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February 11, 2014 - No. 11

Working Class in Battle to End the
Anti-Worker Temporary Foreign Workers Program

End the Temporary Foreign
Workers' Program!



Working Class in Battle to End the Anti-Worker Temporary Foreign Workers Program
End the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program!
End Worker Trafficking by the Harper Dictatorship! - Peggy Askin
Ironworkers Struggle Shows Necessity to Shut Down the Temporary Foreign Workers Program - TML Correspondent

Step up the Struggle in Defence of Rights!
Affirm the Right to Say No! to the Anti-Worker Agenda - Peggy Morton 
The Lougheed Legacy -- Union Busting and Anti-Worker Legislation

Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Investments in Social Programs!
University of Alberta Serves and Pays the Diamond Monopolies - Dougal MacDonald


Working Class in Battle to End the
Anti-Worker Temporary Foreign Workers Program!

End the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program!

Complex arrangements of contractors and sub-contractors are standard on Alberta oil sands projects. Each time unionized Canadian workers are laid off while temporary foreign workers (TFWs) continue to work on the same project at lower wages, the project's owners and overall construction contractor declare that the TFWs are employed by a different sub-contractor. How convenient that the energy and construction monopolies can all claim they bear no responsibility while they use the temporary foreign workers program to drive down wages and benefits, seize more value from the workers who are building these projects and creating the wealth, refuse to organize public training for the thousands of Canadian workers who yearn to improve their skills, and exploit foreign workers with lower wages and in minimum wage work where they are open to serious mistreatment.

Similar examples to Pacer Promec Joint Venture's recent firing of 65 ironworkers have been brought forward, showing that abuse of rights is an integral part of the normal operations of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. In September 2013, 270 welders and pipefitters at Husky Energy's Sunrise site north of Fort McMurray were replaced by temporary foreign workers. Another case involved RBC staff who were required to train their replacements who came to Canada as temporary foreign workers. These examples, where workers waged an organized resistance to the attack, are just the tip of the iceberg as most cases occur in unorganized workplaces. The TFW Program reveals how blatantly the political institutions serve the narrow private interests of the monopolies and negate the rights of both Canadian and foreign workers.

The working class knows it has the responsibility to make sure the rights of all are defended. Today, the historic necessity is to organize to deprive the monopolies and their political agents of the power to serve narrow private interests in opposition to the public interest and good. Concretely it is necessary to force the Harper dictatorship to end the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and for Harper to resign as Prime Minister. It must be done! It can be done!

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End Worker Trafficking by the Harper Dictatorship!

When outrageous examples of how the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) operates are brought to light and put under public scrutiny, the Harper dictatorship expresses its indignation over such abuses. A spokesperson for Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development repeated the stock phrases in response to the latest example at Imperial Oil's Kearl Lake project where members of Ironworkers Local 720 were laid off and replaced at half-pay by temporary foreign workers from Croatia. "Our government will not tolerate any abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Our government has recently made reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to ensure that Canadians are first in line for available jobs, and this program remains under review."

This statement is mere smoke and mirrors intended to divert from the real issue that the government must be held to account for engaging in global worker-trafficking.

In December 2013, the federal government announced regulations, which it said allowed government officials to conduct workplace inspections without warrants and blacklist employers who break the rules. But the Harper government had already announced similar regulations, which came into effect in April 2011, barring employers from accessing the program for two years if found to have breached their employment contract with a temporary foreign worker. What happened to those regulations and why the big fuss over their re-announcement?

The government claims that it monitors this program carefully. Yet now it says it did not have the authority to conduct a workplace inspection without a warrant. So, what was it monitoring and how can the people believe it is now serious?

During the court case launched by two unions against HD Mining, which hired 200 temporary foreign workers after making fluency in Mandarin a job requirement, the federal government claimed it was powerless to require HD Mining to produce the applications it received from Canadians. In other words, the federal government said it had no way to verify whether the company complied with the law. What kind of monitoring is this?! What kind of public authority is this?! The Harper dictatorship claimed it was bringing in new regulations in response to the HD Mining case. What happened to those new regulations and why do regulations matter, if no public authority is willing or capable of enforcing them?

