May 2014 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

The CBC's slow death

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CBC sadness.jpg

The latest round of cuts at the CBC will see 657 jobs lost over the next two years. A once-proud institution, one that has brought Canadians together as surely as the Canadian Pacific Railway did back in 1885, is once again paying the price for its independence from government and corporations.

There is nothing new in this—the worst cuts to the CBC—33% of its budget—were actually made under Liberal PM Jean Chrétien. But Harper has been doing his share of hacking away, and there has been a nearly steady decline of funding under the Conservatives.

A Conservative-dominated Senate Committee (eight Conservatives, two Liberals) is supposedly beginning a study of “challenges faced by the CBC.” But according to Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the public-interest group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, at least one Conservative Senator appears to have made up his mind already. “I am not sure that I support giving them funding,” said Senator Don Plett to Morrison, a witness at a Committee hearing. Plett was the founding President of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Slow starvation,” was the way one commentator put it. Killing the CBC outright would carry obvious political risks, but letting it wither away into irrelevance by means of a succession of cuts draws attention away from the government. Regional and local programming, for example, will suffer as a result of the latest blow. The CBC’s ten-minute daily news broadcast to the North is gone. There will be fewer live concerts. 40% of CBC sports staff are being let go.

Meanwhile, according to a Nanos poll last year, Canadians want their CBC, including 57% of Conservative Party supporters who would maintain or increase its budget. But no one up there in the government appears to be listening. Small wonder, perhaps: overseeing the cuts is a Board of Directors of whom 12 members are Harper appointees, and nine are Conservative Party donors—including the current President, Hubert Lacroix, who had no previous senior-level experience in either management or broadcasting when he was appointed. One doesn’t have to be cynical to suggest that the organization now seems set up to fail.

CBC’s visionary mandate remains, one of distinctively Canadian programming in English and French that reflects our country, its diverse regions, and its multicultural and multiracial character.

One might well ask, and many Canadians are, how this mandate can be fulfilled with a seemingly endless succession of deep cuts to the CBC’s core programming. The current layoffs will also see many younger, more Internet-savvy employees leave the CBC, severely hampering its efforts to move forward into the digital age. Before our very eyes, a major Canadian cultural institution is being torn down, brick by brick by brick—like our once-proud postal service that has linked Canadians from coast to coast to coast. What are we going to do about it?


The Harper government’s Temporary Foreign Worker program is now being targeted by the Harper government. Minister of Employment Jason Kenney, who’s been running the thing for the past six years, says he is shocked—shocked—to discover that employers have been taking advantage of a program designed for them to take advantage of.

He’s so upset, we’re told, that he’s ordered a moratorium on TFW hiring in the food services sector. He’s even had a sit-down with labour and business folks and promised some reforms, maybe establishing a wage floor for TFWs and abolishing the program in areas of high unemployment.

Of course, all this came right after stories in the media of burger joints and pizza parlours booting their Canadian workers and replacing them with cheap imports, who can be counted upon not to assert their rights for fear of being sent back home.

But Kenney still thinks the abuse-ridden program is just fine overall. In a recent outburst on Twitter, he even suggested that the TFW program was a path to Canadian citizenship, and hotly denied that the program was anti-immigrant.

Well, let the facts speak for themselves. Unlike immigrants, migrant workers can be sent to their country of origin anytime, and can legally work here for only four years. By 2008, the number of TFWs had exceeded the number of admitted immigrants in that year. By 2012 there were 338,189 TFWs in the country, but only 257,515 new permanent residents. So much for Kenney’s boast that, since 2006, 38,000 TFWs have been admitted to permanent residency—that’s a small drop in a very large bucket.

And does anyone seriously think that the abuses have been confined to fast-food places? Bank workers have been, and are likely still being, replaced by TFW imports. Canadian miners in BC discovered in 2012 that fluent Mandarin Chinese had become a job requirement. Helicopter pilots are losing their jobs to imported workers making half their wages. Workers in the oil industry has been replaced as well. In Alberta, employers don’t even have to advertise jobs locally before sending for workers from outside the country.

Once intended to provide employers with highly specialized workers with skills unavailable here, it was Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who first expanded the scope of the TFW program. Then Kenney basically threw open the doors, allowing a flood of workers into Canada to fill alleged labour and skills shortages for which little evidence exists. The TFW program has driven up unemployment in BC and Alberta, and a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office suggests that the program may be having that same effect right across the country.

Surely at this point no one should be fooled.

