June 23, 2021 - No. 60
Unconscionable Attacks on Striking Exceldor
and Olymel Workers in Quebec
Defend the Dignity and Rights of Slaughterhouse Workers!
• Olymel and Exceldor Workers Demand a New Equilibrium and Refuse to Be Considered Workers Without Rights
- Normand Chouinard
Unconscionable Attacks on Striking Exceldor and Olymel Workers in Quebec
At this time, 1,200 workers at the Olymel pork slaughterhouse in
Vallée-Jonction in the Beauce have been on strike since April
28, and 600 workers at the Exceldor chicken slaughterhouse in
Saint-Anselme, Quebec, have also been on strike since May 23. The
Vallée-Jonction workers report that since 2015 more than 1,800
workers have been hired at Olymel Vallée-Jonction and nearly
1,700 have left their jobs because the wages and working conditions are
so bad. The workers are fighting for wages that they consider
acceptable and that will keep workers at the plant. Many migrant
workers are also employed in these two plants, as is the case in many
meat packing plants in Canada.
workers report that working conditions at the plant are unacceptable,
particularly with regard to their health and safety. Exceldor workers
point out that group insurance is also an issue in their strike, as it
provides a level of financial protection when workers are injured or
become ill and must be absent from work. These workers have been
providing food for the population under the conditions of the pandemic,
often at great risk to their health and lives. Their efforts to
negotiate a new collective agreement and their strike reveal the urgent
need for working conditions that guarantee their safety and that of the
public. The experience of meat processing workers across Canada has
shown that making their voices heard is essential to defending their
rights and in defending lives and it is our duty to help them smash the
silence on their situation and the dictatorial rule that keeps their
conditions from being improved.
Far from showing a whit of concern for the workers, the Quebec and
federal governments do not recognize any of what the workers are saying
or experiencing. Quebec Premier François Legault and his Labour
Minister Jean Boulet can't get a sentence out without talking about
"labour shortages," which they say is one of the main problems with the
economy, and yet they slander these workers who are addressing this problem with their demands and their strike.
The Quebec and federal governments and the media have decreed that
the issue with this strike is "food waste," namely the euthanasia of
chickens that cannot be sent to the slaughterhouse. What kind of
governments pit euthanized chickens against human beings? If they do
not want euthanized chickens then take care of the human beings and
there will be no euthanized chickens. The workers are not the ones
harming the food supply. These workers are considered non-persons who
do not even deserve the most basic things including proper wages,
working conditions and peace of mind and are not allowed to speak out
by fighting for their demands. This shows that the fight of all
humanity today is the fight for the right to be of human beings.
Without this, without the dignity of all human beings, talk of
guaranteeing the food supply or meeting any need of the society in any
way, shape or form means nothing.
The Quebec government has
called for binding arbitration in the dispute at Exceldor, which
workers and the union have refused because it would mean ending their
strike and imposing a non-negotiated settlement. Premier
François Legault said, "Nobody should have the right to waste
such huge amounts of food so foolishly. It's indecent," and he called
on the union to accept arbitration. His Minister of Agriculture,
André Lamontagne, called for "a sense of civic duty" from
workers and the union, adding that they have a "moral responsibility"
to Quebecers. Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said,
"This cannot go on. Frankly, it's intolerable to let food animals be
slaughtered for no purpose," urging the union to accept arbitration.
Attacking those who produce social wealth and deliver services, who feed and protect the
and trying to turn the people against them is criminal. Using the
prerogative powers of government executives and state agencies to
attack and silence workers makes all the problems worse. We have seen
this starkly with the ministerial orders which have been imposed on
health and social services workers in Quebec since March 2020. These
have accelerated the wrecking of the health care system by imposing
untenable conditions on staff and attempting to silence them. The voice
of workers is essential for solving problems, defending their rights
and the rights of all and defending lives. That is what the Exceldor
and Olymel workers are fighting for.
Workers' Forum calls on all workers to step up joint efforts
to denounce the attacks that are being launched by governments, the
media and others against these striking workers and all workers,
especially the most vulnerable who are forced to fend for themselves.
The fight of theslaughterhouse workers is a fight for the rights and dignity of all.
Striking workers from
Olymel Vallée-Jonction join Exceldor workers' picket line, June 2, 2021
Workers at the Olymel pork slaughterhouse in
Vallée-Jonction, Beauce and at the Exceldor chicken slaughterhouse in
Saint-Anselme, Quebec are continuing their strike. The mass media, the government and
organizations such as the Union des producteurs agricoles are
putting pressure on the striking workers that these strikes must end,
without any concern for or addressing the workers' demands for wages
they deem acceptable and improvements in their working conditions,
especially around health and safety.
new theme has recently emerged to increase the pressure -- food waste
caused by the strikes because the break in the slaughter chain requires
the euthanasia of chickens and pigs at the farms where they were raised.
monopoly media are now talking about banning all strikes in
slaughterhouses or severely restricting them by declaring them an
essential service. When a television host asked Minister of Labour Jean
Boulet of Quebec's Coalition Avenir government if it was possible to
declare slaughterhouses an essential service, he said that the idea was
worth discussing, but current labour law in Quebec does not allow it.
