Quebec iron ore workers strike against attacks by ArcelorMittal

By Beverly Bernardo
May 31, 2021
Striking steelworkers rally May 12 in Port-Cartier, Quebec, against “final” contract demands by ArcelorMittal. Strikers include 2,500 iron ore miners, processing, rail and office workers.
Krystelle Levesque-LeclercStriking steelworkers rally May 12 in Port-Cartier, Quebec, against “final” contract demands by ArcelorMittal. Strikers include 2,500 iron ore miners, processing, rail and office workers.

PORT-CARTIER, Quebec — After rejecting ArcelorMittal’s “final” offer, 2,500 iron ore miners and processing, rail, and office workers here and in Fermont went on strike May 10.

“The stakes in our strike include wages, medical premiums, the retirement fund and working conditions,” Krystelle Levesque-Leclerc, a production worker in the pelletizing plant and a member of United Steelworkers Local 8664, told the Militant  on the picket line May 13. “We have been without a contract since Feb. 28.”

The workers, members of five Steelworkers union locals, had earlier rejected a tentative agreement between the union and the company. Bosses had pressed to make wages dependent on the price of iron.

Iron ore prices have reached record highs. “We have to fight while the iron is high” and “You take our wealth, we want our piece of the cake” were two of the handwritten signs at the three picket lines this reporter visited May 13-14.

‘Right to be respected’

“Our predecessors fought for us to have the right to be respected by the big capitalist companies. And that’s why we need to continue to defend ourselves,” Francis Gallant, a heavy-machinery operator, told the Militant  on the picket line at the Wagon Workshop May 14.

“When times are tough for the company, they call us their partners, but when they’re making a lot of money, they say we’re just workers,” Local 8664 Vice President Denis Tanguay told the Militant  at the union office.

ArcelorMittal, the largest private employer on Quebec’s North Shore, obtained an injunction May 13, valid until May 25, limiting the number of pickets to 30 at the pelletizing plant and ordering strikers not to block entry to the company’s property.

In a further attack on the workers’ right to strike, nine tickets were issued against strikers in Fermont and five more here in Port-Cartier May 12 for violating the Quebec government’s 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew enforced under the pretext of stopping the spread of COVID-19. The workers had letters from their local union presidents authorizing them to be on the line.

“It is ironic that our members could go to work at night without any problem while it was a question of making profits for the multinational, but they are fined when they exercise their completely legal right to strike,” said Steelworkers Quebec Director Dominic Lemieux. The union will challenge these fines in court.

The strikers are receiving solidarity.

“Our union is organizing for us to go to the picket line next week,” said Remi Fortin, a member of Steelworkers Local 5254 at SFP Pointe-Noire, when this Militant  reporter knocked on his door in nearby Sept-Iles.

Members of Steelworkers locals at ArcelorMittal in Monteregie and Montreal will send regular payments to support the strike. Steelworkers Local 5795 at the Iron Ore Company of Canada will contribute a dollar a week per member, returning the solidarity they received during their nine-week strike in 2018. The striking workers’ union is encouraging supporters to visit the picket lines — with coffee and donuts.

To support the ArcelorMittal strikers, send messages and checks to: Syndicat des Metallos, 737 Boulevard Laure, Bureau 200, Sept-Iles QC G4R 1Y2, Canada.