May 30, 2019

Powerful Family Solidarity March with Locked-Out ABI Workers

ABI Workers, Families and Allies
Demand an End to Alcoa/Rio Tinto/
Quebec Government Dictate

Over 5,000 people marched with great spirit and dignity in the streets of downtown Trois-Rivières on Saturday, May 25. They marched in honour and support of the aluminum workers in Bécancour who have stood firm in defence of their rights despite being locked out of their smelter for over 16 months by the Alcoa/Rio Tinto/Quebec Government cabal.

Workers came from many regions of Quebec and as far away as Chibougamau in Northern Quebec, and Fermont, in the northern part of Quebec's North Shore. Workers also came from Toronto and Hamilton. The crowd assembled in the morning outside the Cogeco Amphitheatre to hear speeches and prepare for the grand march. The parking lot of the amphitheatre soon filled with buses and cars bringing fellow workers from afar while ABI workers, their allies and families who live in Trois-Rivières walked to this important event.

Excitement was high as people gathered, exchanged greetings and discussed amongst themselves before the formal event began. They soon became a sea of blue as participants waved the blue Steelworker flags and donned the ABI workers' T-shirts reading "Force!," "Solidarité!," "Respect! Les lockoutés d'ABI!," "Une entente négociée." The blue of the crowd merged with the sunny blue sky creating a truly grand spectacle.

A significant feature of the crowd, besides the massive presence of the ABI workers and their families, was the contingents of workers who have themselves in recent years waged bitter fights in defence of their rights, often involving long lockouts and strikes. They united together in Trois-Rivières to express their solidarity having experienced themselves the united effort it takes to fight back against the monstrous global companies, which in connivance with their representatives in government such as the Quebec Legault government, continually try to extort concessions from the working class and degrade its working and living conditions.

Noticeable amongst the participants were Montreal Videotron workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2815. They explained to others that during the early years of this century along with other Quebecor workers they faced multiple lockouts during which the company used scabs and state violence against them.

From hundreds of kilometres away came a contingent of steelworkers, members of United Steelworkers Local 1005 in Hamilton led by Local President Gary Howe. They have battled continuously, from 2004 to the present, the attacks of one or another gang of the financial oligarchy using court-ordered bankruptcy protection, injunctions, lockouts and destruction of their production facilities to steal what belongs to workers by right.

A busload of members of USW Local 9490, the aluminum workers at the Rio Tinto smelter in Alma, proudly participated also led by their president Alexandre Fréchette and other executive members. They fought a six-month lockout in 2012 to defend their rights. Their experience from that struggle has become part of the invaluable storehouse of knowledge of the Quebec working class. In a previous interview with Workers' Forum, Fréchette provided valuable insight into how the Alcoa/Rio Tinto/Quebec Government cabal distorts the facts to attack the working class.[1]

Top: Hamilton steelworkers from USW Local 1005, alongside members of the Steelworkers' Toronto Area Council; bottom: Active and retired aluminum workers from the Rio Tinto smelter in Alma.

The CEZinc workers from Glencore zinc refinery, members of USW Local 6486 in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield were also there, recalling their 10-month strike in 2017 that successfully defended their pension plan against Glencore's wrecking.

The contingents of the working class said their duty was to be there in Trois-Rivières in solidarity with the ABI workers in their long and difficult struggle to put an end to the Alcoa/Rio Tinto/Quebec government dictate and achieve an acceptable collective agreement, which upholds the respect they deserve as individuals and members of their collective defence organization USW Local 9700.

Workers in the grand march represented virtually all affiliates of the Quebec Federation of Labour -- United Steelworkers, CUPE-Quebec, Unifor, and others -- as well as workers from the other trade union centrals, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), the Centrale des syndicats du Quebec (CSQ), the Centrale des syndicats démocratiques (CSD) and other unions.

One gets a good idea of  the variety and quality of the contingents by noting just some of those present, which included: a strong delegation from the Steelworkers' Toronto Area Council, always present to support workers fighting for their rights; many locals of UNIFOR, which is the largest financial contributor to the struggle of the ABI workers; the Montreal Transit Maintenance Workers, members of the Montreal Transit Union (STM-CSN) who just signed a new labour contract after a difficult fight to defeat the employer's concessionary demands in all their conditions; workers from Ciment Lafarge in Montérégie, members of USW Local 6658 who went on strike for several months in 2016 to successfully defend their pension plan; nurses, members of the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation and other unions who are waging resolute actions against untenable conditions in the health care system; many locals of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, of the United Food and Commercial Workers, construction workers of several unions, mining workers from Quebec North Shore, public sector workers of all union affiliations, white collar and blue collar workers, education and health care workers, public servants, employees of Hydro-Québec, and many others.

