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September in Review

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October 1, 2007

September in Review

GM on strike, uranium mining, 1.2 million dead in Iraq

by Dru Oja Jay

An Algonquin protester occupies the site of a planned uranium mine. Photo: Megan Hughes

73,000 employees of General Motors (GM) went on strike, shutting down 82 facilities, to oppose cuts to wages, jobs and health care. After two days on the picket line, which cost GM an estimated $100 million per day, United Auto Workers announced a tentative deal with GM management. The strike also affected plants in Canada, which supply roughly 50 per cent of the parts used by GM. Initial details of the contract sparked anger among some workers, who say the agreement benefits union bureaucracy, but continues to roll back wages and jobs. "I’ve read the Wall Street Journal and they’re gloating over the agreement," said one auto worker. "The company wanted to outsource a lot of these jobs, but instead... they can keep them in-house and pay the same rate as they would to someone on the outside. The only difference is the union keeps these workers as dues-paying members. The UAW doesn’t lose, but the workers do." Before it is adopted, workers must vote to ratify the contract.

Algonquin demonstrators from the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquin First Nations paddled canoes to Ottawa to protest a planned uranium mine near Sharbot Lake, Ontario. The canoers seeked to demonstrate that radioactive waste from the mine would potentially flow into the Ottawa River and subsequently Lake Ontario. Algonquin demonstrators have been occupying the mine site, which they say is Algonquin territory.

A proposed uranium mine near the Inuit community of Makkovik, in northern Labrador, has stoked debate. While the prospect of jobs appeals to many, a radioactive mine is not as appealing to others. Douglas Jacques, whose family has hunted and trapped near the mine site for three generations, told the CBC that he anticipates mining companies will "go off with millions and millions, and we won't get a thing out of it."

Nine protesters from Six Nations were arrested at a Caledonia subdivision construction site. The Six Nations demonstrators say the developer of Stirling Creek Estates does not have the right to build on the property, as it is Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) territory. The arrests occured after one of the developers was reportedly injured in an altercation with several Six Nations youth.

The UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The only countries to vote against the declaration were Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

The government of New Brunswick announced a $237 million budget surplus, more than ten times what was expected. The extra revenues are thought to stem from increased prices for metals mined in the province, such as zinc.

The government of Ecuador ordered Canadian mining company Ascendant Copper to suspend all activities at its controversial Junín project. Carlos Zorilla of DECOIN, a grassroots environmental group that has been fighting Ascendant, said, "It's a fine political balancing act... I see it as an attempt to close down Ascendant's operations in [the area] while at the same time trying hard not to provoke... the international financing institutional world, not to mention the wrath of the Canadian government." Ascendant has been accused of using bribes and paramilitary thugs to suppress local opposition to the Junín mining project, which Conservation International has called one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world.

The levels of Arctic sea ice reached a record low on September 16, breaking the previous record, set in 2005, by 1.19 million square kilometres--roughly the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined. Some scientists say that Arctic ice has reached a "tipping point," which will be followed by accelerated melting. "All models seem to underestimate the speed at which the ice is melting," one climate scientist told Reuters. The change is likely to result in increased exploration of oil, gas and other natural resources in the region.

Carpenters, roofers, pipefitters, plumbers and other tradespeople staged wildcat strikes in Alberta, demanding changes to the Alberta Labour Code. The contested legislation denies the right to strike after 75 per cent of the province's trade unions have agreed to a contract. Hundreds marched in Edmonton to protest the legislation, which dates back two decades.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers went on the offensive against a new report calling for Alberta to receive a larger share of revenues from tar sands mining, calling it "faulty" and "flawed." The Globe and Mail reported that the tar sands were facing a "capacity squeeze" due to insufficient pipeline space to carry increased production of oil.

A coalition led by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty held a "day of action" calling for the provincial government to "increase social assistance, raise the minimum wage and build affordable/social housing." "Welfare and disability rates have lost 40% of their real value, the minimum wage is still at sub poverty levels and the lack of decent housing in this City is a shame and a disgrace," the group said in a release.

The Halifax Coalition Against Poverty (HCAP) began a series of clinics aimed at educating welfare recipients on how to obtain a little-known "special needs" allowance of $150. The coalition is working with doctors and health care professionals to provide letters for people seeking the special needs allowance. The campaign "provides the possibility for people to win money they need from the government and to have that be a way to build the confidence and dignity needed to be part of broader political struggle," said HCAP organizer Cole Webber.

Hotel workers in Vancouver threatened to strike over wages and working conditions, diversion of tips, working conditions, medical benefits, workloads and other issues. They reached a tenative agreement on September 22.

A Greenpeace expedition examines melting arctic ice. [cc 2.0] Photo: Greenpeace

Some Canadian postal workers refused to deliver addressed advertising mail to addresses that they knew no longer belonged to the addressee. Canada Post has ordered the delivery of mail, which postal workers say takes discretion away from workers, reduces professionalism, and could violate privacy rights, if the mail disclosed religious affiliation or other personal information.

Afghan protesters near Kandahar chanted "death to Canada" and called for foreign troops to leave after two men were killed in a military raid on a local house. Canadian officials denied involvement, and dismissed requests for compensation. "We don't want to be in a situation where we're seen as just bribing people who have a grudge against us because that puts us up against insurgents who can likewise bribe," said a military spokesperson.

About 200 protesters accused NATO of war crimes, and called for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan in Victoria, where NATO generals were meeting to discuss military strategy.

Maxime Bernier's first speech in Quebec as Foreign Minister was repeatedly disrupted by protesters calling for an end to Canada's occupation of Afghanistan.

Protesters picketed outlets of Indigo books in Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal on the 25th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon. The picketers called for Indigo majority shareholders Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz to end support for groups recruiting soldiers for the Israeli army.

According to a new study, an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis have died since the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The study, published by Opinion Research Business, was almost entirely absent from North American media outlets.

The UK's Telegraph reported that the US was preparing to attack Iran. "Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran," the report said. "Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran." Many US and Canadian media outlets appeared to be engaged in a campaign to demonize the government of Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The government of Israel declared the 1.4 million residents of the Gaza Strip to be an "enemy entity." The move gives Israel the power to cut off power, water and other vital supplies to the impoverished, densely populated area.

Israel also carried out an unprovoked air raid into Iran. The government refused to comment on the operation, but some commentators have called it a test of Israel's capacity to attack Iran.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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