United Steelworkers isolate strike of 2,400 Vale miners in Sudbury, Ontario
The strike by 2,450 workers at the giant Vale mining complex in Sudbury is now in its second week. While the strikers have shown great determination to tackle provocations from the management picket lines, the United Steelworkers (USW) is doing everything possible to isolate the miners’ struggle, paving the way for its defeat.
The United Steelworkers boasts of being “the largest industrial union in North America” with 1.2 million active and retired members. Yet he did absolutely nothing to broaden and strengthen the strike by calling for solidarity action from its members, let alone other sections of workers. He simply sent union representatives and welcomed local politicians to the picket line for photo ops.
The United Steelworkers works tirelessly to prevent the Vale miners from linking their struggle to tens of thousands of miners and industrial workers in Canada, the United States and abroad who are all fighting the same demands for concessions from the United States. large companies. This was highlighted earlier this week when the USW struck a deal to scuttle a strike by 2,500 iron miners and auxiliary workers in Arcelor-Mittal’s operations in northeastern Quebec.
Meanwhile, Vale operates with a global plan to squeeze the most concessions out of its 74,000 employees, in more than two dozen countries. The Brazilian conglomerate, which is the world’s second-largest producer of iron ore and the largest producer of commercial nickel, continues its plans to split up its base metals business with the aim of further increasing its profitability by committing to aggressive in the booming global battery market. market. A split would separate lucrative base metals, including operations in Sudbury, Indonesia and Brazil, from less profitable resources like coal, analysts told Bloomberg, and thus “free up value” to raise the price of shares of Vale. Part of the “value” he intends to offer investors is low-paid labor with gutted benefits, which is the ultimate goal of the concession-heavy contract he is currently seeking to silence strikers. .
The company’s operations in Sudbury (which were once the main asset of the late Inco) include five mines, a factory, a smelter and a refinery. Most of the world’s highest grade nickel deposits are mined just outside the city of northern Ontario, along with copper, cobalt and other metals. Already, the company has signed “large, multi-year contracts” to supply high-quality nickel to the electric vehicle market. At the same time, copper prices are the highest for several decades and are expected to continue to climb.
In 2020, Vale generated sales of $ 40 billion (US) worldwide with nearly $ 5 billion in net income. Its market value is $ 111 billion (US).
In other words, there is no legitimate reason why the Sudbury strikers have to accept a contract full of concessions. Vale is drowning in money, with more than enough money to afford above-inflation wage increases, comprehensive health care benefits for all workers, multi-tier employment termination and the reintroduction of defined benefit pensions for all active and retired workers. But for Vale and their corporate partners in the Steelworkers, the priority is to increase profits and payments to shareholders to ensure the “competitiveness” of the company, that is, to increase the exploitation of Sudbury miners in order that Vale can strengthen its position in the new “clean energy” markets.
The tentative contract accepted by the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6500 bargaining committee but overwhelmingly rejected by grassroots workers would have resulted in a series of cuts. These included pay increases well below inflation, i.e. an effective pay cut, and concessions focused on lower-level new hires, a demographic that is expected to grow steadily over the span. of any new agreement.
The rejected contract deal called for wage increases of just 4 percent slowly spread over a five-year period. As a result, the standard salary would only have increased by $ 1.35 over the term of the contract. Just three weeks ago, Statistics Canada released its latest projection for annual inflation which shows a 3.2% year-over-year jump in the cost of living. Corporate pension contributions would also have continued to be below inflation.
In addition, Vale is demanding the elimination of retiree health benefits for all new hires as part of the relentless elimination of second-level workforce benefits and the elimination of new hire eligibility at all. insurance and cover for hospital services.
Despite the provocative nature of Vale’s demands, the USW immediately began closed-door talks with the company when the strike began. More than a week later, the union refuses to say anything publicly about what is being negotiated.
