Labour’s New Frontier

McDuff & McDo
Young union organizers Maxime and Pascal from the film: 'Maxime, McDuff & McDo' (M.Isacsson)

Quebec has a higher percentage of union members (about 40%) than Canada as a whole (about 30%) or the United States (about 15%.) Perhaps this is why this province regularly sees pioneering efforts to extend unionization into new sectors. The most recent is the effort to sign up the workers at the Couche-Tard chain’s many convenience stores by the CSN, La confédération des syndicats nationaux.

The majority of employees in several locations have voted for the union. After threatening to close the stores where the workers voted for the union – in a video shown to the employees – management last week did just that, in one important store in Montreal. A choice location, at the corner of St. Denis and Beaubien, not one where the company can argue they were losing money. The union naturally accuses management of intimidation, and is maintaining the pressure.

This battle is reminiscent of one which touched Walmart in Quebec over the last couple of years, and saw that corporation close one major outlet in Jonquière.

This is all quite déjà vu for me, because I followed the attempts to unionize two McDonald’s franchises in Quebec for five years, from 1998 to 2003. I made two films, both produced by Virage and broadcast by Télé-Québec. The first one, Un Syndicat avec ça? (A Union with that?) saw a close-knit gang of experienced workers in Brossard bring in the union.

The second case was quite different. In Maxime, McDuff & McDo I followed two young men who signed up a majority of their very young co-workers in a downtown Montreal franchise on Peel street.

The result? The multinational closed down both restaurants, and there is still no unionized McDonald’s in Canada or the U.S.

The right to free association is a democratic right. How many stores is Couche-Tard willing to close before they accept the union?

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.

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Magnus Isacsson

As an independent documentary filmmaker I have made some fifteen films dealing with social, political and environmental issues. Previously I was a television and radio producer. I was born in Sweden in 1948, immigrated to Canada in 1970. I live with Jocelyne and our daughter Béthièle in Montreal, and my older daughter Anna lives in Toronto.