Fighting the Good Fight for Sudbury Labour Unions, Safety and Dignity: The Homer Seguin Story – by Bill Bradley

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

Homer Sequin, now retired, but health and safety advocate for the past 50 years, has published his life story.

Entitled Fighting For Justice And Dignity: The Homer Seguin Story chronicles his life from the age of 16, when he started with Inco at the Sintering Plant in Copper Cliff, to his retirement in 1992.

The book is 173 pages, with 40 pictures and is self-published. Journal Printing printed the copies on recycled paper using union labour, said Seguin last Wednesday. Some of the pictures have never been viewed before.

“It chronicles the rise of the whole union movement here and my activity from being a steward on the safety committee to a union trustee in 1963, to vice-president of Local 6500 in 1965, to president in 1967,” said Seguin.

The book is hard-hitting. Seguin had to leave school early to help his mother make ends meet when his 39-year-old father drowned in 1950. At that time Inco did not pay a survivor’s pension, meaning a person had to be alive to receive a pension.

He was very much influenced by his dad, Horace, who was a union activist, as well as being an amateur boxer. Times were very tough in those days, writes Seguin.

He recounts asking his dad when he came home after his shift why he didn’t eat his lunch that was packed for him. If his dad did not fill a certain number of cars with muck each day he would not meet quota and then be fired. Outside the plant gates were hundreds of men willing to take his job. That meant his dad, most days, could not afford to take the time to eat lunch.

Men were not paid much in those days at Inco. Seguin’s dad had to take on boxing matches in public places along Lorne Street for extra income — often a bag of groceries — if he won.

Since they were “all-come” matches, his dad had to fight even huge men that stepped in the ring.

“I was scared for him … he absorbed some awful blows. But he never got knocked down for the count,” said Seguin. Like his father, Homer Seguin pulls no punches in describing life at Inco.

He lied about his age to start work in a place he called a “horrible, horrible workplace,” the Copper Cliff Sintering Plant.

He recalls on his first day with 20 other new recruits, his first experience with sulfur. “Now this was not the stuff you got in town; it was like someone was strangling you. My throat was burning and you couldn’t breathe,” writes Seguin. That day, half the new recruits quit. Homer had to stay to support his widowed mother.

Of interest to readers are accounts of the various strikes, including the passionate strikes in the 1960s and the raiding between the Mine Mill Union and the Steelworkers organizations.

Violence was common in this city’s past, writes Seguin. “For example, there was a near riot in the Sudbury arena in 1961 when conflicting members of Mine Mill were holding a meeting about joining the Steelworkers.”

He further recounts the long period when both unions battled for supremacy of 20,000 Inco workers in the 1960s. Fist fights were common between Mine Mill and Steelworkers at local bars.

Seguin also noted the union’s efforts to reduce sulfur emissions inside the plants which later led to the much broader acid reduction programs mandated by the Ontario government. For that, he gives credit to the NDP politicians of the time, Elie Martel and the whole NDP caucus, who pressured the Conservative government for reductions. He also credits Judy Erola, who was then a radio reporter at CHNO, for releasing union SO2 readings from the roof of their building.

“My book is good for students of labour relations, historians and anyone in the community who is interested.” To get a copy, phone the Sudbury Labour Council at 674-1223 or visit them at 109 Elm Street. The price is $25 or $20 for students and retirees.

“You can also phone me at 983-1208 or Mercedes Steedman at 670-1736,” said Seguin.