February 21, 2019

What It Means to Be "Open for Business"

Workers Reject the Ruling Elite's Politics
of Being "Open for Business"


Destruction of Manufacturing Continues in Ontario

Lockout at Aluminerie de Bécancour Inc.
Support for ABI Workers Continues as Alcoa/Rio Tinto Cartel Abruptly Breaks off Negotiations

Municipal Workers in Quebec Stand Up for their Rights and Dignity
Public Sector Employers Create Impasse for Workers

Maintenance Workers at Montreal Transit Corporation Demand a Negotiated Contract Which Is Acceptable to Them - Gleason Frenette, President,
Montreal Transit Union (STM-CSN)

Defending the Rights of Migrant Workers
National Day of Action Calls for Health Care for All

Condemn Canada's Support for U.S.-Backed Coup in Venezuela
Statement - Canadian Union of Postal Workers

What It Means to Be "Open for Business"

Workers Reject the Ruling Elite's Politics
of Being "Open for Business"

Representatives of the monopolies and governments in their service promote the slogan "open for business" as the sine qua non guide for all economic activity. It was introduced by Mike Harris in Ontario in the mid nineties and is now the mantra of the Ford government in Ontario of the Legault government in Quebec. Workers reject the outlook, politics and practices underlying such a slogan.

The notion of being open for business begins from the false premise that businesses are the creators of social wealth. In the socialized economy, the collective act of workers, working on means of production other workers have already produced, creates all social wealth.

Although workers neither control nor own the social wealth they create, the truth cannot be denied that they are the creators of it. Social wealth is expropriated by huge private interests that possess immense means of production workers have produced, on which the economy, people and society depend. To declare big private interests the creators of wealth for whom economies and societies should be "open for business" and should serve their narrow interests is not only unscientific and false but ludicrous and irrational.

At the present time, the world is witnessing an unprecedented destruction of the social wealth of human collective work in the form of famines, the displacement of entire populations, the destruction of regional and national economies, wars to destroy what the imperialists cannot control, and other calamities.

Just recently in Ontario, the sudden announcement of the illegal closure of the Oshawa GM plant reveals to all that those who created the social wealth in the form of means of production are not those bent on destroying what workers created. The destroyers are those same investors for whom the politics of "open for business" suits their narrow private interests but generates havoc in the lives of working people and the economy.

The irrational slogan mystifies the reality of the socialized economy in hopes of keeping the working class in a subordinate position, incapable of fulfilling its mission of defending the rights and well-being of all and providing those rights with a guarantee through setting a new direction for the economy under the control of working people and their allies.

"Open for business" signifies a multiplication of pay-the-rich schemes. Swaths of social wealth are poured into the coffers of the rich and squandered at their whim. Here too the people have witnessed the outcome. Billions of dollars of public funds were paid to GM in Canada and the United States in 2009. Now a brutal closure not only deprives thousands of workers of their livelihood at the Oshawa plant and its supplier network of other facilities, but will greatly damage the interconnected local economy. The huge sums of social wealth in the form of public funds paid to GM are no longer available to the society but have been absconded with by those same private interests so keen on the economy being open for business. What takes place could more properly be described as "open for plunder." The public social wealth lost in the global machinations of GM, and the private social wealth in the fixed social wealth of means of production in southern Ontario are being denied to the economy and people to move life forward in ways that would ensure the rights, security and well-being of all. This must not pass!

Proponents of the "open for business" politics exhibit a mortal hatred towards any regulation of a prescriptive nature, any state arrangement that provides a measure of health, safety or work standards to workers. For example, the Ford government in Ontario passed a law, in its mania to make Ontario "open for business," which weakens Ontario's minimum labour standards, notably with regard to hours of work and pay. Further, it wants to pass legislation to de-unionize construction work in public institutions, thereby forcing those who work in construction in those sectors to work without the protection of a union or a collective agreement.

Elsewhere, successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments have deregulated the rail industry, under the slogan that companies are the ones that know their businesses best. This abandonment of the public authority has led to tragedies, one of which happened on February 4, with the tragic deaths of three CP railway workers whose train plunged into the Kicking Horse River. Workers reject with contempt the fact that, in the name of being "open to business," they and their communities are being delivered to chaos and insecurity.

