July 18, 2019
at ABI Smelter in Bécancour, Quebec
ABI Workers Return
with Their Heads High
General membership meeting of workers at the ABI smelter in
Bécancour, July 2, 2019. (Metallos)
Resistance an Invaluable Asset of the Working Class Movement for
Its Rights and Dignity
• Shameful Anti-Worker Actions of the Quebec
• New Collective Agreement Ratified
Growing Opposition to
the Anti-Social Offensive in Alberta
• Workers Express a Resounding No! to Bill 9 and
the Dictate of the Kenney Government - Peggy Askin
Forestry Industry in
• Workers on Strike to Defend Their Rights
• Note to Readers
Lockout Lifted at ABI Smelter in
ABI workers in Bécancour, Quebec are returning
to work after they
agreed to a new collective agreement. During the unjust 18-month
lockout, the aluminum smelter workers through their determined
resistance in defence of their rights made a valuable contribution to
the dignity of all workers across Quebec and Canada. Their collective
actions exposed those in control of the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel as
modern day robber barons who abscond with increasing amounts of
the social wealth ABI workers produce at their smelter, along with
The courageous struggle of the ABI workers revealed the
role of the Quebec government as an ally and representative of the
global oligarchs in opposition to the collective interests of the
Quebec people and their natural resources. The Quebec government
constantly distorted and attacked the just struggle of the ABI workers
allowed the global cartel to renege on its electricity contract with
Hydro-Québec. These shameful actions encouraged the Alcoa cartel
refuse to negotiate with the workers and prolong the conflict. Working
people are determined to hold the Quebec government to account for its
anti-worker actions on behalf of the international financial
hails the courageous struggle of the ABI workers, their union and
leadership, in defending the dignity of labour, and the collective
interests of the community and society. They accepted a most difficult
task in this fight with the Alcoa/Rio Tinto global cartel, and the
quisling governments at its disposal. The workers
faced a refusal of the cartel to negotiate and instead it dictated
concessionary terms to serve their narrow interests of increased
profits at the expense of the working people. They defended the need
for equilibrium in relations of production based on workers' rights,
including the right to negotiate collectively the terms of employment,
workers themselves must deem acceptable, rather than have those terms
imposed on them through dictate.
At this historical juncture the labour relations regime
of the past
no longer exists. The ABI contract was not achieved through
negotiations at the bargaining table but as a result of the workers'
united firm resistance to the impunity of those in control of their
workplace. They recognized that in the conditions of today, monopolies
negotiate in good faith. Those in control believe they can simply
dictate concessionary terms and destroy unions, collective agreements
and pension regimes at their whim by declaring that workers are a cost
of production and if they want to keep their jobs they must agree to
whatever the employers declare is necessary. The ABI workers stood as
an example for other contingents of workers across the country who are
putting up serious resistance to this new regime the employers seek to
These employers are acting with the state in their
pockets, not only
in terms of governments and their ministries of labour but more and
more also the labour boards and courts long said to be neutral and
above taking sides in disputes between the working class and those in
control of the workplaces and social wealth. Thus, the ABI workers'
resistance was not only to the employers' unacceptable dictate but to
the role of the state itself. This makes their struggle primarily
political, as well as economic. It reveals that the fight for people's
empowerment is at the centre of the battles for justice today and that
the workers recognize this and are rising to the occasion to lead this
In this regard, the courageous resistance of the ABI
was waged using non-traditional methods of support from the entire
labour movement in Quebec as well as other places across Canada and
even internationally. It was waged in the court of public opinion where
the workers stood as one in defence of their just cause. They
showed to the entire world that the Quebec government's electricity
agreement with Rio Tinto/Alcoa and the reneging on it during the
lockout based on an unconscionable definition of "force majeure" is
utterly self-serving and a fraud and that the aims of the company in
Quebec, as in Australia, are beyond the pale.
