More than 1,500 food processing workers strike at two factories in Quebec
The 600 workers at the Exceldor chicken processing plant in Saint-Anselme, a town fifty kilometers south of Quebec, have been on strike since May 23.
The workers, without a contract since last July, rejected an offer from Exceldor by 88% in early May. At the same time, they voted 95 percent in favor of the strike. On May 23, they rejected a second corporate offer at 78% and the strike began at 2 p.m. the same day.
According to Exceldor, her latest offer contained an 18% pay hike over six years, as opposed to the 40% pay hike over six years she is asking for from the 1991-P local union of the United Workers of the United States. food and trade (TUAC).
A worker told the World Socialist Website that workers’ demands relate not only to wages, but also to working conditions, including vacations and group insurance. He also reported that the union has not taken a position on Exceldor’s two contract offers, adding that workers have been kept in the dark about the progress of negotiations throughout.
Exceldor, which promotes itself as a farmer-owned “cooperative”, is one of the largest poultry processors in Canada. Following a merger with Granny’s in 2019, Exceldor employs nearly 3,500 people in facilities in Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The company generates sales of around $ 1 billion per year.
Like the rest of the food processing industry, Exceldor has prioritized profits over human lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping its employees at work in unsafe factories. This resulted in outbreaks in Saint-Anselme in November 2020 (at least 8 cases reported) and in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec in April 2020 (at least 23 cases reported). At its Blumenort, Manitoba abattoir, the largest of its kind in that province with 650 employees, at least 52 employees contracted the virus and 2 have died.
With each epidemic, Exceldor, with the complicity of public health authorities and unions, has launched bogus “mass testing” campaigns to keep its factories open and blamed the workers themselves by claiming, without evidence, that the workers. outbreaks were the result of “community transmission”, meaning that infected workers contracted the virus outside of the factory.
In Vallée-Jonction in Beauce, less than 40 km from the Exceldor plant, 1,100 workers at an Olymel pork slaughtering and processing plant are continuing the strike they started more than six years ago. weeks April 28.
Workers are calling for a catch-up in wages after two rotten agreements negotiated in 2007 and 2015 by the Olymel Vallée-Jonction Workers Union (STOVJ), affiliated with the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), led to wage cuts in real terms of 40%.
In a May 15 bargaining session overseen by a conciliator appointed by the Quebec government, Olymel presented a contract offer that the union said contained “appalling setbacks.” The company, which made $ 234 million in profits in 2020, says it can’t offer more if it is to stay “competitive.”
In response, the STOVJ sought to sow the illusion among workers that they can advance their interests by advocating with the company and the right-wing Quebec government of François Legault, a former multi-millionaire CEO who regularly speaks out in favor of the direction of the work of disputes. In fact, on May 18, the Quebec government of the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) gave Olymel $ 150 million in the form of an “investment”, without demanding anything in return on the conditions of the workers.
On May 21, the union organized a demonstration in the streets of Vallée-Jonction in which around 250 workers participated. The route taken by the strikers took them to the homes of some factory managers. On this occasion, the president of STOVJ Martin Maurice summed up the union’s tactics by declaring: “We want to have the respect of the employer and that is why we are here. We want them to listen to us.
Such calls are futile. The ruling class intends to make the working class pay for the hundreds of billions of dollars the state funneled to banks, big business and wealthy investors under the guise of “bailouts” at the start of the pandemic. The struggle of the workers of Olymel and Exceldor takes place against the backdrop of a global attack by big companies on jobs, wages and working conditions.
The ruling class and its political lackeys fully support Olymel and Exceldor. They are aware that in the midst of an upsurge in class struggle across Canada and internationally, a seemingly local and limited conflict could help trigger a social explosion. Thus, they are using pro-capitalist unions to handcuff workers and contain their struggle within the framework of pro-employer labor laws and a bogus “collective bargaining” process.
To intensify the pressure on workers, the corporate media produced a multitude of reports accusing them of the harmful “consequences” of the food processing strikes. Many articles, for example, lament a possible shortage of chickens in newly reopened restaurants in Quebec and the apparent need to euthanize thousands of chickens that currently cannot be slaughtered at the striking Saint-Anselme plant. This paved the way for Exceldor’s executives to demand that the Quebec government pass an “emergency law” criminalizing strikes and ordering workers to immediately return to work.
With the unreserved support of Legault and the big business of Quebec, the federal Liberal government recently passed back-to-work legislation to end the Port of Montreal dockers’ strike, and the CAQ government threatened to ban in the same way the actions of the construction of the province. and public sector workers, whose collective agreements have expired.
To assert their just demands and prevail against the threat of the CAQ government intervening to criminalize their strikes, the workers of Olymel and Exceldor must join forces and expand their struggle. It is a necessity that they are increasingly aware of. On June 2, striking Olymel workers visited Exceldor workers on their picket lines, in an act of solidarity that a worker called a “surprise visit.”
The STOVJ and the TUAC, as well as the union federations to which they are respectively affiliated, the CSN and the Fédération du travail du Québec (FTQ), have done almost nothing to publicize this elementary act of class solidarity. Indeed, although limited, joint action has been a challenge to their decades-long efforts to isolate and undermine workers’ struggles, while continuing “social dialogue” with big business and the state.
STOVJ only briefly mentioned the event on its Facebook page. However, on the same day, June 2, the STOVJ and the CSN organized a high-profile demonstration by Olymel workers in Quebec. Its purpose was not to mobilize the independent and unified force of workers against the assault of big business on wages, jobs and working conditions. Rather, it aimed to politically lull workers to sleep, by begging the Legault government in vain to withdraw from its plan to pass a law (Bill 59) that undermines occupational health and safety in the coming days.
In opposition to the strategy of demobilization and division put forward by the pro-capitalist unions and in order to take their struggle in hand, the Quebec food processing strikers must form grassroots committees in their respective factories.
Such combat corps must be entirely independent of the trade union apparatuses and of the major political parties. They will allow strikers from Olymel and Exceldor to connect with their brothers and sisters across North America where militant struggles multiply, especially among Vale miners in Sudbury, Ontario, and workers. of Volvo in Dublin, Virginia. This will facilitate the exchange of information, the organization of solidarity actions and the development of a workers ‘counter-offensive against all concessions, the acceleration, the dismantling of public services and the criminalization of workers’ struggles.