In the News
Dock Workers at Port of Montreal
Launch General Strike
Oppose Federal Back to Work Legislation!
Demand a Negotiated Settlement of Workers’ Just Demands!
At 7:00 am on April 26, the 1,160 dock workers at the Port of Montreal went on general strike to protect themselves against the unilateral change in their working conditions decreed by their employer, the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). The Association had notified the union that it would unilaterally change the hours of work of the dock workers on the morning of April 26 to ones that the dock workers consider unacceptable.
With their general strike, the dock workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 375, stopped handling cargo and docking ships at the Port of Montreal and the Contrecoeur terminal downstream on the South Shore.
While the union made it clear that its action in calling a general strike was in defence of its members in response to the unilateral change in work schedules, the media was full of provocative language, saying that “longshoremen have made good on their threat” and are “holding the public hostage” under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dock workers have actually announced that they will be unloading vessels carrying supplies dedicated to the fight against COVID-19 during their strike. On April 25, Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi announced that she would bring forward back-to-work legislation, “An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Operations at the Port of Montreal” and that the bill could be introduced in the House of Commons as early as April 27. She said that such legislation was her government’s “least favourite” solution, that her government believes in collective bargaining, but that a general strike at the Port of Montreal would be economically catastrophic to Canadians. The back-to-work legislation was in fact tabled on the morning of April 27 and debate is set to begin in the afternoon.
This Liberal hypocrisy obscures the fact that the government could have avoided a strike if it wanted to by introducing legislation to prohibit employers from unilaterally changing the working conditions of dockworkers. Until the very last second, the union said it would call off the general strike in a matter of minutes if the employers withdrew their notice of unilateral changes to work schedules.
Two weeks ago, the Maritime Employers Association also sent notice to the union that it would cancel the Montreal dock workers’ job security plan, which has been in place for about 50 years. To protect themselves from this unilateral move by the employers, the workers and their union instituted a ban on overtime and weekend work, a partial strike, on April 12. Union spokespersons said before the general strike that they would also end the partial strike if the employers withdrew their two draconian measures.
It is clear that the goal of the MEA and the government is to break workers and their union, not to protect the economy. This announcement of the anti-worker bill is part of the ruling elite’s use of the urgency of the moment to break the momentum of workers to defend their rights, protect the public and give a new direction to the economy.
If we take the example of the dock workers’ job security plan, this plan is a fundamental aspect of the working conditions of dock workers. Under this plan, workers must be available to work 19 days out of 21. Being available means that they can be assigned to work at any time, even at the last minute. In exchange, they are entitled to a guarantee of pay for 40 hours a week, whether or not they work those hours.
Dock workers also point out that disciplinary action is regularly taken against them if they are unable to meet work assignments. Over the years, the substantial increase in cargo volume at the Port of Montreal has meant that, increasingly, the 19 out of 21 days of being available for work has turned into 19 out of 21 days of actual work. Among other things, these conditions make it impossible to have a family life worthy of the name. The workers are trying to renegotiate this plan so that it reflects what is really happening at the port and ensures a normal life for workers and their families. Not only have the employers refused to renegotiate the terms of the plan since the end of the longshoremen’s collective agreement in December 2018, but they intend to unilaterally eliminate the guarantee of 40 hours a week on the grounds that negotiations are not moving forward so they can’t achieve what they want through negotiations, and that business activity at the port has decreased under the conditions of the pandemic. In addition to progress on job security, the longshoremen are putting forward demands on work schedules, to change the situation where they are constantly on call for a work assignment on day, evening and night shifts, and an overhaul of the discipline code which has become a systematic undertaking to discipline workers on an arbitrary basis.
The Workers’ Centre of CPC(M-L) calls on workers across the country to inform their member of parliament that they oppose back-to-work legislation against the dockworkers under any pretext. The employer must negotiate the workers’ just demands. Oppose the criminalization of the dock workers’ just demands! Oppose phoney pretexts to pass back to work legislation! Let us together hold the employers and government accountable for their cynical treatment of workers who play a responsible role in the fight against the pandemic by keeping the supply chain of goods required to fight the pandemic moving.
The just demands of the longshoremen are the demands of all workers!
(Photos: CUPE/SCFP Local 375)