February 14, 2019

Challenges Facing the Workers in Quebec

Attempts by the Ruling Elite to
Dismantle Workers' Collective
Defence Organizations


Horne Copper Smelter Workers Resist Unjust Disciplinary Measures by Glencore

Northwest Territories
Public Service Workers Call Off Strike Action and Enter Binding Mediation

United States
Los Angeles Teachers Resolutely Defend Right to Education

Challenges Facing the Workers in Quebec

Attempts by the Ruling Elite to Dismantle
Workers' Collective Defence Organizations

In an effort to dismantle the collective defence organizations of workers, workers' organized resistance in defence of rights is being blamed for causing disruption in various sectors of the economy. Workers' collective defence organizations and organized struggle in defence of rights are said to be an attack on the economy and individual workers, who allegedly merely want to make a living and don't care about anything else.

The construction sector is one in which concerted attempts are being made by governments to smash workers' collective defence organizations. The measures they are taking aim to give construction companies unfettered ability to act with impunity on construction sites so as to maximize profits no matter what the consequences on the workers' health and safety and the safety of the public.

Turning truth on its head, the claim is made that union intervention on construction sites in defence of health and safety constitutes intimidation against employers and individual workers "who just want to work." That was the allegation against Quebec crane operators when they valiantly refused to show up for work for a week in June 2018 to protest a dangerous new regulation downgrading their professional training and threatening the safety of crane operators and the public.

To say the crane operators were using intimidation against their colleagues who allegedly merely wanted to go to work is a slander. The crane operators were opposed to a regime which demanded they abide by whatever new regulations the government brings in without due consideration and investigation of the effects and without having the consent of those directly affected and their organizations.[1]

The Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ), the agency of the Quebec government mandated to manage labour relations, vocational training and workforce management in the sector, claims to have recorded several cases of intimidation carried out by the union against individual crane operators. The CCQ did not produce the evidence but said it may use the information to prosecute workers and their union.

The CCQ constantly refers to the authority it possesses with the R-20 legislation, the Act respecting labour relations, vocational training and workforce management in the construction industry, which contains a number of provisions on intimidation. The Act stipulates, "Any person who uses intimidation or threats that are reasonably likely to cause an obstruction to or a slowdown or stoppage of activities on a job site is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of $1,137 to $11,370 for each day or part of a day during which the offence continues."

The Act continues, "Any person who uses intimidation or threats that are likely to compel an employer to make a decision regarding workforce management in the construction industry or to prevent the employer from making such a decision, or otherwise imposes such a decision, is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of $1,541 to $15,373." In addition, union representatives found guilty under the Act can be prohibited from exercising their duties for a five-year period."

The intent is clear: make it ever more difficult and even illegal for workers' collective defence organizations to intervene in defence of proper working conditions.

Also striking in connection with this is how the Charbonneau Commission is used in part to portray workers' organizations as criminal, mafia-type bodies.

The Quebec Liberal government created the Charbonneau Commission in 2011 with the official mandate to examine and eradicate collusion and corruption in the awarding of public construction contracts and expose links that might exist between this corruption and political party financing, and the infiltration of the construction industry by organized crime.

The Charbonneau Commission insinuated that workers' collectives and allied organizations waging concerted actions in defence of the rights of workers, which occasionally lead to disruption of activities on work sites, are akin to mafia organizations. The Commission asserted this without even looking into the aims behind such actions of the organized workers or the reasons precipitating their actions, the causes they were defending and the outcomes they hoped to achieve through their actions. The Charbonneau Commission's anti-worker views and recommendations were incorporated into some of the amendments of the R-20 legislation.

Meanwhile, many of the constant activities and problems that seriously disrupt the lives of those in the construction sector, sometimes tragically resulting in deaths and serious injuries, remain unattended and uninvestigated. Those responsible for refusing to take action to resolve problems are not held to account. The ruling elite want a situation where construction workers are fair game for whatever the big companies want to do to maximize their private profits.

Similar to how the construction workers in Quebec are being targeted, the Ford government in Ontario is also targeting the professional organizations of nurses, teachers and other professional sectors. By reducing members of these professions into voiceless individuals, all of them are rendered defenceless. The situation facing workers today makes it all the more important to have them speak out and strengthen their organized struggles to block such attacks on their unions and open a way forward in defence of their rights and the rights of all.


