Oct 302014

James Hutt writes to the Chronicle Herald to defend public drug coverage. James is the  provincial co-ordinator for the Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network and a member of Solidarity Halifax.

Re: Bill Black’s column on the proposed national drug plan. Canada’s current patchwork system of employer and last-resort government drug coverage leaves one in four Canadians with no drug coverage at all.

When people can’t afford medicines, they get worse until they need to be hospitalized. Years of research have shown that a universal pharmacare program would not only increase the health of all Canadians, but actually save up to $11.4 billion a year. In fact, Canada is the only OECD country with universal health care that doesn’t include medicine.

It’s hard to imagine why Mr. Black would oppose public drug coverage, unless, of course, he is swayed by his past interests as CEO of an insurance company.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Oct 202014

Judy Haiven reports on the health services strike in the UK. Judy is a member of Solidarity Halifax and teaches industrial relations at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS. She never misses being on a picket line – even now that she’s on sabbatical in Chester, England.

unnamedOctober 13 saw a walkout of tens of thousands of staff at NHS (National Health Service) facilities up and down the UK. In a strike that lasted four hours from 7 to 11 in the morning, cleaners, nurses, porters, paramedics, midwives, administrative officers and others struck most hospitals in the country.

Chester, a city of 120,000 in England’s northwest, was no exception. At the local hospital, the Countess of Chester Hospital, it was mainly midwives and midwives’ assistants who walked the picket line. For the first time in its 133 year history, the members of the midwives union, the RCM or Royal College of Midwives, walked out on strike. Midwives, who are responsible for care of pregnant women and deliver their babies at hospital and home births here in the UK, earn from £21,000 to £34,000 a year ($35to $57,000Canadian). I was on the picket line with Natalie, who had just qualified three weeks ago and is paid at the bottom of the scale.

An independent panel had recommended midwives and other NHS workers get a 1% wage raise (lower than the rate of inflation), but the government has refused. The midwives’ slogan “Enough is Enough” was explained by their union’s chief executive Cathy Warwick, “At a time when MPs are set for a 10 per cent pay hike, we’re told that midwives don’t deserve even a below-inflation 1 per cent rise. And politicians wonder why the public does not afford them more respect. It feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them and another rule for everybody else.”

In fact, the central government’s offer was 1% only to those 40% of employees who have topped out their increment meaning for those already at the top of their wage scales. The offer for the other 60% (including almost all of the midwives) was zero. That’s right, zero. The unions had been asking for 3%, but the Health Secretary (Minister of Health) had publicly stated that the government could not afford to give the NHS workers more money, and that any increase would mean serious layoffs of staff.

Before walking out, midwives along with other essential workers negotiated emergency cover—and several women on the picket line were on-call even that morning.

The strike Monday was the start of what was to be a week of public service strikes. But the major unions including UNITE, UNISON and the GMB called it off. At first the unions mobilized around “a fair pay rise for Britain” especially for their members in local government, the civil service, school support services, job centres and more. But the central government made an offer of 2.2% over two years which has staved off a strike.

On Saturday, the TUC (Trades Union Congress) is calling for a protest march through London culminating in a mass rally at Hyde Park. The slogan is “Britain needs a pay rise.” Research shows that the average British worker is £50 (nearly $100) per week worse off now than in 2008, before the economic crash. Several people on the hospital picket line said they were not going to go down to London for the march – “What we really need is a general strike, not a march,” said a newly retired member of UNISON. “But the unions won’t do it.”


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Oct 152014

By Ben Sichel. Originally published at no need to raise your hand
Ben is a teacher in Dartmouth and author of the P-12 education section for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Alternative Provincial Budget.

A few weeks ago, Halifax journalist Tim Bousquet wrote a brief piece about the history of slavery in Nova Scotia. Bousquet pointed to an article by University of Vermont history professor Harvey Amani Whitfield which contends that slavery was further widespread here than official statistics suggest:

Whitfield shows that slavery was widespread, found in every part of Nova Scotia, and that sales of slaves, including children, and notices of runaway slaves were regular features in local newspapers.

