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September 20, 2018

2018 Quebec Election

Workers Speak Out to Defend Their Rights and the Rights of All


Contingent from ABI smelter in Bécancour, Quebec, participates in rally outside so-called
Leaders' Debate in Montreal, September 13, 2018.

Aluminum Smelter Workers Continue to Demand Company
Resume Negotiations

What Health Care Workers Have to Say
Working Together to Reverse the Situation in Health Care for the
Well-Being of All - Nathalie Savard, President, Union of Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses and Inhalotherapists of Northeastern Quebec
For the Recognition of Occupational Disease for Firefighters - Chris Ross, President, Montreal Firefighters Association
Liquor Control Board Workers Defend Their Jobs and Working Conditions
No Way Will We Let the Liquor Control Board Be Privatized! - Éric Forget,
Vice-President, Store Grievances and Labour Relations, Syndicat des
employé(e)s de magasins et de bureaux de la SAQ

Municipal Workers Fight for Their Rights
The Plunder of Our Resources - Normand Fournier

Casino Workers' Strike Continues in BC
Workers Fight for Improved Wages and Working Conditions - Brian Sproule

Quebec Workers Speak Out in 2018 Election to Defend Their Rights
and the Rights of All

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ABI workers at Montreal rally, September 13, 2018.

The 1,300 locked-out workers at the ABI smelter in Bécancour, Quebec are amongst the workers making their voice heard during the Quebec election. At the demonstration which preceded the so-called leaders' debate in Montreal on September 13, Clément Masse, President of USW Local 9700 representing the ABI workers, called for government intervention to force Alcoa and Rio Tinto owners to negotiate an acceptable deal for workers. He called for the end of the "force majeure" clause in the hydro-electric agreement between the owners, the government and Hydro-Québec. According to this clause, a lockout is a "force majeure" that releases Alcoa-Rio Tinto from its obligations to pay for the block of energy reserved for it at preferential rates. Quebeckers, through Hydro-Québec, Massé said, have lost almost $150 million to date because of this agreement.

On September 6, the United Steelworkers' Quebec leadership and United Steelworkers' International Vice-President met with Alcoa's leading executives in Pittsburgh. United Steelworkers' Quebec Director Alain Croteau said that possible solutions to the current impasse were discussed.

The impasse is due to the outright refusal of the Alcoa-Rio Tinto cartel, which owns the Bécancour aluminum smelter, to discuss with the workers in order to reach an agreement acceptable to them. It insists on extorting concessions from them. It has withdrawn its December 2017 offer, which the workers had rejected but were willing to consider as a starting point for discussion. Alcoa-Rio Tinto locked out the workers on January 11, and has since added the demand for a 20 per cent cut in unionized jobs. The workers and the union rejected that demand as totally unacceptable.

Clément Masse (in front of banner), President, USW Local 9700, at September 13, 2018 protest.

ABI workers are calling for a resumption of negotiations on a basis they deem acceptable. "We are ready to negotiate, but we are not running after anyone," Masse told the on-line newspaper Chantier politique. "The employer knows our position and knows how to reach us. They know we are ready to negotiate on the basis of the December offer. They have come with a new demand and cannot expect negotiations to move forward if that new demand is on the table. Meanwhile, workers' morale is good. We continue to receive support from workers in many sectors, including financial support, and support will increase in the coming weeks."

(Photos: Chantier politique, D. Mallette)

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What Health Care Workers Have to Say

Health care workers participate in protest at "leaders" debate in Montreal, September 13, 2018.

At the demonstration on September 13 outside the Radio-Canada building where, in the evening, the so-called Leaders' Debate was taking place, Fédération de la santé du Québec (FSQ) President Claire Montour took a firm stand against the election promises being made during the campaign. They have nothing to do with remedying the damage done as a result of the drastic cuts made in health care by various governments, she said. It is irresponsible to make promises without immediately improving the working conditions of health care workers, she stated. The privatization of health care and cuts have seriously deteriorated the conditions in the health care establishments, she said.

The neo-liberal direction of the economy, accompanied by privatization and its inhumane management was not addressed during the leaders' "debate," which was utterly cynical and degenerated into a brawl. The neglect of our seniors and people who require healing and care was reduced to a fight between the Liberal leader and the leader of the Coalition avenir Québec which is vying to take over the government. They did not even acknowledge the workers.

