CANADA

Strikes from sea to sea

September 15 1986
CANADA

Strikes from sea to sea

September 15 1986

Strikes from sea to sea

From Newfoundland to British Columbia, it was a week of rising labor unrest. In Thunder Bay, Ont., a shutdown of grain handling began after 20 months of futile negotiations. In St John’s, Nfld., striking public servants on picket lines struggled with police, resuming demonstrations that began last March. And two other prominent disputes remained unsettled: a three-month walkout by Gainers Inc. meat packers in Edmonton and a seven-week strike by forestry workers in British Columbia. But the four disputes had one thing in common: hard bargaining on both sides of the negotiating tables.

In Thunder Bay, about half of Canada’s annual grain exports are processed by six elevator operators. But after about 500 handlers struck the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool last weekseeking higher wages—the other five operators locked out another 1,000 workers, effectively blocking export of 25 million tons of grain. Many western farmers, facing sliding international grain prices after two years of drought, were dismayed. Said Melville, Sask., farmer Michael Halyk: “A day lost now might mean a sale lost, and Canada can’t afford that.”

In British Columbia, selective strikes by the 20,000-member International Woodworkers have cost the province’s $3-billion forest industry $11 million a day since July. About 1,600 coastal workers have settled with their employers, but the remainder are still battling companies that insist on contracting out work to nonunion firms. In Alberta, the United Food and Commercial Workers, representing 1,080 Gainers employees, resumed negotiations—with company owner Peter Pocklington at the table for the first time. But by week’s end, no progress had been reported.

The same spirit of gloom was evident in St. John’s. Five months ago the Newfoundland Association of Public Employees staged a five-week illegal strike, demanding wage parity with other employees holding similar jobs. When negotiations collapsed last week over the same issue, about 5,000 NAPE members resumed the strike. Police arrested 35 picketers for obstructing the Confederation Building in St. John’s, while Treasury Board President Neil Windsor insisted, “We will not negotiate with people involved in illegal activity.”^