Transport workers in Canada gave the bosses and government a chill right down to their executive shoes as labor struggles exploded in mid-March. Since the advent of U.S./Canadian "free-trade" agreements, the workers up north have faced attacks on their jobs and living standards. But this month they showed the power of labor.
As of March 22 over 7,000 railroad workers in Canada are in the fifth day of their national strike against givebacks and layoffs. Meanwhile, 905 dock workers in Montreal, Canada's busiest container port, are also on the picket lines. Members of the Canadian Public Employees union, they have been locked out since March 6.
And 500 members of Longshore and Warehouse Local 514 in Vancouver struck on March 14 and 15 over the issue of jobs and job security.
The Maintenance of Way union called out its members at CN Rail on March 18. Track workers at CP Rail were already on the picket lines--management had locked them out on March 8.
The CN/CP shutdown has had a major impact on the transportation of Canadian exports, a growing mainstay of the Canadian capitalist economy. Union Vice President Gary Housche says solidarity from railway workers represented by the Canadian Auto Workers has been key.
"For example," he said, "in Winnipeg pickets were stationed at only one of three entrances to a CP facility, but CAW members declined to use the two open ones and respected the BMWE pickets as a symbolic gesture."
So far, efforts to pass a back-to-work order in Parliament have failed.
In Montreal, CPE's Louis Cauchy told Workers World the bosses are sending ships to other cities to keep the dockers locked out. The union is negotiating through a government-appointed mediator while longshore workers keep walking picket lines.
In Vancouver, 3,000 longshore workers honored striking supervisors' picket lines. That effectively shut down the port and put the Waterfront Foremen Employers Association in a frenzy. Unable to break the strike and faced with losses of tons of cargo, the bosses called in the Canadian government to order a return to work.
Longshore Local 514's Howie Smith told Workers World his members went back on March 16. But they're still fighting for job security--an issue, he said, that "everyone on every waterfront in the world is facing."
Smith says the Canadian strike wave reminds workers on both sides of the border of the truth: "They've been bullshitting Americans and Canadians that there's a middle class. But we're all in the working class if a boss signs our paycheck."
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