What's Left 2015-12-06 Volume 37

According to members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), several post-secondary education institutions in Ontario are putting their most vulnerable workers in the line of fire. These universities, including Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Windsor, and the University of Toronto are engaged in an outsourcing campaign against their custodian workers in an attempt to cut their (already low) wages by up to 40%.

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Universities should create decent jobs, not eliminate them

According to members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), several post-secondary education institutions in Ontario are putting their most vulnerable workers in the line of fire. These universities, including Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Windsor, and the University of Toronto are engaged in an outsourcing campaign against their custodian workers in an attempt to cut their (already low) wages by up to 40%.

Fundamentally, this type of campaign is about replacing valued members of the university community with cheaper labour who aren’t provided with any long-term benefits. These actions hurt both the learning environment and local communities. They reduce the tax base, create hostility between different groups, and lower health and safety standards on campus, negatively impacting the student experience and undermining the mandate and mission of the university. Researchers at these three universities are publishing papers exposing the negative health and safety effects of this outsourcing. Hypocrisy abounds as the university presidents continue to pretend they are concerned for the impacts of precarious employment.

Precarious work is an increasing problem in many cities in Ontario, but Windsor and Waterloo are especially vulnerable. Low wages and the deteriorating quality of jobs contribute to an outward migration of workers.

Windsor, for example, provides a compelling tale. The University of Windsor has 35,000 alumni living in the Windsor-Essex region. The university employs 6,500 people and is the largest employer in the city. For Windsor, there is a measurable impact when custodians making \$18.97 an hour plus benefits are replaced with outside workers being paid only slightly more than minimum wage and without benefits. These jobs are being transformed from long-term decently paying careers to jobs where workers can’t earn a living wage. Even the rather right-wing city council voted to reject the contracting out of the city’s custodians once they understood the broader economic impact on these workers and the community.

As has been seen elsewhere, this web of contracting and subcontracting is what is driving much of the (income) inequality in Western society while undermining functional and sustainable communities. Universities should be setting an example for progressive employment standards, not leading the charge to undermine them.

Web of subcontracting leaves low-wage cleaners exposed


Conflicting numbers on Hydro One sale cast further doubt on Ontario Liberals

In Ontario, the Auditor General’s Report and Hydro One’s numbers on the costs of maintaining transmission infrastructure don’t match. When comparing company documents to the Auditor General’s Report, the \$520M-\$620M being allocated to sustaining Hydro One’s transmission infrastructure is short by about \$280M-\$380M per year. Over the predicted five-year investment period, the company could be short between \$1.4B to \$1.9B.

The Auditor General also outlined that Hydro One has set a very generous expected life of 60 years for major sections of their infrastructure, including transmission lines. This is well beyond the 40-year average the rest of the Canadian industry (both public and private) usually set for infrastructure life.

In addition, the Auditor General pointed to other previously unreported future costs for the company. Its transmission security needs are likely to be more expensive, there remains a large backlog in forestry operations along hydro corridors, and sustainability investments are needed in both distribution assets and transmission assets.

​Taken together, the Auditor seems to suggest that Hydro One could have rather large investment needs that have not been fully disclosed to the ratepayers or the market at the time of the initial public offering. If these investments are not made, reliability and quality of services are both likely to suffer.

All this makes for some difficult decisions for the electricity rate-setting Ontario Energy Board (OEB). The OEB’s mission is to protect ratepayers, while allowing reasonable investment to sustain and maintain infrastructure. However, the Auditor General says Hydro One has been providing “inaccurate” information to the OEB in its filings and not making the investments that previous rate increases were supposed to fund.

A rate increase would mean the province breaking its promise to the people of Ontario that the OEB would be protecting ratepayers and not financing shareholder profit. A reduction in dividends (estimated to be at least 35%) would break a promise to shareholders and also undermine the provincial revenues (one of the main arguments for selling the Hydro One).

The people of Ontario need clarity from the Liberal government on whether these unexpected expenditures will be paid through OEB regulated rate increases or come from revenues (and thus private profits) generated by Hydro One.

Are the New Brunswick Liberals silencing scientists…again?

Dr. Eilish Cleary, the New Brunswick scientist who had been muzzled by the previous Progressive Conservative government due to her research on shale gas, has seemingly been muzzled again. This news comes at a time when she has started to research Irving’s use of the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate is considered “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization and its use has come under increased scrutiny.

The government can deny the real reasons it chose to silence Cleary, but history, timing, and the fact that the scientist has been previously muzzled when it comes to talking about her work would indicate otherwise.