(Photos: CSQ)

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Working Together to Reverse the Situation in
Health Care for the Well-Being of All

The situation we are experiencing could be characterized as the wrecking of our health care system in remote regions. The population of the North Shore and of Northern Quebec has lost a lot, especially those living in the most remote communities. The smaller villages have lost many services. Staff working at service points in these regions feel abandoned. They feel that they are not delivering the care that the population should be receiving.

Our greatest loss has been with respect to the working conditions required for the delivery of health care. There is a big shortage of personnel. It is difficult to recruit and bring people in due to the conditions they must work in. Whether in Northern Quebec, James Bay or the North Shore, conditions have never been so difficult for the staff, nurses, auxiliary nurses and respiratory therapists who deliver services to the people. As a result of the staffing shortage, people are faced with employers telling them they must work more mandatory overtime or else there will be a breakdown in service resulting in people not receiving the required care, and they will have to be transported elsewhere. For example in Northern Quebec, in obstetrics, where staff must have solid working experience, a breakdown in services almost occurred. The same thing happened in intensive care in Sept-Îles, which is on the verge of needing life support. We have been feeling the impacts of the cuts and budgetary constraints imposed by the Liberal government, especially over the summer.

An election campaign has been launched with promises of investments in health care, education and childcare services, in particular by the Liberals as it is they who were in power. However, this is money that was cut over the last four years, resulting in the erosion of the services that we provide. It is an insult to the intelligence of the people of the north to be told that now education or health care will be taken care of. Over the past seven years alone, those who work in the field have been let go and direct cuts have been made in services to the people. Each year we find ourselves in a deficit. As a result of the Balanced Budget Act, health care facilities must finish their year with a zero deficit. Every year we find ourselves in a deficit of between five and six million dollars which we must recuperate from upcoming budgets. We have recurring deficits and are underfunded.

Over the years, in order to change the situation, we have concentrated a lot of our efforts on mobilizing our members. The strength of a union lies with its members. We have 1,250 members and when we denounce something it must be all 1,250 members. We have been speaking out in the media to inform the people about what is taking place. We have been involved in a lot of work on-site to have our collective agreements respected. We've held political meetings with MNAs asking that they put pressure on the government. We have done work with the Centrale des syndicats du Québec and the Quebec Health Federation (FSQ). We have lodged organizational mistreatment complaints with various authorities. This was a first in Quebec. A law has been in place in Quebec for a year that says that employers must equip themselves with a policy to fight against the mistreatment of the most vulnerable. We have asserted that there should be no mistreatment, however our employers, as a result of a lack of resources and poor work organization, portray the care we provide as inadequate. We are talking about organizational mistreatment, caused by cuts, staffing shortages, personnel who are not being replaced, poor work organization. We have tried to get as many allies as possible through our attendance or rallies during health facility executive board meetings.

The people of Quebec must establish a government that believes in the public health care and education systems, with Health and Education Ministers who believe in the public system and in the personnel who provide care and services. In health care, in order to take care of patients, the personnel who provide the service must themselves be in good health. Personnel must be taken care of. Investments must be made in our health services. We are ready to work to improve ourselves, however everyone must be working in the same direction. The situation must be corrected and reversed, with the correction lying in the organization of work and in budgetary reinvestment in health care facilities. We have a serious problem of lack of personnel in our region. We should be able to attract people and keep those we have at present.

We need a government that listens and will ensure that together we are able to reverse the situation for the well-being of all. We need people to take care of the health care system, not make decisions based on getting re-elected. That's the worst thing.

Health care staff must be provided good working conditions, in an environment where it is possible to work as a team, to work together, to speak with one another, to draw up our health care plans. In other words, we must be able to do the work we have been trained to do well.

(Chantier politique)

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For the Recognition of Occupational Disease
for Firefighters

The issue of occupational disease of firefighters is at the forefront of our work. There are two elements. The first is the existence of the disease. The second is its recognition as an occupational disease. Quebec is the only province, other than Prince Edward Island, where there is no presumptive disability legislation in place that recognizes occupational disease for firefighters. There is talk of various cancers such as lung, brain, bladder cancer, cardiac disease, etc. Generally speaking, a cardiac arrest at a fire in Montreal, or in Quebec, is not considered a work accident. A firefighter who suffers a cardiac arrest while fighting a fire will have her/his file rejected by the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST).

