When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, I was taught that I had to get an education and that it didn’t matter what I studied so long as I got a DEC and a Bachelor’s degree. This seems to be the narrative Gen Xers and Yers were fed, and many of us went into debt trying to get that coveted degree that would allegedly guarantee us a job when we were ready to enter the market.

Sadly, the reality we encountered was very different when we started looking for work in the early 2000s. Employers questioned us on our degrees and why we chose to study a given subject. Unlike previous eras, many were unwilling to give us on-the-job training that would compensate for any specialized education, and many of us went back to school and into more debt hoping get another degree that would get us a job with a modicum of financial stability.

In spite of how highly educated many of us are, Canada, and especially Quebec, is suffering from a massive labour shortage. This article is going to discuss the labour shortage and why it has happened. Next week I will be going over the controversial issue of the recognition of foreign degrees and qualifications in Quebec.

Quebec needs workers.

During the Quebec election, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume called for more immigration to fill the 17 000 jobs on the north and south shores of the city, telling the CBC he didn’t see any other way to find people for them. In October 2018, Montreal Board of Trade President Michel Leblanc expressed concern over the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government’s plan to cut the number of immigrants saying “we need to have more.”

The newly-elected CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent – a clear indication that they feel the solution to the labour shortage is not to bring in more people from abroad. Their platform includes encouraging older workers to stay active as long as possible to address the fact that jobs are not being filled at the rate that the baby boomers are retiring. The boomers did not have as many children as their parents did and the result is fewer native-born people in the labour market.

The CAQ also wants to enhance vocational and technical training programs to fill labour market needs and offer more job-study programs. Whether the labour of students in job-study programs would be paid or not remains to be seen, but it must be addressed as people cannot live on “learning experience” and many young people are reluctant to do them because they cannot pay for living expenses at the same time. Another idea the CAQ has put forward is that of encouraging cooperation between businesses and universities to better tailor education programs to business needs.

Part of the labour problem lies in the mismatch between the degrees people in Quebec are getting and the jobs available. One of the clearest indications of this is the employment offered at Montreal’s most recent job fair.

On October 24th and 25th, 2018, JobBoom.com hosted a massive job fair at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal. The employers present were calling for two types of employees. On the one hand you had businesses calling for highly specialized workers like nurses, accident assessment specialists, engineers, chartered appraisers, accountants, industrial security and safety specialists and so on. On the other hand were employers calling for what my generation was taught were “survival jobs” such as retail, security guarding, telemarketing, customer service, and administrative support.

Employers wanting specialized workers are not seeking people with any old Bachelor’s degree or DEC, but rather people with specific degrees, certifications, and even memberships to professional orders. While there is demand for chartered appraisers, for example, in order to become one in Quebec you need a Bachelor of Commerce with a concentration in real estate, followed by a yearlong internship, interview, and entrance exam, all of which come with their own sets of tuition fees, stage fees, and administration and exam costs. This likely means copious amounts of debt given wage stagnation for survival jobs.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define a survival job as a low paying job in which little experience or education is required. Many born in Canada were taught that survival jobs were meant to be temporary – the kinds of jobs you took to get by until you found a job that fit your education and career aspirations given the low pay and the often mindless, unfulfilling nature of the work.

It must be said that there is no shame in working a survival job. Many of us do not have the luxury of being choosy in employment due to our financial situation and anyone who depends on us for the income we earn. The only thing that’s really shameful about a survival job is how impossible it is to actually survive on the wages they pay due to wage stagnation in Canada. They are also generally the kinds of jobs that immigrants are most willing to fill due to the adjustment period following their arrival as well as the difficulties having their education and credentials recognized in Quebec.

In conclusion, there are jobs to be had in Quebec, lots of them. If you want to invest in higher education to get a good job, in today’s market you need to be very specific about what you study and make sure the program you choose fits a job in demand. If you need to work to survive, there are jobs for that too; they probably won’t be very fulfilling but you might scrape by. Go get ’em!

* Featured image by Brenda Gottsabend, Creative Commons

According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, young people should get used to temporary employment. That means that Generations X, Y, and Millennials should get used to badly paid uncertain employment with lousy or no benefits to speak of.

This article is not about how our Prime Minister rode the younger vote into office on a promise to fix unsteady employment. It’s not about the fact that Trudeau turned his back on young Canadians the same way protesters turn their backs on him.

This is about getting fired.

Dismissals are increasingly common as work gets more unstable. Fortunately, there are laws that protect people from the worst behaviors of employers.

In Quebec we have two main laws to protect employees: the Civil Code and the Act Respecting Labour Standards.

The Civil Code’s provision on dismissal says that if your period of employment is for an unfixed term, you are legally entitled to a notice of termination.

The notice of termination is a written document announcing that you’ve been dismissed from the job. If you’ve been working constantly at the job for three months or more, you are legally entitled to that notice.

The time between that notice and the day you are actually supposed to stop working depends on how long you’ve been there. If you’ve been working continuously at a job for between three months to a year, you’re legally entitled to one week’s notice. If you’ve been working one to five years, you’re supposed to get two weeks notice. For five to ten years of service, you’re entitled to four weeks notice, and for over ten years of service, you’re legally entitled to eight weeks of notice.

Most employers do not want you at the job after they’ve decided to fire you, and they are allowed to ask you to leave, but there is a catch. If they don’t want you working during the mandatory time between serving you the notice and the time you are legally entitled to, they have to pay you an indemnity equivalent to the wages you would have gotten for that period. That means that if you’re entitled to two weeks notice and they ask to leave right away, they owe you two weeks’ pay. It should be noted however that if your employer fails to give you that notice or indemnity, you are legally entitled to ask for it and should.

When it comes to the act of actually firing someone, there are only a few legitimate reasons an employer can use. They can fire you for misconduct, for having a bad attitude, for your lack of skills, insufficient performance, or your incompetence, all of which are considered “good and sufficient cause for dismissal”.

What employers cannot do is fire you as punishment for something they’ve already reprimanded you for. It’s the double jeopardy rule of employment law that means that if, for example, you screwed up at work and your boss suspended you for a week for your actions, they’re not allowed to fire you for the exact same mistake.

Employers are also not allowed to engage in “constructive dismissal”, known in French as “congediement deguisee” or disguised dismissal. This is the practice where instead of firing you outright, in which case they’d have to give you the proper notice, indemnity, and paperwork, your employer makes a unilateral and fundamental change to your employment without reasonable notice, thus making your working conditions so unpleasant that you quit on your own.

This includes, for example, cutting your hours by crazy amounts when you’ve worked a certain number of hours at this job for years, or unilaterally cutting your pay without explanation. If the changes to your working conditions are so dramatic you’ll have to quit your job to find conditions equivalent to the ones you had before, you can argue that you’ve been the victim of constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal can also take the form of psychological harassment making your job so unbearable that you quit.

The almighty layoff is another way you can lose your job, but it does not carry the same stigma as dismissal. Permanent layoffs are related to the internal or economic life of the employer and supposedly have nothing to do with the employee(s) they let go – the sort of “it’s not you, it’s ME” version of dismissal. Reasons for layoff can include a decline in the company’s business, reorganization of the business, the implementation of new technology, or the sale of the business.

Regardless of whether you were terminated or laid off, the rules regarding notices of dismissal still apply. If you suspect your employer has mishandled letting you go, feel free to call the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail at 1 844 838-0808 to see if you have any legal recourse.

If you decide to go after your employer for how they treated you, you have a few options. If you had two or more years of uninterrupted employment before being dismissed and feel that you were let go without a good and sufficient cause, you can file a complaint with the Commission des normes within forty-five days of your termination. The complaint must be in written form and failure to do so within that time makes you lose your right to pursue it.

The Commission des normes de travail can then act on your behalf to come up with some kind of agreement between you and your employer to ensure the law is obeyed. You also have the option of suing your employer in civil court. If you cannot afford a lawyer, remember that legal aid may be an option for you.

