Sunday, February 27, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011


American film maker Michael Moore has a long history of supporting the cause of labour, and some of his support has been to Canadian unions such as during the Vale strike in Sudbury. That strike is, of course, now history, but Vale has "rewarded" the workers at its plant in Thompson Manitoba for not going out on a wildcat solidarity strike by...closing down their operations in Thompson thereby throwing 100s out of work and essentially gutting the economy of the town. As Moore says in his blog posting this "economic development" is being financed at least in part by "economic development" grants from the federal Conservative government. Some development !

Here's Moore's well written and entertaining blog posting on this subject. It's nice to see that this province occasionally gets at least a little notice. Please be aware that I do not share Moore's enthusiasm for the NDP, though I guess in the context of American politics even a right leaning social democratic party like the NDP looks good.
Why I Support the People of Thompson, Canada -- And You Should Too
By Michael Moore

To people down here in the U.S., Thompson, Canada and its fight with the Brazilian mining giant Vale may seem very far away.

It's not.

(Don't be embarrassed if you need a map to find Thompson, though -- blame the U.S. media, which will only tell you about Canadians if they have some connection to Justin Bieber.)

Right now Thompson is fighting a frontline battle in a war that's been raging for the past 30 years -- the global war of the world's rich on the middle class. It's a war the people of Flint and all of Michigan know much too well. It's a war going on right now in Wisconsin. And it's a war where the middle class just won a round in Egypt. (You probably didn't know -- because the U.S. media was too busy telling you about Justin Bieber -- that Gamal Mubarak, son of Egypt's dictator and his chosen successor, worked for years for Bank of America.)

Here's what's happening in Thompson, and why it matters so much:

Canada isn't like the United States -- it's still a first world country, where corporations are supposed to exist to benefit people, not the other way around. They don't just have universal health care -- they even have something called the Investment Canada Act, which says multinationals like Vale can only invest in Canadian industries if it will benefit all of Canada. I know, crazy!

The mine in Thompson used to be run by Inco, a Canadian corporation that made peace with unions and shared the wealth. When Vale bought Inco in 2006, they signed a contract with the government setting out what they would do to benefit Canadians.

Immediately afterward, Vale violated the contract and went on the attack -- forcing miners in Sudbury, Ontario out on the longest strike in their history. And now in Thompson they're trying to shut down the smelting and refining operations that have made the city a major economic hub of the province. Meanwhile, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper -- think of George W. Bush with a Canadian accent -- is actually helping Vale do this to their fellow citizens, with a giant $1 billion government loan which Vale is using to move jobs out of Thompson. Moreover, the largest institutional investor in Vale is Blackrock, an investment firm which in turn is owned by several of America's bailed-out banks ... including Bank of America.

So this is about one thing and one thing only: killing the social contract of Canada. Vale and the Harper government don't want a future where Brazil gradually becomes more like Canada. Instead, they want a future where Canada becomes Brazil. And not just Canada: the corporations' plan is that the Third World will become the Only World.

That's why people everywhere need to support Thompson. As Niki Ashton -- the MP who represents Thompson and the second-youngest woman ever elected to the Canadian Parliament -- says: "It Was Flint Yesterday, It's Us and Wisconsin Today, and Tomorrow It's Going to Be Everyone."

And that's why I'm proud to feature Ashton and voices of the people of Thompson on my website. And it's why I'm asking you to watch their powerful video, hear their stories, and share them with everyone you know.

Regular people across the world are standing up right now and saying "No!" to the future they have planned for us. We won in Egypt. We're waking up and fighting back across the U.S. Let's all stand with Thompson and make it the place where we turn the tide in this awful war. As Kamal Abbas, one of Egypt's most important union leaders, said in a video message to Wisconsin: "We stand with you, as you stood with us."

(Confidential to people of Thompson: we're not saying Americans will only help if you promise to introduce us to Justin Bieber. We're just saying, you know, it couldn't hurt.)


Thursday, February 24, 2011


A recent decision by Judge Robert Dewar has aroused a lot of ire here in Manitoba. The basic story is that the judge allowed a convicted rapist to serve a two year conditional sentence because the "attire" of the woman involved "provoked" him to assume that "sex was in the air". Love those wind currents. Here is a call for a demonstration outside the Manitoba Law Courts Building to protest the idea behind this sentence.

Judge Dewar: No Means No! Rally
Information about the Rally:

: Campus and Community Women’s Centres
What: Rally against Judge Robert Dewar’s rape case ruling
Where: Manitoba Law Courts Building
When: Noon, Friday, February 25, 2011
Why: Judge Dewar said: "inviting circumstances" and survivor’s attire make rapist less morally responsible for rape.

Everyone is more than welcome to bring your own signs with your own message but there will be signs available at the rally.

Please spread the word about this event to everyone you know. There is also an event created for the rally through this facebook group that can be shared.

In order to show your support please change your facebook profile to the no means no picture and change your facebook status to express your views on Judge Dewar's ruling.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


While I am not really a fan of Moosehead Beer there are many who are. Thus the following may mean a shortage of your favourite social lubricant. Too bad, but they really should treat their workers better. Here's the story from the CBC.

Moosehead locks out 172 Saint John workers
New Brunswick Union employees say contract talks broke down Saturday night
Strike threatens Moosehead beer supply
About 170 workers are picketing outside Moosehead Breweries saying that the Saint John-based company locked them out over a contract dispute.

The workers, who are members of the New Brunswick Union, say they were given notice by the company after contract negotiations broke down on Saturday night, that they would be locked out on Monday morning.

When workers showed up for the evening shift on Sunday night at 11 p.m., their entry cards were not working.

Luke Coleman, vice president of the union, said the company surprised them with 24-hour lockout notice.

"We remain committed to getting a deal. The company is the one that has chosen to break this off and put us on the streets," Coleman said.

The contract ended on Dec. 31 and the two sides had been in negotiations since that time.

Workers say the main issue in the contract dispute is retirement benefits.

The union and management were not that far apart when talks broke down, according to the workers.

Joel Levesque, a Moosehead spokesman, said it was the union that walked away from the bargaining table on Saturday night.

He said the two sides agree on the principal sticking point being retirement benefits.

Moosehead now pays all of the costs of its retirees' prescription drug benefits.

Levesque said the company is asking retirees to pay 30 per cent of the cost of benefits, such as prescription drugs.

"In recent years, as everyone knows, the costs of drugs in particular has escalated astronomically," he said.

Despite the contract dispute, Levesque said he believes the two sides are close to reaching a settlement.

