“Those unions that enjoy the right to strike have no guarantee that sacrificing their jobs and their livelihood will result in victory but they nevertheless engage in lengthy strikes, not because they are assured of winning but because they are determined to fight”—William Burrus, 1998
Montreal prides itself as burgeoning national and international socio-cultural and economic hub. Many cultural events such as the International Jazz Festival overpass widely Québec’s borders, and cultural heritage places such as Vieux-Montréal and the Vieux-Port (Old Port), concentrating a large number of museums, cultural organizations and services, receive millions of tourists from all over the world.
Nonetheless, the situation is quite different for those who are involved in the functioning of the Vieux-Port and its service activities. The workers of the Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal (SVPM) are currently experiencing severe precarious conditions, with low two-tier income wages in addition to lock-out threats and court injunctions to ban workers from protesting on site, among other measures of extortion. According, to Jacques Fontaine, one of the 300 workers that was interviewed by Rank and File, “the company used false claims to get that injunction. Now the union is taking the head of security to court for making these false claims, which were the basis of the court injunctions”. Ironically, the origin of the workers’ despair comes from a Crown Corporation, the Canada Lands Company (CLC), which owns SVPM. This Toronto-based company is currently applying its federal jurisdiction to impose the use of scab workers, despite this fact being forbidden in Québec. According to its website, the main goal of CLC is “to acquire properties with a high potential for surplus, in order to develop real estate projects”. This would define this organization as a public agency for promoting land speculation, which coincides with the opinion of the striking workers, who stated that “CLC has very deep pockets, as it plans to obtain $ 180 million in profits during the period 2015-2020 (..) rather than tackling the insecurity experienced by its staff, management of the Old Port / Canada Lands instead hired strike-breakers (scabs) to continue to earn the revenues provided by the parking lots and the events held by private dealers”.
However, the response of the workers has been bold. Since May 27th, 300 unionized (Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC Local 10333) employees of the Old Port of Montreal have been on strike, with a strong 80% mandate, when they received an unsatisfactory response from SVPM to their demands: i) to increase their wage from the current level of $10.67 (representing 16% less than Quebec’s minimum wage), beyond the 9.5% increase over 4 years proposed by the employer, ii) to reduce the existing wage gap with other workers occupying similar positions in the city of Montreal, and iii) to provide paid sick days for the 2/3 of employees who now do not have any. Throughout this period, SVPM has not entered into negotiations, and instead just made the same offer three times, which reinforces workers’ determination to continue their strike.
The workers of the Vieux-Port feel they are comparatively discriminated in comparison to other workers of the city, who perceive a higher salary for similar jobs (Fig. 1). On the other hand, SVPM established a two-tier hiring system, which constitutes “a
deliberate strategy of the employer (to) ensure that the starting salary of new employees does not follow the increase in inflation”, as it has been depicted in the following graph (Fig. 2) extracted from the campaign’s website: vieuxportengreve.info.
In this struggle, PSAC Local 10333 workers have been well accompanied by Montreal’s citizens and workers, including city and postal workers, immigrants, student unions and other locals. However, the action from the federal Liberal government has been almost inexistent, as Fontaine stated in his Rank and File interview: “We have had no support or response. We met our local Liberal MP, Mark Miller, but nothing has happened. We have tried to meet the Heritage minister, Mélanie Joly, and the minister responsible for Canada Lands Company, the Public Services & Procurement minister Judy Foot, but neither has responded. The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is also a local MP and he too has not met us·.
Amidst these circumstances, the ongoing four-month strike of the workers of Montreal’s Old Port is a bold move to improve their working conditions and to prevent further damage (given that their employer had previously threatened them with locking them out during the upcoming season). Furthermore, it is during the strikes that workers strengthen their struggles, set the context for enhanced working conditions and reinforce the unity among themselves and other unions, by establishing a long lasting solidarity and extracting inspiring lessons for future strike processes.Finally, we would like to conclude with the following statement by Jacques Fontaine, which clearly summarises the goals and mood held by the workers of the Old Port of Montreal:
This is one of the first strikes in Canada of workers fighting for a $15 minimum wage, so it is of national importance.
We would ask activists and union members across Canada to help by:
- Building the fight for $15 in other areas will greatly help our struggle. This is a key issue for all the working class.
- Sending messages of support to PSAC Local 10333 – Old Port Workers of Montreal, O. BOX 116, Succursale Place D’Armes, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 3H8.
- We would welcome financial support (cheques made payable to Syndicat des employés de la Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal, at above address).
- Sending letters to Prime Minister Trudeau (firstname.lastname@example.org) urging the government of Canada to intervene in support of the workers of the Old Port of Montreal.