During the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Ottawa-Outaouais IWW has opened up wage theft support to all non-members in the region. The decision has come after multiple years of dealing with employers who have become comfortable withholding holiday, overtime, termination and severance pay, or outright not paying employees for their work. While we have seen this prevalent prior to an international public health crisis, we know now is a critical time for working people to be properly compensated.
The Ottawa-Outaouais General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) hereby endorses Keep Your Rent Ottawa in solidarity with all tenants unable to pay rent or are participating in a rent strike for the duration of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
As many are aware, the unemployment rates across Ottawa have increased from roughly 4.3% in January 2020 to 6.3% in April. The financial support options available to unemployed and underemployed Canadians in this unprecedented disaster is limited to either a paltry $2000/month payment by the Federal Government—the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB)—or Employment Insurance (EI), which is paid at approximately 55% of a workers’ income, though applicable only if the worker is determined to be eligible.
The Ottawa-Outaouais IWW would like to take this moment to emphasize that landlords are not our fellow working class. Landlords exploit the hardship of working-class people in a predatory for-profit housing market, on land that they inherited from the theft of unceded territories of the Algonquin Nation.
Despite Ottawa’s growing vacancy rates, landlords have callously hiked rental rates and living costs that continue to push many low-wage workers out of adequate and affordable housing. This bleak situation forces the working class to either choose between buying food, medicine, or saving their hard-earned money for paying off debt or ensuring emergency funds are available in times of crisis such as these times we live in.
Furthermore, we have heard of rent strike organizers successfully taking action against landlords engaging in unsafe practices, such as entering tenants’ units to harass or intimidate them, showing their units to potential renters, and increasing rent prices during the pandemic in the hopes of forcing out their tenants in favour of more profitable clients. We applaud these actions and we anticipate that these stories will spark organized resistance to tenants’ inadequate living conditions.
The IWW is a labour union, and our union internationally has been a leader in organizing fellow workers against the injustices of capitalism, whether it is on the job or in our communities. We encourage renters in the city to talk to their fellow tenants, to support each other day-to-day, and to create a union that fights for rental freezes or reductions and for better living conditions, and that includes keeping rent from parasitic landlords.
When we build a strong and vocal union of tenants, we can collectively take appropriate and effective action and give all Canadians access to the most fundamental of all human rights—the right to shelter.
“An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”
To contact the COVID-19 Ottawa Rent Strike:
Neoliberalism is the intensification of the influence and dominance of capital; it seeks to transfer power in the workplace from the forces of labour to the holders of capital, trying to strengthen, and restore the power of economic elites. As David Harvey notes: neoliberalism and the neoliberal state have been able to reverse the various political and economic gains made under welfare state policies and institutions. Progressively, the neoliberal regimes will erode institutions of political democracy since “the freedom of the masses would be restricted in favour of the freedom of the few“. Nicos Poulantzas believed that neoliberals do not support the return to laissez-faire capitalism, since the state continues to play a major role in the reproduction of capital. What they want to achieve is the collapse of welfare state which was the most important people’s victory in the 20th century.
The first historical instance of this “revolution from above“, according to Harvey, is Pinochet’s Chile. The infamous general overthrew Salvador Allende’s socialist Chilean government in a coup d’état in 1973 with CIA involvement and US government officials’ support. As Henry Kissinger remarked: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” The coup was followed by a massive neoliberalism of the state. Chilean economy was deregulated and privatized including the breakdown of state-controlled pension systems, state industries, and state banks. Even though Inflation was reduced and GDP growth spiked, massive inequalities emerged.
Noam Chomsky supports that the crucial principle of neoliberalism is the undermining mechanisms of social solidarity, mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy. As aforementioned, in the 1970s, welfare state, an achievement of the working class in the post war world, was becoming the target of economic elites, who were trying to re-establish the conditions of capital accumulation and to restore their power. According to Harvey, this revolution from above required a change in the political culture and social landscape that would spawn a widespread support for the new political project. Individual rights, property rights, a culture of individualism and consumerism arose first in Thatcher’s UK. Thatcher success in the, as Harvey notes “construction of consent“, turned her aphorism “there is no society, only individuals” into a reality.
