January 24, 2019

GM Threat to Close Oshawa Auto Plant

This Must Not Stand!


Windsor rally January 11, 2019, against closing of GM plant in Oshawa, held across the river from GM's Detroit headquarters.

Fraudulent Talk About Canada and the Rule of Law

Imposed Arbitration at the Post Office
Postal Workers Continue the Fight for Their Rights - Louis Lang

Quebec Workers Continue Fight for Rights
Workers Mark First Anniversary of ABI Aluminum Smelter Lockout
Crane Operators, Allies and Experts All Say No! to Irresponsible New Regulations

GM Threat to Close Oshawa Auto Plant

This Must Not Stand!

Windsor rally against GM's closure of Oshawa plant, January 11, 2019.

GM's announced intention to close its Oshawa Assembly Plant effectively breaks the contract it signed with Unifor in 2016. The contract committed GM not to close any Canadian plant before the agreement expires in September 2020. The indignation this has aroused and the calls to hold GM to account are warranted. Stirring up anti-Mexico sentiments as a way to expose GM's greed, which opens a door to divide workers on a racist basis, is not warranted.

GM was bailed out with public funds to the tune of almost $11 billion dollars when it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. The public money paid to GM was diverted from necessary services and social programs such as health care and education. To pour salt in the wound inflicted on Canadians, the federal and Ontario governments made the bailout conditional on workers and retirees making significant concessions to those who own and control GM. Meanwhile, the Ontario government had already allowed GM and other large companies such as Stelco the right not to sustain workers' pension funds at a proper level. The government and big companies based this anti-social action on the fraudulent claim of being too big to fail. Yet here was GM declaring bankruptcy and Stelco doing it more than once putting retirees' pensions at risk.

Even though GM declares healthy profits, it refuses to pay back $1.6 billion of the loan it received from the Conservative Harper and Liberal McGuinty governments at the time of the pay-the-rich bailouts. A December article in the Detroit Free Press quotes Unifor President Jerry Dias citing an even higher amount, saying GM still owes Canada $2.8 billion as repayment for the bailout. No official has explained why GM was not forced to pay back all the public funds despite making record profits for its private investors.

CBC reported last October that an outstanding loan for more than $1 billion to GM Corp., originally made on April 29, 2009, appears on Export Development Canada's Account transactions. That amount does not include the interest that would have accrued over the almost ten years it has been on the government's books. Why has the government not called in this debt especially after GM announced its intention to break its agreement with Unifor and its commitment to Oshawa and Canadians not to close the Oshawa plant? Is GM using the threatened closure of its Oshawa plant as leverage to have the Trudeau government write off the remainder of the debt, similar to the $2.6 billion Chrysler debt to Canada silently written off last year?

Whatever the case, GM has defrauded the workers and Canadians with the connivance of both the federal and provincial governments and this must not stand! Governments must now intervene in a manner that favours the workers, their communities and Canadians. For example, if GM proceeds to close the plant as threatened, the government could call in GM's outstanding loan and use the money to keep the Oshawa plant producing until a longer term solution such as finding new owners could be found. To begin this process, the government could put a lien against GM's Oshawa facility for the amount of the outstanding loan. If GM refuses to change its course, it should pay a price. That is only just.

Within the situation, the workers at the Oshawa plant and those at the many suppliers of material and parts should formulate their own demands that favour them and not wait and see what the gods of plague will impose as an alleged solution.

Workers shut down lines at Oshawa plant after GM confirms its decision to close the plant in a January 8, 2019 meeting with union representatives in Detroit.

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Fraudulent Talk About Canada and the Rule of Law

The Trudeau government makes much ado about Canada being a "rule of law country." The argument has been made a lot lately in defence of Canada's arbitrary arrest of a Chinese executive of the Huawei Company at the behest of the United States. The government has also used it to justify Canada's ongoing sales of military vehicles to Saudi Arabia based on a contract having been signed with that country and General Dynamics that could not be broken.

However, the rule of law logic does not apply in the government's dealing with the auto monopolies. Many see a double standard. GM stands accused of breaking several written and unwritten agreements, throwing workers' lives and their communities into turmoil, abandoning perfectly good means of production, and refusing to return billions of dollars in public money given to it allegedly to avoid its failure. Yet, the governments of Canada and Ontario stand aloof, declaring that GM's trashing of contracts is a private business decision.

Are Canadians to accept that the rule of law is a weapon to be used selectively to hammer those standing up for their rights such as Indigenous land defenders and workers on strike such as postal workers, or to legitimize the arrest of an executive of a Chinese company on spurious grounds that the U.S. demands it? This self-serving use of the rule of law to serve powerful interests throws the entire concept of the rule of law into contempt.

