Vol. 4, No. 2
PSAC is fighting cuts and standing up for public services
The 2010 Federal Budget contained a series of attacks that will hurt public sector workers and all Canadians. The Harper government is forcing the Canadian public, federal public servants and the world's poor to pay for the costs of the economic and financial crisis through a long freeze and squeeze on federal spending. The most significant measure is a government-wide freeze on operating budgets, including Crown corporations such as Canada Post.
With other costs rising, this will result in ongoing cuts to public services and job losses, amounting to $6.8 billion over five years. The federal government is also planning strategic reviews of all departments, which will cut another five per cent from departmental budgets. Freezing support for international development assistance at 2010 levels will result in a cut of $4.5 billion from Canada's international aid.
Treasury Board President Stockwell Day has said that while the federal government will honour wage increases negotiated by public sector workers this year, they will have to be financed out of departmental spending. This will have a detrimental effect on quality public services.
Threatening public safety
The budget threatens important health and environmental regulations. Instead of implementing and enforcing strong regulations to protect the health and safety of Canadians, the government announced it will establish a new commission to cut so-called red tape. As we learned during the listeriosis crisis, regulations save lives and protect Canadians' health. In 2008, cutbacks in the number of federal meat inspectors contributed to the deaths of 22 people.
Now the Harper government has made it clear that it doesn't care about the health implications of oil and gas projects. This year's budget announced that the responsibility for environmental assessments of energy projects will be shifted from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to the National Energy Board. Given the devastation we are seeing in the Gulf of Mexico right now, it's clear that stronger environmental regulation and enforcement are essential.
This budget contained no new hope for unemployed workers. The targeted ‘tweaks' to Employment Insurance announced in previous budgets will continue to be funded, but this budget did nothing to solve the structural EI issues that would help cushion workers and their families in this recession. Successive governments have allowed the EI system to deteriorate, so it is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of Canada's unemployed in the current economic crisis.
Action on pensions needed
The budget also does nothing to improve pensions for Canadians. Thanks to the efforts of PSAC members, the Harper government kept its hands off of public sector pensions – for now.
But low income seniors have been left out in the cold. Only a small minority of Canadian workers have significant savings in RRSPs, and the financial meltdown of 2008-2009 left most of them with depleted accounts. Even those with decent defined benefit pension plans at their workplaces have faced funding problems, which in turn have threatened their benefits. Some workers and retirees have discovered that their pension funds are not properly insured.
Also, more and more of Canada's retirees have been encouraged to hold their savings in individual accounts that remain exposed to stock market fluctuations even while they are retired. For this group, the collapse of financial markets has meant immediate reductions of income, or even the prospect of their savings running out altogether.
These problems have exposed the holes in the existing retirement income system in our country. The government's failure to offer a budget that would address these issues means far too many Canadian workers and retirees will face poverty and ongoing insecurity.
We are fighting back
PSAC will fight to protect quality public services and save public sector jobs. We are holding meetings of locals, branches and executives from coast-to-coast-to-coast. We will be working with workplace activists, locals, and branches, to monitor the impact of the federal budget and take action when we hear of any lay-offs or incidences of contracting-out. Our union will act quickly to defend members' jobs and make the case to the public that it takes people to deliver services.
The Harper government needs to feel the heat from all across the country. Our members are active and strong. It's time to get more politically active and use creativity in our resistance. The future of pensions and public services depends on it.
Canada Revenue Agency
PSAC served notice to bargain on July 2 and both parties have exchanged demands electronically. PSAC and CRA have agreed to repeat the bargaining process used successfully in 2007. Negotiations will take place from September 20 to October 1 and October 12 to the 22 in a concentrated effort to reach a tentative agreement before the contract expiry date of October 31.
In preparation for the next round of bargaining in 2011, PSAC has issued an input call to Treasury Board locals and branches. Locals/branches are responsible for consulting with their members on the changes they want in their collective agreements. The input call comes with a Program of Demands guide to encourage discussion on demands and priorities. Each Component sets a deadline for receiving bargaining input which they must review and then submit to PSAC by October 1. Members who want more information about this process should contact their local/branch executive, Component or PSAC regional office.
After the input has been received, it will be initially reviewed by active members elected or selected by their Component or their Regional Executive Vice-President (REVP). These members will attend one of three regional bargaining conferences being held in November and December.
