Monday, July 13, 2009

Today workers represented by the United Steel Workers began strike action against Vale Inco at both the mines in Sudbury and the refining plant in Port Colborne, both in Ontario. Vale Inco (see the wikipedia article on this company ) is the Brazilian owned parent company that acquired inco in October 2006. With this acquisition Vale became the second largest mining company in the world. Workers at the Voisey's bay operation in Newfoundland have also taken a strike vote which authorized strike action beginning in early August. Here are the bare bones of the story from the Reuters News Agency.
Strike begins at Vale Inco's Ontario sites
Mon Jul 13, 2009 1:12pm EDT

TORONTO, July 13 (Reuters) - Unionized workers at Vale Inco's nickel mine in Sudbury and its nickel refinery in Port Colborne, both in Ontario, went on strike early on Monday, after rejecting the company's contract offer over the weekend.

"The strike started at midnight and workers were on the picket line just after midnight, both at Sudbury and Port Colborne," said Bob Gallagher, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers union.

The strike won't have any immediate impact on nickel output because Vale had closed the Sudbury mine through the end of July because of low nickel prices.

Negotiations between Vale Inco -- the nickel mining and processing division of Brazil's Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (VALE5.SA) -- and its Sudbury union broke down as the two sides failed to agree on bonuses, pensions and other issues.

Members of the USW's Local 6500 voted overwhelmingly to reject the company's contract offer on Saturday. The Local represents about 3,300 workers at the Sudbury site in northern Ontario, which is one of the world's largest nickel mines. And about 120 workers of USW's Local 6200, which represents workers at the Port Colborne nickel plant in southern Ontario, rejected the offer on Sunday.

Miners at the Vale's Voisey's Bay nickel-copper operations in Labrador on Canada's East Coast have already voted to authorize a strike, which will likely take effect in early August.

Gallagher said the union was willing to go back to the negotiating table if the company will to come back and talk about possible compromises. Company officials were not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Euan Rocha; editing by Peter Galloway)
For many years past Inco facilities, whether in Ontario, Newfoundland or here in Manitoba, have often been the scenes of long and hard fought strikes. While both the union and the managers of Vale (for obviously different reasons) are saying that the strikes will be short term the reality is likely to prove otherwise. While workers in Newfoundland will likely join their compatriots in early August those at Thompson, Manitoba are bound by a contract that will not expire until 2011. No doubt the strike would be more effective if it was nationwide, but barring that there are surely other actions (work to rule ???) that Inco workers elsewhere could undertake to support their fellows on strike. It should also be noted that the United Steel Workers have signed agreements with other unions representing miners in countries where Vale operates calling for global cooperation.