The TFW program is no more and no less than an imported cheap labour pool. It’s no surprise that outfits like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business love it. The CFIB rushed into print, in fact, to denounce Kenney’s food services moratorium, claiming it was “unfair.”

No worker, foreign or domestic, is winning here. The imported ones frequently pay labour recruiters thousands of dollars for the opportunity to work in Canada, even at McJobs—and they’re too often subjected to gross exploitation. Canadian workers, meanwhile, face rising unemployment and downward pressure on wages.

All those new jobs being created by our government? Three-quarters of them between 2008 and 2011 went to TFWs. And young people entering the job market, already badly affected by the TFW program, are now facing a new threat: the International Experience Canada program, which will import 20,000 young workers from abroad to find jobs here. (TFW safeguards, slippery as they are, don’t even exist for the IEC program—they can be hired without government approval at any wage an employer chooses to pay.)

The Harper government, in short, has been running a pretty sweet arrangement for greedy employers for years now. Its expressions of concern when caught at it ring rather hollow. Neither the Conservatives nor the business sector they represent are about to give up a good thing because of a few scandals. Covered with band-aids though it might be, the TFW program will continue to lurch along the cheap labour road unless it is stopped in its tracks. And, as a country, we’ll all be the poorer for it.

[Photo credit: Della Rollins/Globe & Mail]




« Le temps du changement est arrivé, nous en sommes à un moment historique », affirme le syndicaliste de renom Hassan Yussuff dans une lettre ouverte aux syndicalistes en appui à sa candidature à la présidence du Congrès canadien du travail.

Une majorité des délégués au congrès du CTC, qui s'est tenu la semaine dernière, sont d'accord avec lui. Hassan Yussuff est le nouveau dirigeant du CTC. C'est une première à deux égards : victoire d'un officiel du CTC contre le président sortant et accession d'une personne de couleur à la présidence.

Lors du congrès qui vient tout juste de se conclure, un message très clair a été lancé : nous tournons en rond depuis trop longtemps. Et même, nous reculons. Nous devons procéder à une autocritique sévère et sans complaisance. Disons-le clairement : nous avons été mis au pied du mur par les gouvernements, les employeurs, les lobbyistes antisyndicaux et les médias.

Hassan Yussuff est le premier à dire que son élection ne changera rien en soi. Mais cette élection exprime une volonté puissante au sein du mouvement syndicaliste de changer de tactique et d'adopter une stratégie plus efficace, centrée sur les membres, où tous auront leur place. Nombreux sont ceux et celles qui embrassent sa vision militante. Ensemble, nous pouvons la transformer en réalité.

Il n'y a pas de temps à perdre.

Voyons un peu ce qui nous confronte. Dans le secteur fédéral, le gouvernement Harper a présenté une panoplie de projets de loi antisyndicaux qui s'en prennent à la négociation collective, au droit de refuser du travail dangereux, à nos congés de maladie et, plus récemment, à notre régime de retraite. Les gouvernements provinciaux s'y sont mis, eux aussi, en passant des lois antisyndicales si extrêmes que les tribunaux ont dû s'en mêler.

Dans le secteur privé, encouragé par l'idéologie antisyndicale du gouvernement, des employeurs cupides ont profité pleinement du Programme des travailleurs étrangers temporaires pour outrepasser les règles régissant les salaires et les avantages sociaux versés aux travailleurs canadiens. Il y a de plus en plus de ces systèmes à deux vitesses qui maintiennent les jeunes travailleurs dans la pauvreté, car ils ne gagneront jamais autant que les plus âgés pour un travail pourtant égal. Le travail précaire, c'est-à-dire à temps partiel ou à forfait, représente 95 % des emplois créés l'an passé.

Il n'y a pas de compétition pour la dernière place, nous sommes tous tirés vers le bas.

Hassan Yussuff nous met tous au défi de croire en nous-mêmes. Il y a bel et bien une alternative à l'austérité et à un monde où la prochaine génération sera pour la première fois de l'histoire moins bien nantie que la précédente.

Mais pour arriver à cette alternative, il ne faut pas s'en tenir aux belles paroles. Nous pouvons frapper du poing sur la table autant que nous voudrons, toute cette énergie sera vaine tant que nous ne la consacrerons pas à mobiliser nos membres et à renforcer nos sections locales. Nous devons aller au-delà des conseils du travail de district, qui rassemblent les militants de la base provenant de nombreux syndicats. Nous devons aussi jouer un rôle plus visible au sein de nos communautés. Enfin, nous devons continuer de tendre la main aux femmes, aux travailleurs de couleur, aux membres de la communauté GLBT et à ceux et celles qui ont un handicap et qui continuent de demander l'égalité. Sans oublier les travailleurs et travailleuses qui ne sont toujours pas syndiqués.

