December 14, 2012
Volume 42, No. 44
Commit to Grassroots Organizing, Lewenza Urges
CAW President Ken Lewenza, right, joins retired CAW President Buzz Hargrove, left, and founding CAW President Bob White.
CAW President Ken Lewenza gave a wide ranging opening address to CAW Council, calling on delegates to enter the new union next fall with renewed determination and commitment towards grassroots organizing.
"I see great opportunities with this new union, but they will not be automatic," said Lewenza. He said that one of the most crucial parts of the new union project will be doing outreach among unorganized workers. He encouraged local unions to send full delegations to the founding convention - to be held next Labour Day weekend.
Lewenza reflected on the history of the union and the efforts of local unions to mobilize in many different sectors across the country. Part of his presentation also included a video about founding CAW President Bob White, highlighting a number of successes, challenges and broad social principles highlighted and stressed by White over the years.
Lewenza said that the new union must be a strong force in community mobilizing and in politics, particularly in light of the ongoing attack by right wing politicians - like Tim Hudak in Ontario, Brad Wall in Saskatchewan and Christy Clark in B.C. Lewenza called such politicians anti-worker, anti-children, anti-women and only acting in the interest of the corporate sector. Hudak and Wall in particular are attempting to remove the Rand Formula, which would grossly undercut the work of unions.
"When you crush the labour movement, the corporate community makes profits at record levels - but on the backs of citizens," said Lewenza. "It is the labour movement that takes workers out of poverty."
Lewenza said that the economy has been structured to keep workers feeling ever more insecure -with high levels of unemployment, particularly among young workers who have been living through chronically high joblessness for the last three years. "Our kids cannot get jobs today that are not precarious in nature."
Lewenza said that providing good pensions, like an expanded Canada Pension Plan, is an excellent way to ease senior workers into retirement and open up jobs for younger workers.
Lewenza addressed the considerable challenges in bargaining over the past year and going into 2013. The recent set of auto negotiations were a major focus for the union. He said the union was faced with the issue that not one of the three Detroit auto companies wanted to lead in negotiations. The union then made the decision to strike all three companies if necessary, a move that set negotiations rolling at Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.
He also referenced the recent Aerospace Review, which made a number of key recommendations around industry-specific policies and development strategies and the need for government support for building up the aerospace sector.
Lewenza committed to working closely with the auto parts sector of the union to secure work and resist downward pressure. He recognized key rounds of negotiations at auto parts companies such as Benteler, Wescast, Lear Whitby and CPK (formerly Guelph Products).
Lewenza also commended the bargaining successes at the shipyards in Nova Scotia and at McMaster University. He lauded the work of the southern Ontario hospitals who conducted joint bargaining for the first time, increasing clout and capacity.
He raised concerns about the ongoing negotiations at Coast Mountain Bus in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia. Lewenza suggested that the lack of government support for transit is causing significant problems in urban centres for transit users and at the bargaining table. One of the outstanding issues is the purchase of buses made in China, as opposed to the current Canadian-CAW made buses.
Lewenza saved his most scathing comments for Private Members Bill C-377, which is being sold by the Conservative Party as an initiative to increase union transparency. "It isn't about union transparency and accountability, instead the goal is to build cynicism among union members and get rid of the Rand Formula." Lewenza called the bill deeply hypocritical because the same lens is not being turned on any other entity such as business associations or the right wing Fraser Institute - only the labour movement.
Lewenza said that many of the world's problems are based on class with huge numbers of people being excluded from gainful employment and access to democratic structures and institutions. He urged delegates to get involved in organizing and mobilizing around issues in their communities.
Austerity a False Solution to Economic Crisis
Right wing governments calling for increased austerity are proposing a false solution to the economic crisis - a false solution that will unjustly tighten the belts of workers, the middle class, the unemployed and many others who didn't cause the crisis, CAW Economist Jim Stanford says.
In a presentation to CAW Council on the ongoing world-wide economic crisis, austerity, and the fight-back by working people, Stanford stressed it's important to understand the crisis was caused by a speculative bubble in U.S. housing in 2008 and other games played by the wealthy in "global financial casinos," stock markets and other financial institutions.
