Michael Moore delivers the goods for [Thompson NDP MP] Niki Ashton [on Vale Shutdown] – by John Barker (February 25, 2011)

This article was originally published in the Thompson Citizen which was established in June 1960. The Citizen covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000. It was written by editor John Barker and published on February 25, 2011.


It took more than a month, but Churchill riding NDP MP Niki Ashton has got her wish: American left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore has featured Thompson and Vale’s plan to shutdown the smelter and refinery here by 2015 on his website.

But in an even bigger coup, The Huffington Post, perhaps the most important English-language liberal political blog in the world, picked up at 12:02 EST Moore’s blog entry today on Vale and Thompson — which is hitting the social media jackpot. New York City-based HuffPo was sold by founder Arianna Huffington earlier this month for $315 million to AOL Inc., formerly America Online, and had a reported 40 million unique visitors in January.

A Thompson Citizen online poll that ran from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15 asked readers, “What do you think of Churchill riding MP Niki Ashton’s attempt to enlist left-wing US filmmaker Michael Moore in the battle to save the Vale refinery and smelter in Thompson?”

Thompson RefinerySet to close by 2015.The options offered were: “It’s a smart political move on her part. It will help Thompson,” which 64 per cent of the 647 readers who responded selected, and “It’s a cheap stunt and worst kind of political grandstanding. It jeopardizes future talks with Tito Martins and Vale and will hurt Thompson,” chosen by 36 per cent of poll respondents. While the poll is in no way a randomized scientific sample of public opinion, and well below several of our previous poll totals, 647 responses is still the highest number of responses to date in 2011 and on the mid-to-high end overall since we began such weekly polling online in June 2009.

“Right now, Thompson is fighting a frontline battle in a war that’s been raging for the past 30 years — the global war of the world’s rich on the middle class,” said Moore.

Vale, a Brazilian company, bought out Inco in a hostile $19-billion foreign takeover that was approved by the Harper Conservative government in 2006. About 500 jobs and $65 million in annual payroll is at stake as Vale’s USW hourly-rated employees here are now earning on average with wages and benefits about $130,000 per year, the union estimates.

Yesterday, Vale said its fourth-quarter net profit nearly quadrupled from a year earlier, as iron ore prices surged on a recovery in demand after the 2008-09 financial crisis and nickel and copper production recovered after its strike ended in Sudbury after a year last July. Striking United Steelworkers Local 9508 Vale workers in Voisey’s Bay in northern Labrador voted 88 per cent in favour of a new five-year contract earlier this month to end their bitter 18-month strike against Vale and return to work.

Vale, the world’s largest producer and exporter of iron ore and iron pellets by output, reported a fourth-quarter net profit of US$5.92 billion, up from US$1.52 billion a year earlier, when the global recession curtailed demand in traditional markets in Japan and Europe even as demand from China, its single largest market, remained strong.

The Feb. 24 result was slightly above the average US$5.54 billion net profit forecast of five analysts polled earlier by Thomson Reuters.

China’s demand for minerals and metals is likely to remain strong because of rapid economic growth as well as restocking, it said.

Vale’s 2010 net profit surged to US$17.26 billion from US$5.35 billion a year earlier, boosted by a new quarterly iron ore contract pricing system adopted in April that allows iron ore miners to reflect changes in spot market prices. Iron ore miners and steel companies had previously set prices on an annual basis.

Demand for iron, the main ingredient in steelmaking, has risen as the global economy has recovered from the financial crisis, and also because of a ban on iron ore exports from India’s Karnataka state that is aimed at guaranteeing supplies for the local market.

Vale’s fourth-quarter operating revenue rocketed up to US$15.21 billion from US$6.54 billion a year earlier, after average iron ore sales prices more than doubled to US$121 a metric ton from US$56 a year earlier.

Full-year operating revenue nearly doubled to US$46.48 billion from US$23.94 billion a year earlier.

“Across this country Canadians have been speaking out against foreign take-overs – approved in backrooms by successive Liberal and Conservative governments – deals that have gone terribly wrong,” said New Democrat Leader Jack Layton. “Michael Moore’s interest in Thompson’s campaign is a testament not only to the hard work of Niki Ashton and her community, but to the need for all communities to stand up and defend their jobs.”

Ashton had announced Feb. 1 that “award-winning documentarian Michael Moore agreed to a request” by her to “help share her message about the devastating decision by Vale to close the Vale smelter and refinery in Thompson.”

Said Ashton then: “Moore’s team expressed great interest in Vale’s decision and the devastating impact it would have on Ashton’s home community of Thompson. Moore’s team plans to post Ashton’s YouTube video on his website as well as post a series of blog entries by Ashton and the people who are losing their jobs … Moore and his team pointed to the parallels between the Thompson story and the story of Flint, Michigan as told in Moore’s film Roger & Me.”

Ashton went on to say Feb. 1, “The story of Thompson parallels what the people of Flint, Michigan faced. Our community is the latest victim. Our goal was to get our message spread globally. We are fighting back. We are happy to have Michael Moore help us get our message to the world.”

Ashton had announced – from Island Lake – on Jan. 20 that she had written to Moore “asking for his support in sharing the story of Thompson as it faces the devastating announcement made by Vale in November 2010 to close the Thompson Vale smelter and refinery.”

