Powerful unions join Wall Street protests: Lending institutional support, a diverse group of community organisations joins "Occupy Wall Street" march in New York
A diverse group of powerful unions has joined demonstrations in New York's financial district, lending institutional support, public credibility and potentially thousands of participants to a movement that began with a few university students.
The "Occupy Wall Street" protest movement, which began three weeks ago in New York's financial hub, was joined on Wednesday by a dozen US labour unions.
Among those who joined the clamour were members of the Chinatown Tenants Union and the Transit Workers Union, the liberal group MoveOn.org, and community organisations such as the Working Families Party and United NY.
In depth coverage of US financial crisis protests
The groups will embark on a march starting at Foley Square in lower Manhattan, an area encircled by courthouses.
Organisers say the marchers will then head to Zuccotti Park, the unofficial headquarters where protesters have been camped out in sleeping bags. It is unclear how many people will be joining the march, but some organisers said thousands could show up.
"We're really excited that labour is part of the protest,'' said Sara Niccoli, a spokeswoman for the Labour-Religion Coalition, an Albany, New York-based organisation that aims to "do justice" for workers.
Al Jazeera's Cath Turner, reporting from the scene of the rally, said protest organisers are "ecstatic that more groups are starting to take hold" of the movement.
The organisers feel their reach and appeal is expanding, she said.
Getting more organised
Police said that United NY had sought a permit for the rally on Wednesday and were expecting about 2,000 people to attend.
"I think they're capturing a feel of disempowerment, feeling like nobody is listening to them," said Camille Rivera, executive director of United NY.
"What do you do when no one is listening to you? You speak up, you take action."
Occupy Wall Street movement turns online for help
Participants will not need permits to protest in a city in which picket lines and marches go on nearly every day. But a permit allows demonstrators to do things that would normally be illegal - like filling an entire street.
About 700 members of the Wall Street group were arrested and given disorderly conduct summonses for spilling into the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday despite warnings from police.
Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York police department, said police were prepared for a large group march on Wednesday, and that officers were anticipating spillover onto the streets.
"Officers will be in the lane next to the sidewalk, and we will try to keep people on the sidewalk, but we realise they may need to walk on the street if it's crowded," he said.
The type of activity that could result in arrest would be if members of the group purposefully try to stop traffic on Broadway, Browne said.
The Occupy Wall Street protests started on September 17 with a few dozen demonstrators who tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Since then, hundreds have set up camp in a park nearby and have become increasingly organised, lining up medical aid and legal help and printing their own newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
Other groups have periodically gathered and protested in spots throughout the country.
Aljazeera, Wed Oct 5 2011
New York area union members will join an expected several thousand labor activists and supporters today in a Wall Street march and rally in support of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
The grassroots-grown protest is now in its third week, with a diverse array of people from across the country camping out in the heart of the financial district to demand Wall Street is held accountable for the schemes and reckless games that led to the nation's economic collapse.
The mostly young Occupy Wall Street protesters are "speaking for the vast majority of Americans who are frustrated by the bankers and brokers who have profited on the backs of hard working people," says Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) President Larry Hanley.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), says Occupy Wall Street "has brought into sharp focus a reality that cannot be denied."
Corporate greed is responsible for harming the lives of millions of working people and unemployed people....A small group of firms, banks, and corporations now hold trillions worth of our collective wealth and assets. That money should be invested in job creation on a massive scale and used to rebuild countless lives damaged by the recklessness that caused the recession.
Over the weekend, the 800 young activists at the AFL-CIO's Next Up Young Workers Summit in Minneapolis threw their strong support to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Wall Street symbolizes this simple truth: a small group of people have the lives and livelihoods of working Americans in their hands.... We stand together in calling for a country that doesn't just work for the top 1 percent. We stand together to call for a sustainable future that doesn't begin with massive tax breaks for the wealthy and end with austerity measures and a jobs crisis.
Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transport Workers (TWU), told the Daily Beast:
We view the protests as young people who are articulating the same kind of things that we've been trying to articulate... they've really thrown a spotlight on issues that are bothering people, especially bothering workers like our members.
AFL-CIONowBlog, Tues Oct 4 2011
Published Sunday, Oct. 02, 2011 8:40PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Oct. 02, 2011 9:42PM EDT
Increase text size The Conservatives are set to take another hit at labour organizations, this time through a private member's bill designed to force Canada's unions to open their books to the public.
