The Communist Party of Canada strongly denounces bill C-29 adopted by the House of Commons and the Senate on Friday April 30. It forces 1151 dock workers back to work at the Port of Montreal who were on strike since April 26.
The Port of Montreal dock workers have been without a collective agreement since 2018. The main point of contention in the negotiations has to do with work-life balance and the right to disconnect from work. In fact, they are currently asked to call the employer between 6 p.m. and midnight to find out their assignment for the next day. The employer’s bad faith forced them to strike for ten days last August, which resulted in a seven-month truce at the end of which the workers rejected the employers’ offer by 99.7%.
As a result, new pressure tactics were adopted in early April. However, the employer (Maritime Employers Association, AEM) responded by imposing mandatory longer hours, which forced the dock workers to call an unlimited strike.
The employer is attempting to justify its position by pointing out that in March, the volume of goods passing through the Port of Montreal fell by 11%. However, we know that according to the last annual report released in June 2020, the Port of Montreal handled a record amount of cargo in 2019 making it the sixth consecutive record year.
We also denounce the influence campaign targeting dock workers at the Port. The AEM did not hesitate to buy expensive advertising pages in major Montreal newspapers in order to push false propaganda against the workers to try and pave the way for the public acceptance of back-to-work legislation.
In these pages, one could read that the dock workers only work 16 days in a period of 21 days. Anyone who knows their basic mathematics can see that dockworkers work one day more than any worker who, during the same period, would work from Monday to Friday! Also, this data is misleading and is based on a particular period of time with particularly low freight traffic. In reality, dock workers are supposed to be available for 19 days in a 21 day period.
The results of this anti-union media campaign has shown up in various interviews and surveys among the general population and small business owners who see themselves as victims of the strike at the Port of Montreal. This is the argument used by Minister Tassi to justify this special law.
The Legault government also got involved on the side of the employer, as it did during the strike at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancourt, by asking the federal government to intervene in this conflict.
It is undeniable that the Port of Montreal is an important part of the Canadian and Quebecois economy: alone, it represents 19,000 direct and indirect jobs, and contributes $2.6 billion. However, at no time did these so-called advocates for the welfare of the people and small businesses think that this economic gain is largely the result of the work of the dock workers. At no time did they dare to consider that after more than 30 months and sixty rounds of negotiation, the responsibility for this strike falls on the employer and not on those who claim only what is owed to them.
The result is that the employer gets away with it and gets what they hoped for from the start. With this back-to-work legislation, a mediator-arbitrator will determine the content of the next collective agreement. In this way, the normal negotiation process is bypassed and the union’s power is diminished. It can only be seen as an attempt to weaken the union and, in the longer term, to eliminate the gains in working conditions won by the dock workers and return to a time when work was precarious and where hiring was done by temporary employment agencies.
The Bloc, the NDP and the Green Party as well as 3 Liberal MPs voted against this special law which the Dockworkers’ Union (CUPE-375) considers unconstitutional and intends to challenge before the International Labor Organization.
By passing this law, as in 2018 during the postal workers’ strike, the Liberals (like the Conservatives) are demonstrating yet their unyielding commitment to employers. The use of back-to-work legislation on workers who have been without a contract for more than 30 month, while clearly it is the employer at fault for trying to wear down the workers, demonstrates an outright negation of the right to strike and the right to free and fair collective bargaining.
This is why the Communist Party fights for a Bill of rights that will guarantee the unfettered right to strike, picket and organise, rights that, as shown with the Bill C-29 are far from being guaranteed in Canada.
While elections are undoubtedly to be expected in the coming months, this special law shows all workers in the country the kind of economic “stimulus” that the Liberals want to impose on us: a stimulus based on employers’ needs, accompanied by the repression of social movements and workers who dare to fight for the defense of their rights and their past social gains. In other words, an austerity based recovery focused on rolling back wages and working conditions.