His book is one of the best efforts for unmasking the rhetoric of neoliberalism and trying to spawn criticism against this barbarism. Harvey hopes that social movements will form a “broad-based oppositional program” that would gain political support and move society toward a social and economic change.
Let’s mention some facts:
In 1598 Juan de Onate and his troops killed over eight hundred Acoma in what is now New Mexico. By 1630 the Puritan settlers were launching attacks against the Pequot tribe in 1637, massacring six to seven hundred men, women and children. For two hundred years, merciless wars frequently broke out throughout North America. In 1832 one hundred and fifty Sauk and Meskwaki (Fox tribe) in Wisconsin were killed. In 1863 there was the Bear River massacre where two hundred and fifty Shoshoni were killed. In 1864 there was the Sand Creek massacre and in 1890 the infamous Wounded Knee, where over two hundred Lakota were slaughtered.
Michael Parenti, in his book Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies, describes the sobering devastation: “Estimates of the native population of America prior to the European conquest vary from 12 million to 18 million… but after four centuries of warfare, massacre, disease and dispossession, the original population was reduced by over 90 percent…whole tribes were completely exterminated or whittled down to scattered numbers.”
Why did this unmatched and largely unrecognized holocaust happen? Thomas King is clear: “Native history in North America as writ has never really been about Native people. It’s about Whites and their needs and desires… the Lakota didn’t want Europeans in the Black Hill, but Whites wanted the gold that was there. The Cherokee didn’t want to move from Georgia to Oklahoma, but Whites wanted the land. The Cree of Quebec weren’t at all keen on vacating their homes to make way for the Great Whale project, but there’s excellent money in hydroelectric power”. Native people were in the way of what the Whites coveted, and so the Whites needed them to disappear. In other words, the native peoples were slaughtered with merciless deliberation so that their land might be taken for the use of Whites.
Colonialism and its consequences in the lives of North America’s native peoples is the core of this astonishing book. Policies, treaties, agreements, government’s decisions and tribal reactions comprise the rest. The Inconvenient Indian is a book we all must read.
August 1st was a beautiful day in the nation’s capital. In fact, it was so nice that the Ottawa-Outaouais IWW decided to get together, enjoy the last gasps of the summer, and take the fight to the boss on behalf of Fellow Worker Aalya Ahmad.
Foot traffic was slow outside of the office, but our members were still able to engage a decent number of people with our signs and flyers. We have provided a digital copy of the fliers and the contained text below.
There’s a lot going on here and I don’t have time to read everything. How do I make sense of it?
If you have questions we haven’t been able to answer here or need help to sift through the evidence, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t picket but how else can I help?
- Send a letter or petition of support for Aalya, either as an individual or as a group to email@example.com. We will forward it to the CUPW National Executive Board and publicize it (with your permission).
- Follow, promote and share our fight on your social media
- Fight back against these issues on your own shop floor. Abuse of workers is never okay, even if it’s being done by a union. Remember that choosing to stay silent or ‘neutral’ in any given situation is choosing a side. In this case, it’s pretty clear which side workers should be on.
We thank the many postal workers across the
country who have reached out, voiced their
support, and condemned what is being done to
Aalya in their name, with their union dues.
Why should I support Aalya Ahmad?
Aalya is an organizer known for her work on social justice, equity and labour issues. She was the national Coordinator of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s and Human Rights, a founder of the Radical Handmaids, and active in the Occupy movement, to name just a few. Aalya has a solid track record of helping to get big wins for union members, including CUPW members. She deserves the same justice she fights for for other workers.
What started all this?