After we exerted pressure, the only thing Quebec put in place in 2016 was an administrative policy that recognizes seven types of cancer. It is not a law adopted by the National Assembly, but a CNESST policy. When it comes to administrative policies, the burden of proof lies with the worker. He must show his illness is work-related.

Our struggle has two components. At bare minimum we want to improve the administrative list which, we acknowledge, provides a better chance for our members to get compensation -- to be able to fight for their lives instead of having to fight for their jobs. Secondly, the fight to obtain presumptive disability legislation in support of Quebec firefighters is a mid-to-long-term battle. The burden of proof must be placed on the employer. The worker has neither the time nor the energy to go before the Administrative Tribunal to make costly challenges to obtain fair compensation.

Our occupational diseases are more and more serious. Today 90 per cent of products used in buildings are synthetic. When there is a fire, we are dealing with chemical products that burn and produce smoke and fumes that are more toxic than in the past. After 20-30 years of exposure, problems begin to appear. Over the last three years, 19 of our firefighters have died of occupational diseases. That figure is higher than over the prior thirty years.

We are fighting for these changes so that all Quebec firefighters are able to benefit from them.

(Chantier politique. Photo: ADPM)

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Liquor Control Board Workers Defend Their
Jobs and Working Conditions

On September 9 and 10, some 5,500 Quebec Liquor Control Board (SAQ) workers staged two new strike days to demand that negotiations be unblocked so that a satisfactory agreement is arrived at, that immediately ends their precarious working conditions.

On September 10, demonstrations were organized in the streets of Montreal and Quebec City, as well as in other cities across Quebec. This was the fourth strike day out of a total of six that SAQ unionized workers voted for in June. Over the past 20 months, they have been trying to negotiate an acceptable collective agreement that reduces the rampant job insecurity they experience.

Over 70 per cent of SAQ unionized members are part-time employees with precarious conditions, such as schedules communicated to them at the last minute. They often work very few hours per week. Rather than addressing that insecurity, employer proposals include the demand for more mobility and so-called flexibility, in particular more weekend work.

To justify its refusal to negotiate and its demands for further job insecurity, the SAQ is hiding behind the Quebec government's "financial framework." Each time SAQ workers demand to change their situation, they are told that if they persist in fighting for what is theirs by right, they are headed for disaster, as the government will use this as a pretext to privatize the SAQ.

Unionized employees are rejecting such blackmail and threats and are demanding working conditions that allow them to live with dignity.

(Photo: CSN)

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No Way Will We Let the Liquor
Control Board Be Privatized!

Striking SAQ workers in Estrie, September 9, 2018.

The threat to privatize the Quebec Liquor Control Board (SAQ) constantly looms over us. Premier Philippe Couillard has said he favours market liberalization and ordered a study in that regard in July with the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The SAQ hired the same firm in 2008 to carry out a study on resource optimization. During the 2010 negotiations, the SAQ came to the bargaining table with demands based on that study.

We have noticed that during the present negotiations, the employer began with demands for a reduction in full-time jobs. This was to lay the groundwork for market liberalization. They tried to negotiate an agreement that would reduce personnel at the stores. For the time being they have dropped some of their demands, however the threat of privatization continues to loom over us, alongside the Liberal government's support for market liberalization and the report it commissioned. We are waiting to read the report. We don't know if the Liberals are going to release it during the election. As for Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), it openly supports the privatization of the SAQ.

Privatization of the SAQ would result in a reduction in the number of outlets, however other businesses would have the right to open stores to compete with the SAQ. A reduction in the number of outlets would result in a massive loss of jobs among our part-time, as well as full-time, unionized workers. Workers hired in private stores would be given wages and working conditions inferior to ours. There would be an erosion in conditions within the sector.

Why would one want to impoverish workers and put them in an even more precarious situation? In addition, the Quebec government would be depriving itself of a large source of income, as the SAQ pays it over one billion dollars in dividends. Why would the Quebec government deprive itself of such funds, only to hand them over to the private sector? Not only does it make no sense, it is irresponsible.

(Chantier politique. Photo: CSN)

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Municipal Workers Fight for Their Rights

Quebec's municipal workers continue to affirm their rights which governments at every level are trampling. They are upholding their dignity as workers and human beings by pointing out they provide the services all members of the society depend upon. They point out that municipal workers produce immense value for the society. Their just claim on that value in the form of wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions must be recognized and guaranteed. Their right to a decisive say in determining that claim must also be recognized and guaranteed.

