Prairie labour groups defend Wheat Board as Parliament votes

Western Agriculture Ministers acting against the interests of rural communities, says AFL

EDMONTON, Nov. 28, 2011 /CNW/ - The leading labour groups from the Prairie provinces today united in calling on the Harper government to abandon its illegal and undemocratic plan to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).

"Bill C-18, which will be voted on in the House of Commons today, is not about market freedom, despite what the Harper government claims. It is an early Christmas gift to the Conservatives' corporate friends - at the expense of Canadian communities, families and working people," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) which represents 145,000 workers.

The AFL, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Manitoba Federation of Labour today issued a joint statement condemning the plan to dismantle the wheat board.

"The plan is illegal, because the government has refused to hold a vote among farmers on the issue. It is undemocratic, because it ignores the wheat board's own vote, in which a majority voted to keep the board," says McGowan.

"It is extremely disappointing to see the Agriculture Ministers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. today backing this deeply flawed plan. They are acting against the interests of the fragile rural communities they claim to represent," he says.

The joint statement from the labour federations says: "For more than 75 years, the CWB has worked successfully to help farmers negotiate on an equal footing with the buyers of their products, mainly large multi-national or U.S. corporations. It has also helped small Prairie farmers compete with larger corporate farming operations."

It adds: "Clearly, the CWB is working for the majority of farmers. The Tory government has not put forward a business case for its decision and it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to wrap up CWB operations. Prairie farmers and rural communities will lose out. Only large corporations and foreign corporate buyers will benefit."

Says McGowan: "The real truth is that the Harper government believes in a free market only when it's good for large corporations. It wants to destroy the ability of farmers to freely and collectively bargain to get the best price for their goods. It's the same ideological attack Harper has made on the rights of workers to collectively bargain to get a fair deal for their work in back-to-work legislation at Canada Post and Air Canada."

The AFL president also issued a warning: "The Harper government won't rest here. The dairy and poultry industries are next on the list of targets."

Statement on Canadian Wheat Board
From the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Federations of Labour

The Harper government's decision to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) is illegal and undemocratic. Once again, the Conservative government is putting the interests of its corporate friends ahead of the interests of Canadian communities, families and working people.

Illegal: The law requires the government to consult with farmers on any changes to the CWB, but the government has refused to hold a vote among farmers.

Undemocratic: Farmers held their own vote on the future of the CWB and a majority voted to keep the board. The Harper government is ignoring this vote. Farmers elect directors of the CWB - eight out of 10 elected board members are strong proponents of the board. The Harper government is ignoring this. While Harper claims his majority in the House of Commons gives him a mandate, 60 per cent of voters in the last federal election backed parties that support the CWB.

The real story: The Tory government claims it believes in the free market, but wants to undermine the ability of farmers to get together to freely and collectively bargain for the best price for their goods. To Harper, market freedom extends only to corporations. Any attempt by farmers or workers to act collectively to get a fair deal for their work is under attack. We have seen this in back-to-work legislation for members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and for workers at Air Canada. We are seeing it again now with the CWB. Next on the list of targets will be the dairy and poultry industries. Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade, has admitted that the supply-management systems in these sectors will be on the table in free-trade talks with the Asia-Pacific trade group.

For more than 75 years, the CWB has worked successfully to help farmers negotiate on an equal footing with the buyers of their products, mainly large multi-national or U.S. corporations. It has also helped small Prairie farmers compete with larger corporate farming operations.

The CWB has annual revenues of $5 billion to $8 billion, all of which goes to farmers, less operating costs, as profit. It receives no public subsidies. Studies show that farmers earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year more when going through CWB than they would in an open market. That money is vital to the survival of the small, family farms that are the backbone of Canadian agriculture - and to the rural Prairie communities where they operate.

Clearly, the CWB is working for the majority of farmers. The Tory government has not put forward a business case for its decision and it will costs hundreds of millions of dollars to wrap up CWB operations. Prairie farmers and rural communities will lose out. Only large corporate farmers and foreign corporate buyers will benefit.

That is why the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Federations of Labour wholeheartedly support the campaign to save the Canadian Wheat Board and ask our members to join that fight by signing the petition at www.StopTheSteamroller.ca.


SOURCE Alberta Federation of Labour

For further information:

MEDIA CONTACT: 
Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888 (cell) 

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Alberta Federation of Labour

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