In this era of unstable employment, employees need to protect themselves more than ever. The next time you get let go, contact Normes de travail. You may have more rights than you think.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has come under fire recently for letting a foreign worker die. In late 2014, Sheldon McKenzie, a thirty nine year old man from Jamaica, was working on a tomato farm in Ontario when he hit his head. The injury was so severe he had to be rushed to a hospital where doctors had to remove part of his brain due to swelling and internal bleeding.

Though McKenzie was in a coma, CIC tried to deport him. His cousin in Winnipeg hired lawyers to try and stay the deportation. McKenzie died before a decision could be rendered on his case.

This case has been a cause of outrage among Canadians unfamiliar to the plight of temporary foreign workers. To those who know CIC’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, deportation for health reasons – also known as “medical repatriation” – is horrifically common.

When Sheldon McKenzie hit his head and went into a coma, he violated the terms of his work permit which allowed him to remain in Canada so long as he could do the job for which he was granted a visa. As he was unconscious, he couldn’t work, and his inability to work made him useless to the Canadian government which tried to send him home.

According to a 2014 study by the Canadian Medical Association which looked at medical repatriation among temporary foreign workers from 2001 to 2011, employees who are hurt on the job are normally deported without getting the care they need. The medical reasons for deportation can be anything from musculoskeletal and respiratory problems to losing a hand or foot to poisoning to pregnancy.

Is all of this legal? Isn’t there a law to protect these workers?

No, there isn’t. There are generic laws meant to protect people in Canada, but there are no specific rules for temporary foreign workers.

The generic law regarding immigration is the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). It sets out Canada’s immigration objectives which include supporting the Canadian economy, facilitating the entry of temporary workers for the purposes of trade and commerce while at the same time protecting public health, safety, and security.

According to article 3(3)b), the IRPA has to be applied in a way that promotes transparency “by enhancing public awareness of immigration and refugee programs,” something the federal government clearly isn’t doing. The rules regarding programs like the Temporary Foreign Workers are hidden within a lot of propaganda on CIC’s website.

The Act also has to be applied in a way consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states that everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of the person and not to be denied these rights except in accordance with principles of fundamental justice. The Charter also recognizes that everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or physical or mental disability.

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Image: CBC

If you want specific rules regarding temporary foreign workers, you have to look at leaflets and fact sheets issued by the CIC. According to these documents, the employers of temporary foreign workers have to pay their employees, which includes overtime. They have to make sure the workplace is safe and they are not allowed to take away a worker’s passport or work permit. Employers have to give their workers breaks and days off and cannot force them to perform tasks for which they were not hired or trained. Employers also can’t force workers to do dangerous work.

What is particularly troubling about these leaflets and fact sheets is the advice CIC gives if a worker is hurt on the job, which is to tell their supervisor and then see a doctor. In a world where foreign workers are among its most vulnerable people, telling a supervisor you’re too hurt to work could mean the difference between staying in Canada and being forcibly removed. Since these rules are not entrenched in Canadian law, immigration officials and employers have far too much freedom to hurt workers.

Common sense and decency dictate that if a worker is hurt in Canada working for a Canadian business for the sake of the Canadian economy, that worker deserves Canadian health care. But without clear concise laws and penalties for abusive employers there is no way to guarantee that a temporary foreign worker will get the help they need if they get hurt helping us.

When confronted about the McKenzie case, federal minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk promised to make the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program – a subcategory of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program – part of a government review by the Standing Committee on Human Resources.

Here’s hoping that the Committee comes up with some practical solutions like a distinct law setting out the obligations of employers to temporary foreign workers and penalties for hurting them. Let’s see the government make a stronger effort to entrench the rights of EVERYONE in Canada and make sure that they know what they are.

Failure to help our workers makes us part of the indictment in Woody Guthrie’s song Deportee. In the final verse he sings:

“Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except deportees?”

* Featured Image J. Stephen Conn via Flickr Creative Commons

Taxi and Uber drivers are at war.

Montreal taxi drivers are fed up with Uber stealing their business. Uber drivers are fed up with the barrage of blockades, eggings, protests and insults being hurled their way.

Those who favor Uber consider it an affordable alternative to the heavily regulated and costly taxi system. Those against Uber claim that it’s promoting itself as a ride-sharing service and therefore exempt from government regulation and taxes. They claim that Uber is taking money from people who paid their dues taking government courses and paying outrageous fees to operate as taxi drivers in their respective cities.

The critics of Uber are absolutely right.

If you go to Uber’s website, they don’t call themselves a taxi service. The motto for people who want to become drivers is:

“Work that puts you first; drive when you want, earn what you need.”

It promotes itself as a network of independent contractors in which people who need a ride are connected with drivers – the contractors. All the driver needs is a car, driver’s license, smartphone and the UberPartner app, which you can download for free from the Google Play store or from iTunes. Once you’ve got the app, you have to register on their website, which means you provide your name, contact info, and proof you are legally allowed to drive a car in your area: license, registration, and proof of insurance. The only security check Uber requires is a standard background check.

Once you’re signed up, all you need to do is stick the Uber sticker to your car identifying you as one of their drivers, turn on the app and Uber will not only hook you up with riders, but also provide you with directions. It’s up to the rider whether to take a chance and pay for a lift from you, and riders can share their experiences by rating you on Uber’s website. Payments to drivers are made via the Uber app, which deposits the money directly into their bank accounts.

Having said all that, becoming an Uber driver is insultingly easy and cheap when you look at all the hoops, both financial and regulatory, that taxi drivers have to go through just to be able to work in Montreal.

Taxi drivers in Montreal are regulated by the City of Montreal’s By-law Concerning Taxi Transportation, Quebec’s Act Respecting Transportation Services by Taxi, and rules set out by the Societé de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ).

In order to become a taxi driver in Montreal, you need more than a valid driver’s license, a car, and a background check.

A lot more.

taxi
Photo by Iana Kazakova

First off, you need to be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. You need to have a class 4C driver’s permit issued by the SAAQ, and that means taking a 150-hour training course and passing a test on taxi transportation regulations. You need to be able to speak, read, and understand French and English enough to do the job.

The vehicle you use has to be a sedan or a station wagon and the model can’t be more than ten years old. The car has to have a hardtop and four side doors and glass sides. If you want to drive a van equipped to carry a maximum of nine people, it has to have a running board and three or four side doors with a window each, and the net mass of all in the vehicle has to be less than 3500 kg. If you just got your taxi permit, your vehicle can’t be more than five years old, and no taxi can have an exterior surface damaged by wear and tear.

Taxi laws require drivers to adhere to a strict set of rules regarding their conduct. There are so many this article will only point out the major ones.

Taxi drivers are required by law to keep the taxi clean, inside and out. The driver has to make sure that customers can open the doors of the cab at all times and can’t take on more than one passenger without the customer’s consent. Drivers can’t have animals in the car with the exception of those the customer needs to compensate for a disability. Drivers are also required to drive safe, be courteous, act with dignity and civility, and provide the customer with a proper level of comfort.

The only time a taxi driver is allowed to refuse service is if the customer is with an animal other than one required by their disability, the customer seems drunk or on drugs, seems to require immediate medical care, the customer’s stuff won’t fit in the trunk, he or she can’t pay the fare, or the driver has reason to believe that his or her safety would be compromised. The driver also has to provide receipts upon request. Recent changes to taxi laws have even imposed a dress code of dark pants and white shirts for cabbies, with exceptions for warmer months when they can wear shorts.

The main source of the outrage for Montreal cabbies is one of cost. Taxi permits can cost up to $200 000 and many cabbies have to get loans to pay for them, which adds interest and taxes to the mix. Fares are regulated by the government, and the extensive maintenance and cleanliness rules jack the price of driving a cab even higher. Montreal’s bylaws also have strict specifications about the dome lights and fixtures all taxis must have right down to the colour and material they’re made of. Cabbies who don’t obey the laws can have their license taken away…

But until the laws are changed, Montreal cabbies can take comfort in the fact that if they lose their taxi license they can always work for Uber.

