From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Poverty on the rise in Harper's Canada

New data released by StatsCan shows the national rate for low income earners rose in 2009, for the second straight year, up from 9.2 to 9.6 %. To put that number in context, roughly 3.2 million Canadians,with more 630,000 of those being children, live in poverty.

The story for those living in large urban centres is even worse, not just because they have been hit harder by the decimation of the manufacturing sector but also as is normally the case in tough economic times, people tend to migrate to large cities seeking employment and to access the services that are offered in our larger urban areas.

The report refers to the percentage of people below the low-income cutoff rate. And while StatsCan states that the individual numbers for each metropolitan area on their own may be unreliable, the trends are clear: over the last decade, smaller cities have made progress on poverty,(largely due to migration)  while big urban areas are poverty magnets.

The trends are no surprise to Mike Creek, who works with homeless and impoverished people in Toronto, after spending years in poverty himself.
“If you stick around in a smaller community and you have that shame (of living in poverty), you become stigmatized. So I think it’s easier for someone to pack up their bags and try some place else,” Mr. Creek says.

Vancouver is in the worst shape at 16.9%,Toronto is at 13.2 %, while Montreal sits at 13.1%., all well above the national average. While Eastern Canada overall showed larger rates of poverty than those in the West, Alberta saw it's rate jump from 6 to 10%.

While these numbers are two years old, the situation  hasn't improved any and is in fact worse as we continue to replace well paying stable employment with low paying unstable jobs. The number of Canadians using food banks has skyrocketed the last few years as has the waiting lists for affordable housing both strong indicators of growing need.

So what's Harper's response to this epidemic of poverty? Why he goes to war with labour forcing reduced wages and benefits on Canadians and is embarking on a job cutting spree in the civil service. To top that off he has greatly expanded the foreign temporary workers programme, causing a further drag on employment and compensations rates. The scary part is that his austerity agenda has just begun, so hold on tight folks because we are in for one terrifying journey down the road to ruin.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Your days of undermining God and His government are fast closing

I came across that line in a particularly nasty hate filled tirade by some zealot calling himself Gideon in the comment thread of one of Montreal Simon's entertaining posts. He said a lot of hateful vile things but that line stuck out for me.While the post in question was about Rob Ford I'm assuming that he was referring to Simon's favourite target, Harper.

It has been weighing on my mind for days now.The fact that he equates The Harper government with god isn't surprising, I like many have known for some time that people like Gideon exist and his comment merely substantiates that view,yet it does bother me. So much so that it keeps playing on a loop in my head, which is why I 'm writing this post, hoping by doing so I can exorcise it and all it's implications from my mind.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Who are these people? Why are they here?

 “When we drive around farm country we sometime see people working in fields. People who may not look like us. They are very anonymous. We don’t really know much about them. We don’t really think about them. But I think we should be thinking, “Who are these people? Why are they here? What are they doing? What are their working conditions like? And this apple that I’m eating today that was in my lunch bag — how did it get to me?"

Many of us complain about our commute to work every morning, so imagine what it must be like to have to travel to a foreign country to feed the family you leave behind for several months every year.
Now imagine being forced to do dangerous work and handle hazardous chemicals with no training or protective equipment, forced to live in overcrowded makeshift shanties and be transported from job to job in unsafe transport vans.

That is the lot in life for the more than 40,000 migrant agricultural workers in Canada under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program CSAWP), and the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) Program for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training. Both of these programs are managed by the federal government to supply temporary foreign workers for the Canadian agricultural industry. This employer-driven system aided by the Harper government, is one where workers must accept danger and exploitation if they want to work here. To complain means instant and automatic expulsion and blacklisting from Canada, resulting in all likelihood seeing your family go hungry.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal has published two peer-reviewed articles,which show that a number of workers, experience harsh living and working conditions,causing chronic ailments, many of which are linked to long-term chemical exposure.

In response to these reports, Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, described the studies as "wild ramblings".

"Universities in Canada don't write one good thing, not one good thing,"

Forth said he did not think the studies warranted an inquiry.

"I don't care what you read. Why would we?"

He also noted that the checks and balances were in place for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme, which was implemented in 1966. He said Canada's health department inspects the farms once a year before the farm workers arrive, saying officials usually want the farms inspected before they are allowed to live there.Sure sounds like Harper's kind of guy doesn't he.

In reality workers are bound by contract to a single employer. Their wages, housing and working conditions are imposed by the industry, the Harper government, and their home country. They themselves have no say whatsoever in any of this. Remember if they do complain the employer with the help of our government has them immediately deported and barred from ever working here again

According to The Agriculture Workers Alliance, independent inspection and enforcement of health and labour standards are essentially non-existent. Not surprising since the same is somewhat true throughout industry in Canada. The alliance also notes that the workers have no pathway to permanent immigration status and in a recurring theme through everything I have read on this subject, workers who raise workplace concerns are typically repatriated without recourse to a hearing or legal counsel.

So now you know a little bit more about how that apple that you're eating today that was in your lunch bag — got to you

A new and heartening development
 Migrant workers sue Ottawa and farm for breaching contract, charter rights

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dirty F@#*ing Hippies Were Right!