Parks Canada Agency
An input call and Program of Demands guide has been sent to Parks Canada locals. The deadline for the two Components that represent Parks Canada locals to forward their bargaining input to PSAC is November 1. The input will reviewed, priorities established and mobilizing strategies discussed by members delegated by their Component or REVP to attend a national bargaining conference in February 2011.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
With a collective agreement expiry date of December 31, 2011, the bargaining input process for CFIA locals will not begin until later this fall.
Academic workers are winning new rights and changing the face of PSAC
When 1,300 teaching assistants and research fellows from Queen's University voted to join PSAC this spring, they joined a fertile part of our union's family. We now represent 18,500 academic workers across Canada and Quebec, and the number continues to grow. PSAC is quickly becoming the union of choice for workers at universities. This has begun to change the face of our union, while also busting the myth that all academic workers are part of the Ivory Tower.
Since 2004, PSAC has been working hard to win rights for academic workers at Canadian universities. They are the “non-professional” research and teaching staff that make academic programs tick, but rarely get the credit. They are graduate, teaching and research assistants, postdoctoral fellows and associates, and part-time instructors. In a time of budget crunching and shrinking endowments, these workers are carrying more and more of the responsibility of delivering university programs and performing research. PSAC currently represents these workers in the Atlantic, Ontario and Quebec.
While universities hold a special place in the public imagination, they can be just as wily as any other employer. Like so many other businesses, Canadian universities are following a trend toward casualization – shifting the workload from well-paid, fulltime employees to people who are employed on a flexible, occasional basis.
Nowadays, if you pull back all that ivy, the ivory tower can be a pretty dark place for some academic workers. Many are employed on a part-time and semesterto- semester basis. They are highly skilled but poorly paid. They have few benefits, no job security and no academic freedom. The story is a familiar one. If the labour is cheap, abundant and flexible, it gets exploited.
Graduate teaching and research assistants represent the bulk of PSAC members at universities. They are Masters and PhD students employed by the university on a part-time basis to perform tasks that range from supervising and marking exams, to assisting in labs, to doing research and giving tutorials.
An immediate challenge for these workers is that their employment is often supervised by the same professor who oversees their academic work. Afraid that saying no in their work life will have a negative impact on their school life, they sometimes agree to work unpaid hours and to perform duties outside of their job descriptions. The stereotype of the graduate student picking up his supervisor's dry cleaning exists for a reason.
International graduate student workers may find themselves even more vulnerable than their Canadian counterparts. Sources of funding are fewer, tuition fees are considerably higher, and they are often limited by their visas to working exclusively on campus. Knowing that their options for earning money are restricted, their supervisors may make them work harder and expect more from them. For these workers, organizing has meant a defined job description and fixed hours of work which can be enforced by a grievance procedure.
As universities hire fewer full-time faculty members, they increasingly rely on cheaper, part-time instructors to shoulder the teaching load. Part-time instructors often teach the large introductory “service” courses that generate much of the revenue the university collects from tuition. Although they are often just as qualified and committed as their tenured colleagues, they are paid much less, get less respect, and have none of the job security.
Martha Wells is a PhD candidate who teaches in the Department of English at Memorial University. Before organizing with PSAC, she didn't know whether she would have a job from one semester to the next. Things have changed since her local, the Lecturers' Union of Memorial University of Newfoundland, won its first collective agreement.
“For all of our members, the hiring process has become transparent. Academic units must adhere to guidelines when posting available courses and to the seniority list when making teaching appointments,” she said.
Until they organized a union, the percourse instructors at Memorial hadn't seen a pay increase in almost 20 years. The local negotiated an increase of 20 per cent over four years as part of their first collective agreement. And these workers also have more of a say in the university community, including seats on important campus bodies such as the Sexual Harassment Board and the Equity Committee. All of this, plus the fact that they are now guaranteed offices with phones.
PhDs are no guarantee
The myth continues to persist that everyone with a doctorate is guaranteed a cushy, tenured position. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Postdoctoral fellows and associates are academic workers who hold PhDs and are hired to carry out research and teach, generally on yearlong contracts. With few tenured positions available, the number of postdocs is on the rise. In the publish-or-perish atmosphere of today's university, the pressure is on to compete for a shrinking number of jobs as career academics.