* Featured image by Chris Zacchia

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has made a lot of headlines in the past year. Canadian participation in it was negotiated by the Harper government just a month before its colossal defeat by the Liberals. It was signed on Canada’s behalf by our International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland on February 3rd of this year.

People in favour of the TPP say that it will result in job creation, innovation, and give Canadian companies access to international markets. People against the TPP are worried that Canadian industries like maple syrup, dairy products and poultry will suffer when the market is flooded with inexpensive competitors from participating countries.

People are worried about job loss especially in Canada’s auto industry and that enforcement of the intellectual property rules within the agreement will come at the expense of Canadian innovation. Others consider Canada’s participation to be the lesser of two evils and that it’s better to be a part of something than be left out.

This article is not going to cover all of the TPP because the text of the agreement is six thousand pages long. It IS going to give you an overview of three of the main components of the agreement and a quick tutorial on how treaties work.

When a government representative signs a treaty on Canada’s behalf they are not legally obligating Canada because they don’t have the power to do so. Canada is a democracy and all laws and treaties have to be approved by our parliament made up of the House of Commons and Senate.

When Chrystia Freeland signed the TPP on Canada’s behalf, what she was actually agreeing to was that her government would put the TPP before our Parliament to debate, discuss, and vote on its ratification within the two year deadline of the agreement. It is only when a country ratifies a treaty that it becomes legally bound by it. If our Parliament decides that the TPP is rubbish and votes against ratification, Canada won’t be bound by it. If it votes in favour and ratifies the agreement, we will be.

Now Let’s Talk About Labour

People in favour of the TPP say that it will result in improved working conditions by making countries enact and enforce labour laws that are fair to workers and there is some truth in that. Under the labour provisions of the TPP, parties are required to enact laws that guarantee the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced and child labour, minimum wages, reasonable working hours, safety, and the end to discrimination with regards to employment. The rules also state that countries aren’t allowed to weaken or reduce legal protections for workers in order to encourage trade or investment. These all seem like great ideas but there are problems with the language used.

Though parties to the TPP have to adopt laws against discrimination, the agreement doesn’t specify what kinds of discrimination are prohibited, and the vagueness of the language leaves participating countries too free to deny women, LGBTI people and visible and religious minorities basic labour rights.

There is a dangerously reluctant tone to these provisions. Parties have to enact and enforce fair labour laws but only to ensure a level economic playing field. The subtext seems to be: “we don’t give a shit about our workers and if we could make our stuff cheaper by paying them less we would, but since we can’t, you can’t either or it wouldn’t be fair.”

Now Let’s Discuss Competition

The TPP competition policy is designed to create a level economic playing field. It requires that parties adopt competition laws that punish anti-competitive business practices including the unauthorized use of consumers’ personal information. They also establish procedural rules for contesting a charge of violating those laws, the burden of proof being on the state claiming the violation.

On the surface the rules seem fair, but when you think about how much Canadian industries like dairy benefit from government protection, the dangers of such an agreement becomes clearer. However, the policy does provide for exceptions if a country’s chosen exemptions from competition laws are transparent and based on public interest.

Last But Not Least We Must Address the TPP’s Intellectual Property Rules

Critics of the TPP claim that it is written to favour countries like the US who have a lot of patents and copyrights and aggressively demand their enforcement. And the critics are right.

Though the TPP reinforces the clause of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS) permitting countries to violate drug patents in states of emergency, the bulk of the provisions of the TPP are geared at protecting patent and copyright holders. They call for countries to establish civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement that will even include prison terms.

Though in Canada the authorities generally don’t go after people who illegally download music and movies for personal use, the TPP could change all that. The provisions allow copyright holders to sue violators for monetary damages including legal fees. Our legal system is already overtaxed and participation could create an even greater backlog of cases to the detriment of Canadians seeking justice.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a damned if we do, damned if we don’t debate. Most experts agree that it will be beneficial for Canada but only marginally. As the Trudeau government does its best to clean up the mess Stephen Harper left behind, now is an opportunity for them to put our country back on the map and regain our place as the world’s moral authority.

That means making sure that if we ratify the agreement we do it on OUR terms, without bending over and throwing Canadians workers and businesses under the bus in the name of international cooperation.

It means not sacrificing our state sovereignty and our values. This is their chance. Let’s see if they take it.

A few years ago, I had a job performing live in-store infomercials (really, don’t ask) in places like Zellers. One night, I was packing up my booth after the store had closed for the night when I overheard a few of the employees talking. Their subject: just what they would do after the store closed for good.

The younger man, a security guard, already had another job lined up. The older woman, though, who was close to retirement age and from what I could glean had worked at that particular Zellers for over three decades, really didn’t know.

You see, when Target bought 133 Zellers locations from the Hudson Bay Company in 2012, heralding their plans to go full-force into the Canadian market, they bought the property, not the contracts of the people who worked there. This was the first time Target would be responsible for a mass layoff in Canada, the second happened two weeks ago.

We all heard the news: Target Canada is closing up shop and 17 500 people will be out of work very soon. Reaction was swift and varied. Some lamented the loss of a store that was convenient, somewhat affordable and that they had only just discovered. Others blasted Target management for barren shelves, comparing it to a slightly more expensive Zellers with less stuff. A third group was almost gleeful at the prospect of more authentic local businesses taking Target’s place, while still offering condolences for the loss of jobs.

Honestly, I think I took the high road, by making the all-too-obvious pun that no one else seemed to have realized. #punlife #ihadto

target fb 2

But, on reflection, there’s nothing funny about 17 500 people losing their jobs. It’s also not funny that the top managers whose horrible planning caused this fiasco are getting some rather nice severance packages while their former employees won’t be getting anything. It’s pretty much Corporate Failure Recovery 101.

It’s as good a reason as any to abandon the corporate megastore dependence our economy seems to have developed over the past few decades and think local and sustainable. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to be the case and I fear what may come next

Target stores are huge. The likelihood a mall will opt to convert them into smaller spaces for multiple businesses is extremely unlikely.

They’ll probably be looking for tenants able to occupy the same space as one unit. This means huge chains. It appears that Japanese giant Uniqlo will be coming to Canada, but I doubt they’d go for the former Target locations. This means, best-case scenario, Dollaramas too big for their own good, or worst-case scenario…WalMart!

That’s right, the scourge of the Mom and Pop store and the champions of fighting against fair wages south of the border were instrumental in assisting Target’s Canadian catastrophe. They lowered their prices, losing money in the process but also making it impossible for Target to compete. They also offered free delivery for online orders to Canadian customers. Rumour (completely unsubstantiated though completely believable rumour) has it they even bought up significant portions of potential Target inventory just to make life difficult for the competition.

You’d better believe WalMart has their eyes on the former Zellers locations they didn’t gobble up in 2012. Back then a handful of Zellers’ did turn into WalMarts instead of Targets, now I fear the rest will fall as well.

While Zellers may have been a depository of cheap sweatshop-made goods, from what I could tell, they at least treated their domestic employees well. Target was a step down and if Walmart comes in full-force, we will have really gone off the deep end.

Having WalMarts everywhere, though, may just be the solution to the problem of corporate megastores once and for all. Think about it: instead of some watered down Can-Con exploitation or a very confused conglomerate, we’ll have the beast itself in way more places than it was before. WalMart tends to focus on places a little out of the way where they can have huge parking lots and run small enterprises out of business. Some of the current Target locations are centrally located.

As someone once said to me, “George W. Bush was the best recruiting tool the protest movement had in the last 50 years.” Maybe an abundance of WalMarts in urban areas will be the perfect targets (yes, pun intended) for activists and people looking for something close by to boycott.

