November 27, 2014

English Edition, No. 4

Neo-Liberal Restructuring of the State

Progress Will Only be Made Through Political Arrangements that Recognize the People's Right to Decide

Demonstrate Against Austerity!

Saturday, November 29 -- 1:00 pm
Gather at 12:00 noon

Montréal: Place du Canada (corner of Peel and René-Lévesque)
Quebec City: Parc des Champs-de-Bataille (Plains of Abraham)
For information: refusonslausterite.org


Neo-Liberal Restructuring of the State

Progress Will Only be Made Through Political Arrangements that Recognize
the People's Right to Decide
- Forum ouvrier
Treasury Board Gives Itself Full Powers over Public Sector Staffing Levels

Privatization of Health Care and Social Services
Pay-the-Rich Schemes Put People at Risk of Not Receiving Services and Treatments

Protests Against Couillard Governement's Austerity Agenda
Municipal Workers' Day of Action Defends Pensions and the Rights of All


Neo-Liberal Restructuring of the State

Progress Will Only be Made Through
Political Arrangements that Recognize the
People's Right to Decide

The neo-liberal offensive being imposed in Quebec will have serious consequences. Far from solving an alleged crisis in public finances, the neo-liberal offensive and its accompanying structural reforms has the aim to recognize monopoly right and destroy the arrangements based on public right. The so-called budgetary crisis has become the permanent pretext to facilitate the massive transfer of wealth created by the working class to the financial oligarchy, and the usurpation and concentration of  political power in their hands.

Opposition to the austerity agenda continues to grow. The workers are demanding that new arrangements be established on the basis of the recognition of their rights, not their negation. The problems facing the society will not be settled by invoking a financial crisis to deny rights. The anti-social austerity agenda has been the official policy for 20 years and has only made the situation worse. Workers need modern political arrangements that empower them. They are willing to take up the responsibility of charting a new direction for Quebec.

The various collectives opposing the direction being taken by the new Liberal government -- municipal employees, health care workers, students and others -- have an abundance of ideas and solutions to the problems. Instead of giving these solutions proper consideration, the Liberals only care about the measures proposed by the financial oligarchy and its ruling circle. They propose bills aimed at giving decision-making power to a few individuals who are currently setting up a new United States of North American monopolies.

This is why the government wants to pass Bill 10 to reorganize the health care system. The bill centralizes power in the hands of the Health Minister so he can more easily promote the interests of the pharmaceutical companies and private businesses that deliver health care services. Similarly Bill 15, concerning workforce management within government departments, will concentrate power in the hands of the President of the Treasury Board so he can pass regulations as he sees fit. Bill 3, concerning pension plans for municipal employees, will give more flexibility to the mayors of major cities, in particular Montreal and Quebec City, to privatize municipal services. Following the November 2 school board elections, the Premier wants to undertake fundamental changes that will affect how decisions are taken in education. Again the reason is to privatize the delivery of educational services paid for by the public purse.

There is also Philippe Couillard's eagerness to support the war government of Stephen Harper and his new laws that give even more power to the police and intelligence services. Not to mention that Couillard seems to be taking his cue from the almost dictatorial powers of the Prime Minister's Office. The political equation is simple: the more the Liberals concentrate power in their hands, the more the workers' movement and workers'   defence organizations come under attack. The negation of civil rights becomes the new political norm.

The new era that lies ahead requires serious deliberation by the working class and people about what is going on, so that governments are not able to deprive us of the political power which is ours by right, the right to determine our future. While we continue to reject the neo-liberal program of paying the rich, the working class and people must discuss and organize for democratic renewal in a practical way.

Forum ouvrier calls on all workers to think seriously about these developments. For us, our security lies in our fight for the rights of all. The fraud used by governments to justify decisions that promote private monopoly interests must be rejected. The dangerous legal framework to suspend civil rights must not pass. Our humanity will flourish through the affirmation of the rights of all, not their negation.

(Translated from original French by Chantier politique.)

