Canada ILWU dockers set new strike deadline

By Joe Young
July 31, 2023

MONTREAL — Some 7,400 longshore workers on Canada’s West Coast docks, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, were set to go back on strike July 19, after the union’s leadership rejected a tentative deal that had ended a 13-day strike the previous week.

Then the Canada Industrial Relations Board intervened, demanding the union give 72-hours’ notice and instructed workers to go back to work. Hours later the union announced workers would strike on July 22.

“Employers have not addressed the cost-of-living issues that our workers have faced over the last couple of years as all workers have,” Rob Ashton, president of ILWU Canada, told the press. Nor did the contract “protect our jobs now or into the future.”

The four-year proposal, “with today’s uncertain times, is far too long.” The union had proposed a two-year contract.

Twice in the recent past the Liberal Party-led federal government has imposed strikebreaking laws on workers — outlawing strikes by postal workers in 2018 and the longshore union in Montreal in 2021.

The widespread impact of the strike shows the key role the dockworkers who load and offload ships play in production and trade. The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade estimated the strike affected over $9.6 billion of cargo. Among the ports shut down were those in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, the biggest- and third-biggest ports in Canada.

The ILWU raises three key demands: ending the contracting out of maintenance work, protection from job loss due to automation, and wage increases.

The offer the union rejected was for a 5% raise in each of the first two years and 4% for each of the final two years — below the rate of inflation.

The strikers had received widespread solidarity. The ILWU, the main port union on the U.S. West Coast, refused to handle ships bosses tried to divert there. Unions across Canada, and from around the world, pledged support. Longshore union leaders from Australia and New Zealand came and spoke at a Vancouver strike rally of 2,000 July 9.

The Militant will provide reports from the picket line.