by Barry Weisleder
After eight months on strike, workers in Sudbury, Ontario overwhelmingly rejected contract demands from the Brazilian-based nickel giant Vale Inco on March 12.
More than 88 per cent of members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 voted down a five-year deal that would phase out defined pension benefits, cut special bonus pay, reduce employee work place rights, allow more contracting-out and provide no assurances some would return to their jobs. Despite the hardship of members losing thousands of dollars in pay, the percentage of workers voting against the concessions ‘offer’ is higher than when they opposed the initial company position and walked off the job last July.
In the meantime, Vale hired scabs and sued the union for allegedly engaging in unlawful activity and property damage. The USW is counter-suing, but concentrating on strengthening picket lines and rallying support from far and wide.
Over three thousand people marched and rallied in the streets of the nickel capital on March 22 to show they back the embattled workers. Socialist Action correspondent Judy Koch joined hundreds who boarded buses in Toronto and other cities to attend the boisterous gathering. She reported that “participants in the march were very enthusiastic”. Avid interest in socialist ideas was reflected in sales of SA newspaper (a bundle of 40 copies sold quickly) and by the warm welcome for an SA strike support leaflet. At the same time, workers across Canada are coming to appreciate the significance of the current struggle.
Nickel miners in Sudbury, and at other Vale operations from the sandy shores of Lake Erie to the north-eastern wilderness of Labrador, are setting a powerful example of solidarity and determination to resist the kind of concessions that have devastated workers’ collective agreements in manufacturing and natural resource industries.
The dispute in Sudbury, where the USW represents about 3,000 employees, is nearly as long as the 8 ½ month strike by 11,700 workers in 1978-79, which holds the record for most worker-days lost in Canadian history.
Management has generated much bad blood since Vale bought Inco for $19.4 billion (U.S.) in 2006. Workers filed 4,900 grievances in the three years prior to the walkout.
This marathon strike, the use of scabs in a hard core union town, the company’s gross arrogance, and the sheer value of the industry all serve to drive home the point: it is high time to nationalize Vale Inco, without any compensation to the biggest shareholders, and operate it under workers’ and community control.