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June 25, 2014 - No. 61

Macleod Federal By-Election

Defeat the Harper Government and Its Assault on Canada's Standard of Living!

Macleod Federal By-Election
Defeat the Harper Government and Its Assault on Canada's Standard of Living!
Concentration of Wealth and Power in Meatpacking Sector - Peggy Morton
Temporary Foreign Worker Program -- Monopoly Offensive Against Meatpacking Workers
"Good Enough to Work -- Good Enough to Stay"
Harper's Former Macleod MP Becomes Agri-Tech Lobbyist - Dougal MacDonald

Fort McMurray-Athabasca By-Election
Twin Highway 63 Now! - George Allen

Macleod Federal By-Election

Defeat the Harper Government and Its Assault on Canada's Standard of Living!

Federal by-elections taking place in Alberta and Ontario on June 30 are an opportunity to say No! to the Harper dictatorship and to monopoly dictate and nation-wrecking. The working people are deprived of the economic and political power they need to set the direction of the economy to serve the public interest, provide solutions to the social and other problems confronting society and affirm the rights of all. The lack of empowerment in political affairs reflects a lack of empowerment in the main sectors of the economy. Decisions on major economic matters in the basic sectors are made behind the backs of the people. Those same private interests that control the main sectors of the economy control the levers of political power. For the people, their lack of control over the basic economic sectors is reflected in their lack of control over the public authority.

The largest employer in the riding of Macleod is the huge U.S. monopoly Cargill, the largest privately owned company in the world. Cargill is one of only two federally-inspected beef processors left in Canada, with a 32 per cent share in Canada's beef industry. It is also one of the biggest, if not the biggest benefactor in the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.

In fiscal 2013 Cargill claimed profits of $2.31 billion from the added-value created by workers and farmers in Canada and around the world. This was almost double its profits of $1.17 billion in the previous year. It had total realized value of $136.7 billion showing how vast is its stranglehold on agricultural producers and workers.

The massive Cargill beef processing plant located just outside High River employs 2,000 workers and slaughters and processes 4,500 cattle every day. The closure of the XL meatpacking plant in Brooks, Alberta as a result of Escherichia coli (E. coli) contamination in 2012 brought to the fore the dangerous consequences of the stranglehold of monopolies like XL and Cargill on food safety and the health of Canadians, the meatpacking workers and the farmers who raise beef cattle.

The concentration of ownership and control of the packing plants and increasingly of the cattle as well by the packing giants is in contradiction with good environmental practices and a safe food supply. The monopolies' goal is to transfer wealth from farmers to themselves, to siphon off as much added-value as they can from farm production and eventually take over all facets of agriculture, turning former farmers into wage workers under monopoly control. Since the CWB single desk was dismantled, Alberta farmers who used to receive 84 per cent of the realized value of their wheat are now receiving about 40 per cent, with Cargill and other grain monopolies the big winners. These huge global monopolies have also come to rely more and more on temporary foreign workers, as a sector of workers stripped of their civil rights and rights as workers.

The alternative to the Harper dictatorship is a nation-building project which provides solutions to the problems of food security and safety, reverses the stranglehold of the monopolies, and serves Canadian farmers, agricultural workers and workers in food and livestock processing and defends the public interest. In this issue, TML is providing information on conditions facing meatpacking workers, and in particular how the industry came to be dependent on temporary foreign workers. These by-elections are an opportunity to put forward our own nation-building alternative and carry out discussion with our peers as to how to provide the problems we face with solutions. They present the working people with an opportunity to say No! to the Harper dictatorship.

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Concentration of Wealth and Power
in Meatpacking Sector

The necessity to defeat the Harper dictatorship in the Macleod by-election

How did the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) become such a major part of meatpacking in Canada? The big monopolies Cargill, JBS and Olymel claim that it is impossible to find Canadians who will work in meatpacking plants. This makes as much sense as saying that lack of money is the cause of poverty. The answer to the explosion of the TFWP can be found in neo-liberal globalization and annexation of Canada into the United States of North American Monopolies.

The last 30 years have witnessed a greatly intensified concentration of ownership and production in meatpacking, leading to a stranglehold by a few giant global monopolies. These monopolies have carried out an all-out assault on the living and working conditions of packinghouse workers, with increasing reliance on workers deprived even of civil rights and left vulnerable to super-exploitation.