All of this just provides further proof that the TFWP is not a legitimate program being abused by some employers. It is a form of human trafficking of workers internationally to expand the labour market to drive down wages, benefits and working conditions and weaken the organizations of the Canadian working class.

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan emphasized this reality in exposing the events that took place at Kearl Lake when 65 ironworkers were fired and replaced at half-wages by temporary foreign workers. "Stephen Harper says he won't tolerate abuse of the TFW program but the reality is that employers are simply using the program the way it was designed to be used.... When it comes to the TFWP, Stephen Harper is the walking, talking definition of hypocrisy."

"This is not an isolated case," McGowan said. "Increasingly, this is becoming business as usual." He said that two other groups of oil sands workers in the past month have also been laid off and replaced by temporary foreign workers working for much lower wages.

The working class must not permit this to become "business as usual" for the monopolies. The TFWP is a blatant example of owners of capital using political institutions to enact legislation to serve their private interests. The program itself is an abuse of the working class and shows the need for new ways of thinking and organizing. Canadians must stand as one in defence of the rights of all, against forced labour and human trafficking, and against a system that considers unemployment and abuse of the unemployed in Canada and globally as acceptable.

The only legitimate use of such a program is to facilitate temporary work permits, which are of benefit to society such as academic or cultural exchanges. The TFWP must be abolished and any new program restricted to providing work permits for legitimate purposes. Permanent resident status with full rights must be granted to all current undocumented workers and temporary foreign workers resident in Canada, based on the modern principles of Status for All and that People Have Rights by Virtue of Being Human.

The Harper dictatorship must be held to account for its worker trafficking and blatant corruption in serving the global monopolies and attacking the rights of workers. The workers have an opportunity to hold Harper accountable when a federal by-election takes place in Fort-McMurray-Athabasca.

End the Temporary Foreign Worker Program!
Harper Resign Now!


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Ironworkers Struggle Shows Necessity to Shut Down the Temporary Foreign Workers Program

Sixty-five ironworkers employed by Pacer Promec Joint Venture (PPJV) were laid off from their jobs at Imperial Oil's Kearl oil sands mine on February 4. Ironworkers' Local 720 Business Manager Harry Tostowaryk informed TML that the workers were replaced with workers from Croatia working under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) at about half the prevailing Alberta wage for similar work.

Imperial Oil spokesperson Pius Rolheiser said he could not comment on the issue because the workers were employed by a third-party firm. "We're really not in a position to comment on this employment change," he said. "Our own employees operate mining and extracting services, not construction."

According to Imperial Oil, it has no responsibility if its contractors engage in illegal anti-worker practices. It is all see no evil, hear no evil when it comes to awarding contracts to contractors who base their estimates on the exploitation of temporary foreign workers. In this way both the contractors and the global energy monopolies can seize more of the value created by the building trades' workers constructing the projects, and reduce the value claimed by workers.

PPJV also claims it acted properly saying its actions were consistent with legislation but because of the uproar it would "re-hire Canadians to impacted positions that had been filled with temporary foreign workers." In an attempt to blunt criticism of the anti-worker program and its actions, the company deflected responsibility to its subcontractor, not for engaging in anti-worker activity but for making a public relations gaffe. PPJV repeated the big lie underlying the anti-social anti-worker program saying, "The temporary workers should have been assigned to other projects where there is an existing labour shortage."

Despite this announcement that the workers would be rehired, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the ironworkers themselves and their Local 720 report that none of the fired workers has been rehired and that Croatian workers are still on site working for half of Canadian standard wages.

After the news broke that the fired workers had not been rehired, PPJV was reported in the mass media as taking revenge on the fired workers for raising the issue publicly. The company says it has rehired some Canadian ironworkers but not the ones who were laid off. Its actions are to discourage other workers from standing up for their rights but the ironworkers refuse to be silenced.

Vic Nilson, one of the laid off Local 720 ironworkers spoke to CBC saying the company betrayed them. "They said that we were all going to be reinstated and given our jobs back up there, with that company. And I've heard nothing. We got kicked to the curb here and I don't think it's right. Not at all," he said.

Gil McGowan, President of the AFL added, "So those Canadians who lost their jobs are still out of work.... I think Canadians should still be outraged by the way that the company has used a program to get rid of a bunch of highly skilled Canadian trades-people."

