International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Sells Signals and Communications Strike to Canadian National Railways and Agrees to Binding Arbitration

Are you a railroader at CN or in another company? Contact the CP Worker Rank and File Committee at [email protected] to tell us what you think of the IBEW’s decision to sabotage the struggle of CN signal and communications workers.

The two-week strike by 750 Canadian National (CN) signal and communications workers was brutally sabotaged by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) this week.

CN Rail signal and communications workers on the picket line last month in British Columbia [Photo by Robin Nedila/IBEW]

The union forced workers back to work on Wednesday, July 6, without giving them a say in its decision – announced by CN Rail management on Monday – to settle all outstanding issues in the workers’ contract dispute by undemocratic means, pro-binding corporate arbitration.

In recent months, binding arbitration has become the weapon of choice for the Canadian ruling class, determined to make working people pay for the economic crisis and spiraling cost of living wrought by its disastrous response to the pandemic and the escalation of the war launched by the United States against Russia in Ukraine. In addition to wages, the arbitrator will decide, among other things, the company’s request for additional concessions in the form of a lifetime cap on certain health benefits.

IBEW’s betrayal was so cowardly that it left it to the company to announce the arbitration agreement, without even bothering to initially issue a public statement on the matter. IBEW spokesperson Steve Martin later gave an interview to Global News in which he confirmed that the decision to scupper the strike was “a collective decision of the bargaining committee.”

The arbitrator will be either an official of the Federal Department of Labor or a “social relations specialist” chosen by mutual agreement between the union and the company, or failing that, the government. Either way, he or she will pledge to subordinate the interests of working people to the profits of big business and the returns of investors.

A large percentage of strikers are on-call employees who are deployed following critical events that affect rail operations, such as fires, floods and derailments involving hazardous chemicals. They are calling for salaries in line with other rail trades, compensation for commuting time and time worked, two-day weekends and a better work-life balance.

Until the strike began on June 18, the workers had been working without a contract since October 2021. CN and the IBEW used the following months for “negotiations” to craft a contract they intended to impose on the workers. . CN’s Chief Operating Officer, Rob Reilly, responded to the strike in an open letter to employees with the outright lie: “We have met or exceeded each of the union’s demands with the goal of reaching a settlement by the due date. strike limit. »

In reality, CN sought to impose an agreement that would have included brutal wage cuts in real terms. The company touted a 10% salary “increase” over three years, which would be well below the current annual inflation rate of nearly 8%. But even the insufficient 10% figure was a lie, with IBEW Local 2052 President Chris Nadon telling CTV News that CN was actually offering an 8% wage increase and the one-time equivalent of a 2% salary increase in signing bonuses. These premiums do not affect benefits or pension rights. The IBEW chose not to put the management offer to a vote, no doubt recognizing that the workers would overwhelmingly reject it.

CN responded on June 29 with the vindictive decision to withdraw a promise to make the wage increase retroactive to January 2022, saying any “increase” would now begin on the same day as the new collective agreement.

The IBEW has made it clear that it is a loyal partner in the imposition of CN’s anti-worker agenda. For nearly nine months after the contract expired in October, the union refused to call a strike. This strategy gave the company ample time to prepare its “contingency plan”, which required managers and inexperienced contractors to work as scabs throughout the strike. This strike-breaking operation allowed CN to continue its “normal” operations. By refusing to call on other CN Rail workers to join the fight, including 3,000 Teamsters conductors, trainmen and yard workers, the IBEW facilitated the strikebreaking operation of the management, encouraged it to behave in such a provocative manner in the negotiations and endangered the safety of workers and the general public.

IBEW told CN early in the strike that it was ready and willing to accept binding arbitration. IBEW negotiator Steve Martin commented on June 20: “If needed, this is an available tool that we will consider in due course. In other words, Martin and the IBEW bureaucracy understood that imposing binding arbitration immediately could have sparked an explosion among militant workers. So he thought it best to let the workers romp on the picket lines for a week or two, before agreeing to cede them the legal right to strike and bargain collectively.

In agreeing to binding arbitration and ending the strike, Martin made the vague assertion that, given the current state of the strike, “(I) was the most reasonable thing to do.” What does this bullshit really mean? That it is “reasonable” for CN to continue its undisputed profit racket at the expense of workers’ health and well-being? Or that it is not “reasonable” for transmission and signal workers to wage a unified struggle with drivers, engineers and all other job classes for secure, well-paying jobs for all?

For Martin and his fellow IBEW bureaucrats, ensconced in their comfortable offices with six-figure salaries, the desire to maintain cordial relations with their corporate and state “partners” through binding arbitration is a much more “reasonable” option. This undemocratic procedure, by which a government-appointed official reviews the positions of IBEW and CN representatives before imposing a final agreement on the two parties, excludes workers from having a say in their future employment conditions. use. Workers will not have the right to vote on the final agreement, let alone take collective action to improve their working conditions for years to come.

This undemocratic process has become the preferred method used by unions, from the railways to the public sector, to prevent or end strikes and impose contracts with concessions on the backs of workers. When CP Rail locked out 3,000 drivers and engineers in March after voting overwhelmingly to strike, the Teamsters union bowed to the company’s government-backed binding arbitration claim Trudeau Liberal, and ordered the workers back to work the next day without a vote. . Eight of the last nine contract disputes at CP Rail have been referred to pro-corporate arbitrators, who have imposed one concession contract after another that failed to address any of the workers’ main demands.

In May, a seven-day strike by 95 signal operators and equipment technicians at Union Station in Toronto was abruptly halted when the IBEW capitulated to management’s strikebreaking operations and agreed to submit all outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

Railroad workers are obviously ready to fight the corporate/government/union dictatorship that prevails on North American railroads. In the United States, about 140,000 railroad workers at the seven major Class I railroads, including CN and CP, are voting for a nationwide strike.

On the wider international stage, SNCF workers went on strike on July 6 and 7 to demand inflation-indexed wage increases, as large sections of workers in Europe go on strike against rising cost of life. It follows the biggest national strike in a generation by British railway workers.

Like the treacherous role played by the IBEW and the Teamsters in Canada, the British unions, led by the RMT union, did all they could to sabotage the strike before it started, including begging for talks with the anti-working class Conservative government of Boris Johnson. Key Tory MPs have denounced railway workers as “Putin’s minions”, while the government has responded with plans for repressive legislation to mobilize scabs and ban strikes in essential services.

What these recent struggles underscore is that the only viable starting point for a real struggle for better working conditions – including increases in wages and benefits, improving the balance between work and private life and the guarantee of health and safety provisions – is the construction of the line committees, controlled by the workers themselves, fighting in a wider political struggle against the priority given to corporate profit by relation to the well-being and safety of workers.

The CP Workers’ Rank and File Committee was founded in March to resist the betrayal of CP workers’ fight for an end to brutal hours and improved wages and workplace safety. CP Rail workers explicitly repudiated the Teamsters’ acceptance of binding arbitration and pledged to build a “common struggle against the creeping profitability and dictatorship imposed by the corporate unions that currently dominate the railroads.” North Americans”.

The IBEW’s sabotage of the signal and communications workers’ strike underscores that it is high time CN Rail workers heeded the call of their CP Rail brothers and sisters by forming their own rank-and-file committee to unify their struggle with rail workers around the world, all of whom face relentless attacks on their living standards and working conditions. This struggle must be guided by the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC) which provides the political leadership and organizational framework to coordinate a counter-offensive led by workers on a global scale and based on an anti-capitalist and socialist program. .