Canadian Coalition Marches to Denounce CETA


November 2014


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Hundreds of trade unionists from around Canada, joined by allies from other organizations, marched through the streets of Ottawa to Parliament Hill to denounce the proposed Canadian-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) on Sept. 25 as it was being initialed by Canadian and EU representatives.


Within the halls of Parliament, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosted Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in a ceremony to declare they have reached an agreement on CETA. They attempted to state that CETA had been finalized and all that remains for it to be implemented is for European member state parliaments to give their stamp of approval.


However, to chants of “It’s not over!” the marchers vowed to keep the fight alive as votes for CETA’s approval must be taken by elected bodies in Canada and Europe. That process could last more than a year.


In late August, the Seafarers International Union of Canada received information leaked from the secret trade talks that negotiators planned to give away many domestic seafaring jobs. A week later, the union’s president, Jim Given – with strong backing from the Seafarers International Union of North America and the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department – gathered maritime labor representatives from around the country to form the Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition. Since that initial gathering, the coalition has received support from others, including Canadianflag shippers.


Before marching to Parliament Hill, Given set the militant tone for the demonstration: “CETA is a bad deal for Canada,” he declared. “It’s a bad deal for our industry, and we’re not going to take it anymore! We’re not going to sit back while bureaucrats and politicians dictate how we make our living! We’ve been too quiet for too long. Those days are over.”


Barriers had been erected obstructing the stairs leading up to Parliament due to the pact’s initialing ceremony. Assembling in front of the barricades, Given added, “We come to these buildings, and they’ve got the gates up and the doors shut. This is our house. Not their house, our house!


“And then they talk about us — they talk about labor – as if we’re just a commodity, one that can be traded at the stroke of a pen. Well, we’ve got bad news today: This is our house! And we’re taking it back! Don’t anybody think this is the end. This is where we start. Because the labor movement in this country has finally woken up. You kicked the dog once too often, Mr. Harper, and now it’s payback time!”


Given told the gathering that “CETA will destroy the Canadian shipping industry. And make no bones about it, and don’t believe the lies, it will destroy us if it goes through. We’re going to afford this government no quarter, nowhere they can hide. Every time that they’re out on their campaign trails, we’ll be out beside them. Every time they make a stop to say how great they are, we’ll be there beside them to tell the truth.


“We are surrounded by our friends today,” he continued. “Don’t think we’re alone. If you look at what’s happening in the EU, there are big problems for Mr. Harper’s agreement. How many times can they say it’s done, when it’s not done! There’s time! The EU want changes, we want changes!”


Denise Gagnon, director of the Department of International Solidarity of Quebec Federation of Labor, spoke about workers’ demands for an open discussion of CETA.


“For over three years, in Quebec and the rest of Canada, we have been demanding that there be talks and negotiations on the free trade agreements,” Gagnon declared. “Nothing was done and today they are telling us that this deal has actually been signed! No to CETA! We are not going to let the multinational corporations change our public policies on job development, health care, environmental protection, etc. What we see today – people from the maritime industry protesting – is just a beginning because as we learn more about the agreement, more and more workers will join the protest and demand that governments reject this deal.”


Adding to labor’s call was Marie Clarke Walker, executive vice president of the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC). She pledged the support of the organization and its members in the fight against CETA. The CLC is a founding member of the Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition.


Jon Whitlow, secretary of the Seafarers’ Section of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), said that by waging their struggle to block CETA and defend cabotage in Canada, trade unionists are defending all mariners, their industry, and cabotage rights everywhere.


“I witnessed real anger at the secrecy of the CETA negotiations and the threat the agreement poses to maritime trade,” Whitlow stated. “The ITF and the European Transport Workers Federation fully endorse the importance of national cabotage, the need to retain Canadian cabotage and the necessity of further entrenching it in law.”


Despite the government representatives signing CETA, the proposed free trade agreement must still clear votes in the Canadian provinces as well as throughout the national legislative bodies of EU states.

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