Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It seems like the efforts of strikers to prevent Vale Inco's plans to restart production are having an unsettling effect of the company. At the very least they have made management sit up and take notice. Now, like a scene from 'The Empire Strikes back', Vale Inco is applying for an injunction against members of the United Steelworkers who have prevented shipments of scab ore from reaching company premises (see earlier on this blog). Here's the story from the pages of the Sudbury Star. Stay tuned to the strike support site Fair Deal Now for the latest information on the strike.
Picketers facing company injunction:
Striking Steelworkers were ramping up the action at two Vale Inco Ltd. picket lines Monday, as they waited for a Sudbury court judge to hear an injunction Tuesday filed by the mining company against several of their members.

USW Local 6500 picketers at the entrance to Clarabelle Mill and Coleman Mine in Levack warned tempers could flare if a judge agrees with Vale Inco that dozens of strikers have been violating protocol by stopping trucks owned by the Day Group.

Thursday, strikers at Frood- Stobie Mine delayed four ore-filled trucks leaving Frood- Stobie Mine. When the Day drivers arrived at nearby Clarabelle Mill, strikers refused to allow them to deliver their payload. They let the drivers go home, but the trucks have been sidelined ever since.

Vale Inco served summonses against 40 or 50 strikers last week for preventing the delivery of the stockpiled ore from Frood-Stobie.

But the union charges it is Vale Inco violating protocol because the Day trucks were there for a different purpose than was outlined when the protocol was struck early in the strike that began July 13.

Then, Vale Inco indicated people travelling in and out of its Sudbury operations would be involved in care and maintenance and capital projects, said Local 6500 president John Fera.

The situation has changed since Vale Inco announced its intention to resume partial production by mining ore at Garson Ramp and Coleman Mine and shipping it to Clarabelle Mill, said Fera.

The company is also objecting to Coleman Mine picketers delaying vehicles for 15 minutes each, as management, staff and other employees try to get into the mine in the morning to get the operation ready to resume production.

The actions Monday occurred at the start of the 11th week of the strike by more than 3,050 production and maintenance workers in Sudbury.

Serge Savard, a development miner at Coleman, said cars were lined up as far away as the dairy bar in Levack when he arrived for picket duty Monday about 6:30 a. m.

He and fellow picketers held up motorists for 15 minutes each, maintaining it is allowed in their protocol. It was 1 p. m. before the last of the workers were allowed into the operation, he said.

Mike Prevost, a shaft leader at Levack, said most people were cordial. Many stopped their vehicles, put them in park and talked to strikers for 15 or 20 minutes.

"We didn't have to do a thing" to detain them, said Prevost.

Rick Rouleau, a raisebore operator at Creighton Mine, picketed Monday at Coleman because he lives in Levack. He said strikers turned away a full-sized van that did not have side windows because that violates the picket protocol. Vehicles with smoked windows are also not permitted to cross because picketers can't see what is inside them, he said.

"They tell us to look in," said Rouleau, "but I'm not going to look inside and have something fall on my foot or who knows? I don't trust them."

Prevost said Coleman picketers have been slowing vehicles since Thursday. "They broke the injunction, not us," he said of Vale Inco. "We're not going to resort to violence. This is the best way to keep them and this way here, we're trying to get our point across."

Savard said he and his colleagues were warning people on their way into the mine that the work they are being trained for is dangerous.

"There are lots of air blasts," also known as rockbursts, said Savard. Experienced miners know how to "de-stress" the pressure that builds up in rock.

Striker Morley Whitmore said experienced miners "have a sense when it's going to happen. We see the signs."

Whitmore wasn't reassured by what he heard Monday from people trying to get to work at Coleman. Some are office workers, surveyors and engineers training to be hard-rock miners.

"They're telling us what they're doing. Some of them have no (production) experience at all," he said. Whitmore runs a jumbo drill at Frood- Stobie Mine and lives in Levack.

He and the other strikers on picket duty Monday were outraged Vale Inco has begun moving ore from Frood-Stobie to the Clarabelle Mill by train.

Vale Inco spokesman Steve Ball denied that was happening Friday, but later said he was mistaken and one train-load of ore was delivered to the mill. At least one more train travelled from Frood-Stobie to Clarabelle on Monday, said Ball.

Strikers were fuming about that. Those at Clarabelle did not wish to give their names, saying they feared retribution from Vale Inco. But Whitmore and Prevost lashed out at Vale Inco for using people other than 6500 members to load and run the trains because it is their job to do it.

While Prevost wasn't advocating violence at the picket line, he said he was prepared to go to jail for his beliefs.

"I got things I want to do. I want to go to work, too. We were nice at the (bargaining) table. They want to play dirty ball? If the courts turn around and say they favour the company, I'm still out of a job right now. At this point, as far as I'm concerned, whatever happens, happens. If I go to jail, so be it."

Prevost said he would like to see politicians join strikers on the picket line.

"If we're here and we decide to stop anything ... and cops show up and we have a politician with us, I want to see him, I'd like to see that with the cameras and you guys here, seeing that guy get handcuffed with the rest of us going to jail," he said. (Now THAT I must say is a wonderful idea, but don't hold your breath waiting for it-Molly )

Ball said Vale Inco is going to court because it believes "blockading the plants" is against picket-line protocol. So is the length of time vehicles are being delayed.

