Last Days of Election Key to Stopping Harper, says Lewenza

April 29, 2011, 5:00 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza used his opening address to CAW Council to urge delegates to use the last days and hours of the election campaign to mobilize in support of progressive candidates and to stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agenda for a majority government. 

"A Harper government is not a government that represents the interests of workers," said Lewenza. "This agenda was somewhat held under control under a minority government, we need to do everything in our power to make sure that Harper does not get a majority government."

Nearly 700 delegates, staff, retired workers and guests are attending the CAW Council meeting taking place April 29 - May 1 at the union's Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ontario. 

Lewenza acknowledged that for many, initially it was difficult to get excited about the election particularly when it seemed to be engineered by the Conservative party after polls showed that the party was within reach of winning a majority.
Since then though, the political landscape has changed and continues to shift.  Lewenza expressed excitement about the rise of the NDP, in several parts of the country and congratulated Jack Layton for his leadership and that of his candidates in genuinely speaking to the concerns of Canadians.

Over the last five years, the union has emphasized outreach and education on the Conservative government's agenda for the country, which borrows from the former Reform Party as well as from Harper's days with the National Citizen's Coalition. Most recently this has included a CAW National Union in Politics Committee conference in early March and then leadership meetings in Kitchener, St. Thomas, St. Catharines and Vancouver over the campaign period.

Lewenza went after the Harper government for its inflated claim of good economic management, lamenting the country's high unemployment figures and the tens of thousands of unemployed workers who have given up their search for new jobs. High unemployment has plagued young workers (18-24 years old). Lewenza urged delegates to limit excess overtime in their workplaces if it could secure new jobs.

Provincial Elections

For the coming provincial elections, Lewenza also said that the ABC (Anyone But Conservative) voting strategy, favouring progressive candidates, including NDP where possible. He expressed particular concern about anti-union parties like the Tim Hudak Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, who he likened to former Ontario Premier Mike Harris and the Christy Clark Liberals in British Columbia.

He emphasized the connection between making gains for workers and political involvement. "Victories made at the bargaining table can be taken away legislatively," said Lewenza. Similarly, victories in the political realm, such as increases to the minimum wage have an impact at the bargaining table.

Lewenza raised the issue of soaring gas prices, which is making life unaffordable for many working people. "This is caused purely by the greed of the oil companies, speculation and oil companies wanting to make more money than the billions they already make."  

Ongoing Lock Out and Strike

Lewenza spoke about two aggressive employers. McIntosh Limousine locked out 200 Toronto airport limo drivers on December 1, after a breakdown in first contract negotiations. After another failure in negotiations, the union will now be pursuing a first contract through the Ontario Labour Relations Board.  The workers are represented by CAW Local 252.

CAW Local 3005 members at Bristol Aerospace have been on strike since April 1, after negotiations broke down over health care benefits for retirees.

In Toronto, 600 school bus drivers employed by Stock Transportation, represented by CAW Local 4268, are in a legal strike position, with the strike deadline being extended to Monday, May 2 at 12:01 a.m. 

Collective Bargaining

The union will be back in negotiations with the Detroit Three next year. Lewenza lambasted Ford Motor Company for its hypocrisy in paying Ford CEO Alan Mulally upwards of $100 million in total compensation while claiming it "cannot afford" to offer early retirement incentives in the Oakville plant that would create openings for laid off St. Thomas workers after their plant closes this year. The story is very similar at Navistar where the CEO enjoyed an exorbitant salary while the Chatham, Ontario plant remains idled since June 30, 2009. 

Lewenza congratulated CAW members at both CN and CP Rail who have ratified new collective agreements in January and February. He also highlighted the fact that many health care workers in the long term care sector have been without a new contract for more than a year, now awaiting arbitration rulings after negotiations stalled with employers tabling concessionary agreements. 

Workers in the retail sector will also be going into bargaining this year, particularly at the Metro chain, Pharmaplus, Metro Save-a-Centres and Sears. The union recently reached new agreements with The Bay.

Lewenza also highlighted a recent situation in the small community of Puce, Ontario where a group of retirement home workers continued on the job without pay for several months. "This group of workers was truly courageous in the way that they served the public."  The union rallied around the CAW Local 2458 members at LaChaumiere Retirement Residence, wherein a number of local unions donated money so that the workers would be supported in their struggle.

"The true heroes are the people on the ground, the true heroes are those who told members not to lose faith in the union."

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