Locked-out Rolls-Royce workers in Montreal rally, win solidarity

By Philippe Tessier
July 18, 2022
Frédéric Labelle, president of Montreal local of CSN workers locked out by Rolls-Royce, speaks to unionists outside Montreal courthouse June 22, the day after bosses fired him.
Confederation of National Trade UnionsFrédéric Labelle, president of Montreal local of CSN workers locked out by Rolls-Royce, speaks to unionists outside Montreal courthouse June 22, the day after bosses fired him.

MONTREAL — A festive yet determined barbecue was held here June 29 to show solidarity with 530 engine repair workers locked out by Rolls-Royce bosses and with 300 striking bakery workers at Bridor on the south shore. Both are organized by the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN).

On June 21 Rolls-Royce bosses announced they had fired Frédéric Labelle, president of the Montreal local.

That same day over 11,000 Unite union members at Rolls-Royce in the United Kingdom rejected a revised 4% wage increase and 2,000 pound ($2,420) one-time bonus contract offer by the bosses. The employers claimed the bonus would offset inflation. “The revised offer still falls a long way short of the cost-of-living crisis claim submitted by our members and their expectations,” said the union. Flags of Unite could be seen on workers’ handmade signs in Montreal.

“This attempt to fire me is a frame-up,” Labelle told hundreds of unionists from Rolls-Royce, Bridor, and elsewhere at the barbecue and rally near the company gates. “They will not be able to break us. We can feel here that an injury to one is an injury to all.”

This new attack against the union comes after four months on the picket lines. “Rolls-Royce’s firing our union president is part of their attempts to demoralize us and break our strike,” Tom Larin, an inspector in the plant, told the Militant. “It won’t work. It makes us more determined to fight than ever. The solidarity from other unions helps a lot.”

The workers were locked out March 15 as they were taking a strike vote, which passed by 94%. The contract expired in March 2020.

The company is trying to get rid of the defined benefit pension plan that covers most workers in the plant. Workers hired after 2013 are under a defined contribution plan, which is what the company wants to impose on all workers. The union demands the defined benefit plan.

“Our fight for pensions is a fight for all aerospace workers, for all workers in Quebec and for all Rolls-Royce workers around the world,” Labelle told the rally. “We are facing the same attacks as they do on the other side of the planet.”

A delegation came from CSN locals in the Quebec City region, including construction workers, bus drivers and health care workers. They brought financial contributions to both Rolls-Royce and Bridor fighters.

“In the plant before we went out we did not have this solidarity. After over three months, I’m proud to see we are all here,” said Eric Mailloux, a fitter for 22 years.

A spirited delegation from the strikers at Bridor was hailed by all speakers. “It’s our 11th week on strike. We go from one union to another to make us stronger,” Claude Carriere, an operator-fitter there for 21 years, told the Militant.

In both battles workers are demanding higher wages to offset skyrocketing prices. Canada’s official inflation rate for May was 7.7%. Bridor bosses offered 2.5% a year and Rolls-Royce 17% over seven years.

“The firing of Labelle is an attack on the union and on workers’ rights,” Katy LeRougetel, Communist League candidate in the provincial elections and a worker at another Bridor plant in Montreal and member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, told workers at the barbecue. “I will use my campaign to urge working people and their unions to support this fight.”

The CSN has launched a campaign to raise funds for the Rolls-Royce unionists. Contribute at www.csn.qc.ca/actualites/en-lutte-pour-lequite-et-la-justice.