Chantier Politique

March 31, 2019

English Edition, No. 6

ABI Locked Out Workers' Energy March

Workers Demand Concrete Action from the Premier to End the Lockout in a Manner Acceptable to Them

Locked out ABI workers in front of National Assembly, March 27, 2019

On March 26 and 27, locked-out Bécancour ABI aluminum smelter workers participated in an Energy March in Trois-Rivières and Quebec City. The purpose was twofold: to call upon the Legault government to intervene so that the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel ends the lockout in a manner acceptable to the workers, and to demand that the energy contract between Alcoa, the government and Hydro-Quebec be re-opened so that Alcoa pays for its reserved preferential rate energy block. The workers have made it abundantly clear that in no way does this lockout, planned and decreed by the company, constitute a "force majeure" or "Act of God," that would free it of its responsibility to pay for that energy.


On March 26, some 200 ABI workers walked for two hours to the riding office of Labour Minister Jean Boulet in Trois-Rivières. From there, they took another two-hour walk through the city's streets. Throughout their action, they were warmly greeted by everyone, as people honked their horns, waved and shook hands with them.

United Steelworkers' Local 9700 President Clément Masse spoke, reminding the workers that with regard to the company's demands for concessions and its refusal to negotiate a contract acceptable to them, François Legault had said prior to the election that Alcoa's position was not serious. He said that the time for the Premier to act was now. This is what Clément had to say about the energy contract: "The lockout has lasted for so long, over 14 months and counting, because ABI is not fully assuming the economic consequences of its decision. In 2018 alone, Alcoa was able to save $165 million at the expense of Hydro-Quebec and Quebeckers. As citizens, it is outrageous to see that our government is complicit in the lockout." [Editor's Note: as of March 30, 2019, Hydro-Quebec had lost $275 million as a result of non-payment by Alcoa.]

Quebec City

On March 27, around 300 ABI workers arrived at Quebec's National Assembly and were greeted by hundreds of workers from Quebec City, the Beauce region, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and from as far away as Fermont, on the North Shore. Members of several unions were also present, including the United Steelworkers, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Teamsters, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and others. Retirees from Arcelor Mittal in Contrecoeur were also in attendance, as were students from Laval University, who announced a donation of $600 for ABI workers.

Several speakers addressed the crowd. On that occasion, Clément Masse commented that Premier Legault had told the press that the energy contract, with its "force majeure" clause, was a contract signed by governments that was "kids' stuff." The union president's response to that is that the Premier will have to "show leadership, modify the clause and re-balance the power between ourselves and our employer." He added that the fact that Alcoa is not forced to pay for its electricity block explains in large part why it is demanding a whole series of anti-labour and anti-union concessions and systematically refuses to negotiate an end to the lockout.

During the actions it was learned that Premier Legault will be meeting with the union and company representatives on Monday, April 1. Through the media, the Premier has made it clear that he expects the union to make further concessions and that he will not touch the energy contract. This is totally unacceptable and the workers are determined to continue their struggle until they obtain justice.

Although the energy contract is a one-way contract dictate for monopolies such as Alcoa, it clearly states that a lockout is a "force majeure" that releases Alcoa from its responsibilities as long as it is an "unforeseeable, irresistible event beyond the control of a Party that delays, interrupts or impedes the performance, in whole or in part, by that Party of its obligations under the Contract." This is clearly not the case with the ABI lockout, which was planned from A to Z to attack the workers, the community and the union.

(Photos: Chantier politique, Métallos)

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