Strategic Priority 1:
the Economic Crisis: a Worker’s Agenda
Free market policies of the last three decades celebrating the siren songs of globalisation, have left us, the public service worker, having to mop up mess left by the excessively greedy corporate pirates. These folks make the boys off the coast of Somali look sea cadets. Some of the activities that have lead to our present economic climate
- deregulation and privatisation of the financial industry
- slow wage growth
- less government regualtion
- increased reliance on the stock market for economic security
- free trade and globalisation which led to deindustrailization
- rising household indebtedness
- escalating executive salaries
- rising inequality
- inadequate investment in both the private and public sectors
- rising inequality
- ill considered tax cuts
- reliance on policies related to money supply rather than fiscal responsibility
The Strategic Directions paper caused a furor among members. Delegates focused on areas that concerned their sectors and members:
- living wage
- mobilising the vote – polictical action
- Canadian pension plans becoming highly deregulated under Harper government
- Bring transfer payments back to the universities e.g. UBC, so that they don’t have to sell off land for development ment; allow Big Pharma to bring own staff in and set up shop
- Strategic direction should come from the resolutions not the NEB
The two other objectives, Strategic Priority 2, Defending Free Collective Bargaining and Resisting Concessions and; Strategic Priority 3: Continuing the Struggle (this bundles a number of issues) anti-privatisation, equality, aboriginal issues, HIV/aids, childcare and early learning, environment and international solidarity. One can see that while our issues mirror government, we tend to focus on the social justice issues. The convention will discuss the second and third objectives Wednesday and Thursday.
Commentary: Fully capitalistic system can work only if there is a social system that backs it up when it falls – as we have seen in the last economic downturn. We now have socialism for the rich. Yay!
Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza leapt at the opportunity to address CUPE members in the midst of labour talks with Ford Canada. Interesting dude. He is well-versed in the economic climate and reminded us of the sins of characters such Air Canada’s former CEO Robert Milton, who received $42 million in compensation in 2007. “Today Air Canada is weakened as a result of selling off profitable sections of the company and leaving the core business so vulnerable. Of particular concern to CAW members is the Air Canada pension plan, which currently faces a major funding shortfall as the employer has been negligent in funding their portion of the pension plan. Air Canada members have contributed tens of thousands of dollars into their pension plans, which Air Canada was charged with looking after.
We, as municipal employees, are fortunate to have a joint trustee defined benefit plan. Our pension plan survives economic crises while the defined contributions plan have not been able to weather the current downturn. Employees in these plans increasingly angry at their employers for moving them from relatively risk-free defined benefit pension plans into more volatile and market-exposed defined contribution plans, and that has left them feeling ill-prepared for retirement.
Under a defined contribution (DC) plan, money is sunk into various investment vehicles that fund an employee’s retirement. Once the money’s gone, that’s it. There’s no more. That is fundamentally different from a defined benefit (DB) plan, which pays out until the retiree dies — no matter how long she/he lives. Never let your DB plan go.
Lewensa notes that politicians like Harper and some employers believe, “why waste a good crisis?” Our hiring freeze is a case in point. It is interesting to note which positions are frozen. Lewensa also reads and quotes Naomi Klein. She predicted this state of affairs in “Shock Doctrine”. “The powerful always take advantage of a crisis – they will pit worker against worker.” Ken Lewensa says, CUPE and workers did not cause the financial crisis, we are just paying for it. It was the government, banks, and corporations messing about in their financial casinos. We have to analyse in a real way, to see what happened.” He goes on to tell us that the big six banks have set aside seven billion for bonuses for back executives. If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Current Locals on Strike – Slice of the Future
SCFP Local 301 – Montreal
On strike for issues around contracting out and DB pensions. From 50 down to 23 outside workers.
CUPE 719 – Woodstock, NB
27 municipal employees locked out.
CUPE 873 – BC Paramedics
Very difficult strike. Paramedics are an essential service as are police and fire. They are not entitled to 3rd party mediation as are fire and police, and have have been mandated to work overtime. Our own Barry O’Neill has participated in 29 days of bargaining with these unsung local heroes. Yay Barry!
CUPE Local 1000 Erie Thames Power Workers
51 workers on strike because they don’t want to work 45 hours and get paid for 40. Huge cuts in benefits. The employer has tried to bring in contractors through the picket line, but police understood members issues and sent contractors away.
Alberta Health Services and CUPE
Watch the fallout of the Alberta Health Board mess sliding over to British Columbia. Alberta government is combining nine regional health boards and creating one Super Board. Public care advocates and opposition critics warned the move could be a step towards privatization as the new board members are from insurance, oil industry. Take a look at the Board when you get a chance – no comment. CUPE is currently at Alberta Labour Board to protect its ability to represent members under the new regime, Health Science Board.
First Nations Resolution
One of the resolutions that passed today concerned the unfair treatment of aboriginal children in care. Foster parents receive less to care for children on the reserve than in urban areas
Provincial child welfare laws apply both on and off reserves. The provinces fund child welfare for children off reserve but expect the federal government to fund it on reserve. If the federal government does not fund the services or funds them inadequately, the provinces typically do not top up the funding levels. This results in a two tiered child welfare system where First Nations children on reserves get less funding for child welfare than other children.
Caring Canadians can help – go on-line to http://www.fnwitness.ca and sign up to be a witness to the tribunal saying you will follow the case by attending in person (open to the public) or through the media and make up your own mind about whether the federal government is treating First nations children fairly.
Lots of interest and concern around the lack of a Buy Canadian policy. Our federal and provincial politicians seem to be promoting opening up trade agreements to allow international agencies in on procurement in municipalities and provinces. This is huge for the public sector worker, local and Canadian industry. It is our taxes and local industry which fuel the economy and pay for schools, hospitals. Agreements such as TILMA, AIT and now, negotiations with the European Union countries will further open local government contracts to outside agencies. The EU is interested in managing our water (Vivendi) and health services. Now try and sleep after learning that.
On a happier note, Inder and I are singing during our lunch hour with the CUPE choir. We warble hot labour tunes in French, Spanish and English.