal government is graciously just "exploring possibilities."

A most blatant promotion for the privatization of Canadian ports was made in an article by Charles McMillan and George Stalk published in the Globe and Mail on February 17, 2014, entitled, "It's time to privatize Canada's leading ports and airports."

It says:

"Canada's transport infrastructure needs to step up its game. The vast web of enterprises that encompass ports and airports need a new governance model that competes against global competitors. They need a global vision, a global talent base, and the tools to act quickly and smartly against rivals like Los Angeles, Singapore, Dubai or Amsterdam. Governments should focus on what they do best, including first class models of safety, security, customs clearance, and similar tools to make our airports and ports the best in the world, and seen as such by customers, governments, and leading multinationals.

"Selective privatized airports and ports would disband their traditional political governance model, with the concurrence of the federal government and Parliament. That step would allow private firms and individuals to take shares in a governance model that is globally competitive and operates in a collaborative performance fashion with the main stakeholders, including its employees."

The message is clear. Ports and airports and transportation systems are to be fully put in the hands of private consortiums and the financial oligarchy for empire-building, and governance should also be put directly into the hands of those forces that roam the world in pursuit of their own narrow interests. This means building transportation systems as part of global gateways and corridors that are instruments in the fight and collusion for profit, domination and power of select global private interests and imperialist powers they are associated with. Pro-social nation-building for the well-being of all, in which transportation systems serve an economy of completely socialized and interrelated industrial mass production, is never considered and is actually sacrificed in these schemes.

Speaking of schemes, the latest one comes from the C.D. Howe Institute, the neo-liberal think tank closely associated with the Liberal Party, to the point that Finance Minister Bill Morneau was its president prior to being elected as a Liberal MP.

In a June 15 research paper entitled "Casting Off: How Ottawa Can Maximize the Value of Canada's Major Ports and Benefit Taxpayers" author Steven Robins proposes that the federal government sell equity interest in the 18 Canada Port Authorities (CPAs), the four largest of which are Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Montreal and Halifax. These CPAs were introduced by federal legislation in 1998 to operate the major ports on federally-owned land on a commercial basis but with certain restrictions such as how much they can raise fees charged for various activities, how much money they can borrow from banks, etc.

St. John's Newfoundland protest against CETA and changes to
cabotage regulations, January 2017.

In a similar vein, the article suggests that the Canadian government could introduce and sell equity interest in port ownership that could amount to $2-3 billion, even up to $5 billion if the government went for total equity ownership by private interests. This is money, the author irrationally says, that could go into the coffers of the government to invest into much needed infrastructure!

Another notable point in the article is how far it goes in suggesting to simply throw in the towel, that privatization of public assets is already the name of the game, so why bother trying to fight it and simply put the nail in the coffin of any semblance of nation-building.

The article says:

"The CPAs are one link in the supply chains that characterize Canada's international trade. Interestingly, however, they are the last link that remains in public hands -- the vast majority of trade is already facilitated by private companies. The CPAs operate in a highly competitive environment and have limited ability to influence total shipping costs from origin to destination."

Then the author shamefully proceeds to argue that costs for shippers and the public are not necessarily going to go up because there is so much competition between ports and shipping lines that even under private ownership, CPAs could not raise fees on a whim. This is an absurd answer that contradicts the experience of the privatization of other public assets. All the various costs can be expected to go through the roof with ports under direct private ownership. Furthermore, it reduces the entire matter to an issue of monetary costs as if the issue at hand is not the ownership and control of the ports by private foreign monopolies to directly decide the fate of those assets, the workforce and the all those whose livelihoods depend on marine transportation.

Workers are rightly opposing any plan to further deregulate and privatize transportation systems including ports and airports. The federal government must render account for entertaining and implementing these schemes in contradiction with the public interest and the openly expressed opposition of workers and communities.

The times demand that public assets be defended and renewed so as to be instruments of a modern nation-building project that serves the people and its socialized economy and in which decision-making power rests on workers and people.

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Churchill, Manitoba Left Stranded

Residents and Neighbouring Communities Demand Immediate Assistance and Change of Ownership Model for Their Port and Railway

Picket in Churchill Manitoba, September 2016 against closure of grain shipping at Port of Churchill.

