While he would like it to end quickly, Leo Gerard fears the worst for the 11-week-old strike at Vale Inco’s Greater Sudbury operations.
“If the things that Vale has on the table, if they are really serious about, if what our guys are telling me that Vale’s behaviour has been ‘this will be settled when you learn to agree’, there will be a lot of snowstorms before it’s over,” replied Gerard to a question following a speech Monday at L au re nt i a n University.
“If it’s simply capitulization they expect, we are
going to go through a lot of snowstorms and a lot of springtimes.”
Gerard, the international president of the United Steelworkers union, was at Laurentian to give a speech called Globalization Workers’ Rights and Community. His visit was organized by Laurentian’s labour studies, political science and sociology departments. About 50 people attended.
More than 3,000 members of Local 6500 of the USW have been on strike since mid-July. No talks are scheduled.
The Greater Sudbury native also stood by the comment he made Sept. 19 that it’s time for businesses in Greater Sudbury to choose sides in the labour dispute.
“Our success is going to lead to their success,” he said. “And we are not going to fail.”
Gerard later told reporters that after he made the comment at the labour rally at the Sudbury Community Arena, hundreds of businesses came forward to ask for signs to show their support for the union.
“It’s our standard of living that keeps the Sudbury community humming,” he said. “It allows our retirees to stay in their homes instead of selling them … It’s a very simple equation.
“Ninety per cent of the wages our members make is spent in this community. It’s important that we succeed.”
In his lecture, Gerard said he was upset to learn that a group at Laurentian is pursing a centre of excellence in occupational health and safety.
Gerard later told reporters such a centre was an idea he floated in the community at least a dozen times over the years and should involve government, labour, the three local post-secondary institutions and other partners.
“Today, I found out that there is a group … trying to organize it for themselves,” he said.
Gerard said he understands the proposed centre would not involve the two senior levels of government and would only give labour a small role.
“For the workers to play a miniscule role is unacceptable,” he said.
Last June, a research group or “cluster” of researchers was formally established at Laurentian with a goal of becoming a hub for occupational health and safety research for resource-based industries in Northern Ontario, as well as nationally and internationally. It is called the Centre for Research in Occupational Health and Safety.
In his one-hour address, Gerard said the continuing march toward globalization allows companies to relocate without any repercussions, capital to move freely between borders, and the rich to get richer.
“Twenty-five years ago, a chief executive officer made 25 times a worker’s salary,” he said. “Five years ago, it was 440 times the average worker’s salary. It’s now up to 1,000 times.
“That kind of globalization can’t be sustained.”
It is no co-incidence that summits such as last week’s G20 event in Pittsburgh, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and G8″meetings are only attended by people benefitting from the decisions being made, said Gerard.
That’s why protesters are kept a fair distance away.
Gerard said it is working people, through massive government bailouts, that ultimately pay for capitalism-gone- wild behaviour that led to scenarios such as the sub-prime mortgage fiasco in the United States and the accounting disaster that involved companies like Enron and World.com.
Gerard said a good example of where globalization is causing problems is the purchase of Inco Limited by Vale of Brazil that has led to wealth flowing out of Canada. He said that purchase should not have been allowed to happen.
“We have one of the richest ore bodies in the world here,” he said. “(A total of ) $4.2 billion of wealth was created here in 30 months and there is no real obligation to leave any of that wealth here.
“Vale is not listed on Canadian stock exchanges, but is on the New York Stock Exchange. The primary holders of that stock are German, Japanese and Brazilian banks.”
The Steelworkers president added there was no point for some countries such as Canada and the United States to attempt to fight global warming through a carbon emissions tax system unless all countries did the same. That’s because a company faced with a higher-cost operation will simply relocate to a country like China where there are no such taxes.
Yet, a Canadian steel mill emits one-quarter to one-third of the emissions of a steel milll in China, he said.
“You will get carbon leakage,” he explained. “Carbon emissions will (actually) go up … If we let the Chinese sell their steel here, all we are in fact doing is penalizing ourselves.”