The methods of the ABI local to wage the fight against
achieved the results the workers were seeking. The company's final
version of yet another "final offer" it refused to negotiate was thus a
retraction of many of the unacceptable concessionary demands the
company was making and was deemed acceptable by a majority of
ABI struggle shows that no force can act in the old way because the
conditions of the past no longer exist. Today, the monopolies and
global cartels do everything to deprive the workers of what belongs to
them by right. They have governments in their pockets as well as state
agencies and the courts. Workers are not impressed with this
mighty force arrayed against them. The tactics used by the workers
today are directed at depriving the monopolies of their ability to do
as they please. All over the country and even the world, workers are
rising to fight in a new way to defend what belongs to them by right
and in this way defend the rights of all and open a path for society's
The ABI workers stand second to none. They have done
their families and their Quebec nation proud, as well as the entire
Canadian working class. Bravo to them and to the union leadership that
did not flinch but led them every step of the way through thick and
We wish the ABI workers success as they return to work,
behind their union in the conditions they face where the company will
continue trying to impose its dictate using the state institutions to
achieve its self-serving aims.
The struggle of the ABI workers against this unjust
impose a concessionary contract has been a valuable contribution in the
defence of the rights and dignity of workers throughout Quebec, Canada
and the world. Workers' Forum salutes the ABI workers for
having waged an audacious struggle not only for themselves but for
all working people and their communities.
One of many solidarity rallies on the ABI picket lines, March 23, 2018.
During the 18-month lockout, ABI workers and their union
were tireless in mobilizing the organized support of workers in Quebec,
Canada and several other countries. They made an immense effort to
counter the power of the Alcoa/Rio Tinto global cartel and its
political representatives in government. The global cartels have access
massive social wealth and production facilities throughout the world,
which they brandish as weapons against the international working class
to attack their rights and dignity and extract concessions on their
working conditions and standard of living.
Rio Tinto Alma workers at May 25, 2019 rally
supporting ABI workers.
Building on the tradition established by the struggle of
Alma aluminum workers during the Rio Tinto lockout in 2012, the ABI
workers and their union mobilized support, including financial support,
from approximately 500 union locals in Quebec, Canada, and elsewhere
including the United States, Australia and Guatemala. In many cases
was done through holding general membership meetings at which workers
were informed of the ABI dispute and subsequently voted to support the
workers financially, often in regular donations until the end of the
Union-trained representatives journeyed to address
workers throughout the world, including Australia and Belgium to
explain the conflict and mobilize support. Workers and unions from
across Quebec, and from many places in Canada, the United States and
other countries, came to the ABI workers' picket lines to express their
greatly encouraged the ABI workers to hold firm during the lockout
despite the difficulties. The many activities engaged in during the
lockout and the relations that developed with other workers are a
valuable asset of the workers' movement, which can be further developed
and made even more effective in the fight in defence of workers'
The global social love and solidarity of the working
class was on full display at the powerful family march of over 5,000
people demonstrating their enormous spirit of resistance and dignity in
the streets of downtown Trois-Rivières on May 25. The struggle
of the ABI workers and their community and global solidarity throughout
reveal the enormous potential of the working class to defend itself.
The resistance of the ABI workers and the support of
their allies throughout the world exposed the subservience to global
private interests of neo-liberal governments such as in Quebec in
opposition to working people and their communities. The lockout shows
the necessity to hold those governments to account and confront them
practical politics of the working class in new ways that have to be
explored and developed.
Board at picket line thanks all those who supported the ABI workers.
Shown above, delegation of Unifor Local 1980 workers from Markham,
Ontario, visiting the picket line
June 17, 2019.
By publicly taking stands in favour of the Alcoa/Rio
Tinto cartel during the 18-month unjust lockout of ABI smelter workers,
the Quebec government covered itself with shame. The government
considered it more important to serve the global cartel than to defend
Quebec workers and their communities and society. The government could
have intervened at any time to establish equilibrium in the relations
between the unionized workers and the global cartel, one that respects
the workers' rights and the well-being and rights of all in Quebec.
Instead, the government allowed the global cartel to unleash the full
power of its social wealth and international productive and
capacity to attack the workers with its refusal to negotiate, arrogant
final offers and threats to close the smelter.
The Quebec government distorted the issues in the
conflict making wages a point of contention, which they were not, while
covering up the anti-worker concessionary demands of the cartel that
would lower the standard of living and working in Quebec. The
government used its power of control over the media to publicly
workers' resistance as unreasonable and put pressure on them to accept
Alcoa's concessionary demands.