Looking at the big picture, I can only hope this will spell the end of our dependence on the chain store. On a more personal level, I can only hope that woman I overheard in 2012 found work or is now in happy retirement.

It is an understatement to say that, during this past summer, tensions have been high. The Israeli carpet-bombing of Gaza exacerbated tensions all around the world. The other day, I overheard a conversation, which went a little bit like this: “You’re Jewish?” The answer was “Yes.” “Well you must be a Zionist then?” was the follow-up.

Jewish communities around the world are affected by the actions of the Jewish state. For instance, during the 1950s and 1960s, because of the continuous tension between Arab nations and the new state of Israel, many Jews were forced out of their countries – countries, which they had inhabited for hundreds, if not for thousands of years.

Israel was supposed to be the refuge for the toiled masses of Eastern European Jews escaping the horrors of the Second World War, but from the outset of its creation, Israel came to be identified as the banner carrier, the symbol, and the sole defender of the entire Jewish culture and creed. Thus Zionism, which in itself was a relatively marginalized ideology within Jewish communities up until the end of WWII, became conflated with Judaism as a whole.

Pseudo-intellectual generalizations of the sort, supposedly “common knowledge”, are very slippery slopes indeed. Today the general knowledge — at least based on my few interactions within the past few months — is that all Jews are Zionists. There is quite a stark parallel to be drawn between this intellectual fallacy and the myths, for example the protocols of the elders of Zion, which were at the forefront of anti-Jewish propaganda at the dawn of the 20th Century. Such generalizations were, and still are, the breeding grounds on which fascist, nationalist and xenophobic groups lay their eggs of hate.

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In France, for example, the Front Nationale is trying to create bridges between themselves and the Muslim youth, who are rightfully revolted by the events in Gaza. This is a recurring event throughout Europe in this day and age. The French comedian and political activist Dieudonné and his highly controversial gesture “La Quenelle” are but part of a cultural trend that manifests the rise of a new anti-Jewish sentiment, whose slogan is “Every Jew is a Zionist” and whose fuel is the civilian casualties in Gaza.

Subsequently, anti-Zionism, as a result of these neo-fascist movements, becomes synonymous with anti-Judaism, thus allowing the Israel hawks or the right-wing Jewish diaspora to categorize any criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic, which is a term I prefer not to use, because not all Semites are Jews.

On the one hand, every thing that is Jewish is seen as Zionist, and on the other everything that is anti-Zionist is seen as anti-Jewish. Even left-wing figures have been caught in this dreadful trap. George Galloway, leader of the British Respect Party, was caught equating all Israeli citizens with Zionists; although he must know very well, that there is a strong anti-Zionist intellectual contingent within Israeli academia and Israeli society at large.

Such intellectual shortcuts are dangerous, and there’s only one way to deal with them: going on a journey down memory lane. In most situations, in order to find solutions for the problems of today, we must dig into a past that has been, more often than not, purposefully omitted.

Before Zionism had the prominence and the global notoriety that it now has, it was a marginal ideal within the Eastern European Jewish community. Its main rival and anti-thesis was embodied by the Bund.

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The General Jewish Labor Bund of Lithuania, Poland and Russia was founded in 1897 in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was a socialist labor organization in the vein of the workers’ organizations sprouting-up throughout Europe at the time. Bundism — as it would be called — ideologically differed from other labor organizations, in the sense that it had the specific objective of uniting all of the Jewish workers within the Russian Empire, but its core principals and ideology were still based on the struggle to create an international workers movement that would uproot capitalist exploitation.

Bundism, was thus the nemesis of Zionism, because no dimension of Bundism appealed to any sense of ethnonationalism. The “Bundist” belief was that Judaism could be an internationalist creed, and thus the combination of international socialism and Judaism was a perfect match.

No wonder why, that, today, the Bund is all but forgotten, swiped under the rug. Zionism is a nationalist movement; a movement for the return of the Jewish people to the holy land. Parallels can be drawn between this ethnocentrism, which is at its foundation, and the ethnocentrism that serves as the foundation for the majority, if not the totality, of contemporary Western nationalist movements.

With the mounting xenophobia throughout the world, we are on the brink of a catastrophic head-on collision. Bundism is needed now, more then ever. A strong, inclusive, and tolerant Jewish alternative movement might be the dearly needed vaccination for our world’s predicament; not only for Jews, but for people of all walks of life. It is certainly needed in the current context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the media is constantly saturated with close-minded Zionist rhetoric.

The antidote to dislodging the nationalist fear mongering, and avoiding a deluge of hatred, is going back to the roots of an internationalist interpretation of Judaism.

Honestly, I’m torn.

I believe in solidarity with workers and I applaud protests that go where they’re not supposed to. I’m also not a huge fan of Coderre.

You’d think the sight of a group of protesting firefighters holding a banner bashing the mayor and causing a bit of chaos right in the council chamber of Montreal City Hall would bring me all kinds of joy. Well, it doesn’t.

You’d also think all the right-wing angryphone “Coderre, he’s our man” type comments left on the CJAD Facebook page and other places online would remind me, as they generally do, that I’m on the other side of the fence. Not in this case.

While I support the firefighters, the transit employees and other municipal workers in their fight against the Quebec Government’s Bill 3, there’s another group in their fight that I have trouble supporting on an emotional, visceral level: the police. In particular, the Montreal Police Brotherhood.

When this group isn’t trying to defend officer’s pensions, they’re standing up for officers like those who murdered Freddy Villanueva and countless others. Say what you want about the STM union and their tactics, but at least they’ve never argued for bus drivers to have the right to run over people if colour they don’t like.

city hall protest firefighters
Monday’s City Hall protest (screengrab from CTV raw footage)

You can’t separate the police from this fight, you can’t even separate them from the action on Monday. The last time student protesters went to City Hall, they couldn’t even get up the steps, never mind in the door and into the council chamber.

The only way Monday’s protesters were able to accomplish what they did was through unofficial police support. That’s cheating in my book.

So here we are, we can’t have solidarity with this group of workers who are protesting without having solidarity with the cops as well. This is a bigger dilemma than that time a few years ago when I realized that supporting STM workers meant I also had to support that asshole bus driver on the 17 route who clearly saw me running for the bus, waited until I was almost at the stop and then sped off.

In that moment, standing on the corner, late for family dinner, I forgot my deeply held convictions and only thought about how I could get that one asshole fired. It’s easy to see how people committed to social justice and workers’ rights can have a problem defending the rights of workers who so brazenly defile the rights of others on a regular basis.

Is it right or is it smart to show solidarity with those who clearly don’t show it to you? Can class consciousness include those who those who serve the elites primarily and only acknowledge that injustice exists when it affects them personally? Is being in solidarity with the police kind of like cheering on your high school bully when he scores a touchdown for the school’s football team? Should we ignore who’s involved and focus instead on the big picture?

These are all very good questions and I don’t have an answer for any of them. What I do have is a suggestion for an action that is also a test.

I’d love to see ASSE or another group on the SPVM hitlist organize a solidarity demo against Couillard and Bill 3. Bring back the red squares, maybe use some of the wording from the red squares that currently adorn police cars, don’t follow P6, don’t provide a route and just see what happens.

Best case scenario, this ushers in a new solidarity where cops in future demos start ignoring their commanders and refuse to enforce bullshit laws against those who stood with them. Most likely scenario is the cops either let the march happen or kettle it quickly and hope it doesn’t get much media play.

No matter what happens, though, this would be a chance for activists to truly take the high road while flipping the script on those in power and their enforcers, if only for a bit.

* Top image: Shayne Gryn via Facebook

In the past few weeks the already very publicized loophole of the Foreign Temporary Worker Program (aka FTWP), which was already a hot issue in the past few months, has taken center-stage in Canadian political life. What bothers most is that recently, mainstream media has been paying more attention and putting emphasis on only one aspect of the FTWP: the fact that such a program promotes the employment of foreign workers at the supposed detriment of Canadian workers.