The ironworkers refuse to be fired quietly; they are waging an organized resistance and are winning the battle of public opinion to end the TFWP. Does Harper think the workers will be silenced with a clumsy cover-up and more empty claims that it will not tolerate "abuse" of Canadian and temporary foreign workers? Silence is not golden when it comes to the rights of workers. Congratulations to the ironworkers and all construction workers! Their continued resistance to this injustice can be an important factor in holding the Harper dictatorship to account and to send his gang packing in the coming by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca.

Stand with the ironworkers and their allies who are demanding an immediate end to the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program.

Notes

Pacer Promec Joint Venture is a joint venture between Alberta-based Pacer and Quebec-based Promec. Pacer lists about $300 million in contracts with various projects, including work on Edmonton's Walterdale Bridge replacement. Most of the firm's work is in the oil sands, where it is engaged in tank farm construction, concrete and underground work for CBI Horton at Kearl. CBI Horton is a huge global monopoly headquartered in Texas. Pacer also does piling work for Fluor at Imperial's oil sands project and work at the Canadian Natural Resources' Horizon oil sands expansion.

Imperial Oil claimed net income of more than $1 billion in the last quarter of 2013 alone. In 2012, it had near record profits of $3.766 billion, while its parent company, Exxon Mobil claimed net income of more than $44 billion.

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Step up the Struggle in Defence of Rights!

Affirm the Right to Say No! to the Anti-Worker Agenda

In its latest attempt to present a softer image, Alberta's Wildrose Party is claiming the mantle of former Premier Peter Lougheed. The party is suggesting that with the passage of Bills 45 and 46, the "Lougheed legacy" has been shattered. A statement issued under the name of Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson says, "In 1977, Premier Peter Lougheed provided public sector employees the right to binding arbitration as an alternative to removing their right to strike. We believe that this was and still is a fair compromise that should be upheld."

What exactly is this Lougheed compromise that Anderson speaks about? A self-described right to binding arbitration is no alternative to depriving workers of their rights. Public sector workers' rights were and continue to be violated by denying them their right to strike. The rights that belong to workers arise objectively from their position in society as the producers of all goods and services. Their rights cannot be taken away or compromised. In 1977, public sector workers were fighting to defend their rights as best they could while under extreme assault by the anti-worker Lougheed regime.

Public sector workers add enormous value to the socialized economy and provide necessary public services without which a modern society cannot exist. They have the right to wages and benefits commensurate with their work and qualifications. Workers have the right to say No! and to take effective collective action to enforce their opposition to wages and working conditions that they consider are not commensurate with their work. For a government to violate workers' rights in any way, including forcing a "compromise" that denies rights, proves that such a government is not fit to govern and should be removed. This is true of the Lougheed regime of yesterday and the Redford regime of today. For Wildrose to praise one over the other shows it is in the same anti-worker anti-social camp and merely throwing sand in the eyes of the people.

Criminalizing workers' resistance and their right to an effective say by making strikes illegal while legislating compulsory arbitration is a forced compromise in violation of workers' rights. To say otherwise is to deny that workers have rights and to recognize only privileges in the manner of a mediaeval lord, which can be given and taken away through royal prerogative. This does not reflect a modern society where people have rights by virtue of being human. Rights cannot be given and taken away. They are inviolable and government is duty bound to affirm and guarantee them.

The Lougheed government and all succeeding PC governments have violated the rights of public sector workers by making strikes illegal in the entire public sector in Alberta. These governments have also attacked the rights of building trades workers to take effective strike action.

Compulsory arbitration is a negation of rights, a system imposed on workers in the heat of class struggle to deny their right to an effective say over their wages and working conditions. Decision-making power is put into the hands of an arbitrator and governed by legislation that usually severely restricts the basis on which an arbitrator can make a settlement.

Within the dark cloud of neo-liberalism, the Redford government does not even want arbitration to interfere with its attacks on good faith bargaining and other workers' rights and their dignity. With Bills 45 and 46, the war against workers and denial of their rights is open and violent.

The working class will not blunt its resistance by succumbing to the siren song of the anti-worker Wildrose Party. Workers demand that the Redford government renounce its use of force and violence. It must immediately repeal the anti-worker Bills 45 and 46 and all other anti-worker legislation that criminalizes workers for exercising their right to say No! and deprives them of an effective organized say on their wages and working conditions.

