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Since July 20, more than 400 stagehands and technical workers belonging to IATSE Local 58 have been locked out by the bosses at Toronto’s Exhibition Place.

From IATSE58 Facebook page

This attack on unionized workers has captured Toronto’s attention after pickets were set up outside the Exhibition gates. Appeals from the workers to not cross picket lines has resulted in a projected loss of $1.5 million in profits for the CNE. This has proven to be an effective way of getting the attention of employers to return to the table. Members of the union have made it clear that the employers’ lockout and use of scabs is nothing more than union busting and a move to set a new industry standard for low wages.

The Toronto Exhibition’s Board of Governors are hand picked by Mayor John Tory and the City of Toronto. The Board of Governors want to sever ties with union work and attract corporations that can use the Exhibition ground space and other venues to stage concerts, sports games, conventions and trade shows with cheap labour.

Members of Local 58 argue that this kind of union busting leads to a race to the bottom in terms of wages and unsafe working conditions. Contrary to what the Board of Governors claim, this dispute is not solely over wages, but a struggle to defend the union which protects workers against low wages and the increase in precarious work.

Busting Local 58 is a long-term goal for the Board of Governors. The aim is to reduce labour costs of union members to “compete” with non-union labour. This would mean a reduction of the current average wage of $30/hour to $14/hour. Such wage cuts would be a huge loss for workers that have been employed by the Exhibition for decades. Above all, members of Local 58 are fighting for the right to collectively bargain and maintain good union jobs.

On August 21, at a rally at city hall, an apprentice member of Local 58 said the following:

“We’re a craft local, so that means we have a small membership but a big international. In this local we only have 400 members, so the city went after us first, thinking it would be easy to break us. It’s testing the waters. There are seven unions on the EX grounds, and if they can break us they can go after other unions. And I can tell you right now that in the unions and their negotiations, they are stiff-arming them the same way as they are stiff-arming us, attacking our jurisdiction and not actually negotiating.”

The financial hardship of being locked out has taken its toll on union members, many of whom have been forced to dip into their savings or even turn to food banks to survive. In an interview with Fightback, TC Slocco, a 20-year member of the union, said,

“I haven’t been allowed a paycheque in four weeks. This is week five of the lockout. My bank is not going to take a lockout notice as a substitute for the payment on my house.”

From IATSE58 Facebook page

During the lockout, scab labour has also been used repeatedly by management. The cost of bringing in scab labour has not saved the bosses any money, but then again, that was not their intention. Their real aim was to break the will of the union. In fact, the actual cost of scab labour is five times more than what Local 58 stagehands would have been paid to do.

Seeing scabs cross picket lines is disheartening for workers. Nonetheless, the union has fought back by publicly denouncing the use of scab labour, explaining how it weakens the labour movement as a whole.

As Sclocco put it:

“If I could say one thing to scabs everywhere: ‘don’t do it, just don’t do it.’ I know it is tempting and horribly hard to make ends meet, but if you undermine my cause, when I decide to take a stand and fight for my rights, you will be next. There is no question. They will always take back as much as you let them, and you just can’t afford to let them. The best thing to do is not scab. That’s what they should do.”

From IATSE58 Facebook page

On August 21, the Board of Governors met with City Council to discuss their next steps. The union was not allowed in. It was later reported by an anonymous source in the closed session that the meetings’ participants did not get a majority on supporting arbitration, opting instead for John Tory’s motion for non-binding mediation. It is clear to workers that Tory and the Board of Governors are more interested in resolving the dispute by starving out the workers instead of giving in to their modest demands.

The wider labour movement must stand shoulder to shoulder with Local 58. Busting one union will only embolden the bosses and their lackeys in city council to continue with their anti-union crusade. This fight is all the more important with the election of the anti-union Ford government in Ontario. To effectively defeat union-busting politics, the working class can rely only on its own collective strength and must mobilize to fight back. An estimated 450 IATSE Local 58 workers have said they will not accept union busting tactics. The wider labour movement must do the same.

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