Support the Dominion
Support the Dominion
SUDBURY—As the longest strike in Sudbury’s history rolls on, United Steelworkers union organizers are calling for an end to the use of replacement workers, blaming the practice for prolonging the strike.
“If there was anti-scab legislation in place, this strike would’ve been over months ago," Bernie Arsenault told The Dominion. Arsenault, a member of Steelworkers Local 6500, added that the use of replacement workers is new in the experience of the Steelworkers.
Three-thousand three-hundred Steelworkers from locals 6500 in Sudbury and 6200 in Port Colborne have been on strike against mining giant Vale Inco since July 13, 2009, in what has become the longest strike in the history of all three parties. Central issues in the contract bargaining process are pension plans, workers’ nickel bonuses, seniority transfer rights, the contracting out of jobs and the reinstatement of nine activists who were fired during the course of the strike.
To increase pressure, United Steelworkers Local 6500 declared May “anti-scab month,” distributing flyers to homes around the Sudbury area appealing to citizens to support proposed provincial anti-replacement worker legislation.
The Steelworkers union also convinced Sudbury city council to adopt a symbolic motion in support of anti-replacement worker legislation. At the end of May, 10 months and one week into the strike, the Local 6500 held a rally in front of Sudbury Member of Provincial Parliament Rick Bartolucci’s office, calling on him to end his neutrality on the subject of replacement workers.
“When you sit on the fence, your backside is facing somebody, and I think we all know who that somebody is,” rally organizer Jamie West said through a megaphone. “There is no neutral. When you’re silent, when you refuse to take a stand and you hold office, you automatically take the side that has the most money.”
A release from Bartolucci’s office stated "Mr. Bartolucci has and will continue to oppose the use of replacement workers.” Yet Bartolucci remained silent when the anti-replacement worker bill passed its first reading in provincial parliament.
Such legislation existed for a brief period in the 1990s after being introduced by Bob Rae's NDP government, but was scrapped by Mike Harris' Conservatives.
A group called CANARYS (Community Activists Need Answers Regarding Your Safety) formed in response to the strike, and has supported the push to end the practice of hiring replacement workers.
“Of course the scabs have a huge effect on the Sudbury community, from dividing the community to the implications that they will have on safety,” explains Laurie McGauley, a founder of CANARYS and long-time community activist.
“A lot of work has gone into making things safer at the mine over the decades, and the union has been intrinsic to this" continued McGauley. "Now we have people coming from other communities, who are not trained and who do not have experience with the mine, operating without a union that has experience in a mine, which is a very dangerous operation."
McGauley’s concern over safety mixes with her sobering vision of what a defeat of the strike could mean: “If [Vale Inco] manages to break this strike, that would have huge repercussions for all workers in Ontario, all over North America, because it would be a signal to everybody that replacement workers can be used to bust a union. To bust a historically-strong union like [United Steelworkers Local] 6500 is a huge symbolic loss for all unions in Canada as well as in north America.”
The proposed anti-replacement worker bill is expected to go through its second reading in November. In the meantime, intermittent talks between Vale Inco and Steelworker Locals 6500 and 6200 continue.
Shailagh Keaney is a writer and gardener living in occupied Atikameksheng Anishinawbek territory.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.