Source: Eastmain, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of Metro grocery workers, represented by Unifor Local 414, are on strike in the Greater Toronto Area, after years of wage cuts and hazardous work.

Wage cuts for Metro workers, record profits for Metro’s bosses

After voting 100 per cent in favour of strike action on June 27, 3,700 workers walked off the job on Saturday. In their last contract, signed in 2019, the workers received a nominal pay increase of $1.20, or between six and seven per cent, over four years. Meanwhile, inflation rose by over 15 per cent during the same period, accelerating especially from 2020-22. That amounts to a real cut of at least seven per cent.

And the workers have felt it. As Coyle, a meat manager at one Metro on the Danforth, told CBC News, “I can’t afford to live in my own city. I can’t afford to shop in my own store.”

While Metro’s workers took pay cuts, Metro’s owners received record profits. All told, the company reported $731.6 million in net earnings, in 2019, $796.4 million in 2020, $825.7 million in 2021 and $849.5 million last year—totalling over $3 billion.

Metro’s owners did not (and do not) work for this money. No one has ever seen them packing boxes or stacking shelves in Metro’s warehouses or in its stores. Like all bosses, each and every dollar they receive in profit is generated by the working class. Every dollar they receive in profit, in turn, is a dollar the working class has lost.

The rejected offer

In a very significant development, between the strike vote and the strike itself, the Unifor 414 membership rejected a tentative deal endorsed by their union leadership. In the lead-up, Unifor president Laura Payne claimed the deal offered the workers “considerable gains,” and local president Derek Currie said it was the best the union had seen in 25 years.

But in reality, the offer barely made up for the last agreement’s pay cuts. The deal promised a wage increase of $2.65 over four years—starting with $1.25 in year one, $0.50 in year two, and then $0.45 in years three and four. For most of the workers, that means a wage increase of six to seven per cent in the first year, and then another steep drop off.

In simple terms, that agreement would have meant another four years of struggling, so Metro’s bosses can reap millions more in profit. It is little wonder, therefore, why the workers rejected the deal and voted to strike instead.

As the past two years have shown, any weakness in the face of management will only mean new cuts and new attacks. From Unifor 414 to the longshore workers in British Columbia, workers are rejecting these methods and any and all “tentative agreements” that fall short of their demands. 

“We’ll stand out here as long as it takes,” Tammy Laporte, a produce and fruit clerk at one of Metro’s Danforth stores, told CBC News.

Victory to the workers

Already, this Metro strike marks the largest grocery strike Canada has seen in years—provoked by pandemic health hazards and years of eroding wages. These dual crises have sharpened the struggle for Metro’s workers just as they have for workers across the country. 

During the pandemic, it was clear that it’s ordinary workers, like those at Metro, who keep society running and fed—not their bosses. Why should they be the ones who struggle to eat, clothe and house themselves?

As the Toronto Star recently observed, the Metro strike is part of a “larger trend (…) of lower-wage earners pushing back against employers for better pay in industries that have in recent years seen massive gains in profits.”

After years of cuts, now is the time to win back what was lost.

By striking, the same workers who are told they have to accept wage cuts, speed-ups, injuries, sickness, and precarity find that they have the power to shut down whole economies. This power must be organized and extended to bring the country’s bosses to heel.