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November in Review

Took a lickin’ but we kept on tickin’

by Ken Clare

The AIMS rating of Atlantic high schools offered its yearly serving of witches brew measurements (Sanghun Sam Son photo).
The AIMS rating of Atlantic high schools offered its yearly serving of witches brew measurements (Sanghun Sam Son photo).

All eyes and ears were turned onto Occupy Nova Scotia this month. This initiative combined inventive political ideas, a resolute democratic spirit and high drama. ‘What means will officialdom eventually employ to decamp this in-your-face progressive site?’, seemed to be the question hanging in the air.

The general shabbiness of the political process surrounding, and the police raid on, the Occupy site arguably demonstrated the City’s urgency to respond forcefully to the positive impact that the economic and political analysis of the Occupy movement was having in the media and the public sphere in general.

As elsewhere, the manner of the Halifax campsite’s closure thrust to the forefront the problem with today’s democracy: true political power is in fact wielded by very few. If, over the long term, both the egalitarian and democratic arguments of the Occupy movement remain linked and are advanced together, it seems destined to continue.


Another Mill Town Sacked

Bowater paper mill owners in Brooklyn trashed their workforce mid-month. Arguing that the mill, a long-time money-maker, is now unprofitable, Abitibi/Bowater officials imposed a set of take-it-or-we-leave demands on the community, province and their own workforce.

Queens County cut the operation’s property taxes by 15 per cent; the province prepared to pony up an as-yet undisclosed fistful of public cash; and union members were forced to vote on a bundle of contract modifications, effectively laying off half the membership and eviscerating more or less the remainder of their collective agreement.

Union members approved the company proposal by the narrow margin of 51 per cent. Seeing as seniority had been given up as one of the new contract conditions, opponents of the company’s plan put their own jobs at risk to stand up for fellow workers.

No sooner had union members voted to abandon their own contract than it was revealed two senior managers of the ‘struggling’ wood fibre company had received $4 million in salaries and bonuses this year. One of the allotments: a $760,000 payout for “restructuring,” in other words, a blood-money bonus for nearly destroying the lives of their own employees.

The corporate rampage may not be over. Having also cited “fibre costs” as a profitability factor, are they about to demand that Nova Scotia relax our recently announced clear-cutting rules?

At month’s end, the fate of the Port Hawksbury NewPage paper mill was still in the balance, with news that at least one of the bidders is negotiating with the union over future terms. Will another Bowater-style drive-by union assassination be the price paid for the mill’s survival?


Democratic Deficits

Amidst discussions of reducing the number of HRM Councillors, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation took aim at the Nova Scotia Legislature. It argued next year’s seat redistribution must cut the number of legislators to 33 from 52.

Nobody’s kidding anybody about the actual power of most elected officials, but the fewer representatives we have, the less democratic interaction we have with them (and the more power we hand to non-elected influence-peddlers). Thanks, but no thanks.


We Got 18 What???

First Contract Arbitration (FCA) is essential to union formation. After workers first join a union, one of the egregious tactics too-often used by employers is to engage in a protracted process of non-negotiations. Getting nowhere, they dare their employees to strike hoping to kill the union before it is truly born. FCA puts an end to this connivance. If you can’t get to a first contract, someone will get to it for you.

When the provincial government announced new FCA legislation, our local business class had a cow. A coalition of 18 ‘employer organizations’ wrote to the Chronicle Herald to declare that the economic disaster was just around the corner.

In so doing, they identified what’s really holding back Nova Scotia’s economy—an excess of employer organizations.


There’s No Free Lunchroom

One of the strangest exercises we yearly endure is the AIMS rating of Atlantic Canada’s high schools. Their witches brew (apology to witches) of off-the-wall measurements results in a seemingly serious set of detailed charts. It entertains and excites those who know something about educational research and who can’t wait to see what wonky conclusions AIMS comes up each year.

The ninth annual rating didn’t disappoint in ridiculousness—fewer schools than ever were actually measured in 2011. Among the overlooked: Citadel High, the largest school in the province. Special congratulations to École NDA in Cheticamp, first place in the ‘Conseil scolaire acadien’ category, ahead of all nine other Acadian schools that were tied with “not enough information.”

Why bother? Well, our friends on the right have always had this education=measurement=ranking bee in their bonnets, of course, but drill a couple of pages below the AIMS Education webpages, and you’ll discover that their motive may well be their love of ‘educational choice’. That is, charter schools, or ‘let’s get the public to pay my kid’s private school fees’.


From the CCPA: the Annual Child Poverty Report

It is utterly sobering to learn that 14,000 kids in Nova Scotia wake up every morning in poverty. In November, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its Annual Nova Scotia Child Poverty report. Since 2003, the number of children living below the poverty line across the province had fallen. But in the present economic crisis, the report shows this positive trend has reversed: 8.2 per cent of the province’s children under the age of 18 live in poverty, with more than a quarter of these kids living in one-parent families. Children under six are particularly vulnerable, as are native, immigrant and disabled children.


Ken Clare is a member of the Halifax Media Co-op.

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