The legislation is set to be tabled in the House on Monday afternoon by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, who has won a draw allowing him to be the first parliamentarian to present his private member's bill.
The bill's content is still confidential, but its title shows it will seek to change the rules governing labour organizations under the Income Tax Act, which exempts unions, along with charities and municipalities, from paying taxes. If adopted, the bill will force unions "to apply financial disclosure rules" that are already in place for charities, said a source, given the tax benefit that they receive.
The proposed bill is part of continued efforts in recent months by the Conservatives to take on Canada's unions, which are key backers of the NDP.
The Conservatives have accused the NDP of illegally accepting union sponsorships at its recent party convention in Vancouver, with Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro accusing union leaders of "seeking to buy influence" within the Official Opposition.
The NDP is rejecting allegations of wrongdoing, saying unions paid commercial rates to place advertisements at the convention this spring.
The Conservatives have also started to attack the main contender in the NDP leadership race, Brian Topp, over his union roots. Mr. Topp, who works as the head of the actors' union ACTRA in Toronto, has argued that the labour movement is essential to the successes of the NDP, through its organizational force and the values that it espouses.
However, the Conservatives are aiming to portray Mr. Topp as a "union boss" who is not looking out for all Canadians.
"How could Brian Topp speak on behalf of all Canadians, when he is so tied to big union special interests," a Conservative said in a recent memo.
In addition, the Conservative government sided against unions at Canada Post and Air Canada during recent labour disputes, while the NDP engaged in a filibuster to try to stop back-to-work legislation of postal workers.
By attacking unions, the Conservatives are trying to neutralize what will be one of their major opponents in a coming round of government cutbacks.
In that context, Mr. Hiebert's bill dealing with the Income Tax Act, for which he gave official notice last Thursday, seems part of a concerted strategy. Mr. Hiebert is planning to lay out the specifics of his proposal at a news conference on Monday.
Private members' bills are usually free votes, but there is growing evidence that the Conservative Party is using the tool to push its agenda through Parliament.
Last week, rookie Conservative MP John Carmichael presented a bill that would fine or jail Canadians who prevent others from flying the Maple Leaf. Expressing the government's approval for his plan, Heritage Minister James Moore was present at a news conference to unveil the bill, which included a display of flags and Canada pins set up by the government.
Meanwhile, Mr. Topp held a fundraiser in Toronto over the weekend that was attended by many players in Canada's cultural industry who appreciate his work on their behalf.
"Brian's 10 years with ACTRA Toronto have made him a real friend to artists," actress Fiona Reid said.
The evening attracted the likes of Gordon Pinsent at the home of actress Wendy Crewson, and raised about $10,000 for Mr. Topp's NDP leadership campaign.
However, Mr. Topp accused the government of using divisive tactics by attacking the union movement.
"It does seem to be the case that [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper and his team have identified the labour movement as a new opportunity to make people angry and to divide them, which is the essence of their approach to politics," Mr. Topp told The Globe and Mail.
Globe and Mail, Sun Oct 2 2011
Byline: Daniel LeBlanc
It all began in 1912, when the 1911 convention of the United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) District 18 resolved to launch a provincial labour organization. They invited Alberta's trade unions and the recently formed United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) to send delegates to a founding convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour in Lethbridge on July 14 and 15, 1912.
According to the story in the Lethbridge Herald, the 34 delegates at that convention resolved to support each other, because they knew that they could rely on nobody else. District 18 Vice-President John O. Jones of Hillcrest became the president of the new organization. Sadly, efforts at farm-labour unity collapsed under the weight of the contradictory objectives of the two parties, and the farmers did not follow through. However, the unity they forged at the convention helped the UFA to win the 1921 provincial election, after which it passed some of the most progressive labour legislation in Alberta's history.
From the beginning, the AFL was divided between 'moderate' and 'radical' unionists. Moderates tended to come from the skilled craft unions affiliated to the American Federation of Labor and Canada's Trades & Labour Congress (TLC), whereas the radicals tended to come from ranks of the unskilled and semi-skilled.
Though a major force in the early days, miners were not always in the AFL. When they formed the One Big Union (OBU) in 1919 in Calgary, 95 per cent voted to leave the UMWA, and remained outside until 1923, only to be taken out again by the new communist-led Mine Workers Union of Canada (MWUC) in 1925. They rejoined in 1935, only to be expelled in 1939, on orders from the U.S.
