Friday, September 04, 2009

As the strike of the United Steelworkers against the Vale Inco Company continues on, with no foreseeable conclusions, the politicos are moving in to cash in on the events. Here's a story from the Sudbury Star (via the strike support site Fair Deal Now) about the recent visit of 'The Ig' to Sudbury and how strikers and their supporters are treating his kind words with caution. The contrast couldn't be starker, the Liberals with their $550 a plate dinner and the strike support dinner at $5.50. Now if Ignatieff had been willing to put up even a small amount of his take to strike support his assertions of sympathy might have been a bit more believable.
A tale of duelling dinners:
Posted By Denis St. Pierre/The Sudbury Star

As he contemplated the onset of his eighth week on the picket line, Vale Inco striker Ron Savage said it was troubling to behold hundreds of city residents spending $550 on a political fundraiser.

"It's hard to watch," said Savage, one of nearly 100 demonstrators who gathered Monday evening outside the Caruso Club, site of the $550- per-plate dinner featuring federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and his national caucus of MPs and senators.

"It's hard to watch that kind of money going through the door to support a party that doesn't guarantee anything will happen to stop what is going on right now," Savage said, referring to the strike at Vale Inco and the hundreds of other job losses in Sudbury in recent months.

Savage's spirits were buoyed somewhat following Monday's demonstration, as he and about 150 others enjoyed a $5.50 spaghetti dinner at the Navy League Hall. The low-cost meal was organized by local labour groups and their supporters as a deliberately stark contrast to the Liberal fundraiser.

"This is the blue-collar dinner and that's the white-collar dinner at the Caruso Club," Savage said.

"It shows that in tough times people can still pull together and do what has to be done to make sure we pull through, as opposed to putting all this money into a party that we're not sure will be supporting us in the long run."

Earlier in the day, Ignatieff and other Liberal officials met for more than an hour with leaders of the United Steelworkers, which represents the more than 3,000 workers on strike at Vale Inco.

Savage said he is skeptical of the Liberals' supportive words for the strikers, noting a federal election this fall is a distinct possibility.

"Election talk is election talk," he said. "It's like what our company did to us before they put us on the street. You can talk a lot of talk, but it's the actions that matter."

Other strikers were more hopeful that a Liberal government would be more supportive and helpful than the existing Conservative minority government. (Hope springs eternal I guess-Molly )

As a result of Monday's meeting between Ignatieff and Steelworkers' officials, "I think the Liberals are very well-informed of what's going on here and I believe they're supportive of our cause," said striker Joe Guido, a machinist at Vale Inco.

At the same time, Guido added, "I think this meal, at $5.50, sends a message to them that there are struggling families in the Sudbury area and we just hope that they recognize the difficulties that we're all going through."

Monday's meeting with Ignatieff was "positive," said John Fera, president of United Steelworkers Local 6500.

"He heard us and he understood what's going on in the community and he understood about culture changes and he understood our concerns with the Canada Investment Review Act," Fera said during the spaghetti dinner.

Ignatieff said Monday the public should be privy to the details of an agreement reached between Vale and the federal government when the Brazilian company bought Inco Ltd. in 2006.

The Conservative government has maintained it cannot legally make the agreement public, while the Steelworkers and other critics question whether the government has allowed Vale to break commitments made in the deal.

Ignatieff "understood the points we were trying to make, such as the problems with not being able to see what's in that document," Fera said.

However, the Liberal leader did not categorically assure the Steelworkers that a Liberal government would make the agreement public or take action against Vale if the company broke any of its commitments, he added.

"He said he would certainly consider working with the NDP and the Bloc (Quebecois) to make that happen. He also wanted some time to look into the legalities and the details around such an agreement."

Fera said a minority government, led either by the NDP or Liberals, would offer the best odds for making such agreements public.

"I don't know that (the Liberals) would do it on their own if they had a majority government. But I would hope that if it's a minority government that they would do it, in a co-operative effort with the other parties." (Maybe, maybe, maybe-Molly )

Monday's demonstration outside the Liberal fundraiser was relatively calm, with Steelworkers handing out union pamphlets to dinner-goers but not attempting to hold up traffic.

"I think the people who paid $550 for that dinner aren't our guys(I can imagine-Molly ), but people are free to do whatever they want and to support whoever they want and I respect that," Fera said. "It's their decision." (It would be interesting to see the guest list-Molly )

Sudbury NDP MP Glenn Thibeault criticized the Liberal dinner's cost as unseemly during a period of widespread economic trouble in the city.

"When you come in and try to take a quarter-million dollars out of our community to put it into an election war chest, when our community is reeling, we need to do something about that," Thibeault said.

"It's fine to fundraise. But you've got to look at your audience and look at what you're doing and understand the community that you're in."

Thibeault also chided that Ignatieff appeared to suddenly discover Sudbury's plight.

"We've been talking about Vale Inco, we've been talking about Xstrata in the House of Commons for six months, minimum," he said. "We've been talking about job losses for 10 months. So, when you come into Sudbury and finally realize this community is reeling, I guess that's a good thing, because they didn't know where we were for decades. But now, when we speak up in the House, maybe they'll start to understand that Northern Ontario made a change for good reasons."

It was not clear if any local politicians attended the Liberal fundraiser, but the cut-rate union dinner drew the support of city councillor Claude Berthiaume.

The nature of the Vale Inco dispute, namely the demand for major concessions, compels him to openly support the strikers, said Berthiaume, a longtime labour activist.

"When you attack pensions, when you attack the nickel bonus -- and the company is still making money -- I have a hard time understanding that," he said.

"So, I support the men and women there. I support the men and women who work in this community."

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