Construction workers stage second day of wildcat strikes
Published Tuesday, October 25, 2011 4:36PM EDT
MONTREAL - For the second day in a row, construction workers are continuing a so-called spontaneous and unorganized strike Tuesday at construction sites across Quebec.
Once again members of the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) showed up at their job sites before dawn, and once again they refused to work, as did workers who belong to the Conseil provincial du Quebec des metiers de la construction (CPQMCI).
However there is evidence that desire for a widespread walkout is far from universal.
Construction workers were spotted milling around at several sites in Montreal including the location of both superhospitals and the Dix/30 mall on the South Shore, but by 9 a.m. those workers had left.
On Tuesday morning a CTV reporter spoke to several FTQ members who were meeting at a banquet hall in St. Leonard, but most workers refused to say exactly what they were discussing with union representatives.
Eric Boisjoli with the FTQ said workers believe the government is not willing to listen to their point of view.
"When you have something to say, when you have nobody to listen to you, that's what the people are saying today," said Boisjoli.
"We want to have some response from the government. I think they're going to respond today at least I hope so anyway."
Other construction workers told reporters that they had been willing to work this week, but upon arriving at job sites, were told to leave or they would get into trouble.
FTQ takes no responsibility
FTQ president Michel Arsenault continues to claim that the union executives and stewards are not taking any role in organizing the wildcat strikes, and said in a televised interview that "people should get back to work."
He went on to suggest that he thinks the province-wide strikes are the result of two factors: anger over Bill 33, and "a problem between those workers and their contractors."
"Bill 33 is unjust to construction workers, the best construction workers in North America, and it's a diversion from the real problems," said Arsenault.
"It's been two years that we've been talking about corruption in construction, and problems with political financing."
The FTQ and the CPQMCI oppose Bill 33, a provincial law that will eliminate the right of unions to determine who is eligible to work at construction sites.
Parliamentary hearings taking place all week
Under the proposed legislation, the Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ) would create a list of eligible union and non-union workers, and employers would be free to choose who gets to work.
Parliamentary Hearings into Bill 33 began Monday, and Arsenault is scheduled to appear before the committee on Wednesday.
Representatives from the CPQMCI will testify Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday several women appeared before the hearing to testify about discrimination at job sites, but some were unable to make it.
Sylvie Deraspe told the committee that one woman who wanted to testify about intimidation was beaten ten days earlier by a union official from a North Shore job site.
"She got her ribs kicked in by a guy with steel-toe construction boots," said Deraspe.
On Tuesday morning several female construction workers in Montreal jumped to the defence of their union, saying they had never been subject to discrimination.
They went so far as to say their union was actively working to get them work on job sites, and that they expected if and when Bill 33 passes that employers would start discriminating against women.
Allegations of intimidation
Two backbenchers with the governing Liberal party reported Tuesday
facing intimidation tactics, one day after the provincial labour minister said
someone had threatened to break "both her legs."
Guy Ouellette, chairman of a legislative committee, told fellow parliamentarians Tuesday that someone had vandalized his riding office near Montreal overnight.
Something similar happened to a colleague on the committee, he added.
Those revelations came amid a flurry of reports about iron-fisted
control of construction sites by union officials. One witness told the
Quebec City committee that employers feel powerless to stop it.
Labour Minister Lise Theriault stunned many people on Monday when she said someone had left an anonymous phone message threatening to break both her legs.
But Theriault has promised to push ahead with the changes.
The Quebec legislature was expected to pass a motion on Tuesday to denounce the intimidation tactics.
Meanwhile, Sherbrooke La Tribune said a reporter and a photographer for the newspaper were surrounded and threatened on Monday by union representatives who told them to leave a hydroelectric facility.
The province's historically powerful unions became revered institutions as they defended worker rights during the occasionally brutal and often repressive Duplessis era.
Labour leaders became heroes, and the unions they represented became increasingly powerful.
But by the 1970s, there was an attempt to push back against thuggery commonly employed on construction sites.
With files from Canadian Press