Hidden behind the slogan "open for business," is the ruthless desire of rich oligarchs and their governments to deprive workers of the means to organize collectively and legally in defence of their rights and the rights of all. The politics of "open for business" is meant to criminalize the struggles of workers for their rights. Truth is turned on its head, with workers portrayed as enemies of the economy and the production of social wealth. Workers are looked upon as intent on keeping certain "privileges" obtained as a result of being an organized collective force. Those "privileges" and collectives must be dismantled, cry the oligarchs and their governments, so that everyone is placed at the mercy of the reckless adventures of the rich in the service of their private profit and empire building.

Workers have not waged their mass struggles in defence of their rights and to move society forward only to accept a repugnant slogan and politics that repudiate all that they have fought for in the past and aspire for in the future. Workers are not opposed to business being done, so long as it contributes to the well-being of all, with production based on modern standards approved by the workers themselves and defended by a public authority under their control.

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Destruction of Manufacturing Continues in Ontario

Workers rally outside Erwin Hymer plant in Cambridge demanding answers, February 19, 2019.

Those presently in control of the Erwin Hymer Group North America, headquartered in Cambridge, Ontario advised on February 15 that the company was going into receivership and closing its operations that very day, throwing close to 900 workers in the Kitchener-Waterloo region out of work, including 850 workers at its Cambridge plant. As if that shocking statement was not enough, workers were further informed that they would be paid their last week's wages and any vacation pay but no severance pay. Such is the socially irresponsible and brutal nature of today's relations of production between the Canadian working class and the global financial oligarchy.

Workers at plants in Cambridge and Kitchener have been manufacturing recreational vehicles (RVs) since 1974. The plants were locally owned and operated under the Roadtrek brand until 2011 when, unable to recover from the 2009 recession, the owners sold the enterprise to a U.S. investment firm, Industrial Opportunity Partners. The chaos and insecurity for the workers did not end, as the new owners flipped part of the enterprise to other oligarchs, leaving the business in the hands of Germany-based Erwin Hymer Group North America in 2016.

The crisis-ridden system did not stop there, as the Hymer Group itself soon faced a takeover by U.S.-based Thor Industries. The oligarchs completed a purchase deal on January 31, resulting in yet another ownership group, U.S.-based Corner Flag, seizing control. However, the two plants in Ontario were left out of the deal and went into receivership on February 15, shutting down without warning. Some of the employees have been with the company for 30 to 40 years. The shops were non-unionized. The financial firm Alvarez & Marsal Canada Inc. has been appointed receiver of the company.

No political authority either federal or provincial has lifted a finger to intervene in the situation and defend Canadian workers or the economy throughout the ordeal. On the contrary Premier Doug Ford has declared Ontario open for business giving the financial oligarchy carte blanche to do whatever serves its narrow interests.

The turmoil at and eventual closure of the Erwin Hymer Group North America RV plants after years of being flipped by foreign investment firms is yet another example that the economy needs a new direction that favours and serves the working people and Canadian economy.

(With files from Cambridge Times, CBC)

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Lockout at Aluminerie de Bécancour Inc

Support for ABI Workers Continues as Alcoa/Rio Tinto Cartel Abruptly Breaks off Negotiations

Unifor Local 175 workers from Suncor in Montreal visit locked out workers at ABI in Bécancour, February 19, 2019. (M. Bedard)

Support for the locked out workers at ABI continues as the owners abruptly halted negotiations on February 15. A round of negotiations began on January 31, but the company representatives walked away without a word of explanation other than to say they wanted to "think" and would give news whenever they had something to say.

Workers are extremely angry at this arrogance and contempt for the workers, who have been locked out for no reason for more than 13 months, with the region as well suffering from the effects of the lockout. Alcoa/Rio Tinto demands all kinds of hydroelectric and other privileges for their presence in Quebec, but they do not recognize any social responsibility to the workers who create the value that they covet, or to the local community and society.

Workers across Quebec find the ABI lockout contemptible and senseless. In response to the irresponsible dictate of the owners, workers are increasing their support for ABI smelter workers and their community. Workers throughout Quebec are coming to visit ABI workers on their picket line and also receive and welcome them in their areas to learn more about the conflict and express their support.

Workers who have been locked-out themselves, or live in a region that has experienced one, make a point of assisting the ABI workers. A delegation from Unifor Local 175, which represents 260 workers at the Suncor refinery in Montreal, visited the locked-out workers on February 19. Suncor refinery workers themselves were locked out for 14 months in 2007/2008 and know from experience how the mobilization of all workers is important to wage these battles. They were accompanied by union presidents from other refineries including the giant Valero refinery in Lévis.

The 73 union members represented by United Steelworkers Local 9190 who work for the Roberval-Saguenay Railroad on February 15 unanimously renewed their recurring contribution of $10 per week per worker for an additional six months. In one year, the railway workers sent a total of $38,700 to Bécancour.

