Quebec longshore strikers carry out ‘fight for safety’

By Pierre-Luc Filion
August 31, 2020

MONTREAL — Some 1,125 longshore workers — heavy machine operators, signalers, ship handlers, electricians and mechanics at the Port of Montreal — have been on strike here since Aug. 10. They’re fighting against Maritime Employers Association demands to impose unsafe schedules of working 19 days out of every 21.

The workers can be forced to work day, evening or night shift, and are given their work schedule the day before they have to report. Besides the danger to workers of such an exhausting schedule, this wreaks havoc on workers’ families and their lives together.

This important labor battle by the workers and their union — Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 375 — began in December 2018, when their contract expired. Workers voted by 99.5% to strike, but they were blocked when the bosses tried to get the courts to deny them this right by declaring port workers an “essential service.” After months of hearings, the court rejected this argument.

Picket lines are up at the port here and at the port terminal in Contrecoeur, about 40 miles northeast of Montreal. The 150 checkers from Local 1657 of the International Association of Longshoremen-Checkers have also joined the strike.

To add insult to injury, on Aug. 3 the Maritime Employers Association unilaterally reduced premium pay for evening, night, and weekend shifts. 

The port works also face cop harassment. Nine strikers were arrested Aug. 12. They are charged with intimidation, mischief, and assault in relation to a confrontation between longshore workers and provocative management scabs during an earlier four-day strike at the end of July. The cops threaten more arrests may be in the works.

Strike solid, solidarity growing

The mood was upbeat and confident Aug. 10 at the Viau Street port entrance when this Militant  worker-correspondent joined the picket line. A wide range of working people, truck drivers and others honked their horns and waved in support of the strikers as they drove by. One woman stopped her car to thank the strikers for the stand they are taking.

Later in the week dozens of Montreal blue collar city workers, members of CUPE Local 301, joined the picket line in solidarity.

Several Walmart workers, Teamsters union-organized Canadian National rail workers and others have also walked the line in support of the strike. The rail workers had waged their own “strike for safety” last November, challenging scheduling and work hours.

“I came to support them because the strike is like the one we won last November,” said Canadian National train conductor Juan Federico Garcia. “Our strike shows if you stand up you can get something.” 

“The port bosses need to hire more workers, like they also should do at CN, in order for the guys to have regular days off,” Jonathan Chiasson, another CN conductor, added.

Bosses’ associations in Quebec are pushing for government intervention to stop the strike. “The effects of a prolonged strike on Montreal’s and Quebec’s economy will be devastating,” declared Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. “We must act now. We need to impose arbitration and make everyone go back work.” 

The union has rejected any form of compulsory arbitration, explaining it’s stacked against the workers.

The Port of Montreal is the second largest in Canada, next to Vancouver. Ninety percent of all the importers and exporters in Ontario and Quebec use the port. Each day 2,500 trucks from Canada and the United States enter and leave the port, along with 60 to 80 train convoys a week. Some 90,000 cargo containers are now tied up at the port.

It is in the interests of all workers and farmers to support this struggle. Walk the picket line with them. Get your union, church, or community organization to send contributions and messages of solidarity. Send them to Syndicat des debardeurs, 7020 Notre Dame Est, Montreal, Quebec H1N 3L6. Tel: (514) 255-8868. Fax: (514) 255-8211.