False Concessions and Real Concessions

Quebec Minister of Labour Jean Boulet claims that with his proposal to settle the lockout at ABI, he demands concessions from both sides. Similar to what Alcoa has been saying all along, Boulet contends concessions from both sides without the give-and-take of discussions and negotiations make the proposal fair, balanced and worthy of support.

Working people must remember that none of the company or government concessions much less the various proposals ever arose from negotiations with union representatives of the ABI workers. In a negotiated collective agreement such give-and-take would form part of the negotiations. Simply to inform the world of a final settlement and demand workers vote on it because both sides have supposedly made concessions means that the government and company have no intention of any give and take let alone serious negotiations respecting the rights of workers and their representatives to find a solution to their differences.

Radio-Canada says it received a copy and the Minister himself describes some of its aspects. Making the proposal public and subject to speculation is a form of information war to force through something that is unacceptable and a negation of negotiations and the rights of workers.

Outside any forum with workers for serious negotiations, Boulet talks publicly of two concessions he asks of the owners. First, the minister wants ABI management to drop its $19 million damage grievance against USW Local 9700 and its officers. The grievance filed long ago accuses the union and members of alleged sabotage of operations in the plant during the months leading to the lockout in January 2018.

To consider the withdrawal of this false grievance concocted by management as a concession during negotiations for a collective agreement is completely fraudulent. The union has long pointed out that the company made no reference to any alleged acts of sabotage at the time they are said to have occurred. Management complaints over the safety and security of plant operations and alleged threats of sabotage during contract negotiations have become commonplace propaganda and lame excuses to justify lockouts. For the grievance for damages to be removed is not a concession but rather a change in tactics. A withdrawal in no way affects Alcoa's concessionary demands on working conditions and workers' security and union rights. The withdrawal of this grievance has not even been raised as a demand by the union in all its attempts to have talks with the company. Besides, common practice upon the completion of negotiations is that both parties renounce their lawsuits as part of the negotiated settlement. Minister Boulet admitted as much, saying to the press: "When I wrote the back-to-work protocol, that was one of the concessions I asked the company to do and I told them: when we make a back-to-work protocol we start afresh, do away with all the legal recourse that was done before or during the conflict, directly or indirectly related to the conflict."

The second company concession as defined by the Minister is a modification of the unilateral back-to-work protocol that the cartel sought to impose, which workers rejected with contempt at their March 11 mass meeting and vote. According to the Minister, the reinstatement of workers will now be done in six months instead of 10.

The union has already denounced 10 or six months before reinstatement as unprecedented and wholly unacceptable. It only took two months to reinstate all ABI workers after their 2004 strike. In addition, the time frame in the proposed back to work protocol whether six or 10 months remains conditional on what the owners themselves consider as safe conditions. Also, according to Clément Masse, President of USW Local 9700, the settlement proposal speaks of a "goal" of reintegration and faster restarting of activities, and not an "obligation." For the Minister to suggest a change from 10 to six months is a concession on the part of the company, while the overall unilateral imposition of a most backward back-to-work protocol has already been universally denounced, is to engage in hypocrisy and propaganda to impose a government endorsed company dictate that undermines the rights of workers and their dignity.

The real concessions demanded in the here and now from even before the lockout are those the global oligarchs want from the workers affecting all aspects of their life at work and in retirement. In fact, the entire episode of non-negotiations has been a series of unilateral dictates for concessions and final offers from ABI management. During these non-negotiations, ABI workers have not been able to present their demands to defend their working conditions as they exist today let alone improve them. Their effort from the beginning was to preserve what they have. Masse said the union would even have agreed to simply renew the collective agreement as it stands.

From the beginning of their effort for a new collective agreement, the workers asked for the elimination of certain company concessionary demands or at least their reduction in scope. Such is the case with regard to the abolition of unionized positions for example. The government suggests union opposition to concessions is not that at all but new demands put forward by the union that would undermine Alcoa's global competitiveness and risk closure of the plant.

The union says a professor of labour relations at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, who has read the government settlement proposal, says the Minister is concerned with Alcoa's global competitiveness and even added new wording to the settlement proposal that would further facilitate the outsourcing of jobs so as to eliminate regular union jobs and undermine working conditions at the plant.

The Quebec government is pursuing an unacceptable campaign against aluminum workers on behalf of a global power. It refuses to uphold its duty as government to defend the well-being and security of its own people. This disastrous path further accentuates disequilibrium between oligopolies such as Alcoa and their workers, communities and the society in which these global behemoths operate. In a cowardly gesture, the government is offering Quebec and its people on a silver platter to these global supranational private interests instead of defending the workers and the people by restricting the power of these oligopolies and working to establish equilibrium that serves the people in an atmosphere approved and controlled by them.

(Photo: Metallos)

This article was published in

Number 16 - May 2, 2019

Article Link:
False Concessions and Real Concessions


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