August 9, 2015

English Edition, No. 17

Opposition to Harper's National Destruction

Farmers Defend Public Right

Farmers demonstrate outside office of Denis Lebel, July 27 (photo: UPA)

Opposition to Harper's National Destruction
Farmers Defend Public Right

Closure of Graphic Packaging Paperboard Mill in Jonquière
Workers Demand the Re-Opening or Sale of the Mill and
New Laws that Limit Monopoly Right

- Normand Chouinard -

Opposition to Harper's National Destruction

Farmers Defend Public Right

Farmers from all regions of Quebec demonstrated at the office of federal Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism, and Agriculture) Maxime Bernier in Ste-Marie de Beauce on July 24, and three days later on July 27, in Roberval, Lac-St-Jean outside the office of federal Minister Denis Lebel (Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs, President of the Privy Council and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec).

Some 300 agricultural farmers and dairy, egg and poultry producers rallied at Minister Lebel's office to demand the supply management system be maintained. The supply management system is a mechanism to set prices in a rational manner to assist producers, processors, and consumers as well as offers producers a a level of stability for the sale of their products.

Within the current context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) free trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union, which are about to be finalized, agricultural producers have no choice but to defend the supply management system. In doing so they are defending Canada's food sovereignty. The U.S. is pushing the Canadian government to give up the supply management system and open up its market to the 3 production sectors, that is milk, eggs and poultry. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) is calling for increased quotas for all dairy products from the EU, including subsidized fine cheeses, which would compete with Quebec cheeses. Farmers are demanding that the Harper government, which has already capitulated on CETA, not to mention its dismantling of the Wheat Board, not betray farmers in the secret TPP negotiations.

Doing away with supply management would mean the disappearance of many dairy farms in Quebec as a result of competition from U.S. dairy farms with their herds of 4,000 to 5,000 cows, well beyond what Quebec farms own. It would mean the introduction of subsidized products on the Quebec market that favour imports, to the detriment of local production. Whereas other countries do not produce at the same standards, which are often lower, the quality of dairy products on the market will be diminished.

Supply management in Quebec has fostered the development of agriculture and modern milk production, a significant network of agricultural cooperatives and processing plants which are owned by farmers and provide consumers with quality products in abundance. Quebec's dairy and poultry sectors comprise $8.2 billion of the GDP. They account for 92,000 jobs and contribute $1.38 billion in taxes and income tax. The impact of supply management on agriculture allows for the maintenance of rural communities and of land usage. It ensures milk production in Quebec's peripheral regions. This is what is threatened by the Harper government's policies to put the wealth produced by Quebec and Canada's soil and labour in the hands of the monopolies.

Quebec farmers must continue their struggle to maintain the supply management system. This has to do with our quality of life, the future of the agricultural model chosen and developed by our farmers, and we must support them. An important step in this direction is to defeat Harper on October 19.

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Closure of Graphic Packaging Paperboard Mill in Jonquière

Workers Demand the Re-Opening or Sale of the Mill and New Laws that Limit Monopoly Right

Some 140 Jonquière paperboard mill workers in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean are refusing to remain passive following the decision by U.S. packaging giant Graphic Packaging Holding Company to close their plant. Graphic Packaging permanently closed the plant without notice on July 13, on the first day of what had been announced as a three-week shutdown to review orders and deplete inventory.

The workers are demanding that management change its decision and more importantly that the mill not be dismantled until other alternatives have been found. They are asking Graphic Packaging to re-open the mill by investing in it or provide time for people in the region to find a buyer, as the monopoly is refusing to put the mill up for sale.

"We wanted to provide ourselves with a clear mandate so that we can re-open, ensure the survival of the company if possible and, if that is not possible, try to find a buyer", said René Gélinas, President of the Syndicat national des travailleurs et travailleuses des pâtes et cartons de Jonquière inc. - CSN (National Union of Pulp and Paperboard Workers of Jonquière inc. - CSN) during a general assembly of the union's membership.

At the general assembly mill workers also adopted a resolution calling for the introduction of new laws that would ban foreign businesses from buying plants in Quebec and closing them shortly thereafter. The Jonquière mill was sold to Graphic Packaging in February as part of the sale of five boxboard plants by Cascades to the U.S. monopoly. The five boxboard plants are located in Jonquière, East Angus in the Eastern Townships, Winnipeg in Manitoba and Mississauga and Cobourg in Ontario. Five months after the $45 million transaction, Graphic Packaging is closing the Jonquière mill. The workers are calling on the various levels of government to take up their responsibilities by adopting new laws that would force foreign businesses that buy plants to present a business plan spanning over a number of years, that governments would hold them to.

"We want to try to change the law so that we can stop foreigners from coming here and buying plants in order to sell them six months down the line," explained René Gélinas after the general assembly. He said that it would appear that Graphic Packaging bought the Jonquière plant to close it to get its hands on its infrastructure and technology. The plant had invented an innovative process of recyclable fast food containers called RESPAK. Based on the workers and their union, when the monopoly bought the plant it had never intended to re-open it.

The resolution passed during the national assembly provides for the union to mobilize the various bodies of the CSN, other union centrals as well as the public to increase the pressure so that the plant is kept open and the legislation is adopted. There is talk of petitions and other actions planned for the coming period.

The closure of the paperboard mill will affect many other workers employed in the production chain. Amongst others, Scierie Girard (sawmill), that produces over 30,000 tons of wood shavings, risks undergoing difficulties. The workers at the Sacré-Coeur Boisaco sawmill, also a supplier of shavings, are facing a similar situation. Truck drivers at the Savard transport company, who make some twenty trips per day delivering shavings, will also find themselves in a very precarious situation. Dozens of other workers in the region assigned to other tasks by subcontractors will also be affected.

A number of political personalities, including Parti québécois MNA Stéphane Gaudreault, in an official letter to Premier Philippe Couillard, also responsible for the Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean area, have proposed that a committee be formed, comprised all the players concerned, to go to Atlanta to meet with company management to ask the monopoly to reverse its decision which, based on what the union claims, is final. Québec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir denounced the closure and called upon Philippe Couillard to break the silence and assist the workers. Bloc québécois MP Claude Patry spoke of yet another disaster for the region. The town's mayor and other councilors say they are interested in the formation of the committee proposed by Gaudreault. As for Denis Lebel, Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, as well as elected member for the region, he said: "It's very distressing for the employees, but those are the rules of global markets," thereby demonstrating the necessity to get the Conservatives out of power.

Workers Defend Quebec's Interests

The workers at the paperboard mill certainly have the right to contest the arbitrary decision of the U.S. monopoly. In particular, they have the right to block the wrecking actions of the monopoly in the region, as they are already suffering from the forestry crisis. The social, economic and family repercussions suffered by the workers and their community have no place in the rationale of the managers of Graphic Packaging. Irrespective of this, the workers must pursue their struggle and insist that their demands are practically applied by the public authority.

The demand to create new legislation limiting monopoly right is a demand that finds justification in the defense of the public interest. This could also include an immediate moratorium on the closure of the plant until light has been shed over the actions of the business. In that regard a public investigation could also be set up by government authorities. For want of any government initiative, the workers and their organizations could set up their own inquiry and make it public.

By keeping the initiative in their hands, the workers are making a significant contribution to the effort to put an end to the destruction of the manufacturing sector and to change the direction of the economy. They must insist that politicians, irrespective of their allegiance, defend those demands and be accountable to them. The next federal election is a good occasion for the workers of Jonquière to occupy the political space that belongs to them.

(Sources: Le Quotidien, Quebec National Assembly, Radio-Canada)

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