V.S. Bhinu is a PSAC member researching plant biotechnology at the University of Western Ontario, where about 100 post-doctoral workers are currently negotiating their first collective agreement. At one time these positions were considered a stepping stone to an academic career. But as Bhinu, a member of his union's bargaining committee, says now it's more of a parking lot that is getting fuller everyday. He describes the work environment for postdocs as “stressful.”
Some contracts at Western stipulate a minimum of 44 hours of work per week with no paid overtime. Currently postdocs there have no access to a health plan. With a partner and two young children, Bhinu hopes his local can finally win a benefits package.
Academic workers in Quebec
The push to organize academic workers has been the strongest in Quebec, where PSAC represents more than 15,000 academic workers in 18 directly chartered locals. After seven years of tireless organizing, the region almost doubled its membership, drastically changing the face of our union.
These new members are younger, more politicized and prepared to break with convention. They've also revitalized PSAC's presence in smaller centres like Sherbrooke and Chicoutimi, where they are connecting with more senior members. Union education is on the upswing in these regions, as academic workers are gaining bargaining skills and learning more about the labour movement.
Because of their sheer numbers, members in Quebec saw the need to establish a body that would bring all of the academic locals together. In 2009, the Conseil québécois des syndicats universitaires was formed to represent academic workers and coordinate a united political voice on campuses.
Organizing to win
Academic locals are also breaking new ground with PSAC. Per-course instructors at Memorial negotiated gender identity as a prohibited grounds in their no discrimination, no harassment article. And locals in Quebec have established joint student-faculty tribunals to hear intellectual property challenges.
PSAC is responding to the increased casualization of academic labour by relentlessly organizing on university campuses from coat-to-coast-to-coast. And in doing so, we are proving that unions can both survive and thrive in today's economy.
Lesley Thompson works in PSAC's Halifax office and is a former union activist from Memorial University, where she helped organize per-course instructors.
Stephen Harper's long grudge against human rights organizations and agencies has been hitting the front pages over the past year – finally breaking through the media's disinterest in the issue.
The attack on human rights is just part of the Harper government's broad attack on democratic institutions – efforts to stymie debate in House of Commons committees, exercising tight control over government messaging, and proroguing Parliament for purely partisan reasons while violating their own fixed-election-date legislation.
And who is being targeted by these attacks? The federal employees who work – or worked – at CIDA, Rights and Democracy, The Court Challenges Program, Status of Women and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Public sector workers are feeling squelched and squeezed as the Conservatives seek to remold government agencies and the non-profit sector to fit their ideological priorities.
Death by a thousand cuts
In one of his first actions against women after taking power in 2006, Harper simply cancelled the former government's national child care program, years in the making, which would have vastly enhanced women's equality. Then he targeted two organizations that were icons in the fight for human rights: Status of Women Canada and the Court Challenges Program.
The government closed 12 out of 16 regional Status of Women offices and eliminated its $1 million Independent Research Fund. Changes were made to the criteria for funding for the Status of Women Canada's Women's Program, which precluded support for advocacy or lobbying for law reform. Many NGOs now no longer receive funding because virtually all of them combine advocacy with the provision of services – such as women's shelters advocating for an end to violence against women.
Harper's favoured women's organization, the anti-choice, anti-gay REAL Women, is openly supportive of his party and policies. They congratulated Harper on his initial round of cuts in 2006, writing, “This is a good start, and we hope that the Status of Women will eventually be eliminated entirely.”
Court costs inaccessible
The second organization wasn't just cut – it was wiped off the map. The Court Challenges Program (CCP) was unique among Western democracies. Established in 1978, it provided funding for individuals challenging government legislation that was discriminatory. The CCP made constitutional rights accessible. Women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal People and gays and lesbians all made major equality gains using the program in the 1980s and 90s.
But shortly after the Conservatives took power, funding for the program was eliminated, except for a small pocket of money reserved for official language cases.
Harper has long detested human rights. On January 11, 1999, he told BC Report that, “Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society … It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.”
Playing to his base
But the attack on human rights goes beyond just Harper's personal hostility. It reflects his political strategy for building toward a majority government. Part of that strategy is to ensure that his large socially conservative core remains happy and loyal.
And that means appealing to their strong opposition to things like women's equality, gay rights, same sex marriage and gun control. It also helps explain his government's uncritical support for Israel.
