The longest industrial dispute in over 100 years of mining operations in the Sudbury Basin, Canada, is still underway.
In 2008, the United Steelworkers (USW), which includes workers from all manner of workplaces, formed an alliance with the UK trade union Unite creating ‘Workers Uniting’, a new global entity. At the end of April 2010, USW-Canada held a policy convention in Toronto, where union members reiterated the need to combat neoliberalism by getting rid of inter-union competition and working together in a truly international union. USW’s international president, Leo Gerard, said:
“Our fights now, more than ever, are with global corporations. If we’re going to have the capacity to take them on, we’ve got to have not only the networks, but the solidarity.”
However, this supposed attempt of global union organising to curb corporate power is being seriously hindered in Ontario, Canada. Indeed, since the financial crisis of September 2008, the unions in Canada have lurched further to the right, imposing massive job, wage and benefits cuts on workers, integrating themselves more closely into management and becoming even more pro-capitalist.
Nickel mine workers at Vale-Inco mines in Ontario have been on strike for 10 months since 13th July 2009, with 3,100 workers striking in Sudbury and a further 200 striking at Vale’s Port Colborne refinery. Their ‘no concessions’ strike against Vale-Inco is currently in jeopardy due to underhand deals between the company and the USW leadership. Their main demands are: maintaining the nickel bonus and the single tier pension programme, and the ability to negotiate about fired workers. However, the strike will come to nothing if it continues under the leadership of the USW.
The strikers have had homes repossessed; experienced daily harassment from AFI International, a professional strike-breaking outfit, and security guards; and had draconian restrictions placed on picketing, enforced by their own union leadership. In Sudbury, there has been an unprecedented scabbing operation, using hundreds of contractors and so-called ‘replacement workers’, by Vale-Inco and USW officials who have been holding secret talks with the company.
Vale-Inco owns mines around the world. In 2006, Inco was the world’s second largest producer of nickel. Aside from labour issues, Vale has had disputes with indigenous groups, and been beset by environmental concerns over mine run-off as well as accusations of human rights violations.