This match-up pits Vale, intent on taking much more than just rich nickel reserves from Canadian soil, against miners and metalworkers, who together with their families see now experience unique fusion through their union in protecting their livelihoods.
Strikers here, as well as 500 other striking steelworkers at Port Colborne, Ontario, and Goose Bay and Voiseys Bay, Labrador, know now their walkouts will last through the long Canadian winter. They know by Vale’s reticence to return to bargaining, by the firm’s secretive and intimidating posture to resume production, and by the fact that global nickel prices have not risen – following the collapse – to levels that will further maximize Vale’s profits.
“Everyone here knows what this fight is about,” Fera told the ICEM. “Every worker on strike is fully engaged and every family member knows what is at stake for this community. And that is a credit to the Steelworkers union.”
He then ticks off an ever-expanding list of local actions, activities, and self-help programmes that USW Local 6500 is engaged in through its newly-built union hall. Strikers receive C$200-a-week in strike benefits from the international union. That is supplemented by a big food bank, a special-needs fund, as well as social service professionals on duty – all operated out of a union hall that was rebuilt from a costly fire 14 months ago.
Local 6500 continues to launch activities on a weekly basis, including a “coats-for-kids” drive, in which donations from unions, organizations, and individuals will fund new winter wear. A recent “Family Day” on picket lines underscores what Fera speaks of. The union also will sponsor several Christmas events to forge even greater cohesion.
While dozens of striking steelworkers have taken the strike to Vale worksites and Vale showcase events on four continents, hundreds other Sudbury activists have been just as active at home. They have protested at Vale offices in Toronto, at provincial offices, and against a national Tory government that has turned a deaf ear to the Investment Canada Act, a law that is meant to protect Canadian jobs and resources when non-Canadian enterprises take over.
Sudbury strikers have also taken the fight to Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement, a Conservative who at the outset of the strike said the Sudbury region would be a “valley of death” had it not been for Vale buying Canadian-based Inco in 2006.
Now, as a fading day’s light turns rapidly to another winter night, the only semblance of death is on picket lines with Vale’s black-suited security guards trying to prod strikers into violent acts for the sake of cameras and the courtroom. Since early October, the company has feigned start-up of production. But there has been no real output, only Vale’s false tricks to psychologically intimidate workers.
The company has manipulated unionised administrative and technical workers, who remain on the job with a working labour agreement, to begin training for production. Fera says maybe 50 out of 450 such workers might be doing Local 6500 work, adding that three of the six mines might have limited activity. Workers and non-union personnel are also active in a nickel refinery, but there is no activity inside the huge, 100,000-metric-tonne-per-year smelter.
“The company wants us to believe that one shipment has gone out from the Clarabelle refinery, but our sources in transportation say this is not true,” Fera said.
The letter requested that Korea Zinc “refrain from the purchase, receipt, or processing of nickel and nickel products produced in Canadian facilities where members of the USW are on strike.”
The same team of Canadian strikers now in Korea – Nick Larochelle, Tim Kiley, along with the USW’s Doug Olthuis, and Brazilian CNM-CUT Metalworkers’ General Secretary Sergio Guerra – accompanied the ICEM and Indonesia Chemicals, Energy, Gas, and Mining affiliate, FSP-KEP, and its President D. Patombong Sjaiful, to Vale’s remote PT Indonesia Nickel Corp. at Soarako, Sulawesi. The delegation attempted to meet with miners there, themselves victimized by Vale’s corporate policies.
The unions produced a joint statement. It can be seen here.
In Brazil, a team of strikers from Canada, including those from both Ontario and Newfoundland/Labrador, were inside during a Vale investors meeting in Rio de Janeiro, raising questions related to the company’s social responsibilities. They also are meeting with politicians, civil society groups, and will address worker delegate assemblies of trade unions representing Vale miners and metalworkers, who are themselves considering ratification of tentative collective agreements with Vale in Brazil.
A week ago in the UK, a team of USW members joined top leaders of Unite the Union in a protest in front of Deutsche Bank in the City of London, while Vale was inside giving a report on its performance in global metals market.
In addition, LabourStart, the trade union activists’ portal to the global union movement, began an on-line protest against Vale two weeks ago. To lodge a protest with Vale in Brazil on its maltreatment of Canadian workers and there families, click here.
And back in Sudbury, all the latest strike activity by Local 6500, and Local 6200 in Port Colborne and Local 9508 in the Canadian maritime province, can be accessed by visiting the union’s excellent website, here.
Read the views of one of Sudbury's great working class leaders:
Son of a Working Man by Jim Tester
(The following article is from the October 1-15, 2009, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to: People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 133 Herkimer St., Unit 502, Hamilton, ON, L8P 2H3.)
"We call on the Federal government to nationalize the Canadian operations of this multinational corporation without further delay, repealing the 2006 agreement which allowed Vale to purchase the Canadian owned Inco," said the Ontario Committee.
"Vale's purchase of the mines and operations in Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey's Bay should not have been permitted in the first place, as the Sudbury mines are now wholly owned by foreign interests, at the expense of Canada's sovereignty.
"Vale is a vicious multinational employer bent on cutting the wages, pensions, benefits and working conditions of workers employed in one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Their aim is to inflate bloated profits, and use the current downturn in nickel prices to undermine free collective bargaining and slash the living standards and quality of life of Inco workers.
"Federal and provincial governments must take immediate action to protect workers, instead of protecting the companies that are exploiting them, and the resources that properly belong to all the people of Canada.
"The Communist Party stands in full support of the members of Local 6500 USWA in their just struggle to defend their livelihoods, their families, and their community. An injury to one is an injury to all!"
An interesting blog with some good thoughts and information about the struggle for justice in Sudbury:
My Cat May Be A Socialist