Aalya was president of her staff union Local CUPE 1979 and on their negotiations team with CUPW, which was demanding huge concessions from staff, when a conflict with a co-worker arose, during which she was subjected to bullying and threatening gestures. Aalya had previously been bullied at CUPW and was trying to get anti-bullying training in the workplace when this happened. As a result, she suffered a serious mental health crisis. Management unfairly put all the blame on Aalya for the incident and its aftermath, and ignored her medical condition, driving her out of the workplace and forcing her eventually to resign after repeatedly harassing her when she was on disability leave.
What are the issues and why is the IWW involved?
It’s about the way Aalya is being treated by CUPW’s management team with the full knowledge and collusion of the CUPW National Executive Board. We believe CUPW’s internal politics are a factor in the many abuses she endured, including the withholding of tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and entitlements upon her constructive dismissal. The IWW originally got involved because of this wage theft. We estimate the Board’s spending on lawyers on these matters far exceeds what Aalya was originally owed.
Have you tried talking to CUPW?
Yes. repeatedly We first contacted them in the fall of 2018, demanding Aalya be made whole and requesting to meet with them. We have repeated this request both in writing and by holding small and peaceful information at their national office. So far. they’ve either ignored us or accused us of harassing them by picketing, which is a weird position fora union to take (especially a union like CUPW). This should never have come to the point where we had to set up pickets but we did so only after their repeated refusals to talk.
What does the IWW want?
CUPW management originally withheld almost S30,000 from Aalya while persecuting her for fighting for her rights by filing a human rights complaint against them for discrimination on the grounds of disability. Against medical advice, they forced her into small claims court over a much smaller amount that she was already paying back To prevent the boss from dragging things out for years at the expense of her mental health, Aalya agreed to forgo some of the money she was entitled to in order to get her human rights complaint heard. We believe CUPW management has been treating this situation like a personal vendetta or ‘lawfare’ financed by their members dues. We want representatives who haven’t been directly involved in this dispute to review the wage theft issue and work with us to remedy it.
Do you have proof to support these claims?
Yes, we have extensive documents from emails and letters between CUPW management and Aalya. to letters from her doctors to the data on her stolen wages You can find it all on our Facebook page @ottawaoutIWW and on the Ottawa IWW website at OttawaIWW.org.
I’ve heard a different story from other sources.
Aalya was the target of a smear campaign designed to muddy the waters. The National Executive Board sent a statement about her to all CUPW representatives and staff nationwide, twisting the facts to make it look like she acted inappropriately. Her former CUPE Local 1979 objected to allegations in the statement. Prior to CUPW’s convention and elections, the smear campaign got really vicious. Collins’ predecessor and advisor posted Aalya’s RateMyProfessor page (an anonymous website often used for racist and sexist attacks on university workers) and disparaged her good work at CUPW to thousands of members. The smears are false but the smear campaigners rely on the fact that most folks won’t read through a massive pile of letters and emails to see the truth for themselves. They have also influenced members and staff to claim that Aalya is attacking them by simply trying to defend her rights as a worker and exercising her right to freedom of expression. This is a serious slur against someone who has dedicated her life to the labour movement.
Why is the IWW picketing when Aalya was a member of a staff union at CUPW?
The staff union (CUPE Local 1979) represented Aalya on some of the issues described here and we supported them in doing so. However, she is no longer working at CUPW and the wage theft issues are not resolved from our point of view. Aalya is also a member of the IWW Ottawa-Outaouais is General Membership Branch. Her other CUPE Local 4600 (representing teaching assistants and part-time professors at Carleton University) has written a letter to the CUPW National Executive Board in support of Aalya and its members have joined our pickets. That’s what solidarity looks like.
Don’t you support postal workers?
Yes we do and so does Aalya. Last winter the IWW everywhere walked CUPW’s picket lines and our members were even arrested in support of postal workers. In spite of how she has been treated, Aalya actively demonstrated her solidarity with CUPW members. Many postal workers are upset about how she has been treated. Our issue is exclusively with the paid representatives on the National Executive Board.
