Category Archives: Occupy Vancouver

So Did YOU Get a 3% Raise Last Year?

So, did you get a 3% raise last year? The average Canadian did. See the first chart below.

If not, you’re behind the average Canadian. And even with a small offset of increased hours worked going up by only 1% for the 12 months ending last June, at worst, the average Canadian saw a 2% raise. And if you want to see if people in your province earned even MORE than that 2%, scroll all the way down. Hint: only 3 provinces were below the average.

So did you get a 2% raise? If not, do you know who, politically, is responsible for that?

Could it be the 1% and their political compatriots?

I think so.

Average weekly earnings of non-farm payroll employees were $898.00 in June, up 0.6% from the previous month. On a year-over-year basis, earnings increased 3.0%.

Chart 1

Year-over-year change in average weekly hours and average weekly earnings

Chart 1: Year-over-year change in average weekly hours and average weekly earnings

via The Daily — Payroll employment, earnings and hours, June 2012.

Chart 3

Year-over-year growth in average weekly earnings by province, June 2011 to June 2012

Chart 3: Year-over-year growth in average weekly earnings by province, June 2011 to June 2012

via The Daily — Payroll employment, earnings and hours, June 2012.

Quebec Students and a Maple Spring

What do you think about the student strike in Quebec?

What do you think of the Manifesto for a Maple Spring?

Some of the Politics, Re-Spun crew explore it from each of our perspectives:

1. Are people naive to expect the Quebec tuition protesters to be the leaders of a Maple Spring to expand the Arab Spring from 2011 through Canada this year?

Continue reading Quebec Students and a Maple Spring

More Worker Bashing in BC, with Squishy Numbers

Below is a recent tweet from a new worker/NDP/union attack Twitter i.d. talking about how awful unionized workers are. Read it, then let’s de-spin it for sanity:

Average salary in BC $44k, average teacher salary $70k #Underpaid #Overworked #Lies #BCPoli #BCNDP #BCTF

via Twitter / @NotBCNDP: Average salary in BC $44k, ….

Firstly, teachers have at least a four year university degree, plus an extra year of teacher training. The average working person in BC doesn’t have that much training.

Secondly, the average years of experience for teachers is over 12. That puts them at the top of the a long scale of pay increments from increased experience. This comes from a high proportion of baby boomers in the public school system.

Do you think people should be paid more if they have more training and experience?

If not, I’d love to hear why.

The agenda here is to demean skilled workers, unionized workers, public sector workers, highly educated workers and workers who make more than they would than if they weren’t unionized.

The agenda here is to convince non-union workers that they should hate unionized workers and be jealous and angry with what they have. This is part of the class war we’ve been in for decades: turning workers against each other.

Unions provide better wages, working conditions, worker protections, benefits and pensions for people. This is a good thing. Non-union workers should be able to get paid better and have better conditions at work, especially when they’re doing work that is comparable to union work.

So let’s make sure we don’t let worker bashing Twitter sock puppet parody i.d.’s twist statistics without context to continue eroding worker rights and opportunities. This is about making a better future for us all. This is also what the Occupy Movement is all about.

And if you know any non-unionized workers, let’s help them find a union to help improve their lives!

Let’s Have an End to People Dying at Work

Ben Isitt is a Victoria city councillor, historian, professor, lawyer and optimist.

Rarely have I been so moved by an account of the struggle working people have in the face of this new world order of anti-worker 1%ism.

We are so effectively trained to accept the balance of power is heavily tilted towards employers and employer-friendly/funded governments that we miss out on obvious things like our own rights.

So let’s not tolerate any more mill explosions, indifferent employers and governments, and neglected health and safety training.

Here is the text of the speech I gave at Victoria’s Day of Mourning ceremony for workers killed or injured on the job, held on April 28, 2012 and organized by the Victoria Labour Council and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 50:



April 28, 2012

Ben addressed 200 people at the annual Day of Mourning in Victoria for workers killed or injured on the job.

As an elected official, let me start by thanking CUPE Local 50 and the Victoria Labour Council for organizing today’s event.

They have reminded us that the health, safety and wellbeing of workers must remain a central concern and responsibility of the labour movement itself.

* * *

Over time, we have seen employer and government initiatives to replace the self-activity of workers with cumbersome bureaucratic procedures.

Too often, these new procedures are designed to serve the interests of employers, rather than workers.

For example, Workers’ Compensation emerged a hundred years ago to limit the legal liability of employers.

Workers and their families lost the right to sue employers for damages, for death or injury arising from negligence.

More than 400 coal miners had been killed on Vancouver Island in the decades leading up to this legislation, as employers such as Robert Dunsmuir cut safety procedures to boost production and maximize profits.

* * *

Today, in the drive for cost-cutting, “restraint” and “austerity” – we see the same basic problem – employers who are quick to ignore safety warnings, saving costs while threatening the life and wellbeing of workers who make their profits.