In the meantime the Ontario workers have launched a website (Fair Deal Now) to give the union point of view on the strike. Here's the announcement from the website of the United Steel Workers.
Inco Strikers Launch Action Website: “”:
13 JULY 2009 – Facing a final offer that demands long-term dramatic cuts, USW workers overwhelmingly reject the concessions from a company that made over $13 billion US last year.
Workers Launch an Action Website ( as they begin strike at Vale Inco.
After months of negotiations, the Vale Inco position demanding major long-term concessions to pensions, the nickel bonus and seniority has not changed “one iota”.
Faced with a final offer that demanded dramatic long-term changes and cuts to the collective agreement, USW members voted overwhelming to reject the demands.
In votes of 85%, 97% and 99%, USW workers in Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey’s Bay voted down the company’s final offer.
“Vale made over $13 billion US last year, and currently has over $22 billion US cash assets on hand, but is using the economic environment to take away new workers’ pensions and slash profit-sharing in good times -- our members deserve better,” said John Fera, President of USW local 6500.
As of 12:01am, July 13th, USW workers at Vale Inco are on strike.
Show your support, follow the developments and receive “breaking news” updates by visiting their new action website, details below.
->->Visit the Vale Inco strikers’ wonderful new action website at ->->View the news releases and coverage concerning Vale Inco.
As the photo above shows workers in Sudbury began their strike action by a graphic "showing of the Canadian flag". This is both quite apt and only potentially ironic. The Brazilian owners of Vale, of course, care as little for the well being of workers in Canada (or other countries where they operate such as Indonesia, New Caledonia and Kanaky) as they do for their workers in Barzil. What seems ironic is the idea of Canadians protesting against "Brazilian imperialism", but in our new world of globalization the idea that a company is "headquartered" in a presumably poor country is meaningless. The international ruling class of managers is just that - international. They operate wherever profit is to be made, and the old ideas of "imperialism" connected to this or that country are becoming increasingly antiquated.
Still, the appeal to both nationalism and, much more importantly "localism" is and will be a major driving force behind resistance to the transnationals, whatever their country of origin. What follows below is a 'Letter to the Community' from the workers in Sudbury and Port Colborne. What they make plain is how the fight of the Vale Inco workers is also a fight for the communities involved. Whatever the official union beliefs and hopes in a "low stockpile" of nickel this strike will be long and hard fought. The wider it is and the wider the net of soliodarity that it casts the more likely it is to be successful. This means the involvement of the local communities. It will also hopefully mean, should the strike become bitter enough, the advancement of ideas beyond simple collective bargaining. Can the workplaces be occupied ? Is there another model for how to run the mines, perhaps one where Vale Inco is displaced and the enterprises are managed by a cooperative with representation from the local communities, the Canadian taxpayer and the workers themselves ? This is hardly impossible. In the USA General Motors has essentially been nationalized (without the democratic control of local communitioes and the workers themselves). If Vale wants to claim "poverty" then maybe this option should be on the table. Even if it doesn't come to fulfillment it will, like hanging, do wonders to concentrate the minds of management.
Anyways, from the Fair Deal Now website...
Letter to the Community:
Dear members of the community,
The workers at Vale-Inco have done everything we could to avoid a strike.

We know how hard this will be on our members and on our communities. Equally, we also know how hard it would be on our members and their communities if we had accepted the company’s demands for dramatic long-term restructuring and cuts to how we are compensated.

This round of bargaining has been nothing like the past negotiations with Inco. Vale, the new owner who currently is a massively profitable multinational from Brazil, has chosen to use the current economic conditions as simply an excuse to extract deep long-term cuts with little regard for maintaining the family incomes that sustain our communities.

The fact is that in the past two years, Vale has extracted twice as much profit from Ontario, as Inco had in the previous 10 years.

We understand these are very difficult economic times, and we let this fact guide us during the entire negotiating process. However, Vale’s focus has not been on trying to find ways to get through these difficult times. (Given they have $22 Billion US of cash assets on hand, you can see why they are not as concerned about this issue as we thought they would be.)

Rather, their main focus has been on dramatically reducing a benefit that does not pay a single cent now (or in any economic hard time).

The nickel bonus is an innovative mechanism developed by Inco and USW to allow workers to partially benefit in good times and to help protect the company in bad times. The fact that Vale is attacking this benefit (that currently pays nothing) shows they are not motivated by the current economic situation.

Vale would rather use this moment to attack a fair mechanism knowing that good times will eventually return.

At the same time, it appears Vale is quite willing to give its senior executives a share of the profits now. Total compensation to the top six Vale executives increased by 120% in the last two years (from 2006 to 2008). (It should also be noted that in 2008 Vale has a revenue of US $ 38.5 billion and a net income of US $ 13.2 billion. Most companies would envy such profitability-Molly )

Still Vale insists they need to radically impose these concessions from their Canadian workers.
We believe that every person who lives or works in the communities of Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey’s Bay should recognize that the health and viability of their community is being threatened.

The question is not whether Vale Inco can survive this economic recession. Their profits answer that question. The real question is whether our communities will have the crucial middle-class family incomes when we eventually come out of this recession.

For Canada, the question is whether our natural resources, and the hard and dangerous jobs involved in their extraction, can provide the reliable and hardworking families a middle-class compensation.

For foreign companies to extract those Canadian resources and reap such substantial profits, but not provide our families and communities with hard-working secure incomes is just not right.
We ask for, and appreciate, your support.
USW locals 6500, 6200 and 6480

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