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Treasury Board Gives Itself Full Powers over
Public Sector Staffing Levels

The Couillard government's Bill 15, An Act respecting workforce management and control within government departments, public sector bodies and networks and state-owned enterprises, tabled October 9, is one of the major bills the government wants passed. It is sponsored by Martin Coiteux, Minister responsible for Government Administration and Ongoing Program Review and Treasury Board Chair. In his various interventions on the bill, Minister Coiteux said the bill is central to achieving a zero deficit and what he called the "restructuring of the state." In other words, it is part of putting in place the arrangements the ruling circles require to overthrow the public authority, in favour of the private interests which have usurped power.

Section 1 of the bill says "The purpose of this Act is to strengthen workforce management and control mechanisms within public bodies so as, in particular, to monitor and provide a framework for changes in the workforce." In fact, what Bill 15 does is give powers to the Treasury Board Chair and Ministers dealing with the public sector workforce, which concern the size of the workforce, as well as planning, monitoring, reporting, verification and corrective measures and sanctions for the workforce.

The bill will require all public bodies to regularly report to their respective Minister on workforce levels and staff distribution by job category. Each Minister then submits a staffing profile to the Chair of the Treasury Board describing the development plans for each body for which that Minister is responsible. The Treasury Board will then determine the overall size of the workforce for that ministry and/or its public bodies. The bill does not provide criteria for Ministers to set staffing levels. It says only that the organizations will be required to abide by the staffing levels set by the Treasury Board and the staff distribution as decided by the Minister. Failure to comply could result in an investigation, cancellation of subsidies, loss of control over budgets and temporary administration by the Minister, as well as trusteeship.

How Bill 15 defines a public body is very broad. It includes 19 ministries and all bodies associated with them. For example, the Ministry of Labour includes the Commission on Labour Standards and the Quebec Construction Commission. Other public bodies include state-owned enterprises such as Hydro-Québec, Investment Québec and the Quebec Liquor Corporation (SAQ). Also included are school boards, CÉGEPs, the University of Quebec and its constituent universities, research institutes and schools of higher learning as well as health and social services agencies.

Bill 15 takes as its starting point the global freeze on hiring in the public sector for the year 2015-2016 (at 2014 levels) imposed by the Treasury Board. Thus, if staffing levels are increased in one area, they must be reduced by an equivalent number elsewhere.

Everything is presented as a matter of decontextualized numbers, irrespective of the actual conditions within public services and those of the workers who provide those services, which are already untenable. The Treasury Board Chair "reasons" that the slightly more than 6,000 workers who are added each year to public sector bodies contribute to the budget deficit. If hiring these additional workers does not take place, that much money will be saved and contribute to a balanced budget. Failing this, cuts will have to be made elsewhere to attain the zero deficit that the government has committed to achieving in 2015-2016, the Treasury Board Chair says.

The Treasury Board has absolutely no qualifications to determine what is required to deliver public services or the working conditions and staffing levels the workers require. Yet, it is given full powers over services and the workers who provide them. Based on the phony criteria of whether or not something facilitates a zero deficit, workers are viewed as mere statistics which add to "costs" because they require salaries and social benefits.

The Treasury Board is also given full powers regarding subcontracting. In the bill, any proposed subcontract over $25,000 must be authorized by the Minister and may be cancelled if the Treasury Board decides that it is being used as a means to circumvent the hiring freeze. Conversely, the Treasury Board could declare that more subcontracting is necessary to fulfill staffing needs.

This constitutes a major concentration of power in the hands of the Treasury Board and Ministers, which will only aggravate the conditions and create maximum instability in the public services, that have already been damaged by decades of the anti-social offensive.

Bill 15's decrees conditions that are impossible and dangerous to the physical and mental well-being of service users and workers, while providing impunity to the private interests which have usurped power by force.

