What's Left 2015-05-31 Volume 14

by Editors (What's Left) last modified 2015-06-01T14:44:01-04:00
Justice has been granted to two migrant workers this week who had taken Presteve Foods Limited to court. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that the two Mexican women were exposed to sexual solitation, sexual harassment, discrimination, and a sexually poisoned work environment.

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FEATURE

Eight-year legal battle sees migrant women victorious, compensated

Justice has been granted to two migrant workers this week who had taken Presteve Foods Limited to court. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that the two Mexican women were exposed to sexual solitation, sexual harassment, discrimination, and a sexually poisoned work environment.

The women outlined how the conditions set out by the Temporary Foreign Worker Program left them exposed to mistreatment with no recourse or protection. The case started eight years ago, shortly after the Federal Liberal government introduced the "low skill" pilot project and before the Conservatives introduced the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion. In 2012, a total of 340,000 temporary foreign workers were employed in Canada – an extremely high number that has brought criticism to the program and to Canada's dependence on it.

Regulation is so minimal (thanks to the Conservatives), that Canadian companies are essentially encouraged to lower their labour costs by relying on this low-skilled, foreign workforce. This week's decision should raise concerns that these hundreds of thousands of workers are being employed in conditions that are precarious at best but are too often dangerous and exploitative.

It's important to note that this kind of long, drawn-out case would not be possible without the legal (and financial) support of national unions, in this case Unifor, who carried the case through to victory.

More: Landmark human rights ruling highlights systemic abuse of temporary foreign workers

More: Migrant workers awarded record \$220,000 in sex harassment case

More: CUPE Facts: Temporary Foreign Worker Program

CANADA

Joe Oliver shows his true colours while his party scrambles to hide them

In what is being described as a "slip-up" by the media – but is really just a case of Tories saying what they really think – Finance Minister Joe Oliver stated this week that workers with job security is a drag on economic growth. Following his speech at the G7, the government went into a defensive counterspin, arguing that he was not talking about Canada.

Regardless, when Liberals and Tories talk of "labour market reforms", they are usually referring to reducing the job security, wages and benefits of workers. The problem with this market fundamentalism is that it's been shown to be ineffective over the medium and long term. The ideological approach of prioritizing profits over workers' rights has been shown to increase economic inequality and actually restrain economic growth. When workers are more precarious, they are less secure in their economic situation and, consequently, buy less. At the macro level, this always leads to an economic slow-down.

Canada is experiencing the natural result of this kind of economic policy right now. The country's shift to an economy dependent on resource extraction will inevitably lead to the collapse of economic growth. Far from being the best managers of the economy, Tories are more likely than most to put ideology ahead of evidence.

More: Canadian GDP and domestic demand collapsing isn't a short-term trend

More: Joe Oliver accidentally says what he really thinks

Federal scientist unions attack Ottawa's muzzling of researchers

It takes a lot for rational workers in government research labs to get wound-up about government policy. But government scientists have clearly been pushed too far with the Conservative's ongoing cuts to science funding, and their insistence on ideological policy that ignores years of dedicated and comprehensive research. The continued muzzling of scientists, preventing them from speaking out about these issues and educating the public (who pay for their work), has caused the unions representing these workers to demand the right for their members to speak about their research.

More: Scientist unions call for un-muzzling of public-funded research scientists

Halifax water workers strike for first time since 1945

Unionized workers at the Halifax Water Company are on their first strike since 1945 over pension issues. With growing community support against an employer who cannot seem to understand its own economic reports on their pension plan, CUPE members are fighting for future workers' right to a pension. CUPE has two full-time pension researchers whose main mission is keeping pension plans stable and meeting the needs of their members. The union puts a lot of resources into educating CUPE members and the public so that they understand that pension funds are really just deferred wages gained at the expense of other benefits. Unfortunately, some inexperienced employers think that these funds are bad for their workers and, if they exist, can be used for other things.

The Canadian labour movement has continued to push for pensions for all, not just for its members. Even the Conservatives admitted this week that the Canadian Pension Plan fund is the best place for pensioners to put their retirement savings. CUPE's pension experts, along with other affiliates in the CLC, have pushed for a doubling of the CPP and a more robust pension savings scheme so that the next generation of workers has access to increased retirement security.

The long and the short: employers need to stop blaming pension obligations for mismanagement and governments need to include retirement costs in the broader economic context.