Showing the rift that exists between miners and supporters of the latest rotten contract proposal, New Democratic Party MPP Jamie West (Member of Provincial Parliament) from Sudbury told Sudbury.com News during a visit to picket line that although he “supported” the strikers, he believed the rejected deal was not necessarily bad. “Vale workers have good contracts and good jobs,” West reportedly said. A career as a provincial politician, West was chairman of the Sudbury & District Labor Council.
Now retired Sudbury-born Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard also made an appearance on the picket lines of strikers last week, which for nearly two decades presided over a string of defeated strikes and contracts. miserable concession. Gerard was a trusted business ally, serving on various government-business-labor tripartite bodies, including the U.S. government’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) steering committee, where he worked with Wall Street and leaders of the steel industry to make their companies more “competitive” by reducing labor costs through acceleration, lower wages and outsourcing. Gerard was paid well for his troubles, earning $ 217,206 per year as president of the Steelworkers, plus extra money for other purposes.
In their staunch defense of corporate interests, the executives who run the USW, like their counterparts elsewhere, have earned income and wealth that puts them in direct conflict with workers. By 2020, the United Steelworkers had over $ 1.5 billion in assets, funds that are not used for the benefit of workers but rather to fill the bank accounts of United Steelworkers leaders and provide them with various benefits. .
However, the USW’s hostility to workers’ demands is not simply the product of corrupt union officials at the top of the bureaucracy. On the contrary, it stems from the nationalist and pro-capitalist perspective of the USW, which in recent years has seen it align itself with the more right-wing political forces. Under Gerard’s presidency, the USW became a staunch supporter of economic nationalism and Donald Trump’s protectionist agenda, with the only criticism being that its focus should be “North America first” so that Canada is included. , rather than “America first”. Gerard and the USW complained about Chinese workers for allegedly destroying “North American jobs” by producing low-grade and cheap steel, demanded high tariffs, and portrayed Canada as a reliable ally for Washington because its workers produce the steel and aluminum needed to make the United States. war planes, tanks and armored vehicles.
Under conditions where the Vale strikers confront a multinational conglomerate with a global strategy to savagely exploit Indonesian workers in Sudbury, the nationalist poison offered by the USW can only spell disaster. If the union is successful, the current strike will remain isolated from Vale workers in other countries and the Canadian working class until they can sell it, paving the way for Vale to continue its restructuring plans so that their wealthy investors can cash in.
But this result is not inevitable. The conditions are ripe for the workers at Vale to mount a counter-offensive. All over the world, there is a growth of the class struggle, with strikes against acceleration, years of concessions, and the ruling elite prioritizing profits over lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. What is needed is for the Vale strikers to consciously turn to their class siblings across Canada and abroad, including the more than 300 striking zinc miners on the Isle of Vancouver, striking miners in Colombia, Peru and Chile, the more than 1,100 coal miners on strike in Alabama, Volvo Trucks workers in Virginia, and autoworkers in India. They are also expected to reach out to Vale workers in Brazil and Latin America, Europe and Southeast Asia to lead a joint international fight against the multibillion-dollar conglomerate’s cost-cutting plans.
The first step in this struggle is for Vale workers to immediately elect a grassroots strike committee capable of acting independently of the USW and in opposition to its nationalist, pro-company agenda. The strike committee should start with what workers really need, not what Vale and the United Steelworkers claim the company can afford. The workers must present a series of non-negotiable demands, such as a 25% wage increase to compensate for years of concessions, full medical insurance for all workers, the abolition of wages and benefits on several levels and the reinstatement of defined benefits. retirement program for all workers and retirees.
Above all, the committee should forge links with striking miners, industrial workers and Vale employees in other places based on the class interests of the workers, who are irreparably opposed to Vale’s ruthless desire to increase. corporate profits. To this end, we urge the striking Vale miners to join in building the International Alliance of Workers of Grassroots Committees, which was established to coordinate workers’ struggles globally and arm workers in the world. socialist political program necessary to bring them to victory.