Thursday, 22 July 2010

Summertime and the Blogging is ...

Well it's summertime for the Fifth Column and the blog posts are becoming sporadic as I get busy with travel and other activities. However I do have a few blog posts floating around in my head so I do hope to be posting again soon.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Workers Win (Local 6500 vs VALE INCO)

They say nobody wins in a strike and certainly after a year the workers will never regain the income they lost and the company will never regain it's lost production, and in this case the extra expenses incurred on scabs and security to pretend they were operating normally.

But we have to look a lot further than that in this case, to the objectives of both sides, to declare a winner.

The objective of the Brazilian based VALE was to bring their Sudbury operations in line with their operations in third world developing countries, by dictating rather than negotiating a concessions only contract, and in the process break the workers union.

They clearly failed in that goal. Although it took a year long strike they were finally forced to negotiate and realize that Sudbury is not Brazil or Indonesia. The workers proved their solidarity ending their strike stronger than before and a whole new cadre of union activists were created.

The workers struck for a "fair deal" and negotiated a contract that included some gains and was a far cry from the original dictated terms of the company. The deal included cost of living increases to keep up with inflation as well as additional increases raising their real incomes. It did include some changes to the bonus system but much less than originally proposed, and while it included a new pension system for new hires it was much improved from the original proposal, and there were also improvements to the pension plan for current employees. On top of that was a signing bonus and substantial early retirement incentives to avoid layoffs. It is an agreement that while clearly not a "good deal", under the circumstances can be called a "fair deal".

It was unfortunate that it took a year long strike, with it's subsequent loss of production, to teach VALE that it has to respect their Sudbury workforce and negotiate with them rather than dictate to them, if they expect to operate in this country.

And the workers, and their union, now stronger than ever, have five years to prepare and save up for the next round of negotiations where they can build on the gains in this contract. Hopefully VALE will have learned their lesson and it will not require another year long strike before they start to negotiate. There may even be hope that a new respectful relationship with their Sudbury workers can be built during these five years.

The Fifth Column again congratulates the members of Local 6500 on their solidarity.

An Activist's Viewpoint

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Congratulations Brothers and Sisters

Congratulations to Local 6500 on Your Solidarity - One Year Stronger
Sudbury, Port Colborne – United Steelworkers (USW) members in Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ont., voted today to end their year-long strike against mining giant Vale, approving a new collective agreement.

USW Local 6500 members in Sudbury voted 75% in favour of the new contract, while Local 6200 members in Port Colborne ratified the deal by a 74% margin.

“Our members have spoken and I believe everyone respects the decisions they have made in extremely difficult circumstances,” said Wayne Fraser, the USW’s District Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

“We congratulate our members for the determination, spirit and solidarity they demonstrated over the last year in their unprecedented struggle against this huge multinational corporation,” said USW Local 6200 President Wayne Rae.

“We also extend our sincere appreciation to our community for its tremendous support throughout the last year and to the countless people, unions and other groups around the world who demonstrated incredible international solidarity with our members,” said John Fera, President of USW Local 6500.

Highlights of the new collective agreement, which runs until May 31, 2015, include:

- Across-the-board, hourly wage increases with cost-of-living increases each of the five years. Thus, bringing the wage hike to between $2.25 and $2.50 an hour over the life of the agreement.

- Improvements to the existing Defined Benefit Pension Plan increasing to $41,400 per year, with cost-of-living indexing for life, along with life-time health care benefits.

- A Defined Contribution Pension Plan for new hires that provides for Company contributions equal to 8% of employees’ regular basic earnings. As well, employees will be able to make additional contributions ranging from 2% to 6% of regular earnings, with matching contributions from the Company subject to certain limits. The new plan also will include Long Term Disability coverage for employees.

- As a result of sustained, hard-fought negotiations, the nickel bonus program will allow employees to earn up to $15,000 annually in addition to regular earnings.

“For the last 12 months our members have stood together in the face of incredible adversity,” Fraser said. “They demonstrated tremendous character and they can hold their heads high as they return to work.”

“As our brothers in Voisey’s Bay NLF head into negotiations, our members in Sudbury and Port Colborne will remain in solidarity with them as they continue to fight for the fair deal they deserve,” said Fraser.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

City Considering SLAPP against Terry Fox Road Extension Opponents

In a break with city policy, Ottawa's city solicitor is recommending the city try to intimidate the opponents of the Terry Fox Drive extension into dropping their legal action against the city.

As the Ottawa Citizen reports:

The fight over the Terry Fox Drive extension could come with a $50,000 legal bill, city solicitor Rick O’Connor said Tuesday.

And the group of people who want to stop the $47.7-million roadway should be ordered to put up the cash before their case goes ahead, O’Connor told members of city council’s corporate services committee.

“We would be asking the court for this particular group to put money into the court to be set aside in the case that we win and that we’re entitled to our legal costs at the end of the day,” he explained. “If we are successful on a motion for security for costs, we’d be looking for this corporation to set aside approximately $40,000 or $50,000.”

The corporation, South March Highlands Carp River Conservation Inc., is taking the city to court next Tuesday in a bid to stop the Terry Fox Drive extension, a four-kilometre road being built through the ecologically sensitive South March Highlands in northern Kanata.

The group will ask the judge for an injunction, which would put an immediate stop to construction, pending a judicial review of whether the city broke the law in going ahead with the roadway without an updated environmental assessment.

The City of Ottawa has a policy not to ask for court costs from community groups that undertake litigation in the public interest. However, O’Connor said that South March Highlands Carp River Conservation Inc. does not meet the definition of a community group, having incorporated just three weeks before the lawsuit was filed.