As Marci McDonald points out in her new book, The Armageddon Factor, Harper is specifically reaching out to fundamentalist Christians, to the exclusion of people from other less conservative denominations. His choice of Stockwell Day as president of the Treasury Board was no accident.
When Day began his career in federal politics, he had already established a reputation as a budget slayer and theocrat at the provincial level in Alberta. He made public statements in the 1990s opposing constitutional equality for gays and lesbians. He also came under fire for revealing his belief in a literal interpretation of the bible – namely that humans once walked the Earth at the same time as dinosaurs.
Many of Harper's early attacks on human rights remained relatively under the radar. But in the last year, his government has accelerated its ideological cuts and political interference to a breakneck speed.
In 2009, the Harper government introduced the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act – a “pay equity” bill that actually reintroduced sex discrimination into pay practices. The law added additional criteria that would allow public sector employers to consider “market demand” in determining compensation – meaning higher pay for men even if the work was of equal value. To add insult to injury, the passing of the bill was itself anti-democratic. It was passed by stealth when the government wrapped it into the 2009 budget – meaning it could not be voted down without forcing an election.
The list of attacks on human rights agencies and those doing human rights advocacy is a long one and it is clear that Harper intends to go as far as he can to weaken the whole notion of human rights in the political culture of Canada. One of the latest efforts was a frontal assault on the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). The CHRC closed its offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax this spring. The three offices accounted for 70 per cent of all federal human rights complaints to the CHRC in 2008.
Destruction through interference
When not eliminating or gutting the budgets of human rights organizations, the Harper regime has found other ways to effectively undermine human rights. In one high profile example, he appointed seven conservative board members to the internationally-respected Rights and Democracy organization.
It did not take long for a crisis to develop on the board. The Harper appointees used their majority to reverse an earlier decision to provide three small grants to NGOs monitoring human rights violations by both Israel and the Palestinians. For the staff of Rights and Democracy there was no doubt that the seven were appointed to neutralize the organization and prevent it from expressing any criticism of Israel.
It doesn't matter whether the issue is human rights overseas or in Canada, the same ruthless determination to eliminate this critical aspect of modern democracy is on display from the PMO. That ideological agenda created a huge controversy – and acute embarrassment for Canada – when Harper revealed that his high-profile global maternal health initiative would exclude any mention of or funding for abortion. Canada was the only country of the developed democracies to take such action – one condemned by health experts around the world.
Anyone standing for the rights of women is a special target of the Harper government, reflecting the extremist views of the fundamentalist community. International Planned Parenthood is still waiting to hear if it will receive its yearly grant. One of the few international agencies devoted to women's equality, Match International, had its funding eliminated.
Harper also cut funding to both KAIROS, an ecumenical group made up of Canada's mainline Christian churches working on human rights world-wide, and the Canadian Arab Federation, which lost a multi-million dollar grant used to help immigrants integrate into Canadian society.
CIDA has been forced cut funds to projects in Pakistan and Kenya that were aimed at enhancing gender equality. Staff members instructed NGOs to eliminate the words “gender equality” from their proposals if they expected to get funded. This is not just an affront to human rights. It is an assault on democracy through the deliberate politicizing of the civil service – forcing public sector workers to get involved in the government's ideological dirty work.
It is hard to identify all the organizations being threatened with funding cuts – many are afraid to speak out. But one of those anticipating cuts is fighting back. The Canadian Council for International Cooperation has made its expectations of cuts public and is seeking public support. An umbrella group of 90 development and human rights NGOs, it has occasionally taken the government to task for its policies.
But CCIC has joined with PSAC and dozens of other organizations to form a new network called Voices-Voix that brings together representatives from the social justice and union movements. They are united in their determination to challenge Harper's attacks on human rights and democracy.
Federal public sector workers – members of PSAC –have fought hard against this unprecedented attack on democracy and human rights and continue to do so every day.
This government is determined to turn back the clock on human rights and is willing to abuse its power and violate democracy to do so.
The fight is not over and hanging in the balance is 50 years of progress towards a more equal, humane and caring society.
Murray Dobbin is a writer and activist based in Powell River, BC. Visit canadians. org/wordwarriors to read more of his work and find out how you can take action.
Visit the Voices/Voix network at voicesvoix. ca, to add your voice to the campaign against Harper's attacks on democracy and human rights.
