Winnipeg Boeing Workers Walk Out

By Katy Leroux and Bob Cantrick, The Militant, Vol.60 no.29, 19 August 1996

WINNIPEG, Canada—On July 11, at one minute past midnight, the 900 members of Canadian Autoworkers Local 2169 went on strike against Boeing Canada, Winnipeg Division. These workers supply Boeing's U.S. plants with substructures for aircraft.

Within minutes after picket lines went up, management tried to move a line of eighteen-wheelers onto company property through the west gate, aided, according to strikers, by half the Winnipeg police force. Refusing offers from picket captains to contact national union officials, the cops waded into the picket line and began beating workers and using pepper spray on them.

A union witness said, They were pushing the people into the van, and then you would continue to see them open the door and launch more pepper spray inside the closed van.

Police prevented ambulances from responding to calls for medical assistance and kept media away from the site. However, a former Boeing worker who remembered the experience of past strikes had brought her video camera and caught dramatic images of the cop attack. National television news picked up a segment of it showing five cops beating and kicking a striker.

Thirteen pickets were initially taken into custody; eleven were charged with causing a disturbance. Zvonko Jovanovic, one of those charged, said, I never swore once, never pushed anyone. The next thing I know, I'm being bulldogged into the ground. James, another striker, explained, It was a classic case of Nazi cops, corporate cops.

The police are conducting an internal investigation. The CAW is calling for a public inquiry.

James also explained one of the main reasons for the strike. It's not a money thing, he said, it's for seniority rights. Boeing wants to hire hundreds of skilled assembly workers who are on layoff from nearby Bristol Aerospace and pay them entry- level wages, thereby avoiding training costs. Boeing workers with years of seniority stand to lose their jobs if denied the opportunity to bid on the assembly positions.

Strikers are also asking for a wage increase and better benefits. The strike update bulletin reports that Boeing projects cornering the lion's share of world-wide aircraft sales, which will amount to US$1.3 trillion over the next decade. Boeing workers in Canada are the lowest paid in the industry, according to the CAW.

As much as a third of the work force is Filipino, a significant proportion is from Poland and other eastern European countries, and almost half the work force is female.

They tell us that Filipinos are stupid, a picketer of Filipino origin told the Militant.

It's my belief that the company hired Filipinos to divide the work force. They thought they'd be less militant. But with them, an injury to one is an injury to all. They're solid, said Dale Walker, Local 2169 financial secretary.

The company has threatened to close the plant and is shipping tooling and unfinished parts to Boeing plants in the U.S. Union officials in Seattle are calling on the membership there to refuse company offers to travel to Canada as replacement workers.

It's a scary thing for me, the possibility of the plant shutting down, said Leslie, a picket captain who has worked at Boeing for eleven years. However, she stressed that no one has crossed the line.

Striker Guy Rehel said Boeing forced the union out on strike. They wanted to see how strong the union is, he said, and pointed with pride to semi-trailer trucks driving by honking in support. They're Teamsters. They won't cross our line, he said. They can't take the union away from us, said Margaretta Dumbovic, it's the only freedom we have!

Workers throughout the city have seen media coverage of the police attack. Militant reporters spoke to railworkers going into the CN Symington yard for the morning shift. Many did not know details of the strikers' demands, but most condemned the police actions.

The July 24 Wall Street Journal reported that Boeing is scrambling to meet [orders] by hiking output to record levels. Workers said that since the company's annual shut-down falls during the last two weeks in July, they will not begin negotiating in earnest until August.

Picketing here continues around the clock, seven days a week.