"We truly don't think we're that far away from a resolution," he said.

"There are many ways of approaching the issue of post-retirement benefits and we had a number of different scenarios on the table."

Beer still in storage
Moosehead workers are holding up vehicles heading into the facility.

The union members say an unusual amount of beer was taken out of the facility last week.

As of Monday Moosehead is not making beer in New Brunswick.

The company says it has plenty of beer in storage. But the union members are pretty sure Moosehead won't be able to resume production without them.

Moosehead Breweries is Canada's third-largest brewer.

Monday, February 21, 2011


The standoff in Wisconsin continues as the Governor refuses to negotiate concerning his anti-worker legislation, and the people protesting the Bill continue to demonstrate and occupy parts of the legislative building. Meanwhile similar union busting legislation is also under debate in other states as the various governments attempt to unload their financial crises onto the backs of public employees.

Here's an item from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) about what you can do to stand in solidarity with American public service workers.
Join Wisconsin's Workers: a Last Stand for the Middle Class‏
You've no doubt seen by now that tens of thousands of working Americans, including UFCW members, have come to the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin to rally, protest, and make a stand for workers' rights. It's no exaggeration to say that what's happening in Wisconsin is of great importance to working families. It may be our last chance to save our shrinking middle class.

Republican Governor Scott Walker's attempt to strip public workers' collective bargaining rights under the pretense of balancing the state budget has got working Americans all over the country up in arms. Especially since Wisconsin's budget was in great shape until Governor Walker decided to reward his corporate buddies with tax breaks.

It's the same old corporate greed that we've seen chipping away at the American Dream in the last few years, with politicians exploiting working people while stuffing the pockets of their Wall Street cronies.

But it's clear as the momentum keeps building and the movement keeps growing in Wisconsin that this is no ordinary protest. And now workers nationwide are joining with Wisconsin's workers to make a last stand for the middle class. Click here to find out more info on where and when these rallies are happening, and if there's one near you.

These are families who have seen years of Republican fiscal irresponsibility—and are saying, no more.

These are union members who are tired of being scapegoated by the same old politics—of being told that they're responsible for this fiscal crisis, rather than the CEOs and Wall Street speculators that drove our economy into the ground.

These are students and teachers and parents and nurses and firefighters and retail clerks and plant workers and auto workers and steel workers and plumbers and truck drivers and public employees—these are the ordinary working people that make this country strong.

And they have had enough.

It's not just in Wisconsin, either. In states all across the country—maybe your state, too—Republicans are proposing bills to take away workers' rights, to destroy the unions that serve as the last line of defense for America's middle class.

Click here to find out here what's going on in your state and what you can do to help.

And call your elected officials to let them know you oppose any such legislation in your state.

President Obama was half right when he said what was happening in Wisconsin is “an assault on unions.” Because it's not just unions. The laws that are being proposed in Wisconsin and elsewhere are an assault on all working people, on all working families.

So the middle class is making a stand in Wisconsin. And if we can stop Governor Walker there, we can stop similar attacks on workers across the nation. It's so important that we stand with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin, as well as in Indiana, in Ohio, and all over the country.

Click here to find out how you can help workers stand up for the middle class and save the American Dream—before it's gone for good.

In solidarity,

Joe Hansen
UFCW International President
Here's another proposal to show solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin. From Local 668 Chapter 13 of the Service Employees International Union in Pennsylvania....

Time Tuesday, February 22 · 7:00am - 6:00pm

Location Everywhere
Created By SEIU Local 668 Chapter 13
More Info
Wear red on Tuesday in support of Wisconsin state employees and collective bargaining! Take pictures of groups of workers holding signs saying "We Are One!" and email them to me.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yet another item from Stephanie Mcmillan.


The struggle in the American state of Wisconsin continues as the Governor attempts to destroy the public sector unions there. He is, however, not unopposed. A call for Tea Party goons to show up to intimidate union members basically flopped as the unions and their supporters vastly outnumbered the other side. The Wisconsin unions are also gathering huge support, both nationally and even internationally as this is very much a test case to see how far government in the USA can go in destroying workers' rights. Here's one expression of this support, from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and their General Defense Committee.
IWW General Defense Committee Statement on Wisconsin
by Twin Cities IWW on Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 5:16pm.
General Defense Committee
of the Industrial Workers of the World

An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!

GDC Central • Post Office Box 180195 • Chicago, Illinois 60618 USA

Email • • Telephone • 773.857.1090

Right now in Wisconsin public workers from across the state, supported by
private sector workers, students young and old, retirees, labor activists and more,
are holding unprecedented protests in Madison against the utterly dictatorial move
by Governor Scott Walker to gut their collective bargaining rights.

After giving $140 million to special interest groups in January, many of whom
donated to Republican campaigns and to the Governor himself, Walker is now
attempting to strip Wisconsin's state workers of their hard-won right to collectively
bargain over the conditions of their labor under the guise of filling a claimed $137
million budget shortfall.

A similar bill has been introduced in Ohio, and Republican Sen. Jane
Cunningham in Missouri has also introduced a bill to strip state law of all Child
Labor protections.

In light of these increasing attacks on the working class, We, the Steering
Committee and Central Secretary Treasurer of the General Defense Committee of
the Industrial Workers of the World, stand firmly behind all workers fighting back.
We extend Solidarity to all workers, union or non-union, fighting back against the
Capitalist class trying to return us to conditions not found since the Industrial

As our primary mission is to offer solidarity and defense help to any workers
imprisoned, arrested, attacked, or punished by the State in any way in fighting the
class war, the GDC of the IWW is here to offer any and all help we can during these
times, and during all labor struggles.

An injury to one is an injury to ALL!

Solidarity Forever!
Central Secretary-Treasurer:
Steven Ayers

Steering Committee:
Chuck Bailey
Eric Zenke
Marie Mason


Friday, February 18, 2011


In recent days the State of Wisconsin has seen what may be the most significant labour rebellion in decades as tens of thousands protest and even invade and occupy the state legislature to express their opposition to the recent bill that proposes to basically abolish collective bargaining for public employees. Wisconsin, however, is not the only state in the union that is attempting to unload its fiscal crisis onto the backs of its employees. Thus solidarity rallies are being called nationwide to oppose this attack on working people. Here's news item from Jobs With Justice about the scope of these rallies.


Worker Solidarity Growing: Wisconsin to IN, OH and Beyond‏
In this still-struggling economy, our country needs one thing: more good jobs. But instead of focusing on finding ways to create good jobs, politicians have turned their attention to political payback to the corporate CEOs who spent more than $1 billion on the November elections.

