The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
A milestone anniversary in Greater Sudbury’s labour history is being marked today: United Steelworkers Local 6500 turns 50 years old.
It’s also a day of infamy in the history of the Mine Mill and Smelter Workers Union to whom the more than 13,000 Inco Limited production and maintenance workers belonged before the “raid” by the United States-based union occurred.
While the Steelworkers were successful in winning the right to represent the Inco workers in a vote in June, 1962 — the result was 7,182 votes to 6,951 in favour of being represented by the Steelworkers, the margin of victory was just 231 and only 15 votes over the required 50% — the ballot box victory was not made official for several months.
That was because Mine Mill protested that 71 of the ballots were not stamped with the official mark of board officials and that the 72-hour no propaganda rule had been deliberately violated by the Steelworkers. On Oct. 15, 1962, the board ruled the Steelworkers should be certified. At the time, Local 6500, as the new bargaining group became known, was the largest union local in Canada.
“Not only the eyes of Canada, but North America were on the city,” recalled Homer Seguin, who was 28 when the vote occurred and went on to serve as vice-president of Local 6500 from 1965-70 and then president from 1967-1970. “It was a big, important thing. It was a vital thing for Mine Mill. They were a powerful union and Sudbury represented more than half of their union.”
If one local represented most of your power and finances and it was win or lose, that was sacred for Mine Mill and they lost. That was the end of Mine Mill, so to speak.”
Seguin said what the vote did was end a lot of in-plant turmoil at Inco operations in the city as Mine Mill and the Steelworkers fought to win and keep support. It was a struggle that had been building up for years, he said.
“I was an official for Mine Mill,” he said. “It was my union. It was representing me. I was active in the safety and health ranks, chairman of the safety committee, the grievance committee. I felt that it finally settled it. It was a significant vote and it settled what had been a very close battle.”
Seguin said that after the vote, he continued in his union work, taking on the same responsibilities with the new local.
“Though I was a Mine Mill officer, I had the same positions in the Steelworkers as I did in Mine Mill. I then got elected trustee, vice-president and president.”
By 1967, Local 6500 had grown to about 19,000 members and was a major force in the North American labour movement, said Seguin.
“It was bigger than some unions,” he said. “It was the biggest local the Steelworkers had in North America. It was quite the operation to operate. We had thousands and thousands of grievances every year.”
Local 6500 currently has about 3,000 members.
Current Local 6500 President Rick Bertrand could not be reached for comment. While nothing is scheduled today to mark the 50th anniversary, a number of special events are apparently in the works for the new year.
For the original version of this article, please go the Sudbury Star website: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2012/10/15/historic-milestone-for-union