On April 14, the meat-packing and food-processing company Olymel announced that it would be shutting down its plant in Vallée-Jonction, in Beauce, Quebec. The proposed plan aims for a gradual closure, with evening shifts stopping next September, followed by a complete shutdown in December.
This is a major blow, not only for the 994 workers at the plant who now find themselves without jobs, but also for the region. The plant plays an important role in the local economy since each job at the plant has three other jobs depending on it in the region as a whole.
Equally shocking is the fact that the Quebec government invested $150 million in the company two years ago. These capitalist pigs gorge themselves on public money and then leave their workers out in the cold. We say: a closed plant must be an occupied plant! Expropriate Olymel!
The Vallée-Jonction plant is not Olymel’s first closure. Back in February, the company had announced the closure of two other plants in Laval and Blainville.
Olymel justified its decision by saying that it wanted to “optimize” its operations because it was struggling to remain competitive at the international level, losing market shares in Japan and China.
This is not surprising; we are living through a global capitalist crisis and all companies are looking for wiggle-room in their finances. To do this, the bosses don’t have many options to choose from; they must attack the workers by degrading their working conditions or by throwing them out.
There is another important reason behind Olymel’s closure of its Vallée-Jonction plant. The company is above all sending a message to its workers since, back in 2021, these same workers led a strike that lasted more than four months and ended with significant gains.
The conflict revolved mainly around wages (which had been stagnant since 2007) and Olymel’s attempt to impose 10-hour evening shifts!
The workers were able to win improvements in their working conditions and their pension plan, in addition to a 26.4 per cent increase spread over four years. At the time, however, inflation had barely started to rise. These gains were considered outside the norm.
In this context, it is easy to see that Olymel wanted to get rid of workers it considered too combative all the while sending a message to its remaining workers: accept the working conditions imposed on you or you’ll simply be out of a job.
Former Liberal MP and former executive advisor to the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) office, France Gagnon, expressed out loud what all capitalists and their politicians think to themselves when she tweeted that the plant closure was the fault of the workers and their union for asking too much of their employer! She also added that the workers of the Vallée-Jonction plant will have a hard time finding a new job, as they are considered too demanding by management. Here we have the authentic voice of the bosses asking the workers to meekly accept their directives, or suffer political persecution and unemployment.
Faced with the devastating effect that the closure could have on the region, the Beauce hog farmers are actively looking for another company to buy the plant, as its closure affects them strongly as well, since they are losing their main buyer. But even if it were simply bought by a new company, it would be subject to the same economic pressures as Olymel.
This conflict shows that we can have no confidence in large companies that only care about their profits. Leaving the fate of workers in the hands of capitalists means being under constant threat of unemployment or low wages. The Olymel workers should occupy the plant and manage it themselves. In this way, they could decide how the plant should be run according to their needs and not according to the profits of the capitalists. A closed plant must be an occupied plant!
This would not be the first time that we see such a type of action in Quebec. In 2004, 560 Alcan workers in Jonquière responded to the closure of their plant with an occupation that lasted 19 days. They continued production, showing in the process that they were fully capable of running the plant without their bosses. The workers forced Alcan to commit to transferring the workers to other plants instead of simply eliminating their jobs. Olymel workers should take a page out of their book and take control of the situation too!
But we must not stop there. Olymel’s tentacles and its ability to destroy a region’s economy extend beyond the Vallée-Jonction plant.
Olymel controls 80 per cent of the slaughterhouses in Quebec. This essentially gives it the ability to act as a monopoly in the province. Every decision it makes is binding on everyone else.
For example, to make up for its losses in 2021 due to the strike, Olymel began to impose its pork purchase prices on farmers. The company demanded a 40 per cent price cut or it would reduce its pork purchases. Obviously, if Olymel imposed a price cut, its competitors would follow suit and do the same. Pig farmers are then driven to financial ruin as they cannot sell their hogs at a profit.
To prevent farmers from going bankrupt, the Farm Income Stabilization Insurance Program (two-thirds funded by the Quebec government) had to pay out $138 million. Of this amount, $91 million came from the workers’ pockets through taxes. The workers are therefore paying for Olymel’s greed out of their own pockets.
Instead of leaving an industry that supports thousands of workers and small farmers in the hands of crooked capitalists, Olymel should be nationalized and placed under the democratic control of its workers. This is the only way to ensure that all workers in the industry have job security as well as good working and living conditions. It thus ensures that this important industry is not merely used to enrich a few bourgeois.
Olymel’s offensive against its workers is an example of the fierce class struggles to come. With inflation still high, workers are forced to fight back. On the other hand, the capitalist crisis is forcing the bosses to attack the workers. Through these trials and struggles, more and more workers will come to be convinced that the evil does not come from this or that boss. They will see that it is capitalism itself that must be overthrown, and replaced by a socialist society, where workers will run society according to the needs of the people rather than being cannon fodder for a few corporations.