The Quebec government and various municipal governments in the service of private interests follow the neo-liberal mantra that cities must be hubs to attract private monopoly investment. In order for this to happen, they say, an ever-greater share of the wealth produced by the workers must be transferred into the coffers of large private interests. These private interests that play a decisive role are not necessarily Québécois or even Canadian. They are often large global corporations or companies based in other countries that exercise their power here through supranational free trade agreements that place our public services up for auction. As a means of serving that anti-social aim, rather than negotiating the wages and working conditions with the workers through their union, detrimental working conditions are imposed and municipal jobs are outsourced which further erodes working conditions and provides inferior services. The privatization of services or inferior pension plans have become a new normal.

Municipal workers are waging a determined struggle against state attacks to defend their rights and dignity, as well as services. For example, they oppose the theft of their pension plans by the Couillard government, which passed a law in late 2014 that virtually removed pension plans from what workers are able to negotiate. The law increased workers' contributions to the plans and forced workers to pay for past pension plan deficits even though it was the municipalities that had failed to contribute the required amounts. It also eliminated any automatic indexation of retirees' pensions. Municipal workers filed a lawsuit that is ongoing against the theft of their pensions.

These are election issues, the workers point out but the electoral system is designed to block them from having a say on the future direction of Quebec.

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The Plunder of Our Resources

One of the most serious issues facing the Quebec people in this election is their lack of control over the economy. Past and present governments have handed over all of the mineral resources found on Quebec's territory to the international oligopolies. They have done so without consulting and obtaining the consent of Quebeckers and the communities involved, as well as in complete negation of the hereditary rights of the indigenous peoples.

Even today, the Mining Act is based on free access to land for mining exploration on a first-come, first-served basis. It maintains the mining companies' power to expropriate the people. The Act does not recognize that it is the people who own the natural resources. It merely states that the people must obtain their share of the exploration and development of the resources and, in essence, reduces that right to one of obtaining royalties that the mining companies pay to the public treasury.

In fact, of all the new value produced by mine workers, very little remains in communities or is the subject of a government claim. Aside from salaries and benefits, there is the claim of governments in royalties and mining taxes, however these are minimal and are kept shrouded in secrecy by the government. The fact remains that a very large part of the new value created by mine workers does not remain in the community to serve the diversified, multifaceted development of the local economy. That value is taken from the people and goes into the coffers of private oligopolies.

Based on data compiled by the newspaper Le Devoir, from figures provided by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, mining companies have paid one billion dollars in royalties since 2009, while the value of the ores extracted from the ground has exceeded $54 billion (estimated projected market price value). The mining companies themselves provide the data on their production, and the number of exemptions to their royalties and taxes is reputed to be staggering.

In addition, governments are increasing their pay-the-rich schemes for large mining companies, in particular by providing infrastructure such as roads, through subsidies, government expertise, and so on.

The lives of workers and communities are constantly disrupted by recurring crises in the sector. To divert attention from the need to establish the people's control over natural and mineral resources as a whole, the ruling elite presents crises as natural phenomena, such as earthquakes. In fact, the rivalry of mining oligopolies for profit and domination plays a direct role in such crises and upheavals. Notably, oligopolies such as Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton or Arcelor Mittal use their empire to inundate markets with their iron production to drive down prices and take out competitors, then use their own wrecking activities to demand concessions from workers, communities and the state.

In 2014, the financial oligarchs who control U.S. monopoly Cliffs Resources decided to end their activities in Canada. They shut down the Wabush mine in Labrador, eliminating 400 jobs in Labrador and a hundred more on Quebec's North Shore, causing serious damage to the local economy. They then closed down the Bloom Lake mine on the North Shore, eliminating 500 jobs in one fell swoop, again devastating the community. They had already caused a lot of damage by basing production entirely on workers having to commute back and forth (Fly in -- Fly Out), which is in no way conducive to building a local economy. They then received court support to put themselves under bankruptcy protection through the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. They used the police powers of the CCAA to sharply reduce the pensions and retirement benefits of hundreds of Wabush workers and retirees in Labrador and Quebec. They did so at a time when workers and their spouses needed them the most, as they are getting older and are suffering the impacts of a lifetime spent at the mine. Only because of the determined struggle of former workers and retirees were they recently successful in recovering some of that money.

The workers of this country have a duty to end the control and exploration of mining resources for the benefit of the global financial oligarchy, which creates so many problems for them and for the local and national economy. They will have to act in their own name because the electoral system hands over power to party governments which condone sell-out to private, mostly foreign, interests.