The Quebec government authorized Alcoa's self-serving
misappropriation of $400 million from Hydro-Québec. The
government declared that the lockout was a force majeure, an "unforeseeable,
irresistible event beyond the control of a Party," which was Alcoa in
this case of the unjust lockout. On the contrary, the lockout was
premeditated and planned as a weapon to force workers to accept
concessions. The government agreement with the lockout as a force majeure, as something not
planned and controlled by the cartel, released the company from its
obligation to pay for the block of energy reserved for it at
Everyone knew that the lockout was not "unforeseeable,
irresistible" or beyond Alcoa's control. It was a planned and
consciously executed move by the global cartel to attack the Quebec
working class. The actions and in this case inaction of the Quebec
government directly contributed to the launching and continuation of
the lockout for 18
months. This so-called nationalist government helped to impose an
unjust lockout by a foreign cartel on its own workers, and made
Quebecers pay for the lockout through an enormous loss of revenue for
The resistance of the ABI workers and the support of
their allies have put the shameful activity of the Quebec government up
for discussion to find ways to hold it to account and counterattack its
anti-worker anti-social politics. The actions of the Quebec government
expose the real nature of its call to make Quebec "open for business"
that serves the rich global oligarchs in their drive to transfer yet
more social wealth out of Quebec in an unjust atmosphere of
A general membership meeting on July 2, attended by
about 800 workers of the just over 900 still employed at the ABI
smelter in Bécancour voted by a 79.8 per cent majority to ratify
the latest contract offer of the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel. This put a
formal end to the unjust 18-month lockout and blackmail of the cartel.
Right to the end the
cartel, and its nefarious partner in crime the Quebec government,
to negotiate with the workers and instead flaunted yet another "final
offer." This final offer came with the widely publicized threat that if
workers rejected the contract then the smelter would be immediately
closed for good.
Eighty-five percent of the workers will be recalled to
work by January 1, 2020, and all workers will be recalled by April 1,
The workers were able to fend off some of the
anti-worker concessions that the owners demanded in earlier final
offers. For example, the back-to-work protocol is superior to what
workers previously refused to accept last March 4. The agreed-to
protocol provides for a fixed return to work period of six to eight
months rather than the
open-ended return of the rejected protocol, which the company could
have extended or even eliminated at will. After five months, all
workers not yet back to work will receive $635 per week from the
company, non-refundable, until they are back on the job.
The company withdrew its concessionary demands on
workers' seniority rights. The employer will not be able to offer
positions to people outside the plant without first offering them to
The number of jobs that can be outsourced is reduced
compared to what was contained in the March 4 offer.
This also decreases the number of unionized positions
that can be eliminated during the term of the new collective agreement.
The company softened its concessionary demand to reduce
employer-paid union leave.
ABI management commits to an additional $8 million
contribution to the new pension plan. The defined-benefit pension plan
is being replaced by a member-funded pension plan, which is now in
effect in several other aluminum smelters in Quebec. The workers manage
the indexed plan and carry the risks of possible falling benefits. The
company's initial request in 2018 was to impose a two-tier pension
plan, keeping the current employees on their defined-benefit plan and
placing future hires on a much inferior defined-contribution plan.
The company is withdrawing its $19 million grievance
over damage alleged to have been caused by the workers in the plant
during negotiations in 2017. The grievance, based on a total lie, was a
clumsy attempt to intimidate the workers and their union and to justify
the complete restructuring of the smelter. The so-called sabotage was
raised by the company during the time it was alleged to have happened.
The six-year contract contains cumulative wage increases
totalling 15.3 per cent.
The relentless resistance of the workers and their union
the support of other workers and the community throughout the 18-month
lockout resulted in the removal of certain concessions. Workers and
their community are well aware of the damages the remaining concessions
will do in lowering working standards at the
smelter and putting downward pressure on the standard of living
throughout the region. The global cartels of oligarchs that control the
socialized economy and their representatives in government are using
the immense social wealth they already control and the political power
of neo-liberal governments to transfer more and more social value from
production away from workers and their communities and into the coffers
of the rich. The increasing transfer of produced social wealth from
workers to the oligarchs assisted by their political flunkies is a
problem the working class is taking up for solution.
Growing Opposition to the Anti-Social
Offensive in Alberta
Picket organized by AUPE Local 95, July 3, 2019, at Foothills Hospital
Information pickets continue to be organized across
Alberta to oppose anti-worker Bill 9, the Public
Act. Public sector workers demand the
government adhere to the provisions in their legally negotiated
collective agreements covering 180,000 union members. The contracts
required arbitration on a wage-re-opener to take place by June 30. In
with the signed agreements negotiated in good faith with public sector
unions and without the consent of the workers involved, the government
has arbitrarily denied the arbitration to occur by the scheduled date.
