Lockout Lifted at ABI Smelter in Bécancour, Quebec

ABI Workers Return to Work with Their Heads High

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 Quebec's electricity.

The courageous struggle of the ABI workers revealed the disgraceful 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 and allowed the global cartel to renege on its electricity contract with Hydro-Québec. These shameful actions encouraged the Alcoa cartel to 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 oligarchy.

Workers' Forum 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, which the 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 will not 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 impose.

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 fight.

In this regard, the courageous resistance of the ABI smelter workers 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 the company 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 workers.

The 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 progress.

The ABI workers stand second to none. They have done themselves, 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 thin!

We wish the ABI workers success as they return to work, united 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 lockout to 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.

(Photos: WF, Metallos)

This article was published in

Number 25 - July 18, 2019

Article Link:
Lockout Lifted at ABI Smelter in Bécancour, Quebec: ABI Workers Return to Work with Their Heads High


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