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Labour Day message, unions are good

4 September 2017 - 9:48am
Dennis Gruending

I first joined a union when I was nineteen years old. On my first day out of school for the summer, I traveled in my old Chevrolet to one of the potash mines under construction near Saskatoon. The man at the entrance gate told me that if I wanted to work there I would have to join one of the unions. I drove into the city, borrowed some money from my aunt, and went to the union hall to sign up. I was soon a member of the Construction and General Workers Union and working at the mine as a carpenter’s helper.

In the many years since, I have belonged to half a dozen unions and staff associations, including some now called by new names, such the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unifor, and the Canadian Media Guild. I was always pleased to have a union to negotiate salary and working conditions on my behalf with an employer who was more powerful than I was as an individual. That allowed me to concentrate on the work at hand and that was fine with me. In my last job, before I retreated to my study, I worked for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), this country’s union central.

Good for communities 

While I was there the CLC’s researchers found that unionized workers earned more per hour than non-unionized workers, if only by a modest amount, and that was true in every province and territory. Being in a union was especially important for women and younger workers, who earned more than workers in non-unionized workplaces. It didn’t end there. Many of the benefits first achieved by unions for their members now apply to many other workers as well, including workplace safety standards, parental leaves, vacation pay and protection from discrimination and harassment.

But it’s not all about the individual workers. Unions are good for communities too because members spend their pay cheques at home. Cities and towns with more union members support a richer mix of businesses and services – everything from dentists to daycare. These services benefit everyone in the community.

Societal impact

Unions have a broader societal impact as well. They and their members were long-time advocates for Medicare, which was achieved in the 1960s. They were instrumental in pushing for the Canada Pension Plan and in recent improvements to it, which benefits every retired Canadian – whether or not they ever belonged to a union. For Labour Day in 2017 unions are launching a campaign calling for universal prescription drug coverage for all Canadians. Pharmaceuticals are the fastest growing cost component in health care, and the CLC says that 3.5 million Canadians can’t afford to fill their prescriptions.

All too often the image of unionized men and women is framed by a small, but influential group of corporate lobbyists. They claim that unions are greedy on behalf of their members and that they are always on strike. In fact, we are not talking about CEO-type salaries here but simply about living wages that will support families and communities. And strikes are rare. I was never once on strike in the 45 year span during which I belonged to one union or another – although I have walked the picket lines with people who felt that they had no alternative but to withdraw their labour.

Popes for unions 

It was more than 100 years ago that Pope Leo XIII issued a teaching document called an encyclical supporting the right of workers to create unions to protect their interests. The pope was shocked by the hardships and abuses spawned by the industrial revolution. Among the abuses today are those accompanying globalization, which has fostered an assault on wages, benefits and working conditions, along with environmental degradation  on a global scale.

The Atlantic, a U.S.-based magazine, recently published an article about the value of unions. The magazine was reacting to the populist anger which Donald Trump was able to marshal among disgruntled workers. Many of them once belonged to unions, but now only a small percentage do.  Those workers are now isolated and atomized and thus more susceptible to demagogic manipulation. “When unions work as they should, they serve important social functions,” says the article in The Atlantic. “[Unions] can smooth the jagged edges of globalization by giving workers bargaining power . . . Perhaps most important, they offer workers a way to be heard.”

I no longer belong to a union but I am proud to have done so.  Canada’s workers can walk with their heads up on Labour Day.

Celebrating a different kind of Labour Day in Alberta -- one with something to celebrate!

4 September 2017 - 2:07am
David J. Climenhaga

Today is Labour Day, which in recent years has become a traditional season for attacks on the rights of working people, in particular their right to bargain collectively.

These most often take two forms:

The most common is publication of misleading analyses of the supposed harmful impacts of laws that protect working people's rights, produced by market-fundamentalist think tanks and reprinted uncritically by mainstream media, often with accompanying news stories and supportive screeds by reliably conservative staff columnists.

Some of these will probably appear today in your local daily newspaper, assuming, of course, that it still has a Monday edition.

The second is in the form of calls by so-called conservative politicians -- who are in fact neoliberal politicians, a term the meaning of which we can all now agree upon -- for laws that restrict the rights of working people, especially their right to bargain collectively.

This is likely to be especially true in a year like the one we are now living through, in which here in Alberta various neoliberal politicians are competing to lead a conservative political party, in this case a United Conservative Party.

In the past, I have characterized this blitz of vilification of unions and the important work they do in society as a kind of 48-hour hate, truly Orwellian in the use of terminology meant to convey the perfect opposite of what the words mean on their face.

Still, as it happens, the news is not particularly bad in Alberta in 2017, owing to the presence of a New Democratic Party government in office, however tenuously.

As Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, wrote in a rare pro-labour opinion piece in the Edmonton Journal Saturday, recent changes to the Alberta Labour Code have made it "a little easier" for working people in this province "to exercise their constitutional right to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers."

The emphasis should be on the words a little easier. Because the changes introduced into law by the government of Premier Rachel Notley three months ago are pretty tame, and do not go as far as they could to protect the fundamental right of working people to associate and bargain collectively.

Just the same, passage of the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act at 2 a.m. on June 6 was significant, if only because it finally dragged Alberta labour law into the 20th Century -- only 17 years into the 21st!

The act brought common practices in other provinces that have worked well for decades into use in Alberta, where labour-relations laws had come to be the most backward in the country under successive Progressive Conservative governments.

Changes brought forward by Labour Minister Christina Gray included introduction of first-collective-agreement compulsory arbitration, a mechanism for requiring employers to negotiate in good faith with newly unionized employees seeking a first contract, and a provision that means a secret-ballot vote will not be required if at least 65 per cent of the employees in a workplace verify their membership in a union.