Workers expressed their militant stand in defence of
their rights in a massive turnout of more than 1,000 workers at an
information picket organized by Local 95, Alberta Union of Provincial
Employees (AUPE). Held during lunch hour on July 3 at Foothills
Hospital in Calgary, hospital workers represented by AUPE, the United
Alberta and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta came together on
the picket line. Active and retired workers from other sectors also
enthusiastically joined in. Together they expressed their stand through
chants and messages on their placards: Yes to Good Faith Negotiations!
No to Dictate! Defend our Public Services! As one united force of
the working class they declared that an attack on the right of public
sector workers to a say on their wages and conditions of work is an
attack on all workers and the social conditions of all Albertans. The
Kenney government's dictate against workers and the social conditions
of all is not
acceptable and the people do not consent.
Calgary, July 3, 2019
Members of Local 95 worked long and hard to organize the
picket and mobilize support to guarantee a successful turnout and a
resounding success it was. AUPE organized buses to bring workers from
hospitals all across the city to the picket. Many workers facing
difficulty arranging time off from work showed determination to join
Hundreds of workers emerged out of Foothills Hospital on their lunch
hour to join their voices with others in defence of their rights. Local
95 distributed pizza to ensure no one missed their lunch. The streets
outside Foothills Hospital rang out with chants against Bill 9, for
and for the rights of all to health care and other social programs.
Successful pickets were also held in Tofield on June 28,
Lamont on July 2, and Leduc Hospital on July 9, as well as in numerous
other cities and towns.
Picket at Le Duc hospital, July 9, 2019.
During the picket at Foothills Hospital, Guy Smith AUPE
President led off the speeches saying in part, "We have been
disrespected by the government of Alberta. You have had your legal
rights taken away by the power of a government that thinks it can use
the power of the state to crush workers. We are here to tell them you
crush the will of the people; you will never crush the strength of
workers in solidarity. You cannot use the legislative power of the
state to take away collective bargaining agreements that are negotiated
in good faith and legally binding. Do we really want to see an Alberta
where the government can just rip up the deal?"
Smith's question was met with a resounding No!
"In Alberta a deal is a
deal, and any government that
tries to rip that out of our hands, we will have to take action and we
are doing it today folks. We are not the only ones holding pickets.
They are taking place across the province. This is just the beginning.
When we leave today, go back to your worksites and talk to your fellow
them we all need to stand together in solidarity against this
aggressive bully of a government."
Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of
Medicare, and a former Vice-President of AUPE said, "The reason we are
here is because we believe that your conditions of work are care
conditions. If you are not resourced, if you are not staffed, if you
are not given the opportunity to do the work that you do on behalf of
Albertans day in
and day out, then it doesn't work for every single one of us. [...] We
will stand by you until this violation of your rights is fixed. This
government has the responsibility to provide care. I have not seen this
much energy since 2012 when the hospitals were surrounded by workers
because you had been told that you were a dime a dozen. We showed
them back then that dime-a-dozen people can shut down hospitals. This
government needs to be told very clearly that they need to arbitrate,
that they need to negotiate at the table, and not legislate. Thank you
so much for standing up for Albertans. Thank you so much for standing
up for public health and public services and I promise that we will
be behind you all the way."
Karen Craik, Provincial Secretary Treasurer of the
United Nurses of Alberta said, "Rights belong to all Albertans, not
just the rich corporate Albertans. The government has said that they
are going to wait for the Blue Ribbon Panel to come out to determine
what our wages are worth. We provide care to all Albertans. Even
teachers are affected
by this legislation. It is all public sector workers, that are under
attack here and the government says it is just a slight delay because
they need to know what our finances are. But they did not stop cutting
the taxes for huge corporations and did not have to wait for the Blue
Ribbon Panel results to come in before they made that decision. So they
are giving a tax cut to corporations and cutting us. Albertans should
not stand for that because every Albertan who gets cut in the public
sector means a cut to the services for the average Albertan. I just
want to say, Jason Kenney, we are all Albertans, you cannot cut public
services because you will cut the care for all Albertans."
