Union leader says work­ers be­ing sold out

Pro­test­ers vent anger at OCI, provin­cial govern­ment

The Southern Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BY COLIN MA­CLEAN

It was an event filled with pas­sion­ate speeches and heart­felt commentary on an is­sue that strikes a sen­si­tive nerve in this prov­ince - so it was a sur­prise when the most fiery speaker was a vis­i­tor to this prov­ince.

Ken Lewenza, national pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Auto Work­ers union (CAW), flew into St. John’s for a protest Tues­day.

His au­di­ence was a crowd of about 200 peo­ple who had gath­ered on the front steps of the Par­adise of­fices of New­found­land and Labrador seafood com­pany Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional (OCI).

“Broth­ers and sis­ters, work­ers from one end of the coun­try to the other are be­ing sold out by the cor­po­rate sec­tor, be­ing sold out by govern­ment.”

The peo­ple were there to ex­press their anger at OCI, and by ex­ten­sion the provin­cial govern­ment, over the fate of the Port Union and Marys­town fish plants, both of which are owned by OCI. In late 2011, the com­pany an­nounced the clo­sure of both plants, a de­ci­sion that threw hundreds of work­ers in both com­mu­ni­ties out of work.

CAW is the as­so­ci­ate union of the rally’s or­ga­niz­ers, the Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers’ union (FFAW).


A long-time union or­ga­nizer and pub­lic speaker, Mr. Lewenza de­liv­ered a spir­ited speech to his com­pa­tri­ots about the larger pic­ture of their own sit­u­a­tion, namely the spat of labour dis­putes in Canada in re­cent mem­ory.

He sug­gested New­found­land and Labrador is a mi­cro­cosm for what’s hap­pen­ing across the coun­try, which is why it’s so im­por­tant the work­ers in this prov­ince fight for their jobs and their re­sources.

“Each and ev­ery time they say ‘free trade,’ ev­ery time they say dereg­u­late, ev­ery time they say ‘give us a tem­po­rary ex­emp­tion,’ ev­ery time they say ‘give us more,’ it’s never enough! Un­til ev­ery sin­gle work­place is closed and ev­ery sin­gle New­found­lan­der and Labrado­rian is left fight­ing for the crumbs. That’s not the Canada that I know.”

He also crit­i­cized the provin­cial govern­ment for not pro­vid­ing lead­er­ship on the is­sue.

“I see the de­bate go­ing on in the news­pa­per. But do you know where the de­bate ought to go?

“The leg­is­la­ture should be open to­day ... I heard the premier say this morn­ing, ‘we don’t have any leg­is­lat­tion.’ Well God damn it, get out here! You’ve got to leg­is­late pro­tec­tion for work­ers; you’ve got to speak on the be­half your con­stituents. OCI will sur­vive, but they shouldn’t get a help­ing hand from the govern­ment.”

Mr. Lewenza was the fi­nal speaker of the af­ter­noon’s protest. Other speak­ers in­cluded provin­cial union lead­ers such as FFAW/CAW pres­i­dent Earle Mc­curdy and Carol Fur­long, pres­i­dent of the New­found­land and Labrador As­so­ci­a­tion of Pub­lic and Pri­vate Em­ploy­ees, as well as op­po­si­tion lead­ers such as Lib­eral leader Dwight Ball and NDP leader Lor­raine Michael.

But no mat­ter who took the mega­phone, the mes­sage was clear. Over and over speak­ers called on the provin­cial govern­ment to do more to pro­tect the prov­ince’s fish­eries re­sources and to keep the work from that re­source in this prov­ince.

Mr. Mc­curdy told the crowd New­found­land and Labrador is “at a fun­da­men­tal turn­ing point in terms of the his­tory and the econ­omy of coastal com­mu­ni­ties in this prov­ince. This is about noth­ing less than whether or not there will be a fish pro­cess­ing sec­tor in our fu­ture in this prov­ince.”

Mr. Ball ac­cused the prov­ince of hav­ing no plan or creative so­lu­tions to the prob­lems fac­ing the fish­ery.

“We need to change the mind­set that there are too many prob­lems in our fish­eries, when there are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties if done the right way.”

Ms. Michael called on vot­ers to watch Fish­eries Min­is­ter Darin King closely, to make sure the prov­ince doesn’t give away the re­source by piece­meal.

Two weeks ago Mr. King an­nounced the prov­ince wouldn’t grant OCI a per­ma­nent ex­emp­tion to min­i­mum pro­cess­ing re­quire­ments for red­fish or yel­low­tail. The two op­po­si­tion par­ties praised that de­ci­sion, but Ms. Michael warned Tues­day the re­source is threat­ened.

“Say­ing ‘no’ to a per­ma­nent ex­emp­tion is one thing - but giv­ing it away bit by bit in what is called ‘short term ex­emp­tions,’ is still giv­ing it away. And we can’t al­low that to hap­pen.”

Marys­town Mayor Sam Sy­nard could not be at the rally in St. John’s Tues­day, but voiced his sup­port to the cause of the work­ers.

“I think it shows how se­ri­ous the work­ers are about want­ing to re­main in the fish pro­cess­ing busi­ness. Many of these peo­ple have given their adult lives in both these fish plants ... it shows that they’ve made a huge com­mit­ment to the fish­ing in­dus­try in New­found­land and Labrador.”

The Tele­gram of­fered OCI the op­por­tu­nity to re­spond to the con­cerns raised at the protest, but the com­pany de­clined.

Joe Gib­bons Photo/the Tele­gram

Ken Lewenza, national pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Auto Work­ers, was among Tues­day’s speak­ers.

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