Rabble.ca | FRED WILSON
In the heat of an Eastern Canadian summer there is a blast of fresh air for the trade union movement with the decisive win by the United Steelworkers in the six month lockout at the hands of global mining giant Rio Tinto in Alma Quebec.
Last week the 780 USW members at the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Alma ratified a deal to end the lockout imposed by the company at New Year’s. The lockout was an attempt to force workers to accept the company’s main demand that future employees would be contractors earning as little as half the regular workforce with few or no benefits. After a six month struggle, that demand was dropped. The company got the right to contract a handful of jobs while agreeing to live with continuing strict restrictions on contracting out.
There will be relatively little commentary in the business pages on this result because it runs entirely contrary to the popular narrative of labour on the ropes, unable to cope with the all-powerful forces of global capitalism. This result tells a different story of how strong Canadian labour can be when it takes a principled stand, organizes locally and globally, and has community support and labour solidarity at its back.
The Alma story comes at an opportune time for labour which has been battered by five interventions to stop or break strikes in the federal jurisdiction in just two years, along with Conservative Bill C377 targeting union finances still making its way through Parliament. Tied into the Conservative attack, Brad Wall in Saskatchewan has put unions on notice that far reaching anti-labour legislation can be expected this fall, and Ontario Opposition leader Tim Hudak has now picked up the anti-labour ball to kick around Ontario.
Then there was the other New Year’s lockout at Caterpillar’s ElectroMotive plant in London Ontario where the company also sought to cut wages and benefits in half. That ended after six weeks with the company closing the plant, stripping the technology and moving to a non union plant in the US.