Back iron ore workers strike in north Quebec

By Beverly Bernardo
June 14, 2021

MONTREAL — More than 2,500 iron ore miners and processing, rail and office workers in Port-Cartier and Fermont, Quebec, members of the United Steelworkers union, have been on strike against ArcelorMittal since May 10. The strike has important implications for miners and steelworkers across Canada and North America.

Mont-Wright and Fire Lake, the company’s two mines in that area, are located near Fermont, a town of less than 3,000 created for the mineworkers in Quebec’s far north. They operate around the clock all year long, employing over 1,000 workers.

In 1957 Quebec Cartier bosses established the town of Gagnon to the south of Fire Lake to mine iron ore. When the price of iron ore collapsed during the recession of the early 1980s, and it became more difficult to extract ore there, the company closed the town, forcing 3,500 workers, family and other residents to leave. ArcelorMittal bought Quebec Cartier in 2006 and started up the mine in Fire Lake again.

Since the strike began there have been three marches through the streets in Fermont, the latest May 27, to show the miners’ spirit and to build solidarity. Several hundred marched to Beausejour Park May 18, where Local 5778 President Karine Sénéchal described the main question in the strike. “Yes, the question of money is involved,” she said, “but equally there is also the question of respect.”

ArcelorMittal is the largest steel company in the world and biggest private employer on Quebec’s North Shore. In addition to respect, the key issues are wage increases, improved pensions, higher premiums paid to workers in remote locations like Fermont, and better working conditions. The union says the bosses reneged on promises they made to workers in 2017, particularly on health, cleanliness and issues related to work camps and food services. This has made workers more determined.

United Steelworkers Local 6887, which represents 359 copper refinery workers at Glencore in Montreal’s east end, announced May 27 that it will send a donation of 1,000 Canadian dollars ($830) every month to the North Shore strikers. “We also work for a multinational in the resources sector. It takes courage and solidarity to stand up to them,” Local 6887 President Stephane Coté told the media. “That makes it even more important to support our brothers and sisters in that context.”

A number of other Steelworkers locals in Quebec are giving similar support.

The North Shore Steelworkers have also gotten support from fellow unionists in Brazil and France. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) in France, with more than a million and a half members, sent solidarity. There are more than 71,000 workers at ArcelorMittal in Europe, including in France.

“The company has made profits, but it wants to negotiate downwards. This is unacceptable,” Christophe Latrasse, secretary general of CGT Local Romilly Nogent told Trait d’Union, Fermont’s online newspaper. “We give our support to the comrades in the Steelworkers union in their fight which we hope will be victorious.”

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