Sunday, January 30, 2011


The other day ten thousand people gathered in Hamilton Ontario to protest the ongoing lockout at US Steel in that city. Supported by a broad coalition of Ontario labour and social groups the people gathered to show support for 900 workers who have been locked out for almost three months over a dispute concerning pensions. Like elsewhere in the world the employer is attempting to renege on previous pension commitments. The difference here is that the Canadian government allowed the US purchase of the plant three years ago under the express provision that existing pension plans be protected. The government has chosen, not unexpectedly, to stand idly by as US Steel goes back on their word. Here's how the event was seen by the Toronto Sun.

10,000 join union protest in Hamilton

Last Updated: January 29, 2011 7:50pm

Legeare is one of the 900 workers from the Hamilton-based U.S. Steel — formerly Stelco — who have been locked out since Nov. 7 in the wake of U.S. Steel’s demands for pension concessions.

“Everybody deserves to retire with dignity and not have to work until they are 85 or 90 years old,” Legeare said.

He was also one of the more than 10,000 unionized workers who clogged the streets of downtown Hamilton on Saturday to show solidarity, protest the pension demands and criticize Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government for letting the dispute happen in the first place.

“We’ve been locked out because we won’t give up our pensions,” said Legeare, who has been with the company 11 years.

“The pensions the company wants to take away after stating three years ago when they bought (Stelco) that they were going to honour our pensions.”

Legeare and his co-workers had lots of support on Steeltown’s streets. Other unionized workers — “brothers and sisters” — came from as far away as Sudbury to show solidarity.

“It’s time for workers to stand up and stop this,” said Rick Bertrand, a steelworker from Sudbury.

“We know what’s going on. We just went through the same thing in Sudbury.”

“The manufacturing base in this country is being destroyed,” said Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan.

“Hamilton is being reflected in communities all over Canada,” he said.

“Canadians are furious at Harper’s disregard for our income security and will make this a major election issue,” Ryan said.

“Harper’s vision for Canada’s future is a low-wage economy where retirees are forced to gamble with their income security on the stock market.”

According to the OFL, 2,200 employees have lost their jobs since U.S. Steel took over Stelco.
Here's how the event was reported in the Hamilton Spectator. More on the situation of the pensions here.
Thousands protest U.S. Steel
Thousands of union members jammed the core of Hamilton Saturday to denounce U. S. Steel and Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not protecting worker pensions.

The rally, in support of 900 locked-out Hamilton members of the United Steelworkers, attacked the American company for demanding drastic changes to the pension plan and the end of indexing for 9,000 retirees.

Union banners and flags showed the local crowd was swelled by members of the Canadian Auto Workers, Service Employees International Union, McMaster University students, Communication Energy and Paperworkers union, and public sector unions including the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The marchers were exhorted by the presidents of the United Steelworkers, the Canadian Labour Congress, Ontario Federation of Labour and Hamilton and District Labour Council and area NDP members of federal and provincial Parliament.

Speaker after speaker denounced the company’s pension demands as evidence of corporate greed by U.S. Steel and a clear example of the Harper government’s failure to protect workers.

“These fights are happening across the country now,” said USW international president Leo Gerard. “Everywhere on earth, these corporate bastards are trying to pick our pockets.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by and let them take our pensions,” he added. “We have to demand that Harper stand up for Canada.”

U.S. Steel was given federal government approval to buy the former Stelco in 2007. To get that approval it promised a “net benefit” to Canada by maintaining jobs and production for three years. Within two years, however, the company’s Hamilton plants had been shut down twice and their work transferred to American mills.

Now it is demanding the current defined-benefit pension plan be closed to new members in favour of a defined-contribution system. It also wants an end to annual increases for current retirees.

Rolf Gerstenberger, president of USW Local 1005, said Saturday’s protest is only the latest in an ongoing round of efforts to draw attention to the concerns of both his members and Canadian industry.

“This is a historic gathering that makes a historic statement,” he said. “We are in a crisis and that crisis has to be resolved in favour of the people, not the rich.

“This is a struggle for a sovereign Canada and a diverse economy that includes manufacturing,” he added.

The next round will be staged May 1 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Leaders had predicted as many as 6,000 people would turn out for the rally. The parade they staged took 20 minutes to pass any given point on its route.

See Monday’s Hamilton Spectator for complete coverage.


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