Don't Pay Down Deficit During Recession, Lewenza Urges

December 2, 2011, 4:00 PM EST

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In a wide ranging address to CAW Council, CAW National President Ken Lewenza urged the approximately 800 delegates, staff and guests to turn their attention to the nation's growing economic disparity and renew efforts towards bringing about real social and economic equality.

The union's work cannot be circumvented by companies trying to take advantage of working people or governments trying to pay down deficits on the backs of the poor, said Lewenza, opening up the meeting on December 2 in Toronto.

Paying Down the Deficit on the Backs of the Poor

He decried the federal Conservative government which is now trying to pay down the national deficit at a time of economic slow down. He said that current government deficits are the automatic result of the recession. "Now we can't balance the budget in a faltering economy without devastating families and communities."

Lewenza warned that the $4 billion the government plans to cut out of federal public spending will cost tens of thousands of jobs. "You can't cut tens of thousands of jobs, and expect services to be the same - there is a direct correlation between jobs and services - you can't cut your way to a balanced budget."

"Our federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is now lecturing Canadians about their spending - but if we were to follow his advice, the economy would be in even worse shape." Lewenza said that the government needs to spend money on EI benefits for those who qualify and extend the system to include more workers who have lost their jobs.

"Too many workers are falling through the cracks - with layoffs, unemployment and few job prospects."

Lewenza called for a more concerted focus on economic and social issues by labour unions and the New Democratic Party, particularly in Ontario. He urged an end to singing off the same song book as the Conservative party and championing tax cuts.

Lewenza also voiced concerns about the agenda of the Stephen Harper government, who's first task as government was enacting back to work legislation for CUPW members, and later threatening to enact back to work legislation for CAW members at Air Canada and then workers represented by CUPE. 
Lewenza said that the global Occupy movement collectively taught us a lesson. "We cannot ignore the social inequality that's happening in our nation. We have to fight for young people - for students, for young workers and those who are vulnerable to precarious work and unemployment."
Part of these efforts will be increasing union density across the country, bringing it up from the current 30 per cent, said Lewenza.

Collective Bargaining

Lewenza congratulated long term care workers at Extendicare, Revera and the group of 20 homes in Ontario who have recently obtained settlements.

He also spoke about how the gaming industry has deviated from its original vision as a way to diversify the Ontario economy. Instead now, employers such as the Woodbine Entertainment Group are now replacing workers with automated tellers in many locations.

Lewenza also congratulated retail workers in the union for the recent agreements at PharmaPlus and Metro stores in a number of locations across Ontario, representing approximately 5,000 members.

He also applauded workers at Nav Canada, represented by CAW Local 5454 and 1016 across the country.  

Lewenza also warned that the union could be facing a serious fight at Caterpillar (formerly Electromotive) in London, where the extended collective agreement expires on December 31. The company has already constructed a barbed wire fence around the facility.

On a happier note, Lewenza congratulated the Halifax shipyard workers who recently were awarded a $25 billion contract from the federal government to build 21 naval vessels. The contract will guarantee approximately 30 years of work at the shipyard.

Lewenza said that the contract is an inspiring example of how public monies can be used to invest in Canadian jobs. 

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