Labrador Steelworkers Strike Nears Two Months

On strike since March 26, steelworkers at Rio Tinto-IOC’s mine in Labrador City are still at the picket lines with no end in sight. A tentative offer in April was soon rejected by 75% of members of the local.

The nearly 300 steelworkers at IOC’s port and railway facilities in Sept-Iles, Québec, intended to join their Labrador City comrades by striking on April 10, with 94% in favour. However that strike has not gone ahead while the Labour Relations Board debates whether they count as essential service. Nonetheless, ore is not moving on the railway and IOC decided to lay off nearly 200 hourly workers with the Sept-Iles Local 9344 who are still on the job.

IOC has also heartlessly cut off medical benefits to its Labrador City workers. The USW Local encouraged its membership to avail of the plan before any cuts came, but many workers will now find a difficult situation made even worse. IOC has also suspended its community investment program which provides funds for various community groups and local initiatives. The town is feeling the crunch with many of its most highly-paid workers now scraping by, and smaller businesses are laying off workers or cutting back hours.

The union has also reported that IOC is using scab labour, with “replacement” workers being seen taken onto company worksites by various means including helicopter. In response, steelworkers held protests at nearby Wabush Airport and at local businesses believed to have been contracted by IOC for work they are not supposed to be doing. IOC denies using scabs, but the union is keeping vigilant as the strike drags on.

The provincial NDP leader, Gerry Rogers, raised the issue of anti-scab legislation in the House of Assembly on May 3, asking Premier Ball if the province’s Labour Relations Act would be amended to prohibit the use of replacement workers. Al Hawkins, Minister for Advanced Education, Skills, and Labour, chose to ignore Rogers’ point. Hawkins demonstrated the fundamentally anti-worker and pro-capital nature of the government when he insisted that a collective agreement must be fair for both workers and employers, and that “not only workers, but employers make a significant contribution to this province as well… we give everybody an opportunity to have their say”. That is a merely a diplomatic way of saying “Who cares about the workers and their union? They aren’t the ones with the big money.” Pretending to be neutral means Rio Tinto and the other multinationals that dominate our economy win.

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