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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media. She writes regularly for blogs and magazines, and wrote a chapter in Canada After Harper, released by Lorimer Publishers in August 2015.

December layoffs are a holiday tradition for corporations across Canada

| January 7, 2016
Image: Flickr/Victor Bezrukov

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One of the cruel realities of modern capitalism is that December brings together layoffs and the holiday season. As Q3 earnings are released and Q4 earnings are projected, many corporations use the twelfth month to balance their books off workers' backs. Parents suddenly without work are terrible Santa Clauses.

Once the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, the sins of the past year are swept away and we collectively look to a new year of better and brighter times.

It's not so easy for laid off workers to forget being laid off, and unionists everywhere must think about how to help these people as they look to what the year ahead holds.

Tens of thousands of workers were laid off in 2015, thousands in December alone. These layoffs serve as a reminder that capital still sees workers as disposable, while governments expect citizens to do everything they can to maintain steady employment. The friction caused by these two forces leaves many people in desperate positions.

Here's a snapshot of some of the workers who have recently (or are about to) lose their jobs:

In early December, 1,300 Kiewit-Kvarner workers in Marystown, Newfoundland and Labrador were laid off as the drilling module for a new shipping project had been completed. The jobs were well paying and Unifor Local 20 representatives told the CBC that there are no other options for the workers to find similar jobs.

At CHCH in Hamilton, 129 full-time and 38 part-time employees were laid off in mid-December. A few days later, Channel Zero, the station’s owner, had offered jobs to 81 workers who had been laid off. The restructuring was widely seen as a way to oust the union and reduce labour costs. The owners will also reduce local news programming from 80 hours per week to just 17.5 hours.

A paper mill temporarily laid off workers in Hornepayne, Ontario, in December. The layoffs represented about half of the town's workforce. The Olav Haavaldsrud Timber Company said that the layoffs were due to negotiations about how much to charge Ontario’s power grid for power from its co-generation plant. In May, Olav Haavaldsrud Timber received a $13 million grant and $18 million loan guarantee from the Government of Ontario. The layoffs prompted a local teacher to coordinate 120 turkey dinner hampers to give to laid off workers

In late 2015, it was announced that the coal mine in Grande Cache, Alberta would close. About 200-250 workers will be laid off. The mine's owners blame the low cost of coal. Just three years ago, Marubeni and Winsway Coking Coal Holdings paid $1 billion for the mine. By October, the company sold a controlling interest of the mine to Chinese-owned Up Energy Development Group for just $2.

Despite the popularity of its Christmas programming, West Coast Railway Heritage Park management decided to lay off all 15 workers for the winter months, for the first time ever. The CEO intends to keep the park open and operational throughout the winter. 

Huckleberry Mine, a copper mine owned by Imperial Metals, recently laid off 100 workers. CJFW.FM reported that 160 workers are still working. The company blamed the layoffs on declining copper prices. Imperial Metals owns the Mount Polley mine, famous for a tailings storage burst that spilled 25 million cubic metres of waste into local lakes and rivers.

Most stories about layoffs make a small splash when first reported, but then disappear into the ether. The workers and their families are left either trying to get hired back at their old workplace or struggling to find something new. Amplifying the voices of laid-off workers can help reduce their isolation and encourage union activists to find ways to support them.

This is especially important as workers face an increasingly precarious world. Free trade and an overemphasis on the resource extraction sector has built local economies on unstable foundations. Unionized and non-unionized workers and their families are hit hardest by corporations looking to squeeze as much profit as they can.

On Christmas Eve 2014, Tenaris Algoma steel pipe mill laid off nearly 200 workers in Sault Ste-Marie. Soo Today followed up with some of the laid off workers to see how they were doing, one year later.

The third worker featured, Don Young, sums up the frustration of his experience:

"When you're faced with, really, that you're going to lose everything versus a company that is worth billions of dollars its kind of discouraging. You think (about) some (expletive) sitting on a yacht eating caviar while the people that busted their balls to get him all that stuff (are) almost out on the street with a tin cup saying, 'can you spare some change buddy?'...That's almost the feeling of it."

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Image: Flickr/Victor Bezrukov

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