USW Local 9190 President Daniel Girard, from the Rio Tinto Alma plant said, "It's a war effort that everyone is doing together. Rio Tinto owns 25 per cent of ABI. We have the same employer and we operate in the same type of industrial environment. In 2012, there was a lockout in the area, in Alma, and in 2015, we faced some provocations in our bargaining and we are going back to negotiating in 2020. We want to send a message to these big companies: when they are fighting against the workers they are fighting against all workers at the same time, not just one group."

Recently, the Unifor Youth Committee, together with members of the Bibby Ste-Croix Foundry Workers Union affiliated with the Federation of Manufacturing Industries (CSN), invited a delegation of ABI workers to speak to their members.

ABI workers are holding a general membership meeting on Saturday, February 23, to assess the situation.

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Municipal Workers in Quebec Stand Up for Their Rights and Dignity

Public Sector Employers Create Impasse for Workers

Protest by Montreal Transit maintenance workers, September 13, 2018.

Municipal employees are waging a brave fight against the untenable situation in which the Quebec government and some municipal employers seek to place them. Workers face a concerted attack on their right to negotiate their terms of employment to obtain conditions that are acceptable to them, without threat, without criminalization and without arbitrary laws that dictate and aggravate their working and living conditions and deny them their rights.

A prominent example is the maintenance workers of the Montreal Transit Corporation (STM) who play a very important role in public safety by maintaining buses and subway cars. (See interview below with the President of the union). In their current negotiations for a new collective agreement, they face an impasse created by the Quebec government, the Montreal Transit Corporation, and the Administrative Labour Tribunal.

The workers are subject to two laws, one that virtually eliminates their right to negotiate the terms of their pension plan, and the other that allows a governmental decree of their terms of employment if it considers that negotiations are not proceeding to its liking. This threat of dictate has been combined during negotiations with the arbitrary dismissal and other disciplinary measures against workers. As well, the Labour Tribunal is prosecuting workers under false accusations of sabotage of maintenance and the use of illegal methods to pressure management.

In this context, the Montreal Transit Corporation has announced a "global and final offer" after two years of negotiations, blaming the workers for the fact that no collective agreement has yet been signed. The workers are asking: what is the meaning of this so-called global and threatening final offer? Is the transportation company preparing to ask the government to step in and dictate a collective agreement, if the workers do not accept this "global and final offer"?

Workers are entitled to ask, discuss and question publicly, openly and collectively the situation they are facing. How can this two year ordeal end either with an unacceptable "global and final offer" or a government decree and yet be considered fair collective bargaining? What is the legal space left for them to present demands and concerns they consider important to themselves and the service, and find some acceptable arrangement?

Workers do not find it acceptable that governments, which declare themselves democratic, violate with impunity the rights of municipal workers to negotiate their working conditions, wages and pensions. Equally unacceptable is the elimination of negotiations, or what used to be called fair collective bargaining, under the veneer of high ideals. The workers' right to a say over what they receive in exchange for their capacity to work, and over their working conditions, belongs to them as a matter of right. In the case of STM workers, their working conditions are directly related to providing a level of public services the people and society need and expect.

STM workers are not the only ones in this untenable situation. Municipal employees across Quebec have lost significant amounts of money, sometimes more than $10,000 for a single worker, because of the pension law that forced workers to cover deficits in pension funds, even when workers had always put in the amounts required under their collective agreement but employers did not. Several municipal governments failed to contribute the required amounts and diverted money to other areas with government approval. This can only be called theft of what belongs to workers by right, legally negotiated in exchange for their capacity to work. Not only is this ongoing theft very large, the legal space for negotiating an end to these anti-worker practices has been virtually eliminated.

The attacks against the municipal workers also pave the way to further privatization of municipal services under imperialist free trade agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union of the monopolies, and the replacement of NAFTA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). These supranational monopoly-controlled trade agreements lessen local control over the economy, drive down workers' claims on the value they produce, allow private enterprise to expropriate the added-value municipal workers create, and open the door for higher user fees and government subsidies to the monopolies that own and control public services and infrastructure both now and in the future.

Workers' Forum stands firmly with the municipal workers in Quebec and Canada who are persisting in their just struggle in defence of their rights and the public services they provide. The refusal of the ruling elite to recognize the rights of the working class to a say and control over its terms of employment is not "free collective bargaining" but a denial of workers' rights. For the working class, freedom lies in the recognition of the necessity for change in a manner which deprives the ruling elite of their power to deprive workers of the power to affirm rights.

