Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Twenty years ago, demand for newsprint was declining. Workers at the Port-Alfred factory would pay the price.

When 640 paper workers lost their jobs in La Baie

The last quarter of work ended on December 13, 2003 at the Port-Alfred Factory.


Voice synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from a written text.

Laval Perron consults his personal archives which date from the years of the closure of the Abitibi-Consolidated factory in La Baie, the “Consol”. The large notebook filled with yellowed, laminated newspaper articles speaks of the decline in demand… for newsprint. 20 years ago, the 640 workers at La Baie were experiencing the consequences of a world in the midst of technological change.

The former president of the National Union of workers at the Port-Alfred factory, Laval Perron, initially declined our interview request. Talking about the closure of the factory brings back memories, he says.

What I'm wondering is: "Why do you want to talk about it again?", he continues.

Laval Perron finally agrees to grant one last interview, but not in front of the Consol pitch. It is in our studios that he goes to review significant images of this sad story.

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Laval Perron watches a video sequence which recalls the closure of the Port-Alfred factory. On the screen, a report describes the workers leaving the factory after their last shift.

The workers learned on the morning of December 10, 2003 that the factory was going to close indefinitely. They were already planning a closure for a few weeks during the holiday season, but not one of this kind. At that time, several employees believed that the factory was going to reopen.

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Guys, they want to work. It was good working conditions and good salaries. When you lost that… We're going to pay between $25 and $35 an hour…It's not on every street corner that there's that.

A quote from Laval Perron, former president of the Port-Alfred factory union

Abitibi-Consolidated stated at this time that it wanted to reduce its production costs.

Normand Lemoyne was a foreman in the technical services department. After a meeting in the big office, he had to go and break the bad news.

That was the worst day, going on the floor. However, even if the doors were closed, it was already on the floor, among the union members, in other words. It was bad words, all kinds of business. We also understood. But we were humans too, he remembers.

The factory had already experienced work stoppages. They are common in pulp and paper. Mario Dallaire worked at the factory not far from his home. He had purchased and renovated a home on 1st Street, very close to his workplace.

We believed so much that it was going to take off again that we even cleaned the equipment completely clean while we tightened it. We oiled all the engines and mechanical parts in the event of a future departure because we believed that we were going to be bought by other companies.

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Mario Dallaire lives opposite the former Abitibi-Consolidated land in La Baie. The ex-factory worker has witnessed the changing landscape near his home since the facilities were dismantled.

On the evening of December 13, the workers solemnly left the factory, grouped and sad.

The Radio-Canada archives allow us to hear a Laval Perron who promises his workers to do everything possible to give them back their livelihood.

I will put all my heart, my energy and those of Port-Alfred behind me and then with me to open this factory.

A quote from Laval Perron, December 13, 2003

Laval Perron then obtains a meeting with the president of Abitibi-Consolidated and tries to make him change his mind. Without success.

These companies make a lot of money. They employ a lot of people. They make profits. When they no longer make profits, they close the factory, he notes.

The population of La Baie then shows solidarity with the workers of the Consol. A big march is organized by students from the Polyvalente de La Baie. Thousands of people take to the streets.

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A demonstration bringing together 3,000 people took place to demand a reopening of the factory.

We had just broken efficiency and production records. We thought it was going to start again, but the future told us it was something else.

A quote from Mario Dallaire, a former worker

Workers held out hope of a reopening for a little over a year. The news finally broke on January 26, 2005. A letter was sent by fax to the union, another sign of the times. The factory is closing permanently.

In La Baie, times are tough. A crisis unit is formed with the factory nurse. We must avoid the worst.

André Boudreault, a retired former worker, is involved in this committee. For a year, he acted as a sort of sentinel.

The rest of us, the fear was having people in our group commit suicide.

A quote from André Boudreault, former worker

When a former employee needed support, he went to meet him. He remembers spending entire days with some.

He also has an idea to keep the men busy and allow them to recreate the group spirit of the factory.

I told the mayor, Jean Tremblay, give us the arena every day and at least we will be with these people all morning, says the one who already played hockey. All the people who are together sometimes make us forget things.

It’s been 20 years and the league still exists. Some men stopped, others joined. They meet three times a week to play hockey, rebuild the world and have a beer, laughs André Boudreault.

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These “Consol” alumni see each other three times a week. In blue, Paul-Robert Asselin no longer plays, but he still comes to see his comrades at the Jean-Claude Tremblay arena.

On November 17, 2006, many workers gathered to witness the grounding of the chimney of their dismantled factory.

Most workers found other employment, but not always at the same salary as at the factory. Some were relocated to other facilities and experienced further closures. The pulp and paper industry was in the midst of change.

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The dismantling of the Port-Alfred factory facilities was a significant moment for several workers.

Laval Perron became a bus driver for the Société de transport du Saguenay (STS). Mario Dallaire works for Contact Nature, where he is responsible for wildlife protection.

Out of passion, I was asked to work there for a month or two. I've been here 18 years, he says.

Some workers have not been able to make the transition to a new job. They were unemployed, then had to turn to social assistance.

Pierre Gravel was an executive in technical services at the factory. He is part of the still active hockey team.

You wake up and from one day to the next, you no longer have any work. It hits. Not just the person, even us, the wife, the children. Everyone around you. Almost all of us are in mourning, expresses the former employee.

The closure of the “Consol” left a deep wound in the fabric social of La Baie. According to workers with whom Radio-Canada spoke, two people committed suicide.

Sometimes, you put a glass of water, you put an extra drop, that's when it overflows, image Laval Perron.< /p>

The loss of the factory in the landscape of La Baie represents another form of mourning for the alumni of Consol. Laval Perron no longer wants to go back and he is not the only one.

My children knew the factory, but my grandchildren did not know the factory, notes Normand Lemoyne. When we tell them: "Your grandfather worked there. They do not know. It's an empty lot. You have nothing left. “It's flat land,” he said of the land since sold in Saguenay by Produits Forestières Résolu, the company resulting from, among others, Abitibi-Consolidated.

Several workers asked us why reopen this wound? Why talk about it again? However, many of them make the link between what happened to them and job losses in the media world.

In 2003, we was preparing to move from the world of print to the digital age. Consol workers paid the price.

The Internet system, people no longer read newspapers. We were making newspaper! It started the Internet and all that. Look where we are, notes Laval Perron, who is always deeply affected when massive job losses are announced.

D&#x27 ;after a report by Claude Bouchard




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