Canadian miners strike global giant
The second of two parts in the Real News’ most recent series on the nickel miner strike in Sudbury, Canada. In part two, we document the fall-out after Vale management accused the striking union, the United Steelworkers, of appealing to racism in voting down the company’s most recent contract offer. The striking workers, despite entering their ninth month on the picket line, rejected the offer by a rate of 88%, a higher ‘no’ vote than the one that originally put them on strike in July of 2009. The accusations of racism were flatly rejected by both the union, and visiting workers from around the world. Produced by Jesse Freeston and Bertrand Riviere.
The miners of Sudbury, Canada, one of the world’s largest nickel mining operations, have been on strike for nine months. They’re striking against the Brazilian corporation Vale, the world’s second largest mining company. After the workers rejected the company’s latest contract offer, with a greater percentage than the original strike vote, Vale has employed increasing numbers of non-union workers, or ‘scabs’. Workers are fighting to maintain their current pensions, bonuses, and seniority rights.
TRNN REPLAY: During a 2009 strike of Canadian Nickel miners, Brazilian trade unions came to Canada to express solidarity and spoke about conditions for workers in Brazil.
The nickel miner strike in Sudbury, Canada is about to enter its seventh week, and there is no sign that the company, Vale, is willing to compromise on its demands for concessions. This despite the fact that the demand for nickel has surged causing the price to rise and Vale to default on at least one contract. Workers argue that the mine is hugely profitable, citing $4B profit made in Sudbury alone over the past two years, but as mining industry analyst Marin Katusa explains, being profitable is just not enough. "You have to be number one in all sectors," he says, referring to the requirements for victory in the global mining game, in which the winners are the ones who integrate all facets of the supply chain, not just mining, into their business. This requires extracting as much profit as possible in order to finance the necessary expansion into other sectors, lest be gobbled up by one’s competitors. The union however, believes that the federal government of Canada ought to protect its people against such threats, and that work can be done to unify unions around the world to even the playing field.
After months of bargaining the strike began on July 13, after Vale Inco refused to alter its original demands for concessions. Union members in Sudbury and Port Colburne in Ontario and Voise Bay in Labrador responded by voting 85% in favor of taking strike action. The most contentious concessions demanded by the company are a drastic change in pension benefits for new hires, changes to seniority rights and a cap on what’s known as the Nickel Bonus. This bonus was negotiated in earlier years to allow the company to benefit from relatively lower wages when nickel prices were depressed and workers to benefit when the price was high.