If governments refuse to intervene in public affairs in a manner that favours the people, and specifically in the case of GM to hold it accountable for its practices, Canadians should make sure they boycott those political parties that allow this to happen. The people should refuse to vote for either the Liberals or Conservatives who both have taken part in selling out autoworkers and refuse to hold GM to account and defend the rights of Canadian workers and our collective economy. The NDP government of Bob Rae was infamous for introducing pensions holidays for companies like GM which it declared "too big to fail." It is high time workers select candidates for election who represent them, not the rich, and turn things around in their favour.

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Imposed Arbitration at the Post Office

Postal Workers Continue the Fight for Their Rights

Windsor picket by postal workers and their allies, January 16, 2019, as forced arbitration begins.

The government-imposed arbitration process at Canada Post began on January 16. The Liberal government's Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act denies postal workers their right to strike to reach an agreement with Canada Post acceptable to themselves.

A bulletin from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) explains it planned to use the first day of arbitration to determine the issues still in dispute and the process to be followed by arbitrator Elizabeth MacPherson.

The legislation gives the Minister of Labour discretion to determine the remaining issues in contention but the Minister chose to transfer this authority to the arbitrator. The type of arbitration process to be followed also has to be decided. The legislation provides two types of arbitration processes: conventional interest arbitration and final offer selection.

The union has declared that it will participate in the arbitration process on a "without prejudice basis subject to any challenges or court rulings on the back to work legislation." CUPW filed a constitutional challenge with the Ontario Superior Court on December 11, 2018 claiming Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act violates the right of the union to free collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Paul Cavaluzzo, a constitutional lawyer representing CUPW stated at the time, "The Liberal Government's legislation just like the previous Conservative law in 2011, unilaterally prohibits any lawful strike."

On November 27, 2018, after five weeks of rotating strikes, the Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act forced postal workers to return to work under their previous collective agreement. Facing heavy fines against individual workers and the union, workers returned to work without their serious concerns having being addressed.

The mediation process imposed by the Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act also failed to resolve any of the outstanding issues and ended on December 17, 2018.

The union estimates that from the day the federal Liberal government forced postal workers to return to work without a new collective agreement to address the outstanding issues, 750 disabling injuries have occurred, Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs) have worked approximately 439,000 hours without pay, and urban workers have worked thousands of hours of forced overtime.

The union declares that postal workers will not stop fighting until the important issues confronting them are resolved to their satisfaction: health and safety, full-time secure employment, and equality for RSMCs must be addressed immediately.

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Quebec Workers Continue Fight for Rights

Workers Mark First Anniversary of
ABI Aluminum Smelter Lockout

Mass picket as Bécancour aluminum smelter workers mark one year anniversary of lockout.

Bécancour aluminum smelter workers, alongside Quebec workers, marked the first anniversary of the ABI lockout through militant actions in defence of locked out workers and the dignity of labour. Hundreds of workers hailing from various regions, including an important contingent of workers from Sanguenay-Lac-Saint Jean, formed picket lines and then demonstrated outside the constituency office of the local member of the National Assembly for Nicolet-Bécancour.

Demonstration outside the constituency office of the National Assembly member for

They reiterated their two demands: that the Premier meet directly with company officials and demand that they return to the table to negotiate a collective agreement acceptable to the workers; that the government re-open its energy agreement with Alcoa by virtue of which the lockout is considered a "force majeure" that frees the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel from paying for the block of hydro-electricity reserved for it and from paying fines when that energy is not used. Workers are demanding that the clause be annulled. They point out that the agreement is one of the reasons why the company's owners not only refuse to negotiate with them, but are getting Quebeckers to pay for the lockout, while Hydro-Québec and Quebec are deprived of important revenue.

"There was little separation between the parties last January when the dispute broke out. The gap has widened since then and more than 1,000 families have suffered for an entire year due to the greed of a multinational," noted Clément Masse, President of United Steelworkers Local 9700 that represents the ABI workers, at the rally outside the constituency office. "We need the government to get out of its pseudo-neutrality and restore some balance to this process. ABI is abusing the process and keeping hundreds of families in a state of insecurity, with the complicit silence of the Quebec government."

Workers note that so-called government assistance in the negotiation process, such as with mediation, the mediation council and now the working group which the Minister of Labour is proposing to set up, is a figment of the government's imagination, as the cartel of company owners has the utmost contempt for such arrangements. On December 19, 2018, two days before the negotiation deadline set by the Minister of Labour, the company owners announced the shutdown of half of the pot lines still in operation at the smelter, demonstrating that they do not recognize that negotiation process. Restarting those pot lines is a long and costly process and anyone wanting to negotiate would not behave in such a manner.

The Minister's latest invention is the establishment of a working group which would use the ministry's resources as "support" for the parties to reach a negotiated settlement. The Minister did not explain how one supports a party which refuses to budge and only recognizes its own dictate.