The changes to legal protections provided by the province for non-union workers were more ambitions -- which is not a defence of past Conservative governments, but recognition of how far behind the legal rights of non-union workers in Alberta had fallen.

These included an extra week of job protection for maternity leave, to 16 weeks, protected leave for parents to look after sick children, and new requirements to ensure employees are compensated when they work overtime.

Despite the dire predictions and screeches of protest from business owners’ collective organizations and conservative politicians, there was little in the bill that corporations and conservative parties aren’t already living with quite comfortably in most Canadian provinces.

As McGowan reminded us in his op-ed, "The people who light their hair on fire about unions are the same ones who said tax cuts for the rich would bring prosperity for everyone (instead, they brought rising inequality); that budget cuts could end recessions (instead, they ended up making them worse) and that de-regulation would strengthen the economy (instead, it brought us things like the global financial crisis of 2008)."

Elsewhere things are not so good. The march of "right to work" laws and other right-wing economic nostrums continues across the United States, while President Donald Trump enacts measures in the name of American workers that in reality are meant to help only American billionaires.

Here in Alberta, conservative politicians vow to deliver the same Trumpian policies if they return to power -- including eliminating most or all of the baby steps toward mainstream labour laws taken by the NDP.

Well, that's a topic for another day.

This morning at 11:30, trade unionists from throughout the Edmonton area will gather for the 28th year to serve burgers to anyone who needs a meal at Giovanni Caboto Park. The Edmonton and District Labour Council's annual Labour Day BBQ, part of the union movement’s strong charitable tradition, is an activity that would be made illegal under the unconstitutional laws proposed by some conservatives.

Similar events will be happening in cities across Alberta and Canada.

Albertans can be proud we have taken small steps forward for all working people, including those without the benefit of a union to protect them. Come what may, we can protect those modest gains, at the ballot box, in the courts and in our workplaces.

We can be grateful too that Canada's courts remain committed to the rights of working people, as for the most part does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal federal government, even if UCP politicians in Alberta want to turn back the clock to the 19th Century.

So this Alberta Labour Day is different -- we have something to celebrate. And that’s something to celebrate!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Join me for a win on Labour Day

1 September 2017 - 10:10pm
Barb Byers

Dear rabble visitors:

On this Labour Day I wish you all the chance to be an activist in your organizations and your communities. I wish everyone the passion and the opportunity to create greater democracy in our communities and in our country. For decades I had the privilege of being active in the labour movement and I know the importance of sharing the stories of communities struggling for justice. I know the importance of countering corporate media -- the same media that for years cheered on Harper's agenda and now remains shockingly uncritical of Trudeau’s many neoliberal policies. I know the importance of rabble.ca. 

Will you join me in supporting rabble.ca and keeping this crucial news site going and growing?

For over 15 years I have been visiting (and giving a monthly donation to ) rabble.ca, "news for the rest of us." I love that rabble covers labour news (and not just "business" news). I love that rabble has been a loud voice for women's rights (and as an organization, has always been led by women).  I love that rabble puts Indigenous struggles front and centre. I love that rabble is community supported, that it is my fellow activists and organizers and community workers who keep it going.

All activists know that it takes many, many people doing many things to effect change. Make no mistake, we need to be active to have a progressive independent media and we need that progressive independent media to build a more just democracy. I'm asking you to do a fairly simple act. Chip in what you can to rabble.ca. A modest monthly donation from you and others who care about social justice will have a big effect. Then I'm asking you to ask one other person you know to support rabble.

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Please go to rabble.ca/donate right now and make it happen.

In Solidarity,

Barb Byers

Why little strikes matter

1 September 2017 - 10:18am
September 1, 2017Job action at Pearson Airport shows why little strikes matter700 workers at Toronto Pearson International Airport have been on strike since July 27th. This little strike has larger ramifications for airport industrial relations and its 50,000 workers.

Hundreds of Londoners turn out for anti-racist protest

30 August 2017 - 10:21am
August 30, 2017Anti-RacismHundreds of Londoners turn out for anti-racist protestLondon police estimate that some 500 counter protesters turned out to protest a rally organized by white supremacists, Islamophobes and other hate groups who were vastly outnumbered.stophatecaON

Mental health-care facility didn’t do enough to protect injured worker: unions

30 August 2017 - 10:08am
Meagan Gillmore

A fine levied to an Ontario mental health-care centre after a nurse was critically stabbed by a patient in 2014 has drawn sharp criticism from unions representing health-care providers.

The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group was ordered to pay $75,000, plus a 25 per cent victim surcharge that will be put in a government fund to assist crime victims, for violating the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS). The sentence was handed down on Aug. 16.

Justice Richard T. Knott of the Ontario Court of Justice found that the Royal Ottawa did not properly reassess the risk of workplace violence as often as needed to protect workers from violence in the workplace, as required by the OHS. The Royal Ottawa faced five charges under the OHS, but was acquitted of the other four in April.

The charges relate to an Oct. 10, 2014 incident at Brockville Mental Health Centre, a specialized mental-health facility. Patient Marlene Carter stabbed a nurse with a pen after the nurse took her to the bathroom. The nurse was sent to hospital with critical injuries. She recovered and returned to work. She has recently retired.

Carter had assaulted many nurses since she'd arrived at the centre from a Saskatoon federal correctional facility in August 2014. She returned to Saskatoon in April 2016, and is again in a correctional facility, a statement the Royal Ottawa issued about the incident says.

The employer needed to do more to protect workers' safety, said Vicki McKenna, vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. It was "ridiculous" that the employer chose to spend thousands of dollars fighting the case in the courts instead of putting in place proper safety procedures, she said.

McKenna said employers need to provide better safety training to staff, and make sure there are enough staff to care for patients.