How the RCMP purged thousands of gay and lesbian workers from the federal public service
Gary Kinsman's explosive new book, The Canadian War on Queers, details the RCMP's campaigns against gay and lesbian workers in the federal public service. A little known fact is that the Canadian state purged thousands of suspected lesbians and gay men from the government, the military and the RCMP from the 1950s until the early 1980s. This destroyed people's careers and in many cases forced them out of the closet, harming their relationships with their families.
In your book, The Canadian War on Queers, you detail the national security campaign that the RCMP used to purge gays and lesbians from the federal public service. Many PSAC members have probably not heard about this before. What do you think they should know?
This was a major campaign throughout the public service and the military. Every component of the public service was involved. Thousands of people lost their jobs and were forced to inform on other people.
If the military found any evidence that you were gay and lesbian at all, you were completely discharged. In the public service, quite often, after the 60s and early 70s, they would simply demote you or freeze you. In terms of your position, you would have no possibilities of getting promoted.
The public service associations had a mixed history – a history of complicity. It was the rise of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the formation of the Public Service Alliance of Canada that began to make it more difficult for some of these security procedures to be implemented. Because one of the things that the new unions went after was the sort of paramilitary or quasi-military hierarchy that was in the public service and challenging that, challenging the various forms of discipline that took place.
So, what would typically happen if a worker was suspected to be gay?
You would be called into your supervisor's office, or you would be told that you had to report to the RCMP or to the security service in your particular department. For instance, one of the most hard-hit areas was External Affairs.
You would be told, “We have evidence that you are a homosexual – how do you respond?” And basically people would have to think on their feet if they had no sense that this was going to happen to them. If it was a big surprise, they would have to either admit it, in which case they were probably going to be discharged, especially in the earlier years, or have their positions frozen for a while.
Or else, they could try and deny it. There were people who tried to not answer the questions, to try and simply say, “Well how do you possibly know that? What type of possible information could you have on me?”
And what the RCMP would usually report is that, “we have reliable information.” They would usually have tried to get at least three or four people who had identified this particular individual as a homosexual.
You've mentioned that this had a lasting impact on the federal public service. How?
I think it created a whole sort of notion for management of the public service that lesbian and gay workers were somehow untrustworthy and unreliable and morally tainted in some important ways.
I still think there are lots of people who are in positions of management who think that lesbian and gay workers are somehow untrustworthy, perhaps prone to be security leaks or still vulnerable to being blackmailed – which of course was the argument that was used by the RCMP and by the Canadian state against lesbians and gay men.
Interestingly enough, the people we talked to said the only people that ever blackmailed them were members of the RCMP, trying to get the names of other lesbians and gay men.
What happened when people refused to reveal information about themselves or others?
I'll just describe an interview I did with Fred, who was one of the RCMP officers in the Directorate of Security and Intelligence in Ottawa in the 1960s. Again, Fred is a pseudonym. His job was to purge lesbians and gay men – particularly gay men – from the public service.
What he described was trying to make friends with gay men who were not in the public service, asking them questions about whether or not they had been at any parties – gay parties. Could they identify them? Could they describe who they were? He would then try to get photographic evidence of who these individuals were. And if there were a number of people who could identify these people as being gay, then they were moved into the confirmed category and could be purged or demoted.
How did people resist this treatment by the RCMP?
Remember that until 1969, all homosexual sex was criminalized. People would be told, “Either we are going to lay a criminal charge against you or you are going to give us the names of all of your friends.” That obviously had a type of persuasive power to it.
The form of resistance and noncooperation that took place in the public service was when individuals [who had already been purged] would be shown things like mug shots – a book or card file with names of prospective lesbians and gay men. And they would be asked over and over again, questions like, “is so-and-so a homosexual?” In lots of cases, they refused to reveal any more names.
And how did the union movement play a role in this resistance?
Lesbian and gay-identified workers in various unions started to organize and I think once that began to take place, the national security police realized that they really couldn't continue this campaign in the same way that they had. And what you saw in the early 1980s was that in most parts – not all of the public service – these policies and practices were being relaxed. Which didn't mean they ended, especially for individuals who had no connections with other people or people who were still in the closet. But certainly the people who had the backing of lesbian and gay organizations now felt that they were in a stronger position to be able to challenge these policies.
Who else was targeted by the national security campaigns?