In states across the country, workers are fighting back against corporate-backed lawmakers who are trying to use state budget problems as an excuse to gut workers’ rights and benefits, when in fact it was Wall Street’s gambles and broken promises that have hurt taxpayers and the middle class—not workers. CEOs are trying to shift the blame for high unemployment and rising poverty levels away from themselves and onto workers and our unions.

But we won't let that happen. Workers across the country -- from Wisconsin to Indiana, Ohio, and beyond -- are fighting back.

In Wisconsin, workers, students, community, and faith have joined together to stage massive protests this week against Governor Walker’s budget proposal which would gut collective bargaining rights for 200,000 public workers. Tens of thousands of people are putting their everyday lives on hold to stand in solidarity. Student Labor Action Project activists in Wisconsin have been mobilizing on a daily basis to the capitol.
**Beginning Monday, workers, students, faith leaders, and community allies will be holding solidarity rallies in their own states. Plan your own action, or contact your local JwJ coalition to find out if there is already an action planned in your area.
**Thousands of people are changing their facebook status to say, “Today I stand with in solidarity with the teachers, firefighters, nurses, and all public workers who are fighting for their rights. If you do too, change this to your status for the rest of the day.”
**The Student Labor Action Project is organizing a March 2nd Public Need vs Corporate Greed Day of Action. Stay tuned for more details on these actions in days to come.
**In Ohio, working people are also fighting a repeal of collective bargaining rights for the teachers, firefighters, nurses, and other public servants who provide vital services in our communities. Yesterday, thousands of people, including members of Columbus and Toledo JwJ, converged on the capitol to rally against Senate Bill 5. JwJ coalitions throughout the state, including Cleveland and Columbus, are gearing up for more actions in the coming weeks, including more actions at the capitol, vigils, town hall meetings, and rallies in key cities.
**In Indiana, working people are fighting several anti-worker bills, including so-called "Right to Work" legislation that makes it easier for companies to lower wages and cut benefits. JwJ coalitions across the state have been taking action at the state house and holding hearings and press conferences. They're gearing up for a hearing on Right to Work and visits to the state house every day next week.
In other states across the country, including Maine, Florida, and Missouri, JwJ coalitions are fighting back against anti-worker legislation ranging from Right to Work to corporate tax breaks to fighting to keep the state's minimum wage.

Make no mistake - these attacks on working people aren’t about balancing any budget – they’re about corporate CEOs using politicians to make sure that nothing gets in the way of their ability to bring home huge paychecks and even bigger bonuses.

CEOs know that workers united through unions are one of the few remaining protections workers have from unchecked corporate greed. They want to weaken or eliminate unions so that the voices of all workers are weakened.

Corporations want to control how our communities spend money. They want to cut public sector jobs instead of closing tax loopholes, privatize pubic sector jobs so that they can profit, and do away with agreements that ensure government contractors pay decent wages and don’t cut corners on safety. Meanwhile, politicians are asking working people to sacrifice vital public services like firefighters, teachers, and nurses so that they can give tax breaks, bailouts, and tax loopholes to corporations and CEOs.

These CEOs may have more money than we do, but we have strength in numbers. We need to come together to curb unchecked corporate power and restore the balance to our politics. It’s time for politicians to come together to create real solutions to the problems that are facing ordinary Americans.

At a time of record economic inequality, these laws that direct more money to corporations will only widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor, enriching a lucky few while forcing more people into poverty. Who will control our communities: working people or corporations?

Here's another winning item from the pen of Stephanie McMillan.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


For over four years workers at Dole in the Philippines have been struggling against both the agribusiness company and the Filipino state for their right to unionize. They are now calling for an international support campaign to press for their rights. Here's the story and appeal from the online labour solidarity site Labour Start.
Philippines: Dole must respect union rights
Since 2006, the company has been trying to weaken, if not eliminate altogether, the democratically-elected union in Dole Philippines - the Amado Kadena–National Federation of Labor Unions–Kilusang Mayo Uno (AK-NAFLU-KMU). Since 2006, the company has conducted a vilification campaign against the union to quash the legitimate workers’ demands for higher wages, job security and trade union rights. With support from the company, the Philippine military has been conducting anti-union seminars, accusing AK-NAFLU-KMU of being a communist front and urging the union members to withdraw support from KMU. The Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) 27th Infantry Battalion conducted a door-to-door campaign calling for disaffiliation from KMU. Union officers and active members are publicly accused as being "enemies of the state” – a very serious accusation amidst the extra-judicial killings in the country. The Dole management also supported the creation of a new union called UR Dole and on Feb 13, 2007, it conducted a bogus general election and "impeached" the legitimate union officials in a viva voce manner. The management refused to implement two orders from the Department of Labor and Employment ordering a status quo and nullifying the assembly and the "impeachment". It continued to recognize UR Dole and even released union dues to them in a clear effort to cripple the operations of AK-NAFLU-KMU. Several workers have also been fired, suspended, demoted or transferred as a result of their support for AK-NAFLU-KMU. Union president Jose Teruel and other officials have received death threats. Active union members are slapped with fabricated charges or subjected to overly-strict discipline; are threatened with non-renewal of their relatives’ contracts in the labor cooperative; and are being offered early retirement packages in another bid to cut back the union membership.
Please go to this link to send the following letter to the Philippine authorities and to Dole Philippines.

We are alarmed to learn that democratically elected AK-NAFLU-KMU has been the object of a vilification campaign by the Dole Philippines company and Philippine military to undermine the trade union and quash legitimate trade union rights. Reportedly, since 2006, the Philippine military, with support from the company, has been conducting anti-union seminars, accused AK-NAFLU-KMU as being a communist front and urged union members to withdraw support to and disaffiliate from KMU. It has also come to my attention that Dole management is interfering in purely union affairs by openly supporting another trade union in violation of two orders issued by the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment. Once a union is elected by its workers, union affairs are managed by the workers and governed by the union constitution and by-laws written and approved of by the workers, and management must not interfere with internal union processes. We are equally alarmed of reports that union president Jose Teruel and other officials have been receiving death threats and that several workers have been retrenched, suspended, demoted or transferred as a result of their support for AK-NAFLU-KMU.

We call on Dole Philippines management to reinstate all workers who have been fired, suspended, demoted or transferred as a result of their active union involvement.

We call on Philippine President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III to order the management of Dole Philippines and the Philippine military to immediately stop all forms of harassment and repression to the workers.