Whitfield gives only a preliminary sketch of the extent of slavery, and says while more work is needed, the total number of Nova Scotian slaves will never be known. But Whitfield thinks that historian James Walker’s figure of 1,232 Nova Scotian slaves is far too low.”

Whitfield’s article featured pictures of old newspaper ads announcing rewards for escaped Africans, like this one:

Photo via http://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Slavery-in-English-NS-1750-1810-.pdfSeeing them reminded me of this similar image, from 1794, which is on display at the Africville museum in the north end of Halifax:

Photo: Nova Scotia Archives
Photo: Nova Scotia Archives

Last fall, I brought my class on a field trip there, and while a museum guide explained the history of slavery in this province, a student pointed to the name on the bottom of the ad and asked “is that the same Michael Wallace who my elementary school was named after?”

The guide and I looked at each other, and we both had to admit we didn’t know anything about the historical figure of that name. A quick Google search, though, told me that the Michael Wallace for whom a Dartmouth school is named was a Scottish-born businessman and politician best known for spearheading the construction of the Shubenacadie Canal.

The few written pieces on him didn’t mention slavery, however, so I wrote to David Sutherland, a Dalhousie history professor who wrote Wallace’s entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and asked if he thought the Michael Wallace he’d written about was the same person named on the poster at the Africville museum. It most likely was, said Sutherland:

“[It]’s not surprising [that Wallace owned slaves] given his many-faceted involvement in business. Of particular interest is the fact that Wallace was hiring out his slaves (assuming he had more than one) to work for others… 

Wallace, for reasons I go into in considerable depth in the DCB profile, was a highly controversial figure. But the fact that he owned slaves in the 1790s was not one of the reasons why he was unpopular among most of his contemporaries.”

All this got me thinking back to the Halifax Regional School Board’s decision in 2011 to re-name Cornwallis junior high school, based on that British colonial general’s treatment of the Mi’kmaq people. While the board’s decision in that case was unanimous, the public’s reaction to it was decidedly not. Outraged commentary appeared on letters pages, in op-eds and on call-in shows claiming the decision was political correctness gone amok.

Statue of Edward Cornwallis, Halifax. Photo by HantsHeroes (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornwallisStatueHalifaxNovaScotia.jpg)
Statue of Edward Cornwallis, Halifax. Photo by HantsHeroes. Source.

One of their arguments, common in this type of debate, goes something like this: No historical figure was perfect. We can’t start re-naming everything that might offend someone. Where would it stop?

It’s true that an effort to acknowledge historical wrongs could involve an awful lot of re-naming. The town of Amherst, Nova Scotia, for example, is named for Jeffery Amherst, a British Commander-in-Chief who advocated for the distribution of smallpox-infested blankets to Indigenous people. General Robert Monckton, namesake of New Brunswick’s largest city, is known for his leading role in the deportation of the Acadians. The Earl of Dalhousie, for whom my alma mater is named, tried (and mostly failed) to rid Nova Scotia of the Black Refugees who had come here seeking freedom following the War of 1812. Re-naming things named after figures with skeletons in their closets would certainly require some very deliberate work.

Dalhousie University, Halifax. Photo by mricon (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHenri_Hicks_Building%2C_Dalhousie_University.jpg)
Dalhousie University, Halifax. Source.

But so what? Re-naming everything is exactly what British (and French) colonists did as they forcibly took over this land and extracted its wealth for the benefit of their empires, at the expense of its original inhabitants and enslaved peoples, for centuries thereafter. Are these colonists’ legacies worth honouring by putting their names on public monuments? All levels of government have talked in recent years of reconciliation and new partnerships; no one ever said those things were easy.

Some say re-naming public works would be akin to re-writing history. But calls to maintain the supposed integrity of history are most often about maintaining the status quo – history taught from the perspective of the winners. When history is inconvenient to us; when instead of glorifying our ancestors it forces us to grapple with the effects of past wrongs – lower standards of living, based on many socioeconomic indicators, for Aboriginal people and African Canadians – we try to ignore it and tell people to “get over the past.”

Black Loyalists leave Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone, 1792. (Photo: Nova Scotia Department of Education (http://lrt.ednet.ns.ca/PD/bea/slidegif/notes.shtml)
Black Loyalists leave Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone, 1792. Source.