A most difficult situation has been created for the 900 people of the Port of Churchill and others in surrounding communities in Northern Manitoba. The now private railway line connecting these communities to each other and other parts of the province was seriously damaged by spring floods and requires significant repairs to be usable. Instead of immediately mobilizing its resources to repair the line, the owner Omnitrax announced the closure of the Hudson Bay Railway Company and the rail line connecting the Port of Churchill on Hudson Bay with its neighbouring communities and southern Manitoba. Omnitrax refuses to recognize the situation as a public emergency and repair the line immediately. Omnitrax is one company within the U.S. consortium called the Broe Group with headquarters in Denver, Colorado.

Protest in Winnipeg, September 21, 2016 against closure of Churchill grain shipping.

The damaged rail line is the only land transport link connecting Churchill to the rest of the province leaving more expensive means of transportation by just air and boat, with the port ice free only from June through October. The loss of the rail link adds another dimension to the problems of Churchill and other northern Manitoba communities. Omnitrax also owns the privatized port, which it closed in the summer of 2016. The port employed 10 per cent of the population.

The rail line is vital infrastructure for supplying food and other products including propane to the North and sending goods to the South, and to meet the people's transportation needs. The majority of households in Northern Manitoba heat their homes with propane. To transport food, propane and other supplies into and out of Churchill by air or boat drastically increases prices for residents, which people have already reported.

The people reject the indifference of Omnitrax in the face of an emergency they face. With the arrogance of a distant emperor, Omnitrax recommended that people find "alternative" sources of supplies for their basic necessities as the rail line cannot possibly be repaired for a year if at all.

The people in the north reject the company's ultimatum. They held meetings and demonstrations in mid-June to demand that railway repairs be done immediately, that the federal and provincial governments intervene to ensure this happens, and that a new model of ownership of the railway line and the port be worked out to replace private ownership, especially by a U.S. or other foreign corporation.

The aloofness of the federal government has been conveyed in the liberal language of empty moral support that the people simply do not want to hear anymore. A resident who took part in a June 15 protest in Churchill denounced the government inaction:

"They're blatantly ignoring us here. Even though it's an American who owns the rail line, Churchill is still in Canada, right? Do something for us."

The federal government claims to be studying the situation while awaiting the studies of Omnitrax's engineers before deciding what to do. Such empty claptrap! Omnitrax publicly claims it does not have the funds to make the necessary repairs yet its ownership group brags of billions of dollars in investments in real estate and other sectors. The people interpret Omnitrax's plea of poverty as a request for a pay-the-rich state subsidy or perhaps in preparation for entry into bankruptcy protection.

Communities in northern Manitoba are seeking immediate help and a change in the ownership and control of these infrastructure assets that are vital to their existence and development. To have essential infrastructure such as ports and railways in the hands of private interests and empire-builders with their aim of maximum profit is nation-wrecking. The closure of the Churchill port and now the disaster of no rail link are proof of the instability of handing over the people's assets to the oligarchs.

Pro-Social Alternatives Exist

Residents are demanding that governments take control of the situation and ensure that repairs are done safely and as quickly as possible. A local Indigenous-run railway company says its workforce has the expertise to do the repairs. The Mayor of Churchill said this proposal deserves attention and that governments must act to unblock the situation. Another proposal from the community is that Churchill be granted emergency government freight subsidies to stabilize the prices of goods arriving by air.

Another demand is to renationalize the railway and port. The Liberal government of Jean Chrétien sold both to Omnitrax in 1997. A coalition has been formed, which includes First Nations and municipalities in the area that want to acquire the railway and port.

Criminality of Privatization of Public Assets

The situation in Churchill shows in a dramatic way the criminality of the anti-social offensive with its endless waves of deregulation and privatization of public assets. Favouring and serving the private interests of the global oligarchs is in complete contradiction with modern nation-building to favour and serve the well-being of all and bring under peoples' control those affairs that affect their lives.

The Chrétien Liberal government's 1997 sale of the Churchill railway line to Omnitrax was facilitated by federal legislation and took place in the wake of the deregulation of the railways and the subsequent 1995 privatization of CN Rail to which this line belonged. One feature of this deregulation and privatization was the abandonment of rail lines serving less populated regions and areas such as Northern Manitoba where the natural conditions require more maintenance and gross income is low.

