Advancing an agenda of just peace
It is estimated that 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011. Over 3 million took refuge in neighbouring countries, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, while 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria itself. The United Nations (UN) estimates that more than half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
CUPE National Executive Board passed a resolution in 2015 that committed the union to:
Speak out, alongside refugee rights advocates, to change immigration and refugee policy and reverse the exclusionary, bureaucratic barriers implemented by the Conservative government that deny refugees entry into Canada.
Lebanon, a country of 5 million people, has accepted the entry of approximately 1.4 million refugees, nearly a quarter of their population, putting incredible strain on infrastructure and social services without much global attention. Much of the world has focused on the smaller number of people who have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach the shores of Europe in order to declare asylum in the European Union. Many have watched in horror as bodies have washed up on Europe’s shore while European Union (EU) member states such as Hungary and Slovenia have aggressively closed down their borders.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “…refugees fleeing the five year conflict face greater hurdles to finding safety while international solidarity with its victims is failing to match and reflect the scale and seriousness of the humanitarian tragedy.” The civil war in Syria is of strategic geopolitical significance to world superpowers, namely the US, which is intervening (militarily and diplomatically) and is invested in an outcome that does not necessarily prioritize the interests or safety of Syrians.
After the October election, the Canadian Government pledged to resettle over 25,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 and in February announced they will “end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq and Syria, refocusing Canada’s efforts in the region on the training of local forces and humanitarian support.” These announcements are a positive step toward addressing this humanitarian crisis in Syria and the trade union movement in Canada has an important role in holding accountable the Canadian Government and further advancing an agenda of just peace in the region.
CUPE is committed to supporting the Canadian Labour Congress Syrian Refugee Support Fund with the Canadian Council for Refugees, and will continue to speak out against Canadian militarism and involvement in unjust military aggression internationally.
CUPE continues fighting free trade on the Canadian front
Free trade will be on the agenda of the Canadian Government for the next few years. Both the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have been signed, and ratification is on its way.
A further and perhaps more dangerous threat to public services, the secretive Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), may also be finalized as early as this year. CUPE will help lead the charge against these trade deals within coalitions including the Trade Justice Network, Common Frontiers and Public Services International.
Despite the Trudeau Liberals’ campaign promises to be more open and transparent, our new government’s consultation process on the TPP has been anything but. That’s why CUPE has been working with coalition partners to increase the number of Canadians who are voicing concerns about TPP’s threat to public services, Canadian sovereignty and Internet freedom, among many other issues.
CUPE recently organized a conference with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz during which he suggested that the TPP “is the worst trade deal in history.” We are also in the midst of launching a municipal campaign encouraging municipalities to introduce a resolution highlighting concerns with the TPP, especially the negative impact of the investor-state dispute settlement process on a government’s capacity to legislate in the interest of the public and the environment.
Leaked text confirms that the TPP includes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. These clauses exist in thousands of international trade and investment deals and are used by multinational companies from rich countries to sue governments when policy decisions interfere with their investments. Canada is already the most sued developed country in the world because of the North American Free Trade Agreement ISDS process. The TPP will significantly increase the number of foreign investors eligible to sue.
While our government has clearly stated that it intends to ratify and implement CETA in the near future, the fight is not over. We are working with our partners both here and across the Atlantic to keep up the pressure and to amplify the growing chorus of citizens and politicians, especially in Europe, who are opposed to the investor-state dispute settlement process in all its forms.
Pension funds investing in privatization – a global trend
The first budget of the new Liberal Government of Canada sent several little noticed signals that one of the fixtures of neoliberal governments — privatization of infrastructure — will continue and expand. Equally troubling for the labour movement and for CUPE, the government announced plans to allocate a central role for large public sector pension funds as major investors in what will actually be a privatization programme. This linkage reflects an already established pattern of Canadian pension funds buying up large chunks of public infrastructure — airports, roads, ports, water utilities — all around the world.
On the face of it, having workers’ pension funds investing in much needed public infrastructure sounds like an ideal combination. In previous eras, pension funds were available to finance public investment needs through their purchase of long-term government bonds. But the emerging pattern is entirely different. Pension funds are being tapped as a source of finance for so-called public-private partnership (P3) deals that involve complete transformation of the ongoing ownership, control, and management of public infrastructure into for-profit and commercial mandates.
According to the March 2016 budget, the government plans some $120 billion in infrastructure investment over the next ten years. As part of this plan, they propose to “engage public pension plans” in infrastructure investment initiatives that would include so-called “asset recycling”, another term for privatization.
These Canadian policy shifts reflect a global infrastructure privatization trend that has already expanded tremendously in the past fifteen years, and Canadian pension funds themselves have been at the forefront. Having a friendlier and less cut-throat public face has allowed large Canadian pension funds to access outright ownership of airports, ports, water systems, railways, energy grids, and an array of other public assets.
In most cases, pension funds, workers’ own deferred wages, are being used as key tools for privatization.
CUPE is actively resisting privatization in all of its forms, including those cases where CUPE members’ own pension funds are seeking to profit from it. In some cases, we have used our voices on pension trustee boards to oppose or limit such infrastructure privatization deals — with some success. But we also know that the expanding project of selling off public assets and infrastructure is ultimately a political one that must be won politically.
As part of its work, CUPE is tracking the international dimension of these developments, and plans to work with colleagues in the international labour movement to strengthen all anti-privatization campaign efforts. We are well aware, for example, that our sister union in the UK, UNISON, has recently stated that their government should not be using pension funds as “replacement capital for the government’s privatization programmes.” Rather, like CUPE, they demand that any changes to the local government pension funds investment approach must be “in the interest of the members” of those funds.
Workers’ pension funds must not become tools for privatization, whether in Canada or around the world. CUPE is committed to ensuring that our pension funds will be used to invest in the renewal and expansion of public infrastructure in a manner that enhances and protects its public ownership and its accessibility.