Saturday, September 19, 2009

The lockout at the Tembec plant in Pine Falls continues, but yesterday the residents of the town held a rally to show their support for the people affected. Here's a brief item from the Winnipeg Free Press about the rally.
Residents rally for locked-out workers:
The townspeople of Pine Falls showed up in full force on Friday to show solidarity for locked-out Tembec employees.

Organizers of a march in the one-industry town estimated 350 people came out to support the 230 pulp and paper workers.

"We had people in golf carts and wheelchairs, people from all walks of life. Everybody jumped on board when we put out the notices and went out for a walk," said Vicki Reid.

"If Tembec goes down, the town goes down."

The lockout came after workers overwhelmingly rejected a company proposal that union officials said called for wage and benefit concessions totalling 35 per cent.
While the provincial Labour Minister has indeed appointed Winnipeg lawyer Michael Werier as a mediator the company's previous statements give no assurance that they intend to bargain seriously with the workers involved. The following article from the CBC gives a bit more detail about yesterday's solidarity rally. Generally speaking it is obvious that the vast majority of town residents have shown their support for the workers involved. No surprise there. Is this sufficient ? Of course not. The next rally should obviously take place in Winnipeg, in front of the Legislature. There should also be further effort in terms of a online campaign to pressure Tembec management to bargain in good faith.

Tembec, interestingly enough, was originally formed in 1973 via a sweetheart bailout deal of a mill in Témiscaming, Québec. It is presently headquartered in Montréal, and operates in France, Chile and the USA in addition to Canada. Despite much brouhaha about 'corporate responsibility' Tembec has shown little consideration for its workers over the years. See the Tembec Worker site for the story of one of it past actions in BC. I guess that it just goes to show that corporations that line up for government handouts will, in the end, behave just like any other corporation. Anyways, here's the story from the CBC.
Residents walk with locked-out mill workers:
  Residents of the town of Pine Falls, Man., walked in solidarity Friday with 270 locked-out workers from the local paper mill, where the union says Tembec Inc. is pushing for a 35 per cent cut in wages and benefits.

Pine Falls is about 130 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The town put out a call to its citizens to support the workers, and the call was answered by hundreds of people, including elderly people in wheelchairs and a father pulling his young son in a wagon.

Clusters of people walked the 2.5-kilometre stretch of Main Street shoulder-to-shoulder with workers who have been on the picket line since Aug. 31.

Residents told CBC News the lockout doesn't just affect the employees. Several shop owners said their business is hurting and membership has dropped in local recreation programs.

Residents hope their show of solidarity will help end the lockout with the Montreal-based company and get the economy flowing once again.

On Thursday, the province appointed a mediator in an attempt to reach an agreement between the workers and management.

Manitoba Labour Minister Nancy Allan said Thursday that Michael Werier, a Winnipeg lawyer with experience in negotiation and arbitration, has been hired to try to resolve the nearly three-week-long lockout.

Werier has been asked to report on the progress of negotiations and settlement recommendations by Oct. 16.

Contract talks between the union and the company began Aug. 13, but the two sides have been unable to reach a collective agreement.

The company said Sept. 1 it needed an "immediate and significant reduction" in labour costs at the paper mill to keep it competitive in a radically changed market for newsprint.
Tembec, however, is not the only forestry company that is either closing its doors or putting the squeeze on its workers, as the following item from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada shows in terms of Abitibi Bowaters. Molly agrees with the urgency of the following call, but she disagrees with the proposed "solution" put forward by the CEP Union. As I have said before on this blog, the real long term solution is an expanded system of "community forests" and the cooperative processing plants that would go along with them. If government money is to be applied anywhere it should be to such a system rather than to private corporations. As noted above Tembec was the happy recipient of government largess at its founding, and the public value from that bailout has now been seen to be less than what might have been hoped for. As to Abitibi Bowater, well giving money to a local street gang would be a more rational move.
Given at least the medium term outlook for the Canadian lumber industry a community forest system that would perhaps be more geared to domestic consumption rather than export would indeed involve a certain amount of job loss amongst forestry workers. So, however, will the "accepted wisdom" of throwing more money at the forestry companies- assuming the USA allows such a thing under the Free Trade Agreement (an unlikely proposition). What the community/producer coop model of community forests would encourage, however, is a greater involvement of local workers and community members, an involvement that is far more likely to produce the magic "diversification" that conversation about this subject seems to eventually come down to. The CEP, like too much of Canadian labour, is mired in and tied to traditional solutions that have been shown over and over to be insufficient. It's time for a little imagination.
OTTAWA -- AbitibiBowater’s closure announcements today at six Canadian mills “are disasters of historical proportions for communities that have been a mainstay of the Canadian forest industry,” said Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
The indefinite closures at three Canadian mills and paper machine closures at four other mills affect more than 1,500 CEP members in 11 CEP local unions.
Coles said that union members today are “angry with the company and cynical about their governments.”
“These closures were preventable,” he said. “The Canadian government had only to put in place a program of loan guarantees for forest companies forced into CCAA protection because of the credit crisis. But clearly, when it comes to our forest industry, nothing is too large to fail, and no economic disaster is too large for government to ignore.”
“The governments that have done nothing to prevent this, and that will do nothing today but offer meaningless platitudes about markets, have lost their moral right to govern,” said Coles.
The closures are also the “end game of AbitibiBowater’s corporate machinations and an attempt to build an empire based on debt,” said Coles. “This company exploited the forests to buy up productive companies, but failed to reinvest. Now workers and communities are paying the price.” (So do you throw more money at somebody who has already sharked you ?-Molly )
Coles said that the company will also use CCAA provisions to deny workers tens of thousands of dollars per person in severance pay that is owed and relegate them to the back of a line of creditors. “This is an ultimate humiliation and painful blow inflicted on our members because the Conservative government believes that bankers are more deserving than working Canadians.”(Uhh-Abitibi Bowater is not "bankrupt in total", merely certain mills. This says buckets about the laxity of the bankruptcy laws in this country- Molly )
“If this government has any decency it will follow the lead of Premier Williams in Newfoundland and pay the severance owing to these workers,” he said. (I'd also say apply the bill against corporate assets- Molly )
The union is demanding that federal-provincial task forces be established with union participation in each of the communities affected by the closures to ensure that the productive capacity of the closed mills is not destroyed and to look for new, responsible ownership. (Have I said the phrase "community forests" before on this blog- Molly )
“If given half a chance, Canadians will overcome the shock, anger and cynicism left behind by the AbitibiBowater announcements and struggle to rebuild the forest industry,” said Coles. “There is no alternative for Canada’s forest communities than the sustainable development and value added processing of our primary renewable natural resource.”

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