Economic and Social Crisis in Canada: The Assault on Public Services

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epaulo13 epaulo13's picture
Economic and Social Crisis in Canada: The Assault on Public Services


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epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Economic and Social Crisis in Canada: The Assault on Public Services

Will Unions Lament the Attacks or Lead a Fightback?

by Michael Hurley and Sam Gindin

We are living one of those historic moments that cry out for rallying the working-class to build new capacities, new solidarities, and concrete hope. The crucial question is not how far the attacks on the public sector will go. The real question is how far we will let them go? How will working-class activists inside and outside the unions respond? Do we have a counter-plan? Are we preparing one? Can we act as decisively as those attacking us?

What's at stake is not just a new round of concessions. The aftermath of the deepest capitalist crisis since the Great Depression has provided political and economic elites with an opportunity to lock-in two longer-term changes: a reduction and privatization in public services on a scale not seen before; and – with private sector unions devastated by job loss and unable to significantly expand unionization – weakening the remaining stronghold of unionism – public sector workers.

The attack on public services is commonly posed in terms of ‘cutbacks,’ but it is crucial to also link it to privatization. For some time now corporations have been chomping at the bit to profit from what are now public services. Governments have been moving to accommodate this by restructuring how these services are organized and delivered so that they can – piecemeal if necessary – be privatized. The crisis in government finances is being used to accelerate this trend. The end result will be losing services that aren't privately profitable and sacrificing quality and access while paying more for the health care, garbage collection, utilities, mail, and all the other services that are left and that we will then need to buy (or still finance through taxes).

It's also clear that ‘business as usual,’ even if more militant, won't be enough. We need to engage this struggle in new ways and this means re-evaluating everything about our own union structures, processes and strategies.

An effective response requires a social movement much stronger than what we currently have; and this raises the issue of the attack on unions. We obviously need to fightback; we know from experience that if we don't, that only invites the other side to be even more aggressive. But given what we are up against – a state determined to change the rules – it's also clear that ‘business as usual,’ even if more militant, won't be enough. We need to engage this struggle in new ways and this means re-evaluating everything about our own union structures, processes and strategies.

Strategic Choices:
Leading the Fight for Public Services

Unions emerged as sectional, not class organizations: they united workers in a particular workplace or sector and focused on making gains for those particular members. In an earlier time, this achieved important benefits that were subsequently spread to others beyond the unionized sector. But when circumstances changed and corporations and governments concluded that working-class gains had to be reversed to preserve profits, we were ill prepared to address their new aggressiveness. That former legacy of concentrating on our own compensation and conditions left us fragmented and vulnerable to the latest attacks.

Governments have been exploiting that weakness for some time and are now more aggressively trying to use fiscal deficits to isolate public sector workers. This involves framing the choice as being between the level of worker compensation and the level of public services. With the rest of the working-class taking it on the chin, the fact that the public sector remains relatively well-off aggravates the danger of its separation from the rest of the class. The retreats in the private sector, the cutbacks in employment insurance and increase in precarious work, the continuously falling rates of social assistance (now 55 per cent lower in real terms than in the mid-1990s as neoliberalism consolidated as the prevailing policy framework). All this leaves public sector workers open to resentment....


laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Excellent article. Thanks!


Yup. A good challenge.


epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Public sector pensions: Work longer and pay more, says Danny Alexander

Public sector workers must accept they will have to work longer and pay more into their pension pots in order to guarantee that they continue to receive better pensions than those in the private sector, Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has said.

Alexander will announce key details of the new pension plan for six million public servants in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank on Friday. He will confirm that the pension age for public servants will rise to match the state pension age – which itself is rising to 66 – although police and firefighters will spared....

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture doubt in my mind that the events in greece and spain made the threats by unions more real.
Treasury backtracks on Danny Alexander's pension reform plan

Union backlash leaves reforms in disarray as Treasury says Alexander's speech did not contain 'concrete policies'

Toby Helm, Saturday 18 June 2011 19.04 BST

Government policy on reform of public sector pensions has been plunged into disarray after the Treasury suddenly backtracked on announcements made on Friday by the Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander.

