The fight of the 800 skilled workers from Unifor Local 594 against the owners of the Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) refinery in Regina, Saskatchewan is an impressive display of organization and determination. The lockout has been going on since December 5, 2019. It has made very little noise in the media in Quebec, but nevertheless, it must be counted among the significant struggles within the contemporary workers movement. One only has to examine the skirmishes that have occurred since the start of the confrontation to be convinced of this.
The lockout was ordered by the employer immediately after a 97.3% union vote in favor of the strike. This was to steal the initiative from the workers. The response came quickly: one of the most impressive workers’ picket devices ever observed in recent years has been deployed outside the doors of the refinery. Quickly, the employer accused the locked-out of having used nail traps against delivery trucks. The court order to allow the trucks to pass was quickly obtained and the police began to occupy the premises. The workers’ response to the injunction was not small: despite the extent of the legal and police apparatus against them, they erected a barricade with fences and imposing vehicles from which they removed the wheels, completely blocking access to the refinery for several days. The central union even went so far as to issue an open appeal to its 315,000 members to join the barricade in large numbers. The capitalist state responded by arresting Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor, at the barricades, along with the arrest of some 15 strikers. Added to this was almost $ 500,000 in accumulated fines and exorbitant legal fees. To top it off, the CRC used helicopters to bring the strikebreakers across the barricade and to get the refined oil out of the site with blocked roadways. Already, in the fall of 2019, CRC management had built housing on the refinery grounds to accommodate scabs in anticipation of the lockout. What is more, the CRC-FCL deployed a demagogic and deceptive advertising campaign about unions on huge billboards across the province. For its part, Unifor has launched an important call to boycott the whole of the Federation of which CRC is a member. This broad national campaign resulted in the production of a video to denounce scabs, a video that has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. We also saw pop-up pickets appear as well as demonstrations in support of the workers. As the blows struck on both sides, the negotiations were interrupted. It is with these different forms of struggle that the workers of the CRC refinery took the initiative on their adversaries and have written their fight as one of the best organized fight by a Canadian collective of unionized workers.
A struggle to keep pensions
In fact, the tension between the workers and the owners of the CRC had been mounting for several months. The central issue of the renewal of the expired collective agreement concerned the pension plan for refinery workers. The capitalists proposed to dismantle the old regime by passing on the bulk of the employer’s contribution to employees, thereby lowering real wages. If this contemptuous offer was rejected, the alternative offered was no better: forcing workers to switch to a lower, cheaper and more risky regime. In other words, whatever the proposal, the workers of CRC were caught in a dead end in front of the maintenance of the old “defined benefit” regime at their expense, or in front of the transition to another “contribution” regime that is ”without promise of return – since subject to the vagaries of the stock market. Anticipating the unpopularity of such measures in the negotiations, the refinery management quickly launched an offensive propaganda campaign to disguise the workers’ claims as bad faith. This is how scandalous advertising posters appeared titled: “Do you think it makes sense to contribute for your own pension? Unifor does not think so. ”
Let’s remind our readers that Unifor is a Canadian union center. It was created in 2013 as a consolidated union with the amalgamation of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW-TCA) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP-SCEP). In January 2018, Unifor leaves the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC) and becomes an independent center. Today, it has 315,000 members across the country, making it the largest Canadian union in the private sector. In Quebec, Unifor is a member of the FTQ, and is one of the most massive unions in the federation (as are the Steelworkers union and the FTQ-Construction).
The Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) is one of the largest oil refineries in the country. It has the capacity to produce 145,000 barrels per day. Its oil is mainly sold on the Canadian market. The CRC is a subsidiary of the Federated Cooperative Ltd (FCL), a monster federation concentrating significant capital: it recorded a turnover of 10.7 billion dollars in 2018. It is a “cooperative federation “, that is to say that it is made up of cooperatives which themselves have their own members. The FCL brings together industries such as transport, petroleum and pulp and paper. For example, it is home to the Saskatoon Co-op and the Calgary Co-op, two large broad-spectrum retail co-operatives (gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, etc.).
Fully support the struggle of workers in local 594 and let’s establish ourselves deeply in the petroleum industry
The Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR-RCP) fully supports the struggle of skilled workers in Unifor local 594. He calls on all his supporters to join the workers in struggle and to make known the demands of the union. Despite the arrests they have suffered and the fines they will have to absorb, the organizational capacity and determination of the Unifor union members reveal to us the social strength represented by the organized workers and their union.
The battles waged by such a social force have important repercussions in the national economy and political life. The petroleum industry, like all the major sectors producing added value, has an undeniable strategic importance in the revolutionary process: it can quickly become an open vein of capital. This is why it is a duty for the Communists to examine carefully the development of this sector of production as well as the struggles which develop there. In particular, the revolutionary forces in the country must seriously consider the need to establish themselves durably and in depth in the sectors of activity that are the extraction, transport and processing of petroleum. The partisans of socialism have the task of deploying themselves in an organized and methodical way where the big groups of the society are. To do such a thing developing a progression in the large industrial groups and trades unions gatherings as are the oil industry, with its tens of thousands of workers, Unifor, with its 375 000 members, and more broadly the large group of the proletariat formed by skilled workers in production, with its 673 000 workers in Canada. So the least that can be done is to highlight the brilliance and courage of the workers in struggle and their union. More importantly, it must be recognized how important it is for revolutionaries to get closer to the workers’ movement as it exists in order to master the experience that is developed there.
Support the refinery’s workers in Regina!
Let’s be eager to expand into the Canadian petroleum industry!