Video: Striking Ontario Miners Back Down Police

Striking nickel and copper miners in northern Ontario blocked entrances to company property for five days in May, defying a police order to stand down. In what Steelworkers Local 6500 called a protest and their multinational employer Vale Inco called a blockade, strikers and community supporters in Copper Cliff and Levack mounted 24-hour lines complete with RVs and toilets.

On strike against heavy concessions since last July, a network of active strikers took to the streets when negotiations broke down May 6. “We have a constitutional right in Canada for freedom of assembly,” said striker Aaron Beaudry, “to assemble in front of Vale till progress is made in negotiations.

“Nobody was going in or out. Not through where the protest was.”

Bill Belowos, the local’s contracting out rep, said, “There were pallets right across the road. The problem with the mine sites [where the union’s picketing usually takes place], they’re away from the normal flow of traffic. This way the community could see you. The honking and rolling of windows down, it was continuous.”

“No more scabs!” was the protesters’ main chant. “After 10 months,” said Beaudry, “it’s been a long time and very bitter. People coming in and doing our jobs is wrong.”

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A May 11 video shows a police officer reading an injunction and order to disperse, then the miners and supporters linking arms and chanting. Finally, the police give up and leave. (The video's below as well.)

MOVEMENT BY THE LABOUR BOARD

The protests prodded the Ontario Labour Relations Board to action: on May 10 the board agreed to expedite a hearing on Vale’s firing of nine members for alleged strike misconduct, originally set for late June.

But on May 17 the OLRB put the fired workers on the back burner and instead ordered both sides to return to the table to reach agreement on the strike issues.

The Steelworkers are resisting Vale’s demands to end pensions for new hires, cap profit-sharing, lay off those with less than seven years, do more contracting out, and end union protection for new hires in their first six months.

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.