In the 1980s, the number of U.S. slaughter plants plunged from more than 600 to about 170 for cattle and from more than 500 to about 180 for hogs. Today the big four -- Tyson, Cargill, JBS and National Beef -- control 80 per cent of all beef processing. A key component of the U.S. monopoly offensive was the smashing of the unions, the collectives in defence of the rights of workers. The monopolies established non-union plants in "right to work" states, where unions are virtually illegal, and then demanded the remaining unionized plants compete or be shut down.

Packinghouse workers fought concessions fiercely, waging 158 strikes involving 40,000 workers from 1983 to 1986. Through plant closures, long and bitter lockouts and relocation of plants, union membership was reduced from 50 per cent in 1980 to 21 per cent in 1986. By 1992, wages across the industry had been rolled back by 40 per cent, and production speeds doubled. The packinghouse monopolies then turned to the most marginalized sections of the working class, including undocumented workers, to fill the "labour shortage" they had created with their low wages, poor working conditions and relentless assaults on the rights of their workers.

In Canada, a similar attack on packinghouse workers was underway. The bitter 1985 Gainers strike in Edmonton showed the determination of owners of monopoly capital to drive down wages and the spirit of resistance of Canadian workers to defend their rights.

Following the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, wages in Canadian packing plants came under direct attack from the U.S. The giant U.S. firms in the Canadian and global markets slashed wages by 40 per cent using the excuse of competition under free trade.

Provincial governments in western Canada organized a massive expansion of livestock production on factory farms and used pay-the-rich schemes to hand over millions to the meatpacking monopolies to close older plants in eastern Canada and major western cities, while relocating to rural areas in the western provinces. In Manitoba for example, hog production was increased by 50 per cent from 1996 to 2001 aimed at global markets, with subsidies provided by the Manitoba government. Maple Leaf Packers opened a new pork plant in Brandon and imposed an $8 per hour starting wage, and then used that situation to extort 40 per cent wage cuts from workers across the country. Three years after driving the wages at its Brandon plant far below the Canadian standard, Maple Leaf applied for work permits for temporary foreign workers, citing "labour shortages" as the reason.

New plants were also built in Alberta, including one by Tyson/IPB in Brooks, later sold to Neilson Brothers and now owned by the Brazilian monopoly JBS following the E. coli scandal. The Quebec monopoly Olymel built a huge modern plant in Red Deer with 1,800 workers and closed plants in Quebec. Then using the very real threat of transferring production out west extorted 30 per cent wage cuts from Quebec workers.

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Temporary Foreign Worker Program --
Monopoly Offensive Against Meatpacking Workers

In 1978, 17 medium-sized, federally-inspected beef packing plants were located throughout Alberta. Today only two are left -- Lakeside Packers in Brooks owned by Brazilian global monopoly JBS, and Cargill's High River plant. Those two big plants have been consciously located outside major cities where a large workforce is not available. Almost all new workers have to be brought to the community. Those plants also began to claim labour shortages to obtain permits to import temporary foreign workers.

This is how the North American meatpacking industry in both the United States and Canada came to rely on a state-organized workforce that is largely deprived of its civil and worker rights. In the U.S., this has been accomplished mainly through the creation of a large sector of undocumented workers and refugees, against whom the state increasingly uses direct threats of deportation and violence to keep them in a vulnerable position. In Canada, the mechanism has been the state-organized Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which the Harper dictatorship has greatly expanded.

While driving down wages and working conditions, these global monopolies have received many handouts from the federal and provincial pay-the-rich schemes. The state payments have been so great that the amount would have been sufficient to purchase at least one of the two major plants for operation as a worker-farmer co-operative or public enterprise.

For example, the Harper dictatorship paid the rich owners $60 million through its Slaughter Improvement Program from 2009 to 2012 using a murky concept of "conditionally repayable loans." Repayment depends on profitability; likely meaning they do not have to be repaid at all, as accounting is under private control. Beef producers Lakeside and Cargill have received more than $70 million from the Alberta government since 2003.

The fraud of a labour shortage is nowhere more clearly exposed as in the meatpacking industry. The active intervention of the state to expand the labour market globally and use vulnerable temporary foreign workers has allowed the monopolies like Cargill to seize ever larger amounts of the wealth created by the workers and farmers. While these private monopoly interests were handed millions in pay-the-rich schemes, the Harper dictatorship has carried out extensive wrecking and assaults on Canadian farmers, such as the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board in the service of private monopoly interests.

