CN conductors and yard crews walked off the job on 9th Feb. and have had a severe impact on the Canadian economy. Several lumber companies have called on the federal government to intervene, saying that the CN strike could harm their businesses. Canfor has already temporarily shut a mill in Fort Nelson, BC, blaming the CN strike. The Canadian Wheat Board has claimed that if the strike is not resolved soon, it could cripple farmers on the Prairies. The Ford motor plant in St. Thomas, ON has also temporarily closed; the CN strike is preventing the plant from receiving auto parts needed for the assembly of new automobiles.

The impact of the strike is even farther reaching. Quoted in the Toronto Star, Jason Myers, chief economist of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said: “Our members are extremely concerned about the delays and costs. Not only are they losing production, but this could impact further down the supply chain causing significant long-term costs…. Much of the freight handled by CN is commodity based. While this type can be stored for a period of time, manufacturers around the world are today running on marginal inventories…. The impact of the strike is not only being felt in Canada.” (17 Feb. 2006)

This past weekend, members of the United Transportation Union (UTU) rallied in Edmonton to demand that CN return back to the bargaining table instead of attempting to smash the strike. CN continues to maintain that the current strike is illegal and has refused to bargain with the union. CN management has attempted to run the trains themselves and this has already resulted in two major derailments in BC and Alberta last week.

It is obvious that CN management is doing everything it can to defeat the workers. But, the workers are doing their utmost to fight back. Unfortunately, the strength and resolve of the workers has not always been present within their leadership. Already, there has been a dispute between the Canadian and international leadership of the union over the strike. The US-based international leadership, which shamefully opposes the strike, has even gone as far as backing up CN’s allegation that the strike is illegal. And unfortunately, the UTU in Canada, although they called the strike, reached an agreement where Via and GO commuter trains would not be affected by the strike, therefore limiting the strike’s effectiveness. Today, the UTU also said that the union would abide by any back-to-work order from the federal government. It as an old adage in the trade union movement that weakness simply invites aggression. The weakness and division amongst the UTU leadership has clearly invited today’s attack from the Harper government.

In the past few years, we have seen that militant strike action can result in victories for workers. Strikes and lockouts at the CBC, the TTC, and Ontario colleges have all resulted in significant victories for workers, but only if the workers (and their leaders) are not afraid to fight back. To their credit, the federal NDP has said that they will oppose the back-to-work order. The Liberals have not said where they stand but it is likely that they would support the order. If this is the case, this will show the true colours of the Liberals to the likes of Buzz Hargrove, and those within the labour bureaucracy who believe the Liberals are a progressive force that is good for workers. The UTU leaders should be calling for militant action and support from the rest of the Canadian working class, regardless of back-to-work legislation, in order to achieve victory. Together, the workers can win.

No to back-to-work legislation!
For defence of the CN workers’ strike!

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