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Maintenance Workers at Montreal Transit Corporation Demand a Negotiated Contract Which Is
Acceptable to Them

Gleason Frenette, speaking at May 3, 2018 Montreal Transitworkers rally.

Workers' Forum: How many workers are involved in current negotiations and what work do they do at the Montreal Transit Corporation (STM)?

Gleason Frenette: The union represents about 2,400 members. The majority, about three-quarters, are tradespeople, electricians, plumbers, masons, tinsmiths, etc., and about 550 maintenance workers. The collective agreement expired last January 2018; we started negotiations eight months before the end of the agreement. We've now been negotiating for 22 months.

WF: What are the main features of this negotiation?

GF: The STM came to us with more than a hundred rollbacks in its offer. Those were demands for major changes in several aspects of the collective agreement including working hours. It is not customary to ask for so many changes in the negotiations. Normally the employer tries to change some aspects of the agreement by giving something else in exchange.

They came with all these requests, probably thinking that with Bill 24, in the event that we cannot reach an agreement, the government would decree our working conditions.[1] They asked that our working hours be based on twelve-hour shifts, instead of eight hours as is the case at present. They want more employees to work on weekends and on evening and night shifts. They call this operational flexibility. They pushed us into a situation where if we manage to make some gains and undo the majority of their requests for setbacks the members will be satisfied. Our main demand is to maintain what we already have.

We also have a demand with respect to the pension plan. We are asking for compensation in connection with Bill 15, which forces us to contribute three per cent more to the pension plan.[2] Under Bill 15, our members have to contribute three per cent more to the plan and the employer three per cent less. We had to divide the pension plan into two components, a component before Bill 15 and one after, as the new law requires the parties to contribute 50-50 in the pension plan.

Before the law was passed, we were contributing six per cent of our payroll to our pension plan and the employer was doubling it. We called it a 12-6 contribution. We had negotiated all that. It was stipulated in our contract. We had made concessions in the past to receive this 12-6 ratio; we had accepted zero per cent wage increases to keep that rate in our pension plan. With Bill 15, the government made it possible to undo this aspect of the collective agreement. We are now asking for wage compensation for the increase in our dues.

WF: Can you explain how Bill 24 affects your negotiations?

GF: Bill 24 provides that under certain conditions, if we cannot reach an agreement, the government could ultimately decree our working conditions. We have been in mediation since September 2018. We had two extensions of 60 days of mediation, as the law provides. The second extension period ended on January 12. If the mediator wants to extend the mediation again, according to the law, the employer and the union must agree. At the moment, the employer is tolerating the presence of the mediator. If he wishes, he may request the appointment of a special mandatary, which would be the next step. Negotiations would continue during that time, but the special mandatary would prepare his report for the government, and the government could decree the collective agreement according to the advice of the mandatary.

WF: Where are the negotiations at the moment?

GF: On the issue of flexibility, we have accepted many of their schedule changes but not all of their demands. On the other hand, we are asking for a wage increase to obtain the wage catch-up for tradespeople, something we have been demanding for many years. The wages of many of our trades are lagging behind those in the private sector and comparable sectors. We want an overall wage increase that allows us at least to maintain our purchasing power.

In addition, we are awaiting, as I speak to you, a decision of the Administrative Labour Tribunal. The employer accuses us of taking illegal job actions that disrupt service to the public, for example by reducing the availability of buses on the road. We reject this accusation; we have not engaged in any illegal job actions. We are saying that it is bad management decisions that have damaged the service. They made a lot of bad decisions with respect to bus maintenance. The employer is the only one to blame for the inadequate services to the public.

This situation of bargaining has been going on for two years now. Meanwhile, our daily life continues; we do not just have to deal with bargaining; we have members who are being fired; we have members who have workplace accidents and have to go on salary insurance.

Dismissals are on the rise, and these are largely punitive dismissals, that are intended to scare us. They attack those who stand up to them on anything. They actually fired one worker and suspended another worker for six months for confronting a STM director who physically attacked one of our workers. These two workers never touched the director.

The workers are also very angry about the comments to the media by the STM's general director, who accuses the workers of sabotage and illegal job actions. They are tired of hearing the director general discrediting our workers and accusing them of all sorts of things, such as intimidating managers and even causing fuel shortages on buses. For a director general to make public comments to denigrate the workers is something that has never been seen in the history of the STM.


1. Bill 24, An Act respecting the process of negotiation of collective agreements and the settlement of disputes in the municipal sector, was adopted by the Quebec National Assembly on November 2, 2016.

