Sunday, January 11, 2009

Toronto’s Unknown Strike: Korex Soap Workers Fight for Basic Rights

by Thomas Saczkowski & Farshad Azadian
Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)

The Korex soap factory just minutes east of the Esplanade community has been the site of Toronto’s least known labour strike for more than six months.

On June 2, 2008 110 skilled workers of the Korex factory in Toronto began a strike because of labour issues with the Pensler Capital Corporation. Sandford Pensler, the owner of the corporation, purchased the soap manufacturing plant in 2001 from Unilever. ”The management wanted to do away with the collective agreement, they wanted to make us into part time workers with no job security. They cut wages, seniority benefits, and the right to grieve” said Bill McLachlan, the union’s Chief Steward

Since the strike began only 3 workers have crossed the lines to work under the new conditions. With only 3 “scabs”, the remaining 107 workers have held the picket lines at the entrance of the plant 24 hours a day 7 days a week since June 2008. “We still have good morale and we are strong and we are accomplishing something with still having a 107 committed people out here even on New Years Day and Christmas.” said Mclachlan.

Over the past 8 months the strikers have created a unique environment for themselves. A self-constructed building provides most of the basic necessities for the workers on the line. The Pensler Corporation has gone to various extents to close down the picket lines by placing injunctions on the executive council, and cutting the hydro to their building. Even with the Pensler Corporation refusing to negotiate with the union, these strong and courageous workers have proved that they are willing to fight to the very end for their very modest demands.

Meanwhile, there have been safety concerns around the operation of the dangerous chemical plant by untrained scab labourers. Workers at the plant say that at least one year of training is required to be able to run the plant effectively. In response to concerns about the safety of the plant Angus Mortson a striking worker says “ if that place goes, it takes out the whole block with it” This exhibits that the bosses are putting the well-being of near-by communities, such as the Esplanade, at unnecessary risk. The management’s greed and refusal to give their workers the status quo has caused a volatile situation for the surrounding community.