More: Conservative's CPP scheme an ineffective half measure

More: The right to water in Nova Scotia

More: Halifax Water security more combative as management challenges mount

Québec Solidaire takes aim at austerity

The left sovereignist party, Québec Solidaire, met for its 10th annual congress this weekend in Montréal. They invited a young militant from Radical Independence, the grassroots campaign for independence in Scotland. Cat Boyd discussed the need for left parties to work together and participated in a panel on feminist perspectives on austerity. She commented on the recent majority victory of the Conservatives in Britain. "We are very worried. In the last few years, the Tories only implemented around 25% of the austerity measures in their plan; now they will speed things up."

More: Follow #congresQS Twitter

More: Combattre l'austérité par la gauche (francais)

Oil sands firm delays its forecast over new Alberta government

In a rare public relations mistake by a private energy company, Canadian Natural Resources tried to blame the new NDP government in Alberta for delaying its economic spending forecast. The response included dramatic eye-rolls from most of the business press. The NDP's examination of the lax royalties regime in the province should be the least of energy companies’ worries, as even ardent socialist governments wouldn't seek to undermine their main source of economic growth. Energy CEOs dependent on Alberta-based resources should rethink partisan posturing, as they are the only side of that equation that benefits from the cordial relationship with the state.

More: Alberta premier responds after Canadian Natural Resources won't provide spending outlook

Union Research branches branch-out

Union researchers are expanding their reach beyond siloed union websites. More space to discuss policy and provide economic analysis to the broader research community is a welcome development.

The CLC Policy Branch has launched a section of their website with some editorialized analysis. Additionally, union researchers such as Angella MacEwan, Toby Sanger, Graham Cox, Mark Janson, Chris Roberts are also posting their analysis on their own websites. See a small selection below, and stay tuned for more.

More: The gig-economy: Uber good or Uber bad?

More: Parables of privatization: a cautionary tale of two telcos

More: The Diminished Expectations of Age

More: Electricity Privatization: increasing rates worldwide

ELSEWHERE (FRANCE)

Good news: you can’t cut people's water, says high court in France

It seems obvious that water should be considered a human right and companies should not be allowed to block access to it. Just this week, the highest constitutional authority in France validated a 2013 law that banned companies from cutting off water to their customers, regardless of lack of payment or time of year. It was a long fight for right to water advocates who took on Saur, a water company that challenged the law.

In one story of resistance to corporate rules, a man, who used to work for multinational water giant Veolia, was fired for refusing to turn taps off. His comment: "Going to people's home to cut off water, without consideration for all the other life problems they might face, is a job I wasn't able to do."

More: L'interdiction des coupures d'eau validée par le Conseil constitutionnel (français)

More: L'homme qui refusait de couper l'eau aux démunis (français)

French utility EDF seeks to cut workers' 10-week holiday quota

In the 1990s, the Socialist government in France introduced the 35-hour work week to increase participation in the labour market. It is held as a hallmark of pro-worker social democratic reforms and is pointed to by the media and ideologues on the right as the reason for all of France's economic woes.

The reality is that the vast majority of studies – including those from capitalist-supported research groups – have shown that this regulation has had no discernible impact on productivity or the broader economy. In fact, France has higher levels of productivity than most other European countries (including Germany). So solid is the research on the near zero effect of the 35 hour work week, it is not even mentioned in the list of suggested economic reforms for France from recent OECD's pro-austerity report.

So, why has EDF, France's nuclear company, trying to roll-back these reforms, and why is the current Socialist government supporting them? EDF workers had negotiated extra holiday benefits because they work more than 35 hours a week which the company doesn't want to pay for any more. And, now that the neoliberal wing of the party has control, the government is twisting itself into knots to get the support of businesses like EDF.

More: The 35-hour week: Is it really to blame for all France's ills?

Author's "do-tank" project makes waves in France

A call for small-scale local actions is gaining traction in France. Well-known author, film-maker and activist Alexandre Jardin has published a book titled "Let us do it...we've already started". It aims to act as a spoke in the wheel of the right-wing party Front National, which has been gaining in support across the country. It also targets all politics of empty promises, partisanerie, and inaction.

The author's motivation is to fuel local "do-ers", including citizens, activists, artists and even entrepreneurs, to lead real-life projects that move their communities forward for the better. This is in contrast to the "sayers" in the high ranks of mistrusted governments.

Although the "do-tank" (and not "think-tank") seeks to mobilize "civil society", it is meant as a way to rebuild solidarity, involving real people and focusing on the municipal level. At a time when even the supposedly left Parti Socialiste in France is running a painfully centrist program, Jardin's call to action is to build communities and demonstrate what can be done (and won) on the ground.

More: En France, tout commence! (French: Letter from Alexandre Jardin to readers of Le Devoir in Québec)

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