The investigation of the Prince George explosion is ongoing, but I believe we may find that this was a preventable tragedy – that warnings relating to sawdust were ignored by the employer.

It is often more convenient and profitable to cling to a “business as usual” approach.

But workers and their families can be devastated as a result.

The Prince George incident suggests we need much stronger enforcement of workplace safety, and potentially stiffer penalties – both criminal and financial – against employers whose actions or negligence contribute to the death or injury of workers.

* * *

At the same time we fight to strengthen laws, we need to remain vigilant in defending the principle of the right to refuse unsafe work – whether or not this principle is sanctioned or not in provincial statute or in the language of collective agreements.

There was an era of “labour before the law,” when all actions by unions to advance the interests of workers were deemed criminal and punished with fines, injunctions and jail terms.

Sometimes, basic humanitarian values – most notably respect for human life – run up against laws enacted in employer-friendly legislatures.

Such moments underscore the need for working class self activity to uphold community values.

* * *

IN CONCLUSION, thanks again to CUPE Local 50 and the Victoria Labour Council for reminding us that workers cannot always look to government or employers to help them.

In this era of “austerity,” the need for working-class self-activity and solidarity to improve conditions of life and work will become increasingly clear and increasingly essential

via Day of Mourning | Ben Isitt.

Revitalizing COPE Vancouver, Right Now.

Today is the first day of the rest of COPE Vancouver’s life. Today is the day where the new executive needs to make its first priority revitalizing the party by building unity around progressive principles and policies, and moving past pettiness.

If it cannot get past the factionism, it simply is not a party with a political agenda, but a venue for personality feuds. I have no time for that, and only in part because such pettiness led to an AGM that took almost 6 hours yesterday.

COPE is not a party with any kind of balance of power between two factions. It is a divided party, with many of the elections at the AGM yesterday being decided by small margins, including two with 3 and 4 vote margins.

It is also a party that is well-known in Vancouver political circles as a party composed primarily of one side that favoured the partnership with Vision Vancouver in the last election and another group that opposed it. I’ve grown weary of listening to people talking about how we need to put a united front out to the public. We are not united. We have no time for optics and spin. We do, however, have time to address who we are, what we believe and how we are going to work together. If there is no common ground to work together, there is, again, no party.

Yesterday, the future of COPE depended on who got elected, how childish/divisive they choose to be and how they go forward to build unity. We are at a turning point as an organization. If we do not resolve our existential crisis, there is not much left.

Yesterday 7 from the incumbent slate were elected, including 6 to table officer positions. 4/5 of the at-large positions went to the other group who opposed the deal with Vision Vancouver. But thinking about slim majorities or numerical calculations is missing the whole point.

Starting today the focus must be for the executive to hold a series of general meetings so we can all figure out what makes up COPE. If we want to champion progressive policies, but cannot get past spending so much of our energy bickering, then the public will rightly decide that a progressive, inclusive, community-rich Vancouver is not our first priority. I have no time for such a party.

We need to build a consensus around progressive policies, we have to improve transparency and accountability in our processes, we must be far more inclusive of our members by empowering their voices. By doing this, we will build the trust and cohesion we need to survive and thrive as an effective voice.

Credible, progressive 21st century politics is one of democracy and inclusion. If COPE cannot begin reflecting that over the next 6 months or so, it will lose its legitimacy as a voice for a better Vancouver. But I think we can do that. We are a political movement that has existed for two generations. We have survived many challenges in that time. This is, in some ways, merely the current one. The next one will be to build our support around Vancouver and return elected candidates to civic leadership in 2014.

This is where the executive needs to go, starting today.

Here’s what else the executive needs to start facilitating [not an exhaustive list]:

  1. Community meetings: let’s make the area committees more robust with community meetings, starting in areas where we polled best, eventually up to 4 times/year. We know what areas of the city have our greatest support. We need to get on the ground there, hosting community meetings with our members and our 30,000 identified supporters. Our legitimacy comes from our ability to represent the political will of our people. We need to open up our process. Once we build our relationships in our core areas of support, we can expand to other areas of the city. And through all this, we can build our membership, while reminding everyone that our party is not in corporate pockets. We support it and we need to sustain it.
  2. The vibrant youth: we need to be engaging with students at post-secondary institutions in Vancouver with campus outreach and events. We have already seen an injection of talented, focused and passionate young people entering our party. This is fantastic and healthy. But we need to reach out to them in their academic communities. They have the most invested in a better Vancouver. We need them to help us frame that vision. And we should not neglect high schools and other communities of youth.
  3. Engaging on the issues: we need to explore a greater web and social media presence of commentary from COPE. We need to expand our city, school and parks committees as focal points of policy creation and engaging with civic issues. We need to build communication structures to allow far more members to take part in keeping COPE a relevant voice in civic politics.
  4. Occupy the future: we need to engage with Occupy Vancouver to build on our common ground. The Occupy movement is not even 6 months old. It had a tumultuous beginning, especially in Vancouver, and it has gone through organizational growing pains at a stunning pace. It is re-emerging this spring with renewed focus. Ignoring obvious opportunities to work together with Occupy to reduce economic, social and political inequality in our city would be missing out on a unique opportunity for solidarity.
  5. Candidate advocates: we should be nominating candidates at least 1 year before the next civic election to build their profile as advocates for city, school and parks issues. We cannot expect them to work for a year as hard as they will in the last several weeks before the next election, but particularly with only one currently elected COPE member, we need to allow our candidates to carry our message for a much longer time than we have in the past. They will be our spokespeople in the next election campaign. Let’s start early and on our terms.
  6. Building community: we need to expand the COPE pub nights, meet-ups and coffee gatherings to complement our more formal fundraisers. We need to provide opportunities for COPE members and supporters to gather and build our community. I once read something about someone not wanting to be part of a revolution that didn’t have dancing. Building a better Vancouver for all means building a rich, human community. Putting a coffee time at the end of a regular community meeting is where the soul of our party grows.

We have a unique opportunity before us all. We have to figure out who we are and where we want to go. Too often organizations are crippled by complacency or disengaged communities. Our existential crisis demands that we start from scratch figuring out what we believe and who we are serving.

This can be a healthy, vibrant process that builds intense unity, clarity of vision, a robust and involved membership and a broad movement with a mission to make a Vancouver that cares for all.

Let’s start today.

Fixing Vision Vancouver’s Democratic Deficit

Now that Vision Vancouver has self-actualized as a political party, it’s time to see if they’ll now address some longstanding democratic deficits.

The complexion of the city changed markedly last night as Vision elected all its candidates, the Greens got a seat on council, the NPA increased its representation and all of COPE’s candidates lost except for one school trustee.

There will be a great deal of analysis in the coming weeks and months about what happened to the Vision-COPE cooperation deal. For something that was designed to promote cooperation between two parties to get all their candidates elected, something went wrong, or right, depending on your point of view.

Unsuccessful COPE candidates ended up with around 5,000-24,000 fewer votes than Vision candidates on council, with the range of 16,000-24,000 on parks and 9,000-21,000 on school board. For an arrangement that was supposed to be mutually beneficial, something didn’t translate well. It appears on the surface that up to 40% of those voting for Vision decided not to vote for COPE candidates. Why did that happen? Did Vision promote COPE candidates as much as COPE promoted Vision candidates? Let the speculation begin.

So in this new political era, Vision has no substantial opposition from anyone that isn’t flagrantly right wing. That should be easy for Vision to wedge itself against radically right agendas, freeing them up to indulge in most of the rest of the political spectrum as they see fit.

So while Vision asserts itself as progressive, they only have to be left of the NPA, which is quite easy, and provides no incentive to be very progressive at all.

If they want to show progressive politics, however, they should do a few things:

  1. Stop the tax shift from businesses to human beings. Leave that pandering to developers and corporations to the NPA.
  2. Learn a lesson from the attempted draconian Olympic freedom of speech by-laws that so dramatically demonstrated anti-progressive tendencies. Don’t stifle expression any more.See #5 below.
  3. New regulations designed to explicitly permit protest have ended up dictating absurd restrictions that undermine the Charter-sanctioned inherent right to protest. Start some public consultation, including with activist communities, to come up with whatever reasonable restrictions are appropriate.
  4. Start discussions to implement a ward system for the 2014 election. Imagine if for federal elections we had an at-large system whereby people from all over the country could run and the top 308 were elected with no obligation for regional representation. That’s what we have in Vancouver with the at-large system: 640,000 people with no community representation. Absurd.
  5. Start a good-faith dialogue with Occupy Vancouver. Now that the NPA shrieking about Occupy has stopped being a threat, it’s time to stop the posturing and truly engage with the movement. Take a page out of Seattle city council’s book: they endorsed the movement 100% and is starting to look at moving the city’s money to credit unions. Accept that the NPA tried to make Occupy the sole election issue, but they failed because half dozen issues resonated with voters more than Occupy, which led many to conclude days ago that the NPA was not going to do more than maybe increase its seat count. Much of Vision’s advertised policies are supposed to be progressive and resonate with the Occupy movement. Your own legitimacy hinges on walking the talk. Use the injunction last week as a means of entering into long-range dialogue with Occupy. Seek common ground. Pursue facilitating progressive improvements to society in conjunction with the Occupy movement.

Simply, if Vision Vancouver cannot or will not walk the talk of its ideals, it will be obvious to all that the party will only go left of the NPA when it absolutely has to.

And that’s not very progressive at all.