We have been asked if the IWW plans to picket CUPW Convention this week and we have heard that members’ money has been spent on booking extra security and hotel space to keep us out. We remind all CUPW Convention delegates and members that we continue to be strong allies of postal workers. We have no intention of interfering in any way with CUPW’s convention.
The attempt by CUPW’s national officers to demonize the Industrial Workers of the World is not only absurd, it’s tragic. Your legendary union is currently being led by people complaining about being bullied by picket lines that are set up on behalf of a bullied worker they refuse to settle with. Those who are playing victim continue to use their vastly superior resources (your dues) to destroy this worker’s reputation with blatant lies while continuing to attack her mental health and silence anybody who speaks up for her.
We believe that these actions will ultimately hurt the rank-and-file CUPW members whose picket lines we have walked, and, in fact, all union members who look to CUPW for leadership. However, it is not the place of the IWW to decide whom you elect. Regardless of who you elect, they will continue to face our ongoing demand for meaningful justice for our member, Aalya Ahmad.
We are no longer very interested in meeting with the CUPW representatives who have been previously responsible for the ongoing witch-hunt and wage theft against our member. We would like to meet with CUPW representatives who are actually committed to resolving the issues, not indulging in a vendetta subsidized by their members’ dues.
We also encourage CUPW to conduct a truly independent investigation, led by neutral rank and file members, into how your Human Resources Committee has conducted themselves in this matter (including how much money has been spent). But ultimately it is CUPW members that need to hold their leadership accountable.
Also, the IWW recently received a notice of libel from a lawyer representing CUPW’s National Executive Board. This notice makes reference to a statement produced by the Women’s Caucus of CUPE 4600 that we shared on our Facebook page. The claim is that we are somehow defaming CUPW by reproducing another union group’s report on an incident involving CUPW board members’ interactions with participants in our information picket.
Our members were walking the picket and witnessed what happened to the Women’s Caucus member. Based on our members’ own recollections and the recollections of CUPE members, the account is accurate. True accounts are not libel. The CUPE 4600 Women’s Caucus has not received a threat of libel. Why are we being targeted?
The notice claims that we have made numerous defamatory statements but does not specify any. We have no idea how to respond to such vague accusations. If we or other allies of FW Ahmad have made any errors, we would correct them, but without having any idea what they feel these errors are specifically, it is quite literally impossible for us to respond in a meaningful way.
The notice attempts to target our union members individually. Going after individual (and typically low-waged, precarious and contract) union members for participating in a union campaign is extremely low. Our members are volunteering their time and dues to help an injured worker. Given the evidence presented to us, we believe the employer acted in breach of their responsibilities and the rights of our member.
The notice also accuses us of targeting the only two women executives of the National Executive Board. We strongly disagree with this disgusting characterization. We hold the entire board accountable for their actions taken against our member, our supporters and our branch. In our communications, we have named board members directly involved in the case at hand with the goal of clearly laying out the facts and circumstances of the case. This does not absolve other board members of their responsibility for holding their colleagues accountable, nor does it specifically target the members of the NEB who are women. The abusive behaviour detailed in our publications has nothing to do with the gender of the board members. People of all genders and identities are capable of abuse, and it is our collective responsibility as union members to point any abuse out and stop it.
FW Ahmad has previously received two similar threats to sue her for libel, neither of which were followed up on, as they were without merit. We expect the same result and feel that our actions have been based on the truth and are consistent with the principle of fair commentary and the right to express ourselves on this matter.
The bosses at CUPW hit a new low by dragging another union that represents some of their staff into this fight. COPE 225 was persuaded to side with the boss and amplify their lies.
It’s a shame that COPE 225 didn’t do its due diligence and investigate the situation thoroughly as we did (for months.)
Although COPE 225 sent their letter to the NEB confidentially, somehow rank and file postal workers had it and were sharing it on Facebook the next day. Great job respecting confidentiality there, NEB!