1. In Ontario, the Ford government's Bill 66 slanders organized construction workers in a similar way with the accusation that they are "bankrupting" public institutions such as school boards, colleges, universities, hospitals and municipalities because of the measures and arrangements contained in "generous" collective agreements. Bill 66 was tabled without discussion or consent of those directly affected. If the bill passes, organized construction workers employed by designated public institutions will be removed from those sites where they are now working and any future sites with their negotiated collective agreements declared null and void. This opens the door to the massive hiring of individual construction workers in these public sectors without the protection of a union or a collective agreement. This anti-worker dictate of the Ford government in the service of the financial oligarchy cannot be considered anything other than criminal.

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Horne Copper Smelter Workers Resist Unjust Disciplinary Measures by Glencore

Stand with smelter workers and their freedom of speech!

Workers at Glencore's Horne copper smelter in Rouyn-Noranda in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue administrative region of Québec report that management has disciplined ten of their colleagues for participation in a Rouyn Facebook page. Workers say a large number of people in Rouyn-Noranda, including workers at the smelter, regularly visit this particular Facebook page.

The Rouyn Facebook page recently had a picture of a young man suffering obvious breathing problems with the caption "that must be because I worked at the smelter." The smelter was not named. Some workers at the smelter responded to the item by clicking "Like" while others left comments, which is ordinarily what people do when they visit Facebook pages.

Representatives of the Glencore company summoned ten workers of the smelter who had responded to the picture and disciplined them for allegedly violating the global mining and metallurgy monopoly's Code of Conduct. Disciplinary measures ranged from suspension to written and verbal warnings. The Noranda Mine Workers' Union at the smelter is grieving all these unjust and arbitrary measures.

Glencore's Code of Conduct is a lengthy document that covers matters including health and safety, human rights, communities, environment, taxation, communication, protecting and maintaining assets etc. from the point of view and outlook of the company. Workers report that the Code is only referenced when the company takes action against the workers for not showing loyalty to the company. Loyalty in effect means that workers are expected to keep silent about any problems arising at the workplace and any views they may have for dealing with the problems.

The company goes so far as to monitor Facebook pages that workers and people routinely visit, tracking comments for the purpose of exercising arbitrary disciplinary measures against smelter workers if the company deems they have been disloyal. For example, the mere mention of problems related to the health and safety of workers is considered an attack on the public profile and reputation of the company. Under this dictatorial regime, disloyalty of workers is used as an excuse for the company to refuse to acknowledge problems exist and take action to rectify them, and to deprive workers of their freedom of speech and right to participate publicly and openly in identifying and fixing problems.

Facebook is a forum on which people make comments. Glencore's tracking of workers' Facebook comments and subsequent disciplinary actions represents an extension of the power of the monopoly into workers' lives and freedom of speech and conscience. This is dangerous to the workers and their community, as the aim is to force workers into silence, which is not only an attack on their rights but can also turn into a nightmare with deadly consequences within industrial production such as a smelter.

Workers rightly consider this latest attack of Glencore as totally unacceptable and demand that the company back off from the disciplinary measures against their ten colleagues. Workers have the right to speak out on issues that directly concern them at their workplace, community and society. To use the power of employment to deprive workers of their freedom of speech and conscience is an abuse of authority and cannot and should never be tolerated.

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Northwest Territories

Public Service Workers Call Off Strike Action
and Enter Binding Mediation

The Union of Northern Workers, in a February 10 press release, announced that two days of mediation failed to produce a tentative agreement between the union representing over 4,000 public service workers and the Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT). The union and GNWT did agree to submit their outstanding issues to binding recommendations from a mediator appointed by the government.

According to the union, the decision to agree to binding mediation comes from some headway made during the weekend's mediation. Wages, the term of the agreement and issues around job security remain outstanding. Workers went into the weekend talks with demands for wages that allow them to keep ahead of the increases to the cost of living and for the creation of more full-time jobs with benefits and a pension plan, in opposition to the reality of workers often working for years as relief workers with no access to benefits and a pension plan. Workers also consider the government's demand for a five year collective agreement too long.

