In the morning and afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 27, Socialist Fightback activists brought a contingent of supporters to bolster the CESSCO picket line, where workers with Boilermakers Lodge 146—local for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers—have been locked out. These workers have been without a contract for two years, have seen no significant pay increases in five years, and now CESSCO wants to gut pensions and cut wages by 10 percent. Boilermakers Lodge 146 has tried to come to an agreement with CESSCO. The union has explained that they are willing to accept any contract without any wage cuts, without pension cuts, and without cuts to protections for the jobs of senior employees. They have tried explaining that they just want decent wages so they can provide for their families. But all of this is too much for the bosses, who want to maintain their profits by making the workers pay.
CESSCO is also guilty of failing to implement proper safety procedures. Boilermaking is dangerous work at the best of times—workers work in very high towers and face the risk of being exposed to poisonous hydrogen sulfide. But instead of taking the proper precautions, to maintain profits the bosses push the workers to work faster at the expense of safety. In 2019, CESSCO pleaded guilty after being charged in relation to a 2016 incident that resulted in the death of boilermaker Barry Maitland. For this, the courts issued CESSCO a mere $5,000 fine and required them to implement an enhanced fall protection system—something they should have done before a worker died.
Making a decent living is hardly too much to ask for, especially with such dangerous working conditions. But CESSCO disagrees. When the workers refused to agree to wage and pension cuts, CESSCO locked them out on June 28. A few days later, the company began bringing in scab labour. The lockout has now gone on for more than two months. The workers have had only inadequate strike pay the entire time. But despite the difficulties, they are still fighting back. Setting an example of determination for all workers, they have been picketing every day when the scab buses show up at 6 a.m., and when they leave at 3 p.m.
The CESSCO lockout should serve as a warning of the dangers of the UCP’s anti-union Bill 32 to the workers’ movement. By requiring picketing workers to let scabs cross the line, the bill amounts to banning pickets altogether. If Bill 32 is allowed to stand, this will have a catastrophic effect on the labour movement as a whole. As the boilermakers at the picket line say, no picket can win without shutting down the workplace. The ability to withhold labour is the best leverage the working class has to fight attacks from the bosses.
The workers also warned of the driver of one of the scab buses, saying, “That guy’s ready to run you down.” In the afternoon, Fightback activists saw this first-hand. When scabs were leaving by bus, the situation became quite tense. A scab van sped away, nearly running over some picketers. This time, luckily, no one was hurt.
A contingent of workers from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) also joined the picket in the afternoon. AUPE is planning to continue sending out contingents every Thursday. This kind of solidarity is the way forward, but it needs to be expanded. Scabs help the employer break pickets, undermining the workers’ struggle. A picket line being broken is not just a defeat for those workers. If scabs were allowed to cross picket lines with impunity, the working class would lose its only means of fighting back. We would live in a world where the bosses can attack workers unopposed; a world without unions or workers’ rights, weekends, paid vacation, you name it. A picket line being broken is a defeat for the entire working class. This is why the unions in Alberta need to create a tradition of solidarity and militancy by mobilizing to bolster threatened picket lines, and defying the UCP’s anti-worker agenda.
Obeying Bill 32 amounts to accepting defeat without a fight. The workers at CESSCO are angry. They have shown that they are ready to fight. But a few dozen boilermakers cannot do it alone. If they defied the bill alone, they could quickly be fined, arrested, and defeated. They need the support of their union, and the rest of the labour movement. AUPE could mobilize hundreds of their members, make the picket line impenetrable, defy Bill 32, and shut CESSCO down. Faced with this kind of united action, most employers back down. And knowing that the workers are not afraid to defy unjust legislation and support each other’s picket lines, the bosses would think twice about attacking their workers in the future.
If the larger unions mobilized their membership, took votes for a sympathy strike for the boilermakers and against Bill 32, the CESSCO struggle could be a catalyst for a broader movement against the UCP. It could form part of a wider series of escalating labour actions to fight the UCP and their reactionary labour laws. The unions must not let this bill stand without a fight. We need to revive the militant traditions of the workers of the past, who defied vicious anti-labour laws and won the right to strike in the first place.
Victory to the boilermakers!
Defy anti-democratic legislation!