Monday, January 31, 2011


You can be assured that something like a 'Welfare Rights Centre' wouldn't be of top of the popularity list of people such as Saskatchewan Party (conservative) Premier Brad Wall. After all the idea that anybody on welfare has "rights" is enough to double the necessary dose of blood pressure meds for such as these. That's all fine and good, but then the employees of this centre had the effrontery to actually unionize in Local 4973 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). When a campaign of harassment and selective dismissals failed to bend the workers involved it was time to close the centre entirely which is happening this month. What follows is a news story from CUPE about a demonstration held on the 24th of January to demand the centre stay open.

The government has replied to a continued campaign for the centre with a stony silence, but no doubt there is a certain amount of smug glee amongst conservative ideologues in Molly's old home province. After 35 years of operation there is suddenly no longer any need for an ombudsman-like agency to advocate for the poor ? Now that a bright new day of free enterprise has dawned the poor are at last free to go out and get jobs...or perhaps free to starve to death silently.

Now I must say that I am not a great fan of the welfare system. Even without some almost miraculous change to a new and freer society, however, there are better ways to handle the actual problems than what has been created by decades of bureaucratic empire building. Better for both the recipients and for society in general. If, however, we are stuck with the system as it is, or with only minor tinkering with it, then the existence of an outside advocate for people trapped in the system is essential. It's the old "division of power" and "checks and balances" idea that is actually one of the better inventions to come about in politics. Without such an advocate welfare recipients are reduced to little more than helpless toys in the hands of a bureaucracy.
But enough editorializing. Here's the story. You can follow the story more as it develops at the website of the Saskatchewan division of CUPE or at the 'Support Welfare Rights Workers' Facebook page.

Regina Welfare Rights rally

“Who is going to care for our clients? How will they cope?” asks Theresa Poness, a staff member at the Welfare Rights Centre in Regina.

Speaking at a rally in downtown Regina on January 24, Poness said she and her co-workers, members of CUPE 4973, are worried about how Regina’s most vulnerable citizens will manage when the Centre’s doors close next month.

The Welfare Rights Centre has provided advocacy and support services for people on low incomes for 35 years. But the government plans to terminate the Centre’s funding on February 25.

That doesn’t sit well with CUPE and anti-poverty activists. They have been trying to arrange a meeting with Social Services Minister June Draude for months, but have received no response. Yesterday, they took their concerns to the front door of the Social Services building.

“Silence is not an appropriate response from a Minister,” CUPE National President Paul Moist told the rally. Moist attended the rally with National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux and CUPE staff. “People on low-incomes in this city need these services and our members need these jobs.” He urged the Minister to arrange a meeting.

Anti-poverty activist Peter Gilmer told the crowd, “The city desperately needs to maintain the valuable work of the Welfare Rights Centre,” noting other anti-poverty groups don’t have the capacity to handle the extra workload.

“Advocacy is a critically important service,” Gilmer said. “Those with wealth and power can protect their own interests. We need more people, not less, to defend those who cannot. We must ensure these services continue,” he told the rally.

For more information, check out CUPE’s facebook page Support Welfare Rights Workers

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