The FTWP is flawed in many ways and I couldn’t agree more with that statement. This being said, it isn’t because of the foreign temporary workers themselves, it’s because of the distinction such a program makes between Canadian workers and their foreign counterparts. But who would expect anything else from a method that derives directly from an agenda of profit over people that wants to pit “Canadian” workers against “foreign” workers in an incessant race to the bottom, a strategy to push down everyone’s wages without any discrimination.

The mainstream media, in many of its reports, still views the FTWP as a solution brought by the Canadian government to regulate the flow of foreign nationals that want to work in Canada for a short period of time. But that’s the hoax, the mirage that has been put forward by the Conservative government.

It’s most certainly very far from the true premise behind the program. Once you understand the FTWP’s underlying purpose, you understand that in the past weeks, Canadian public opinion has fallen into the rhetorical trap laid by the Conservative agenda.

Laid off workers tfwp
Falling for the spin (image: aec-cea.ca)

The FTWP should be the Conservatives’ Achilles’ heel and yet in many ways, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Why? Because the criticism that has been put forward against the loophole prefers to focus on the dichotomy between foreigners and Canadians instead of the fact that workers, no matter what their nationality is, are being exploited, and thus that the struggle of foreign temporary worker is our own.

It’s a very clever, elaborate trap and one that’s almost invisible. It creates labour conditions that only exist for “foreigners” (people that aren’t Canadian) thus the debate will revolve around foreigners taking jobs from Canadians, deflecting attention from the issue of the hideous working conditions that are inflicted upon them, or the fact that multinationals benefit in many ways from foreign labour because it’s cheaper, not only in terms of wages, but also in social expenses.

The Conservatives want us to see things in such a manner because the crude reality is that the FTWP is just another one of their handouts to corporate Canada, and that would be much more damaging to them.

The FTWP could the catalyst for a renewed labor-union movement because it breeds in itself so many of the contradictions inherent in the Conservative agenda. The conditions that foreign temporary workers are living in today are a mirror of what might be to come in the near future for Canadian workers of all stripes and walks of life. In many ways the fight of the foreign temporary workers and the fight of Canadian workers goes hand in hand.

On this 1st of May, a day during which we remember the labor struggles of foregone times, we must renew the struggle for better working conditions, a living wage and full employment. The only way to do that is to build a movement that encompasses all labour on Canadian soil.

This is a struggle that isn’t confined to any specific nationality. All workers of Canada, be they foreign or Canadian citizens, must unite. Today, let us go into the streets and commit to create a society in which workers’ rights are inalienable no matter what your status might be. Let us commit to creating a society in which all workers have equal status and in which workers are always above profit.

A luta continua,

There’s really no other way to put it; Canada Post is being sabotaged. It’s politically expedient for the Tories to do so as recently announced cutbacks to door-to-door mail delivery can be spun as a government effort to modernize an ineffective old crown corporation. Lisa Raitt, the minister responsible for Canada Post, has even gone as far as telling opposition MPs critical of the announced cuts that they need to “get with reality” and then sarcastically welcomed honourable members “to the 21st century.”

The Tories are pitching this as a sensible method to cut costs and return Canada Post to profitability. They further argue that the elimination of mail carriers won’t have any dire effects on Canada Post’s customer service and that community mailboxes are already the norm in most of the country anyways. Further still, the head of Canada Post, a Tory appointee who scrapped previous revenue-generating schemes developed by his Liberal-appointed predecessor, has referred to market research of dubious quality to back up the decision.

It’s ironic. The social media surveys used to justify the government’s position excluded precisely the people who would interact with mail couriers the most. The data’s flawed – Canada Post’s express parcel delivery service is doing just fine.

Moreover, the argument that community mailboxes are already the norm is heavily biased towards those living in small communities and rural areas. Of course door-to-door delivery isn’t practical when neighbours live more than a kilometre away from one another. Cities are a different story altogether. Mail couriers play an important social role in large urban areas. It’s not just outreach to seniors and shut-ins; home mail delivery puts a mass of proud government employees on our city streets throughout the day. Eyes and ears walking past your home while you’re off at work. Call it a kind of social security.

Deepak Chopra

We should question the need of our government agencies and corporations from time to time, and the Conservative argument is an enticing one, no doubt, because it has the appearance of modernity, of cost-effective progress. I would argue it’s the Tory approach to nation-building, but rather than giving us something to work towards, the Harper administration is instead telling us what we no longer need or what appears to be impractical. The promise is paradoxical – economic growth by a thousand social cuts.

But here’s the problem. Cuts don’t lead to growth. Reducing government services serves no one better than before. And waste is almost exclusively gathered at the top, rather than the bottom, of these organizations. It’s not the thousands of unionized jobs that need to be eliminated, it’s corporate-level severance packages and executive compensation schemes for the all-too-often unimaginative and incompetent people chosen by equally unimaginative and incompetent government officials to run our government revenue generators and essential services.

The post office is an essential service, even if less mail is being delivered. If less mail is being delivered then perhaps we don’t need quite as many mail couriers, or perhaps they could work less, but eliminating all home mail delivery (and thousands of jobs) without any plan in place to replace them is so unbelievably careless and unnecessary it leads to believe, sincerely, that we are witnessing an act of sabotage.

Canada Post isn’t failing, it’s being set up to fail.

postal bank canada
Postal banking? (image Mike Palecek via Facebook)

The purported reason for the cuts, that the post office needs to be ‘returned’ to profitability is a bit of a stretch. It recorded 16 years of profitability before recording one of loss in 2011.

The service could afford to cut overhead costs, but could further stand to develop new revenue generation streams.

Again, it’s ironic that Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra once stated that his plan was to develop e-commerce solutions for small business as a new Canada Post business venture, yet scrapped a plan to re-develop postal banking in Canada. Many nations (including the UK, France, Germany, Japan, China, Brazil, Korea etc.) have postal banking services which can serve to generate revenue for the postal system, in addition to providing a kind of ‘no-frills’ banking service for people who, for whatever reason, don’t or can’t use private banking services.

Crucially, postal banking has been used to promote savings among the poor. Instituting a postal banking scheme in this country would be immensely beneficial not only because it would enshrine access to ‘cheap’ banking as an essential service, but would likely further serve to put predatory pay-day loan operations out of business. Who knows, maybe it would serve to get the banks to lower their fees too. A little bit of competition is good for the economy, especially our banking sector.

There are other ways to make the post office more useful to the public and avert the potentially destabilizing effects of eliminating home delivery in urban areas. Why not partner with Service Canada to include passport services at post offices? Why not develop a scheme to share the costs of home delivery with the cities that need the service the most? If one province wants home delivery in its cities and another doesn’t, shouldn’t they each get a chance to negotiate with Canada Post one-on-one?

Unfortunately this isn’t part of the Tory strategy because it’s not congruent with their overall political beliefs. The Conservative Part of Canada and its forebears have followed a strict program designed to eliminate or transfer responsibility of the nation’s essential services, whether via a series of fatal cuts or through privatization.

In their opinion government is completely incapable of running a for-profit company and that such crown corporations only serve to undermine the government’s efforts to eliminate debt and deficit. Thus, since the first efforts in this respect by the Mulroney administration, we’ve lost our national airline, our state oil company, our national aircraft manufacturers, our national railway, our uranium mines and have hacked away mercilessly at just about every other service provided by the federal government – including our military, despite all the rhetoric.

In almost all cases, taxpayer-funded state assets were sold off at a loss with no real return on investment. Worse still, we lost all the intellectual capital that went with it. Today many of these former crowns continue to exist as private entities, but their current success would never have come about if it weren’t for the incredible investment made by so many Liberal governments of the last century.

canadian national railwaysThough these firms continue to contribute to the Canadian economy, profits aren’t returned to the state. We’ve sold off the former assets of our state oil firm to foreign state oil firms, Canadian National Railways is now officially known as CN for marketing purposes in the United States and Air Canada has a near total monopoly on air travel in Canada.