But the Centre says the fault lies with society's failure to care for inmates, especially women who have mental illnesses.

A.G. Ahmed, the forensic psychiatrist responsible for Carter's treatment, was not available for an interview before deadline. But in a statement released on Aug. 21, he defended the Centre. Carter came to Brockville in poor health, after spending two-and-a-half years in constraints, the statement says. The restraints, combined with time in solitary confinement, only compounded her complex mental illnesses, already worsened by a brain injury.

The statement describes Carter as a woman prone to violence and severe delusions that would cause her to hit her head against concrete until she bled. According to the statement, she believed seeing blood was the only way she could guarantee her children's safety.

Despite this, Carter was improving at the centre, the statement says. Carter was part of a pilot project where two beds would be dedicated to federal inmates. (The project has ended, news reports say.) Carter was being helped, despite inadequate funding and no unit dedicated to female inmates. Now that she’s not at the centre, Ahmed expressed concern that she won’t get the care she needs.

"We sent her back to the environment she came from," he said in the statement. "Every good thing she had here, the hope we had for her recovery, was taken away."

In January, Justice Knott said the centre had adequate safety procedures. According to the Brockville Recorder, staff were well-aware of Carter's history of violence behaviour, and that the centre’s policies were enough to protect workers, if they were used properly. But the judge said staff could have revisited Carter’s care plan more often.

No one can deny many of the centre’s patients have complex health needs, said McKenna, who said the justice system’s problems need to be fixed. But the centre and other employers need to take responsibility for their duties to protect their staff, and patients.

“At the end of the day, this organization is where this individual was at this point,” McKenna said.

"I agree that people need to be in appropriate settings, but if you do have an individual that is placed in your institution, then you do need to ensure the safety of your patients and the staff. That’s what didn’t happen."

The ONA was not the only union expressing disappointment with the decision. The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) called the fine "a slap on the wrist." In a statement released shortly after the sentencing, union president Smokey Thomas said the province needs to do more to protect workers in mental health-care facilities, warning that a lack of mandatory safety requirements in these centres puts workers at risk for injury, and possible death. Thomas is a member of the government’s Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care Leadership Table.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca’s labour reporter.

Image: Wikipedia

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Debate over monuments really a conflict over public space

29 August 2017 - 7:35am
August 29, 2017Ridding our public spaces of the architects of Canada’s genocideThis isn't really a struggle over monuments, it's a struggle over public space: does the public have a right to determine what is placed our public spaces?

Hundreds of Londoners turn out for counter protest

29 August 2017 - 7:08am
Meg Borthwick

Hundreds of anti-racist activists showed up at London's City Hall on Saturday for a highly organized counter protest. London police estimate that some 500 counter protesters turned out to protest a rally organized by white supremacists, Islamophobes and other hate groups who were vastly outnumbered.

Most notably, PEGIDA Canada came with signs and parade marshals dressed in paramilitary gear, earning the derision of anti-hate protesters. PEGIDA is an acronym for Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West and has its origins with the German nationalist far right PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West).

Tensions ran high, with two arrests, but the rally was largely peaceful, despite provocation. One incident occurred when a white nationalist confronted a woman who was walking past him with an anti-hate banner. He began yelling at her to stop attacking him, no doubt hoping to get police involved in what was an orchestrated provocation against a peaceful protester. The woman was seen trying to get away from the nationalist, who refused to speak to rabble. In addition, when approached, a PEGIDA member in paramilitary gear also refused to speak to rabble and said his group had instructions to not converse with journalists. One anti-Islam pro-Israel protester did, however, agree to speak to rabble.

Mark Vandermaas, who is with the group Israel Truth Week, said “I'm very distressed that the mayor is dividing the city into non-whites vs whites, left vs right." This was in response to London Mayor Matt Brown's recent announcement that there was no room for white supremacists and other hate groups on city property. Vandermass sent an email to Brown and City Council stating, "it seems to me that you may be slandering many Canadians who share an honest and grave concern about the role of Islamic ideology in spreading hate and violence in the world."

As part of their mission, Israel Truth Week states that Jews are owners, not occupiers and that they are planning to train 10,000 Zionist freedom fighters to combat the "lie" of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Vandermaas referred to counter protesters as  "alt-left radicals" who have "committed numerous and serious assaults on innocent conservatives."

London District Labour Council president Patty Dalton begged to differ. "We are very concerned about the rise of racism, neo-nazism and fascism." Dalton goes on to say that many people place the origins of the rise in hate groups being connecting to the campaign and election of U.S. president Donald Trump. "We need to be sure to stand up and oppose hate. I'm just so thrilled to see so many people out in peaceful demonstration because as you know there have been many incidents of  tragic and violent events that have come about because of this rise." 

An important contribution to the peacefulness of the London event was careful planning and two de-escallation workshops conducted by Christian Peacekeeper Teams (CPT). CPT provided practical tools to activists to prevent violence and keep safe, both the night before the rally and the morning of. In addition, London anti-hate activists got together in the days before the rally to make signs, drums and noise makers.

A well-attended event, the anti-hate work party, held at London bookstore Bread and Roses, also helped build solidarity among the numerous groups attending Saturday's event. "I'm here to make drums and noise makers," said Roberta Cory, the chair of the Council of Canadians London chapter. "This is something we've really lacked in past protests. It's a lot of fun and of course we get some volume in our protests." 

Also attending the work party was Judith McRea, the daughter of immigrants from Burma (Myanmar). "After the Second World War my father and his family were refugees. You have these white supremacists coming out, saying 'Oh, these refugees are coming in and they're taking our jobs, and I can't sit back and do nothing. If I did, I might as well sit back and join them."

