Lay-Offs, Cut-Backs, and the Widening Gap between Rich and Poor:
Is the Canadian Economy Really Doing Well? Or Doing Well for Whom?
By Thomas Davies
As of June 27th, 700 skilled workers at Air Canada's maintenance facility at the Vancouver International Airport are without work. Laid off, their livelihood in jeopardy and their families wondering how on earth this could happen as Canada’s economy is supposedly booming. Unfortunately, millions of poor and working families have now been forced to ask the same question, and the answers contradict the rosy picture painted by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the rest of the men in Ottawa.
Is it a coincidence that Air Canada recently purchased an aviation maintenance facility in El Salvador that specializes in Airbus and Boeing aircrafts? Some of those losing jobs had more than 20 years seniority, and on average earned about $30 an hour. This is a wage Air Canada will certainly never even come close to paying in El Salvador as they take advantage of the poverty of many Latin American countries.
How Are Things So Great?
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented a balanced 2007 Federal budget titled, “A Stronger, Safer, Better Canada.” He emphasized that, "Canadians come out ahead through real tax relief that benefits working families.”
The government reminds us as well that in 2006 the unemployment rate finished at 6.3%, the lowest official average annual unemployment rate in more than 30 years. Also, an estimated 275,000 new full-time jobs were created, with 65% of these full-time employment gains going to women
However, if everyone is getting jobs, how has there been the monumental loss of 275,000 manufacturing jobs in central Canada in the past 5 years alone? How did BC lose 13,700 manufacturing jobs between 2004 and 2006?
Detroit-based parent General Motors Corp. will have slashed 30,000 employees at 12 of its North American plants by 2008. In May of this year, DaimlerChrysler announced the sale of its North American Chrysler Group to the private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management. Cerberus specializes in buying money-losing companies and “restructuring” them by slashing employees and benefits before re-selling the company. This leaves 80,000 employees in the US and Canada with completely uncertain futures.
The Widening Poverty Gap
Things are going terribly for workers in Canada, as all of the traditionally skilled, full-time and well paying manufacturing jobs are being systematically liquidated and the gap between rich and poor becomes larger than the Grand Canyon. The reality is that across Canada:
- As of 2004, the wealthiest 10% earn 80% more than the poorest 10%
- This bottom 10% now work 200 more hours per year than 10 years ago
- 80% of Canadians have less or stagnant earning
- Only 40% of workers work enough hours to qualify for Employment Insurance
- One third of low-income children live in households with at least one full-time working parent
- There is now a bare minimum of 200,000 undocumented workers in Canada, many earning less than half of minimum wage
- Food bank use per month has more than doubled since 1989, increasing from 378,000 people in the month of March of 1989 to 823,856 in March of 2006
Businessmen and the government also appreciate the growth of women in the workforce. According to Statistics Canada, a woman earns 71 cents for every dollar her male counterpart does.
And the Unions?
Unfortunately for workers, when Chrysler announced its sale to the Wall Street sharks, the United Auto Workers (UAW) issued a statement endorsing the move. It said the sale was, “in the best interests of our UAW members, the Chrysler Group and Daimler.”
Since 1987, the percentage of unionized workers in Canada has dropped from 37.6% to 30.8% as of January 1st 2006. The situation is the same in the United States, where 2 million skilled jobs have also been eliminated through outsourcing, and unionization is now a meagre 13%.
As blatant attacks on workers have increased, unionized workers have found themselves frustrated and unable to convince their leaderships to take adequate measures to defend their rights. Employers have, unfortunately, taken full advantage of this. At the bare minimum, there must be a common demand against any wage-slashing and layoffs, and for the sharing of all hours between employees in a decreased work week without wage decrease.
Which Way Forward?
Employment is a fundamental right, as is the ability to secure food, shelter, and adequate healthcare. The huge scope of attacks on workers in recent years has left many devastated, but also created a situation where it is in the interests of huge numbers of people to work together to defend their basic rights. The rose-tinted glasses that the government and it business allies have tried to hold over our eyes now lay smashed on the ground. Now is the time to move forward for the rights of all poor and working people.
NO TO WAGE CUTS!
NO TO LAYOFFS!
END ALL ATTACKS ON WORKERS!
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