Canada: BC dockworkers vote to accept deal

August 8, 2023
Employer groups and industry bodies are calling for repressive laws to prevent dockworkers from striking in the future. Images: ILWU Canada Facebook (foreground), Wikimedia (background)

Canadian dockworkers in British Columbia, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU), voted on August 3‒4 to accept a new tentative agreement with employers, represented by the BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

This ends a strike that started in early July. Along the way, workers withstood sustained efforts by maritime employers, industries in the United States and Canada, and politicians at various levels of government, to push for strike-breaking legislation.

The union posted a brief statement on August 4, saying: “The results of the ratification vote for the tentative agreement show 74.66 per cent in favour of accepting the terms of settlement.”

Full details of the contract have not been released, but it has been reported that the deal includes wage rises, benefits and training. It has not been reported how workers’ concerns about automation and contracting out have been addressed.

The ILWU tentatively ended its strike on July 13, when it looked like a tentative agreement had been reached, but resumed pickets briefly on July 18, after the deal was rejected by the union’s caucus. The strike resumption was deemed illegal by the pro-employer Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

Rank-and-file dockworkers continued to hold out, rejecting a deal foisted on the union by a government mediator on July 29.

Despite this outcome, the capitalist class is calling for new repressive laws to prevent dockworkers from striking in the future. The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) released a statement saying: “This dispute underscores CME’s position that Canada’s ports and railways must be designated critical infrastructure to prevent shutdowns like this in the future.”

The use of critical infrastructure designations to stop protests, blockades, strikes and any “economic disruption” is quickly becoming a favourite form of legal repression for governments across the country. They have instituted such legislation especially to target indigenous land defenders and allies blocking pipeline developments.

The Liberal federal government has already hinted, not too slyly, that they may implement such legislation in the wake of this strike. Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez suggested this in a message after the ratification vote, saying: “We do not want to be back here again. Minister O’Regan has directed federal officials to review how a disruption on this scale unfolded, so that in future we can provide greater stability for the workers and businesses across Canada that depend on our B.C. ports. We will have more to say on this soon.”

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade president estimates $10.7 billion of trade was disrupted during the strike, showing the power workers in logistics and transport industries can wield.

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