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Strike vote spreads across country

Cargill workers can’t afford the meat they process

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Nearly 1,000 workers at the Cargill Dunlop beef processing plant in Guelph, Ontario, have been on strike for over two weeks. The main reason for the strike, workers say, is that the multi-billion-dollar agribusiness giant has failed to pay its workers enough to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The workers at this plant (the largest of its kind in Ontario), represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 175, voted 99% in favour of a strike. They have been working without a collective agreement since January. Workers have already rejected an offer made by Cargill in May by a vote of 82%. 

On Monday, Cargill workers at the Case Ready plant near Calgary voted 100% to strike if no contract agreement is reached. Unanimous strike votes are a rarity for large bargaining units. 

"As one of the largest privately owned companies in the world and an agribusiness giant that posted $177 billion in revenues in 2023, Cargill can certainly afford to do the right thing," said Thomas Hesse, president of UFCW Local 401, which represents the Case Ready workers.

Cargill is one of the largest corporate monopolies in the world and the largest privately owned company in North America. It is one of four multinational corporations which together control more than 70% of the global market for agricultural products. 

In 2021, the ultra-wealthy Cargill family reaped the benefits of the largest profits in the company’s 159-year history. The company's revenues increased by $14.4 billion from 2020 as prices for agricultural goods soared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic, the company took away a $2.00/hour COVID pay raise from workers at the Guelph plant. This is a major point of contention for the Guelph workers.

Kelly Tasota, President of the Guelph plant's union, UFCW Local 175, declared: “the decision to go on strike is never easy, but these members aren’t satisfied with what the company has brought to the table. And we will have their backs until their Union Negotiating Committee can achieve a deal that reflects the nature of their hard work and commitment to creating quality food products that feed hundreds of thousands."

Community support is also important, says Navidad, a strike captain at Cargill Dunlop. "A lot of unions have come by, the electrician unions, steel workers’ union. Small businesses like pizza places have dropped off pizzas, [local co-op cafe] Planet Bean... The support has been great from the community, and as time goes, I'd guess we're going to see more of that."

During a community rally, Navidad told the North Star that picket lines are holding strong, despite negotiations stalling. "Neither side is really talking, but there's pressure from every angle, especially the farmers. It's at a standstill in negotiations."

This pressure comes from the fact that Cargill processes 80% of Ontario's cattle. Meanwhile, workers at the beef processing facility report not being able to afford the meat they process.

Susan Rosenthal, a rally organizer with Justice for Workers, says she believes the strike will potentially have a positive impact overall for workers.

"If workers can make a breakthrough in any section of the economy, of higher wages than inflation, it really does have a ripple effect on all other workers."

"Striking is a power. Stopping the flow of profit, and not only stopping the flow but coming to understand that you have the power to do that. That society doesn’t run without workers, who every day are making society happen."

Negotiations are set to continue June 20 and 21 for the Cargill Calgary plant. The 100% strike vote sends a clear message that the Calgary workers are more than willing to join their Guelph counterparts in striking if Cargill does not offer a fair contract in the coming weeks.

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