Laurel Jackson, a provincial executive member of the
Health Sciences Association of Alberta, congratulated AUPE for
organizing the picket and said she was overwhelmed by the turnout.
Speaking of the Klein government years, she stated with great
conviction, "I lived
through the 1990s and I will not do that again."
Bonnie Gostola, an AUPE
the health care sector thanked all the unions for joining together and
for "making sure that our voices are heard and that they matter.
Everybody's voice matters here. We are glad and proud of all our
members that came out today in support and solidarity for everything
that we do every
day for Albertans. It doesn't matter if you are a nurse or a teacher,
an electrician or a plumber, when you provide a service to Albertans,
we matter. When our collective bargaining rights are threatened, we are
all under threat, and Albertans are all under threat. That is
unacceptable. They are going after our fundamental, constitutional
bargain in good faith, and this is the time that we need to fight back
and show this government that everything we do, every public service is
important to every Albertan."
David Choy, Chair of AUPE Local 95, gave heartfelt
thanks to everyone who came out to join together to make the picket
such a success saying, "We have sent a clear message today, we have
shown that we are paying attention, that we can organize; but the
government needs to hold up their end of the bargain.
"We need to be asking ourselves, what is next? We need
to be prepared to protect our collective bargaining rights. Please
inform everyone of what you have seen; visit the AUPE website; use any
of the social media platforms available; by standing side by side we
cause them to take notice, to pause and think twice. Solidarity forever
After the speeches, the picket continued for well over
an hour, growing in numbers as workers from every department of the
hospital joined their fellow health care workers from across the city
demonstrating their determined No!
to Bill 9 and all government attacks
on workers' rights and the social conditions of the people.
Tofield, June 28, 2019.
Vegreville, June 27, 2019.
Forestry Industry in British Columbia
Picket at Duke Point in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, July 3,
2019. (USW Local 1-1937)
Forestry workers on the BC coast and Vancouver Island
took strike action on July 1 against Western Forest Products and its
subcontractors. About 3,000 workers are involved, approximately half of
them directly employed by Western Forest Products and half by
subcontractors. In strike votes conducted in June, union members of USW
1-1937 voted 98.8 per cent in favour of strike action to back up their
demands for improved wages and working conditions and in rejection of
the employers' attempt to impose concessions.
In the June 28 bargaining update, USW Local 1-1937
writes, "This action was not taken lightly and was strategically made
in order to apply maximum pressure on WFP, in order to send the
strongest possible message, in the clearest possible terms, that WFP
must seriously address the membership's proposals, remove all of their
entirely, as well as rescind all of the cancellation letters regarding
local agreements and practices."
Brian Butler, the President of Local 1-1937, in speaking
to a Vancouver Island television station said, "They have massive
concessions where they're attacking our pensions. [...] They're
attacking our benefit plans, they are attacking our job security and
they've wiped out decades worth of local agreements that our members
over the years, and none of that will stand."
Forestry workers are facing the same brutality as
workers in other sectors in which companies, instead of negotiating to
renew collective agreements on the basis of established norms and
standards, are trampling on already negotiated terms and declaring them
no longer in force, while at the same time demanding workers make
give up what has been negotiated in the past.
The BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) in a press release
on July 10, issued, "a 'hot edict' today on Western Forest Products
(WFP) in a show of solidarity with striking forest workers. The move,
welcomed by the United Steelworkers (USW), means that members of the
BCFED's affiliated unions have been asked to no longer handle
any WFP coastal lumber, log and wood products."
Coastal forestry workers are defending their rights and
their dignity as those who transform into use-value the natural
resources of the forest through their work. Their demand that Western
Forest Products negotiate and drop all their demands for concessions is
just and deserves everyone's support.
Workers' Forum will resume publication in
time for Labour Day, September 2. Until then it will publish news,
stories and commentaries from time to time to deal with unfolding
events. Please continue to send us your reports, photos and views, and
keep up to date with the CPC(M-L) website and calendars of events for
important announcements. Readers are also encouraged to support the
work of the Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L) by continuing the work to sign
up subscribers and new readers and by making a financial contribution.
Have a great summer! All out to support all
workers fighting for their rights and the rights of all!
Workers' Forum Editorial and Technical Staff
(To access articles individually
click on the black headline.)
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