“Clearly they initiated the incorporation solely to protect themselves … and they should know that they can’t hide behind the incorporation if, at the end of the day, we are entitled to have our costs,” he said.

Eric Gillespie, the lawyer for South March Highlands Carp River Conservation Inc., said it is the legal arm of a coalition that represents several community groups, some of which have long fought for conservation in the area.

“The City of Ottawa has a clear policy to not seek costs from community organizations. As a result, a request of that nature is very surprising and would seem very inappropriate,” he said.
This is clearly an attempt by the City to use the SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) tactic against a citizens group concerned about the environment and the ecological integrity of the South March Highlands to prevent them from acting in the public interest. This is a tactic that Environmental Defence and more than 60 Ontario groups are calling on the province to pass legislation protecting public interest groups from, and it is a tactic that we certainly do not expect representatives of the public to employ.

Considering the city policy to play fast and loose with federal and provincial environmental laws, as well as ignoring it's own demographic data, all in pursuit of free federal money, when it comes to this project, perhaps we should not be surprised by this latest proposed tactic.

Paul Renaud of the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands has responded with the following statement:
This is absolutely outrageous and none of us should accept this abuse of municipal power against its own citizens.

1. How is it not in the public interest to conserve and protect the South March Highlands? Of course it is.

2. How can a public interest group stop being a public interest group by acting in the public interest? Does this mean that Friends of the Greenspace Alliance and other public interest groups are no longer acting in the public interest to defend green space just because they incorporate? Of course not.

3. Public interest groups already have to pay twice – i.e. for both sides in this legal case: our lawyer and the City’s lawyer who is paid by our tax dollars. Why should we pay 3 times? Perhaps we should offer to withhold our tax dollars to level the playing field.

4. The Coalition to Protect South March incorporated precisely to avoid this type of scare tactic being used against its members. Clearly we were wise to do so.

5. Is the City so unsure of its case that it is trying to keep it from getting to court? If so, why is City Council condoning both potentially illegal activity and the abdication of its policy not to pursue costs?
The Sierra Club Canada has issued the following statement:
Sierra Club Canada is shocked to hear the City of Ottawa is pressing a
community group for up-front court costs in the South March Highlands
case. Despite City policy not to demand court costs from public
interest community groups, a city solicitor is pressing for the group
to pay as much as $50,000.

“Moves like this impede the democratic process in the City of Ottawa,”
said Sierra Club Canada Executive Director John Bennett. “Citizens
should have a right to voice their concerns without fear of
heavy-handed reprisal.”

“There wouldn’t be a need for this if the City had obeyed the
environmental assessment laws in the first place,” said Mr. Bennett.
“The City is acting as a bully selectively applying its own rules.”
The Fifth Column calls upon all Ottawa citizens to let your city councillor know that you do not approve of your municipal government using intimidation tactics against citizens groups that oppose the actions of the city or developers.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Municipal Elections Suck

So why do municipal elections suck.

Because the way the system works now all too often the least preferred candidate wins rather than the most preferred candidate.

This results from the fact that there are often a large number of candidates, many of whom may share a similar philosophy and similar policies and who appeal to the same group of voters. For simplicity sake lets divide the candidates (and voters) into alphas and betas, for want of better terms.

Various scenarios can come into play here but for demonstration purposes lets look at a simple one. Let us say there are three alpha candidates that share 60% of the vote roughly and one beta candidate with 40% of the vote. Let us assume, reasonably, that the beta candidate is the last choice of almost all of the alpha voters. And let us assume, also reasonably, that while all the alpha voters may have individual preferences all the alpha candidates are acceptable to almost all of the alpha voters.

Under our present electoral system the beta candidate, the last choice of the majority of voters and the one acceptable to only a minority of voters would get elected. Similar situations can happen with different numbers of candidates and different breakdowns with either beta or alpha candidates benefiting from the flaw in the system.

Another effect of this of course is that people realize this is happening and "strategic voting" comes into play and voters attempt to avoid this by voting for their second or third choices instead of their first, depending on who the media says has the best chance of winning. Such a situation deprives voters of the ability to vote for their first choice and gives the media an inordinate (and undemocratic) amount of power in choosing who gets elected.

There is an alternative - system that allows voters to vote for their first choice amongst acceptable candidates and not vote for unacceptable candidates. Instead of voting for one candidate you would rank the candidates in order of preference, ranking as many candidates as you wish and avoiding ranking unacceptable candidates if you do not wish to. The votes would be tabulated electronically dropping the bottom candidates from the list and redistributing their votes to the voters next choice until a candidate receives over 50% of the vote.

Under this system the least preferred candidate would never be elected and the elected candidate would always be acceptable to the majority of voters.

This would allow voters to vote for their first choice knowing that if their first choice was not amongst the top vote recipients their vote would be transferred to their second choice and not become a de facto vote for the candidate they least liked. Strategic voting would be eliminated and all candidates would know how much real first ballot support they had and candidates would not be penalized because the media tells everyone they do not have a chance.

This type of system, of course, would not just work in municipal elections. Indeed, this is the type of system that the United Kingdom is going to hold a referendum on.

Using such a system in Ontario municipal elections would be an excellent place for us to start. While it is likely too late to introduce in this years election it may very well not be too late to add a question to the ballot in the November election to find out what voters think of the system.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Every Canadian Should Read This

It is long. It is shocking. It will make you sad. It will make you cry, It will make you puke. It will make you angry. It will make you fucking scream. But you should read it.

How I Got Arrested and Abused at the G20 in Toronto, Canada: backofthebook.ca