We call on the Philippine Government to take all necessary measures to ensure that workers at Dole Philippines enjoy the right to free and fair election slated for Feb 22 of this year, free from interference by the military and without threat or fear of retaliation, whether by the government or company management.

We condemn and oppose the labor and human rights violations being undertaken by the Dole company and the military. We stand in solidarity with the workers of Dole Philippines in demanding an environment free from company and military interference. An injury to one is an injury to all!

We will closely monitor the situation in Dole Philippines to ensure that workers get their legitimate demands.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The military procurement bill for the multibillion dollar purchase of F-35 "stealth figheters" for the Canadian airforce is slowly wending its way through parliament, obstructed as usual by the secrdcy of the Harper government. Why you may ask does Canada need a "stealth fighter" whose only obvious function is offensive rather than defensive ? Perhaps it doesn't even have much to do with the ever present desire of "patriots" to earn "glory" by sacrificing other peoples lives as mercenaries in other countries' wars. Perhaps the motive even more venal. Here's a piece about Steven Staples of and his exposure of some of the machinations behind this waste of taxpayer money.
The silent U.S. hand guiding Canada’s
F-35 debate
Embassy Scott Taylor Feb 9 2011

With all the buzz around Ottawa about a potential spring election, there remains a drought of hot-button political issues over which the coming campaign will be contested. One exception to this, of course, is the Conservative government’s controversial commitment to acquire 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

Although no actual contract has been signed, the Harper Tories remain adamant that they will proceed with the purchase of the stealth aircraft, which, at an initial cost of $9 billion and an estimated $7 billion in future maintenance expenses, would make this the largest military project expenditure in Canada’s history.

The Liberals sense there is a natural public aversion to spending such vast sums on military equipment and with the NDP are advocating that a competition be held to select Canada’s next generation of fighter aircraft, rather than continuing with a sole-source purchase of the F-35. The Bloc Quebecois could care less which jet we buy as long as it results in high-tech jobs in Quebec.

Thanks to recent revelations made public via WikiLeaks, it is safe to surmise that the U.S. State Department is the unseen puppeteer making Harper do the F-35 dance. The embarrassing documents contain American diplomatic correspondence detailing how they used a public “carrot” and a private “stick” approach to convince Norway to buy the F-35.

A “lessons learned” cable from the U.S. embassy in Oslo reads: “We needed to avoid any appearance of undue pressuring…. We opted for ‘choosing the JSF will maximize the relationship’ [between the U.S. and Norway] as our main public line. In private we were much more forceful.”

The backroom strong-arm tactics of the U.S. State Department obviously did the trick as the American Embassy subsequently reported to Washington, “The tide has turned in Norway…. The media have recently run a number of articles from active duty and retired officers extolling the strengths of the F-35.”

While those cables may have been penned in 2008, it would seem that there is no need to change a winning playbook. Fast-forward to the Jan. 24 edition of the Ottawa Citizen, wherein former Canadian air force generals Angus Watt and Paul Manson penned a joint editorial entitled, “The truth about those jets.” This was written as a myth vs. reality, 10-item opinion piece, the gist of which was to extol the strengths of the F-35. Sound familiar?

While Mr. Manson may have been telling the truth as he sees it, unfortunately he did not tell the whole truth about his career credentials.

While he was indeed once the chief of the defence staff for the Canadian Forces and a top project officer on the acquisition of the air force’s current fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft, Manson forgot to mention his post-military stint as the president of Lockheed Martin Canada. Given that Lockheed Martin is the main manufacturer of the F-35, this should be considered a salient point to note for readers.

Luckily, Steven Staples, director of the Rideau Institute and a long-time thorn in the side of the military establishment, ousted Manson’s Lockheed Martin association in a letter to the editor the following day.

Next up to bat was none other than Lt.-Gen. André Deschamps, the current chief of air staff. In the latest edition of the official Canadian Military Journal, Deschamps opined that the F-35 “is the right fighter aircraft for Canada.” The format of the article is that of six rhetorical questions followed by predictable answers invariably extolling the strengths of the F-35.

The first question Deschamps posed to himself is one that I’m sure many Canadians have asked after hearing that this project will set us back $16 billion in tax dollars, and that is: “Why fighters?”

According to Deschamps, “manned fighters are essential to our ability to exercise control and sovereignty over our airspace in Canada, and to conduct operations abroad. This is a fact of modern airpower and all industrialized nations acknowledge it as such.”

In an era where the trend in aviation development is that of unmanned aerial vehicles and pilot-less aircraft, one could argue that Deschamps’s “because everyone else is doing it” argument is somewhat short-sighted. Back at the turn of the last century, the armies of all industrialized nations still fielded large formations of cavalry. In retrospect, that fact in itself would not have justified the investment of billions of dollars into faster and stronger horses.

These are of course only the opening salvos in what promises to be a long and heated battle over the F-35 purchase. One can only wonder just how “forceful” the U.S. State Department will be with Harper before the dust settles.

Scott Taylor is editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.

See also "Staples Outs the Brass" in Esprit de Corps.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Over the past few years the situation of workers in Mexico has become increasingly dire as both employers and the government employ increasingly violent tactics. This week supporters of Mexican workers will be organizing solidarity rallies across Canada and the world. Here's the story from the Maquila Solidarity Network.

Rallies planned throughout world in support of trade union rights in Mexico (14-19 February 2011)
February 10, 2011

In recent years the few genuinely independent trade unions seeking to improve the lives of Mexican workers have found themselves increasingly under fire.

The Mexican Miners' Union (Los Mineros), the Mexican Electrical Workers' Union (SME), the union representing workers in Mexico's state-owned petroleum company PEMEX, the National Union of General Tyre Workers of Mexico (SNTGTM) and the Mexican Telephone Workers' Union (STRM) have all faced violent attacks, intimidation and repression of trade union rights.

One of the biggest obstacles to freedom of association for workers in Mexico is the prevalence of "protection contracts," collective agreements negotiated between employers and "official" unions or corrupt lawyers, which serve to "protect" the employer from the emergence of truly representative and democratic trade unions and genuine negotiations to improve wages and working conditions. Protection contracts are negotiated without the knowledge and/or consent of workers and are often in place in a factory even prior to the hiring of workers. Mexican labour rights experts estimate that the vast majority of collective bargaining agreements in the country are in fact protection contracts.

From February 14-18 trade unions in Canada and around the world are joining in the International Days of Action in support the independent trade union movement in Mexico and the right of Mexican workers to be represented by the union of their free choice.

During the week rallies are being held in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver at the Mexican embassy and consulates in those cities to show solidarity with Mexican workers. Meetings are also planned between Canadian union leaders and Mexican embassy and consular officials to discuss these pressing issues.