The company has rights under the protocol to access and exit its plants, he said.
Meanwhile, out on the East Coast vale Inco is also moving in court against the USW. The following from The Telegram in Saint John's tells how Vale is trying, albeit with improper procedure, to penalize the union over the fact that some of its members walked out of non-striking workplaces last August 28 to protest bad food (see previous item on this blog).
Vale Inco sues over union 'interference':
MOIRA BAIRD The Telegram
The labour battle between striking Voisey's Bay workers and their employer is headed for the courts.

Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador is suing the United Steel Workers Union (USW) and its Local 9508, for "economic interference" with its contractors during the ongoing strike at Voisey's Bay.

Local 9508 members have been on strike at Voisey's Bay since Aug. 1 - shutting down nickel mining and milling operations in Labrador.

The lawsuit stems from the Aug. 28 walkout at the mine site by contract employees who cited concerns about equipment safety and bad food at Voisey's Bay.

Vale Inco says the "underlying intent was to exert economic pressure" on the company, according to a statement of claim filed earlier this month in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

It claims the refusal to work was not based on reasonable grounds as required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Vale Inco is seeking damages from the USW, though it did not specify a dollar amount.( Which might be difficult as they probably didn't lose a red cent over the affair. All that was hurt was managers' pride-Molly )

Among the damages sought: payments to contractors whose employees are non-striking members of the USW and who "improperly refused to work" last month; damage to Vale Inco's reputation( reputation ???-Molly ); loss of goodwill; exemplary damages, costs and any other relief the court deems just.

The United Steel Workers - which was served Sept. 8 - has yet to file a statement of defence.

Instead, the USW has asked the court to set aside Vale Inco's statement of claim.

In an application filed Sept. 18, the union argues the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to decide whether or not employees were engaged in an unlawful strike.

That task, the union says, falls to the Labour Relations Board, and it notes the company has yet to file an application there.

A hearing on the USW's application is scheduled for late November in Supreme Court.

In its statement of claim, Vale Inco alleges the union interfered with its contracts with the companies that provide maintenance, logistical, catering, housekeeping and security services at Voisey's Bay.

Those employees are non-striking members of the USW.Employees of two of those contractors, Torngait Services Inc. (TSI) and Ushitau Maintenance Ltd., walked off the job Aug. 28.

According to the Vale Inco statement of claim, some of the reasons for the walkout included:equipment safety concerns following the discovery of a cut brake line in a truck (an incident which is under investigation by the RCMP);food-safety concerns following the discovery of an out-of-date fruit cup; threats by a replacement catering worker that he was going to "pee in the soup. (Ahh, it was bit more than that- see previous item on this blog-Molly )

"Vale Inco contends the union "actively coached and directed" its non-striking members to raise these health and safety concerns so contractors would be unable to provide services, according to the court documents.

As a result, Vale Inco says it experienced "loss, expense and inconvenience in its contractual relations" with other companies.

The nickel miner also says it was slandered and defamed by the USW's staff representative, Boyd Bussey, in media reports that the food served to Voisey's Bay workers was unacceptable.

The company has also applied to the court for a preservation order for all the union's electronic records.

If granted, it would require the USW to immediately preserve e-mails, text messages and PIN messages, along with electronic storage media, such as servers, that may contain information related to Vale Inco's lawsuit.

In its application, the company said those records "may be at risk of inadvertent destruction, corruption or modification" as a result of the union's "standard operating information technology protocols.( I wonder what 'protocols' the company uses- Molly )

"A hearing on Vale Inco's application is scheduled for Friday.

Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador had no comment on the ongoing lawsuit Monday.

The United Steel Workers, Local 9508, also had no comment on the lawsuit Monday.
What can be gleaned from all this legal flim flam ? One thing to note is that, at least, the company's pride seems to have been hurt. They obviously are dead set at winning totally, and nothing else will content them at this time. In other words the tactics have been effective, or the company wouldn't be going through the trouble to go to law.

Another thing to note is that, yes it is obvious, the courts are very much on the side of business in labour disputes. That should hardly come as a surprise. Even if the grounds of a suit are frivilous a corporation can strike out at its workers via legal manouevres that end up costing the workers' unions a significant amount of money just to defend themselves. this is one of the ways that large corporations, in general, defend themselves-or rather "attack"- against not just employees but also the general public. It's a weapon, and when courts are slow and expensive it's a weapon which gives the advantage to the larger opponent.
One other thing, however, should be noted. Legal injunctions preventing workers from barring scabs from a worksite would be non-starters in a society in which it was deemed that workers had 'property rights' in their jobs. I've mentioned this concept before in connection with this same strike. Similarily, in a society where cooperative action on the part of one group in order to help another was considered a cardinal virtue rather than a "violation of contract" lawsuits such as that being attempted in Newfoundland would also be a non-starter. While the courts will probably always be at least somewhat biased towards the upper classes they are, at least, minimally responsive to public opinion. If said opinion changes then it becomes harder and harder for them to step too far in the direction of their friends. This sort of change in public opinion is the long term goal of a libertarian socialist/anarchist organization. It will not be undertaken by a conventional political party, no matter how well intentioned. Such parties inevitably become corrupted the closer they come to power. As regular readers of this blog know I have always been supportive of anarchist organization, and the legitimate task of such organization is long term attempts to influence ordinary people in a consistant (unlike some so-called socialist parties who tack on libertarian rhetoric to bureaucratic empire building) libertarian direction. Without such long term efforts each strike, each struggle becomes an isolated island in a sea of class rule, and no flashy shows of militance will change that.

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