@lesliegoodson brought this fantastic video to my attention last night on Twitter,and I thought I should share it here

"Peace has somehow become, a pejorative, peace is no pejorative,peace is essential to the survival of the human race and those who advocate for war are a dangerous and fearful group,who should be marginalized and disavowed"

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Time for council to bring the Ford cabal to heel

At Monday’s executive committee meeting,Ford and his not so merry band of toadies voted to turn down the provinces offer of two public health nurses at no cost to the city. This decision not only reeks of ideological blindness but abject stupidity.

At a time when Toronto is fighting a battle against a bed bug infestation and increasing rates of TB, we could have used these nurses, in fact we could use about a dozen more.

One upside is that cracks are starting to appear within the Ford cabal with , budget committee chair Mike Del Grande, public works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong, planning chair Peter Milczyn, and and parks and environment chair Norm Kelly all voting against the Ford's wishes.

This idiotic decision can and must be overruled by council, not only because we need these nurses and to protect the interests of the citizens of this city, but to show the Ford's that there is a limit to how much of their blind ideology that council will allow them to impose on the people they were elected to serve. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Housing Benefit for Ontario: An Affordable Plan To Help Alleviate Hunger and Homelessness

Anyone who has read this blog knows that the issues of poverty,hunger and homelessness are of particular interest to me, so when I come across a plan to help alleviate these scourges my ears perk up.A plan supported by industry and community groups alike titled A Housing Benefit for Ontario is one such proposal. Please take some time to read what they are proposing, their arguments are well thought out, costed and eminently affordable. Or if you prefer you can read Q&A: A HOUSING BENEFIT FOR ONTARIO

Five provinces already have some form of shelter allowance, BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and New Brunswick have had them for 25 years now with Saskatchewan recently coming on board.

Rent is a fixed cost that must be paid no matter what, leading many to sacrifice eating in order to pay their rent. 42% of food bank clients report not eating a single bite of food for at least one day in the past year. The average food bank client also pays 72% of their income for shelter. One in every five Ontario tenant households spends over 50% of their income on rent. Paying anything over 50% puts people at a high risk of homelessness. There are currently 152,000 households on social housing waiting lists.

It isn't only those on welfare and disability that require assistance, the number of those with jobs and seniors that pay more than 50% of their income on rent is estimated at over 100,000 with a further 830.000 paying more than 30%.

These numbers as are all the figures regarding poverty in this so called land of plenty are indeed sobering, but we can and must do something about them. This proposal if adopted for the sum of $240 million a year (assuming 100% participation which hasn't been the case historically) can go a great distance in helping reduce those numbers.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Of Rioters,Police And Social Media

I've had all day to digest the events in Vancouver last night,my first knee jerk reaction was how dare those idiots riot over a hockey game when they should have been peacefully demonstrating for societal change. My stance has softened somewhat as I now feel that while the spark that ignited the flames was a hockey game, perhaps the kindling that fed them came from pent up anger about the glaring inequity in our society today. Now I am sure that the ones doing the rioting don't recognize this as the source of their anger, they just know that they are angry about many things.

They're angry about high youth unemployment, huge student loan debt loads ,low paying unfulfilling McJobs to name but a few, they just haven't made the connections yet. Helping them to make those connections and showing them how to channel their justified anger towards peacefully effecting real positive change is our job.

In the aftermath of the rioting and looting the police, just as they did post G20 have turned to social media for help in finding the culprits. I have a great deal of discomfort with this for a couple of reasons. Those who rule us already own the traditional forms of media, be it print or broadcast, do we really want to voluntarily hand over the one form of media that we control. That is precisely what we are being asked to do by posting pics of the rioters on Facebook and such. We should refuse to abet them in their quest for total control over information.

The other issue is more fundamental. As those of us who have followed the G20 aftermath can attest to, the powers that be have circled the wagons in an effort to make sure none of them ever face the consequences of their actions that weekend. But it goes even beyond that, nearly every day we hear about a cop,politician or political party that has broken the law with impunity. A nations laws must be applied equitably or society ceases to be a just one,becoming instead one of oppression.

How can we in good conscience help those who say the laws of our land don't apply to them, bring the full weight of those laws down on someone else.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Looking Back At The Roots Of The Labour Movement In Canada For Inspiration

Whenever my energy flags and the struggle to build a better society seems lost, I like to go back in time and revisit the birth of the labour movement in Canada, this invariably recharges my batteries and I get back in the fight.

This week I revisited once more the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and as I've said before there are many similarities between then and now. The bosses wallets getting fat from the profits of war and off the labour of working women, men and children, yes children even today much of what we wear has been touched by child labour at some point in it's manufacture. Among the other similarities are high unemployment and poverty, gross wealth and prosperity gaps and of course governments that governed solely in the interests of the bosses.

The Winnipeg General Strike while inspiring wasn't unique for it's time in fact it wasn't even the first of it's kind that honour as near as I can tell goes to the Vancouver general strike of August 1918 which was sparked by the murder of labour activist Ginger Goodwin.

