Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Now using tumblr. for blogging

I haven't been posting anything for a while but have begun experimenting with Tumblr. Its a simpler system for the sort of things I have started posting.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Layoffs at Sifto Salt...

Sifto Salt in Goderich announced that it is laying off 80 workers, for an indeterminate time frame. On the face of it this is a simple labour relations issue. Underlying the layoff announcement are the company's stated reasons. There is an excessive quantity of salt in storage that is due to an excessively warm, dry winter to date. So these guys continued to produce until they worked themselves out of a job. Some of the questions I have are:

Who made the descision to continue operations on a seven day per week basis even though the markets had "dried" up? As a union guy, I know whose doorstep I would lay it on.

Is there a rationale for the continued unfettered use of road salt that not only damages automobiles but also, more importantly, the environment. Is this another case for the use of mass transit vs. the individual automobile?

Finally, these workers are clearly the victims of climate change. Although this is a small economic cost in the grand scheme of things, there are still victims. It seems to me that as the debate rages on over those who believe the science and those who deny, there will be no big cataclysmic event that galvanizes everyone into action. The reality of climate change will sneak up on us and one morning we will wake up an realize that the world has been dangerously changed while we slept.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Canada Continues Resources "Fire Sale".

The South Korea's state owned oil company has purchased Harvest Energy Trust, a Canadian owned integrated oil and gas company. Harvest Oil has interests in the Alberta tar sands, natural gas and a refinery in Newfoundland. Undoubtedly, there are people in the business sector that will be elated, given that Harvest Energy has never been one of the big players in the Canadian energy sector.

Canada is the only major oil producing country that doesn't have a nationally owned oil company. On the other hand, under Harper, we have become a major source of resources for the foreign state oil companies. Our natural resources are being sold off like cheap suits at a bancrupcy sale. It seems everybody is standing in line to pick up Canadian resource companies. In a world of diminishing commodities, where will this leave Canadians? As the oil supplies from the middle east slow to a trickle, and our natural gas is whisked off to the US, we will become an economic colony. Our mines, energy and forests are well along the road to complete foreign ownership. Once control of the resources is gone, what will we have to offer our youth who will be looking for jobs in the future? Tim Horton's or MacDonald's are a poor substitute for INCO, Petro Canada or the auto industry. Natural resources are the basis for a diversified economy. The Conservatives are going to leave us a bleak future indeed. Consider where Africa is on the world economic stage. They have become colonies of the corporations that exploit resources. Canadians will be left with nothing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Frustration on the Left

The political left in Canada absolutely needs to change the way it does business. During the past thirty years or so it has become disconnected from the people, and ideas that gave it life. It has become club that dreams of past glories and a future that has never happened. The NDP in particular, need to become less of a political party obsessed with finding a way of positioning themselves close enough to the middle of the political spectrum to somehow make themselves palatable to what they believe is the mainstream of the voting public. Continuing along this path will only blur the differences that them different, and preferrable, to the two centre right parties.

The left ought not fear proposing policies meant to improve the lives of the average Canadian. They need to send a clear message to voters, that their ideas will not bankrupt the economy and are more fiscally responsible than the policies of the Conservatives under Harper. After all, it is the Conservatives that have given us a $55 billion deficit, massive unemployment, and the systematic destruction of the manufacturing industry. All the while Harper pontificates about the repatriation of Tim Horton's head office, as a result of his tax policies. That is all well and good, but how many additional jobs has this provided Canadians, especially in the hard hit manufacturing heartland of Ontario.

Policies that enhance the social safety net for the average middle class Canadian aren't reviled by the average voter. Certainly they will be attacked by the right, but if the New Democrats pick those issues that resonate with the people, and build their platform of responsible change it will resonate with Canadians. It was the Conservatives who argued that it was too expensive to improve EI in what has been the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is that same Conservative Party that has overseen the fire sale of Canadian resource companies and manufacturers. What did they do to insure the longterm employment of miners at Falconbridge in Sudbury, (686 laid off in February of this year)? What did they do to insure that there would be no disruption of production at INCO when it was purchased by CVRD from Brazil, (forced into a strike in May)? Where was Tony Clement when US Steel shut down the Stelco plant in Hamilton, and then locked out the workforce at the Nanticoke operations this summer? Where were they when John Deere shut down in Welland and moved to Mexico. Where are they as the CAW tries to negotiate with Ford. Ford, the corporation that has a $1.8 billion shortfall in its pension plan obligations, in spite of praising themselves for declaring a $2.8 billion profit in the second quarter of 2009. The same Ford motor company that is demanding concession from Canadian workers while announcing the closure of plants in Ontario and the signing of agreements to open new plants in China. The list of missed opportunity and failed policies is almost without end.

