July 25, 2021

2,500 workers at steel giant ArcelorMittal are on strike in Quebec’s Côte-Nord region

2,500 ArcelorMittal workers in Côte-Nord, Quebec, have been on strike since May 10. The strikers, mining, port, railway and office workers belonging to the Luxembourg-based multinational, are represented by 5 local sections of the Steelworkers Union, affiliated with the Quebec Workers Federation (FTQ) , the largest central labor union in Quebec with more than 600,000 members.

The strike follows the unequivocal rejection of a “final and comprehensive” offer presented on May 7 by ArcelorMittal. The workers voted against this offer in percentages varying from 97% to 99%.

The union negotiating committees had recommended that the offer be rejected. But it was only under the pressure of the members of the base who had overwhelmingly rejected on May 1, barely 10 days before, an agreement in principle negotiated by the Steelworkers. The union had recommended to its members to vote in favor of this agreement in principle, yet inferior to the offer rejected on May 10.

Details of the content of the offers remain unknown. According to ArcelorMittal, the agreement in principle supported by the Steelworkers provided for wage increases of 12% over 4 years, which is at best a freeze on real wages given inflation and the rising cost of living. For the rest, the union has confined itself to declaring that the elements “at stake” in the negotiations include working conditions, including pensions and insurance, bonuses and working hours.

In 2017, workers voted 83% in favor of a new four-year collective agreement. The contract contained salary increases varying from 2.2% to 3% per year and the maintenance of defined benefit pension plans, which the employer wanted to transform into defined contribution plans (without guaranteed pension at retirement). The regional coordinator for the United Steelworkers, Nicolas Lapierre, declared at the time that the new collective agreement was a great victory: “The climate of trust has been restored. We’re leaving for four years. The agreement in principle is clearly satisfactory. ”

Now, as the rejection of the offers and the anger of the workers demonstrate that the 2017 deal was, in fact, not a victory, the same bureaucrats are reduced to arguing that the poor conditions of the workers are the result. “Promises made [par ArcelorMittal] during the 2017 negotiations [qui sont] remained without continuation ”. The Steelworkers, however, did not see fit to explain why these promises were not included in the collective agreement, or if they were, why the union did not enforce them.

ArcelorMittal workers must learn from these experiences: they cannot reverse the attacks on their working conditions by leaving a pro-capitalist union begging for “good” crumbs on their behalf. They have enormous potential power and the objective conditions are ripe to broaden their struggle and turn it into the spearhead of an entire working class counterattack to push through jobs, wages, pensions and conditions. of work before the frantic pursuit of profit.

Former head office of ArcelorMittal in Luxembourg (Source: Wikipedia)

In 2016, ArcelorMittal invoked the price of iron ore of less than $ 60 per tonne to demand concessions, cancel planned investments on the North Shore and threaten to end its operations fifteen years earlier than planned. Today, iron ore is worth more than three times what it was then, reaching all-time highs of over $ 193 a tonne. This does not prevent the company from still asking workers to be “reasonable”, that is to say not to raise any claim that could infringe on profits.

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