He said deficits around the globe didn't cause the crisis, but instead the economic crisis caused these government deficits. Stanford said plans to slash public programs, public sector jobs and further cut corporate taxes will not solve deficits. Instead, austerity will only make it worse.
"The books are not balanced because of underlying problems that governments have not attempted to solve," Stanford said. In fact, many right wing governments around the globe and in Canada are using the false solution of deficit reduction to achieve cutbacks they and their corporate backers wanted to achieve anyway - a version of the "Shock Doctrine" attack used by right wing governments and corporations on working people, which was outlined by Canadian author Naomi Klein.
Stanford said it's important to remember Canada's taxes are low and falling and that fair taxes are the best way to pay for public services that enhance the quality of life. Ensuring that our economy is producing good quality jobs means that workers will be able to pay taxes that will reduce the deficit and produce a stronger overall economy, he said.
On average, public programs (or the social wage) add 37 per cent to the standard of living of Canadians. He said three quarters of all Canadians pay less tax than they receive back.
"We can pay off the deficit simply by putting Canadians back to work.then we can pay for our public services," Stanford said.
Around the globe, Stanford said in nations where unions are strong public programs are larger, stronger and most effective. At the same time taxes are higher, but the public service benefits are huge.
Austerity is a false solution to a crisis created by private sector capitalism, Stanford said.
Delegate after delegate spoke out against government plans for increased austerity and public sector cutbacks. They approved a resolution calling on CAW locals to fight austerity, public service cutbacks, attacks on public sector workers, unions and pensions.
"Austerity is not the answer to our economic and fiscal problems," the resolution states. "It will only make them worse. Paying fair taxes to support quality public services is part of living in a decent society."
To view Jim Stanford's power point presentation, please visit: http://www.caw.ca/en/11752.htm
Fighting Back Against Bill C-377
CAW President Ken Lewenza blasted the Harper government for pushing ahead with Bill C-377 at a time when food inspectors are being laid off, vital Coast Guard communications stations and many, many other public services are being slashed.
He said the legislation will bring with it significant costs to the federal government to establish and run the structures each year needed to record and publish onerous details on union finances. He said this is something which makes no sense at a time when there is a 31 per cent increase in the number of Canadians who need food banks.
Lewenza said this private members bill isn't really about transparency but is instead an attack on the labour movement in Canada that will serve as a basis for further ongoing attacks on unions and the labour movement, including renewed assaults on the Rand Formula.
The Bill was approved in the House of Commons December 12 by a vote of 147 to 135 with five Conservatives voting against it and 13 other Conservatives absent. Although the vast majority of NDP and Liberals attended and voted no, some NDP and Liberal MPs were absent.
"It's about destroying the labour movement and it's about destroying the middle class," said Lewenza. He said it's all part of Stephen Harper's National Citizens Coalition agenda. Harper was president of the right-wing NCC lobby group from 1998 to 2002 prior to becoming Prime Minister.
Prior to the vote on December 11, CAW activists, members and leadership visited a number of Conservative MP's constituency offices including Tory MPs in Oshawa, Windsor, London, Mississauga-Brampton, Sault Ste. Marie, Kitchener-Waterloo, Halton and Elmwood-Transcona in Manitoba.
Council delegates slammed the Conservative government's attack on the labour movement through Bill C-377, which imposes enormous administrative burdens on national unions and local unions to report finances.
They echoed concerns that Bill C-377 is really about union busting and they outlined further concerns about the fact pro-business organizations and right wing lobby groups like Merit Canada or the National Citizens Coalition aren't required to meet the same financial reporting standards.
Lewenza stressed the CAW is a democratic organization that is already transparent and accountable. The CAW's audited financial statements are distributed semi-annually to all CAW locals and all CAW Council delegates. In addition, they are available on request to any CAW member. Labour boards in most Canadian jurisdictions also already require unions' audited financial statements to be accessible to any union member.
Some key facts on Bill C-377:
. The Canada Revenue Agency estimates Bill C-377 will cost more than $20 million to establish and nearly $ 4 million every year to operate;
. The Canadian Bar Association says it is unconstitutional and Canada's Privacy Commissioner says it "is a serious breach of privacy" for individual Canadians and commercial businesses.