London activist and urban farmer Celeste Lemire explained why she was attending the anti-hate work party. "The alt-right ... no, I don't like that term 'alt-right'. The neo-nazis and racists and the bigots will be drowned out. I want them to  know that there are a lot more people against them than supporting them." Lemire sits on the steering committee of the Council of Canadians London chapter.

While there were a number of groups rallying, the issue most prominent was criticism of Islam, and positioning Islam as a violent and misogynist faith that was gradually "taking over." A woman attending the rally with her husband held a sign comparing violent quotes from the Qur'an to parts of the New Testament, neglecting the Old Testament, which is chock full of punitive violence. She withheld her name and when asked about the insignia on her and her husband's t-shirts said they were "just Christians." 

She said, "Muslim people do not like Christians and do not like Jews. I don't preach hate, but they do." She went on to say that "It's so nice when we go to Toronto. There are Muslim ladies there who have found Christ, and are so grateful that they don't have to wear head scarves and can go swimming in a bathing suit." A little jaw-dropping, but not unexpected. Still, the rally and counter protest were remarkably free of violence with the exception of two arrests.

One of those arrested was Bailey Lamon, a London activist and member of the Pirate Party of Canada. She was held by police for spitting in the face of an anti-Islam protester and was later released without charge. "PEGIDA organized this rally, your typical racist, Islamophobic types," she said about an hour before her arrest and detention. "A bunch of us are here to counter that with messages of love and unity and we're just here to tell the bigots that we won't tolerate hatred in this city."

Image: Mike Roy

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Canada should support Palestinian refugees

28 August 2017 - 8:48am
August 28, 2017Why should Canada support Palestinian refugees?There are strong historic and political reasons for Canadian aid to Palestinian refugees, despite what critics might say.

Small Canadian cities standing up to hate

25 August 2017 - 8:47am
August 25, 2017Two small cities talk about stopping hateMost of the coverage of demonstrations against white supremacy are from big cities. We hear from two small cities -- Barrie and London Ontario.

Canada's public health-care system could soon be expanded to cover prescription drugs

24 August 2017 - 1:38pm
Ed Finn

When the government of Saskatchewan pioneered public health care in Canada in 1962, it covered the two main components of such a system: the services of physicians and hospitals. When other provinces, and finally the federal government, later extended medicare to the national level, it was still confined to these two admittedly important benefits.

But Tommy Douglas, the main proponent and creator of public health care in Canada, always envisioned this two-pronged program as just the first step toward complete health-care coverage. His ultimate goal was to have prescription drugs, dental, vision and other treatments added to the system, as they already were in most countries in Europe. If these countries could afford such comprehensive care, he reasoned, so could Canada.

More than half a century later, however, his vision of providing Canadians with all-inclusive health care remains unfulfilled. The biggest gap, of course, is the lack of universal public drug insurance. One in four Canadians has no drug coverage, and thousands are unable to fill prescriptions because they can't afford them. Many of those covered by private insurance plans are beset by rising premiums, deductibles, co-payments, and by fluctuating levels of coverage from province to province.

Dr. Danielle Martin, vice-president of medical affairs at Women's College in Ontario, said she has experienced "many heartbreaking moments" when dealing with families unable to pay for puffers or insulin for their ailing children.

The main argument advanced against the adoption of pharmacare in this country is that it would lead to an "unaffordable" increase of costs. This is a specious and unfounded claim. In fact, the reverse is true. Pharmacare would save Canadians and their governments as much as $10 billion a year in the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Look at the evidence

If you think this contention is highly improbable, you haven't read or heard about an authoritative study conducted six years ago for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Compiled by researchers Marc-André Gagnon and Guillaume Hébert, it utterly demolished the myth that incorporating drug insurance into medicare would deplete government treasuries. On the contrary, it presented solid facts and figures that proved pharmacare would actually enhance government revenue as well as the health of those in need of prescription drugs. The enormous financial gains to be derived from tapping the bulk purchasing power of all levels of government would, in itself, vastly lower pharmaceutical costs.

So persuasive was this study that it was widely acclaimed by health-care experts in both Canada and the United States.

Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor-in-chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, hailed the study as "a well-done analysis that clearly shows a universal publicly-funded prescription drug program to be not only better for Canadians, but cheaper. The only downside is that the pharmaceutical companies might have to trim their obscene profits."

In her last remark she pointedly identified some of the most powerful opponents of a pharmacare plan in Canada.

Robert Evans, an expert on health-care costs who teaches economics at the University of British Columbia, was even blunter. In welcoming the Gagnon-Guillaume study, he explained the failure to implement pharmacare: "Big Pharma, private insurance companies, anti-tax ideologues, and apathetic governments have kept this public program of drug cost coverage beyond our reach."

And, sure enough, this 30,000-word study, with its score of informative charts, graphs and tables, was indeed denounced and even ridiculed by the drug and insurance companies, by right-wing commentators and media pundits. The opposition was powerful enough to crush the CCPA study and leave the country devoid of pharmacare ever since.

Provinces vs. Ottawa

A significant positive development, however, was that nearly all the provincial premiers at the time were impressed enough to urge the federal government to add drug coverage to the services provided under public health care. Successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments, however, have repeatedly rejected this appeal. Despite the well-founded findings of the Gagnon-Guillaume study, they have continued to fall back on the mendacious excuse that pharmacare is unaffordable.

But this recalcitrance by the federal government should not remain a deterrent to the provinces. The premiers should always keep in mind that medicare originated at the provincial, not federal level -- in Saskatchewan. So could the extension of public health care to include prescription drugs, and even dental and vision coverage.

What's needed today is the emergence of another provincial premier with the courage and foresight of Tommy Douglas. Such a provincial leader would pioneer the long-delayed extension of medicare that Tommy envisioned, starting with pharmacare.

Could this public health-care champion possibly be Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne?