Workers and farmers must think carefully about the direction of the economy and what favours their interests and the general interests of society. The present direction towards the concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of a few is unsustainable. These monopolies must be restricted and deprived of their power to trample on the rights of the people.

A nation-building movement to strengthen food security and safety starts with a defence of the rights of Canadian farmers. Such a nation-building project would ensure wages, benefits and pensions for workers in agriculture and meatpacking commensurate with the hard work they do and the important contribution they make to society. A nation-building project begins with the ending of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and full status as permanent residents and immigrants accorded to all workers now in Canada.

Our Security and Future Depend on the Fight for the Rights of All
in Opposition to Monopoly Right!
Defeat Harper in Macleod!

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"Good Enough to Work -- Good Enough to Stay"

The Meat Council of Canada, which represents the meatpacking monopolies, claims that it will face a severe labour shortage if it cannot continue to rely on temporary foreign workers, particularly at Canada's two main beef plants both located in Alberta -- the JBS Canada plant in Brooks and Cargill in High River. According to its self-serving view, this will make it difficult for meat plants to "remain sustainable." The council threatens that without temporary foreign workers to exploit, the beef monopolies will export more live cattle to the U.S. for slaughter and processing.

The rapacious foreign monopolies, which completely control beef slaughter and processing in Canada, are demanding that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) continue so they can claim an ever larger share of the value the workers and farmers produce. For example, wages at the Cargill plant are only 63 per cent of the average manufacturing wage in Alberta and working conditions are arguably much tougher than most other jobs.

Two thousand workers toil at the Cargill plant located just outside High River, 57 kilometres from Calgary in the federal riding of Macleod. The town has a population of about 13,000. The Canada Job Bank advertises 250 jobs at the Cargill plant. Job interviews are held twice a day, every weekday, month in and month out with no appointment needed. But this demand has not forced the Cargill monopoly to raise the wage and improve working conditions to attract Canadian workers because the Harper government provides a steady stream of vulnerable temporary workers under the TFWP. Thousands of temporary foreign workers have come to work at the Cargill plant alone since the program was expanded, first by the Liberals and then by the Harper government.

Meatpacking plants have always been a difficult work environment. Today, meatpacking plants are known for break-neck line speeds and inhuman working conditions, a high rate of repetitive strain injuries, increased health risks from the direct exposure to pathogens and lower than average manufacturing wages.

Meatpacking used to be one of the highest paid manufacturing industries in Alberta but the monopolies directly aided by governments using such manoeuvres as the TFWP and other anti-worker tactics have forced down wages below the average. In May 2014, the average hourly wage for manufacturing in Alberta was $27.33, but the starting wage at the Cargill beef slaughter and processing plant in High River, Alberta is only $17.30 an hour, with a top rate of $19.00 for an experienced industrial butcher.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1118, which represents the workers at Cargill has negotiated unique clauses in the collective agreement that require the employer to make an application under the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) for permanent residency for all temporary foreign workers it hires. UFCW Local 1118 President Albert Johnson reports that up to 2,500 of the Local's 4,300 members are temporary foreign workers who either have become permanent residents or have applied. Local 1118 has actively worked to defend temporary foreign workers under the principle, "Good Enough to Work -- Good Enough to Stay."

By requiring the employer to support an application for a permanent residency card for all temporary foreign workers in the plants it represents, UFCW has blocked the employer from forcing workers within the plant to compete with one another for permanent residency nominations. Still, the monopolies such as Cargill, who rely heavily on temporary foreign workers, have a huge club they hold over the workers' heads, as the competition for permanent residency status extends well beyond the plant throughout the province. With 85,000 temporary foreign workers now working in Alberta and a quota of only 5,000 nominees accepted annually for permanent residency under the AINP, fewer and fewer workers are successful in their applications. Under current rules, workers who are not accepted under the AINP will not be able to stay in Canada. Temporary foreign workers who were working in Canada in 2011 when the new rules went into effect will have to leave by 2015 and return to their homelands. They will not be eligible to return to Canada for another four years.

Johnson said. "The answer to this whole foreign worker issue is not temporary foreign workers. It's permanent immigration."