Speak Out Against Union Busting "Right to Work" Proposals
Protestors gather outside the Michigan state legislature in Lansing on December 11 to protest right-to-work legislation.
CAW locals and activists must fight back against proposals for union busting "right-to-work" laws in several Canadian jurisdictions that threaten to undermine the foundations of the labour movement, CAW President Ken Lewenza urged.
CAW Council delegates voted unanimously to mobilize against these proposals which would threaten the Rand Formula that CAW members first fought for in 1945-46.
Chief Justice Ivan Rand of the Supreme Court of Canada included a provision in his arbitration decision of a dispute between Ford and the United Auto Workers - Canada in 1945 that required employers to deduct union dues from all employees in a bargaining unit.
Today anti-union, Conservative politicians such as Brad Wall in Saskatchewan, Conservative leader Tim Hudak in Ontario and Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre in the federal jurisdiction are proposing American style "right to work" laws, mirroring what has now happened in 24 U.S. states.
Rick Snyder, the Republican Governor of Michigan, pushed through "right to work" legislation in the state December 11, despite massive opposition by Michigan Democrats, the labour movement and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Lewenza and other CAW activists took part in a massive rally outside the Michigan state capital buildings in Lansing on December 11.
CAW leaders travel to Lansing, Michigan to show solidarity with U.S. workers against 'right to work' legislation.
L-R: CAW Local 200 President Chris Taylor, UAW President Bob King, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson with CAW President Ken Lewenza, CAW Local 707 President Gary Beck and CAW Local 444 President Dino Chiodo.
Lewenza blasted Governor Synder and the Republicans who pushed through "right-to-work" laws. In Canada he said the Conservatives are following the same anti-union, anti-worker, anti-job and anti-job security agenda. He urged the labour movement to fight back.
"It is the labour movement that raises workers out of poverty. The labour movement established the middle class which allowed us to buy the homes, the cars and the consumer goods that build our communities," Lewenza told Council.
Improving Health and Safety an Important Force in Organizing
Susan Markus (right), this year's Bud Jimmerfield award winner with Sari Sairanen, CAW Health and Safety Director, and CAW President Ken Lewenza.
Health and safety concerns were a major driver of the unionization effort at her workplace, this year's Bud Jimmerfield award winner, Susan Markus, told CAW Council delegates.
Markus is a long serving health and safety and workers' compensation representative at Johnson Controls in Tillsonburg, Ontario, represented by CAW Local 1859.
Prior to her workplace being organized, Markus was already active on the joint health and safety committee, challenging the employer to provide safer and healthier working conditions.
Markus said that the changes she and her co-workers saw in their workplace after unionizing were undeniable. "People stood up and exercised their rights," said Markus. Before joining the union, complaints about exposure to toxic chemicals fell on deaf ears at the Ministry of Labour.
After joining the CAW over 15 years ago, Markus continued to share her commitment and passion for improving working people's lives. Markus is a regular CAW discussion leader and is an instructor for the Worker Health & Safety Center. In addition, Markus helped develop and write a number of CAW courses including the recent "Health and Safety for Women" course.
"Take a look at the chemicals in the work that you're doing, the work that's going on around you and the work that's happening in your community," urged Markus, who is also a cancer survivor.
The award, named in recognition of the late Bud Jimmerfield, CAW Local 89 president, is made each year at the CAW's December Council meeting. Bud was a tireless health, safety and environment and workers' compensation activist.
Bud was a machinist for 31 years and was exposed every working day to cancer causing metalworking fluids at an auto parts plant in Amherstburg, Ontario. He contracted esophageal cancer in 1996 and died 18 months later at age 49.
Justice for Aboriginal Women and their Families
Sheila North-Wilson addresses CAW Council.
Photo by Nick Shearman, CAW Local 112
Outspoken advocate and chief communications officer for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Sheila North-Wilson urged CAW delegates to push for justice and equal treatment of aboriginal women and their families.