She may seem an unlikely reincarnation of Tommy Douglas, given the cuts in medical care and the mass layoffs of nurses that have occurred under her administration. But last spring she announced that, starting on January 1 next year, all children in Ontario, as well as adults younger than 25, will have their full prescription drug costs covered, regardless of family income. The program will provide access to 4,400 drugs by the province's four million children and young adults. It will greatly expand the Ontario Drug Plan, which already covers prescription drug costs for about 900,000 families on social assistance, and another three million seniors.

This is a significant development that has been broadly praised by health-care practitioners. Dr. Martin said it puts Ontario far ahead of the other provinces. "All that remains is to close the gap for citizens between age 25 and 65," she pointed out, "and I hope that's up for discussion as we move toward next year's provincial election."

Public pressure mounting

Wynne may not win re-election in 2018, but, if pharmacare in some form is introduced before voters go to the polls, its popularity will ensure it won't be scrapped after the election, no matter which party takes power.

Following that election, the pressure on all the other provinces to emulate Ontario will mount to irresistible levels. They will find it politically untenable to deny their citizens the same improved pharmaceutical coverage.

I don't think it's overly optimistic to expect that, as with the services of doctors and hospitals initiated in Saskatchewan, the provision of public prescription drugs in Ontario will inevitably spread across the country over the next few years. Pharmacare will then become an integral part of the federal medicare program.

That breakthrough is bound to open the health-care floodgates and swell compulsion to fill the remaining gaps in our health-care system. That rising demand will lead, in time, to the inclusion of dental, vision and other services that comprise the comprehensive public health-care plans in other advanced countries.  

Tommy's grand vision could even become a reality within another four or five years.

Photo: Pixabay

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Remembering labour leader Joan Gower Gillatt

24 August 2017 - 9:20am
August 24, 2017'Combination of drill sergeant and den mother': First woman president of BCGEU dies at 93The Canadian labour movement lost a formidable champion of women's rights this month with the passing of Joan Gower Gillatt, the first woman president of what is now the BCGEU.

'Combination of drill sergeant and den mother': First woman president of BCGEU dies at 93

23 August 2017 - 4:51pm
Meagan Gillmore

Joan Gower Gillatt (April 16, 1924 - Aug. 10, 2017)

The Canadian labour movement lost a formidable champion of women's rights this month with the passing of Joan Gower Gillatt, the first woman president of what is now the B.C. Government Employees' Union (BCGEU). Joan died on Aug. 10 in Duncan, B.C. She was 93.

Joan is survived by her daughters Susan Fullerton (Rob), Maggie Enwright (Doug Colwell), and Carol Gillatt (Shaun Pattenden) and three grandchildren: Barrett Fullerton, Beth Gillatt and Kate Pattenden.

Joan was born in Victoria on April 16, 1924. She joined what was then the B.C. Government Employees' Association shortly after it formed in 1944. The year before, she'd taken a job as a lab analyst in the provincial department of mines, testing minerals to be used in the war effort. It wasn't her intent to work for the government. Women were expected to resign when men returned after the war ended, but Joan refused. As an unmarried woman, she had no husband to support her. She was transferred to a filing department.

Joan resigned from civil service in 1958, after 14 years of active union involvement. She was the first woman first vice-president of the Victoria Branch, where, for a time, she held women's-only meetings. She was elected to the provincial executive in 1948-49, the only woman on the executive. The other executive members called her "Our Joanie." In 1950, she was elected as president of the Victoria Branch.

"She had to carve a brand new path of respectability for women, and she did," said Gary Steeves, a former BCGEU staff worker who wrote about Joan's accomplishments for the union newsletter The Provincial. When he met her in person, she was supervising a daycare at Duncan United Church. The woman he saw working with children completely "jived" with the labour activist he'd read about.

"She was a combination of the drill sergeant and the den mother," he said. "She had a real style to her. She was very straight, very direct, no-nonsense. She didn't BS you."

She needed that style. Joan worked at a time when women fought to be paid the same as men, something Steeves said "infuriated" her. Joan was one of the people who fought to abolish a provincial law mandating women retire five years before men.

In 1955, she was elected as the union's second vice-president, the first woman elected as an executive officer of the union. During that time, she was actively involved in negotiations with then premier W.A.C. Bennett's Social Credit government, and was prepared to strike if the government did not fulfill its promise to raise government employees' wages. The strike was averted. But Joan never forgot. In later years, she would turn off the television when the former premier appeared.

In 1957, union president George Horridge died, and Joan, then vice-president, assumed his role. Joan resigned in September 1958 to complete her education. She wanted to be a teacher. In 1960, she married Jock Gillatt, a widower, and became mother to his daughter, Susan. They moved to Duncan. Joan taught for a year, was a school board trustee for 10, and served several terms on city council. The BCGEU gave her a lifetime membership in 1997 and she was given a key to the city in 2005.

"If it wasn't fair, Joan wanted to fix it," said Steeves. "She insisted on fairness her entire life."

Joan had little patience for sentiment, her daughter Maggie remembers. Maggie said she only remembers her mother crying twice, once being when Jock died in 1992. She didn't yell at her children, Maggie said. Instead, she preferred to listen to them and reason.

Joan wasn't a mother who liked "mushy-gush," Maggie said. "I cannot recall her ever baking bread." The family joked that the only time their mother baked was for NDP and church functions. Joan was an active member of both the NDP and the Duncan United Church. Her children would maybe receive broken pieces of cookies, Maggie said.

But her passion was great. Joan "fiercely" defended her children; even if that looked like making sure her daughter wouldn't be forced to wear a "God-awful" costume at a dance recital, said Maggie. She created elaborate Easter egg hunts and pressed leaves in the fall.  Few saw her "whimsical" side, said Maggie. She loved complicated crosswords, cross-stitching and origami. Hundreds of origami butterflies are to be given out at her funeral.