Alexander caused fury in the union movement – and triggered threats of sustained strike action – after he unveiled detailed plans for increasing pension contributions for millions of public sector workers during a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank.

He also announced that the government would increase the pension age for public sector workers to 66 by 2020, putting them in line with the state pension age.

However, after a union backlash which saw Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, warn of strike action comparable to the general strike of 1926, the Treasury said that Alexander's speech contained merely suggestions, not policy. "What the chief secretary put forward were not concrete policies. They are proposals that are subject to negotiations. That is why we are still in negotiations," said a Treasury official.


We've had some friend of the two old line parties in the post office here for years. The good friend of those in power has a huge office in the local Canada Post Office. Scabby outfit does crappy service and is always trying to pawn-off the less lucrative delivery routes to any sucker willing to take it on while the scabby outfit focuses on the most profitable routes and services. 

The first thing these posties should do is get assholes like that out of the post office. I asked one of the strikers out on the sidewalk what he thinks of that situation. He said to me that so and so is a real good guy and does good work for the Post Office. My God! I thought to myself, this guy's one step away from voting Tory or Liberal and screwing himself and unionized brothers and sisters in the process. Poor Canada!


a very good LRB article on falling mail volumes and postal privatization in Europe:

 Across the world, postal services are being altered like this: optimised to deliver the maximum amount of unwanted mail at the minimum cost to businesses. In the internet age private citizens are sending less mail than they used to, but that's only part of the story of postal decline. The price of driving down the cost of bulk mailing for a handful of big organisations is being paid for by the replacement of decently paid postmen with casual labour and the erosion of daily deliveries


epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Sign the Quality Public Services Charter to mark World Public Services Day

Jun 20, 2011 03:46 PM

A global campaign to promote investment in quality public services backed by fair taxation policy will be launched on World Public Services Day – Thursday, June 23. The Quality Public Services Now! campaign invites supporters to sign the Geneva Charter on Quality Public Services adopted by the Council of Global Unions which represents over 175 million workers.

The Charter states that public services enhance the quality of people’s lives and are fundamental to create societies that are equal, prosperous, and democratic. Access to public services should be fair. The charter pledges that global unions will work together with governments, international agencies, civil societies, business and enterprise to pursue a vision of quality public services...

Sign onto the website to sign the Charter, learn more about this global action, get email updates, and mark World Public Services Day.

remind remind's picture

Was at a meeting last night where a BC teacher was talking about the looming  teachers strike here, when their contract expires, because of what cuts Christy Clark is going to push through by way of wage/pension cuts and school programs and services.

A parent actually got pissy about it because the only thing important is her last 2 children graduating. People's failure to understand the need for solidarity and their believing lies of the government regarding cuts is quite disheartening.

What needs to happen, IMV, from the BC Teacher's federation, prior to the strike starting about now actually, is an information campaign to counteract the operant conditioning of the BC people by the msm.

What is even sadder is the manufactured divide between blue and white collar union workers.


well Remind, in terms of Education, most people have always just been interested when their kids are in school, unlike healthcare.

remind remind's picture

Jan, ya I see that, but it is pretty darn short sighted thought processes, given that they have another generation of gene holding progenity coming along not long after their children graduate, perhaps less than a decade in some cases.

As a grandparent, I have always been very involved in my granddaughter's education and should I still be young enough, I will be in my great childrens too. 

The BCTF seriously needs to get some excellent PR going right now and they could bridge the gap IMV and get BCers on board with them.


sorry I did such a short post Remind but I had to dash out and attend a budget mtg for the school board. It's just my observation of many people that once their own kids leave school that they don't take much interest in public education unless of course the Board considers closing a school and than it's about their property values. And that parents, while their children are in school appear to be interested in what is in the interest of their child and not necessarily in what's in the interest of the many. Now I am generalizing and I have worked with many fantastic parents, and grandparents and of course staff and kids in which makes being a school trustee all worthwhile.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

A recent faculty strike at Vancouver Island University got good support from those affected by the strike - the students. Things are a mixed bag in terms of solidarity.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Crunch Time for America's Public Sector Unions

by Shamus Cooke July 17, 2011

The media attack on public sector unions has reached a timely zenith, perfectly in sync with the politicians' anti-union deathblow. This coordinated campaign is happening nationwide, and includes Democratic and Republican marauders on a state-by-state basis. There are several state battlegrounds where this war is coming to completion, but no winner has been declared. If Democratic and Republican Governors are able to force massive concessions on public sector unions -- and the corresponding cuts to services these employees deliver to the public -- the labor movement and social safety net will both be decimated, paving the way for even more brutal, future attacks.