North-Wilson, who previously worked as a CBC reporter where she won a Gemini Award, has spent years advocating on behalf of missing and murdered aboriginal women and their families. She has met numerous families who have lost their mothers, daughters, partners, sisters, and loved ones and these heartbreaking interactions have left a strong impression on her.
"The common thread of all the stories is that police didn't act immediately," said North-Wilson. She said this is starting to change, but progress is very slow. She compared the treatment of the mother of an 18-year-old aboriginal woman who had gone missing in Winnipeg to the mother of a Caucasian young woman who went missing three weeks later. In the first case, the mother was told her daughter was probably out binge drinking and would be home soon. When two weeks passed and her daughter did not return, still police didn't stir. In the other instance, the police were compassionate and helpful to the mother of the missing girl, assisting every step of the way.
"Why is this happening in Canada, one of the richest nations in the world?" asked North-Wilson. "We are the First Nations of this country, we deserve respect. Our families deserve respect."
North-Wilson grew up in the rural location of Bunibonibee Cree Nation (Oxford House) and moved to Winnipeg as a 15-year-old to attend school. She told delegates that this is the reality for many aboriginal youth, who must leave their home communities to continue their education and are vulnerable to abuse, homelessness, falling behind in school and substance use.
Her speech touched a chord with delegates.
Dave Ladouceur, Marine Workers Federation Local 1 Sergeant at Arms, also of Aboriginal heritage, called the issue a national problem. "We have to speak out against this travesty of government inaction towards its indigenous people."
CAW Local 1106 Vice President and National Executive Board member Ruth Pryce said that North-Wilson's presentation was painful to hear, to think of the parents who don't know where their daughters are, children who don't know the whereabouts of their mothers. "When you don't know where your mother, sister or daughter is and it seems like no-one cares - how fair is that? We are all one humanity and should be treated equally."
CAW Local 2002 Atlantic Region Vice President Cheryl Robinson and chair of the CAW Council Women's Committee called on all local union leaders and members in the room to send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding a national inquiry and a framework to end violence against Aboriginal women. She also encouraged members to press their MP, MPP, MLA and city councillors.
To sign the petition calling for a national inquiry, please visit:
Support for Food Banks and Women's Shelters
CAW Council delegates endorsed donations to support 46 food banks across Canada in December and for 50 women's shelters across Canada in March.
CAW Council and the Social Justice Fund will donate $165,000 to support the 46 food banks this month, while CAW Council and the Social Justice Fund will make an annual donation of $100,000 to 50 women's shelters.
CAW President Ken Lewenza said on top of these donations CAW local unions across the country are having workplace gate collections, and fundraisers to provide gifts during the holidays for families who cannot afford to buy them.
He urged delegates to provide whatever support they could to those who have been "left behind by the economic system."
"Can you imagine in 2013, when the corporate community has $600 billion in cash in their bank accounts, that trade union leaders have to throw a couple of bucks in a basket, or go and adopt a family or provide food for those that can't provide it for themselves," Lewenza asked. "Then this same corporate sector is asking for tax breaks again."
"They say they are saving money in the interests of jobs. It's not in the interests of jobs. It's not in the interests of our nation."
Government Must Prioritize Chronic Youth Unemployment
CAW President Ken Lewenza called a modest drop in youth unemployment last month a positive sign, but urged government to prioritize tackling chronic joblessness among young workers.
Lewenza was responding to the November Labour Force Survey results released December 7 by Statistics Canada that showed a drop in youth unemployment from 14.7 per cent to 14 per cent.
Lewenza said that although the drop in youth unemployment is encouraging, the rate still stands stubbornly high at nearly double the national average of 7.2 per cent.
"The last three years have demonstrated that without action, this problem of youth unemployment will not improve," said Lewenza.
"Young workers are being left behind in our economy and this will have serious ramifications for years to come," said Lewenza. "Governments at all levels must develop strategies alongside industry and unions to take on chronically high levels of youth unemployment. Young workers are among the best educated at any time in our national history - but job prospects are insufferably poor."
"We need a national good jobs strategy for young workers," Lewenza said.
Auto Campaign Continues into New Year
The Re-think Canada's Auto Industry campaign, kicked off in April, will continue into the New Year with renewed objectives.