It's changed a number of times over the years. But if you're thinking of the 50s, 60s and 70s, basically anyone who was associated with the left and this could range from the CCF or the NDP, to communist parties, peace movements, immigrant rights groups, feminist organizations, anti-racist organizations, native studies – all of these areas at different points in time came under the scrutiny and surveillance of the RCMP. Various different groups of people, at different times, were expelled from the fabric of the nation, to be constructed as sort of rats or a risk to Canadian security. And they had national security surveillance called down upon them.
Early feminist activists were under RCMP surveillance, even Rita McNeil! A famous singer in Canada, when she was involved with the Toronto Women's caucus in the early 1970s, was under RCMP surveillance.
And you make it clear that this made you question the very nature of national security itself.
National security is always and everywhere used to expel some people from the fabric of the nation and to deny them their civil and human rights and citizenship rights.
It's very dangerous to people's civil rights, to people's human rights. We see this again and again in the so-called War on Terror, where people identified as being Muslim or Arab are actually denied their human rights, they are expelled from the fabric of the nation.
A longer version of this interview will appear in the next issue of Our Times magazine.
The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation is co-written by Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile. Find it in your nearest independent book store.
Fighting for a contract – and for education
The members of PSAC Local 69081 will match their employer's tactics with creative ones any day of the week. At the drop of a hat, workers will don placards and costumes. They'll stop traffic, leaflet windshields, or do whatever else it takes to be heard. Why? Because it's about time they had a collective agreement. And they know they need to reach out to the community to help make this happen.
This feisty Directly Chartered Local is made up of 53 teaching and non-teaching employees at the Alaqsite'w Gitpu School in the Mi'gmaq First Nation of Listuguj in Quebec. They are the teachers, teacher's aids, custodians and cooks that make the school run. They are also unionists who are actively mobilizing their community to support a school that they fought hard to get.
Alaqsite'w Gitpu School has 260 students from nursery to eighth grade and offers courses in three languages – French, English and Mi'gmaq. The school is at the very heart of the community and makes it possible for Mi'gmaq culture to flourish. Three quarters of the staff are from Listuguj. The majority are women. And they all firmly believe that the work they do makes a difference.
A long haul
These workers have faced incomprehensible hurdles in their long negotiation process. Their employer has never agreed to a contract in the 11 years since their local was founded. Bargaining resumed in April of 2008 and has been met with a lot of foot dragging on the employer's part. The team feels their demands are simple. They want job security. They want consistency. They want respect. But more than anything, they just want a contract.
The Listuguj workers see a direct relationship between their working conditions and the quality of the service they can provide. But they have had to work hard to convince the community that they are not being greedy. Their strategy for mobilizing around collective bargaining has been to build relationships with community members and with the Chief and council.
Politics of the heart
One of the local's more potent actions revolved around the National Chief's visit to Listuguj. They produced buttons using words spoken by the Chief's grandmother. The buttons said, “Support education. It's time to turn the heavy page.”
The workers gave the Chief a button just before he took the stage at a news conference at the school. Recognizing the words, he became very emotional.
Later the workers handed out buttons and flyers at a dinner being held in the National Chief's honour. During the Chief's address, he spoke of the importance of his grandmother's words and about how he felt receiving this gift.
When the employer began stalling on its wage offer, the Local started holding demonstrations and other public actions. In April they struck a mock picket line in front of their school and then again after work in front of the band office.
Members wore bunny ears, distributed peanuts and held signs that read “Just practicing.” The local is not confrontational but is intent on having people understand its message of workplace fairness and respect.
To date the sides have signed off on all articles with the exception of wages. But the employer recently threw another spanner in the works. After applying for conciliation, the union extended what it considered to be an olive branch. It tabled a zero per cent wage proposal and shifted its priority to job security by demanding a seniority clause around lay-offs. The employer came back demanding a 10 per cent wage roll back and would make no guarantee that there wouldn't be lay offs.
“We're not going anywhere,” says Local President and bargaining team member Patsy Mallaley. She is also a fourth grade teacher and the coach of the school basketball team.
Mallaley means it. The workers are constantly deflecting threats from the employer to close the school down altogether and send all of the children across the river to Campbellton. The teachers themselves would make significantly more money if they chose to teach outside of Listuguj. But they are committed to staying in and standing up for their community.
When asked what makes her Local special, Mallaley says, “It's the spirit that we have and the closeness that we have. We care about education and we want to do things for our community members and for our elders.”