Maximum private profit dictates the actions of companies such as CN. The executives are the first to insist that rail lines and other businesses that do not meet a certain level of gross income and profit must be abandoned otherwise the rich investors will throw them out on their ears.

The Chrétien government sold the Port of Churchill to Omnitrax for $1.00! This sale was accompanied by repeated government subsidies to Omnitrax, supposedly for the maintenance of the railway and the port, money that the U.S. monopoly could easily divert elsewhere within its global holdings. The people question whether this led to substandard maintenance and subsequent derailments and now this disaster of not even having a rail link.

The Harper Conservative government's 2011 destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) was a further blow to Churchill. The CWB single-desk public monopoly in the service of farmers used the railway to Churchill and its port to ship grain. For farmers in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, shipping grain through the Port of Churchill was cheaper and faster. The CWB also owned producer cars that moved the grain to port. The large private grain companies that have taken over since the CWB was wrecked are not concerned with the needs of the farmers, communities and Canadians nor the economy. They are building their own port facilities in major centres, to concentrate control and wealth and build their competing empires.

The demise of the CWB greatly reduced the amount of grain shipped by rail to the Port of Churchill. To add insult to injury, the Harper Conservative government after wiping out the CWB gave Omnitrax five-year subsidies as compensation for losses of grain transportation on its rail line and through the port. In 2016, Omnitrax simply canceled grain transportation at the port, which has not resumed, putting a significant portion of the local population out of work, including several residents who had not accumulated enough hours to be eligible for Employment Insurance.

Prior to the damage to the rail lines from this year's spring floods that brought rail transport to a halt, Omnitrax had reduced the weekly freight transport service from two shipments to one. This greatly hindered the community's access to fresh produce and the availability of other necessities.

The privatization of basic public assets, such as transportation infrastructure, benefits the narrow private interests of the empire-builders. It puts their aim for maximum profit in command of those economic affairs that directly affect the people's lives. The precarious situation in Northern Manitoba, the numerous train derailments and the disastrous explosion at Lac-Mégantic Quebec are evidence that privatization of the basic sectors of the economy must be ended and rejected as activity that is hostile to the people and to society. A new aim to serve the people is required for the basic economy.

In Northern Manitoba, all sorts of pro-social projects have been suggested and could be organized to deal positively with the Churchill railway line and port. The people depend on the basic economy and want a say and control over its activities. This cannot be the case if a global ruling imperialist elite deprive people and their society of control over their basic economy through privatization and other means. The people demand control and empowerment of a nation-building project to ensure that the basic economy meets their needs and guarantees the well-being of all without fail.

All out to support the community of Churchill and the neighbouring communities fighting for their rights, well-being and future!

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"The Airport is Increasingly Defined as
a Precarious Workplace and We Are Fighting to Improve Labour Standards

Airport Workers' Council May Day 2017 action at Pearson International Airport.

Workers'Forum: What is the Toronto Airport Workers' Council and what is its aim?

Dan Janssen: The Toronto Airport Workers' Council is a group of union reps at the Toronto Airport. Most of them work on the floor, some of them are full-time reps. We came together to try to make improvements at Pearson Airport when it comes to labour standards, health and safety, minimum wage, basically to be a voice for all workers regardless of whether they are unionized or not. We have six unions on the Council: Public Service Alliance of Canada, Service Employees International Union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, UNIFOR, the Teamsters and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Those are the larger unions at Pearson but there are a lot more unions at the airport. Those are the six biggest ones. There are a lot of workers that are not unionized including ground workers, retail workers, passenger services workers, and of course there are a lot of management groups that are not unionized. It is estimated that there are up to 49,000 workers at Pearson. It is Canada's largest workplace. The Workers' Council represents a broad variety of workers such as retail workers, ground workers, baggage handlers, flight attendants, aircraft mechanics, ground services mechanics, fuelers, etc.

WF: What are the main issues that you have taken up to improve the conditions of the workers at Pearson?

