IT WAS A CHICKEN LITTLE MOMENT IN QUEBEC. The sky was falling because a million chickens would be “euthanized”—all because 600 chicken plant workers dared to think they mattered more than chickens.
The workers had been on strike for 26 days when the news of the mass kill of chickens became a hot topic. The elites latched on to it as a way to launch a moral crusade to force the workers to knuckle under and submit to an imposed settlement to their strike.
All about the chickens
Premier François Legault called the mass chicken kill a “shame that needs to stop.” in a Facebook post on June 16.
“Workers have the right to strike and employers have the right to lockout. But we shouldn’t be allowed to waste huge amounts of food so stupidly. It’s indecent,” Legault said.
Quebec Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne claimed United Food and Commerial Workers negotiators have a “moral responsibility” to put an end to the “waste” by immediately ending the strike.
Following Legault’s lead the mainstream media piled on with a flurry of articles and opinion pieces by leading media commentators. There were hysterical evocations of “millions of wasted meals” and melodramatic pleas about the purported plight of chickens “euthanized” because they could not be processed for human consumption.
The feds even weighed in: Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal Liberal government’s agriculture minister. called the situation “intolerable,”and demanded the union call off the strike and submit to arbitration.
‘Moral’ outrage misplaced
It was all bullshit.
The barely disguised purpose of it all was to support the employer demand that the CAQ government force the workers back to work.
The truth is the workers are going up against Exceldor, an agri-food giant with revenues of more than one billion Canadian dollars a year and plants in four Canadian provinces.
Nearly one million chickens are processed for human consumption at the Saint-Anselme plant each week. Since Exceldor made no arrangements for what would happen to its daily operations in the event of a strike, a portion of those slaughtered chickens could not be used as food.
But, they were not wasted. The carcasses would be used in other ways, for things like fertilizer for example.
The Québec labour minister offered to appoint an arbitrator to settle the dispute. The union declined the offer, saying it would prefer to continue with negotiations to win improvements to their wages, and vacation and group insurance benefits, rather than have a third party impose a collective agreement.
No need to impose settlement
“We have to give the conciliation process a chance,” said Roxane Larouche, spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. “Of course, we are sensitive to food waste, there is no one who wants that. But it is the employer’s responsibility.”
Mandatory arbitration is a pro-employer mechanism in which a government-appointed arbitrator dictates a “collective agreement.” During such a process, the parties involved must give up all pressure tactics, depriving workers of their legal right to strike or to mount any job action whatsoever.
The most remarkable feature of the cynical “morality campaign” over the fate of Québec’s chickens is the total absence of any consideration of the fate of all Québec workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic—particularly those in the food industry, who rank among those most harmed by the coronavirus.
The World Socialist Website observed: “The ruling class is so impervious to the concerns and needs of working people that its political representatives feel no shame in focusing exclusively on the fate of chickens bred for slaughter, without so much as bothering to pay lip service to the safety and lives of workers.”
A possible settlement?
On June 23, union negotiators agreed to submit a “settlement plan”, developed by a mediator, to its members—provided the company’s management accepts the proposal.
Corporate representatives said they could not accept the plan without approval from senior management.
- 30 -