2. Bill 15, An Act to foster the financial health and sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans, was adopted by the National Assembly on December 4, 2014. In September 2018, ten unions began a legal challenge in the Superior Court, to have it declared unconstitutional. According to the unions, this legislation contravenes the freedom to bargain collectively, which is part of the freedom of association protected by section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Defending the Rights of Migrant Workers

National Day of Action Calls for Health Care for All

Toronto, ON

On February 12 health care workers, medical students and many others joined in a National Day of Action, organized in some 15 cities across the country, to call on the federal government to stop denying healthcare to migrants because of their immigration status.

The campaign began after the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) issued a decision in August 2018 condemning Canada for denying access to essential health care on the basis of immigration status. The decision specifically dealt with the case of Nell Toussaint who was denied necessary health care because she was undocumented. Nell is one of an estimated half million people in Ontario alone who are denied access to health coverage and care on this basis, putting their health at risk.

The UNHRC gave the government 180 days, to February 9 to report on a review of national legislation, "to ensure that irregular migrants have access to essential health care to prevent a reasonably foreseeable risk that can result in loss of life." The Canadian government had not responded to the UN committee's request as of the deadline.

In light of this UN decision, over 1,500 individuals and 80 organizations signed an open letter addressed to the federal government demanding it take action to:

1. Comply with the UNHRC's order to review existing laws and policies regarding health care coverage for irregular migrants.

2. Ensure appropriate resource allocation, so that all people in Canada are provided universal and equitable access to health care services, regardless of immigration status.

3. Provide Nell Toussaint with adequate compensation for the significant harm she has suffered as a result of not receiving essential health care services.

Sherbrooke, QC

Montreal, QC

Toronto, ON

Saskatoon, SK

Edmonton, AB

Vancouver, BC

(Photos: N. Kansal, Q052, Caring for Social Justice, Sanctuary Health)

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Condemn Canada's Support for U.S.-Backed Coup in Venezuela


A Canadian delegation, including Don Foreman (2nd left) from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, participated as observers in the Venezuelan elections, May 2018.

CUPW condemns the Government of Canada's decision to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, over the elected president Nicolás Maduro.

It is deeply disturbing that the Canadian government has chosen to support this U.S.-backed coup, which is in direct violation of international law. By following the U.S. agenda in Venezuela, Canada has aligned itself with the right-wing regimes of the Lima Group and Donald Trump, who resemble past U.S. governments who intervened and disrupted democratically elected governments in the Americas and elsewhere in the world. This is unacceptable.

A Legitimate Government

Venezuelans created their Bolivarian Constitution from the ground up and have held several democratic elections. Venezuelans are capable of running their country without interference and harassment from the United States and its allies, including Canada.

Venezuela is currently facing economic difficulties, many a direct result of economic sanctions levied against Venezuela by the United States, in hopes of triggering a change in government.

A Usurpation of the Power

On January 3, 2019, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó swore himself in as interim president. He was quickly (and illegally) recognized by Canada, the U.S. and other U.S. allies. What is happening in Venezuela is a usurpation of the democratic process.

The presidential elections of May 20, 2018 were free, transparent, reliable, secure and in accordance with the law, according to observers from around the world, including a CUPW delegate, who traveled to Venezuela to observe the elections.

President Maduro won with nearly 67.84 per cent of the vote. None of the candidates who participated in the electoral process contested the results. Canada and the U.S. are claiming that the electoral process was not legitimate, despite assurances from numerous observers that it was. What they are really saying is that the latest elections did not garner the outcome they had hoped for.

In CUPW We Do Not Support U.S.-Backed Coup d'États

Let us not be fooled. The U.S. support of this coup is about one thing: oil. Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has publicly stated that the U.S. has a lot at stake in Venezuela's political crisis, specifically citing the country's oil and the benefit it could bring to the U.S.

"It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela," said Bolton.

We Support the Venezuelan People and the Postal Workers

Mike Palecek, National President of CUPW, speaking at rally opposing Lima Group meeting in Ottawa, February 4, 2019.

Meanwhile, Canada continues its relations with horrific regimes like Saudi Arabia. CUPW maintains solidarity with the Venezuelan people and its postal workers. Under the Bolivarian Constitution, Venezuelan government worker rights, health and safety, and rights to health care were vastly improved. We stand with our sisters and brothers in their fight to protect their rights and democracy from foreign governments who are intent on dismantling them.

In Solidarity,

Mike Palecek National President

(February 7, 2019)

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