The category of essential services in labour law applies only to public
services, he said. He added that companies can, however, argue to the
Administrative Labour Tribunal that their services are akin to
essential services and request a court decision to restrict the strike.
course, governments have a long history of passing special back-to-work
legislation against private sector workers in construction, air and
rail transportation and other sectors, and so passing back-to-work
legislation against these workers is always possible.
Olymel and Exceldor workers went on strike because the conditions in
the industry imposed by the private monopolies are untenable. A new
direction is needed to achieve a new equilibrium for the workers
themselves and the agricultural producers.
Anti-Labour Restructuring of the Industry in the Early 2000s
It should be remembered that the workers at these two plants have
suffered wage reductions of nearly 20 per cent over the last several
years. Olymel workers were the victims of major reorganizations by the
company in the early 2000s.
In 2006, Olymel went after the Vallée Jonction workers
with the help of the government and former Premier Lucien Bouchard, who
acted as mediator. Olymel had carried out a major restructuring of its
operations, closing several plants and demanding concessions from the
workers. It concentrated its greatest efforts at its largest plant, the
in Vallée-Jonction, where workers' resistance to concessions was
the strongest. By defeating the workers at Vallée-Jonction that
year, it was able to continue its anti-worker activities in the years
that followed, up to the present. This has allowed it to run the show
in the agri-food industry in Quebec and to some extent in Canada. It
has grown rapidly through the acquisition of companies operating in
the same field at a cost of several billion dollars, including -- to
name but one -- Agromex and its agricultural facilities, for which it
paid more than $2 billion. These acquisitions have made Olymel one of
the largest agri-food companies in Canada and a relatively major player
in North America, with the acquisition of companies in Ontario, Alberta
and Saskatchewan. The "Quebec model," which was imposed by Olymel,
inspired many similar companies to establish the same pattern. Exceldor
is one of them.
The main characteristics of the "Quebec model" are:
1. Tight control of workers' wages in the regions, either through concessions or through very low wage increases.
2. The use of cheap immigrant labour recruited by agencies in the
big cities and bused directly to the factories in the morning and
evening and even for night shifts.
3. The use of the temporary foreign worker program through international agencies, some of which are owned by these companies.
4. Obtaining government subsidies, such as the recent $150 million
grant from the Quebec government to keep Olymel's head office in Quebec.
5. The development of vertical control of the production chain, from
breeding to the finished product and through to the sale of the
products on the national and international markets.
This "Quebec model" is nothing more than a copy and paste of what
exists in the United States and has nothing to do with developing the
national economy, let alone a nation-building project.
Big agribusiness, taking advantage of this system, has de facto
created several categories of workers in order to further exploit them
and expropriate more of the new value they create. The demand of
Canadian workers is to guarantee the rights of all workers, no matter
where they come from or how the monopolies recruit them.
The struggle of the workers in these two plants is a struggle for
life, for the life of their region and their community, for their
livelihood and for their right to be. It is a categorical stand against
the "Quebec model" of exploitation of workers which divides the workers
and violates their rights, and it is also a call for working class
defend their lives.
processing workers were among the first victims of COVID-19 due to the
working conditions in the slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants. From
the beginning they fought for their right to safety and together they
learned to organize. Now, the claim by the monopolies that agri-food
workers are essential, a claim that was used during
the pandemic to insist on continued production, is being used to
justify the violation of the rights of the workers, including the right
Calls to legislate workers back to work, supposedly to
avoid food waste or food shortages, are unacceptable. Workers are
defending their rights and fighting for an industry organized to meet
the needs of the people and not the narrow private interests of a
Pork and poultry producers who supply the animals for the
slaughterhouses must join with industrial workers to bring an end to
the control of the industry by the oligopolies who rely on
ever-increasing exploitation of the workers. This includes through
human trafficking, which is part of the arrangements that exist today
in all agricultural
sectors. Producers must add their voices to the demand for a guarantee
of food self-sufficiency and a system that guarantees the rights of all
throughout the entire agri-food industry.
This neo-liberal imperialist system is totally bankrupt and inhuman.
The Olymel and Exceldor workers' strikes are a fight for rights and for
lives. These strikes are taking place in the context of untenable
conditions that workers face in the industry throughout North America.
They point the way forward for an agri-food industry independent of
the large supranational monopolies and independent of imperialist
arrangements and monopoly right. This struggle is part of the fight to
transform the situation. In defending their rights the workers are
defending the rights of all. These workers, who have braved the most
difficult working conditions during the pandemic, are showing exemplary
courage that demands our unwavering support.
All Out to Defend the Rights and the Fight of the Olymel and Exceldor
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