This article was originally published in French by La Riposte Socialiste.
The Port of Montreal has been closed since Monday Aug. 10 by order of the dockworkers! After two four-day strikes over the last few weeks, the dockworkers have declared an indefinite strike. The employer, the Maritime Employers Association (MEA), has wasted no time in using dirty tricks to break the will of the workers: sending in scabs, imposing a lock-out, attacking wages, and appealing to the government to impose back-to-work legislation. But the 1150 dockworkers have not been intimidated and now the reinforcements have arrived! On Monday, Aug. 10, 150 unionized workers from the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1657 announced they would join the indefinite strike. The dockworkers are showing the entire labour movement that the struggle against the bosses requires the most combative methods.
The dockworkers’ union has not had a collective agreement since Dec. 31, 2018. Sixty five bargaining sessions since Sept. 2018 have produced no results. The workers are concerned about work hours and technological advances aimed at eliminating their jobs. Due to high activity at the Port of Montreal, the workers are asked to work 19 out of 21 days before a break of just two days.
The workers were left with no choice: they were forced to strike to defend their working conditions. According to the Montreal Port Authority (MPA), 6300 transportation businesses rely on the port. That is exactly where the power of the longshore workers lies.
Right to strike under attack
For 21 months the employer has refused to negotiate in good faith. Instead, it has devoted its energies towards getting the port declared an “essential service.” The reason is simple: if the port is declared an essential service, the dockers will lose their right to strike. This fight therefore goes beyond just the struggle for safe working conditions. It is a fight to maintain the right to strike.
Fortunately, the Canada Industrial Relations Board concluded last month that the employer failed to demonstrate “imminent and serious risks to the health and safety of the public,” and that consequently the criteria of an essential service in relation to a strike was not met.
Michel Leblanc, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM), revealed the true perspective of the bosses, saying, “There are essential services for the security of the public. The Port is an essential service for economic security.” This “economic security” is nothing other than the security of the wallets of the capitalists enriching themselves on the port’s operations.
Scabs, lock-outs, and sneak attacks
The bosses still have some tricks up their sleeves. They turned to using scabs, protected by security guards. Then, the union noted a “technical lockout” provoked by the MEA and the shipping companies: “Indeed, since Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, several ships have already been diverted to other ports, including Halifax, New York and Saint John (NB).”
The employer attempted to turn the dockworkers of other ports into strike breakers. But the situation of the dockworkers in Montreal is not so different from those in Halifax or New York. An attack on one is an attack on all. The victory of the Montreal dockworkers requires the solidarity of workers from other ports.
In response to the second strike, the bosses announced on Monday Aug. 3 that they would lower the wages of the dockworkers and maintenance staff working evenings, nights and weekends as of Thursday, Aug. 6. By attacking the dockworkers with most difficult conditions, the bosses aim to divide the workers in order to better rule them. The treachery of the bosses appears to have no limit. The unlimited strike was declared as a direct response to this attack.
The union took the initiative to propose a 45-day truce to the bosses. The union proposed a break in the strike in order to promote negotiations, in exchange for specific commitments from the MEA. The MEA refused the truce and the commitments requested by the union. Now that the bosses have shown their intransigence there can be no more attempts at appeasement. The workers must fight to win.
Fight back-to-work legislation!
Last week, five employers’ groups, including the Conseil du patronat du Québec and the CCMM, called on all governments to intervene quickly in the labour dispute. The CCMM spokesperson suggested using back-to-work legislation to crush workers and take away their right to strike for better working conditions.
“The ball is in the bosses’ court,” replied Michel Murray, advisor to the Montreal Longshoremen’s Union (CUPE) on Aug. 7. The union is clear: “The longshoremen’s indefinite strike will continue until a tentative agreement on the new collective agreement or a truce is reached.”
There is no doubt that the ball will return to the workers in the form of back-to-work legislation. Back-to-work legislation is no longer something used in exceptional circumstances—it has been used against workers constantly over the past few years. Postal workers (in the fall of 2018) and Quebec construction workers (in the summer of 2017) have already tasted the bitterness of this rotten tactic.
However, the dockworkers are putting up a good fight. This strike is an example of courage and determination for all workers. If back-to-work legislation is passed, the workers absolutely must defy this anti-democratic and anti-labour collusion of the bosses and the capitalist state. The struggle against back-to-work legislation is not an isolated struggle, it concerns all workers. If dockworkers defy back-to-work legislation, the dockworkers would signal to the rest of the working class the end of an era when workers let themselves be stepped on. This could be the beginning of a new chapter in the recent history of the class struggle in Quebec.
Victory to the dockworkers!