The spirit of international support was such that a Quebec steelworker carried the flag of the Australian Workers' Union, the country where the workers are facing the worst attacks of Alcoa, going as far as the cancellation of collective agreements so that Alcoa employees work under the sole  minimum labour standards.

Present from the United Steelworkers, in addition to presidents of various locals from mining, metallurgical and other industrial facilities in Bécancour, Alma, Valleyfield and elsewhere, were Ken Neumann, Canadian Director; Alain Croteau, Quebec Director; Marty Warren, District 6 Director representing steelworkers in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces; and Steve Hunt, District 3 Director representing steelworkers west of Ontario. Tom Conway, the International Vice President of the United Steelworkers was also present.

People were most pleased to hear that representatives of USW Local 420A, representing Alcoa and Arconic workers in Massena, New York came to participate in the march. On May 24, members of Local 420A voted overwhelmingly in favour of going on strike to resist the concessions demanded by the same ownership gang as at ABI. Alcoa and Arconic were formed out of the 2016 splitting of Alcoa into two entities. The oligarchs in control are demanding concessions from all their U.S. workers in virtually every aspect -- benefits, pension plans, increased out-of-pocket health insurance payments, elimination of coverage of retiree health care for workers not yet eligible for federal Medicare and more. This underscores the reality that the struggle against Alcoa is a global fight where workers are defending their rights and dignity. More and more workers are recognizing in the current reality the need to step up the organized support of all workers in the struggle with the global financial oligarchy and its state representatives.

The ABI workers and their families were extremely pleased with the support of so many workers from far and wide. Clément Masse, President of USW Local 9700 which represents the ABI workers, expressed the workers' feelings in his brief remarks:

"Thank you everyone for being here. Thanks to the locked out workers and thanks to the families. It is a long conflict, a conflict that is difficult. On a day like this it feels good to see all these people who came to march regardless of the colour of their flag. It is also a message that is being sent to our employer and to our government. What I sense first from this day of action is the courage you have, after 16 months of conflict. Thank you for trusting me as your representative. I am proud to represent you. We are not giving up. We are going to go back in the plant with an agreement that will respect our workers."

The common theme of the speeches and conversations throughout the day was the unity of all in organized support for the ABI workers so that they can end the Alcoa/Rio Tinto/Quebec government intransigence and dictate and achieve a negotiated agreement that is acceptable to the workers.

The scandalous behaviour of the Quebec government and Premier François Legault was also highlighted by the participants. They specifically referred to the repeated statements of the Quebec Premier who publicly accused the ABI workers of being unreasonable and at fault in this dispute and somehow responsible for the attacks Alcoa has unleashed against the workers and their community. Premier Legault, while on a so-called business trip to Washington, DC in the third week of May, went so far as to publicly accuse the workers once again and this time in a foreign country no less, of being unreasonable and responsible for the lockout. He shamelessly repeated the same to Alcoa's CEO Roy Harvey as well.

ABI workers carried signs showing a two-faced premier, Premier Legault on one side and on the other the notoriously anti-worker Maurice Duplessis, Premier from the 1930s to the 1950s with the words Je me souviens (I Remember) and "Quebec and its workers sold at a discount." Je me souviens is the official motto of Quebec and Duplessis is known and remembered for, among other crimes, attacking the working class and selling out Quebec's natural resources to U.S. companies for next to nothing.

The march lasted 90 minutes with flags flying high on a warm and beautiful spring day. At the end of the march, people assembled once again outside the Cogeco Amphitheatre for a public lunch. They listened to more speeches and exchanged views on how to further build the movement to defeat the anti-worker dictate of global monopolies such as Alcoa and the compliant governments and state machinery that do their bidding.

The May 25 mass solidarity march in support of the ABI locked out workers was a tremendous display of social love and respect for the ABI workers and for the precious contribution they are making to the fight of workers everywhere for their dignity and rights. This contribution is widely recognized throughout Quebec, Canada, the U.S., Australia and elsewhere. The May 25 event has encouraged workers everywhere to strengthen their efforts to organize and unite in defence of their dignity and what belongs to them by right and in particular at this time to render whatever support they can, especially financial, to the ABI workers and Local 9700.

Hats off to the ABI workers, Local 9700, the Steelworkers, other unions and their friends and allies for having organized such a successful event and to all those who participated. Bon courage et merci to ABI workers and their union local for persisting in their now 16 months of resistance to the unjust lockout, and for their steadfast determination to see this struggle through to a successful conclusion.

