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"There Is No Neutral"

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Issue: 69 Section: Labour Geography: Ontario Sudbury, Port Colborne Topics: Mining, labour, union, scabs

June 21, 2010

"There Is No Neutral"

Striking Vale Inco workers push for local politicians, residents to back anti-scab legislation

by Shailagh Keaney

At a union rally, Steelworkers symbolically turn their backs on local MPP Bartolucci for refusing to take a decisive stand against replacement workers. Photo: Shailagh Keaney

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.

A striker speaks about the need of anti-replacement worker legislation at a union rally at MPP Bartolucci's office. Bartolucci has refused to take a decisive stand. Photo: Shailagh Keaney

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.

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REplacement worker

Perhaps the reason MPP for Sudbury is reluctant to offer any real leadership....direction ...or action on the side of the USW 6500 strikers is that his Daughter, is employed by Vale, as a Communications Officer and her position could be considered redundant if The Sudbury MPP exhibits the duties for his constituents

The use of the word "scab"

The use of the word "scab" to describe a person who is exercising their right to freedom of action is so childish and typifies the union movement.
Picture a group of twelve year olds in a school yard taunting the kids who are perceived to be a little smarter or maybe not fitting into the rest of the group. Those twelve year olds represent the union thugs and union sympathizers who are the ones who feel they are entitled to higher wages even though they have done nothing to deserve it. They are the ones who have deluded themselves into thinking that they are deserving of the fruits of someone else's labour.
I am not a union member but I can guarantee that if I was, I would be the first "scab" to join the lineup for the moniker.


Could we please get a follow-up article to this one? What's the stand right now? Did scabs officially bust the union? A month is a lot of time for change to happen and the outcomes will have some huge implications.



update on Vale-Inco strike

from the Toronto Media Co-op:


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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.

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