Joan joined the NDP in the early '60s, and worked on several campaigns and provincial and federal councils. She was a constituent assistant to former MLA Barbara Wallace. Joan involved her children in her efforts: Maggie recalled folding leaflets or going door-to-door with her mother.

Her faith motivated her political activism. "She thought we were here to share goods and services, and she thought the NDP was the best political avenue towards enacting policies that would make that happen," Maggie said.

But she was open to listening to other views. For many years, Joan met with a group of women on Thursday mornings to discuss politics and world issues. The Buddy's Group would light a candle, pick a word, and discuss how it applied to their lives. Joan was especially good at listening to others, and asking questions about how the topic related to their lives.

"She didn't suffer fools because she was very clear in her thinking and I think helped other people clarify their thoughts," said Buddy's member Sandy McPherson. She and Joan were working to have a peace pole erected in Duncan. Joan had heard about the project through a church newsletter in 2011. Although it hasn't been erected, she saw the completed designs before she died.

Joan's volunteer activities were broad, including time on the hospital board and United Way. She didn't seek public recognition -- although she got it, receiving a Queen Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 -- but it was hard for her to watch her social connections shrink in her final years, Maggie said. She insisted on remaining tied to the community: up until the end, she hated it when her daughter suggested she use the ATM.

Joan's funeral will be held on Friday, August 25 at the Duncan United Church. Maggie, a former United Church minister, will preside.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Pixabay

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What actually happened in Quebec City?

23 August 2017 - 9:00am
August 23, 2017Police and journalists hand victory to far-right, racist activists in Quebec CityThe mainstream media consensus is that anti-immigrant, white supremacist group La Meute was the true winner in Quebec City yesterday because a handful of people smashed glass and threw chairs.

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22 August 2017 - 9:30am
August 22, 2017Announcing the Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellowshiprabble.ca and Olivia Chow of the Institute for Change Leaders are delighted to announce the inaugural launch of the Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellowship.

Police and journalists hand victory to far-right, racist activists in Quebec City

21 August 2017 - 1:39pm
Nora Loreto

When Donald Trump condemned "both sides" for violence in Charlottesville, he was widely, and correctly, condemned. Heather Heyer was murdered and 19 others were injured. Racists were armed. Police strategically sat back. It was a horrifying image of "two sides" in confrontation.

Naively, I thought that perhaps the media was learning to get past this two sides fallacy. Nazi punching is back in vogue. Racists' identities are being exposed and they're losing their jobs. The violent rhetoric of these groups is finally leading to consequences. But until we puncture through the mainstream consensus that there are "two sides" to every story, progressives will never win the air wars.

That's because access to free speech isn't equal. It takes nearly nothing for our events and our rallies to be ignored, sensationalized, obscured or ruined.

Today, the mainstream media consensus is that anti-immigrant, white supremacist group La Meute was the true winner in Quebec City yesterday because a handful of people smashed glass and threw patio chairs. I watched it happen as the police stood back and allowed it.

Not far from where this happened are sons, widows, friends and neighbours of six men who were murdered by an individual inspired by the kind of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic beliefs spouted by La Meute.

Unlike Heather Heyer, they weren't killed while they were protesting. They were simply living and specifically, praying. Their very existence was resistance and they died in a space that is sacred and holy, one where no one should ever feel threatened or face violence.

Survivors of that attack still struggle with that horror. Families remain in mourning. Racists continue to send threats and violent messages to the mosques in town. And yet, when La Meute marches and anti-racists march against, all of this context vanishes.

The events yesterday shouldn't have happened in the way they did. When the police declared the rally illegal, they intentionally didn't act on their declaration. No one was arrested because they were participating in an illegal march. When a dumpster was set on fire and glass thrown towards fully-protected police, police did the bare minimum to make sure no one was hit. They didn't put out the dumpster fire. They didn't dispatch firefighters. They didn't arrest anyone for vandalism. They allowed it to happen and journalists flocked to the chaos.

Declaring the rally illegal was not intended to keep the peace. It was an act of PR. Today, the police have promised that they will be arresting people perhaps later on, maybe tomorrow.

When Jaggi Singh was arrested, police knew that the cameras would turn to him, that he would absorb the news. Never mind that he was released without charge the same day, on the other side of town. The stories were already published. Don MacPherson at The Gazette congratulated Singh on Twitter for handing victory to La Meute, as if Singh had begged the police himself to arrest him. As if his arrest wasn't an egregious attack on his free speech.

Police tear gassed protesters. They chose a violent tactic meant to injure protesters, rather than simply arrest and ticket people for protesting during an illegal rally.

When La Meute finally emerged from the parking garage, their protest was "peaceful" and "legal." Perhaps it helped that some of their placards expressed solidarity and support for the RCMP.

Journalist Desmond Cole tweeted: "until more people understand that these white supremacist marches are a form of violence, we're in big trouble," and really, that is the heart of this struggle. It is impossible for La Meute to have a "peaceful" demonstration when they're calling for an end to immigration and the maintenance of a white Quebec, and impossible for La Meute to have had a victory yesterday, without journalists handing that victory to them directly.

To argue that La Meute won requires a few ingredients. You first must believe that they have furthered the cause of a white Quebec. That, in the eyes of Quebecers, immigration is less popular today than it was on Saturday. Second, you must believe that hiding out in a parking garage for several hours, is a marker of a successful rally. Third, you must ignore that La Meute was outnumbered, somewhere between 3:1 and 5:1 by anti-racist protesters. Fourth, you must uncritically carry La Meute's own PR as news, while you denigrate the "other side" for being violent. 