Equilibrium in workplace relations can only exist with the recognition and affirmation of workers' rights.

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The Lougheed Legacy -- Union Busting and
Anti-Worker Legislation

With its nonsense about the Lougheed legacy, Wildrose is trying to revise history for purposes of disorienting the fighting forces. The Lougheed era is presented as a "Camelot" where harmony prevailed between the working class and owners of capital and their government. The Wildrose fairy tale denies the reality of union busting, anti-worker legislation and the abuse of political power to attack the rights of workers. During this period, workers from many sectors took bold and courageous stands in defence of their rights and the rights of all.

Prior to the 1971 election, which brought Peter Lougheed to power, he promised to bring in legislation providing full bargaining rights for public employees. Instead, his government enacted the Public Service Employees Relations Act making strikes illegal and limiting the issues that could be arbitrated.

Lougheed did not just fail to provide full bargaining rights for provincial government workers. In 1983, his government passed Bill 44 making strikes illegal for hospital workers and firefighters. Bill 44 provided for substantial fines and suspension of dues collection for up to six months for any union that upheld its members' right to an effective say on their wages and working conditions.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Alberta International Fire Fighters Association did not accept this legislation as providing a "right." They fought the legislation, including challenging it in the courts. In a landmark case at the time in 1987 known as Alberta Reference, the Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional and refused to recognize the workers' right to say No!


Button produced by the Alberta Federation of Labour during the campaign against Bill 44. (Alberta Labour History Institute)

The first strikes of provincial government employees took place during the Lougheed era, beginning with the strike of the Alberta Liquor Board Employees and a two-day walkout of direct government employees angered by the government's bad faith bargaining in 1980. Calgary teachers were also subjected to back-to-work legislation in 1980 when they walked out demanding that the government address the question of class size, a battle teachers are still fighting to this day.

When the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) went on strike in 1980, the government ordered the nurses back to work after three days. The nurses stood firm and refused to return to work, a stand that received overwhelming public support. The government was forced to back down and six days later UNA reached a negotiated settlement that met virtually all their demands.

In 1982, the Tory government ordered the nurses to participate in a government-supervised vote to supersede the vote the union had organized according to its constitution. UNA resisted this attack on its members' right to decide, and the government retaliated with legislation making it a criminal offence for a union to boycott a government-supervised strike vote. Nurses went on strike again in 1982 and this time the government used back-to-work legislation, which included large fines, decertification of the union, and in revenge for their defiance, a ban on workers holding office in or working for a trade union in Alberta for two years.

The Lougheed years saw the government preside over unprecedented union-busting. Lougheed's negotiations to secure the building of Syncrude included changes to the labour code to champion monopoly right, essentially written by the owners of capital who formed the Syncrude consortium. The "special project status" laws were used by CNRL in the Horizon oil sands site to sign an agreement with the company union CLAC, the Christian Labour Association of Canada.


Building trades workers oppose unfair labour laws, Edmonton, 1986. (Alberta Labour History Institute)

In 1984, the Contractors' Association locked out building trades across the province when their contracts expired. Twenty-four hours later, the companies declared the collective agreements null and void, and unilaterally cut wages by 50 per cent and even more.

The anti-worker labour laws from that era exist to this day. They permit contractors to establish as many paper companies as they like and force the unions to recertify repeatedly with what is really the same company. Work can simply be transferred from a unionized company to a non-union "spin-off."

Many workers still remember this bitter Lougheed period, for both its hardships and the courageous battles fought in defence of the rights of all. Building trades workers organized mass demonstrations at the Legislature and carried out actions on construction sites. They were known as a force that stood as one with workers of every sector fighting for their rights. For example in 1986, hundreds of out-of-work construction workers stood as one with the workers at Gainers meatpackers, returning day after day for the historic "Battle of 66th Street" to defend the strike and keep scab replacement workers out of the plant.

Workers should discuss what is behind this Wildrose rewriting of history, especially its devious design to convince workers of no need to develop their own independent working class thinking, viewpoint, politics, organizations and united struggle for a new direction for the economy.

(For further discussion see TML Daily, September 24, 2012 - No. 119, The Lougheed Legacy)

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Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Investments in Social Programs!