Earlier, on February 8, the GNWT voted 11 to 6 with one abstention to reject a Yellowknife MLA's motion calling on the territorial government to move to binding arbitration. The union had itself approached the government with a proposal to settle the dispute with binding arbitration but the government flatly rejected it under the hoax of letting the negotiation process unfold. The union pointed out that the government's offer was unacceptable to the workers three years ago and remains so today. Why the government agreed to binding mediation at this time remains to be seen but workers are calling upon the mediator to address their main demands and concerns.

In the period leading up to the cancelled strike, planned for February 11, the GNWT was extremely provocative sending documents directly to workers' homes misrepresenting its offer and openly calling upon public service workers to cross the picket lines during the strike.

The GNWT claims to show respect for public service workers who provide vital services and value that the people of the territories depend upon for their living but instead constantly misinforms the public as to the economic nature of public service work and social programs. It posits public sector work as valueless and government payment for the capacity to work of public sector workers as a debilitating cost that drains public funds from infrastructure projects currently under consideration. This unscientific nonsense must be denounced and rejected as self-serving, corrupt and in the service of a financial oligarchy that views the north and its resources only for the great amount of social value it can expropriate from what workers produce.

Workers are both the builders of infrastructure and creators of the value it contains; they are the producers of social wealth through public services and social programs. They have a just claim on the value they create in all sectors of the economy at a modern standard of living acceptable to workers themselves. Workers' Forum joins the public service workers of the Northwest Territories in demanding that their just demands and concerns be addressed.

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United States

Los Angeles Teachers Resolutely
Defend Right to Education

Teachers rally at Los Angeles city hall, January 19, 2019.

About 34,000 Los Angeles teachers and staff, in more than 900 schools with more than 640,000 students in the country's second-largest school district went on strike January 14 and remained out until January 23. After filling the streets and picketing at schools every day and holding massive demonstrations of more than 50,000 at City Hall, the teachers and staff secured important gains. They voted by 81 per cent to accept their new contract and return to work. The Los Angeles unified school district agreed to hire more nurses, librarians, and counselors; reduce standardized testing and random police searches of students; create an immigrant defence fund; hand budget control of 30 schools over to local communities and reduce class sizes.

From day one of the strike, huge majorities of teachers showed up at their schools every morning to hold the picket lines, together with parents and students. Then strikers and their supporters headed downtown for rallies that topped 50,000 the first day and kept growing. The streets were full of joy. All week, everywhere there was singing, dancing, spoken word, brass bands and mariachis. Teachers did not let the drenching rain daunt them; they suited up in ponchos, and laminated their song sheets and picket signs. As one sign put it, "45 is the Speed Limit, Not a Class Size." They also made certain that all across the city, people were talking about the strike and its demands -- in coffee shops, on the bus, in stores.

The teachers took a stand of social responsibility, defending the interests of society for fully-funded public schools, with the nurses, librarians and counselors required, as well as their collective interests for better working conditions, like smaller classes and wages commensurate with the difficult work they do. The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) organized the strike, which had broad support from parents, students and community organizations.

More counselors and nurses and smaller classes are directly related to efforts to block the school-to-prison pipeline. California ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to counsellor access: there is an average of one counsellor for every 682 students, far exceeding the recommended ratio of one to 250. At the same time, the district spends $80 million a year on police. The lack of counselors, nurses, and social workers combined with large classes feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Amir Whitaker, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California put it this way: "It relates to the teachers having large classes: if you can't manage forty students and call for help, and if there is no social-emotional support, only the police are on hand." Los Angeles has large numbers of African American and Latino students who bear the brunt of police actions in the schools.

UTLA also called for a moratorium on new charter schools in the district. The charters are privately run and not accountable to the public, although they utilize public funds and are often co-located in public school buildings. One in five students in Los Angeles now attends a charter school, and there are more than 200 such schools in the district -- one of the largest proportions in the country. The charters are being utilized to undermine unions and eliminate public education and the social responsibility of government to provide it. However, in this case, charter school teachers supported the strike and planned a strike of their own.

