PORT-CARTIER, Quebec — More than 2,500 iron ore miners, processing, rail and office workers here and in Fermont, members of United Steelworkers Locals 5778, 6869, 8664, 7401 and 7401-FP, have been on strike against ArcelorMittal since May 10. The company is the largest steel company in the world and biggest private employer on Quebec’s North Shore.
Fermont, where the mine is located, is a town of less than 3,000 in Quebec’s far north, where temperatures are similar to Siberia. Port-Cartier, a port town of just under 7,000, lies on the St. Lawrence River mouth, from where the ore is shipped to steel mills along the Great Lakes. Both Port-Cartier and Fermont were developed by the steel bosses for their profit, and conditions of life in Fermont are particularly difficult.
The question of schedules is a major question for the strikers. “No to 7/7, We want a schedule for families here,” was one of the most popular hand-written slogans on the strike signs this reporter saw on picket lines. The company wants to be able to fly workers into work seven days a week, and then fly them out for the next seven.
Prices of iron ore, an important ingredient in making steel, have risen, and workers are demanding improvements in their contract.
Key issues are wage increases, improved pensions, higher premiums paid to workers in remote locations and better working conditions. The union says the bosses have broken promises made in 2017, which has deepened the bitterness of union members, particularly on health, cleanliness and issues related to work camps and food services.
Union representatives met with the company May 20 for the first time since the strike began. “The meeting this afternoon allowed us to see that there is no basis for an agreement possible at this time,” Nicolas Lapierre, United Steelworkers coordinator for the North Shore, said in a statement on the Quebec Steelworkers website.
“I support the guys in their strike. For me it is important to fight for good working conditions and prevent abuses by the big companies,” 19-year-old Marc-Antoine Fortin, marching on the picket line May 14 in solidarity with his striking father, told the Militant.
“There’s a real movement of solidarity among workers here,” said production operator Johanne Proulx. She said that in response to one of the picket signs saying “Honk,” many people in cars and trucks passing by did so as they drove by on Highway 138, the North Shore’s only route along the St. Lawrence River.
On May 20 members of Steelworkers Local 9344 from the Iron Ore Company of Canada in Sept-Iles joined the picket line here, bringing a check for 5,000 Canadian dollars ($4,150) and a pledge to start giving CA$10 per member per month for the duration of the strike.
Strikers also received a CA$25,000 donation from Steelworkers Local 9996, which represents workers at the Quebec Iron Ore Company mine at Lake Bloom, only 10 miles from Fermont. “We are now in negotiations ourselves, and several of the realities raised by our brothers and sisters are also ours,” Local 9996 President Yves Lapierre explained in a statement on the Quebec Steelworkers website. “We share the same Fermont way of life. For us it is a duty to be there when our brothers and sisters need it.”
Over 150 people turned out to support the strikers May 21, marching to the company offices in Longueuil, near Montreal. In addition to several strikers from the North Shore, there were steelworkers from throughout Quebec — including from Gaspesie, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Sorel and Trois Rivieres. Others came from different unions, like Unifor Local 121 members locked-out by Shell Canada since November 2020.
To support the ArcelorMittal strikers send messages and checks to: Syndicat des Metallos, 737 Boulevard Laure, Bureau 200, Sept-Iles, QC G4R 1Y2, Canada.
Michel Dugré contributed to this article.