Last March, when anti-racist protesters (me included) took over a La Meute rally despite being outnumbered, the media didn't declare that we "had won." We were simply present. We did "everything right" and no journalist declared us the victor.

The real violence in this city goes only one way: from skinhead groups who post online that they're training for street fighting, to the new white supremacist boxing club that they're setting up. From attacks at mosques to racist banner drops. From the "peaceful, lawful" racist rally on Saturday that went unchallenged to the fight against a Muslim cemetery. It's as if the mainstream press and politicians are so far down the vortex of white supremacy that they can't think clearly.

Or, that they benefit so much from white supremacy that they cannot untie themselves from it to conjure up a sober assessment of it.

Heather Heyer may have triggered a North American reflection and fightback against fascism but what has been the result of the murder of six racialized Muslim men? Have we managed to not only have learned nothing, but instead sanitized the mundane hatred of a "peaceful, legal" rally?

The fallacy of left-wing violence is that it creates this narrative: progressives are to blame for the rise of extreme right-wing sentiment. That, if only the broad left had been quieter, larger, less aggressive, more peaceful or whatever, La Meute would not have been able to "declare victory." Maybe this makes sense from an ahistorical, contextless position. Maybe this makes sense from a position that assumes that journalists cover events fairly and proportionate to what happens, but both are fallacy. The left will never be peaceful enough, nice enough or lawful enough because we are made illegal or we are marginalized the second the state has the chance.

And worse, for the hundreds of people who rallied yesterday "peacefully," without incident, their presence and voices have been erased. Their actions rendered futile. If I worked as a mainstream journalist, perhaps I'd lay the blame at the foot of the Black Bloc. But it was orchestrated to go down the way it did.

The state wants us to stay home next time. We know better than that, though. We just need to be larger and better organized next time. And the next time after that. And resist the narrative that we are ourselves to blame for the hatred and racism that we fight.

Photo: Exile on Ontario St/flickr

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We need to challenge scientific racism in education

21 August 2017 - 8:57am
August 21, 2017Statistics and the damage done: On equity in educationTom Bennett, who is the keynote at this week's Leadership Conference for educators, has connections to very troubling claims about links between student performance, race, and the heritability of IQ.

Statistics and the damage done: On equity in education

18 August 2017 - 3:49pm
Benjamin Doxtdator

Dear Educators,

On Friday August 18 (today), you have Tom Bennett keynoting your Leadership Conference in Toronto and I want to make you aware of some very serious concerns that are emerging around him. For some context, I attended OISE back in 2010 and I now live and teach in Brussels. So, my concern is very much rooted in my love for Toronto, the commitment that Toronto schools and educators make to equity, and my heritage as a member of the Oneida band of First Nations peoples.

As you know, Bennett runs ResearchEd, and in the last few days, his close associate, friend, and speaker set to appear at ResearchEd in Toronto, David Didau, has made some very troubling claims about links between student performance, race, and the heritability of IQ. David Didau acknowledges that his speculation about what behavioural genetics might mean for school may face resistance because "it's not popular to go about attributing children's success or failure to who they are rather than what they experience." And who are children? In What Causes Behaviour?, he tells us that "the mountains of evidence that have piled up in favour of genetic causes for behaviour as opposed to environmental ones is solemnly impressive." Thus, "it seems as if schools and teaching may matter a lot less than we would like to believe."

In the comment section, someone asks Didau, "Why do we see certain cultures doing much better (or worse) than others within the same education system?" Didau responds, "Well, firstly there's peer effects, and secondly -- despite the unpopularity of discussing such things, there are fairly clear racial differences in IQ."

When I and many members in the community called out the scientific racism in Didau's remarks, Tom Bennett blocked me. In none of Bennett's frequent tweets has he condemned this statement in spite of requests to do so. Instead he has blocked the people expressing concern. When Darren Chetty challenged Tom Bennett about the lack of racial diversity at ResearchEd in the U.K., Bennett blocked Chetty on Twitter, thus removing the voice of an important educator of colour from the "grassroots movement" that Bennett purports the conference to be. Many important debates about education, and a government report on behaviour which Bennett has authored, are found on Twitter.

As a first response, Didau wrote a post called "Differences and Similarities," where he cited Linda Gottfresdon as representing a "mainstream view of the research" about race and IQ, when she is in fact monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting scientific racism. He only later acknowledged that he did not investigate his source, despite people repeatedly pointing out her history to him. In another comment on his blog, he directs someone to "the evidence collected on the Human Biodiversity Website," which features both Linda Gottfredson and the American White Supremacist Richard Spencer. The first link on the HBD website under "Multimedia" is this: Are your children prepared for the global future that lies ahead? The video mocks people who celebrate diversity and features these demeaning images of Black people that present them as a danger to white neighbourhoods.

When Didau finally issued a statement entitled "On Being Called a Racist," where the only damage he acknowledges is to his own feelings, Bennett Tweeted Didau's post and referred to the concerned community as a "Twitch Hunt" and "The idea that I'm required to [speak out] is, frankly, reminiscent of The Crucible."

As some further context on Bennett, he has made light of racism on Twitter by ironically replying to people talking about Scottish food: "So racist. I feel like my lived experience is being marginalized." It's no accident that he casually mocks people who take racism and hate speech seriously. He also contributes to Spiked, an advocate of the idea that "hate speech is free speech." This kind of discourse is much closer to the "many sides" approach we have seen recently in the news than a genuine stance on social justice.

As a sample from Spiked's education section, here are some bylines:

"The War on 'Dead White Dudes': The 'decolonise the curriculum' campaign is a threat to universalism"

"The Campus Rape Panic Demeans Women"

"Students' Temper Tantrum Over Trump"

"The Tyranny of 'Ze': Transgender politics isn't radical, it's deeply conservative"

"Turning Education Into Welfare: Both Labour and the Conservatives want to turn schools into wellness retreats."

