Friday, October 23, 2009


The Golden Boy of Canadian business, Nortel, is all washed up. The vultures are circling, and it's all down to who actually gets some money off the deadbeat. As per usual it is workers and former workers who will get the short end of the stick as the benefits for which they traded the cold hard cash of wage increases are as worthless now as a politician's promise. Last Wednesday, October 21, retirees from Nortel and their labour supporters demonstrated in Ottawa because the pension obligations of companies that go bankrupt are, by law, well behind the payouts to other creditors. This hardly seems just as the workers of such companies are definitely the least able of all creditors to absorb the loss. In a climate where business bankruptcies are becoming increasingly common the question of pension guarantees has become an increasingly important one for labour. Here's a story from the CEP Union website about the demonstration.


Nortel pension rally draws 4,000:

OTTAWA (October 21, 2009) – CEP members were among the 4,000 workers and retirees who converged on Parliament Hill today to send the federal government a message that it needs to act now to change the legislation that sets out who gets paid when companies file for bankruptcy protection.

Thousands of CEP members are worried about their pension plans following bankruptcy filings by AbitibiBowater, Fraser Papers and Canwest. As it stands now, when an employer files for protection under the CCAA, workers go to the back of the line, behind other creditors, like banks and suppliers.

The demonstration was organized by Nortel retirees and former employees, who were joined by members of CEP, the CAW, Teamsters Canada and the Congress of Union Retirees.

“It’s important that the government understands that Nortel workers do not stand alone on this issue,” President Coles told the crowd. “Everyone who gets or is expecting a pension should be concerned…. And we are not just complaining,” he said. “We have been trying for months to get decision makers in the federal government to sit down with us and listen to our solutions, but they have refused.”For more information on Labour’s pension campaign and CEP’s proposal for a Pension and Investment Fund, click here.


And here's another story, this time from CTV Toronto, about the demonstration.


Nortel pensioners protest bankruptcy laws in Ottawa: News Staff
Former Nortel employees gathered on Parliament Hill to ask for government help to ensure they continue receiving pension and disability payments - regardless of what happens to the beleaguered telecommunications firm.

Organizers said ex-Nortel employees were bussed in from Montreal and Belleville to attend the demonstration, which took place at noon on Wednesday. They were accompanied by Canadian Auto Workers union members and leaders from several federal opposition parties.

The protesters are seeking amendments to national bankruptcy laws. Their goal is "to give pensioners and people affected by the Nortel insolvency a higher priority ranking in the bankruptcy courts," Don Sproule, chairman of the national committee for Nortel pension plan members, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in January. Since then it's been selling off assets. And in June, the company's shares were delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Former employees say their pensions are less than 70 per cent covered because the company is in bankruptcy proceedings.

Pensions are a provincial responsibility in Canada. But bankruptcy laws are federal, and the protesters say their pension and disability payments are not protected under the current legislation.

"Right now, unsecured bond holders are treated the same as Canadian seniors who have pensions from their employers," said Diane Urquhart, a financial adviser who has been working with ex-Nortel workers.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, NDP leader Jack Layton and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff were expected to join the protest.

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Ignatieff said he wanted to thank the Nortel pensioners "for stepping up and making the question of pension security, particularly the question of pension security in the case of bankruptcy, the national issue that it's become."

Ignatieff pledged to work with the group to change federal bankruptcy laws to "make sure this kind of thing never happens again to another Canadian."

Sproule said Nortel is paying out around an average of $12,000 per year for unionized former employees. Former white-collar employees receive approximately $22,000 a year.

"So you take a 30 per cent haircut off that, and it's going to leave people in real hardship, in possible poverty and having to sell their house," he said.

Nearly 20,000 workers have been affected by Nortel's financial troubles, according to Sproule. About 17,500 are pensioners. Another 2,000 were let go without severance, and 450 remain on long-term disability from the company.

"The feds like to talk about how sound our financial system is and how we weathered the financial crisis today because of sound legislation," Sproule said.

"I don't think anyone was watching the store in terms of what was happening to pension plans. This dirty little secret's been going on for a long time. It's only the high-profile cases like Nortel that are causing the issue to percolate to the top again."


All of the opposition parties claimed sympathy with the demands of the pensioners, though, from Molly's point of view, this "sympathy" is to taken with a grain of salt.neither the Bloc nor the NDP have any expectations of forming a government and actually having to pay the costs of their promises. As for the Liberals their "sincerity" is best estimated by the fact that they have been in power more often than not in the past half century, and when they were in power this sort of issue was always a non-starter.

Pension reform in Canada is long overdue, and there is much more to it than changing the preferences of creditors in the event of bankruptcy, important as that may be. There is a group called the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada that has been organized to look at the larger picture and pressure for a more thorough going reform of our pension system than simply safeguarding pensions in bankruptcy situations. I reproduce a brief excerpt from their position paper below to give a flavour of what they are asking. To read much more about their positions go to their website.



The Congress of Union Retirees of Canada commits to play a leading role not only in defending what we have gained for ourselves but as important to build on that base in a way that future generations will be able to retire in dignity. To that end, we will lobby governments at the national and provincial level:
1. To hold a national summit on pensions with the full participation of all stakeholders including pensioners.
2. To increase CPP and QPP from 25% to 50% of the average industrial wage
3. To oppose changes in CPP and QPP that would increase the penalty for early retirement.
4. To amend legislation so that pension funds can build up surpluses greater than 110% of expected needs and thereby be better able to deal with market fluctuations, inflation and increased life expectancy.
5. To set up pension guarantee fund(s) nationally and or provincially to cover up to at least $2,500 per month in event of bankruptcy or workplace closure.
6. To raise the GIS by 15% to increase the incomes of the poorest seniors by up to $110 per month.
7. To pass legislation to require participation of retirees in the governance of their pensions.


An interesting set of proposals, some of them more praiseworthy than others and some more practical than others. The idea of the federal Liberals actually agreeing to such things when in power is, of course almost as absurd as the idea of the present Conservative government ding the same thing. I personally find the last proposal the most interesting and the most in line with a transition to a more libertarian society, though I am at a loss as to the details of what forms such "participation" would take. The proposals are, at least, something concrete, and it is too my sadness that we anarchists have paid little (none???) attention to such issues, beyond referring all solutions to the never-never land of "after the revolution". Hopefully this will be different in the future as the anarchist movement continues to mature.

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