Friday, July 31, 2009

Long Quote: Past Rank-and-File Militancy Against Inco

In light of the current strike at Inco, I thought I would post this long quote describing major gains made through militant wildcat strike activity against the company in the mid-1960s -- this was in the context of militant workers at Inco still resenting the success of the more accommodationist Steel Workers in raiding Inco employees from the left-leaning and militant Mine Mill union, which until not long before represented all mine workers in the city; and in the context of a wave of wildcat strike activity across Canada lead by young workers in a wide variety of workplaces.

Inco's wildcat rebellion was ostensibly sparked by a group of young Newfoundlanders, all working at the Levack Mines and lodging together at the company barracks. When two of their number opened lunch boxes to munch on sandwiches before getting their daily work instructions, they were ordered by a shift boss to return to the surface. The pettiness of the arbitrary discipline, as well as accumulated grievances and the failure of contract negotiations to move forward, culmniated in a massive shutdown of the entire international conglomerate's Sudbury-region operations -- mines, mills, and offices...

[T]he wildcats often got even wilder as pent-up frustrations exploded in violence. The largest wildcat in the 1965-6 upsurge, the illegal walkout of thousands of Inco workers, was a key case in point. Workers in the Sudbury region had a long history of militancy, having fought a lengthy 119-day strike against the company in 1958. It ended badly, and to complicate matters union relations were embittered by a violent jurisdictional battle that pitted the [allegedly] communist-led International Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers Union against the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). The latter was successful in wrestling control of the huge Sudbury-area membership away from one of the few radical holdouts in postwar trade unionism. Some Inco workers' memories were nevertheless long in their recollection of the USWA's misdeeds. As contract negotiations faltered in the summer of 1966, the wildcat spread from one operation to another and eventually, outside of all official union control, it took on the trappings of a 'wartime military machine.' Illegal strikers used 'walkie-talkies' to communicate and threatened to disable a transport helicopter Inco was using to get supervisory personnel into company facilities. With provincial police appearing on the scene, the wildcatters armed themselves with lengths of pipe, baseball bats, steel bars, and ominous clubs. Roads were blockaded, hydro and telephone lines sabotaged, and a supply truck en route to the plant was stopped, overturned, and rolled down a hill. Shipments of nickel to the United States were stopped dead in their tracks. The Toronto Telegram reported that some pickets carried shot guns and were prepared 'to take on all comers.' One Steelworker officla confessed his wonderment at the wildness: 'I saw the Molotov cocktails, the guns, and the dynamite. The union lost control of the situation. Eventually we took truckloads of arms of one kind or another away from the picket lines.' When a settlement was finally reached, and the dissident wildcatters tamed, worker discontent was barely assuaged by the company's wage concessions, which saw increases of almost 30 per cent for skilled tradesmen, a bonus of five-week vacations on top of regular holiday time for all workers with half a decade of service under their belts, and greatly enhanced indemnity benefits for those unable to work because of sickness or accident.

-- Bryan Palmer, Canada's 1960s, pp. 226, 231

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