Only once does the bill mention the issue of services or the needs of the public and the worker, in Article 12, where it says that "the workforce must be managed in a manner that maintains the services provided to the public." It is fraudulent to say that services will be maintained while freezing and cutting the workforce. The Treasury Board and Ministers give themselves plausible deniability by saying that they have cut nothing -- these are only cuts to operations and administration, not services, they claim -- and have the power to impose further administrative measures against those who do not fall into line. This means that an even greater burden falls to the workers to maintain the system, at the expense of their physical and mental health. Meanwhile, the government tries to cover up its wrecking by sowing doubt in the workers' claims that occupational burnout is decimating their ranks.

Bill 15 is an escalation of the devastating anti-social offensive and must be withdrawn.

(Translated from original French by Chantier politique.)

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Privatization of Health Care and Social Services

Pay-the-Rich Schemes Put People at Risk of
Not Receiving Services and Treatments

On November 13, Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Gaétan Barrette held a press conference at the conclusion of the special consultations on Bill 10, An Act to Modify the Organization and Governance of the Health and Social Services Network, in Particular by Abolishing the Regional Agencies. Fifty-nine groups were heard and 88 briefs were received during the consultations. Barrette used the occasion to reiterate that he is in a hurry to get the bill passed before the end of the year so that it is in effect as of April 1, 2015.

Bill 10 provides for the abolition of health care and social services agencies and the amalgamation of other facilities in a given area. Across Quebec, 182 facilities will be whittled down to 28. The management of each of the 28 establishments will be assigned to a president/executive director and an assistant, both appointed by the Minister. The boards of directors will be comprised of 13-15 people each, all appointed by the Minister. In addition to his powers of appointment, the Minister is given almost unlimited powers of intervention and can remove managers if he considers them to be acting outside his guidelines. Bill 10 is directly aimed at the unions and uses, amongst other things, provisions of Bill 30 passed by the Charest government that includes changes to union certification and the renegotiation of working conditions following the amalgamation of facilities.

Faced with numerous criticisms presented in the briefs regarding the concentration of powers in the hands of the Minister of Health, Barrette said he was considering amending his powers of appointment, perhaps limiting them to one term. He will keep what he refers to as powers of accountability. Management appointed by him is accountable to him for the implementation of his decisions. It is he who decides on the allocation of services and he answers to no one. Barrette continued:

"As for the powers as they are defined today, I would not hand them to my predecessor, or to anyone in the PQ for that matter, because such powers in the hands of people who have an ideology as their first objective rather than providing services to patients could pose a problem."

For Barrette to suggest that the Liberal Party does not act on the ideological basis of neo-liberalism is fraud. The Couillard government's privatization of health care is neo-liberal wrecking that has nothing to do with rendering services to patients.

In order to hide his refusal to talk about the kind of reform that would benefit the public, he takes issue with the trade unions, seeking to discredit them from the get-go by suggesting that because they are an organized force, they are not to be listened to. Answering a question from a journalist on his interpretation of widespread opposition to the bill at the parliamentary committee level, Barrette stated that the purpose of the reform is to target the workers' organized resistance to attacks on health care. He said that opposition came only from the unions and that that opposition must be seen within the context of negotiations. This is not true. He classified those who presented briefs in order to denigrate and marginalize some of them. "The widespread opposition to which you refer is organizational. We are in a period of negotiation. And I would point out that the groups that came are basically three types: there are groups that I would call institutional, health care professionals; there are community groups, which were very, very, highly represented, and it was a very good thing, because what they had to say was very clear; and then those from the strictly union milieu."

Barrette failed to mention that one of the main complaints about the bill from the public, individuals and organizations is that it was hatched behind closed doors and that those who are the most affected -- health care and social services workers who are aware of the problems and needs of the people and are demanding major investments in human and material resources in hospitals, local community service centres (CLSCs), long-term care facilities (CHSLDs), etc. -- were simply excluded.

Bill 10 must be looked at as part of the restructuring of the state through which the rich and their governments are pushing the anti-social offensive. Bill 10 concentrates power in the hands of the Minister and reduces the health care system to a small number of giant institutions that will make it easier to cut entire services and push the private delivery of services by monopolies under the cover of public health care insurance. Barrette himself has said Bill 10 will be accompanied by other measures that will address the funding of public services based on "efficiency and productivity." Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said recently that it is not absolutely necessary that the state deliver public services. "What matters to citizens is to have the service. Who provides them, whether it be the state or someone else is secondary."

