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Rail Workers Scuffle With Police Outside Parliament

August 28, 1987

OTTAWA (AP) _ Railway workers scuffled with police outside Parliament and rallied in other cities Friday to protest mandatory back-to-work legislation ending a five-day national rail strike.

″We won’t go 3/8 We won’t go 3/8″ workers shouted at a mass meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when a union leader told them to obey the law and return to their jobs once the emergency bill was passed.

The walkout by 48,000 members of nine unions has paralyzed all passenger and freight traffic and cost the railways $20 million ($15 million U.S.) a day.

When contract talks broke down Thursday, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government introduced the back-to-work measure, including compulsory arbitration.

The House of Commons passed it early Friday and the Senate, an appointed body, gave its consent later in the day. The law was drafted to take effect within 12 hours of passage.

The two national rail networks, state-owned Canadian National and privately-run CP Rail, said trains could be rolling again this weekend if the workers abide by the law.

Via Rail passenger trains will resume Monday if workers return, the company said. Until then, U.S.-bound passengers will reach the border by bus.

Union members considered the government bill a setback after 10 months of arduous negotiations, since it contained no guarantee that their demands for greater job security would be addressed in arbitration.

The railways have shed 15,800 jobs in the past 10 years and seek new economies ahead of transport deregulation next January. The unions want guaranteed jobs for all workers with at least four years’ service, and improved early retirement provisions.

Hundreds of strikers gathered Friday morning on Parliament Hill in a replay of 1973 when 1,800 workers stormed the building to protest a similar back-to- work order ending the last national rail strike.

Scores of policemen, some in riot gear, sealed off all entrances this time, although there was at least one arrest when a wave of demonstrators broke through a barricade and a scuffle ensued.

Placards read ″Run Mulroney Out On A Rail″ and ″No Vote For Us - No Vote For You.″

Chief union negotiator Armand Passaretti said it was up to each of the nine unions to instruct members whether to obey the legislation, which carries minimum penalties of $500 ($375 U.S.) a day for rank-and-file members, $10,000 ($7,500 U.S.) for officials and $20,000 ($15,000 U.S.) for unions or companies who defy it.

In Calgary, Alberta, 600 strikers marched through the city disrupting traffic and chanting, ″What do we want? The right to strike 3/8″

Shopcraft union leader Hugh Mawhinney won cheers when he told his members in Winnipeg that they could decide whether to obey the legislation.

″You guys, the workers, will decide when you’re going back to work,″ he said.

But most of the strikers were expected to return to their jobs, although some groups threatened a go-slow when they do.

″We’ve lost a week’s wages and all we’ve done is moved up the schedule of bargaining to arbitration,″ complained Winnipeg picket line organizer Gary Wish, a CP Rail employee.

Meanwhile, another national strike loomed on the horizon. By a 3-1 margin, the 22,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have voted in favor of a strike as early as Sept. 20, union president Jean-Claude Parrot announced.

Job security is again the key issue in a contract dispute with state-owned Canada Post, he said.

A government mediator settled a 19-day national strike by another postal union, the letter carriers, last month.

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