Take for instance Democratic governor Malloy of Connecticut. While bargaining a contract with state workers he wore a kind mask of "cooperation" and "respect" towards the unions. This led to an "historic" deal, where a Democratic Governor was able to convince labor leaders of the "necessity" to cut $1.6 billion from employees wages and benefits. But rank-and-file workers disagreed and rejected the deal.

In response the Governor's mask was shed and brute force adopted. According to Reuters: "Malloy said he was moving "full steam ahead" with plans to lay off as many as 7,500 state employees..." (June 24th, 2011).

The battle isn't over yet. The parties are back at the bargaining table, but the threat remains imminent.

The exact same threat is present in New York, where a different Democratic Governor is using similar rhetoric. Labor leaders have recently accepted a tentative agreement for massive cutbacks for state workers, but the rank and file haven't ratified the deal. To ensure passage, Democratic Governor Cuomo is using Malloy-type threats....


laine lowe laine lowe's picture

It's a full out war against unionized labour. The PR campaign to paint unions in the most negative light started quite a while ago but is reaping it's benefits today. Either unions find a way to gain public support and fight back or else they will become a footnote on historic reviews of the 20th century. A very sad day for those who work for a living.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..with union leadership divided workers will need to discover other ways to take this on. ways that can include forcing leaderships to get militant. workers are watching, here and in the us, what's going on with the arab and european upraisings. the square movement is possible, especially after wisconson. i heard a report on democracy now that there were some union leaders trying to end the occupation of the state capital. 3000 teachers told them no and the occupation went on. 

ilha formosa

ALEC Exposed: Milton Friedman's Little Shop of Horrors By Mary Bottari , July 20, 2011

Milton Friedman advised governments in economic crisis to follow strict austerity measures, combining radical cuts in social services with the full-scale privatization of their more lucrative assets...Governors across the nation, backed by Wall Street's Club for Growth and the Koch Brother's Americans for Prosperity, are working hard to convince average Americans the a jobs crisis is actually a deficit crisis and that the culprits are not the big banks on Wall Street, but state, county and municipal workers. In lockstep, governors are reaching for an almost identical set of "solutions," to their financial woes: massive tax breaks for big corporations, constitutional amendments to prevent states from raising revenue, the slashing of critical public services, the busting of unions and the privatization of every possible aspect of government including public schools -- long a Friedman agenda item.

...the fountainhead of these radical measures: the American Legislative Exchange Council...ALEC is not a lobby, and it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Behind closed doors, corporations hand legislators the law changes they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. ...

Corporations, like Koch Industries, Phillip Morris, Reynolds, Kraft, Wal-Mart, Bayer, Coca Cola, State Farm and more, sit on ALEC task forces and vote with state legislators to approve "model" bills in secret. They wine and dine legislators at swank hotels, with child care provided, fundraisers and other perks pre-arranged. After a swell time, participating legislators -- overwhelmingly conservative Republicans -- bring the bills home and introduce them into statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations. ALEC cuts out the middleman and the state legislators themselves become "super lobbyists" for the ALEC agenda.


Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler's picture

Prior to the 1930's meltdown the AFL was the only "union" organization.  It was more like a craft guild organization and totally out of touch with the unemployed and the industrial workers.  The sit down strikes in plants across both the US and Canada changed that because the workers knew the power of solidarity.  The CIO was born of that movement.  I am hopeful and somewhat confident that as workers get squeezed more and more they will spontaneously respond by joining together and fighting as one.   No top down instructions required or desired.