On the Picket Line

Locked out Quebec aluminum workers reject bosses’ ultimatum

By John Steele
April 1, 2019

After 14 months picket lines remain up at the massive ABI Becancour, Quebec, aluminum smelter after locked-out members of United Steelworkers Local 9700 voted down the latest concessions contract. An overwhelming 82 percent of the strikers voted “no” at a mass union meeting March 11. ABI is owned by Alcoa and Rio Tinto Alcan.

“This offer, if we can call it an offer, was completely ridiculous,” ABI production worker Constant Cote told the Militant by phone March 14. “It would take away our job security. The union wouldn’t be able to defend us.”

“For sure we want a contract but this wasn’t acceptable. Seniority was attacked, the back-to-work protocol and other things in the offer” had to be rejected, said production worker Lissane Corriveau the day after the vote.

The Quebec government has effectively been subsidizing the lockout — forgoing $165 million in 2018 alone — in ABI electric bills owed to government-owned Hydro Quebec. They justify the move by saying the bosses’ lockout is an “Act of God.”

In addition to other drastic cutbacks, the bosses demanded an unprecedented back-to-work protocol lasting 10 months or longer, during which the work of regular employees would continue to be done by managers and contract workers. This would hit the newest workers the hardest since they wouldn’t have work, or pay, and would no longer receive $635 a week union strike benefits.

The company “added new concessions demands in the middle of the conflict and it broke off negotiations three times,” Local 9700 President Clement Masse told the Militant. “Our response came on March 11.”

During the lockout over 400 local unions have made one-off or weekly contributions that help sustain the workers. Local 9700 is well-known over years for its acts of financial solidarity to other striking workers around the province. This solidarity is now being returned.

Send solidarity messages and donations to Metallos SL 9700 F.D.P. Attention Eric Moore, section locale 9700, 8310, rue Desormeaux, Becancour, Quebec G9H 2X2. Credit card donations can also be made at: www.metallos.org/lockout-abi/.