Thousands of steelworkers, community members, and union allies from across the province rallied outside of Hamilton’s city hall on Jan. 30. The demonstration was called to show support for the workers at U.S. Steel who have weathered major job losses and are now facing the loss of their benefits and pensions.
U.S. Steel, the Pittsburgh-based multinational, bought Stelco in 2007. Using the Investment Canada Act, the Harper government mandated U.S. Steel to meet production and employment commitments.
In 2009, U.S. Steel was winding down production at both the Nanticoke and Hamilton plants and laying off workers. Harper’s minority government was forced to respond and launched a lawsuit against the company. However, in 2011, the Harper government dropped the legal proceedings and signed a secret deal with the company.
In 2014, U.S. Steel, after forcing Hamilton and Nanticoke workers into three brutal lockouts, and laying off thousands, wound down production in Hamilton and filed for bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. It was an attempt by the company to leave Canada without having to fulfill its pension and land tax obligations.
In October, a court decision cut off the pensions and benefits to 20,600 former steelworkers. Two months later, the provincial government set up a temporary fund to provide partial benefits to pensioners – but that transitional fund will most likely only last till the end of March.
If the courts and the government allow U.S. Steel to cut and run, 20,600 pensioners will be left in the lurch. The transition plan approved by the courts also means U.S. Steel will not have to pay any of the $6 million in annual land taxes its pays to the city. The plants in Hamilton and Nanticoke will not be sold immediately.
The court decision in October was a disaster not just for the steelworkers, or even the city of Hamilton, but for the entire labour movement. The underhanded way in which U.S. Steel has destroyed the steel industry in this country, attacked workers and pensioners – all with government collusion – sets a terrible precedent for workers who will undoubtedly see foreign multinationals and big corporations increasingly try to skirt their obligations through offshoring and restructuring.
Workers and pensioners are not taking this lying down. The steelworkers are not only fighting this in court, but mobilizing its members and the community to put pressure on the government to stop the U.S. Steel robbery.
The crowd and speakers at the rally demanded that the Liberals protect pensioners and unseal the secret deal signed by Harper.
“How can it be that the government remains on the sidelines when the steel industry is responsible for 20,000 direct jobs, over 100,000 indirect jobs,” said Marty Warren, United Steelworkers (USW) District 6 director, to the crowd outside Hamilton City Hall. “Yet we hear silence from the government?” said Warren.
“I can tell you why. Because the system is rigged! The system is rigged for the corporations, the powerful and the elite!”
But for all the righteous words it was the very presence of USW members from Alma, Quebec at the rally who showed the true power when workers and communities come together to take action against corporate attacks and an unjust system.
Locked out by Rio Tinto in 2012 when they refused the company’s concessions, they were able to defeat the concessionary deal by building local support, garnering solidarity from USW members across the country.
The USW will continue to fight in the courts for a just resolution. However, as Warren rightly noted, the courts and the government, whether it Harper’s Tories or Trudeau and Wynne’s Liberals, time and again are too willing to side with the big corporations.
If the system is rigged, then only continued mobilizations and action, like last week’s rally, can build the pressure to stop U.S. Steel’s robbery and prevent other corporations from trying to pull a similar heist.