Solidarity builds for locked out Co-op refinery workers

Communist Party encourages united labour support

The escalating struggle by 800 locked out workers, members of Unifor Local 594, at the Federated Co-op Limited (FCL) refinery in Regina has the full solidarity of the Communist Party of Canada. All working people in the country have an interest in defeating this effort by a profitable corporation to bust the union and gut the pension plan that workers have relied on for 4 decades.

FCL is a highly profitable corporation that makes $3 million each day at its Regina refinery – 75% of its total revenue. The union has calculated that FCL has made nearly $3 billion since 2016, and the corporation’s own financial report indicates it had profits of over $1 billion in 2018.

Despite this enormous financial stability, FCL went to the negotiating table demanding that the existing defined benefit (DB) pension be replaced by a defined contribution (DC) version. Such a change would place the pension – the workers’ deferred wages – completely at the mercy of the stock market and would fail to provide a predictable retirement income. When the union rejected this demand, FCL returned with an offer that was a gutted shell of the DB pension the workers have had since 1979.

Union members responded with a 97% strike vote on December 3, and the corporation locked them out two days later.

If locking out workers were not shameful enough, FCL quickly intensified the fight by purchasing billboard advertising that dishonestly describes the dispute as a strike by a union demanding huge pay increases. Further, the corporation has resorted to scab labour – brought in by buses and helicopters – in order to maintain its operations. The union estimates that the refinery is still making close to $3 million per day during the lockout.

The most recent meeting between Unifor and FCL ended with no progress, and the union has stated that the fight will be a long one. Clearly, this is a struggle against union busting.

In response to the corporation’s tactics, Unifor has issued a call for a boycott of all Co-op brands across Western Canada. This includes gas bars and convenience stores, food stores, propane plants, home and agro centres, and feed plants.

The union also completely shut down the refinery on January 20, after encircling the 540-care facility with picketers and reinforcements from across the country. This action was met with police violence, with more than a dozen peaceful picketers being arrested and pickets forcefully dismantled by police tow trucks.

The struggle by Unifor Local 594 has attracted solidarity from many sectors of the labour movement in Canada. Representatives of several trade union bodies have helped to bolster the picket lines and issued statements of support – these include the Canadian Labour Congress, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Steelworkers, United Nurses of Alberta, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Ontario Public Service Employees Union and many others.

The Communist Party welcomes and encourages this active labour support, as an example of how to unify and strengthen the trade union movement on a class struggle basis.

In this critical fight to defend workers’ pensions and living standards, as well union rights to organize, bargain collectively and picket, the Communist Party reiterates its longstanding demand for legislation to enshrine in the constitution the right of workers to organize, strike and bargain collectively, and to take collective political action; ban strike-breaking and scabbing; and strengthen labour standards and block anti-labour “right-to-work” laws.

Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada

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