Canadian workers defeat the Alberta Tories!

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THE ruling right-wing Tory government of Canada got a massive shock last Tuesday when the Progressive Conservative party (PC) were decisively thrashed in elections in the crucial state of Alberta.

PC was pushed into a humiliating third in elections that saw 44 years of Tory rule ended by the trade union-backed New Democratic Party (NPD) which won over 40% of the vote – a 400% increase on the vote they obtained in the 2012 elections – a result that was declared to be a seismic shift in Canadian politics.

Alberta is the largest producer of conventional crude oil, synthetic crude, natural gas and gas products in Canada and is the world’s second largest exporter of natural gas and the fourth largest producer. Once the most prosperous state in Canada, Alberta has been hit hard by the dramatic fall in international oil prices with thousands of workers laid off from the high-cost tar-sands operations.

During the campaign the NDP pledged to raise corporate taxes and threatened to raise royalties on the regional oil industry and in addition to withdraw the province’s support for the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the pipeline through which the Federal Tory Canadian government along with the US planned to move oil products from Alberta onto the world market.

The election of the NDP is ‘completely devastating’, declared financier Rafi Tahmazian of Canoe Financial LP in Calgary, Canada’s oil capital, adding: ‘The perception from the market based on their comments is they’re extremely dangerous.’ Some analysts have gone as far as saying that this unexpected and sweeping victory of a ‘left’ party in what was previously considered to be a bastion of right-wing conservatism is comparable with a socialist being elected governor of Texas!

Alberta is not alone in reeling from an economic crisis. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador was being described back in 2013 as ‘booming’, now it is officially in a state of economic recession.

The response of the Tory government of the province has been to introduce massive cuts in public sector jobs – 1,420 are to be axed – and a programme of extensive privatisation in health and other public services. This has prompted an immediate response from the trade union movement, who this week organised a demonstration on the steps of the Confederation Building, the home of the House of Assembly, to protest at cuts to the public services and the privatisation of long-term care. ‘Our public sector is not for sale,’ Mary Shortall, president of the Federation of Labour, said to a cheering crowd. ‘Our public services are not for sale.’

As well, in a pre-budget announcement, the government said it will collaborate with private and non-profit partners to open 360 long-term beds around the province.

Union opposition to both moves was expressed by incoming Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE/NUPGE) president Jerry Earle who vowed a labour fight over a ‘privatisation agenda.’

In a statement issued by the NAPE/NUPGE, one of Canada’s largest labour organisations with over 340,000 members, Earle said: ‘In no uncertain terms, this is an attack on the public health care system and on the public sector workers who provide this vital service to the people of the province. This is another move by this government, championed by employer groups who stand to make huge profits from these agreements, towards a greater role for the private sector in the delivery of public services. Make no mistake, we will fight this privatisation agenda.’

Public-private partnerships (P3s) involve commercial contracts between governments and private businesses in the design, construction, financing and operation of public infrastructure and services that have traditionally been delivered by the public sector, such as hospitals or schools.

Earle said: ‘In almost every example, governments across Canada and around the world claim that P3s are “innovative” and “more efficient,” but the real world experience shows that the opposite is true. P3s are not a new and innovative idea; they have been around for decades. So, too, has their failure.’ Earle concluded: ‘We are calling on government to abandon this wasteful model and to commit to a quality, publicly funded, designed, and operated system of long-term care in this province.’

He went on to warn: ‘If they insist on moving forward with this ill-fated plan, we will have no choice but to do everything in our power to make them pay the political price.’

The Canadian working class is clearly on the move as the country which boasted that it was unaffected by the world banking collapse in 2008 is now firmly in the grip of the international crisis of capitalism.

Meanwhile, in a landslide vote at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Monday 27 April 2015, the Canadian Union for Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902 voted to endorse the global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. CUPE 3902 represents over 7,000 teaching assistants, course instructors, and sessional faculty at the University of Toronto.

‘After impassioned debate, members present at the CUPE 3902 Annual General Meeting on April 27 showed their strong support for the BDS campaign,’ said Erin Black, CUPE 3902 chairperson. She added, ‘The motion of support was carried by a very clear majority.’

During the recent strike at the University of Toronto, Palestinian students and faculty from Al Quds University sent a message of solidarity, and affirmed that the struggle for access to higher education and workers’ rights is a common struggle from Palestine to Turtle Island. CUPE 3902 has now expressed its solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli settler, colonial and apartheid system.

The resolution included support for the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) divestment campaign which calls on the University of Toronto to divest from companies that facilitate and profit from violations of international law in Palestine. Companies targeted for divestment include Northrop Grumman, Hewlett Packard and Lockheed Martin.

‘UTGSU regards this as an important victory for the BDS work on campus and across the country,’ said UTGSU BDS Committee chairperson, Susanne Waldorf. ‘CUPE 3902 members have affirmed their commitment to BDS and the divestment campaign,’ added Waldorf.

CUPE 3902 joins CUPE Ontario, CUPE 3903 at York University and CUPE 3906 at McMaster University, which have also passed resolutions endorsing BDS, heeding Palestinian trade unions and popular movements’ calls for international solidarity.

This resolution is a milestone for BDS actions in North America. It supports the Palestinian trade unionist call for a military embargo of Israel, and demands that the University of Toronto sever partnerships with Israeli universities that are complicit in Israel’s colonial and racist apartheid policies and its ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.

The full text of the CUPE 3902 resolution is:

‘WHEREAS, the Palestinian trade union movement, with support from the Congress of South African Trade Unions and its affiliates, is unanimously calling on trade unions internationally to take immediate action to stop the Israeli massacre in Gaza and hold Israel to account for its crimes against the Palestinian people.

‘THEREFORE, Be it resolved that CUPE 3902,

‘1) dissociate from Israeli trade unions which are complicit in the occupation and support the GSU’s divestment campaign;

‘2) support the Palestinian trade-union movement’s call for a military embargo on Israel;

‘3) share information with members about the siege and destruction of Gaza;

‘4) ask members to boycott Israeli commercial products and companies that actively support the violation of human rights;

‘5) recommend that the University as well as the members of our Local withdraw their participation from partnerships with Israeli universities that actively support the violation of Palestinian human rights.’