Canada longshore union strikes over jobs, work conditions

By Katy LeRougetel
July 17, 2023

MONTREAL — Some 7,400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada set up picket lines, halting maritime traffic at over 30 ports on Canada’s west coast July 1. Bosses are demanding the government intervene and impose back-to-work legislation to break the strike.

“Our fight is about defending our jobs, about automation and against contracting out,” ILWU member Tina Brooks told the Militant at the picket line on the Neptune terminal in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The federal government recently approved a plan to increase Vancouver’s container capacity by nearly 50%. A 3.5 billion Canadian dollar ($2.6 billion) semi-automated container terminal is to be built near the Vancouver suburb of Delta. This will pave the way for further automation and likely job cuts and speedup.

The union is also seeking a wage increase to protect longshore workers from rising prices.

“Tell your co-workers that their support is important,” said Don Macleod, who has worked on the docks for 37 years.

“A few years ago, we went to Seattle to support the hotel workers who were on strike and to support the Service Employees International Union in their fight,” he said.

Safety on the job is a constant concern. Strikers told Militant reporters how maintenance worker Dan Alder died after going into medical distress at the top of a crane last December. The elevator wasn’t working, forcing responders to climb 23 flights and to improvise a way to get him down.

During the pandemic, “our people had to go to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week in unsafe conditions,” Rob Ashton, president of ILWU Canada, said. “Employers gorged themselves on record profits. The federal government must stay out of our business.”

Bosses call for gov’t to break strike

Over CA$800 million in goods from lumber to automobiles to seafood pass through these ports daily. Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, and the gateway to markets in Asia for Canadian bosses.

“The federal government will have no choice but to introduce a back-to-work legislation if this continues,” said Jasmin Guenette, Canadian Federation of Independent Business vice president.

In 2021, the government enacted back-to-work legislation against 1,150 striking Montreal dockers who were fighting against schedules forcing them to work 19 days straight out of 21.

Solidarity is especially important in the face of the threat of more government intervention. Members of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union locals 517 and 580 carried their union flags on the picket line in Vancouver July 2. And the ILWU website displays letters of support from maritime unions in Ivory Coast, Japan, New Zealand and other countries.

“Unions across Canada and internationally should oppose any attempt by Ottawa to impose back-to-work legislation,” said Félix Vincent Ardea, a member of the Communist League in Montreal. “The BC port workers fight is in the interests of all working people.”

Ned Dmytryshyn in Vancouver contributed to this article.