Meanwhile, workers are exposing the difficulties they are experiencing, despite United Steelworkers union allocations and the extraordinary support, including financial, they are receiving from workers in Quebec, Canada and elsewhere. They are also reporting on the difficulties being created for the local economy, such as jobs being cut by suppliers, loss of revenue by merchants, and the Mayor of Bécancour noting that approximately 14 per cent of the municipality's budget comes from tax revenue provided by the plant. Workers face difficulties in maintaining their stand that they want to go back to work with their heads held high, through a successfully negotiated agreement acceptable to them. That stand is in everyone's interest, as without opposition to dictate and insistence on having a decisive say over decision-making, insecurity for workers and for all would be complete.

In that respect, ABI workers are intensifying their work to mobilize the organized support of workers in Quebec and Canada, as well as elsewhere. At the end of 2018, more than 300 union locals in Quebec, Canada, the U.S. and Australia were sending financial assistance to ABI workers in support of their struggle and that mobilization is being stepped up.

Workers are turning their attention towards ABI, as this struggle is everyone's struggle, for their rights as well as their dignity.

(Photos: Metallos)

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Crane Operators, Allies and Experts All Say No!
to Irresponsible New Regulations

Crane operators demonstrate against changes to regulations on training, May 5, 2018.

Between December 17-19, 2018, three days of hearings were held by the committee set up by the Quebec government to look into the impact on health and safety of regulatory changes to the training of crane operators in Quebec.

The hearings, set up by the previous Couillard Liberal government, came as a result of the courageous actions by crane operators to oppose a new anti-worker regulation imposed by the Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ) and the Quebec government, which poses a threat to safety.

Following their many actions and denunciations, crane workers refused to show up for work during an entire week last June, demanding nothing less than the complete withdrawal of the new regulation. They did so because they saw it as a serious erosion, both in terms of quantity as well as quality, of the training formerly required by workers to become crane operators. The government, at the request of the CCQ, had abolished the obligatory 870 hours of training required for obtaining a Diploma of Vocational Studies (DVS). The DVS is now optional, and new direct training of 150 hours has been introduced, now provided on site and under the responsibility of companies. The CCQ and the government have also created an 80-hour course for the operation of boom trucks with a maximum capacity of 30 tonnes, following which the worker who successfully completes the training becomes a qualified driver of such trucks. It is precisely that type of crane that overturns the most frequently and causes the most damage. Crane operators are facing repressive measures such as a decision by the Administrative Labour Tribunal declaring they participated in an illegal strike, while the CCQ continues to threaten to take action against them for the illegal strike as well as for intimidation. The courageous position of the crane operators has garnered the support of the vast majority of workers as well as the population and it is within that context that the committee was set up.

At the December hearings, those who intervened included the crane operators' union, which represents the vast majority of Quebec's crane operators; the crane operators' collective; construction unions; the school that provides the vocational training for crane operators; the union representing those who teach the training courses; crane businesses; construction companies; as well as crane operation health and safety experts. Intervenors were given 25 minutes to present their views, with their submissions being followed by a 30-minute exchange with committee members.

The great majority of intervenors were of the opinion that the new regulation has to be completely overhauled and that compulsory crane operator vocational training must be maintained. They opposed the new regulation as a violation of safety standards and in particular raised the need for the adequate training of crane operators, which is central to the safety of not only crane operators, but other workers and the public at large. They specifically referred back to the Canadian Standards Association's Z 150 standard that all Quebec crane workers are subject to. The standard specifies the safety requirements relating to mobile cranes to ensure the safety of workers and the public and serves as a guide to manufacturers and those who purchase cranes, as well as construction companies and governments and regulatory bodies, so that the safety standards established through the Z 150 code are respected.

Notably, the code specifies that mobile cranes must be operated exclusively by qualified persons and that the mandatory qualifications of crane operators must include the relevant training and experience for their proper operation, as well as overall knowledge of crane construction, along with sufficient knowledge of electricity and hydraulics. Those who intervened noted that the new regulation clearly does not uphold any of this.

Only two associations representing construction companies supported the new regulation. One of them was disingenuous indeed. It argued that it was better to have the new regulation and training in place than to have no regulation or training at all. It added that many construction companies purchase boom trucks and have them operated by unqualified and untrained workers, which is clearly illegal. It should be noted that the CCQ has taken no legal or other action to put an end to this illegal situation. The representatives of that association now claim that this will all be legal as there will be training, never mind that the workers do not consider it adequate or vocational, despite the fact that boom trucks are precisely those that overturn so easily and are used in zones where the public circulates most often.

Crane operators are determined to have their two demands met: that the new regulation be withdrawn and obligatory crane operator training be maintained and that a roundtable be created which includes all concerned parties, including teachers, to look into the problems linked to the crane operator sector and construction site safety.

The committee will now be holding in camera meetings with various parties and must submit its report to the Minister of Labour by February 28.

(Photos: FTQ Construction)

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