Lockout at the ABI Smelter in Bécancour, Quebec

Steelworkers Launch Global Campaign to Force Alcoa to Negotiate a Collective Agreement Acceptable to the Workers

United Steelworkers policy conference delegates on their feet in support of the locked-out Bécancour aluminum smelter workers, April 4, 2019.

The United Steelworkers National Policy Conference held in Vancouver from April 2 to 5, announced a worldwide campaign against the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel lockout of ABI aluminum smelter workers in Bécancour, Quebec. The lockout has now lasted 15 months. The USW demands the cartel end the lockout and negotiate a collective agreement acceptable to the workers. The global campaign will focus on exposing the anti-worker practices of Alcoa, which owns 75 per cent of ABI.

USW International President Leo Gerard pledged to organize actions in the countries where Alcoa has facilities, suppliers and customers to force the company to give up its dictate against ABI workers and to begin negotiations. Action began when a USW delegation from Canada attended the National Conference of the Australian Workers' Union on April 7-9. The delegation included USW Canadian Director Ken Neumann and two representatives of the ABI workers, including Local 9700 President Clément Masse. Quebec Steelworkers Director Alain Croteau also announced that locked-out ABI workers will travel to Pittsburgh on May 8 to intervene at the Alcoa shareholders' meeting.

United Steelworkers delegation participates in National Conference of the Australian
Workers' Union, April 7-9, 2019.

Clément Masse delivered a speech to the more than 600 delegates at the USW Vancouver conference explaining that at no time since the beginning of the dispute has ABI management negotiated with the union representing the ABI workers. Masse said that every offer from ABI management has been presented as "final" and that the workers must take it or suffer the consequences of a lockout. None of these final offers was the result of negotiations between the two parties. The most recent "final offer" presented in March gave the axe to all the working conditions currently in the collective agreement, be it the pension plan, the number of unionized jobs, the hours of work, the organization of the work, and union leave, Masse said. Alcoa amended the terms of the agreement so as to give the power to ABI executives to make the changes it wished without the union being able to challenge them, bypassing the established process of filing grievances. The same was true of the back-to-work protocol, which had never been discussed with the union. The dictated protocol, which workers massively voted down, was one-sided to the extent the company gave itself the right to suspend or even cancel it at any time.

Clément Masse (centre) at Vancouver policy conference, April 4, 2019, with United Steelworkers Canadian Director Ken Neumann (left) and Quebec Steelworkers Director Alain Croteau.

"They took a position to break the union, to attack the heart of our union," Clément Masse told delegates. "We are a strong union that stands up to the employer. We confront the employer when needed and we have been fighting all the while to uphold our collective agreement and make sure that our members are respected. With this offer from the employer, we could no longer do our union work. This is not just a fight for us. I think this attack on our union is an attack on the whole labour movement in Quebec and in Canada. If the employer breaks us, the employers will take this as a model and try to spread it all over Quebec and across Canada. We will never stop fighting. We are asking for your support and we will ask you again. We will fight until we get a negotiated contract with our employer."

Following his speech, delegates came to the microphone to announce financial support from their local or district. Many used the opportunity to add to the financial support they already provide. According to the Steelworkers, approximately $100,000 in financial support was raised at the conference. Several delegations took financial support application forms provided by the conference for use in their regions in organizing a vote in favour of additional financial support.

The Workers' Union at the Coca-Cola's Bottling Plant (STECSA) in Guatemala sent a cheque of $1,000 to support the ABI workers. STECSA recalled that international support for their struggle was critical when they faced the most violent repression in the 1980s and after from the company, the oligarchy and its police, army and paramilitary forces. The number of union locals providing financial support to ABI workers now stands at more than 400 in Quebec, Canada, the United States, Australia and now Guatemala.

This article was published in

Number 13 - April 11, 2019

Article Link:
Lockout at the ABI Smelter in Bécancour, Quebec: Steelworkers Launch Global Campaign to Force Alcoa to Negotiate a Collective Agreement Acceptable to the Workers


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