On the Picket Line

‘We are fighting for those to come,’ Quebec co-op strikers say

By Franklin Victor Antonelli
March 21, 2022

JOLIETTE, Quebec — Some 30 workers at the Novago Cooperative here are approaching their sixth month on strike, fighting against the bosses’ demands for pay cuts of 14% to 29%; cuts in sick days, vacation days and paid holidays; unstable work schedules; and for management to be able to hire nonunion workers to do work previously done by union people. They have been on strike since Sept. 30.

Novago was formed in 2018 by the fusion of four smaller cooperatives. It has 400 employees at different locations, providing farmers with agricultural and technical advice services, sales of agricultural products and hardware sales and other services throughout Quebec.

“In the midst of a labor shortage, the employer wants to impose a drastic reduction of $22 to $15 per hour for certain employees, which could push many of us to simply quit our jobs,” said Nicole Lambert, president of the Syndicat des travailleurs et travailleuses de la Coop Lanaudiere CSN. Some of these workers, like Lambert,  have been working at the cooperative for decades.

When this worker-correspondent joined the strike line on Feb. 22, pickets included some with high seniority and others with just two or three years.

The bosses have used intimidation tactics, including closing down of the BMR hardware store that was part of the cooperative Feb. 15, where five union members had worked.

“When they say it wasn’t profitable anymore, we don’t believe them. In a meeting of the members a few days before the shutdown, they said that the retail sector was doing fine,” Lambert told the Militant.

The company has been using scabs to do union clerical work. “With remote work it’s harder to identify the scabs. The anti-scab law isn’t adapted to the current situation anymore,” Lambert said, referring to a 1977 law that was won by Quebec workers through a series of hard-fought strikes.

The Novago workers have received solidarity from a number of unions. On Feb. 22, a busload of CSN-organized workers from the Firestone tire plant in Joliette marched on the picket line. Solidarity has also come from Krueger paper workers and striking Hilton hotel workers from Quebec City.

Both Novago and Hilton Quebec City strikers organized a joint demonstration Feb. 17 in front of the cooperative offices and the BMR hardware outlet in Joliette.

“It warms our heart, even when it’s only two or three people. It pushes us to keep going, even under these hard conditions,” Lambert said. “Our fight isn’t personal, we do it because we must. You have to look back at those that fought for us in the past. They fought so we could have good working conditions, so we have to do the same for those to come.”

At the present time, no negotiations are taking place. The Quebec City Hilton strikers face a similar situation.

Solidarity messages for the Novago strikers can be sent to sttcooplanaudiere@gmail.com.