This is the essence of the fraud. The private delivery of public health care services is not at all a secondary issue because the profit motive of private delivery dilapidates public funds while providing fewer services at a lower standard, over which the public does not have control.

All scenarios, including privatization, should be looked at in order to save money, Barrette said. "There are a lot of community organizations that can deliver social services. It's cheaper than if it is a network," he said. He added that the private sector and non-profit community groups could become alternatives to the state to ensure more efficient service delivery. For example, he said, rehabilitation services for children with disabilities, currently provided by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, could be transferred to the community sector. Everything is on the table, he said.

Bill 10 is the first in a series of bills and other measures that the Couillard government intends to pass, in addition to what will be recommended following the ongoing program review presently underway. Nobody is fooled by the Health Minister's stories of prejudice and diversion. Nothing good will come of the bill and it should be scrapped.

(Translated from original French by Chantier politique.)

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Protests Against Couillard Government's Austerity Agenda

Municipal Workers' Day of Action Defends Pensions and the Rights of All


Port of Montreal, November 26, 2014

On November 26, municipal workers across Quebec held militant actions to denounce attacks on their pensions and their right to collective bargaining, especially through the Couillard government's Bill 3, An Act to foster the financial health and sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans. The government wants to pass the bill next week.

Bill 3 annuls pension agreements signed between municipalities and unions, prohibits any future negotiations on retirement conditions, imposes 50-50 cost-sharing for existing and future plans, and for past deficits, and ends pension indexing.

According to the Coalition syndicale pour la libre négotiation, which organized the day of action, 25 municipal employee union locals across Quebec held a one-day strike to mark the day of action. In many instances, workers who could not legally strike refused to cross the picket lines.


Port of Montreal

In Montreal, beginning at 6:00 am, all the entrances to the Port of Montreal were blocked by municipal workers and other workers who came to lend a hand. The riot squad was sent in, but the gates remained shut and the port remained paralyzed for the day. An important factor for the success of the blockade was the longshoremen's refusal to cross the municipal workers' picket lines.

At the same time on the transit system, staff in ticket booths and bus drivers offered up free rides on the system for a period.

At Montreal City Hall, workers blocked the main entrance to the building during Mayor Denis Coderre's presentation of the 2015 budget. Coderre and his counterpart in Quebec City, Régis Lebeaume, are the two main spokespeople for Bill 3.


Montreal City Hall


Ste-Therese


Mirabel

In Quebec City, work on the New Quebec City Amphitheatre was disrupted at 6:30 am, when access to the site was partially blocked by dozens of workers.

In Gatineau, more than 500 workers marched through the streets and rallied in front of the Quebec Provincial Court building to denounce the Couillard government. The main message was that this is just the beginning and workers vowed they would fight until the government stopped its unjust attacks on pensions.

The workers are also aware that the attacks on their pensions is part of a broader program to lower all their working and living conditions and that this must not pass.


Gatineau

Firefighters Oppose Criminalization of Their Struggle

In related news, on November 21, more than 350 firefighters from the Montreal Firefighters Association held a demonstration outside the headquarters of the Montreal Fire Department to express their unwavering support for six of their colleagues who were fired and around 50 who have been suspended following incidents during a protest at City Hall in August. Forty of these workers face criminal charges of mischief and unlawful assembly under the City of Montreal's P6 bylaw. They pleaded not guilty in court on October 2, and are now waiting for the hearings to begin.

Throughout the rally, firefighters expressed their anger against the criminalization of their struggle and the legalized theft of their pensions. The President of the Montreal Firefighters Association Ronald Martin denounced the Couillard government and Coderre administration for their attack on long established labour relations and their efforts to provoke maximum confrontation with municipal employees rather than negotiate with them.


(Photos: Chantier politique, M. Chartrand, M. Giroux)

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