Workers across Canada must step up their struggle in defence of the rights of all. All undocumented and temporary foreign workers must have immediate access to permanent residency status to resolve the precarious and vulnerable situation imposed on them by arbitrary immigration regulations and to enable these workers to participate fully in the defence and political organizations of the working class. As part of this struggle, workers must expose the anti-worker schemes that are being concocted and imposed under the fraud of a "labour shortage." It is up to the workers to determine if there is a labour shortage in a sector and how it should be filled, and they must not allow the pretext of a labour shortage to be used to drive down the working and living conditions in the sector and put any worker in a vulnerable position.

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Harper's Former Macleod MP Becomes
Agri-Tech Lobbyist

The upcoming federal by-election in the Macleod riding of southern Alberta will be held on June 30, due to the November 2013 resignation of the Conservative Party incumbent Ted Menzies. Menzies, who held the riding since 2004, served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and then as Minister of State for Finance. He jumped the Harper ship to become President and CEO of Crop Life Canada, beginning on January 1. Crop Life Canada is one of the eight regional groups of Crop Life International, the giant lobbying agency for the world's largest private agricultural biotechnology monopolies. These include BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, FMC, Monsanto, Sumitomo, and Syngenta, collectively known as "Big Ag."

Many of the "Big Ag" monopolies that Menzies now promotes have been singled out by the people of the world as amongst the most anti-people, anti-earth corporations on the entire planet. Just to give one example, Monsanto, the world's leading producer of genetically modified seeds, is the subject of an annual world-wide march against its nefarious practices, held again this year on May 24. Monsanto pioneered the use of biological patents of its seed products, which conflicts directly with farmers' customary practices to save, reuse, share and develop plant varieties. Monsanto uses genetic restriction technology, known as "terminator technology," to prevent farmers from planting seeds they harvest, requiring them to repurchase Monsanto seed for every planting. Several Monsanto directors work for the Obama government, which, on May 25, 2013, signed the Monsanto Protection Act into law, giving U.S. companies dealing with genetically engineered seeds immunity from prosecution in U.S. federal courts.

The Big Ag monopolies that Menzies represents also have very sinister pasts. BASF and Bayer were part of the I.G. Farben monopoly, which backed Hitler and supplied the cyanide gas to exterminate prisoners held in Nazi concentration camps. During the criminal U.S. war against Viet Nam, Dow manufactured napalm, while both Dow and Monsanto made and supplied the U.S. aggressors with the defoliant Agent Orange, whose nefarious effects still linger in Viet Nam with thousands of annual infant deformities and other problems. DuPont was the world's top manufacturer of explosives and financed home-grown U.S. fascist groups during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as collaborated with I.G. Farben during the Second World War. DuPont-controlled General Motors owned Opel, which manufactured military equipment that the Nazi Wehrmacht used to invade Europe and the Soviet Union. Sumitomo is one of the largest zaibatsu (Japanese financial-industrial conglomerates) that financed and promoted Japanese militarism prior to and during the Second World War and continue their anti-worker anti-social activities to this day under the protection of the U.S. military occupation.

Menzies' recent move into the private sector is one more example of how the Harperites move freely back and forth between government and industry solely in order to represent the interests of the private monopolies. When the Harperites are in their cozy corporate offices, before or after they occupy parliamentary seats, they line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the people and economy. As MPs, they ensure that government legislation upholds monopoly right and opposes public right. On October 26, 2011, Menzies was quoted in the Okotoks Western Wheel as fully supporting the Harper dictatorship's arbitrary legislation to serve the private monopolies by wrecking the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), even though this move was opposed by the majority of farmers. Not surprisingly, prior to his election, Menzies was involved with the private agri-monopoly backed anti-CWB group, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA). On May 14, WCWGA signed an international accord pushing for commercialization of genetically modified wheat. In 2004, Canadian wheat farmers, the CWB, and their allies resolutely blocked Monsanto from introducing genetically modified wheat into Canada.

The Macleod by-election is an opportunity for workers, farmers and youth to say No! to Menzies and his Big Ag cronies and the anti-social nation-wrecking they are engaged in by voting to defeat Harper's replacement MP candidate John Barlow.

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Fort McMurray-Athabasca By-Election

Twin Highway 63 Now!

On February 19, two more people died in a fiery crash on the very dangerous Alberta Provincial Highway 63, which lies within the Fort McMurray-Athabasca riding where the June 30 federal by-election will take place. Two semi-trailer trucks crashed head-on while navigating the narrow two-lane highway about 70 kilometres south of Fort McMurray. One truck was hauling diesel fuel and burst into flames. Both drivers were killed in the crash. Another five vehicles hit the ditch to avoid the accident but no one else was hurt.