Privatization is always spun as being beneficial to the taxpayer, but winds up hitting the consumer especially hard. It astounds me how often Tories don’t realize taxpayers and consumers are all the same people.

Gutting the state’s ability to sustain essential services and operate an economic foundation of crown corporations has been Tory policy for a very long time, and it contrasts strongly with the economic theories and models put forth by both the NDP and federal Liberals for most of our post-Second World War history. The effects of this policy have only ever been negative. Vital jobs are lost, and the wealth generated by unionized pension plans disappears entirely as it’s not in the private sector’s interest (or ability) to provide anything as competitive in the long-term. Our oil industry isn’t as well regulated, accidents happen and profits go anywhere but here.

In many ways the greatest damage has already been done, and so perhaps this might explain the lack of public outrage at the proposed cuts. We’ve already lost so much of what we invested in, who cares about the post office? We’ve been conditioned into believing the government is incapable of successfully running a business, and yet our economy was considerably stronger, our dollar more valuable and we were far more politically sovereign when our government not only ran multiple, massive crown corporations, but planned and regulated the national economy.

On a closing note, I mentioned earlier that Canada Post provides an unintended social service in that letter carriers provide a kind of a ‘lifeline’ to people living in urban areas who may, for one reason or another, have limited access to the outside world. Letter carriers are responsible government employees with access to trucks and cell phones and they spend most of their time walking around quiet residential areas while residents are off at work.

Their presence alone is enough to deter a thief from committing a B&E. If someone’s calling for help they’ll likely hear it. If they see smoke, they can put in an emergency call and prevent a whole house (or block) from going up in flames. And though the data isn’t available, I wonder how many lost dogs and cats (and even children) have been found by postal workers simply because they happen to be walking the streets of our neighbourhoods.

It’s the kind of responsibility, of going the extra mile, that we associate with government employees. The private sector doesn’t have the same social responsibility.

Consider the Lac Mégantic disaster (or any other recent derailment or pipeline explosion). There’s a reason this didn’t happen nearly as often (or as severely) back when pipelines and the railway was a strategic federal government interest. The Fed paid for inspections, the Fed organized and operated a better delivery system. Its employees were paid to make absolutely sure there would be no fuck-ups and we got precisely what we paid for.

When privatized, the first cuts are always to safety standards and inspections. And when an accident happens, it is the taxpayers who must attend to the bill.

It’s not fair, it’s not right, and the Tories would like you to believe it helps the economy. The announced cuts to Canada Post are unnecessary and overkill considering the nature of the problem and are quite simply a transparent effort to eliminate public sector unions in a misguided sense of ‘getting even’ with people who generally don’t vote Tory. It’s sad, petty and juvenile, and for those reasons an excellent example of the character of our nation’s befuddled government.

You get what you pay for…

A job. So archaic. What is a job? Let us define. Forgive me. A few definitions courtesy of Definition.com:

Job:
A paid position of regular employment
A crime, especially a robbery ?!

Career:
An occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life
Interested in pursuing a profession rather than devoting all her time to child care and housekeeping ?!

Passion:
An intense desire or enthusiasm for something

Vocation:
A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation

Calling:
A strong urge toward a particular way of life or career

Talent:
Natural aptitude or skill

Thank you for reading. Oh, one more definition, this time courtesy of Wikipedia.org:

Industrialisation is the period of social and economic change that transforms a human group from an agrarian society into an industrial one for the purpose of manufacturing. Industrialisation also introduces a sociological attitude change towards our perception of nature.

Where am I going with this? No one, in my assertive opinion, wants a job. I am 35 years old, living in North America and in touch with my social media side. I know what’s happening, who’s doing what and who’s fed up with industrialization’s stubborn vestiges.

We are a generation ready for change. Forgive the cliché. It is true. What happened, the way it happened, why it happened, does not suit us.

Mass production of stuff, the hijacking of natural water sources to create water sold in disposable plastic bottles, pesticide-, hormone-, steroid-, vitamin-pumped produce and animals are not what our parents and grandparents rave about. They have consternation for the life and challenges facing us following decisions that were obeyed, and not halted. Obey authority in all its forms – governmental, religious, institutional, societal – is the eroding governing mentality.

Now, we know. This doesn’t work. However, it almost seems like people aren’t ready for the new, the unexamined. “Well if it’s not capitalism, and it’s not communism, then what is it?! Will we all die?” some chant.

No, we will re-invent together. A lot of ideas are brewing in many places. Just go to any startup festival, or to Notman House on Montreal’s Sherbrooke avenue. These entrepreneurs, many impressively 20 and 30-somethings, are corporate refugees and self-proclaimed proudly unemployable.

This is what I heard over and over at this summer’s gloriously sunny second annual International Startup Festival hosted on the Alexandra Pier at Montreal’s Old Port July 11-13, 2012.

“We are unemployable.” “I am unemployable.” “I started 5 startups. Three failed, but I ain’t stopping.”

This is not undiagnosed craziness. This is entrepreneurship. You start something because you feel like it and because an idea has taken root in your brain and, as entrepreneurs will often say, in your heart too.

An idea is not a harmful thing. Why not dream? Why not try? I started noticing a shift when my friends, one by one, were leaving corporate positions with the 9am to 5pm schedule, a tie and suit dress code, a cubicle seating, a fixed time to eat and a job description that is sometimes respected, sometimes not.

The corporate pick up line no longer works: “Looking for dynamic, innovative, team player with autonomous, driven attitude, ready to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines.

Hmmm, let me jump off a bridge. With a bungee cord of course.

It’s an age where we’re admitting to ourselves and out loud that we do not want this. Don’t try to lure me, big company, with salary, dental and massage insurance and promises of a promotion if I’m good.

We understand that our education, our academic degrees, our world experience, work ethic and our passion and drive are to benefit us. I have a lot to contribute. And not to a company or to a boss who wants my productivity report every week, and not my ideas, my passion and my personal ethics to feed the collective good.

Entrepreneurship is a new breed. Don’t be afraid.

And if you are looking to hook up with the talented and the crazy like you, job boards and online searches, and ancient CV submitting, may not help.

How often do you hear: “I found my job through an acquaintance, my brother-in-law, my cousin, my friend’s roommate, my housekeeper, my boyfriend?”

All these people are contacts you’ve collected on social forums like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. If your entire rollerdex and their friends are at your fingertips, and you know how you can’t stray away from your social news feed, why not capitalize on what’s naturally of interest? People!

Whether you are an entrepreneur, a manager or a recruiter seeking that person who will thrive in your company or whether you know what you excel in and enjoy and are looking for interesting people to excel with, the convenience of using all your contacts to help you find what you’re seeking professionally is out there.

Gotta give props to a Montreal startup that is greatly facilitating professional connections. matchFWD leverages your social media contacts and adds personalized recommendations to bring you to where it’s at. This team of barely 20 and 30-somethings understands that it’s not about finding a job. It’s a fit that we seek.

It took me decades to finally admit to myself that the team is the crucial piece. Aren’t we all like this? You’re not working with a machine, unless you’re a drone operator.

I was happy to hear a university instructor say in class: “If I can give you any true advice: only accept a professional contract when you feel like you could invite this potential client or colleague to your home for dinner.”

I cannot agree more. Why can’t you enjoy the company of someone whom you’re considering working with over dinner? Can we shoot the shit and find intelligent things to say? Shouldn’t this be the ultimate sign of a good interview?

* photos Jeremy Barwick (flickr), icanewfriend.com

Norberto Lopez’ eyes dart nervously out of our tour bus and at the synchronized commotion occurring at Colombia’s only major Pacific Ocean Port, Buenaventura.

The students had been protesting against the privatization of Colombian Universities, and had won – Article 30 had been announced ‘repealed’ earlier that 35C day, so the students were blockading and occupying the only bridge through town in celebration.

