Hundreds of trade unionists from around Canada, joined by allies from other organizations, marched through the streets of Ottawa to Parliament Hill to denounce the proposed Canadian-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) on September 25 as it was being initialed by Canadian and EU representatives.
Within the halls of Parliament, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosted Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in a ceremony to declare they have reached an agreement on CETA. They attempted to state that CETA had been finalized and all that remains for it to be implemented is for European member state parliaments to give their stamp of approval
However, to chants of “It’s not over!” the marchers vowed to keep the fight alive as votes for CETA’s approval must be taken by elected bodies in Canada and Europe.
In late August, the Seafarers Union of Canada received information leaked from the secret trade talks that negotiators planned to give away many domestic seafaring jobs. A week later, the union’s president, Jim Given (who also serves as the MTD’s Eastern Area Executive Board Member), gathered maritime labor representatives from around the country to form the Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition. (The MTD is a founding member.) Since that initial gathering, the coalition has received support from others, including Canadian-flag shippers.
Before marching to Parliament Hill, Given set the militant tone for the demonstration: “CETA is a bad deal for Canada. It’s a bad deal for our industry, and we’re not going to take it anymore! We’re not going to sit back while bureaucrats and politicians dictate how we make our living! We’ve been too quiet for too long. Those days are over.”
Barriers had been erected obstructing the stairs leading up to Parliament due to the pact’s initialing ceremony. Assembling in front of the barricades, Given added, “We come to these buildings, and they’ve got the gates up and the doors shut. This is our house. Not their house, our house!
“And then they talk about us — they talk about labor. As if we’re just a commodity, one that can be traded at the stroke of a pen. Well, we’ve got bad news today: this is our house! And we’re taking it back! Don’t anybody think this is the end. This is where we start. Because the labor movement in this country has finally woken up. You kicked the dog once too often, Mr. Harper, and now it’s payback time!
Given told the gathering that “CETA will destroy the Canadian shipping industry. And make no bones about it, and don’t believe the lies, it will destroy us if it goes through. We’re going to afford this government no quarter, nowhere they can hide. Every time that they’re out on their campaign trails, we’ll be out beside them. Every time they make a stop to say how great they are, we’ll be there beside them to tell the truth.
“We are surrounded by our friends today. Don’t think we’re alone. If you look at what’s happening in the EU, there are big problems for Mr. Harper’s agreement. How many times can they say it’s done, when it’s not done! There’s time! The EU want changes, we want changes!”
Denise Gagnon, Director of Department of International Solidarity of Quebec Federation of Labour spoke about workers’ demands for an open discussion of CETA.
“For over three years, in Quebec and the rest of Canada, we have been demanding that there be talks and negotiations on the free trade agreements,” Gagnon declared. “Nothing was done and today they are telling us that this deal has actually been signed! No to CETA! We are not going to let the multinational corporations change our public policies on job development, health care, environmental protection etc. What we see today, people from the maritime industry protesting, is just a beginning because as we learn more about the agreement, more and more workers will join the protest and demand that governments reject this deal.”
Adding to labor’s call was Marie Clarke Walker, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). She pledged the support of the organization and its members to the fight against CETA. The CLC is a founding member of the Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition.
A representative of the International Transport Workers’ Federation spoke on the international dimensions of the Canadian fight against CETA. He said that by waging their struggle to block CETA and defend cabotage in Canada, the trade unionists are defending all mariners, their industry, and cabotage rights everywhere.
Despite the government representatives signing CETA, the proposed free trade agreement must still clear votes in the Canadian provinces as well as throughout the national legislative bodies of EU states. This process is expected to take more than a year.