Planned Canadian rallies:

Toronto rally: February 14, 13:00-14:00 @ Mexican Consulate (199 Bay Street)
Montreal rally: February 15, 11:30-13:30 @ Mexican Consulate (2055 Peel Street)
Ottawa rally: February 15, 15:00-16:00 @ Mexican Embassy (45 O'Conner Street)
Vancouver rally: February 17, 10:30-12:00 @ Mexican Consulate (Harbour Green Park West Cordova & Bute)
Trade unions from around the world are calling on the Mexican government to:

1.Hold employer and government officials accountable for the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion that killed 65 miners on February 19, 2006.
2.Abolish systemic violations of workers' freedom of association, including employer-dominated "protection contracts" and interference in union elections.
3.End the use of force-by the state or private parties-to repress workers' legitimate demands for democratic unions, better wages and working conditions, and good health and safety conditions.
4.End the campaign of political persecution against the Mexican Miner's Union and the Mexican Electrical Workers' Union.
More Information:

Read more on planned international actions.
Information on rallies planned in the U.S.
Read more on freedom of association and labour rights in México.
Find out more on the Global Days of Action from the International Metalworkers Federation.
Read more on the Global Days of Action from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions.
Join the cause on Facebook

Saturday, February 12, 2011



Valentine's Day is coming up on Monday, and now is a good time to look at the root of where a lot of our chocolate comes from ie child labour in the cocoa industry. Here's an item from the International Labor Rights Forum on what you can do to end this exploitation.
Valentine's Day 2011 Actions for the Hershey Campaign

Valentine's Day is a major chocolate buying holiday, but your gifts for your sweetheart should not come at the expense of workers rights! Forced labor, child labor and trafficking continues in the cocoa industry in West Africa. Almost all major chocolate companies have begun to commit to using independent, third-party programs to certify that their cocoa suppliers comply with international labor standards, but Hershey continues to lag behind the industry.

There are two easy and fun ways to take action to tell Hershey to go Fair Trade leading up to Valentine's Day:

1.SEND VALENTINES TO HERSHEY! Create your own personalized Valentine telling Hershey to start using Fair Trade Certified cocoa for its products, like the iconic chocolate Kiss. Address your Valentine to Hershey CEO David J. West and mail it to: 100 Crystal A Drive, Hershey, PA 17033. You can also download this PDF of a Valentine to mail to the company. If you make your own Valentine, please do scan an image of it or take a photograph of your Valentine and send it to ILRF Campaigns Director Tim Newman at: We'll post them online and you can get a 10% discount to Global Exchange's store by sending your images and photographs to us! Please mail your Valentines to Hershey by February 18, 2011.
2.HOST A SCREENING OF THE DARK SIDE OF CHOCOLATE! You can host a screening of this documentary that exposes the ongoing use of trafficked child labor in the cocoa industry in your community. Click here to order your DVD and click here to download a screening toolkit. ILRF and partner organizations across the country are especially encouraging people to host screenings during a national week of action leading up to Valentine's Day from February 4-14.
You can also send an e-mail to Hershey online here.

Together we can support cocoa farmers and workers and make Valentine's Day sweet for everyone!

Also, don't forget about our petitions to Hershey! You can download the petition here and collect signatures in your community.
If you want to get a jump on things go to this link to send the following letter to the Hershey Corporation.
Subject: Time to Raise the Bar, Hershey!

As a chocolate consumer, I am deeply concerned about labor rights abuses in the cocoa industry. Forced labor, trafficking and child labor continue on West Africa's cocoa farms.

While many companies are working to trace their cocoa and institute labor standards among their suppliers, I am disappointed to learn that Hershey is lagging behind its competitors in this area. I believe you can be a leader in responsible cocoa sourcing.

I ask that you meet the goals of the “Raise The Bar, Hershey!” campaign, which include:

* an agreement to take immediate action to eliminate forced and child labor in your cocoa supply chain;

* a commitment to sourcing 100% Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa beans by 2012 for at least one of your top five selling chocolate bars that prominently displays the Hershey name; and

* a commitment to making at least one additional top five selling bar 100% Fair Trade Certified™ every two years thereafter, so that Hershey’s top five selling cocoa bars will all be 100% Fair Trade Certified™ within 10 years.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Friday, February 11, 2011

As I promised, another interesting and amusing cartoon from Stephanie McMillan.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I did it ! I did it ! I did it ! After some rather humbling communication from a Bosnian comrade last December I set myself the task of editing the links section. Today Molly is happy to announce that at least a large portion of this task is completed. The 'Blogs and Facebook Pages' section of the Links has been thoroughly screened. All dead links have been deleted, and any items that have shown no action for a year have been removed to the 'Baron Mollydi's House Of Zombies' section. God only knows if any of them will return from the dead.

There's still a lot of go in the other sections, though I have been working on them piecemeal. Sooner or later, however, it will all be done, even the, literally, hundreds of items that are in the queue to be added. Much thanks to Srdjan and his Kad Budu Gorjeli Gradovi blog. There's also a tip of the Molly hat to Srdjan because the blog linked above in Tumblr is the third one he has had since mid December. For some reason that is beyond me he managed to get banned from both Blogger and Wordpress for the infamous and ever mysterious "violation of the terms of service". I've never known anybody else who managed this, and it is very mysterious to me as I never saw anything tremendously offensive at his sites. The Lords of the Internet move in mysterious ways.

So I toast Srdjan and thank him profusely.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


The following petition to the Conservative Party of Canada and our Conservative federal government comes from the Avaaz organization. Basically there is a piece of legislation, Bill C393, supported by all the opposition parties that would allow an exception to drug patent laws allowing generic drug manufacturers to make generic affordable versions of drugs for the treatment of AIDS in developing countries. In the service of big pharma the Conservatives are blocking the introduction of this bill. Here is the story and a petition asking that the Conservatives relent and allow lives to be saved even if it costs their corporate friend a bit of their profit..
Let Parliament Vote!‏

A bill is in Parliament that would make Canada a leader in the production of affordable AIDS drugs for developing countries. But the Conservative Party is trying to kill Bill C393 on a technicality, dashing dreams of affordable medicine for the world’s poor before Parliament even has a chance to vote.

The sponsor of the Bill resigned from Parliament last year. To move forward, Parliament has to unanimously approve a new sponsor. This is common, and usually happens without a fuss. But Conservatives are so determined to protect the profits of big pharmaceutical companies, they are refusing to agree to the sponsorship change.

