Capitalist Bosses of British Columbia Forestry on Offensive
Forestry Workers Fight Back with Militant Strike!
By Sophie Ziner
The United Steelworkers - a union representing 7000 forestry workers in BC - began shutting down operations on July 20th. Striking workers are demanding that employers stop contracting out jobs and stop mandating unfair, unsafe shifts which sometimes require forestry workers to be on the job up to 12 hours a day without overtime pay.
In November 2004 the Government of British Columbia imposed a collective agreement in response to a three-week-long strike by forestry workers. Following that, most workers took a 18 to 35 percent cut in wages, about 5000 loggers and sawmill workers lost their jobs and 26 forest industry companies went out of business.
So when the Forest Products Association of Canada says that the industry is recovering and is expanding its markets, where are these benefits being seen? In the hands of forestry workers? Definitely not. The profits are all going to the big corporations, who are looking always to cut back rights of workers to increase their bottom line. The government of British Columbia is fully complicit in this increase in exploitation.
What does forestry mean to British Columbia? For decades, the forestry industry has been a central feature of the economy of this province. Loggers and forestry workers have had to fight for job security and safer working conditions for over a century now, and attacks on the rights of forestry workers are still ongoing as part of an overall systematic theft of the rights of workers and the sidelining of unions in British Columbia. Over the last decade, the forestry industry especially has gone through a major shift and decline. Why? Mostly because the big corporations that run the industry have completely exploited the most easily accessible stands of timber, used unsustainable forestry practices and have used short term methods to maximise profit. As well, it has become more profitable to export raw logs, and with them jobs, across the border to the United States and to other provinces. Sawmills that could be profitable canít manage to keep running because all the logs get sold out of the province or country and there is no raw material to mill.
In my hometown of the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, the sawmill was a dominant feature in the economy- many people I knew growing up worked at Fields Sawmill or had some sort of job connected to it. Last year, the mill was closed because it was more profitable for the company to export raw logs across the border to the US where they could be processed more cheaply. 235 people lost their jobs, and one of the major employers left town. But this trend is not unique to the Comox Valley. It has been seen in small towns and cities all over British Columbia.
The forestry industry makes up around 25% of British Columbiaís economy, and is one of the major employers in many small towns and cities in BC. The practices of the big companies of the forestry industry have run loggers and sawmill workers into a dead end. These companies are trying to find ways to salvage profits in a market that is floundering because of a low US housing market by attacking the gains that forestry workers have fought for and won over the years. The impact on employment in all other sectors in a small town is heavily affected when an industry like forestry is in decline.
The 7000 forestry workers on strike represent working people in small-town BC, in communities that see almost none of the benefits brought by the short term economic boom of the Olympics and that are suffering the huge weight of a provincial economy that increasingly must exploit land and people to sustain itself. Working people must demand: Capitalists open the books and let us see their books. All working people in BC need to support the striking forestry workers!
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