In an interview with Spiked about "the crisis of authority of the classroom," Bennett says there is a "chronic" "crisis of adult authority" in the broader culture and classroom, and he believes children want a restoration of adult authority because they are "waiting to be told what to do." He is concerned that not teaching about "cultural legacy" might "endanger civilization." In the Telegraph, Bennett is quoted as saying, ""[With] generation snowflake, sometimes, there is an element of truth that children are a little bit inoculated perhaps against the harsher realities of the world." The sad irony is that while Bennett is against "no platforming," he effectively does just that by blocking and excluding the voices of women and people of colour.

It is not just in debates about education that Bennett practices exclusion; he also advocates for excluding students in cases:

"We may not like excluding pupils, internally, externally, permanent or fixed term, but they are a necessary part of the system. The desire to reduce exclusions by simply turning off the tap ironically creates circumstances where their use is required more and more, as misbehaviour backs up the pipe and remodels the social norms of the school in the direction of incivility and belligerence."

Bennett's suggestion to use exclusion for "misbehaviour" of course contradicts Ontario's progressive discipline policy: "Exclusion is not to be used as a form of discipline."

Bennett is part of a larger trend that focuses on "evidence-based" methods, where science is very narrowly construed and too often supplants debates about the broader purposes of education. Ultimately, statistical data about standardized subjects replaces the need for conversations about culturally relevant pedagogy. And rather than construct tables of heritability scores, we need to construct images that help us understand what Gloria Ladson-Billings calls the education debt we owe to those who have been oppressed:

"The images should remind us that the cumulative effect of poor education, poor housing, poor health care, and poor government services create a bifurcated society that leaves more than its children behind. The images should compel us to deploy our knowledge, skills, and expertise to alleviate the suffering of the least of these."

While I believe firmly in fair and robust debate, it surprises me and others that someone whose own values stand counter to those I proudly believe to be Canadian -- those of acceptance, inclusion and compassion -- is to be welcomed uncritically into our community.

To be clear, I am not asking you to cancel Bennett's keynote. Nor am I accusing Bennett of being a racist. But his habit of dismissing and excluding dissenting voices is very troubling to many educators, and it would be reassuring to the wider community without Bennett's platform to see that acknowledged and challenged at your conference.

Thank you for your time,

Benjamin Doxtdator

This article was first published on Support our Students Alberta and is reprinted here with permission. Follow Benjamin Doxtdator on Twitter @doxtdatorb and on A Long View of Education.

Photo: Government of Prince Edward Island/flickr

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Paramedics on Ontario First Nations reserve unanimously agree to unionize

18 August 2017 - 1:38pm
Meagan Gillmore

Paramedics on Beausoleil First Nation's reserve on Christian Island in Ontario have joined the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

The paramedics voted unanimously in late June, after a short organizing drive.

They are the first paramedics on an Ontario First Nations reserve to be represented by OPSEU, said Jamie Ramage, head of OPSEU's ambulance division. The paramedics are employed by Beausoleil First Nation.

Beausoleil First Nation has nearly 2,500 members, 643 of which live on one of the First Nation's reserves, according to information on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada's website. The First Nation has land on Christian Island, Beckwith Island and Hope Island. Most members live on Christian Island in southeastern Georgian Bay, near Midland. About 20 paramedics serve the community that can only be accessed by ferry. There is no hospital on the island. According to the First Nation's website, two paramedics are available 24/7. Ramage said, as far as he knows, the majority of the paramedics live off the island and many work for other nearby emergency services.

Paramedics organized to join the union quickly. Ramage said he was approached by paramedics from the First Nation in May. After only one meeting with the union, the paramedics had voted to join OPSEU.

It "usually doesn't happen that way," Ramage said, noting it often takes several information meetings before workers decide to join. The paramedics' "united front made it happen so quickly," he said. They knew they wanted to join OPSEU.

Paramedics were concerned they weren't getting paid as much as other paramedics in Simcoe County, said Ramage. They wanted the legal protection of a union.

They were "eager" to join OPSEU, but the union made them wait while it determined whether unionization was possible on a First Nations reserve, he said.

"We didn't want to take them down the proverbial garden path and not end up in the rose garden, so we took our time," said Ramage.

He said unionization will improve the quality of paramedic services in the community because it will allow workers access to improved job conditions. Workers are more likely to provide better service when they are happy themselves, he said.

Beausoleil First Nation Chief Mary McKue-King did not respond to questions about the unionization, either by phone or email. rabble.ca contacted her several times throughout July and August.

The First Nation filed a response with the Ontario Labour Relations Board on July 6 objecting to the vote, saying the Canadian Labour Code applies on First Nations reserves. The labour board certified the union later in July.

In an email to rabble.ca in August, Ramage said there have been no reports of the Beausoleil First Nation government acting badly toward paramedics since they unionized. He did say a council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 26 to give an update on the union. He said he was not sure what that meant.

OPSEU is not the only union that represents workers on First Nations reserves across Canada. Many union representatives involved with organizing police on Quebec First Nations reserves with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said unionization has improved working conditions, including increasing salaries and benefits. Some First Nations were hesitant at first, they said, but workers were not disciplined for joining a union. 

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Zhu/flickr

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Why is Trudeau pouring billions into the Muskrat Falls mega-project but refusing support for Indigenous children?

18 August 2017 - 8:34am
August 18, 2017Trudeau gives billions to questionable energy projects while withholding funding for Indigenous childrenWant to get a few billion dollars from Justin Trudeau? All you need is to be a white-settler-dominated provincial government, with a haphazard plan to build an energy mega-project.

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