BY MICK McDONALD
BURLINGTON, Ontario - "What will it take to win? It will take determination. We expect scabs in the new year. It's going to take a mobilization of workers and unions to stop it." This was how Brian Defreitas, a butcher for six years at Maple Leaf Foods, explained the importance of winning support for the strike from other working people. Defreitas is one of the 900 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who have been on strike here against Maple Leaf Foods meatpacking plant since November 15. The company is demanding cuts in pay and benefits of up to Can$9 (Can$1=US$0.70) an hour.
Maple Leaf is also proposing that, if the strikers sign an agreement, everyone restart their seniority when they return to work. "When we sign the proposed contract it will mean no more seniority rights," said Cheralea Defreitas, a butcher for seven years.
Strikers at the Burlington plant have maintained round-the- clock pickets, including through the holidays. They explain that they've received visits of solidarity from workers at the Ford Oakville assembly plant, and Stelco Steel in Hamilton, as well as teachers who went on strike last fall to protest Bill 160, an education cutbacks bill.
In addition to the Burlington plant, almost 500 workers are locked out at the Maple Leaf plants in Hamilton, Ontario, and North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
Some 900 workers also continue to picket Maple Leaf's Edmonton, Alberta, plant, which was closed down by the company several weeks ago.
The Burlington plant is the most modern of the Maple Leaf facilities. It has the capacity to process 32,000 hogs a week. The company wants to drive down wages and radically restructure jobs and working conditions so that it can wrench bigger profits out of the meatpackers.
This includes cutting vacation time and docking workers' pay if they use more than 20 minutes of bathroom time each week. The company plans, once the strike is over, to add on another shift.
Debbie Bernaski, a laborer with 14 years on the job, told the Militant, "We used to get our boots and freezer coats covered and all benefits covered by the company. Now its 50 percent [of benefits] and only $20 for freezer coats after six months."
Describing the speedup, Bernaski added, "They're giving us two days to adjust to a new job, and if not it's out. They used to give us six days."
"We don't have jobs anymore. We used to have 37.5 hours [work] guaranteed; now it's zero," explained Cheralea Defreitas.
Maple Leaf Foods is striving to become one of the biggest hog processors in Canada. The food giant failed in its most recent bid to buy out pork competitor Schneiders.
Instead, Smithfield Foods, Inc., from Norfolk, Virginia, bought Schneiders.
Mick McDonald is a member of the United Steelworkers of
America Local 5338, and the Young Socialists. Ned Dmytryshyn
contributed to this article.
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