USW Local 1005 and its 900 members and 9,000 pensioners are waging a battle on behalf of ALL of us. Foreign-owned companies, like U.S. Steel, are attempting to steal our futures by attacking our pensions while the Harper government is attempting to hand public pensions over to private banks.
Watch the video of the rally at socialistproject.ca.
Fifty busloads and hundreds of cars and vans from all over Ontario headed to Hamilton January 29, in support of steelworkers on the picket line since early November. The rally was organized jointly by USW Local 1005, the Hamilton and District Labour Council, and the Ontario Federation of Labour, which mobilized Labour Councils and affiliates across the province.
The "People vs. US Steel" rally supported 900 locked-out Local 1005 members, as well as 9,000 retirees whose pensions will be de‑indexed if US Steel has its way. The company also wants to exclude new hires from the defined benefit pension plan.
In a 2007 letter to union members, US Steel had promised to properly fund and protect the plan, because unlike others, it understood the value of good pensions to employees. Clearly, this letter was just part of a cynical propaganda campaign to convince Canadians to support the foreign takeover of Stelco operations. The cost of the purchase was $1.2 billion – the exact cost of the pension plan.
US Steel also contracted with the Canadian government, through Investment Canada, to maintain employment and production levels at the Hamilton Works for at least three years. But within a year, the company started handing out layoff notices, and then banking and shutting down blast furnaces. Shortly after the last Hamilton blast furnace was shut down last year, US Steel opened up two new furnaces at its US operations.
Under pressure to protect steelworkers and the Canadian steel industry, the federal government finally acted ‑ three years after the deal was signed. Predictably, the company’s response is that the three-year term has expired, and it is no longer bound by the Investment Canada agreement.
But Stelco was the last Canadian steelmaker to be sold off to a foreign transnational corporation, and public opinion supported the union’s demand that the government hold US Steel to account.
Finally, the Attorney General sued US Steel in a proceeding likely to go on for some time. Local 1005 and Lakeside Steel (a competitor interested in purchasing the Hamilton Works) have been granted intervener status. This is a victory for the Local union, which can now put the case for the workers, the community and the country, on the court record – something US Steel wanted to avoid.
In the court proceedings, the company has acknowledged engaging in price fixing – filling Canadian orders with steel imported from its US mills. As the pieces fall into place, it’s obvious the lockout is about monopolizing the Canadian steel market by keeping other foreign steel operations on the sidelines, while levelling the cost of Canadian labour to the lower US standards, or eliminating its Canadian operations altogether.
One of the biggest "costs" is at the Hamilton Works, where 9,000 pensioners and their widows depend on Stelco pensions to live with dignity and security.
The century-old steel operations were originally set up by what became the Steel Company of Canada ‑ Stelco.Â Â Â Â During the 1930s, initial union drives at this Canadian owned basic steelmaker were led by CIO organizers in Canada, including Harry Hunter, Dick Steele, and other members of the Communist Party of Canada. After the war, the big steel strike of 1946 involved the whole labour movement in Hamilton, winning the Rand Formula. The 1946 strike nailed down what the 1945 auto strike in Windsor opened up for workers across Canada ‑ the rights to belong to a union, to free collective bargaining, and to strike.
This is the "Spirit of 1946" that Local 1005 President Rolf Gerstenberger and the local union executive invoke in the current struggle. Gerstenberger says the fight is not only about pensions and collective bargaining, but about having a domestic industry to produce steel for Canadian manufacturing and secondary industry.Â Nation‑building, as the union calls it, or Canadian sovereignty and independence by another name.
As the union correctly points out, Canada and Canadian steelworkers are hostages to a foreign multi‑national’s corporate greed. A Canadian basic steel industry is decisive for Canada to have any control over development of the economy. Steel is a central and essential building material for the auto and machine tool industries, for agricultural implements, ship building, appliances, housing and construction.
This cannot be left in the hands of a foreign multinational interested only in profits, willing to blow off Canadian laws and squeeze Canadian prices and production through illegal price-fixing and mill closures, layoffs, and now flaunting provincial labour laws by refusing to bargain a collective agreement with Local 1005. Â Â Â Â
This is politics at a high level. The company’s clear message: stop us if you can. The union’s message: we will mobilize the people of Hamilton, and the people of Canada. We will force our governments to act in the interests of Canada, and to enforce labour laws which require US Steel to bargain a collective agreement. We will not allow US Steel to abandon its legal obligations in Hamilton and in Canada.
The union is doing its best to alert the labour movement and to invite all those concerned with Canada’s sovereignty and independence to join their fight for a country where workers’ rights, wages and pensions matter. This is a fight for a country Canadian government has more power and authority over these vital economic issues than foreign corporations.
After the earthquakes in the auto and auto parts industries following the loss of the Auto Pact a decade ago, the de-industrialization of Ontario and Quebec, and the vicious attacks on wages, pensions and living standards in the private and public sectors, the time for real political and economic change is overdue.
Nationalization under public control is what governments at all levels should be addressing and implementing, says the Communist Party. This must include key sectors: basic steel, energy and natural resources, banking. Further, this must include production of a small, fuel-efficient, environmentally sustainable Canadian car, as part of a transportation plan to build rolling stock in Canada.
This is how to put the country back to work. Canada has a right and an obligation to build up the industrial base of the economy in the interests of Canadians. To kick-start a recovery in the real economy, we must create jobs, and raise wages, living standards, and purchasing power.
But since governments don’t represent Canadian interests, or Canadian workers, escalating mass, independent labour political action must force governments to act. It will take the expanding action of the whole community and the whole labour movement to win the struggle in Hamilton, which is being fought on behalf of working people everywhere.
The pending federal election offers an opportunity to make the lockout and the government’s abysmal record a central issue. Defeating the Tories would send a strong message to a new government that Canadian sovereignty, an industrial strategy for Canada, and workers’ rights matter. Workers and unions like Local 1005, and those who came out to support them January 29th, are not waiting around with cap in hand.
February 1, 2011
Liz Rowley is the Ontario leader of the Communist Party.