University of Alberta Serves and Pays the
Diamond Monopolies

The University of Alberta (U of A) has just announced that it is opening the Arctic Resources Geochemistry Laboratory (ARGL), a new state-of-the-art diamond research lab that will do research on behalf of Canada's 15-year-old diamond industry. The new lab is the largest of its kind in Canada and among the best equipped in the world. The ARGL will advance understanding of diamond deposits, help find deposits far beneath the surface, and help industry determine which deposits are economically viable. This is fully in line with the Redford government's attempts to use funding cuts to force universities to carry out research that can be quickly commercialized by private industry.

The U of A received $10 million for the new diamond lab from the Harper dictatorship through the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program (CERC), with additional funds (dollar amounts unavailable) provided by the federal Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the U of A itself, and Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education. The CERC program (founded 2008) and the CFI (founded 1997) award university researchers with money to establish specific research programs at Canadian universities, which will "improve Canada's economic competitiveness." Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education, the provincial funder of the lab, is the ministry for post-secondary education, which in March 2013 cut $147 million from the operating budgets of the province's universities, colleges, and technical institutes under the hoax of fiscal austerity.

Diamond production in Canada began in October 1998, when the Ekati mine opened 300 km north of Yellowknife. Diavik opened in the same area in January 2003. Jericho mine opened in Nunavut in 2006 but was abandoned by owner Shear Diamonds in 2012, leaving behind an environmental mess and unpaid creditors, including the federal government. Snap Lake started production near Ekati and Diavik in 2007. The Victor open pit mine opened in Ontario in spring 2008. By 2003, Canada was the world's third largest diamond producer by value after Botswana and Russia.

The Canadian diamond industry is highly monopolized. Ekati is 80 per cent owned by Australia-based BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company. Diavik is 60 per cent owned by the Rothschild-controlled Rio Tinto and 40 per cent by Dominion Diamond, a subsidiary of Swiss monopoly Swatch. Snap Lake and Victor are both owned by the 125-year-old South African diamond monopoly De Beers. De Beers operated the world's largest diamond nine in Namibia for decades while Namibia was illegally occupied by apartheid South Africa. Under racist apartheid, African mineworkers were condemned to inhuman working and living conditions. Until about the year 2000, de Beers was able to fix world diamond prices at artificially high levels by restricting the number of diamonds put on the "free" market.

In establishing their diamond mines in Canada, the foreign mining monopolies had to face the northern Aboriginal peoples. The same monopolies that built their fortunes on plundering indigenous lands around the world now demanded the right to stake, explore, and develop diamond mines on northern indigenous lands. The lives of the peoples in the mining areas were soon transformed by the complex and time-consuming negotiations required to protect their hereditary, treaty, and human rights. The monopolies used many tricks to receive what they wanted, such as collaborating with sellout politicians and slick lawyers, making vague and misleading promises, and calling sudden meetings to ram through crucial decisions. The established mines have left huge ecological footprints, distorted the traditional lives of the indigenous communities, and brought few financial and other benefits. In contrast, what is being demanded by the people is that the mining of such resources must benefit the First Nations, the workers as the actual producers, and the people of Canada. The people also demand that diamond mining must be done in ways that protect Mother Earth.

The new Arctic Resources Geochemistry Laboratory shows again how neo-liberalism continues to turn universities in Alberta into servants of the monopolies, a direction openly fostered by the provincial government. Coincident with the diamond lab announcement, the U of A also announced defunding of its prestigious Canadian Circumpolar Institute (CCI) and Circumpolar/Boreal Research because the CCI, which investigates issues such as governance, health, and education in northern and Polar Regions is not "self-sustaining," i.e., does not directly serve private industry.

Research such as was done by the CCI is being replaced by blatant pay-the-rich schemes like ARGL that provide huge monopolies such as Billiton BHP, Rio Tinto, and de Beers with sophisticated facilities, highly trained personnel, the most up-to-date equipment and cut-rate expert research, as well as low cost or free training for many who will become their employees. None of this serves the real interests of the people of Alberta. What is required is a post-secondary education system where universities, colleges, technical institutes, and the research performed in them serve the public interest and not just a handful of private foreign monopolies that continue to plunder the people's natural resources in the most reckless manner.

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