Granted, some legacies are complicated. According to historian David Sutherland, Michael Wallace was, in addition to being an owner of enslaved Africans, the agent responsible for coordinating passage overseas for the nearly 1200 Black Loyalists fleeing the racism and general hardship of Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone in 1792 (a fictionalized account of this exodus is in Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes).  At the time, the exodus to Sierra Leone was opposed by most local white elites, who enjoyed the pool of cheap, easily exploitable labour the Black Loyalists provided. “That’s a story your students should know about,” Sutherland told me.

The names we use on public works to decide which figures in our history are worthy of honour tells us much about our values. Although some stories (like, for example, that of Burton Ettinger School in Fairview, named for a late school custodian reportedly beloved by all) are not as complicated as that of Michael Wallace, we shouldn’t be afraid to take a good look at those that are.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Oct 052014

In recognition of the intersections between economic oppression and racism, through the accumulated experiences of its members, and thanks to feedback from friends and supporters, Solidarity Halifax has produced a set of guideposts for Anti-Racist organizing against capitalism.

We expect these to constantly be a work in progress.

The summer 2014 pamphlet is now available online.
Click the image below for access to JPEG and PDF versions.

 AR Flyer p1

Oct 032014

Solidarity Halifax member Shay Enxuga recounts the fight against union-busting Bill 1. Shay is former Just Us barista, current ACORN community organizer, and huge supporter of healthcare workers.

Originally published at RankAndFile.caunnamed-5

On Friday, Oct. 3, 2014 the Nova Scotian Liberal government will pass legislation that is intended to wreak havoc among the province’s healthcare unions. Couched in the language of “streamlining service provision,” and set against the backdrop of fiscal austerity, it’s hard to see Bill 1 – The Health Authorities Act – as anything other than a direct attack on public sector unions.

With Bill 1 the NS Liberals strike their second major blow against organized public sector workers in only their first year in power. Back in April, they passed essential service legislation that took away the right to strike from nearly 40,000 health care workers. This came after hundreds of NSGEU nurses hit the picket lines in a wildcat strike after mediated negotiations reached an impasse over the issue of nurse-to-patient ratios. During an overnight sitting on the legislature, the Liberals passed Bill 37 on April 4. It requires that the employer agrees to essential service staffing levels before the workers can go on strike, an agreement that can be easily withheld.

unnamedNow, Health Minister Leo Glavine’s election promise of streamlining health care is coming to fruition. This new legislation merges the nine existing district health authorities into one, and merges the 50 previous bargaining units into just four: nurses, healthcare, administrative support, and service support.

Apart from being a draconian step back towards craft unionism, this legislation affects 24,000 workers and is intended to divide and conquer the four public sector unions: Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU), Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and Unifor.

The legislation also freezes all bargaining and prohibits strikes and lockouts until April 1, the date when the merger is set to occur. A mediator will also be appointed by the provincial government to decide which of the unions will represent which one of the bargaining units. If an agreement is not reached with 45 days, the mediator then becomes an arbitrator with the authority to assign members to unions.

The Unions Fight Back

unnamed-6Union members and supporters have been surrounding Province House nearly around-the-clock since 4pm on Monday, Sept. 29 to voice concern about the new legislation.

On Monday, Sept. 29, over 500 angry and militant union members took to the street to protest the new legislation. Members from all four of the healthcare unions were present along with almost every other union in the province, and many allies in student and social movements. The bill passed first reading with only the NDP voting against it. Premier Stephen McNeil only managed to make this way through the crowed, amidst boos and hisses, thanks to the help of police officers.

“They need a police escort because they’re afraid of the people,” shouted Kyle Buott, the President of the Halifax-Dartmouth District Labor Council.

“Sisters and brothers, tonight we have begun the opening chapter in this struggle. We have made it clear to politicians that they are not going to walk all over us without a fight,” said Buott.

Tuesday morning events escalated when the Halifax Regional Police arrested Second Vice-President of the NSGEU, Jason MacLean, for allegedly assaulting a police officer. The arrest took place while demonstrators peacefully blocked Stephen McNeil’s car.

