43rd annual meeting of the United Steelworkers (FTQ) - Our commitment makes the difference

    DRUMMONDVILLE, QC, Nov. 21 /CNW Telbec/ - Michel Arsenault, Director of
the Québec District of the United Steelworkers (FTQ), is currently addressing
the 500 delegates and guests attending the 43rd annual meeting. In his report,
the Director briefly analyzes the political situation in Québec. "We have a
disquieting number of politicians who are veering to the right. If we read the
programs of certain political parties, both in Ottawa and in Québec, we note
that neoliberal ideology is gradually infiltrating people's minds and taking
hold. We need to inform and educate the public because if voters heed the call
of these right-wing parties, they are likely to pay a price some day,"
declares Michel Arsenault.
    After a brief historical overview, he explains that the union movement
has been obliged to get involved in social debates in order to defend the
interests of its members and their families. "We have to act," he says, "as
there is a risk that the social legislation that Québec has adopted will
become weakened, especially the laws governing the right to unionize. The
Steelworkers' strike in Murdochville in 1957 was all about the right to have a
union and to bargain. Our involvement in political action is inescapable."
    According to him, a worrisome example of this advance of the right is the
ground that the private sector is gradually gaining in our public health care
system. "The studies are clear," he explains, "and the worst idea for solving
the problems of the health care network is to let the private sector in. Many
of us have known a family member or a neighbour who was financially ruined by
illness prior to the introduction of the Health Insurance Act. As a society,
we have developed tools to prevent such dramas from happening again; let's not
let individuals, insurance companies and private clinics, hungry for profits,
tear to shreds this legacy for our children!"

    The loss of good jobs and the weakening of our industrial structure

    The union leader also discusses the job situation and the deterioration
of working conditions. Unionized workers are under enormous pressure to
standardize their collective agreements downwards. Yet, over the past three
decades, productivity has risen by 51% and Canada's economic performance has
increased by 72%. Taking inflation into account, average wages have remained
practically unchanged, while corporate profits have reached unprecedented
records. "If wages had grown in proportion to the economy and productivity,
workers would be earning an average of $10,000 more per year. The companies
have made off with both the cake and the icing, leaving nothing but crumbs!"
he asserts.
    Job losses are also a source of concern. Since November 2002,
133,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared in Québec, compared to 250,000
across Canada. The situation is not improving, given that Québec has lost 2/3
of the manufacturing jobs in Canada since February 2006. Meanwhile, there has
been a steady stream of mergers and acquisitions. In the past year, there were
520 announcements of mergers and acquisitions in Canada just between April and
June 2007. In the majority of cases, the head offices are located outside of
Québec or of Canada. "We no longer own the companies that exploit our natural
resources; our copper, zinc and nickel are now under Swiss control; our
aluminum and iron mines are under American, Australian and British control,
and our steel is controlled by the Amsterdam stock exchange and the Mittal
family," Michel Arsenault points out.
    "The leaders of those companies reap the profits. Following the recent
merger of Alcan with Rio Tinto, Alcan's President and CEO, Richard Evans, will
get over 51 million dollars just for himself. All together, the officers of
this so-called Canadian company will share 138 million dollars if they lose
their jobs. Yet Alcan refuses to support a drug insurance plan for
pensioners," rails the Québec leader.

    Urgent measures must be taken

    According to Michel Arsenault, governments are failing to demonstrate any
political will. "The Harper government is doing nothing to protect the
manufacturing industry," he says. "Ottawa has refused to adopt the job-saving
measures used in other countries despite the recommendations of the Canadian
International Trade Tribunal. Yet the Americans did not hesitate to protect
their industries that were under threat." He is calling for trade laws to be
modernized to make it easier to provide evidence of business practices and to
better protect Canadian and Québec industry. The federal government must
negotiate trade agreements that are founded on respect for the workers. These
agreements must contain provisions prohibiting child labour and forced labour
and enshrining the right to safe working conditions, unfettered unionization
and environmental protection.

    A global union

    The Québec union leader concludes by pointing out that the Steelworkers
have taken another key step in the fight against multinational corporations
that use the planet as their base of operations. "Solidarity requires greater
organizational effectiveness," he says. "Accordingly, we are the first union
to achieve a real merger with another union overseas. Based on the success of
the strategic alliances forged between the Steelworkers and Amicus, a British
union, we signed a new agreement in Ottawa on April 18, 2007 which is the
first step towards the creation of a truly global union."

For further information:

For further information: Michel Arsenault, United Steelworkers (FTQ),
(819) 479-1805; André Laplante, Information Service, United Steelworkers
(FTQ),  (514) 258-4798

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