Following the catastrophic earthquake that destroyed a large part of Port au Prince and other cities on January 12, the PSAC's Social Justice Fund acted quickly to provide emergency relief to people in Haiti. Funds were immediately channelled to Doctors Without Borders, to assist with immediate disaster relief. Our union has also been working closely with labour leaders in Haiti, to help the country re-build its union infrastructure and public services.
Operating from a place of solidarity, not charity, PSAC has joined with Public Services International to make direct links with Haitian workers and community activists. The flurry of media attention directed at the country has largely subsided, but PSAC is committed to supporting people in Haiti over the long term.
In the days and weeks following the earthquake, Doctors Without Borders reacted immediately – performing emergency triage and surgeries in temporary facilities, as their own operating rooms had been demolished. The organization brought in hundreds of tonnes of supplies on an almost daily basis – including an inflatable hospital – as part of one of the largest responses in the organization's history. All of this was done with the active and tireless participation of Haitian people who had suffered great losses in the earthquake themselves.
On January 14, 2010, PSAC President John Gordon issued a call across the union to rally contributions toward Haitian solidarity, administered by the Social Justice Fund. The response was overwhelming. Nearly $210,000 was raised by members and activists from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Over the last few months, PSAC has fostered links with Haiti's Confederation of Public and Private Sectors Workers (CTSP). Only days after the disaster, PSAC's Social Justice Fund was in contact with the Dukens Raphael, the confederation's president. He reported that 300 members of his organization had been killed and that many of the survivors had lost their homes and were living in provisional shelters.
Since many government departments and workplaces crumbled to the ground, thousands of public sector workers are now jobless. With the rainy season now upon them, they remain in desperate need of food, water, tents and medical supplies.
The Social Justice Fund is working with Haitian trade unions and women's organizations, to make sure that our union's aid makes it directly into the hands of people who need it the most. Our solidarity will be specifically directed to helping workers in Haiti re-establish vital public services such as schools and health care clinics. We will also support Haitians' struggle to prevent public services and natural resources from being privatized.
For more information on the PSAC Social Justice Fund, visit psac-sjf.org.
PSAC's Sarah Bélanger joined a Public Services International delegation to Haiti in May, in an effort to strengthen links between Canadian unions and Haitian workers. Here are some of her observations from May 1, 2010.
A wave of hot humid heat hit us as we got off the plane and stepped into the bus that would take us to the hangar that is now the airport. The earthquake virtually destroyed the main arrival building in the airport and we can see the concrete rubble and huge cracks in the walls that withstood it.
When we asked what we should bring that would help the most, the President of the CTSP, Dukens Raphael, told us that everything is useful, and whatever we brought would be well used. I also packed a few things to donate to a women's organization – children's clothing, a few soccer balls, solar lamps and radios, head lamps (for women to wear when going through the camps late at night who may be at risk of rape and assault), and other odds and ends.
As we travel by bus through the city, we see so many damaged buildings and rubble. But what is most devastating to me is seeing the camps where those who lost their homes are now living. What seems like thousands of tents are lined up with no space in between them in parks and other city spaces. Some tents don't look too solid. As Dukens has told us, it's as if the earthquake happened two weeks ago, not four months ago. We wonder: where has all the aid gone? There are people everywhere with nothing. The rainy season is coming soon, and it's hard to imagine what these people will do to survive.
Today is May Day, and the CTPS has organized a March throughout the streets of downtown Port au Prince. It's a bright, hot and sunny day. It's the first time in two years that such a march is authorized. It's an achievement, says Dukens.
The march is indescribable. There is garbage in the streets and in some places, fires have been started partly to burn off the smell. There are buildings barely standing, and rubble lines many streets. When I ask why the rubble is in the middle of the streets, Dukens tells me that the people are tired of waiting for the authorities to clear the rubble, and as a gesture of anger, they have taken to throwing it in the streets so as to block circulation. Some streets are completely inaccessible to cars, and require hiking on the part of pedestrians.
Our march takes us in front of the Ministère des affaires sociales, where marchers burn a symbolic coffin of Prime Minister Préval. He is clearly not viewed as an effective leader capable of steering the country through the difficult upcoming reconstruction. Some union members tell us it's not about “re-construction” but about “construction” – point blank. Their view is that the country needs to be built from scratch in order for it to be sustainable and viable for the people.
Date Modified : 2010/10/25