Hassan Yussuff s'apprête à livrer un combat féroce. Il croit fermement en une organisation où tous ont leur place. Il croit au respect de toutes les familles de travailleurs et de travailleuses au pays. Ce respect, il l'exigera des gouvernements et des employeurs. Nous devrions faire de même et nous montrer déterminés et solidaires.

« J'haïs les maudits syndicats », affirme Tim Hudak, qui espère devenir premier ministre de l'Ontario. Qu'un politicien ose dire une chose pareille... Voilà qui résume bien notre situation. Aussitôt qu'il a prêté serment, Hassan Yussuf s'en est pris à Tim Hudak. Et ce n'est qu'un début.

Un nouveau dirigeant, une nouvelle énergie, et la promesse d'un renouveau syndical. En fait, pas si nouveau, car c'est ainsi qu'est né le mouvement syndical. Mais il s'agit tout de même d'un changement important. Nous permettra-t-il d'avancer? Avec l'élection d'Hassan Yussuff, à mon avis, il y a de fortes chances pour que nous avancions à grands pas. Le reste est entre nos mains.

[Photo : S. Jelly]


“The time to make change, the time to make history is now,” said veteran labour activist Hassan Yussuff, in an open letter to the labour movement supporting his run for President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

A majority of delegates at last week’s CLC Convention agreed. Brother Hassan now leads the Congress. He is the first person in the history of the CLC to run against an incumbent president and win. And he is the first person of colour to hold the top job.

The message from the just-concluded Convention was clear: we’ve been spinning our wheels for too long. In fact, we’ve actually been pushed steadily backwards for quite some time. We need to take a hard, honest look at ourselves, and not be afraid to be self-critical. Our bluff, to be blunt, is being called—by governments, by employers, by professional anti-union lobbyists, by media commentators.

Brother Hassan will be the first to tell you that the election of one person won’t change anything by itself. But that election expresses a strong feeling within the labour movement that we need different tactics, a new inclusive strategy, a tougher, member-based approach. His activist vision, in other words, is shared by many—and together, we have the power to turn it into reality.

But there’s no time to lose.

Look what we’re up against. In the federal sector, we’ve seen a barrage of anti-labour legislation from the Harper government. They’ve gutted collective bargaining, pretty much done away with the right to refuse dangerous work, gone after our sick leave, and are now taking aim at pensions. Provincial governments have followed suit, passing anti-worker laws so extreme that the courts have had to step in.

In the private sector, encouraged by the government’s anti-labour ideology, greedy employers have taken full advantage of the Temporary Foreign Worker program to undercut the wages and benefits of Canadian workers. Two-tier wage systems, under which younger workers will never make as much as older ones doing the same job, are becoming more common. “Precarious work”—part-time and contract employment—accounted for 95% of last year’s new jobs.

There is no “race to the bottom,” folks. We’re all being pushed to the bottom.

But Brother Hassan has challenged every one of us to believe in ourselves again. There is an alternative to “austerity,” to a world where the next generation of working people, for the first time in living memory, will be worse off than their parents.

We aren’t going to get there, though, just by having our leaders talk tough. We can bang the table all we want, but without energized members in strong Locals, this sounds hollower by the day. We need far more involvement in District Labour Councils, which bring together grassroots activists from many unions to work in solidarity. We should be playing a much more visible role in our communities. Finally, we must continue to reach out to women, to workers of colour, to the GLBT community and to people with disabilities, all still fighting for equality—and to those working men and women who do not have unions to fight for their rights.

Brother Hassan is in the thick of this fight. He stands for inclusion. He stands for respect for every single working family in Canada, and he will demand it from governments and employers. So should the rest of us, determined and united.

“I hate all f—-ing unions,” says Tim Hudak, who hopes to become the next Premier of Ontario. That any politician would dare to say such a thing tells us everything we need to know about the situation we’re in. Brother Hassan went after Hudak almost as soon as he was sworn in. But that’s only the first of many battles ahead of us.

We have new leadership, new energy and the promise of a new unionism. (Well, not all that new, really: it’s the original approach that gave birth to unions in the first place.) A major shift has just taken place. Can we begin to move forward at last? The election of Hassan Yussuff tells me we’ve got a good shot at it. But the rest is up to us.

[Photo credit: S. Jelly]

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