Largely shunned by the mainstream of the conservative AFL, miners joined with the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) and the Civil Service Association of Alberta (CSA) to establish the Industrial Federation of Labour (IFL) in 1949 - just as McCarthyism was taking hold.
The IFL gained an ally when Neil Reimer came to Alberta in 1951 to organize with the Oil Workers' International Union (later the Oil Chemical & Atomic Workers; then the Communications, Energy & Paperworkers' Union). By 1955, the IFL claimed over 8,000 members including workers in mines, steel plants, packinghouses, energy and on the railway.
From the beginning, labour centrals have brought union leaders and activists together to debate policies and take collective action, transforming groups of workers seeking specific gains into a labour movement capable of fighting for the welfare of all. Gains in the early years included Workmen's Compensation; construction safety; a prohibition on child labour, a tenant's franchise, a fair wage policy, abolition of property qualifications for civic office, etc.
Through all these years, the industrialbased Canadian Congress of Labour and the IFL remained faithful supporters of the socialist Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), while the TLC and its provincial body the AFL remained nonpartisan, reluctant to denounce Social Credit policies, even when these restricted members' right to organize and strike.
Unity came in 1956, when the Trades and Labour Congress and the Canadian Congress of Labour merged to become the Canadian Labour Congress. The AFL and IFL followed suit, and craft unionist Charlie Gilbert was elected first president of the new body.
By 1957, the new Federation had grown to about 34,000 members, and had begun to challenge the Social Credit regime. When it moved to formalize its relationship with the CCF in 1959, the CSA withdrew its affiliation, and after the 1959 election, a victorious Social Credit government punished the AFL by passing negative changes to Alberta's Labour Act.
The 1960s saw a rise in the fortunes of organized labour with growing political influence of the New Democratic Party and unionization of the public sector. A bitter strike by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) in 1965 led to the passage of the Public Service Staff Relations Act (PSSRA), opening the door to collective bargaining for all government workers. In 1963, a council of municipal unions became part of a new national union, unifying municipal, school board and hospital employees into the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Edmonton Journal, Friday August 30 2012
Labour unrest to be expected if province proceeds with ‘Wisconsin-style’ labour law changes: Union leaders united in condemning biased and secretive process
Alberta is heading for unprecedented workplace unrest if the province proceeds with a biased and secretive review of the Labour Code, union leaders warned today.
"The changes being proposed in the government's review of the code are an unjustified attack on unions and hundreds of thousands of working Albertans," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
The executive council of the AFL meeting today in Calgary issued a joint statement calling on the current premier and the new premier to stop the Labour Code review initiated in the summer by Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
About two dozen union leaders will present a copy of the joint statement to Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Gary Mar's campaign headquarters at 4340 Macleod Trails South, Calgary, at 3:00 p.m. today (Wednesday).
The statement says: "As representatives of many of Alberta's largest unions, we are truly proud of the important role that our members play every day in building the Alberta economy. We consider ourselves partners in the project of building a broadly shared prosperity in Alberta: a prosperity that benefits individuals, families and communities along with businesspeople and investors. We agree that the government should strive for a stable labour relations climate in Alberta. But stability comes from good and productive relations between workers and employers – and good and productive relations are based on respect. Unfortunately, the current review process is neither fair nor respectful. It needs to be scrapped."
Representatives of all the unions on the AFL's executive council unanimously condemned the Labour Code review process as "biased, unfair and perhaps even unconstitutional."
"The review was launched at the behest of a coalition of anti-union employers; the terms of the review were set by this group; all of the changes under consideration are union-busting measures, and the lawyer appointed to lead the review has a long history of acting against unions," says McGowan. "While those who sought the review claim it is under the guise of making the construction industry more competitive, the truth is the complete opposite. They are asking the government to take sides and give an unfair advantage to them in competing against employers who work with traditional unions. The ramifications of these changes would affect all workers in the province, not just construction workers," he says.
"Albertans will not stand idly by while the provincial government embarks on a U.S. Tea-Party inspired, Wisconsin-style attack on workers and the middle class who have built this province. The government should expect a Wisconsin-style response from Alberta workers," says McGowan.
The joint statement says: "The review as currently designed is the very antithesis of a fair and balanced process. We would go so far as to say that it is a 'kangaroo court,' not befitting any government in a country with strong democratic tradition like Canada."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Re: "It's time for unions to re-evaluate needs of workers and adapt accordingly; Attitude overhaul necessary to regain their much-needed place in society," by Colin McComb, Ideas, Sept. 12.