“We made a video to share our story – the video echoes the messages put forward by Michael Moore, that communities must be heard and that there must be justice,” said Ashton. “Michael Moore’s work has put communities like Flint, Michigan and others on the map sharing the story of how working people and their communities have been treated unfairly by their governments and corporations.”

Ashton said then she hoped Moore and others would watch the locally produced video “Our Community. Our Resource. Our Canada.” available on YouTube.

Moore, who lives primarily on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, of course, is famously from Flint, Michigan. His first film in 1989 was Roger & Me, where he confronted his main subject, then General Motors chairman Roger Smith, who held the post from 1981 to 1990, in a series of ambush interviews, much likes CBS Television has made famous with its newsmagazine 60 Minutes, over his decision to close several auto plants in Flint and the devastating negative economic impact of seeing 30,000 people their jobs in what was then a city of 80,000 at the time 22 years ago. Flint’s population since then, however, has largely fluctuated between about 110,000 and 125,000 residents and the county seat for Genesee County is the seventh-largest city in Michigan.

Other well-known Moore films include Bowling for Columbine in 2002; Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival; Sicko in 2007 and Capitalism: A Love Story, in 2009.

Moore, a Roman Catholic, grew up in Davison, a suburb of Flint, where his dad worked 30 years in a General Motors factory, and attended seminary and considered becoming a priest. He says his sense of social justice and activism was shaped by his Catholic patrimony. In 1972, as an 18-year-old, Moore was elected to the Davison school board.

Blair Hudson, union representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers, is quoted on the Moore website as saying, “There’s no question, if Vale cuts 500 jobs out of their operation, in a community of less than 15,000, that will have a huge ripple effect. I would estimate there would probably be another 1,500 jobs lost in Thompson, which would mean a lot of our members would lose their jobs. There just won’t be as many people living here.

“Vale has had a significant role, not only in our community, but our lives personally. In my family, four of us have worked at Vale. My brother worked at the mine for 30 years, I used to work at the mine and my two sons currently work at Vale. One if not both of my sons’ jobs are in jeopardy. One of my sons will definitely lose his job, and whether he gets another job at Vale is another story.

“I attended the town hall meeting in Thompson after the announcement. At the meeting, we were told there would not be layoffs. The Vale representative said they want to keep the smelter and refinery running for four more years then completely shut it down, so I don’t know how they can say there won’t be layoffs. We were told there would be attrition and they would be jobs found for the people who would lose their jobs, but I don’t see how that is possible. There’s not enough work to do underground for 500 people. Some of the answers given at the meeting were not believable.

“There was no consultation and there is no trust.”

Craig Costello, a millwright in the smelter, says, “I’m a stationary mechanic. I work on crushers, conveyors, pumps, converters, furnaces, elevators – everything down at the mine that’s stationary. I repair things that are damaged and do preventative maintenance to keep things running.

“I work in one of the buildings they’re trying to close, so that job will be gone. I can go underground to the mine, but I don’t know how many mechanics they’re going to need for underground. There are quite a few maintenance people, so I don’t know. I have enough seniority. I might be safe and able to move into another position. But what if they shut the next thing down?

“To see the looks on some of your friends’ faces, and people you work with who have been here 20-odd years who find out that in four years they’re going to have to change jobs, or maybe go underground to the mine, that’s kind of shocking. And then there are other guys who are just starting, and wondering if they’re going to have a job in four years. There are lots of upset people, and it makes you wonder how much longer you want to stay here.

“I’m probably looking at leaving. To be honest, when you talk about getting rid of 500 jobs, it’s 500 families in this community, 500 empty homes, and then those people’s kids aren’t going to school, so now there’s less teachers, maybe less schools open, less businesses open in town. So yeah, maybe it’s 500 jobs for Vale… but in our community it’s huge.

“I have friends whose wives work for Vale, or their wives are nurses or other professionals in town. When you talk about families leaving, you’re talking about a lot of high-paying jobs leaving town.

“For me, I have a three year old son, and my wife’s a nurse at the hospital. So two professionals are going to leave town. We’re not 100 per cent decided as to where we’ll go.

“This was kind of the last nail in the coffin. I can’t sit here and watch friends maybe get laid off in a couple of years. I can’t watch this town die anymore. So that’s kind of it for us.”

You can find your way into the Thompson material on Moore’s website by going to: www.michaelmoore.com and following the links. Or you can go straight to Moore’s blog entry, “Why I Support the People of Thompson, Canada — And You Should Too,” posted at 9:16 a.m. today at: http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/why-i-support-people-of-thompson-canada, or you can read the Huffington Post pickup at 12:02 p.m. at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/why-i-support-the-people_b_828238.html?ir=Yahoo

“To people down here in the U.S., Thompson, Canada and its fight with the Brazilian mining giant Vale may seem very far away. It’s not,” Moore writes. “Don’t be embarrassed if you need a map to find Thompson, though — blame the U.S. media, which will only tell you about Canadians if they have some connection to Justin Bieber.”

Explaining the sale of Inco to Vale in 2006, Moore writes, “Immediately afterward, Vale violated the contract and went on the attack…”

Moore concludes his blog entry by writing: “(Confidential to people of Thompson: we’re not saying Americans will only help if you promise to introduce us to Justin Bieber. We’re just saying, you know, it couldn’t hurt.)”