The Militant (logo)  
Vol.63/No.36       October 18, 1999  
 
 
Socialist meatpackers discuss working-class resistance to attacks by bosses in Canada  
 
 
BY JOE YOUNG 
MONTREAL Members of the Communist League in Canada who work in plants organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) met in Toronto September 1819. The meeting registered the establishment of a fraction of communist workers based in hog cut-and-kill operations in the Toronto region and south of Montreal.

Last January, the Central Committee of the CL decided that League members should seek work in red meat plants organized by the UFCW as part of responding to the growing resistance of workers in this industry to massive attacks by the employers. Over the past two years, there have been a series of strikes in meatpacking in response to the bosses' attempts to gut wages and working conditions.

After long, hard fought strikes, companies such as Maple Leaf Foods, Fletcher's Fine Foods, and Quality Meat Packers succeeded in imposing wage cuts of up to 40 percent. At Quality Meats, the standard work day is now 10 hours and the workweek 50 hours.

Participants in the meeting described increasing rates of production, which are leading to a growing number of accidents and repetitive motion injuries. Chris Cournoyeur, who gave the main report to the meeting, described how a young probationary worker in one plant was sent to work on a saw without adequate training. When he lost two fingers, the company sent him to the hospital in a taxi instead of calling an ambulance.

Workers resist these conditions on a daily basis, at times facing disciplinary measures for stopping the line when conditions become unbearable. Cournoyeur underlined the importance of workers fighting for the unions to take the lead in defending health and safety. He referred to pages 133-134 in the book Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium by Jack Barnes. The passage reads, "Labor must convince broad layers of the population as a whole that it is the working-class movement above all that cares about these questions. We must be able to assert with complete confidence and integrity that the stronger and more militant the union, the safer the operations of the industry, whatever it might be."

The meeting took the position that the UFCW should oppose Bill C-80 entitled "Canada Food Safety and Inspection Act." This proposed law would reduce the number of government inspections, and give the companies more power to supposedly police themselves, increasing the danger of food poisoning.

A major theme of the meeting was campaigning to place Capitalism's World Disorder in bookstores and libraries where workers and farmers get their books. Cournoyeur described how he participated in a team that visited a strike of woodworkers in Durham, Ontario. One of the strikers bought a copy of Capitalism's World Disorder as well as Women's Evolution by Evelyn Reed. Her husband is a beef farmer. John Steele, reported that one of his co-workers came to the Pathfinder bookstore in Toronto after a union meeting and borrowed a copy of Capitalism's World Disorder to look at.

Joe Young, who works in a packing plant near Montreal, gave a supplementary report to the meeting describing efforts to reach out to workers and farmers in the regions of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Granby. One bookstore at St. Jean expressed interest in titles by Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara because they had had requests for books by him. As part of reaching out to workers on strike against the Hydro Quebec power utility, a team was told about a chain of bookstores in the Valleyfied region. The chain took an initial order of Capitalism's World Disorder and three other books. In addition, a young farmer in that region bought a subscription to the Militant.

Communist workers who work in red meat have a particular responsibility in helping to build an alliance between workers and farmers against the capitalists and their governments, Young said. Family pork farmers in the Granby region face very difficult conditions because of low hog prices, for instance. One expressed interest in meeting young Cubans when they visit Canada next February. The socialist meat packers voted to participate in a team which will meet with farmers in Saskatchewan in October and help place Capitalism's World Disorder in bookstores and libraries they suggest.

Steele reported on the recent merger of UFCW Local 743 at Quality Meats with locals 175 and 633. This merger combines the retail workers' sector of the UFCW with the meatpacking and related industry sector to form an Ontario-wide local of 40,000. The fraction meeting concluded that the formation of this massive local weakened the union by reinforcing the approach of the UFCW officialdom to rely on grievance procedure, arbitration, and the courts rather than on the use of union democracy and the mobilized power of the membership to defend its rights against the employers. The officialdom's argument that bigger is stronger masks this reality. In the case of the workers who fought a hard strike at Quality Meats last winter, their fighting capacity has been swallowed up into this massive local and its staff apparatus.

Meeting participants reported on lively discussions around the developments in East Timor in particular at a plant in Toronto where the majority of the workers are of Portuguese origin. The communist workers argued in support of East Timor's self-determination and against the sending of imperialist troops including those of Canada.

The socialist workers also discussed how to build solidarity with auto workers who are negotiating with the three auto giants.

Joe Young is a member of UFCW Local 501.  
 
 
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