Workers Speak Out at Grand March in
Solidarity with ABI Workers

Throughout the day, Workers' Forum reporters gathered comments from workers and their families on what it means to them to participate in the march to demand an end to the lockout and dictate of the Alcoa/Rio Tinto/Quebec government cabal.

ABI Workers

"It feels great to see everyone who came to support us today. It gives us energy to continue. All this solidarity that is being expressed is great. Thank you very much to all those who came to support us. We hope that Alcoa and the government will get the message and that we will be able to sign a collective agreement that respects us."

"We did not choose to have such a long dispute. It was imposed on us. Now, they want to make us an example of the attacks that are coming up against all workers and their unions. We cannot let that happen."

"Alcoa has to pay for its block of energy. We have to pay our hydro bill. We have no choice. We cannot say that because of this or that problem we are not going to pay our bill. Besides, the lockout is not an 'Act of God.' It is the company that has planned and organized this lockout from the beginning."

Maintenance Worker at Montreal Transit Commission (STM)

"When a section of workers is fighting, we must all be there to support them. We are coming out of a long battle at the STM. We managed to get a very good collective agreement but it was a long and difficult struggle. We were negotiating under the law that stole the pension plans of municipal employees. We were also under threat from the legislation which provides that the working conditions of municipal employees can be decreed by the government if it decides that negotiations are going nowhere. There are all kinds of laws now that limit us in our ability to act in defence of the workers. We are here to say that it will not pass."

Worker at CEZinc Plant in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield

"It is our duty to do everything we can to support ABI workers. We ourselves went on strike in 2017 for nine months to protect our pension plan. We managed to protect it but without the support of all the workers it would not have been possible. A march like the one today makes me very optimistic. Together we find ways to support each other against these global corporations."

Workers at Rio Tinto Smelter in Alma

"We all have to help the ABI workers. When we were locked out for six months in 2012, the ABI workers were the first to help us. We are doing the same thing for them today. Without the solidarity of the workers, including internationally when we did our tour in 2012 to gather support for our fight, it would have been difficult to pressure Rio Tinto to sign a collective agreement acceptable to us."

"I find it deplorable that Premier François Legault used his trip to the United States to denounce his own workers as being unreasonable. Going to a foreign country, meeting with the CEO of the American multinational who has been locking out workers in Quebec for more than 16 months, and publicly criticizing our workers is unacceptable and it tells you how far things have gone in Quebec at this time."

Worker from Mining Sector on Quebec's North Shore

"We are about 15 workers from the North Shore here. We have to unite and work together because the attacks are the same everywhere. ABI workers were locked out in the middle of the night when they were close to signing a collective agreement. In 2012, Rio Tinto illegally launched a lockout one day before it had the legal right to do so. In New Brunswick, Glencore also declared a lockout against smelter workers without notice. It's the same pattern that repeats itself everywhere. We have no choice but to stand together against these things."

Videotron Worker from Montreal

"We've been through a lot of lockouts repeatedly during the early 2000s by Québécor with the use of a high number of scabs. We are here to express our solidarity with ABI workers. We know what trials they are facing today. We came to give them our support."

Construction Worker from Montreal

"It is important to be here today to support ABI workers. It is nonsense that they are still locked out after 16 months. They face the will of the ABI management not to settle. At some point the company will have to sit down to settle, to sign a good collective agreement. There are a lot of people here, it is a good thing. We must put pressure on the CAQ government. We have to tell them, 'You know, there was a gathering of 5,000 people in Trois-Rivières. What are you going to do being the government to get the conflict resolved?' This dispute must be settled once and for all. Then we have our Premier who went to Washington to say that workers are making too much money. This government is not assisting the negotiations when it takes the side of the employer. The Quebec Premier even said such things to the CEO of Alcoa. He lost a good opportunity to shut up. The only thing he should have said is that Alcoa should negotiate with its workers."

Steelworker from Hamilton

"For us it is important to be here because we have seen with U.S. Steel the dictate of companies that 'this is what you are going to take.' We feel it is important to stand up to that dictate. We have to show the companies that we are not going to put up with it, that we are supporting these workers. It is important to show the ABI workers that other people know that what is happening to them is wrong. We have got to stand up to these corporations because they all play from the same playbook. We will do whatever we can to support the ABI workers and we really need a strategy to take on these global corporations. It was a long drive to get here, but it is definitely worth it."

Photo Review



1. Read the interview with President Fréchette: "Discussion of the Alcoa/Rio Tinto-Government Dictated Contract and Back-to-Work Protocol at ABI," Workers' Forum, May 16, 2019.

(Photos: WF, Metallos. A. Frechette. Videos: Metallos, USW)

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