It's time for the truth about unions in Alberta. Unfortunately, we got nothing like that from Colin McComb's opinion piece.
McComb failed to identify his background as a former representative for the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). Why?
Many readers understand that the CLAC is not a real union. Perhaps including his former association with that organization would shatter his arguments for how unions should change. He says unions should not be involved in politics, but fails to point out he has a background in political marketing and campaigning.
McComb has a problem with democratically run unions making donations to political parties, but he has nothing to say about donations from corporations, whose spending far outweighs that by the labour movement.
He implies that unions love to strike, but the truth is that unions rarely strike. No worker wants to live on meagre strike pay instead of collecting a real wage. Striking is a weapon of last resort - but to surrender that weapon will leave workers powerless to defend themselves from bad employers who slash their wages or raid employee pension funds.
McComb paints an outrageous picture of union leaders as Marxists plotting an uprising. This is so out of touch with the labour movement it makes you wonder if he has delusions he is Joseph McCarthy, trapped in a 1950s witch hunt for Reds under his bed. McComb would have us go back to an era when workers had to bow down to employers, instead of being treated with the respect every person deserves.
A flip through a few contracts CLAC has negotiated on behalf of workers is evidence of this: employers being able to lay you off with no notice; no CLAC representative needing to be present for disciplinary meetings with a worker; employers and the CLAC being able to change anything in a collective bargaining agreement to be competitive.
One clause in a CLAC contract sums up their approach to dealing with employers: "In the event that consultation fails to resolve a matter of contention, the union agrees that the decisive word resides with management, unless specifically abridged, deleted or modified by this agreement."
That's CLAC-style labour relations. Some employers seek out the CLAC because they know it will mean they can pay lower wages, offer fewer benefits and impose lower standards on workplace safety.
If workers want real representation, and to ensure fairness in their workplace and a fair return for their labour, they need a real union.
Real unions have no trouble debating their role in Alberta. We do have a problem when those who argue against us do so from behind a smokescreen of omissions.
Douglas O' Halloran, president, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401
Edmonton Journal, Letters to the Editor, Tues Sept 27 2011
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter to President Obama on Monday expressing his labor federation's opposition to the pending free-trade deal with Colombia.
Included with the letter was a list of names of the 22 union leaders who have been killed in Colombia, 15 of those after the United States agreed to a labor action plan with the South American country in April to improve its labor rights record, according to the AFL-CIO. Labor has long vehemently opposed a trade deal with Colombia because of its record of violence against union activists.
"Simply put, Colombia should not be rewarded with a trade agreement until it develops a proven track record of ensuring that workers can exercise the fundamental rights of free association and collective bargaining; preventing violence against union leaders and other social justice advocates; and bringing to justice those who perpetrated such crimes," Trumka wrote in his letter to Obama.
The labor leader also cited an estimate from the Economic Policy Institute that approval of the Colombia trade deal will lead to 55,000 jobs being lost.
"Given this predicted job loss, at a time when working Americans are already struggling to find jobs, pay their mortgages, and make ends meet, advancing the Colombia Trade Agreement will send the wrong message to the working people of both Colombia and the U.S.," Trumka wrote.
Thehill.com, Mon Sept 26 2011
Georgian workers continue to experience severe trade union repression at the hands of both the employer and the government. The latest attack comes at Hercules Steel, a Georgian-Indian joint venture in Kutaisi, Georgia. Workers formed a trade union on 4 August 2011. However, the employer refused to recognize the union and fired six leaders. As the employer refused to seek a negotiated solution, workers had no option but to strike, some going on a hunger strike. On 15 September, the governor and 50 police vehicles stormed the plant and arrested 40 workers. Immediately after the strikers were dispersed, the police and management representatives called and visited workers demanding that they return to work under penalty of arrest. The police also forced detained workers to sign statements promising not to protest and to return to work immediately. In addition to the industrial conflict, information has emerged that over 100 Indian migrant workers have had their passports withheld and have been forced to live in squalid living conditions. Wages and working conditions are very poor. Workers wanting to leave in advance of the expiration of their contract have not been allowed to leave. We are urging the Georgian government to intervene in this matter to ensure the domestic and international labour rights of Georgian and Indian workers are fully respected.
labourstart.org, Thurs Sept 22 2011
Residential construction sites in Alberta are being targeted by occupational health and safety officers for surprise inspections during a month-long inspection blitz.
