“Do they really think these threats are going to work?” asked Iqbal Grewal, a trucker for 15 years. “We have the right to strike and to protest,” he told the Militant.
Grewal, a nonunion trucker, pointed out that the British Columbia government has used back-to-work legislation in the past against striking teachers and health care workers, a number of whom were at the rally in solidarity with the truckers. Representatives from the B.C. Federation of Labour, telephone and electrical workers and several other unions also took part.
The strike by some 1,500 truckers has substantially reduced shipments from Canada’s largest port, which processes more than $170 billion worth of goods each year. The majority of the truckers are of Punjabi descent.
Roughly 1,200 nonunion truckers affiliated with the United Truckers Association and about 250 union truckers organized by the Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association are part of the fight. About 60 percent of Unifor members are also members of the United Truckers Association, according to UTA representative Manny Dhillon. There are owner-operators and truckers who drive company-owned rigs in both organizations.
The nonunion truckers walked off the job Feb. 26. Union members joined the strike March 10.“In this day and age a lot of people think of themselves first,” said Charlie Mann, a former dispatcher who has been a trucker for less than a year. “Here union and nonunion are united. It makes us very strong.”
“It’s impossible to live on what we make,” said Mann. “This is because of low container rates, unpaid waiting times and rising costs for fuel, insurance, maintenance and fees, all of which we pay for ourselves.”
“Rates, licensing, wait times, any concerns truckers have will only take place once truckers go back to work,” said Transportation Minister Todd Stone prior to the March 21 rally.
Courts have already imposed injunctions against picketing at the port and at CN Railway’s container yards. The government introduced back-to-work legislation March 24. If passed, it would impose $10,000 daily fines on the union for as long as the strike continues and $400 on each striker. Meanwhile, Port Metro Vancouver authorities announced they have begun suspending licenses and permits of striking truckers.
Vancouver Port Authority officials say that as many as 40 percent of truckers are returning to work under the threats. But truckers’ representatives say the claims are exaggerated.
“We are not going back to work,” said Raj Dhami, a nonunion trucker. “We are staying on the picket lines.”
Mike Barker contributed to this article.
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