A Canadian company, Apotex, has already pledged to produce and deliver affordable AIDS drugs for children across the world as soon as this Bill is passed. Let's raise a nation-wide call for Conservatives to respect democracy and let Parliament vote on Bill - C393. Sign the petition and forward to all of your friends:

The Canadian Access to Medicines Regime doesn’t work - bureaucratic hurdles make production of generic drugs too expensive. But the amendments proposed in Bill-C393 would allow Canadian companies to produce the AIDS drugs people need most, at prices that are affordable for those in developing countries. This Bill is the key to changing Canada’s role in world health provision.

So far, the NDP, Liberals, Greens and the Bloc have pledged to support the Bill’s sponsorship change - understanding that democracy requires honest and open debate in Parliament. Only the Conservatives have refused to support this necessary formality before the Bill undergoes rigorous debate and a fair vote.

Our outrage at this undermining of Canadian democracy - at a time when the legislation could literally save thousands of lives - can force the Conservatives to let Parliament vote fairly on this measure.

Canadian democracy has never been about quick tricks and technical maneuvering. Let’s insist Conservative politicians in Parliament support a fair and open debate about access to medicines. Call on the Conservatives to let Parliament vote.

With hope,

Emma, Ricken, Laryn, and the rest of the Avaaz team.


Children Can't Wait, Dying for Drugs in Devloping Countries (Can. HIV/AIDS Legal Network)

Fighting to get cheap drugs to Africa at critical stage (Toronto Star)

Procedural quagmire could kill dream of cheap AIDS drugs (Xtra)
Please go to this link to sign the following petition to the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party of Canada.

To Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada::
We call on you to pledge to support the sponsorship of Bill-C393. We urge you to stop undermining Canadian democracy and let Parliament vote on this important measure that would catapult Canada to the forefront of health provision for the world's poor.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


The following story and appeal is from the US based organization Human Rights First. They are calling for the United States government to cease its support of the Egyptian dictatorship and not just in words. Here's the story...
“Made in the USA” Tear Gas Thrown at Protesters in Egypt
The United States has given billions of dollars in military aid to Egypt over the decades. The State Department approved the sale of tear gas to its police, despite its known history of brutality.

As everyday life begins to resume in Egypt, there are lingering questions about what happened, how it happened, and what's next.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is tackling some of these questions. We have our own questions we would like answers to.

Help us get our questions asked—and add your own!—by sending a letter to the chairs and members of the committee.

Given the U.S. relationship with Egypt, President Obama and U.S. policymakers can make a difference in what happens in Egypt—let's make sure they keep the interest of Egyptian citizens in mind.
Please go to this link to sign the following petition to the American Administration.

I’d like to hear members of the Obama Administration answer the following questions:

1. Why did the State Department approve the sale of tear gas to Egyptian police despite its well-documented history of brutality?
2. Can you describe what steps the administration is taking to ensure that the transition process now underway in Egypt leads to more respect for human rights and a more representative and responsive system of government?
3. How can we ensure that the State of Emergency is lifted, that political prisoners are released and that necessary constitutional amendments and other safeguards are implemented to permit free elections to take place in the coming months?
4. Given that discrimination against Egypt’s minority Christian community has been a constant feature of Mubarak's policy -- and the marked increase in violence against Copts -- can you discuss what the U.S. Government is prepared to do to help support religious freedom in Egypt?
5. Considering the U.S. commitment to Internet freedom as a basic aspect of freedom of expression, what is the U.S. Government doing to protect the role—and the private services—of tech companies in places such as Egypt, where the rule of law is not respected?
6. The Egyptian military has been a longtime partner of the U.S., receiving billions of dollars of aid and training. What is the administration doing to persuade the military to become a force for stability and respect in Egyptian society?

Thank you for considering these questions

Monday, February 07, 2011


Last Saturday local Egyptians resident in Winnipeg and their supporters came out to demonstrate in solidarity with the people of the Egyptian revolution. It was an interesting, spirited and actually quite enjoyable demonstration. Mass media outlets estimated the crowd as anywhere from 130 to 200 people. Molly's own admittedly flawed count was about 150 to 160. It consisted of a wide variety of people, both in terms of ethnicity and in terms of age with people from school children to grandparents represented. Even the speeches were less annoying than they usually are at demonstrations...brief and to the point with representation from both Egyptians and the labour community giving their piece. It was actually amazing to me to see that there is indeed an Egyptian community here on the frigid prairies. One wonders how they ended up here, and there's surely a lot of wonderful life stories behind this fact.

You can access video of the demonstration here , and there is a collection of photos here. For those interested in further information about the demo, and to see what might be upcoming in the future go to Winnipeg Protest For Egypt and Winnipeg Human Rights And Activist Events.

In the interim here is how the demo was seen by the Winnipeg Free Press.
Canada not doing enough, rally told
By: Bill Redekop
Canada needs to be a stronger voice for democracy in Egypt to stop government-sponsored bloodshed in that country, said people at a Winnipeg rally Saturday.

"Canada has said what the United States said, (that) we need a peaceful transition," said Basil Elmayergi in an interview after he addressed the rally supporting democracy in Egypt.

But that implies allowing President Hosni Mubarak to stay in power until elections are held in September. That will result in a "slaughter-fest" by Mubarak's police and military against those advocating democracy, he said.

"I don't think Canada is doing enough," said Elmayergi.

About 200 people attended the rally on the legislative building steps. People waved Egyptian flags and placards and spoke passionately about the changes sweeping Arab countries in the Middle East and Africa. One placard said, "Game Over," beside a photo of Mubarak and another said, "We Are Finally Free."

Elmayergi heralded those in Egypt who have stood up for democracy as "our courageous brothers and sisters."

"Send a message that there has been enough beatings, enough torture, enough oppression," he said. "(Egypt) is going to be such a great country — a leader in the Arab world, a leader to the African continent."

Winnipeg's Egyptian population is estimated at only about 200 people, but the city has about 6,000 people of Arabic descent. Saturday's crowd was a mix of both.

Arabic people in the crowd said they see what is happening in Egypt, after the ouster of the dictatorship in Tunisia late last year, as the beginning of change throughout the Arab world.

"I think Tunisia was an inspiration for all of us," said Shirin Farag, Elmayergi's wife, who came to Canada 17 years ago.

"When Egypt saw that a nation of 10 million people (Tunisia) was able to oust its president, Egypt, with 80 million people, thought it could do it, too," she said.

Kadim Al-Roubaie, who emigrated from Iraq 36 years ago, said he attended the rally "to support democracy."