Highway 63 runs 400 kilometres south-north, from slightly south of the hamlet of Radway (70 kilometres northeast of Edmonton) through Fort McMurray and the Athabasca oil sands, terminating 54 kilometres north of Fort McMurray near Fort McKay. The highway is only two lanes wide but every year the volume of traffic increases due to the expanding oil sands industry. The continuous heavy traffic in a restricted space has led to rising numbers of accidents, fatalities, and injuries, resulting in Highway 63 being nicknamed, the "Highway of Death" or "Suicide 63."

CBC News reported that from 2001 to 2005 alone, over 1,000 crashes occurred on Highway 63 in which 25 people were killed and 257 others were injured. The Tyee reported on May 5, 2012, that the dead have increased from an average of five workers a year (2001-2005) to nine a year (2007-2012), along with hundreds of injuries. According to the Edmonton Journal Highway 63 data base, there were 129 fatalities from January 1999 to the end of April 2012. The worst crash to date on April 27, 2012 killed seven people from three different families. Eight days later on Saturday, May 5, 2012, more than 2,000 people rallied in Fort McMurray to mourn the loss of human life and to demand that the entire highway be twinned.

The frustrated demand for twinning has a long history. After years of constant public pressure, the provincial government finally announced in February 2006 that it would begin twinning the two-lane portion of the highway to a four-lane divided standard from Atmore, 43 kilometres west of Lac la Biche to just south of Fort McMurray, a distance of 240 kilometres. The federal government pledged $150 million for the estimated $320 million project. When the twinning began in 2006, the provincial government announced that the job would be completed by 2011. But three years beyond that date, only about 20 per cent or 48 kilometres has been completed. The provincial government has now doubled the estimated time required to finish the present twinning project of just 240 kilometres with the new completion date announced as 2016.

The government claims that it cannot go any faster because of the problems of building a road over muskeg. This would be laughable if not so tragic. The entire Alaska Highway of 2,700 kilometres was built over muskeg during the Second World War in six months, and that was more than 70 years ago using much less sophisticated equipment and materials. Clearly, it is not the way to renovate Highway 63 that is missing, but the political will to do the job in a timely manner.

In addition to its chronic foot-dragging on the twinning project, the provincial government's response to the many tragedies on Highway 63 can only be described as cynical. For example, following the May 5, 2012 mass protest, the government doubled the number of police monitoring highway traffic. The police handed out many tickets for highway infractions, accompanied by the usual barrage of state propaganda that continues to suggest misleadingly that the accidents on Highway 63 have been mainly caused by poor driving and not by the dangerous conditions of the highway itself.

The overwhelming sentiment of the people of Fort McMurray, the workers who drive Highway 63 to and from work in the oil sands, their families, and their unions is that the long-standing demand to turn the entire Highway 63 into a four-lane highway must be immediately implemented. Every day thousands of tanker trucks, semi-trailer trucks, logging trucks, buses, and cars navigate the narrow two-lane highway, which was built when oil sands projects were still in the experimental stage. Vehicles carrying extra-wide loads of huge pieces of oil sands equipment such as massive "super-vessels" add to the congestion and danger.

The Athabasca oil sands resources, which belong to the people and the First Nations on whose lands the resources are found, are handed over to the mainly foreign-owned oil monopolies for a song. Yet the provincial government does not require the owners of capital who reap enormous profits to pay a cent to build the infrastructure required for the safety and well-being of the workers who actually produce the wealth. It is one more proof that the people need to establish their own public control over the energy resources to make sure that their development serves the needs of the people of Alberta and of Canada as a whole.

Workers in the oil sands come from communities across the country and the loss of life due to highway accidents is directly felt in those far-flung places. Working people across the country are already signing the petition to twin Highway 63. In this way, they are showing that Canadians stand as one in demanding that governments have a social responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of workers and all Canadians on and off the job.

One way to support the demand to twin Highway 63 now, is to go to www.twin63now.ca and sign the petition, which has exceeded 21,000 signatures. Another way is to organize and participate in rallies in support of accelerating the twinning project. During the June 30 by-election, voters in the Fort McMurray-Athabasca riding can show their disgust for the Harper Conservatives, who have blocked the popular will of the people who live in work in the region and other Canadians across the country to Twin Highway 63 Now!

Vote No to the Harper Candidate!
No More Stonewalling of the Popular Will in Ottawa and Edmonton!

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