There is little to differentiate the policies of the Liberals and Conservatives. Canadians need a real change. The New Democrats need to see the current situation as an opportunity. They need to organize at a grass roots level. They need to become a movement that attracts the young voters who do not currently vote. The fact that there has been a continuing decrease in the numbers of voters over the course of the last number of elections really only serves to solidify the positions of the old line parties. There is no better place to start than by educating Canadians that Flaherty's budget deficit will be used a a tool to downsize the social safety net even further. Without a strong left-wing alternative, Canada will become a meaner, less-caring society.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vale Inco, Not Operating in the Best Interest of Canadians

Vale is continuing its program of expansion regardless of the labour dispute with the USWA - Local 6500 in Sudbury. On the face of it, this is not altogether big news. This is after all a huge multi-national corporation. Earlier today it was announced that they intend to pay $1.4 billion to Thyssen-Krupp in order to increase their ownership in Siderurgica do Atlantico (CSA), a steel plant in Brazil. It is thought that this was the result of pressure from the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, (Lula), to increase employment for Brazilians by Vale. While this sort of offshore story is not the sort that I would normally comment on, it did strike me that the progressive government in Brazil is taking steps to provide stable long-term employment for its citizens. Meanwhile, in Canada, where we are supposedly part of the developed world, our federal government, under Harper, is apparently impotent when it comes to maintaining employment and the social safety net that Canadians have struggled for so long to achieve. Clearly, the political right is operating from a bancrupt idea fund.

Meanwhile, in Sudbury, Vale Inco is going to court to try and get an injunction to prevent striking Steelworkers from disrupting the flow of ore to its beneficiation operations at the Clarabelle Mill and Copper Cliff smelter. The Union contends that this is "Scab" ore,(Hot Cargo) and as such is not permitted under the previously negotiated picket line protocol,(read the full article here). While this may seem like a serious setback, its worth noting that the price of nickel, as documented on, over the past six months has seen a steady increase. The strikers have time on their side.

Monday, September 21, 2009

FYI - The Issues at Play in Local 6500's Strike.

"African unions tell Vale to stay out", Northern Life, Sudbury,ON

"Steel to city businesses: ‘You’re either on our side, or Vale’s", Sudbury Star

"Vale-Inco strike heats up", The Real News Network, (video) - Excellent background information to this labour dispute.

"Canadian miners strike global giant", The Real News Network, (video) - a must see for background of the issues.

Steelworkers in Sudbury Continue to Man the Picket Lines

The summer is over and the strike by the USWA - Local 6500 against Vale Inco drags on in Sudbury. (The company's other operations in Port Colborne, Thompson Manitoba, and Voisey's Bay are also affected). This wasn't perhaps the best time to go on strike, but, their collective agreement has expired, and when the economy is slumping, as it has been for a year now, employers will attempt to claw back any gains, made by labour, in the name of cost control, economic distress or whatever excuse happened to spring into the fevered minds fomenting a company negotiating strategy in the board room. In the instance of Vale Inco, they had the “benefit” of a federal cabinet minister, Tony Clement, attempting to sway public opinion by suggesting, that had CVRD not purchased INCO when it did, Sudbury would be a ghost town and the mines would be soon closed as uneconomic. I have to wonder what that statement has to say about the business acumen of Roger Agnelli and his cronies in Brazil. After all, they paid $17 billion dollars for INCO. Thats a good sized chunk of change in anybody's book. Clement further went on to state that, ”There was going to be no buyer, there were going to be no jobs, there weren’t going to be any capital investments, there was going to be no employer. That was the Valley of Death that Sudbury faced.” Clearly he had failed to remember the bidding war that went on between Teck Cominco, CVRD, and Phelps-Dodge for the so called, “Valley of Death”. In the end, Tony Clement, Industry Minister in the Federal Government headed by Stephen Harper, had to admit that he had made, “a pretty bone-headed remark”. That stands as one of the few times I have stood on total agreement with anyone in our current federal government.

In today's Northern Life, there is an article, (Steelworkers blockade contractors' trucks at picket lines),
that is highlighting some of the tactics that are currently being used by the Union in its struggle to achieve a fair and equitable contract with their employer. The company is attempting to resume production at some of its operations, partially in order to keep some of it customers in spite of having earlier declaring “force majeure” on it contracted deliveries of nickel. Given that these are tactics that were used by Falconbridge in 2000-2001 during that dispute with Mine Mill/CAW, there is clearly another motive in play here. This is a naked attempt by management to break the will of the Union's Rank and File and deliver a substandard collective agreement. Many of those in positions of influence in the Vale Inco management team locally are former Falconbridge management types eight years ago. This is clearly going to be a protracted dispute. Unfortunately, there is a good deal of anti-union sentiment being expressed by some in the comments sections of the local media online. The peanut gallery making these statements don't matter. What matters in this dispute is the resolve of those on the picket line. In any strike, no matter how long, or how bitter the feelings become, there will come a time when the “worm turns”. There will be a time when the company is no longer dictating the terms and conditions, and it becomes the Union's strike. The issue right now is can they last, “One Day Longer”...