"I've lived here 36 years. I love it. It's a privilege to live in a democracy," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2011 A15
Here is the much more brief notice published in the Winnipeg Sun. It should be noted that their estimate of about 130 is low. Personally I am not given to inflating crowd numbers as I believe it is bad policy in the long term. My own count of 150 to 160 may be slightly on the low side and is definitely not an overestimate.
Show of support for Egypt
By ROSS ROMANIUK, Winnipeg Sun

A crowd of Winnipeg protesters on Saturday joined the spirit of fierce demonstrations a half a world away, demanding that the Canadian government pressure Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign.

About 130 people converged at the Manitoba legislature's front steps to shout their anger at what they say is the Harper government's unwillingness to push Mubarak to step down immediately, in the face of outrage in Egypt over government policies that protesters there say are hurting their country.

Unlike the violence that has marked the massive rioting and street battles in Cairo for the past week, though, the Winnipeg demonstration was emotional yet peaceful.

Despite talk in recent days of a possible "transition" of power from Mubarak to a successor, Egypt's longtime president has remained in office.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


For a long time now labour activists in Turkey have been fighting an uphill battle, hamstrung by repressive labour legislation. The following appeal for solidarity with the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey asks for international solidarity to pressure the government into reform. This appeal is being broadcast by the online labour solidarity site Labour Start.
Turkey: Reform labour laws now
Although Turkey was earnestly criticized and warned by ILO committees in International Labour Conferences, she has not made necessary legal changes in compliance with ILO Conventions No. 87 and 98. Because of the legal prohibitions and regulations, millions of workers cannot exercise their fundamental rights. Thousands of workers are subject to various pressures such us being dismissed or being arrested. Since 2002, despite the ruling party AKP’s repeated commitments, reform on trade union law has not been realized yet. Industrial relations of Turkey are still being shaped by the laws enacted during the military coup of 1980. The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) is asking for your support, and believes that the messages to be sent to Prime Minister and Labour Minister will be very effective and that your efforts will create an international pressure on the government of Turkey and will force the government to reform the trade union law which should be in compliance with ILO Conventions and Revised European Social Charter.
Please go to this link to send the following letter to the Turkish Prime Minister and Labour Minister.

I have been informed that the trade union laws regulating working conditions in Turkey were made during the military coup of 1980. Although your country has already signed the ILO conventions No. 87 and 98 that form the backbone of the perspective of ‘decent work’ and of the trade union rights and freedoms, the domestic laws in your country have not been amended in compliance with these conventions yet. By these reasons, as the ILO emphasizes, the government of Republic of Turkey should make a new trade union law in line with the requirements of ILO conventions immediately. In order to realize this, all thresholds both at sectoral level and company level should be removed, the prohibitions on strikes should be removed, the notary clause should be removed, and the fact of being dismissed on the grounds of trade union membership should be prohibited.

Molly has recently discovered an interesting cartoonist, Stephanie McMillan. This is the first is series of her cartoons that I will be presenting. I ufge the readers to go to her site and support her efforts.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


The nature of employment has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Nowadays the classical industrial "proletariat" comprises a small minority of the population. Growth in jobs is strongest in the "service" sector, of which retail is a branch. Workers in this sector face precarious employment, low pay and erratic hours. Because their workplaces are small they often find it more difficult to organize unions that might better their conditions. Unions, in turn, find it difficult to reach out to these workers because of the high turnover in personnel at many (most ?) retail outlets, but reach out they will indeed have to do if they want to remain relevant.

In the USA the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) has been very much at the forefront of organizing with their Starbucks Workers Union and the Jimmy Johns Workers Union. Here in Canada there have been attempts with the most successful being in large grocery chains. Here's an article from the Canadian progressive magazine 'Our Times' about organizing in retail. Even though the IWW has often been in the forefront this issue is a problem that all unions should be confronting.
Challenges & Opportunities for Retail Organizing
By Kendra Coulter

Fifteen years ago, two young women made history. Debora De Angelis and Wynne Hartviksen united with their retail co-workers to fight for better pay, basic rights and respect through union protection. Hartviksen led a drive to organize a chain of street-front retail stores in Toronto. The Suzy Shier store in the North York Sheridan Mall became the first women's clothing store in a mall to be unionized in Canada, thanks to the leadership of De Angelis.

Today, retail is the most common occupation in Canada for both women and men. Yet, only about 12 per cent of retail workers are union members and these are concentrated in warehouse and grocery work. Overall, retail work continues to mean low wages, few, if any, benefits and virtually no job security. Retail workers deserve better, today and tomorrow.

If workers learn from their history, and use this knowledge to organize, they can create better futures. Looking back at the history of retail organizing provides valuable lessons about unionizing this growing group of workers. I recently interviewed De Angelis and Hartviksen as part of my research on retail organizing. Many of the issues they confronted as they organized their workplaces in the 1990s persist, and some challenges have intensified. Organizing retail is no easy task, but there are possibilities.

While going to school in the early 1990s, Wynne Hartviksen worked for both the student newspaper and a chain of futon stores. Her pay was the minimum wage and benefits were minimal. Working conditions in the stores troubled the workers, most of whom were working part-time hours at various locations. The boss would arbitrarily fire people with little or no warning. In addition, being based in stores along downtown streets, the women had safety concerns, particularly when forced to work alone.

Hartviksen believes that her co-workers wanted respect and dignity, as much as, if not more than, higher wages.

Although her father was unionized, forming a union was not something Hartviksen immediately considered as a solution to her own workplace woes because she thought unions only represented workers in the manufacturing sector and other large workplaces. One evening when out for a beer, a co-worker suggested unionization as a joke. They discussed the possibility more seriously and decided to try, feeling they had nothing to lose. At the time, Ontario had card-check certification. Workers would indicate their desire to join a union by signing a card. If 60 per cent of employees signed a card and a hearing at the Labour Board was successful, the union was recognized. Every worker but one signed a card, and the futon chain workers quickly became members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

The workers negotiated their first contract, and the collective agreement was in effect for two years until the stores were closed during the height of the 1990s recession.

A few years later in the mid-1990s, Debora De Angelis began work at Suzy Shier, a women's clothing store, while in high school in Toronto. In addition to receiving low wages and no raises, workers were required to show up at work 15 minutes early for their shifts to apply make-up and prepare their appearance for the sales floor. A stack of resumes was kept by the phone, which the workers saw as a deliberate reminder that they were easily replaceable.

