Source: Oaktree b, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On June 18, 750 CN Rail signal and communications workers in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2052 went on strike across the country, demanding wages and benefits that keep up with inflation.

The original offer that the union rejected involved a pay increase of only eight per cent over three years, with a two-per-cent lump-sum payment. Taking inflation into account, this amounts to a serious wage cut. “[CN Rail are] saying three per cent this year, and we’re already at 6.8 in inflation. You can’t make ends meet doing that,” London IBEW strike captain Tim Garvey told CTV News. Local 2052 president Chris Nadon said, “It’s been years and years since we’ve actually had a fair increase in our benefits.”

Local 2052 members are vital to the safe operation of rail lines, inspecting and maintaining rail crossings, switches, and trains. In Nadon’s own words, “They help kind of prevent derailments.” And yet CN is trying to continue operations as if everything is normal by using management as scab labour, taking the place of striking workers. 

This calls to mind the recent strike of IBEW 2029 signal and communications workers at Union Station in Toronto in April. They were also striking for pay increases that keep up with inflation. And similarly during that strike, the managers also stepped in to fill roles left by the striking workers. The managers were not qualified to replace the workers they were scabbing against and as the workers on the picket line noted at the time, this inevitably led to delays, cancellations, and damage to the switch system. 

For a job which is so vital to the safety of both equipment and people, one might think CN would prioritize bringing back the professionals who know what they’re doing by offering a fair contract. But clearly, defeating the union is more important to CN than the lives of passengers and other workers. 

The challenge currently facing the labour movement in general is that the bosses are using inflation to viciously attack workers’ standard of living. Looking back at the Union Station strike, in that case the employer was successful in using scabs to break the picket lines and defeat the strike. The fact that other unions did not mobilize their members to refuse to cross picket lines also helped the employer keep the station open. The lesson is that solidarity and respect for picket lines is vital to the success of a strike. A victory for Local 2052 workers would be a step forward for all workers suffering under the weight of inflation. We say, solidarity with the striking CN signal and communications workers, who are fighting for a real contract worthy of the name. Picket lines mean do not cross!