(January 20, 2017) – On January 12, sailors, longshoremen, seaway and other workers took part in militant demonstrations against the neo-liberal Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Demonstrations were held in St. John’s, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Prince Rupert. In St. John’s, the action was held at the constituency office of MP Seamus O’Regan. In Montreal, the action took place in front of the constituency office of Transport Minister Marc Garneau. In Toronto, workers marched to the constituency office of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (who oversaw the CETA file while International Trade Minister). In Vancouver, workers protested at the constituency office of Liberal MP Hedy Fry, while in Victoria the action took place at the docks in Ogden Point, and in Prince Rupert workers rallied at the Transport Canada office.
The demonstrations were led by the Seafarers International Union of Canada, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the International Longshoremen’s Association, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Unifor.
“Stand Up! Fight Back!” was the rallying cry as workers opposed attacks on their livelihoods and whole sectors of the economy as a result of neo-liberal supranational free trade agreements. It is estimated that more than 250,000 workers in Canada will be directly or indirectly affected by CETA.
The demonstrators denounced CETA as a deal reached in secret that serves narrow private interests at the expense of the maritime transport industry of the countries involved, the maritime workers and workers as a whole. They demanded that the Trudeau government defend the livelihoods of the Canadian maritime workers and communities.
Workers denounced in particular the opening up of cabotage rights for internal waterways to European vessels, many of whom are flying European “flags of convenience” with wages and working conditions far below the accepted standards. In Montreal, a ship inspector from the International Transport Workers’ Federation spoke about the sub-human conditions that prevail on these ships, such as famine wages that are often withheld for months and lack of food.
Workers warned the Trudeau government not to adopt the Canada Transportation Act Review Report (Emerson Report) commissioned by the Harper government that advocates further deregulation and privatization of transportation services and infrastructure including ports. The report also advocates the elimination of the cabotage rules that protect Canadian maritime jobs.
Workers also denounced the reckless automation in the industry based on treating workers as a “cost” that can be reduced, to the point that global maritime companies are considering running ships on the high seas with no crews on board, jeopardizing public safety and the environment.
(Photos: TML, SIU, Unifor, C. Carvalho, K. Risser)