Dr. Eilish Cleary studying glyphosate when put on leave

Solidarity Halifax runs candidate in municipal elections

After four years of anti-capitalist organizing in the Halifax community, Solidarity Halifax has announced it will be running a candidate in the upcoming municipal election. This is a new development for the group composed mostly of workers, students, activists, and others who work together for greater social and economic justice in Halifax.

Halifax community group announces plans to put forth municipal candidate

[[http://solidarityhalifax.ca/2015/11/another-city-is-possible-solidarity-halifax-presents-evan-coole-for-district-8-councillor/][Another City is Possible: Solidarity Halifax presents Evan Coole for District 8 Councillor]]


Celebrating victories for Jeremy Corbyn and the Left

Celebrating victories is not something the Left does very often, in large part because we lose more than we win. However, this week has seen some rather substantial victories that should be celebrated.

On Tuesday, the Labour Party in the United Kingdom won its first by-election under the new socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The local candidate trounced expectations set by corporate and liberal media who hoped for an upset that could justify their negative campaign against Corbyn as being unelectable.

Oldham, a long-time Labour stronghold, was won by a young local councillor from a working-class background with 62% of the vote (10,722 votes). The Corbyn-backed movement Momentum ensured an army of door-to-door volunteers promoting socialist policies.

The win was particularly important in the face of the right-wing of the Labour Party which is using reactionary and undemocratic manoeuvres to undermine Corbyn and the membership.

The other win was a vote by 35,000 Firefighters Brigade union members to rejoin the Labour Party. The firefighters split their historic link with the Labour Party in 2004 after a strike and major disagreements with the Tony Blair government. This move further solidifies working class support for Corbyn.

The division being caused by the reactionary Blairite wing lof the Party was exposed during a “free vote” on whether to support the Conservative’s plan to increase bombing of Syrian communities under control of ISIS. The Labour vote split with the Blairites voting (yet again) for war in the Middle East. Corbyn rightly denounced these MPs, stating that the membership would remember their actions and their rejection of the will of the British people who are opposed to more airstrikes.

Jeremy Corbyn hails Oldham West and Royton by-election victory

Firefighters Lift Corbyn

Self-indulgence or how capitalism shapes us at work

Currently, many suggest that younger workers should just capitulate and take the first employment opportunity that comes along instead of looking for meaningful, self-fulfilling careers. This push stems from a context of continued aggressive expansion of precarious work and the elimination of long-term careers with benefits and pensions.

Liberals (and many in management) are quick to criticize the desire to avoid or quit precarious jobs as a juvenile indulgence, but in most cases it is a natural response terrible working conditions. That “indulgent” struggle to find self-worth is – in its fundamental form – a struggle against the constraints of capitalist conceptions of work (see the writing of Lukacs).

Take the extreme example of quitting. While quitting should not be recommended as the primary solution (as it can be individualist and self-defeating), it should not be rejected as a rational response to a bad employer or to an untenable work environment. Some might argue this is inherently individualistic, but staying in a workplace because you think you have no other options becomes an example of drinking the capitalist KoolAid.

Similar philosophies should be applied to non-precarious jobs in progressive organizations. Quitting one organization to work for another should not be viewed as abandoning the movement, but as a reasonable response to specific working conditions negatively impacting ones ability to contribute to the larger movement. The movement does not benefit from individuals wasting energy in a bureaucratic malaise that could be better utilized elsewhere. For many of those who see themselves as true public servants, staying in one place too long can lead to a cycle of depression, affecting mental and physical health.

In both these contexts, those who quit to expose injustice or corruption are often celebrated. It is inherently understood that sometimes the rejection of conformity and reformism are not just legitimate but important. See the resignations from Health Canada around hormones in milk (Dr. Chopra) or the actions of Edward Snowden. And resignations do not need be dramatic to be justified.

It is not easy for workers to quit, especially if the job market is tight. But, there is value in making these actions felt more deeply in management structures so that changes can be made to benefit those who remain. Sometimes, a dramatic exit is just what is needed.

The Path to Human Development: Capitalism or Socialism?

Signal: a trusted option for trusted communications

Signal is a replacement for text messaging that is free, (mostly) open source, secure, private and intuitive to use. In fact, it is basically a drop-in replacement for the text messaging application on your mobile phone.

As previously detailed in What’s Left, freedom of expression is limited in Canada for employees who use social media and communication in a way that might irk the employer. The easy solution to this (and general government and corporate surveillance) is to use a service that is private and secure. Signal is a partial solution to this.

Signal by Open Whisper Systems