Calls to Nationalize Nickel Industry During Xstrata Layoff Support Meeting – by Bill Bradley

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

It was standing room only at the Quality Inn Tuesday night, when 350 people took part in an event organized by local federal and provincial NDP politicians for laid off Xstrata workers. The group listened to rhetorical speeches by everyone from NDP Leader Jack Layton to Mayor John Rodriguez to Dwight Harper, president of Mine Mill Local 598/CAW workers.

Some comments, such as Harper’s wish to nationalize nickel production, were reminders of bad community feelings during major layoffs in the late 1970s. At that time, both Falconbridge and Inco outraged workers by cutting thousands from both their workforces.

Last week, both Xstrata Nickel and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper were roundly condemned by local politicians and labour leaders for not living up to a three-year no layoff agreement. The agreement was signed in 2006 when Falconbridge was taken over by Swiss mining giant Xstrata.

“The government of Canada should be standing up for the people of Sudbury. Meetings like this need not have to happen,” said Layton.

Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle said he, and Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, took the issue to their NDP caucus, then raised it repeatedly in the House of Commons.

“Every day, either Glenn, myself, Jack Layton or other colleagues, stood up in the House for this issue,” said Gravelle. Even the prime minister had to face the music about the agreement, said Gravelle.

“In Question Period, Jack was demanding from Stephen Harper why his government was not enforcing their own agreement.”

Layton noted that Sudbury’s mayor tried to get a nationalize nickel bill in the House of Commons in the 1970s, when Rodriguez was the federal member for Nickel Belt. Unions here contribute to the life of the community and deserved support at this time, said Rodriguez at the meeting.

“I don’t have to tell anyone the millions of dollars raised by the unions for the good of this community, for the United Way and other funds. Every time we ask, they step up to the plate. I do not want to lose any of the 686 laid off workers.” Devin Mayer, a laid off mechanic who has worked for Xstrata since June 2008, said he left a good job of 15 years to work for the company.

“I went to Xstrata to get a better job. Now this happened. I was looking forward to retiring at Xstrata. My whole family was in the mining field. They all gave their lives to mining.” he said.

Derik McArthur, president of the retail and wholesale department store workers, said some of his 6,000 members may also be at risk. “Many of our members work in stores that depended on the spending of
Xstrata workers. We depend on them,” he said during the meeting.

John Fera, Steelworkers Local 6500 president, told the crowd about how Steelworkers organized themselves in 2006 to protest the possible foreign takeover of Inco.

“We sent our union members to Ottawa and we, with the help of the NDP, went to every office we could in
parliament. We were there for a week talking to them. We were told we had nothing to fear from foreign takeovers. “Maybe, Dwight Harper, you should organize yourselves to go there again and look them straight in the eye and ask them why they sold us out,” said Fera.

He told Layton to notify other federal political leaders.

“You had better let them know there is a crisis here in Sudbury.” John Closs, president of the Sudbury
and District Labour Council, said he was thrilled with the turnout.

“It shows the concern in the community. The community really has to pull together to make a difference
after the layoffs, just like we have done in the past. I think we can do it again,” said Closs.

“We have been put down too long. It is time we nationalized nickel,” Harper said to much applause.

“We are going to take this fight out of this city to the government.”