DgO 9vOU8AEFJ8aOn Monday, June 18th, close to 2,000 crane operators spontaneously walked off of Québec construction sites in a heroic wildcat strike. The workers have struck in spite of the fact that they are currently bound by a collective bargaining agreement. This has paralyzed construction sites as crane operators are critical to many big projects. In taking this bold action, the crane operators are showing the way forward for the labour movement not only in Quebec and Canada, but throughout the whole world.

Québec premier Philippe Couillard made it clear to not expect any compromises on part of the government, saying, “Those who think that because there’s an election coming, the government can ignore the law and come to some sort of solution, get that illusion out of your head.” On Thursday June 21st, the Québec Construction Commission (CCQ) obtained a ruling from the labour board which ordered the striking workers back to work and ordered their unions to call on them to return to work. The leadership of FTQ-Construction immediately complied with this order and called on the crane operators to go back to work, stating that they do not support, “using pressure tactics that could constitute illegal acts.” The crane operators responded by defying both the court order and the FTQ-Construction leadership and continued the strike on the 22nd. The crane operators union, FTQ local 791, has remained silent, effectively defying the court order.

By defying the court order, individual workers face upwards of $10,000 in fines or even prison sentences. As well, any unions in defiance could face upwards of $100,000 in fines for contempt of court. The actions of the government only added fuel to the fire and angered the workers who have remained on strike in defiance of this court order. One striking worker summed up the mood in saying, “Fines, there will be as many as they want, they can put me in jail if they want, I do not go back to work.” This is the voice of workers who have had enough and are not afraid of a fight.

The reason why the workers are on strike is because of loosened training requirements for newly hired workers. The new legislation allows for the hiring of crane operators after only 150 hours in training, compared with the 870 hours of professional training that is currently required. There has been a shortage of crane operators in Montréal as of 2009, and this is now being used by the bosses as an excuse for revising training requirements, making it possible to get hired without a vocational diploma. Crane operators are concerned that this change will increase the chance of accidents on and around construction sites. After the vocational diploma was made necessary for crane operators in 1989, on-site crane accidents decreased by 66%. The argument for less training hours for new operators is by and large a cowardly attempt to cut costs and lower the wage of new crane operators. We have seen in the past, when employers lower the training necessary for a job, that they use this to push down wages. If these rules are implemented, we will see a drop of pay for crane operators, and of course, a rise of profit for the bosses and contractors.

The crane workers, in the face of the bosses and their government, are plowing ahead, showing a brilliant example of working class militancy. The workers are not fools, and have learned much from the past years of struggle; they understand that state labour laws are not a guarantee for workers’ rights. An unauthored press release written by demonstrators on June 22 stated that the strike was “necessary and legitimate” and that, “It raises the issue of freedom of union action and shows that the current regulatory framework of the industry criminalizes workers in the construction industry who want to enforce their rights.” It’s clear that the workers remember last year’s construction worker strike, in which after just five days of striking, the government cracked down with back-to-work legislation. Under capitalism, union rights are only grudgingly tolerated for a temporary period of time and with massive limitations.

What is needed is for union leaders to mobilize in solidarity with the crane operators against the government and the bosses, but what we’re seeing in Québec is unfortunately the complete opposite. The leadership of FTQ-Construction is simply acting as a mouthpiece for the government and the bosses, asking their members to go back to work. This is not the way forward. Instead of complying with the court order in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, the FTQ-Construction leadership should show the same courage as their members and support them. Unfortunately, the leadership has even gone one step further and is considering taking the crane operators union, FTQ local 791, into trusteeship, taking away the democratic control of the workers over their local. This betrayal should not be tolerated by the rank and file workers of FTQ-Construction, who should fight against these cowardly actions and for a militant leadership that will mobilize solidarity with the crane operators.

The CCQ complains that this strike is illegal, but even when striking is legal, in a matter of days this right is often taken away through back-to-work legislation, as we saw with the last two construction workers strikes of 2013 and 2017. By defying unjust laws, the crane operators are demonstrating the only way to actually win.

But this alone will not suffice. The only way to achieve a complete victory is for the rest of the construction workers and the rest of the labour movement as a whole to mobilize solidarity actions with the striking crane operators. The entire labour movement should start by organizing a mass solidarity rally with the crane operators. In addition, if the government attempts to implement the court order and punish the workers or their union, this should be met with solidarity strike action, starting with the rest of the construction workers and spreading outwards to the entire labour movement. Only by doing so can we defeat anti-democratic legislation and beat back the boss’s attacks.

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