Goodwin originally ruled "unfit" for duty during WWI by the conscription board due to Black Lung Disease saw that decision reversed after leading a strike in 1917 at a Trail, B.C, lead/zinc smelter for an eight hour day. Being opposed to war he went into hiding upon being found he was  murdered  by a company hired Special Constable.

But the Vancouver general strike isn't Goodwin's sole legacy his death inspired the formation of the Ginger Group a loose coalition of Progressive and Labour Party members who would later play a role in the  formation of the CCF, the precursor to today's NDP.

Another labour action of note is the On to Ottawa trek Some 1600 men fed up with the conditions in the forced labour camps of the depression set out to Ottawa to press their demands for fairer treatment and for get this the right to vote in Federal elections.They made it as far as Regina where they met a violent response from the government of R. B. Bennett and were then penned into city's exhibition grounds, surrounded by machine guns and denied food and water. Bennett's actions in putting down this march proved to be his downfall seeing his party reduced from holding 134 seats to just 39 after the following election

Anyway this is how I motivate myself.Seeing the sacrifices made by these brave men and women force me to demand better of myself and hopefully that is true of others.

Timeline of labour issues and events in Canada

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Who the %$&# needs unions anyway? We all do that's who

There is much animosity toward unions out there which isn't surprising given the relentless assault waged against them by populist politicians and their mouthpieces in the corporate media. I even see it among my fellow coworkers demonstrating just how effectively we have been propagandized these last 30 or so years.

I'm not going to list all the accomplishments that unions have made to all our benefit that's not what this post is about, besides the list is so long I'd be in serious risk of contracting carpal tunnel syndrome.

We've all heard the lies they're greedy only in it for themselves, lazy malcontents who force jobs to move off shore as well as irrelevant and no longer necessary etc.

Greedy as opposed to whom, their bosses and the very same politicians who demonize them all the while giving themselves huge pay raises,solid gold pensions and golden parachutes. All the workers ask for is enough to buy a modest home pay for their kids education and hopefully have enough left over not to have to eat cat food when they retire, if that's greedy then so be it.

As for lazy a union shop is no different than any other workplace in that some coworkers are hard working some not and yes some who are lazy. I have worked in both union and nonunion workplaces and it has been so in nearly everyone. As for unions protecting the lazy and incompetent it is not only their job but their legal obligation to protect their members. They accept a fee for a service and must provide that service. This doesn't mean that unionized workers can't be fired they can and are all the time it just means that the employer needs to justify their actions and follow agreed upon protocols.

As for making companies uncompetitive again this simply is not true. Unionized workplaces tend to have very little staffing turnover which is of great benefit to the employer who needs to spend less on training and enjoys the increased productivity that an experienced workforce provides. Yeah but what about all those jobs being sent overseas you say. Unionization is not a significant factor in this either, companies offshore jobs for several reasons.

Low wages are a part of the equation for sure but ask yourself this are you willing to work for a couple of bucks a day and if not then your wages are now considered uncompetitive even if you are making minimum wage. Other reasons include a lack of environmental,labour and safety regulations. Merely being able to dump your toxic byproducts into the nearest river makes for one significant cost saving.

Which brings us to they're only in it for themselves and are no longer needed. I group these together because in my mind they are related. Unions constantly advocate for non union workers lobbying for improvements in EI so that everyone is treated equally such as part time seasonal and contract workers. They also led the charge for the fair treatment of workers forced to use temp agencies none of whom are likely to be unionized.

Unions are at the forefront of the battle to protect our pensions and most importantly our precious health care system. Do you honestly think that the corporations and the neoliberals who govern us are going to step up and fight to protect these important institutions, Of course not. In fact they wish to see their destruction,hence the demonizing of Unions one of the few organizations capable of standing in their way.

There is perhaps one other area where we will need the Unions and it is a very important one. As our governments continue to sell out our interests to the corporations, ratchet up the security state and institute their austerity agenda (that is austerity for me and you, not them), there will come a time when we will have no choice but to fight back. This is when we will require their experience and ability to organize.

Unions have been doing this since their inception, rallying their members around causes that benefit us all, whether as mentioned earlier protecting our pensions and healthcare or fighting the trade deals that have put us in a race to the bottom,to fighting against the corporate tax cut agenda,well you get the idea.

In closing I ask you to try something some day, the next time you see some workers on strike or as is increasingly the case today locked out, stop and talk to them. You just might find out that they are no different than you and are facing the very same struggles that you are.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Clarion Call: What Min Said

I read a lot of blogs each day, much preferring them to the corporate media. They run the gamut from pedestrian to brilliant, with everything in between. Today I had the pleasure to read a brilliant post by the irrepressible Min Reyes titled Letter To All Canadians and I urge you to take the time to read it yourself, you won't be disappointed.

Here is a snippet

Don’t look up at politicians. Look at me, look at your neighbours, look at your parents, your fellow tweeps. Look at your fellow Canadians. The government is only a tool for governing. We, together are the government. Our politicians are nothing more than our representatives that unfortunately, due to the nature of the power structure, become the governing individuals. When did we lose sight that we, as people, form a government with rights above that of politicians’ greed, interests, and perspectives.