We are not going to share the COPE letter, not only because they requested confidentiality, but because it contains egregious lies that we want their executive to investigate and retract before any more harm is done to our member. If you wish to see the COPE 225 letter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will, however, share what we wrote to them:
A year ago, CUPW took box-fulls of bullying complaints to Parliament Hill after a postal worker complained about the bully boss culture at Canada Post.
That didn’t mean they were “attacking” Canada Post. That didn’t mean the worker who complained of being bullied was “harassing” Justin Trudeau. So why would it be any different for FW Ahmad?
When people are bullied they want to be believed and need to have their situation addressed with compassion and a fair process. End bully boss culture at CUPW.
Our previous post showed what happened to FW Aalya Ahmad. She lives with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD, undiagnosed at the time) and began to suffer symptoms of PTSD brought on by a co-worker’s violent outburst and management ignoring it.
CUPW completely ignored its responsibility to deal with the injury FW Ahmad suffered as a result of this workplace incident even though she made repeated pleas for help to management that day and in the days to come. (At its recent arbitration with FW Ahmad, management even appeared to have forgotten that she had filed a WSIB claim for chronic mental stress.)
Look at the documents to see what happened.
The incident happened on Monday, February 13, 2018 around 10:30 AM.
At around 10:45 AM, almost immediately afterwards, FW Ahmad went to 3rd National Vice President George Floresco with her CUPE shop steward and shares that she is “triggered by yelling and threatening gestures because of past bullying incidents…”
At 1:11 PM, less than two hours after the incident, she reported being in distress due to current and ongoing bullying to 1st National Vice President Jan Simpson, George Floresco and President Mike Palecek (who recused himself). This is what she wrote:
“Her [co-worker’s] raised voice, aggressive anger and violent hand gestures left me severely triggered as I am a survivor of physical abuse. This completely inappropriate behaviour has made this workplace psychologically unsafe and unhealthy for me. The employer’s ongoing refusal to address bullying issues in the workplace is a real problem that must be addressed.”
The next day, Tuesday, February 14 at 7:23 AM, FW Ahmad wrote to National Executive Board (NEB) members Simpson, Floresco and Palecek, again reporting distress:
“I am upset, shaken and shocked by this completely inappropriate behaviour. As a survivor of physical abuse, I am triggered by violent gestures. The anger and aggression that ___ displayed towards me is excessive, over the top, and an outburst that should not be tolerated in the workplace.”
Two days later, due to the employer’s handling of the situation, Ahmad was in a situation of mental health crisis and breakdown which she reported to her employer. She emailed the following request to Simpson, Floresco and Palecek on February 16, 2018 at 2:37 PM.
I am severely triggered by the bullying and harassment I have reported.
As you are aware, this is not the first time for me at CUPW. My panic attacks and anxiety have returned and I have been unable to eat or sleep. My focus is completely shot and I have been unable to think clearly since Monday.
I think it would be best if I took next week away from the office as leave in order to do some self-care and try to be in a better place to deal with this trauma. I am currently experiencing the office as a hostile work environment.
I am therefore requesting special leave under Article 14.9 of the collective agreement from Tuesday through Friday of next week. I had already arranged for the 20th.
I will make myself available for the ADR as agreed on Friday.
Please advise if this leave is approved.
The Human Resources Committee (National Secretary-Treasurer Bev Collins, Simpson and Quebec National Director François Senneville) responded to this injured worker as follows:
This letter is to inform you that your request of special leave is denied.
The conditions don’t warrant approval of your special leave request. The circumstances of your request are directly attributable to you.
In addition, another member in the communications department is on leave next week and due to operational requirements, leave cannot be approved.
cc. Jan Simpson, Francois Senneville.
They didn’t refer her to her Employee Assistance Program, suggest she use sick leave, or follow up on her reported condition. They didn’t even get the date of her request right.
They told a traumatized worker in crisis that this was her fault and that she had to come into work because of “operational requirements”.
Is that how you treat an injured worker, CUPW?
N.B. Sunday is April 28th, the National Day of Mourning for workers killed, injured or made ill on the job. Mourn our dead. Fight like hell for the living.