"We launched a focused campaign on residential construction in September," said Barrie Harrison, spokesperson for Alberta Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S).
"When we choose the sectors to be targeted for our safety campaigns, we look at specific factors, such as the current state of the industry. The residential construction sector has been on our radar for a number of years."
As construction activity on residential sites ramps up for the summer, OH&S officers are increasing inspections of single and multi-family projects in Alberta.
"Several officers from each of the three regions in Alberta are dedicated to this campaign, while other officers will participate as able," said Harrison.
"We know a majority of the orders we write are in relation to a lack of fall protection, which is the number one culprit in residential construction.
"Officers will arrive unannounced at a site to look for everything and anything that contravenes the safety code."
Almost 1,700 inspections of Alberta's residential construction sector were undertaken in 2010, which resulted in 1,000 orders being issued.
A lack of proper fall protection topped the list of infractions, followed by issues with hazard assessments, safeguards, and clear entrances, walkways and stairways.
"The campaign is expected to last at least one month," said Harrison. "Once the results of the inspections are compiled, we will share them with the public."
This information will include the number of sites visited, the total number of inspections, and the number and types of orders issued.
"Throughout the province, we're beginning to see an increase in new home construction," said Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
"We need to ensure safety on these job sites is a priority. I've said all year long that increased attention on residential construction projects was on my to-do list. My message to Alberta's home builders and their contractors is that we are on our way."
According to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the blitz of residential construction sites by inspectors is a welcome step in making worksites safer.
However, the AFL said the campaign is not the solution to the provinces safety problems.
"Employers have been warned inspectors are on their way and have been told how long the blitz will last," said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL.
"They will make an effort to clean up their acts and follow Occupational Health and Safety rules for a few weeks but, once the blitz is over, they will be free to return to their dangerous ways, knowing that they are unlikely to see more inspectors until another blitz is announced."
McGowan said regular and random inspections, that come without warning, are needed to encourage permanent change in worksite practices. The Alberta government is implementing a series of changes to its workplace enforcement system after numerous problems were exposed by the auditor general.
In a five month period in 2007-2008, the auditor general identified 63 companies that repeatedly failed to comply with health and safety laws for one year or more.
This group of employers had a Disabling Injury Rate that is three to four times greater than the provincial average
Inspectors don't have the power to issue fines for infractions, but Lukaszuk is signaling he wants to start ticketing people, who break laws designed to protect workers.
"To make our workplaces safer – to save lives and prevent injuries – blitzes must also be backed up with more concrete action, including hiring more inspectors and giving them increased powers to issue on-site tickets for violations," said McGowan.
Currently, officers secure jobsites and issue orders or stop work orders when infractions are found.
Journal of Commerce, Mon Sept 19 2011
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Air Canada customer service workers can keep pension plan: arbitrator: Arbitrator sides with union over issue that led to three-day strike
The union representing Air Canada's customer service workers can keep its defined benefit pension plan, an arbitrator has ruled. The controversial issue played a key role in the union's three-day strike earlier this year.
"This is an extremely important ruling and demonstrates that no employer, regardless of how large or small, should believe they have the unmitigated right to destroy a worker's retirement security," said Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union president Ken Lewenza in a release. "We ultimately won on the merit of our argument for fairness."
Federal arbitrator Kevin Burkett rejected Air Canada's demand to put new hires into a defined-contribution pension plan. Instead, he sided with the CAW's proposal to maintain the defined-benefit pension plan for new hires, along with a defined-contribution portion to their pension. The result will be a "hybrid" pension for future new hires at the airline, consisting of both defined-benefit and defined-contribution components. Current CAW members at Air Canada remain in the existing defined-benefit plan.
The airline's 3,800 customer service workers took to the picket lines in June 2011. The union and the airline reached an agreement before back-to-work legislation, prepared by the federal government, could be debated in Parliament. The two parties agreed to send the issue of pensions for new hires to a mediation and arbitration process after they could come to an agreement on the matter.
Air Canada is currently negotiating with its 6,500 flight attendants for a new contract. The earliest the Canadian Union of Public Employees members could walk off the job is Sept. 21, 2011. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt plans to meet with both parties in order to avert a strike.
Canadian Labour Reporter, Mon Sept 19 2011