Union members who witnessed the event say that the grounds for arrest are dubious. In an interview given for the Chronicle Herald, MacLean states, “I believe, one, I’m targeted as a leader in this union and, two, I’m targeted as a black man making noise. We know what Nova Scotia is all about – it’s a racist province.”

unnamed-4 unnamed-1On Tuesday evening, NSGEU organized a candlelight vigil outside Province House. Approximately 1000 members were in attendance and the streets were filled with people carrying candles, glow-sticks, and tombstones for the death of democracy.

Joan Jessome, President of NSGEU, took a megaphone and read aloud a eulogy for democracy:

“1758 – 2014: Democracy, Canadian democracy, was born 256 years ago, in this very spot…The basic idea that people from all walks of life have something valuable to contribute, no matter their colour, or how much they have in the bank. The idea that we all have dignity and that we all deserve respect. That idea, democracy, started right here, inside this building. And it was inside this building tonight, when it was stripped away from our healthcare workers, that democracy started to die.”

Kelly Murphy, Second Vice-President of NSGEU, echoed Jessome’s sentiments and said that, “Stephen McNeil and his Liberal government are trying to take away the foundation of what our province, our country, is built on: Our democratic right. [They are] forcing union members into unions and not giving them a chance to have their vote, have their say, and imposing collective agreements on them without giving them a vote on that as well. That’s not democracy. That’s not what Nova Scotians are about. And we’re going shut it down.”

Lana Payne, the elected Atlantic Regional Director of Unifor, has also spoken out strongly against the bill.

“This is a pretty devastating piece of legislation for a number of reasons. One, it really does pit all of the healthcare unions, four incredibly strong unions, against each other. It pits union against union, and worker against worker. We, as healthcare unions, knew in the spring that there was the possibility of incredible chaos,” said Payne.

Another Path Forward?

Over the summer, all four unions worked together to develop an alternative to this heavy-handed approach. They collectively put forward the proposal of forming bargaining associations in which all members would remain members of their current union, but bargain collective agreements together.

In a joint statement put out by NSGEU, NSNU, CUPE, and Unifor, the unions state: “Bargaining Associations are the safest way to ensure your rights and benefits are protected. Without these Associations, the government will either force unions into run-off votes to fight amongst themselves to represent you, or even designate you into a union of their choosing.”

Glavine’s refusal to accept the bargaining association proposal seems to indicate that this legislation is a thinly-veiled attempt to divide and weaken the healthcare unions.

In a public letter submitted by all four unions on Tuesday, Sept. 30, they request a meeting with Glavine to clarify his public comments that the unions could retain their membership and that he would “accept a model of collective bargaining that would see the lead union each of the four proposed bargaining units conducting bargaining on behalf of all employees in that sector.”

In response, Glavine just reiterated his reservations for bargaining associations, reaffirmed that this issue can be resolved during the mediation outlined in the legislation, and simply states, “I will not be in a position to meet with you to discuss this further at this time.”

unnamed-2On Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, during a rally outside the legislature organized by the NSGEU, Jessome voiced support for bargaining associations. However, she thinks that won’t happen and thus has come out publicly in support of run-off votes. The other three unions remain committed to fighting for bargaining associations.

Payne remains optimistic that bargaining associations are still a possibility, even under the new legislation. She says that she understands “why some unions might be skeptical. The deadline made it really challenging to build this new model in a summer. It’s a lot to do. [But] our lawyers have said there’s still an opening in the legislation to do this.”

It is uncertain what these competing perspectives mean for the battle over Bill 1 going forward. But this division could create acrimony amongst the four healthcare unions in the province.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, NSNU, CUPE, and Unifor released a joint statement reaffirming their support for the bargaining associations. The following day Unifor organized a rally outside, just hours after NSGEU’s rally. Over 300 members from all four unions were present.

Janet Hazelton, the President of NSNU, and Danny Cavanagh, Regional Vice-President of CUPE, and Jerry Dias, the National President of Unifor, all spoke out strongly about the importance of solidarity and the need to continue to fight for the bargaining associations.

“We need to stand in solidarity because our fight is not with one another. Our fight is with the people inside this house,” shouted Cavanagh, “Let me tell you sisters and brothers, come next election, there won’t be a liberal left in this province.”


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.