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Inside the Air Canada wildcat strike

March 22, 2012

Hundreds of Air Canada employees at Pearson walked off the job in protest against the suspension of three co-workers. The Toronto workers were quickly joined by their sisters and brother in Montreal and Quebec City.

The wildcat started when Federal Labour Minister Lisa Riatt (Rat) was walking through the airport and was sarcastically applauded by several Air Canada Employees. The Minister claimed she felt threatened by the applause (perhaps shes never had workers applaud her) and airline security removed the employees who were then given three day suspension.

Upon hearing this, word spread through the night shift and 150 maintenance and baggage handlers walked off the job demanding that the employees be reinstated and that all IAM members get a fair contract.

Within a few hours flights were being grounded and cancelled. By late evening the Pearson workers had been joined by their counterparts in Quebec City and at Trudeau Airport in Montreal.By early morning hundreds of others coming in for the day shift joined the wildcat. Workers in Vancouver also joined the wildcat.

Air Canada ran to the Canada Industrial Relations Board ( the same group that agreed to strip Postal workers and pilots and other AC employees of the right to strike) and obtained an injunction. This was defied by hundreds of AC employees.

The mood at Pearson was angry. Tory MP Tony Clement was heckled and had to scurry through the airport. Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver was heckled by a supporter of the employees and scurried away after refusing to answer questions from the supporter. He fled up an escalator after being asked why his party hates democracy and doesn’t like AC employees, or those at US Steel, or Alcan or Vale Inco and why his party only supported bosses and bankers. He was jeered as he ran up an escalator.

By 9:30 am the company had pushed to have the arbitrator assigned for the past nine years intervene. The arbitrator told the union that the three employees would be suspended for three days with pay, and would return to work in 72 hours, and that, provided the wildcat ended, all employees would be paid for the shift and no discipline would be handed out.

The union demanded to get this in writing before telling workers to return. By 10:30am the workers involved in the wildcat met outside the departures area at terminal 1. The union spokesperson read out the decision of the arbitrator and announced that the workers at Turdeau and QC airports had gone back to work.

The anger was deep as many yelled “bullshit” and demanded proof that workers in Montreal had gone back, not wanting to leave those workers out alone.

One employee said “I’ve worked here all my life – for the past ten years all I’ve done is give and give and give – I’ can’t afford my mortgage anymore, I’m sick of this – we need to shut it down. AC are pirates, they’ll rob us until we stop them.

Chants went up of “less talk – more walk”, “fair contract now” . After about thirty minutes the final groups of workers returned to work.

The deep hypocrisy of the Tories isn’t lost on many. They will intervene to stop workers from getting a decent contract but will allow a company to close it doors and lay off 2,400 workers.

The Aveos closure was on the minds of many of those who wildcatted. 2,400 members of the Machinists have been thrown onto the streets because of Air Canada and mismanagement at Aveos.

For ten years workers at Air Canada – from CUPE, IAM, CAW, ACPA have all given concessions to keep the company afloat. The thanks they’ve received is watching the company sell off assets and use the money to give management raises and dividends to shareholders and banks. This after beinjg promised and agreeing that the money would be used to fill the pension shortfall.

Air Canada like other employers has decided now is the time to attack workers. They are backed up in this by Tories and the liberals.

The fight at Air Canada is far from over. The mood at today’s wildcat showed that workers are beginning to stand up and say enough is enough.

It will be vital in the future that support for Air Canada workers be built and that links made with other groups fighting back.

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