Global Solidarity for Unions: A Vision That Works – by Patrick Veinot

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of permission to post Patrick Veinot’s article.

(Re: editorial written by Michael Atkins,Chickens coming home to roost with Inco Contract,July 15 edition of Northern Life)

Thank you Michael Atkins for the opportunity to clarify some of the differences between organizations. As well as correct some of your opinions on the leverage or the strength of USW Local 6500, when bargaining with, or as you would so have it, against Vale Brazil.

Let me begin by saying that the CAW is a National Union, run from the top down, focused largely on the Canadian Auto Industry. This is manufacturing, not mining, and since NAFTA the manufacturing Industry has, not surprisingly, been in trouble.

While their leadership continues to negotiate higher wages it could be said to be true, that almost in parallel they have been forced to negotiate lay-offs, often forming awkward relationships with unfriendly politicians for taxpayer subsidies.

I think most of us have sadly watched the North American big three struggle for years. The United Steelworkers (USW), on the other hand, is an international union with alliances across our world. Through its growing global membership, it is today effectively bringing about positive change in the global economy. It is not unusual for Steelworkers to demand a seat at the table and to negotiate ground breaking “creative” as you would put it, contracts.

For example, the Sudbury contract negotiated in 1985 when nickel prices were low. It was both parties who agreed on an alternative system that would only pay wages for hours worked in times of financial success when the company made substantial profits. The Steelworkers and Inco called it nickel bonus.

It was considered to be an alternative to a permanent increase in wages. It was not called nickel bonus because it was some kind of signing bonus or Christmas bonus, but because the amount paid to the workers fluctuated with the financial success of the company.

It made great sense then for both parties, and it makes great sense today. Not only could it be “lucrative” in your words, but more importantly it eased labour costs on the company during the challenging years. The union therefore hoped that it could also ease the level of future lay-offs that had plagued Inco, the mining industry and our community in the late 60s, the 70s and early 80s.

Just recently the Steelworkers, under the leadership of Sudbury born Leo Gerard, formed the world’s first-ever global union. Signing the historical document with “Unite,” the largest union in the UK, with more than two million members in the public and private sector.

With strong alliances already in the Mexico, Liberia, Brazil, Australia and many more countries, the Steelworkers are on the right track.

As new members of the “Workers Uniting” the new global union (, we shall all have access to greater international solidarity that is virtually worldwide, as well as the resources of a true global proportion.

That is what is required to be effective in bringing some kind of balance and order to the corporate table.

It is important to know that the disparity between the board room table executives and the working class has never been greater. And that is simply not acceptable.

Now Vale Inco is not just another investment conglomerate. It is a young, healthy corporation with a plan and the momentum to completely dominate the world in all the resources it takes to make stainless steel, a metal that is only increasing in demand world wide.

There should be no interest at any level of Vale in jeopardizing our shared success. Record profits, quarter after quarter, have given Vale the momentum to accomplish its business goals. Know that our products are in high demand, and our productivity is increasing at burn out rates. Of what value is it to anyone if they were to behave irrationally, demonstrate aggression, or come to the table with concessions?

If this is the strategy, they must surely know they have caused a strike. This community understands that. We shall expect to be treated with respect and dignity and we expect to work jointly with Vale in its growing years.

And as you boldly pointed out, as Sudbury we are only one small part of the corporation Vale Brazil. It is important to know that it is our leadership, our structure, our skills and knowledge in the Sudbury Basin as a whole that produces a substantial portion of Vale Brazil’s profit and current cash flow.

Remember that the world needs nickel and both parties will need a contract. Don’t be nervous be prepared.

Patrick Veinot