The on-site managing-director for a Port Authority that has 144 different operators vying for cargo and commission on a dock notorious worldwide for its narcotics trafficking, Noberto has the right to be tense – with or without the backed-up bridge.

The 5000 port workers who move 1200 containers of cargo per day are not the only contributors to the portside throng. There are truck drivers, stevedores, private security hired by companies and government agents who are in place to check area regulated by the Port Authority for narcotics and smuggling.

Add in the fishermen, women and informal workers from the neighboring barrio of San Jose de Buenaventura, and you have a controlled chaos that may be too large to contain when the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between Colombia, Canada and the US begin requiring larger shipping lanes and port expansion.

Like so many other issues in Colombia, Norberto sees Port Authority issues getting busier and larger as the FTAs begin to have their effects.

“The port will be busier and the port authority will be more important. How can we reduce accidents? How will labour standards be respected?” asks Norberto. “The Port Authority should be in charge of creating regulations – not only enforcing them.”

There are currently no security benefits or pensions for port workers. The Port gets around this labour inconvenience, as do the majority of multi-nationals working in Colombia, by hiring general labour through short 23-day contracts – this also ensures competition for jobs dividing the work force because the worker has no job security beyond the next three weeks or guarantee of contract renewal.

Juan (not his real name), was with us for the entire day. From when we hopped on motorcycle taxis to navigate through the car-jam in the noon day heat, until when we exchanged contact information between our teams in a dimly-lit Buenaventura hotel-room later that evening.

Juan was representing the Union Porturia de Colombia – What he stated to be the ‘true’ Buenaventura port workers’ union.

“Many large companies in Colombia create what they call “unions” and then these are who the companies deal and negotiate with – their own creations and not the workers,” Juan explains. “The Port Authority in Cartagena is the only PA which negotiates directly with its workers.”

What the Workers’ Union would like to see is an occasion to sit down, in a civilized fashion, with both port workers and members of the port authority to come to a working arrangement that would guarantee good lives and outcomes for all.

One important item to be discussed is the infiltration of labour co-operatives into the working pool. Not only do these sub-contractors take an additional fee from the workers’ salaries, these groups hardly, if ever, represent or respect acceptable labour standards.

There are 144 operators organizing at Port Buenaventura because each company sub-contracts their own workers to load and unload within the Port Authority. It has become so convoluted that there are some workers who have been unloading for years at Buenaventura, yet still receive different pay per load depending on which company’s load they are moving.

Both Juan and Norberto feel that there should be only one operator at the Buenaventura Port Authority, to assume all responsibility and standardize the pay rate at the docks.

There is also the problem of racism that needs to be discussed. The current impression in the Afro-Colombian community is that Afro-Colombian port workers, who are local, are being fired and replaced by workers brought from the Colombian interior, who are then paid better salaries and provisions.

Hopefully, these working discussions can translate into labour rights legislation from both the Colombian Congress and Senate – Juan and his union feel that these labour guarantees and protections will be more important now with the FTAs between Colombia and both the US and Canada.

What the Colombian Port Workers’ Union does recognize is that what they are asking for within their specific industry are the same recognitions sought by workers in different industries throughout the country.

Sugar cane cutters, flower growers and pickers, palm oil specialists and port workers all understand that by working together they will strengthen the success of the movement and avoid being part of a divided labour force which weakens the voice of demand.

And you will not be heard in Port Buenaventura, Colombia if you speak with a weak voice.

* Pictures by Tariq Jeeroburkhan, people pictured are not those mentioned in the report

The locked-out Electro-Motive plant in London, Ontario has decided to close the plant permanently. The announcement comes just over a month after Progress Rail decided to lockout its workers citing operating costs as its main motivation.

Progress Rail Services Corp., a subsidiary of U.S. construction equipment conglomerate Caterpillar that owns the Electro-Motive plant had locked out its unionized workers on New Year’s Day. The company demanded that workers take a 52% pay cut along with fewer benefits despite the fact Caterpillar earned record profits last year of over five billion dollars.

The 450 locked out employees naturally protested in anger and found plenty of outside support. The lockout brought upon the biggest protest in London’s history; company personnel alongside the people of London, other union chapters and politicians all voiced their opinion denouncing the lockout, all but the most important voice that is, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper used Electro-Motive as a backdrop in 2008 to promote big tax breaks and incentives for industrial capital investments, he even gave the company a five million dollar tax cut before Caterpillar took over. A clear blow to the Conservative myth that corporate tax cuts create jobs and that free trade will attract job-creating foreign investment.

Harper still refused to get involved in the labour dispute right up until the announced closing and impending move to Indiana, predictable given Harper’s staunch anti-union history. CAW President Ken Lewenza called the decision a “callous move,” and was extremely critical of Ottawa for failing to require that companies commit to Canadian jobs when making corporate takeovers.

Something is clearly wrong when a foreign corporation can swoop in and buy up Canadian companies, lay off their work force and move them at will, especially when the government has given them incentive to stay. “There were particular incentives and advantages offered to this company and the net result is that 450 jobs have been lost,” Liberal MP Ralph Goodale suggested.

No one in their right mind would consent to such a decrease in a person’s standard of living. It was clear Caterpillar wanted Electro-Motive to pack up and leave from the get go. Whether it is by coincidence or design, the move comes as Electro-Motive was set to host a job fair in Muncie, Indiana this past weekend.

Additionally, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill into law last week that effectively bans mandatory union membership. The starting wage for Indiana labourers is expected to be around $13/HR and thanks to the “Right to Work” bill, they’ll have far less bargaining power.

With all the talk throughout the 99% movement about the declining middle class in the last six months, I hope this blatant example of corporate greed continues to garner the attention of the press, politicians and everyday folk. The best thing we can do to honor the 450 people whose lives have been turned upside down and careers flushed down the toilet is to make sure it does not happen again.

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Good Tuesday folks, It’s been a month or so since I’ve written a rant, so I may seem a slight bit rusty at it. Here goes nothing.

The month of June has so far been quite eventful, from doing the spoken-word and visual art shows, along with Car Stories and Infringement Therapy, in the Montreal Infringement Festival this year to getting attacked by a gorilla named Ace at the fringe. Crazy days.

The month of June has also caused me some suffering at the hands of the Federal government and the postal service. Don’t get me wrong, I feel for the postal workers, but they do make twice the most I’ve ever earned by the hour. I wonder if they’re hiring. I had to wait a whole extra week for my EI cheque, and that I was truly unhappy about. In the end, Service Canada allowed me to pick up my cheque at the location nearest my apartment.

To add insult to injury, I had to pay for parking.

I   know that I’m the little guy, but I don’t see unionization as necessarily a good thing. This is because, according to the experiences I’ve had up until now, unions have never been good to me. Usually I get hurt as a third party who isn’t involved, but then, I have also twice worked at jobs where there were unions. I got no protection and was paid very badly and had to pay 4% of my salary in dues, not to mention the ridiculous amount of unpaid overtime. Then they used the “seniority excuse” less than two months later to get rid of me – Without the possibility of EI! -ZERO PROTECTION! I WAS SCREWED!

For this reason I don’t trust unions, as my experiences with them have simply never been fruitful. When I was a student at Concordia, one of the student clubs I was a member of, The Concordia Writer’s Group, got shut down by the student union simply because they could, without any warning. When we came back demanding explanations or answers, they made some nonsensical claim about sending e-mails to nonexistent e-mail boxes.

We only found out about our quashing when we came in for a meeting one day, and the locks had been changed. It took an RCMP officer to demand they let us retrieve our own belongings, and even then they gave us considerable trouble, rushing us and standing in our way. Needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased with the CSU.

Of course, being unemployed doesn’t help at all. As of this week I’m actively looking for work again, but I strongly suspect it will be more of the same bullshit I’ve encountered my whole life. Overly demanding bosses, difficult labours, speeds too fast for me to handle, and very, very low pay. Lots of whip-cracking so that I may give most of my earnings to my landlord, to the phone company, to the power company, and whatever is left to the grocery store. I never seem to be able to earn enough to save anything, and I’m not getting any younger.

