365 days on the line

Lana
Lana Payne
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365 days of defiance. Three hundred and sixty-five days of standing their ground against the second biggest mining corporation on the planet.

365 days of resistance as that employer — Brazilian mining giant, Vale — seeks concessions and holds up its Newfoundland and Labrador employees as an example to temper the expectations of its workers around the globe. After all, if they can beat back the Canadians, imagine what can be done to those workers in Brazil, South Africa and Peru who do not have the same labour rights that we have in Canada.

While Vale speaks of transforming mineral resources into wealth, the question raised by the strike with its workers at Voisey’s Bay, Labrador is wealth for whom? While attacking profit-sharing with its employees, Vale’s dividends to shareholders in the past year have exceeded the company’s worldwide labour costs.

Despite stunning profits, including $1.6 billion in the first quarter of this year, Vale still seeks concessions from its Newfoundland and Labrador workers. Offended by the profit-sharing nickel bonus Inco had negotiated with the steelworkers in the days when nickel prices were in the basement and no bonus was paid out, Vale has demanded the profit-sharing formula be slashed. It managed to do just that in Sudbury, but wanted even more from its Newfoundland and Labrador workers.

The Brazilian company bought out Canadian Inco in 2006 for $18.9 billion. Voisey’s Bay nickel was part of that deal. The Canadian government allowed the sale after the Brazilian company signed a “secret Investment Canada agreement” that has never been made public.

For the members of the United Steelworkers at Voisey’s Bay, it has been 365 days of staring down the boss’s security cameras as every move and action, taken on what has been an incredibly peaceful picket line, is recorded.

365 days of explaining to their families and looking into the faces of their kids and hoping they understand why mommy or daddy hasn’t had a paycheque in 52 weeks.

365 days of highs and lows, of hope and despair.

365 days of unbearable stress, wondering if they and their union have the fortitude to be one day stronger.

365 days of listening to the spin-doctoring coming out of Vale’s

high-paid mouthpieces, and to the naysayers who question their rationale for striking against a global giant that is so much bigger than they are, that has extremely deep pockets and that would like nothing better than to break the union and bring the workers to their knees.

365 days of swallowing and swallowing hard as scab labour is flown into their worksite, carrying out their jobs and being paid extremely well to do so.

While Vale speaks of transforming mineral resources into wealth, the question raised by the strike with its workers at Voisey’s Bay, Labrador is wealth for whom?

365 days of listening to the company’s threats and intentions to resume full production and being allowed to do so because no law prevents the erosion of the right to strike — one of the few tools workers have in the huge imbalance of power with their employers.

365 days of not just fighting for themselves and a better standard of living, but for all of us who believe that corporations are too powerful and need to be taken down a notch.

365 days of defiance; of not settling for whatever the boss decides they deserve.

365 days of being punished for daring to dream of a better life for themselves and their kids, of daring to dream to be respected for the work they do, and daring to stand up for a world of work that they have a say in, for daring to say democracy in our workplace matters.

365 days of reading the nasty comments from those who anonymously post to media sites and who fail to understand that it is struggles exactly like this one being waged by these workers and their union that have built Canada’s middle class; that have forced a sharing of the wealth generated from our economy, especially from the natural resources of our province and nation. It is struggles like these that push health and safety standards to a higher level.

365 days of wondering, when push comes to shove, if their government will be there be them. Or will their government, like so many others, including the Ontario government, cave under the pressure from big capital and big mining? They wonder if a premier who so dislikes being pushed around, especially by big corporations, will join them and push back.

365 of reading the business pages and knowing that as they struggle to feed the kids their bosses rake in millions and millions in salaries and billions in profits.

365 days of defending against a company that has been breeding discontent in many northern communities, pitting neighbour against neighbour.

365 days when solidarity has been tested, but is given new life because the company pushed one inch too far. 365 days, 8,760 hours, of incredible resolve. The time has come. The time for the provincial government to stand with the workers is now. No more counting days.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com.

Her column returns Aug. 14.

Organizations: Inco, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Brazil South Africa Peru Sudbury Ontario

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