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Walkout in Canada:
Strikers stop scabs at Navistar

By Alan Maass | June 28, 2002 | Page 12

STRIKING WORKERS at a Navistar factory in Chatham, Ontario, are setting a fighting example for the labor movement on both sides of the border.

For most of last week, hundreds of strikers gathered at the plant gate in the early morning hours, determined to stop scabs from getting in. Security goons have been escorting supervisors into the plant since the walkout began June 1.

But when it came to their first attempts to send through buses carrying scab replacement workers, the bosses blinked--turning around the buses and their police escorts before they were confronted by picketers.

The Navistar strike is turning into a key battle for the Canadian labor movement as a whole--and their union brothers and sisters in the U.S. Navistar is taking a hard line. It wants the plant's 600 workers--members of Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 127--to accept a plan to cut $28 million in costs at the factory, which builds heavy trucks. According to union officials, that would mean a C$6 an hour rollback in wages, along with givebacks on benefits and work rules.

Management has threatened to move production to Mexico if it doesn't get the concessions. Meanwhile, the company has vowed to keep up production with scabs during the walkout.

Using replacement workers in a strike was illegal in Canada until labor laws were changed in the mid-1990s, and no employer has since tried to run scabs on a CAW strike. "This has infuriated people--with people coming in to take their jobs," said Bob Chernecki, a CAW spokesperson. "They've seen the true colors of Navistar, no question about that. People always want a settlement, but it's not going to be what Navistar wants to shove down our throats."

Navistar wants to look tough as it opens negotiations with the United Auto Workers over a contract at the company's Springfield, Ohio, plant. Meanwhile, the CAW is about to begin talks with the Big Three automakers.

Local 127 officials say that other CAW locals have offered their support on the picket line. Members of the union know that "we're first up, they're next," said one local official.

But strikers' willingness to confront scabs on the picket line is an important first step in winning this important fight.

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