EIGHT HUNDRED towboat operators on B.C.’s coast ended their strike on April 24 after accepting a proposal from a federal mediator. A federal mediator with the federal mediation and conciliation service was appointed to assist in negotiations. The coastal marine service falls under federal jurisdiction.
These towboat workers, whose collective is called the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, went on strike April 16 after their previous contract with 16 marine service companies represented by the Council of Marine Carriers expired September last year. They have been bargaining for a new contract since June. The towboat workers are demanding their wages and working conditions be brought up to the Canadian standard in the marine industry. They have expressed firm determination to realize an increase in their claim on the added value they produce from moving goods up and down the coast and manoeuvring ships into and out of port. The 800 members of the Guild last went on strike for six weeks in 1970.
As usual when the working class goes on strike, the central crucial role of labour in the production of social product suddenly and almost inexplicably becomes the subject of an excited mass media. At other times, labour is denigrated, rarely mentioned and considered inconsequential in the national economy. Typically the role of capital is exaggerated and made to appear critical to production with the captains of industry and finance made out to be celebrities of grand importance and worthy of lavish lifestyles and unlimited dictatorial power to make economic decisions with impunity. Under the ideology of rewarding the owners of capital with riches and all-power over the economy, a parallel luxury economy has been created that drains resources away from the people’s economy; enormous funds are taken out of the economy in the name of security and fighting enemies abroad; and, the public treasury is plundered to pay the rich.
When the inevitable downturn occurs in the capitalist economy, the working class is blamed. Pressure is constantly applied to the working class to reduce its claim on the social product it produces even though labour and natural resources are the two essential factors in social production. The working class faces the grand dilemma: wage a united class struggle or face poverty or even extinction. Workers organized in their collectives must fight for every penny of social product that it can wring from the owners of capital, if they are to attain or maintain a Canadian standard of living.
The present dispute affects about 80 per cent of ship docking, marine shipping and tug and barge services along the B.C. coast. Estimates in the mass media put the daily loss of revenue from shipping at tens of millions of dollars daily. According to an estimate issued by the Vancouver Port Authority, “the strike is estimated to have cost the Canadian economy $99 million in lost economic impacts.” B.C.’s coastal forest industry is largely dependent on the water carriers to move logs to sawmills and lumber from those mills to customers. Coastal pulp mills also count on fuel and equipment to arrive by water on barges pulled by towboats, which are normally a common sight plying the straits, bays and harbours of coastal B.C.
The Port of Vancouver and FraserPort have been severely affected. Westshore Terminals, which operates a huge coal export facility handling mainly metallurgical coal destined for Japanese steel production (B.C.’s single largest export commodity, bigger even than forest products), and DeltaPort near the U.S. border were virtually halted, with no ships coming in, and shipments of container cargo being turned away. Barges usually piled high with gravel and aggregate from pits up the coast destined for the production of concrete at plants in Vancouver and along the Lower Fraser River were also lying empty.
The shipping monopolies, such as Canada Steamship Lines owned by Prime Minister Martin’s family, and the construction, cement and retail monopolies that use the services of the tug and tow boats, routinely exercise their monopoly power to seize more than their due of the value added by the towboat operators. The monopolies do this by manipulating in their favour the price they pay for tug and tow boat services. The government must force the monopolies to pay the full price of production of having their ships put safely into port and commodities transported by barges and towboats. All blame for the strike should be put squarely on the owners of capital, in particular the monopolies who dominate B.C. coastal shipping, who refuse to recognize that the claims of workers to a Canadian standard living is just and necessary.
Source: TML Daily, April 26, 2004 – No. 66