Tuesday, October 27, 2009
STEELWORKERS TAKE IT TO THE BIG APPLE:
In their quest for international support for their strike against an international corporation-Vale Inco- the United Steelworkers have expanded their solidarity efforts across the world. Germany, Brazil, Sweden, Australia, New Caledonia, you name it. Here, from the Sudbury Star, is the story of one of their recent efforts in New York City where they threw a little kink into what would have been a major PR coup on the part of Vale. The following item came to Molly's attention via the strike support site Fair Deal Now. Read on.
Steelworkers take New York by storm:
VALE INCO STRIKE: Strikers take fight to Wall Street
Posted By CAROL MULLIGAN, THE SUDBURY STAR
Two dozen striking Steelworkers got their message out loud and clear to the financial community and others in the Big Apple on Wednesday.
Fourteen members of Sudbury's United Steelworkers Local 6500 and 10 from Local 6200 in Port Colborne made a 48-hour return road trip to New York City to spread the word about their labour dispute with Vale Inco Ltd.
Wednesday was to be Vale Day on the New York Stock Exchange and Vale officials were to ring the bell at the opening of trading. The event was cancelled due to scheduling conflict, said a Vale spokeswoman in Brazil.
But Steelworker Joe Guido and his travelling colleagues think it was the threat of them embarrassing the mining company at the NYSE that forced the postponement.
A machinist at Vale Inco's divisional shops, Guido organized the trip for members of USW's Political and Allies Committee. The Canadian strikers rallied on the steps of the Federal Building, paraded with banners along Broadway and "rode" the symbolic bull outside the stock exchange.
"We brought our message to Wall Street and it was loud and clear," said Guido on Thursday. "It was a good day."
Steelworkers were joined by American USW members, as well as members of the United Federation of Teachers. The latter union served lunch to the Canadians.
They also joined the rally, which by law required a permit for strikers to use a bullhorn. Police officers armed with automatic rifles were vigilant and have been present since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
One officer told the delegation, "you make all the noise you want," said Guido.
The visitors presented another officer with the Steelworkers' tiny shovel pin, which is worn handle down during a labour dispute.
"The officer said he couldn't wear it on his uniform, but he would keep it," said Guido.
Strikers used bullhorns to ask where Vale president and chief executive officer Roger Agnelli was.
"What is he hiding from?" they asked, said Guido.
Passers-by, many clearly investors by the look of their "thousand-dollar suits," said Guido, accepted leaflets the delegation distributed. Some promised to research Steelworkers' claims Vale is seeking "significant cutbacks" that led to the strike.
"I never had a negative comment," said Guido, who also arranged a trip to Queen's Park where striking Steelworkers supported the Ontario New Democrats' call for legislation prohibiting the hiring of replacement workers during labour disputes.
But the private member's bill co-sponsored by Welland MPP Peter Kormos and Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas did not pass second reading. Before the vote, Steelworkers were ejected from the visitors' gallery for cheering and jeering while MPPs spoke to the bill.
Guido said he and his union brothers spoke with people in New York City, including Canadian tourists who wondered what a delegation from their country was doing on Wall Street.
"A high number were appalled when we told them what Vale is doing," said Guido.
USW insists Vale Inco was seeking concessions with a settlement offer calling for a defined contribution pension to replace the defined benefit one, reductions in the nickel bonus and limits on transfers among workplaces.
Vale Inco officials call the proposals "changes" and insist they are necessary to keep the business competitive in all business cycles.
Sudbury strikers left the city Tuesday at 5:30 a. m. and returned 48 hours later. Guido said he slept for a couple of hours before attending a Thursday morning USW Local 6500 membership meeting where he gave an update on the NYSE trip.
"I told them it wasn't a walk in the park," said Guido. "They were impressed."
The New York rally was staged as similar events were held in Sudbury, Toronto and Brazil, where Vale is headquartered.
When asked to comment on the Toronto demonstration, Vale Inco spokesman Steve Ball said Steelworkers were doing "what they feel is right to help their cause.
"We consider this is really another distraction and, unfortunately, the Steelworkers seem to be more committed to these kinds of events than they are to meaningful negotiations," said Ball.
"It would be nice if some of that time and effort was directed toward getting a deal done, and that can only be achieved when they commit to sitting down with us and dealing seriously with the issues that need to be discussed at the bargaining table."