Managers made schedules and would allocate shifts based on their own personal preferences or prejudices, and on past sales performances. Some managers required sales associates to stand at least one metre away from each other so that they wouldn't talk too much.

Unionization was suggested by De Angelis' father, who worked for the Toronto Transit Commission and was a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union. De Angelis wasn't sure unions represented retail workers, or small workplaces dominated by young women, single mothers and workers of colour. After doing some research, she decided to pursue unionization and called the Union of Needle Trades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).

But the rules for organizing had changed. In 1995, the Conservatives were elected in Ontario. They changed provincial labour legislation to a mandatory vote model, an approach that continues today under the Liberal government for the vast majority of sectors. In Ontario, the mandatory vote model requires two steps. First, at least 40 per cent of the employees must sign union cards and the union must file for certification with the Ontario Labour Board. Then, one week later, there is a secret ballot vote, and 50 per cent plus one of the workers must vote in favour of unionization. The effects of this two-stage process, with a built-in delay, are significant, particularly for small workplaces like retail stores.

De Angelis spoke confidentially to workers in six stores across the Greater Toronto Area, explaining the unionization benefits and responding to the workers' concerns. Many were nervous and uncertain because they had no union experience, while others were keen to try and fight for dignity. When a manager from one of the locations found out about the drive, the union suggested only submitting the cards from the three stores with the strongest union support.

During the week before the vote, the company sent senior representatives in to try to dissuade the workers from supporting the union. The powerful corporate women would talk to each worker for at least an hour, often for longer. When the ballots were counted, only De Angelis' home store had voted for the union. During the five days of head office involvement, the key women workers in the other locations had spoken to De Angelis about their co-workers' fears of being identified as union supporters. Precisely because the company representatives had spent so much time talking to each worker, some workers had been convinced that things would improve without a union, while others were afraid that they would lose their jobs for having been open to unionization. They felt that in such small workplaces, they were too easily identifiable. The result
was that the other two stores voted as a block against the union.

The workers at the Sheridan Mall location negotiated their first collective agreement, which provided the workers with a raise, new rights and basic fairness for two years, until that Suzy Shier store was closed down. It has not been re-opened.

These are two of a small number of retail drives in Canada, but they raise important issues of enduring significance. The value of workplace relationships and dialogue among workers is clear, particularly in sectors where company loyalty against competing stores is emphasized by bosses promoting corporate "community," an approach intended to minimize worker solidarity and class consciousness.

To be taken seriously, unions must be seen as the best strategy for workers. Harviksen and De Angelis had fathers who were in unions, but the young women had not seriously considered unions as a possibility for their own workplaces. Both women saw unions as representing groups of workers who did not look like them or do what they did, and they knew little about the building blocks needed to form a union. This is a telling reminder that unionized workers need to speak to their families, friends and neighbours about labour politics and possibilities. It also emphasizes that education campaigns that inform youth about their rights and how to organize are important, and should be expanded.

The experiences of Hartviksen and De Angelis also show that while workers can complain, that anger needs to be channelled into organizing. Frustration is a start, but it isn't enough. Social media and other communication strategies can be used to shame bad bosses, but these should be tools, not ends unto themselves. Organizing workers is a lot of work and requires time, emotional
investment and energy, but it is essential.

If small workplaces like retail stores are going to have a chance of being unionized, the two cases suggest legislative change is very important. Card-check certification, something the Canadian labour movement has been actively calling for, makes a difference. Workers feel safe and their identities are not known to their employer. With mandatory-vote legislation, workers feel vulnerable. Companies exploit the one-week delay, using promises, intimidation, or both.

Certainly the transient nature of low-wage, insecure work like retail, combined with small, scattered workplaces, often located in the private property of malls, makes the logistical challenges of organizing retail workers formidable. Because a store closing creates unemployed workers and eliminates the wages of the workers who formed a union, it also contributes to a climate a fear, causing other workers to worry about losing their own jobs if they dare to ask for even modest improvements. The corporate practice of blaming unionized workers and their "high wages and benefits" for outsourcing, bankruptcies and/or store or plant closures, further divides unionized workers from non-union workers.

However, options exist. For example, although varying forms of labour legislation and jurisdiction complicate the scene, a union could opt to organize every store of a particular chain in a provincial, regional, national, or even continental area. Success with this approach could prevent the closure of individual, isolated unionized stores, thus removing one of the main impediments to union organizing. Hartviksen believes there are certain flagship stores aimed at particular consumer markets that companies, regardless of whether a union is present or not, will not close. These should be identified and targeted. If a team approach were undertaken, different unions could tackle neighbouring outlets within a mall that best fit their areas of expertise.

Unions could organize multiple stores or chains in a sector simultaneously, to pre-empt cries of unfair competition and the marginalization of unionized locations.

Alternative union models such as life-long or sector-based union membership could be used for workers shifting between many shorter-term jobs within a particular sector. Such an approach would require a shift in how union membership is conceptualized and organized for the service sector, but such a strategy may hold the most promise given the challenges of organizing transient workers and small workplaces.

Many retail workers are young, and Hartviksen believes retail is often seen as "girls' work," thus allegedly temporary and providing non-essential income. This belief reproduces the devaluation of retail workers and women's work. "Girls" deserve good work in their own right, certainly. But the retail workforce is more complex. As pension funds are threatened, we can assume that more seniors will need to take on additional waged work to subsist, with many ending up in retail. As more university and college graduates are unable to find work in the careers for which they studied, we can predict that more will need to stay in or take up retail work. As industrial and manufacturing jobs continue to disappear, workers from those sectors will also be forced to seek employment in retail sales.

More and more Canadians are responsible for selling the products, the brands and the culture of contemporary capitalism, while trying to live as unorganized low-wage workers. The cultural climate of competitive individualism divides workers more generally. The transient nature of retail work; the threat and pursuit of store closings; and, in particular, legislated mandatory vote certifications, make organizing retail workers difficult.

But retail matters and retail workers can be organized. For example, in the fall of 2009, 15 workers at the Lenscrafters eyeglass store in the Eaton Centre in Toronto joined UFCW Canada (the United Food and Commercial Workers), seeing unionization as the way to improve their
working conditions.

Specific struggles from the past and present can teach us a great deal, and suggest specific avenues to explore and pursue. However, as long as so much power is held by a small minority of corporate leaders, unions will have to confront the problem of store closings as well as plant shutdowns. This suggests a need for more effective and alternative forms of organizing, and greater economic power and control for workers in the wider arena.

Kendra Coulter teaches in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology and in the Labour Studies Program at the University of Windsor, in Ontario. She worked in retail for six years.