* Image: Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, the House of Commons led by Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party passed back-to-work legislation in order to force urban postal workers to return to work. I’m not opposed to back-to-work laws in general; virtually all unionized public workers are susceptible to these types of laws when there is a prolonged failure to reach a bargaining agreement. However, I am a little bitter at the speed and manner with which it was imposed this time around.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers started rotating strikes a couple weeks ago culminating in a one day strike in Montreal and Toronto last week. Canadians in effect had to wait an extra day for their mail. The Canada Post Corporation then decided to lockout all 54,000 urban postal workers (effectively locking out the 21,000 rural workers who were not on strike and still getting paid) in hopes the government would force them back to work. Sure enough within 48 hours the Conservative government tabled legislation to do just that. Given the prospect of a back-to-work bill, Canada Post had no incentive to cut a deal with its workers. For this reason, back-to-work laws are passed only as a last resort.

“It’s an indication of what’s to come for other public service workers who are unionized,” said Deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. “But it’s also a signal from the Conservatives to all employers in a union setting or otherwise that it’s an open bar. They can start going after the acquired rights of their workers.”

A poll of Canadians showed that 70% favoured the back-to-work law; many of these same people were not at all clear on the facts, thanks in large part to the mainstream media. Safety and pensions of new employees were the main sticking points, not wages. Letter carrier wages are in fact on par with those of private companies (UPS, FedEx, etc.). Canada Post can afford it; they have posted profits for the last 15 years even through the most recent recession. Most importantly, the main work stoppage was due to Canada post locking out its employees, not the letter carriers refusing to deliver the mail.

The recent attacks on unions in Canada, Wisconsin and elsewhere by conservative governments come as no surprise; for conservatives, unions are represented by their opposition and are a direct threat to their power. The “Winter of Discontent” in the United Kingdom set up the modern dissatisfaction with unions and led to the election of the most anti-union conservative on record, Margaret Thatcher.

The Baroness Thatcher

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in the U.K. in 1979 there were approximately twelve million unionized workers in the public and private sector. In only a few years of Thatcher’s reign that number was cut in half to six million, reducing the base of the opposition Labour Party and letting the Tories run away with the 1983 election. Economic Nobel laureate Milton Friedman once said that unions keep down the number of jobs, but as Thatcher worked to revamp the union laws unemployment doubled in the country from 1.5 million to 3 million, a figure that dogged Mrs. Thatcher the rest of her time in office.

Unions, public or private, seem to have all the normal traits of human beings. They can be weak, strong, passive or aggressive even sneaky and stupid, but that’s for the union organizations to decide not the government. It only takes one man (or woman) in power to erase decades of progress, the citizens of Wisconsin realized that quickly and revolted almost to the point where the government plan backfired.

We as a people have to open our eyes and pay close attention to our government’s intentions. What may seem to be a quick easy fix from the outside can sometimes hinder our democratic freedoms, and nothing is more important in a democracy than the right to organize.

Which side are you on – Dropkick Murphy’s

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As I write this it is twenty past seven in the morning Friday and the night shift has just ended at the House of Commons. I speak not of the doubtless dedicated cleaning crew, but rather of the night shift of NDP MPs who will, in the words of a poet, “rage against the dying of the light”.

Some hours earlier the NDP caucus began an almost unprecedented filibuster to delay and hopefully defeat the Conservatives scandalous back to work legislation for postal workers. While filibusters, in which outnumbered opponents of a bill take turns speaking for as long as they are allowed in hopes of breaking a government’s resolve, are a relatively commonplace occurrence south of the border they are virtually unheard of up here.
This is both because MPs are limited to twenty-minute speeches, and because our system of government makes them largely ineffective.

But today, on what would have been the last day of the session, Jack Layton led his caucus of 102 MPs into parliament and served notice that they would not be leaving anytime soon. The Conservatives even refused a one-day break to allow Quebec MPs to return to their ridings for St Jean Baptiste, apparently hoping that they would leave anyway and give up on the posties’ cause.

But there they were, all 103 of them, shortly after eight this evening as Jack launched into a marathon speech. I was lucky enough to be in the gallery of the house this evening, joined by dozens of striking posties, NDP staffers and ordinary citizens who recognized the momentous nature of the occasion, and the urgency of this battle.

Veteran Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer would later describe the speech as one of the greatest he has seen in his fourteen years in parliament. Standing for almost an hour without the aid of a cane, Jack transcended himself and was every bit the statesman that Canadians came ever so close to electing Prime Minister.

He spoke of the “fellow” who delivers his mail, and who has developed a friendship with his elderly mother-in-law, of the workers at the sorting station in his riding, so many of whom have braces and injuries. He spoke of his desire to compromise and his willingness to work with the government to craft a bill all parties can live with. He spoke forcefully on the folly of dividing us against ourselves, for are the posties not Canadians like the rest of us?

He decried a crown corporation which has locked out its workers and caused the very situation they now appeal to parliament to legislate away. He spoke of the real crisis of the middle class in this country, of the growing gap between the rich and poor and the incomprehensibility of ever more profitable corporations refusing to provide even such former givens as fair pensions.

At every pause, at every intake of breath, his astonishingly large caucus rose around him as one and applauded with a vigour and sincerity I have never seen. At one point they even broke into the chant of “so-so-so-solidarité” and kept it up for a good minute.

Following in his outsized footsteps, the caucus divided themselves into shifts and vowed to keep debating the resolution for as long as it took to defeat it, or at least buy the posties enough time to negotiate a fair deal. Every six hours those in the chamber would be spelled by a fresh batch of colleagues, ready to rise and raise their voices for our basic rights.

Now I have never hidden my strong ties to the NDP, or my rather unfailing support for the party. But if you ever wondered where my allegiance comes from, it is from moments like tonight.

Supporters of any political party or group can find themselves at times frustrated or angry with a particular decision or policy. I certainly have been with the NDP at some points in my life. What keeps us coming back, what inoculates us against the cynicism and indifference many feel to the political process, is a belief that when push comes to shove we share a core set of values, which our leaders can be counted upon to defend.

Tonight, as the Liberal benches sat virtually empty, the representatives I worked and voted for put it all on the line for people they had never met. As the Conservative propaganda machine was successfully selling the rather preposterous line that this mess is the fault of greedy posties, my MPs were standing for principle and fighting to the bitter end for the rights of ordinary workers like you and I.

That, in a nutshell, is why I vote NDP.

Several excellent summaries of the proposed legislation and the realities of the lockout have been written, which I urge you to read, but allow me to summarize.

The postal workers are not greedy. They started rotating strikes, which did not interrupt mail delivery, to resist management demands that they accept huge concessions while Canada Post continues to be a highly profitable corporation. The most notable of these was a demand that new hires have a defined contribution pension plan, rather than a defined benefit one. This type of pension plan means that dedicated employees who work thirty or more years for the company can be left eating cat food in retirement. A good pension plan is a basic right which we should be fighting to extend to all workers.

The current situation is 100% the fault of the Canada Post Corporation. Canada Post locked out their employees, causing a complete shutdown of mail delivery which had been only marginally delayed by the rotating strikes. The union has offered to return to work without rotating strikes, and Canada Post has refused to end the lockout. The whole thing was a set up for the Conservatives to pass draconian back to work legislation.

Conservative/Canada Post strategy? Send a message. The point of the exercise has been to send a message to unions that if they exercise their charter protected right to bargain collectively and withhold their labour, not only will they be legislated back to work, but terms will be set by the government that are worse than what the employer was offering, as is the case with Canada Post. No employer will have an incentive to make a fair offer and unions will be terrified that if they go on strike they will end up with even less than what was being offered. End result? A downward spiral of working conditions that hurts us all.