At a mass public rally outside City Hall on January 22, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the crowd, "We did not win because of a single leader." He added, "We did not win because of a small group of leaders. We won because you -- at more than 900 schools across the entire city, with parents, with students, with community organizations -- you walked the line." He emphasized later in an interview, "The creativity and innovation and passion and love and emotion of our members was out on the street, in the communities, in the parks, for everyone to see. And I'm so proud of our members -- classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists, early educators, adult educators -- who took it upon themselves, in record numbers on picket lines," to defend public education and demand government accountability for providing it.

At the mass rally on January 22, Secretary and Bargaining Chair Arlene Inouye reviewed the high points of the tentative agreement, which was published in full on-line:

- A full-time nurse in every school. Another 300 nurses will be hired over the next two years.

- A full-time librarian in every middle school and high school. The district will hire 82 more librarians.

- More counselors. The district will hire 17 more counselors to maintain one counsellor for every 500 middle and high school students. While a case load of 500 is far higher than the needed 1 for every 250 students, it will assist. As well additional funding was secured to lower the ratios for psychiatric social workers, psychologists and attendance counselors.

- An immigrant defence fund, with a dedicated hotline and attorney for immigrant families.

- Less testing. The district and union will establish a committee to cut the amount of standardized testing by half.

- Class size reductions. Gone is the hated Section 1.5 which allowed the district to ignore contractual limits on class size. Class size caps can now be enforced, and when a class goes over the cap a new class will need to be formed. Further, for grades 4-12 class limits will be decreased by four over the next three years.

- Progress on charters. The Board of Education will support a statewide moratorium on charter schools -- which is a positive political step, though it does not mean a Los Angeles moratorium. The union also won increased notice and voice in the process where charter schools are co-located in neighborhood schools.

- A 6 per cent raise, with 3 per cent retroactive to the 2017-2018 school year and 3 per cent for this year, retroactive to July 1, 2018. There will be salary re-openers in future years.

- Fewer random searches. The number of schools that do not do random searches of students will double from 14 to 28.

- Community schools. Thirty schools will get this designation and additional funding. A council of local people will run each school's budget, working with the community coordinator (a new union position).

- A joint push by the union, the district, and the mayor for more school funding from the county and state. Mayor Eric Garcetti agreed to endorse the Schools and Communities First initiative on the 2020 ballot, which will close California's commercial property tax loophole and restore $11 billion in funding to schools and other public services.

- Green space. A task force to develop more green space in schools.

After the rally teachers returned to their school sites to review and discuss the agreements with their co-workers, and vote on whether to accept it and return to work the next morning. Some teachers around the city were frustrated at a process they felt was rushed. The large majority voted yes on the agreement, and returned to their classrooms on January 23.

Strike Blocks Efforts to Eliminate Public School District

Los Angeles is the largest U.S. school district governed by an elected school board. (The largest district, New York City, and third largest, Chicago, are both governed by mayoral appointees.)

Year after year, its school board elections have broken spending records. Monopoly forces striving to eliminate public education spent $13 million in the last Los Angeles board election. Most of it came from the Walton family (the owners of Walmart) and Eli Broad, two of the biggest funders nationally of charter schools, vouchers, and privatization. The anti-public schools forces won a majority of the seats on the school board. And after the previous superintendent resigned early last year for health reasons, that majority handpicked the current superintendent, Austin Beutner. Beutner has no education backing and is a multi-millionaire from Wall Street. His plan, backed by Broad, was to eliminate the unified Los Angles school district and ensure at least half of the students went to privately run but publicly funded charter schools. Beutner was previously used to undermine public school districts in Detroit and New Orleans, which now has no public schools remaining and no central school district. The Los Angeles strike served to block this direction at this time.

As Arlene Inouye explained, "We are a union that four years ago set out on this path. This just didn't happen, you know, the last 21 months when we've been in negotiations. But four years ago, we set down a path to organize our schools, to bring in parents and communities and to have a social justice agenda, an educational justice agenda for all of our students."

(Reprinted from Voice of Revolution, a publication of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization, www.usmlo.org. Photos: S. Sanchez, UTLA.)

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