The three key areas will be: the need to maintain a manufacturing footprint in Canada; the necessity of stopping free trade deals with Europe, Korea and Japan (which would devastate the auto industry and key sectors of the economy; and preserving employment lands for manufacturing plants in local and provincial zoning policies.
"We came out of bargaining with our head held high," said CAW President Ken Lewenza. "But ultimately, we need better industrial policies in this country. We are simply asking government to do what every other country is doing and apply best practices."
Lewenza urged the union to stand in solidarity with Korean auto worker unions who are trying to obtain a fair share of the successful Korean auto industry.
Lear Whitby plant chair Scott Bateman, whose workplace was recently on strike, encouraged members to have their friends and family members sign the pledge over the holidays. "This is about having good jobs in our communities," said Bateman.
Lewenza also urged local unions to continue getting the Good Jobs pledges signed and sent in.
The Good Jobs pledge can be downloaded at: www.rethinktheeconomy.ca/
NHLPA's Don Fehr Speaks at CAW Council
NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr addresses delegates to CAW Council.
The solution to the extended lock-out by NHL owners is to keep working at the bargaining process to "hopefully find a way through the thicket of issues," NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr told CAW Council delegates.
Fehr outlined the difficult history of contract talks between the 750 member players of the National Hockey League Players Association and NHL owners, including three lock-outs over the last 20 years.
He said these lock outs have come no matter what economic circumstance the league is in and the fact there is no outsourcing problem, because there is no other major professional hockey league in North America these players could move to.
Fehr said when he came out of retirement to take the job as executive director of the NHLPA, the players made it clear they wanted to rebuild the Players Association and support it as an organization of which they can be proud.
Fehr said it's critical to trust the membership, tell them the truth and involve them in the bargaining process.
While there are a handful of athletes at this level with such high skills and talent they would get to the top anyway, the vast majority have to work incredibly hard for many years in an environment that provides little job security in the traditional sense.
"They get there because they have a work ethic almost not to be believed," Fehr said. These players must out work, out hussle and out think the opposition, Fehr said.
To move the Players' Association ahead, the key is to support these members who work so hard. The NHLPA, as a result, is committed to regular communication with its members and allowing players to attend any of its bargaining meetings.
CAW President Ken Lewenza introduced Fehr and Montreal Canadiens player Chris Campoli as well as several NHLPA staff to delegates, who provided several standing ovations.
Lewenza urged NHL owners to recognize the impact of the lock-out on the players, their families, small businesses dependent on the NHL, as well as the millions of hockey fans in Canada and the United States including adoring minor hockey players who look up to NHL players as heroes.
He asked the owners to bring the pride of hockey back to Canada and to treat the players with respect. Lewenza said in many ways the dispute between players and the NHL is similar to other labour struggles like the lock-out at Caterpillar in London or the recent strike at Wescast auto parts.
"The bosses think they have it all their way," Lewenza said. "Players are being treated with disrespect." He said one step is to respect the elected leadership of the players. He reminded delegates the players are people who have sacrificed enormous time and injuries to themselves just to do their jobs.
He said these professional players have the same anxieties as other workers and just want to go to work.
"I want to say to Canadians today we must rally around these players, they have the right to bargain," Lewenza said. He said in Canada these hockey players are often the pride of the nation.
"I have never walked into an NHL arena and ran over to the owner's box to look at the owner," Lewenza said to loud applause.
Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal Presentation
CAW National President Ken Lewenza receives the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from Windsor-Tecumseh MP Joe Comartin.
Windsor- Tecumseh MP Joe Comartin presented CAW National President Ken Lewenza with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contributions to Canadian society, including on the issues of human and labour rights.
In a surprise visit to CAW Council MP Comartin congratulated Lewenza for his efforts to raise the standards of living for people across the country and for being an outspoken human rights advocate particularly on issues of poverty, women's equality, homophobia and racism.
In receiving the award, Lewenza said that he accepted it with great humility and appreciation towards the Windsor Essex community and the CAW and labour movement more broadly. He said he was accepting it on behalf of the whole union.
Lewenza urged union members to continue the fight to improve the standard of living for all.