DJ: We have been fighting for a $15 minimum wage and the province of Ontario just announced that it will increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019. We have been fighting both with the airport authorities and the Ontario government to increase the wages. Now it worked out with the Ontario government.

Another big issue is contract flipping. That is when a request for proposals is put out for a service contract and the contract is bid on by a number of companies and the airport authority or the airline determines from the contract proposals that come in who the provider will be. When the provider comes in, a lot of time what happens is that the workers have to go to the new provider, and there is no protection for them. They have to start all over again at whatever base wage the new provider pays. Sometimes their seniority is wiped right out and workers have to start all over on vacation [benefits], probationary period, and so on, so they end up falling behind. Some workers have been working doing the exact same work for 10 or 15 years, but they have worked for four different companies and still they may only be making $12 to $13 an hour.

To give an example, the Consolidated Aviation Fueling workers had their contract flipped [in 2015]. Some of them had been there 25 to 30 years or longer and were making $22 an hour plus when their contract was flipped. The workers then went to work for the new company but their wages were going to be no more than $14 an hour and they had to restart their vacation [benefits] all over again, their probationary period, etc. So you go back to work and 90 days later you may have a job or not, depending on if you pass probation or not. If you don't work directly for an airline, you are working on contract and you could be subject to contract flipping. Those doing the service jobs at the airport are also subject to contract flipping.

The airport authorities handle all these service contracts and they put out the requests for proposals every three years or so. The airport is increasingly defined as a precarious workplace and we are fighting to improve labour standards. Contract flipping is definitely something that is playing into it, as well as low wages.

What tends to happen also with contract flipping is that your union reps, your health and safety reps, those who were your voices in the workplace don't make it past probation; they are singled out as troublemakers and they don't make it through. Also workers may go from union to union. We have seen this happen a couple of times. Let's say workers were Machinists members and the new contract that picks them up is a company that is already covered by a UNIFOR contract, all of a sudden they are all UNIFOR members. No fault of the union but it is the system that is like that.

Another thing we are fighting for is better health and safety standards at Pearson. We have had a number of accidents in the workplaces resulting in some bad injuries and even a fatality. We are pushing to have better health and safety standards in the workplaces, increased training, etc. We also get together at the table and talk about health and safety issues as one large group at the airport rather than as the silos of health and safety committees that exist. We are facing the health and safety issues of a precarious workplace. When you are working for minimum wage what is on your mind is going to the next job, how you are going to feed your family, and safety becomes something that is kind of pushed aside. When employers have high turnover rates they are constantly training new people to get them to the workplaces as quickly as they can and this has also an effect on health and safety as the workers are not fully prepared to enter the workplace. With these contract flips and precarious work, you do not gain experience of the workforce that comes through longevity.

WF: What kind of actions are you organizing in this context?

DJ: We just held our May Day action which was a successful event. We had a pretty good group of people out at the event even if it was raining. We were pushing the airport authorities for a $15 minimum wage as well as for putting an end to contract flipping. We also brought up health and safety issues and of course privatization.

WF: What is your stand on privatization of airports?

DJ: Privatization is only going to hurt the general public as well as the workers at the airports. If airports are to follow a profit model, people are going to end up paying more in service fees. I do not think that contract flipping is going to stop either anytime soon because as we have seen in the past privatization is a race to the bottom. They are trying to lower the costs for their goods, costs for their labour and for their services. It is a continued race to the bottom as well as increased service fees for passengers.

Our CEO and his team at Pearson have these big ideas in mind in terms of transit. They are trying to create a transit hub and they need tons of money to do it. From what I heard, they are pushing the idea that partial privatization will help them fund that project, in particular the project to build a transportation hub with rail coming in as well as bus services. It is going to be located just outside the airport.

Privatization is putting the money in the hands of the few. Once it is privatized, the money is only going to a select few, basically going to create a monopoly. I think that the Liberals are basically trying to finance their Infrastructure Bank. Airports are the biggest things you can sell off in the country that is going to help them to have their Infrastructure Bank set up.

WF: What would you like to say in conclusion?

DJ: All the unions at the Workers' Council are fighting hard to improve the standards here at Pearson. We are not going to stop until we make some gains for the workers at this airport that will improve our airport into the future for passengers and workers as well.

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