Information on Quebec's Mining Industry

The mining industry occupies an important place in the economy of many regions, such as Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Côte-Nord and Nord-du-Québec. It forms the basis of the economic and social life of the population in a number of cities.

In 2015, approximately 45,000 jobs were linked to the mining sector. About 15,000 of those jobs were concentrated in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and over 5,500 on the Côte-Nord and Nord-du-Québec. The salary mass represented by these jobs was about $1.6 billion.

In 2015, the mining sector accounted for 1.4 per cent of Quebec's GDP, however it represented approximately 17 per cent of that of the Côte-Nord and 22 per cent of that of Nord-du-Québec.

In 2016, there were 23 mines operating in Quebec. That number dropped to 19 in 2017.

The main metal ores extracted in Quebec are gold, iron, copper, zinc, cobalt and nickel. Non-metallic "industrial" minerals used in various products and industrial applications, such as salt, graphite, ilmenite and peat are also mined. In Quebec rare metals recognized as strategic (particularly the aerospace sector) and high-tech, such as lithium, niobium and rare earth metals, are also extracted.

Some of the largest mining and metallurgical oligopolies are active in Quebec's mining sector, including Rio Tinto, Arcelor Mittal and Glencore. According to official data from the Quebec Institute of Statistics, in 2016, 42.8 per cent of investments related to the development of mining facilities were under the control of foreign companies whose head offices are located in the United States, Canada, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Great Britain, France, Germany and China.

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Casino Workers' Strike Continues in BC

Workers Fight for Improved Wages and
Working Conditions

Casino workers picket line, July 4, 2018, at Playtime Casino in Kelowna.

Seven hundred striking casino workers are defending themselves with honour as they battle for improved wages. On strike for over two months, the service workers in the BC Okanagan cities of Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton, as well as Kamloops in the Thompson region to the northwest, are determined to defend their dignity with the signing of a collective agreement acceptable to themselves that lifts them up towards a Canadian standard. Their employer, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, refuses to acknowledge their right to an income that affords the workers a measure of stability, security and dignity in life.

The workers, members of the BC Government and Service Employees Union, walked off the job and set up picket lines on June 29 after mediated talks went nowhere in the face of the employer's intransigence. The union published an open letter from the workers on August 3. The letter reveals that three-quarters of the workers, some with ten or more years service, make minimum or barely above minimum wages ($12-13 per hour), while survival wages in the two regions are estimated at $17-18 per hour and much higher to achieve a Canadian standard. The insulting wage offer by the company only matches legislated increases to the minimum wage.

Gateway admits that while the casinos are open, the food and beverage outlets are not operational for lack of customers. Meanwhile, the monopoly media have attacked the workers to lower the workers' morale by repeating company slanders that the workers are greedy with wages inflated through tips, which only front line workers receive. The media have also published anonymous attacks claiming casino workers should be "happy with what they have got" and that they are 'lucky to have jobs." The anti-worker media campaign has been accompanied with various acts of hooliganism against the picket lines with the union reporting two picketers hit by speeding cars forcing their way through the strikers, who have the legal right to inform all who want to cross of their struggle.

The workers express their individual and collective determination to fight on, as that is the only way they can defend their dignity and improve their lives in the here and now. They have asked community members to respect their picket lines during the strike and rally behind their just cause. Current and retired working people throughout the region should actively intervene on behalf of the workers on the picket line and elsewhere within the community. It brings no honour to the people of BC that workers have incomes well below what it takes for a Canadian standard of living. All out to support the Casino workers on strike!

Casino Workers in Coquitlam Agree to First Contract
After Ten-Week Strike

Picket line at Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam, May 11, 2018

Four hundred workers, on strike for ten weeks against Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam in the Lower Mainland, have returned to work after voting to accept a first contract. The collective agreement provides for immediate wage increases as well as annual increases that will "set a new standard for the industry" according to the union. A key demand of the workers for respect at work has been addressed by a provision in the contract for an independent investigation into complaints of workplace harassment by company officials.

The Coquitlam workers report that the widespread support they received from the community greatly encouraged them to continue their struggle for a contract acceptable to a majority of their members. This included the honking of horns and waving by passing motorists as well as customers turning around after talking to strikers, which resulted in nearly empty parking lots during the strike.

(Photos: BCGEU, Zahra)

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