Thursday, May 31, 2007

Molsons Strike

Excuse me but this is 2007 and the economy is booming. So why the claw back mentality of the past? Because Alberta has the weakest labour laws in Canada encouraging employers to be assholes.

Claw backs began in Alberta a decade ago when King Ralph pushed privatization and used the debt and deficit hysteria to punish public sector workers with claw backs in wages and benefits, which had been prompted by Safeway's claw back bargaining with UFCW across North America.

Class war was declared by Safeways and other employers beginning in the eighties prompted by the anti-union attacks of the neo-conservative regimes of Reagan, Thatcher, and Mulroney. It continued for over a decade across North America, as Kim Moody documented in his book an Injury to All.

Today with a provincial labour shortage, low interest rates, increased stock prices and productivity, Molsons Coors wants to go back to the past.

Todd Romanow, national representative for the Canadian Auto Workers union, accused Molson of stubbornly insisting on rolling back wages and pensions to 1980 levels for new employees.

"Beer is supposed to be for happy times, right now it is not," said Dave Wilton, picket captain with the Local 284 Canadian Auto Workers.

Employees, like Wilton, are ticked off that wages of future hires are rolled back from $29 to $22 an hour.

And while company spokesman Ferg Devins said the rollback is still competitive within the Alberta market, Wilton doesn't agree because he said the company is making a lot of profit.

The contract would also pass on some of the pension costs in a "defined contribution" of 3% of annual salary by new workers, and cut sick days of all employees from nine to six.

With the current hot Alberta economy, anyone getting paid at the proposed new rate won't be able to afford decent housing in Edmonton, he said.

Meanwhile in Calgary the climate change denying CEO of controversial Talisman Energy retires with a golden parachute.

Mr. Buckee retires with fantastic wealth, having cashed in stock options worth $24-million in 2005 and 2006. The rest of his options were valued at $52-million, as of Dec. 31, along with a $1.4-million annual pension whose total value is pegged at $23-million.

So who says class war is a thing of the past.

With the onset of the crisis, Moody's narrative becomes largely the bleak account of an even bleaker reality. He describes all the strategies devised by capital to impose the new rules on American workers: the dispersion of production to smaller units around the U.S., direct investment in production abroad, the "outsourcing" of work overseas, concentration (forcing small, isolated plants to confront big conglomerates with many sources of revenue), and the breakup of "pattern bargaining" on an industry-wide scale. By the late 1970's, business was also engaged in a new political activism capable of defeating pro-labor legislation in a Democratic congress and which, by pressure on the future "Reagan Democrats", helped to set the Reagan agenda even before Reagan. Because the UAW was the very model of postwar business unionism, Moody rightly underscores the Chrysler bailout of 1979-80 as a major turning point. To save Chrysler fom bankrupcty, the UAW made a series of concessions in exchange for such dubious benefits as a seat for union president Doug Fraser on Chrysler's board of directors. Whereas Fraser had, in 1978, denounced the "one-sided class war" being waged by business on working people, he and other labor leaders hailed this contract as a "breakthrough". It WAS a breakthrough-- for management. By the early 1980's, the precedent of the Chrysler contract had opened the floodgates for a "tidal wave of concessions" everywhere. Even companies with no apparent squeeze on their profits sensed the new balance of forces and demanded, usually successfully, the renegotiation of unexpired contracts, obtaining major concessions on wages, benefits and work rules. It was the biggest rollback for U.S. labor since the post-1929 Depression years, and it is not over. As Moody points out, the "realism" of business unionism faced with demands for concessions does not even achieve its minimum stated goal of saving jobs.

Business was way ahead of both the "business unionists" and the rank- and- file in taking advantage of the new situation. Even today, when the depth of the crisis has impressed itself on nearly everyone in both camps of capital and labor, the business unionists cling to the discredited practice of a bygone era. They have shown aggressiveness and imagination only in combating rank-and-file attempts, such as the P-9 strike in Austin, Minnesota, to break out of the suicidical "business as usual" mentality of mainstream organized labor. They have responded to the weakening of unions by complaceny, by organizing the limited constituency of middle-class service workers, by intimidation of rank-and-file insurgents, or by formless mergers of unions with little in common as a bargaining unit. Confronted with the challenge to organize the vast new proletariat in dead-end and low-paying service jobs, business unionists react wth the same condescension and lethargy that the bureaucrats of the AFL showed toward tthe unorganized mass of production workers in the 1930's, prior to the rise of the CIO.

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