A BREAKTHROUGH FOR
following article is from
the April 1-15,
issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles
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By Sam Hammond
In the 1930's a member of Local 105
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers took an electrician's
job in the Dominion Foundries and Steel Company (Dofasco). Also a
member of the Communist Party of Canada, he organized the first SWOC
(Steelworkers Organizing Committee) chartered local in Canada - Local
1004 of the United Steelworkers of America.
fired by Clifton W. Sherman, the head robber baron of Dofasco. Harry
became the first employee of the SWOC in Canada and laid the groundwork
for the famous Hamilton Local 1005 at Stelco's Hilton works, which is
still alive and fighting today.
fell into oblivion
and unfortunately didn't survive long enough for the post-war
resurgence of industrial unionism. Harry Hunter was fired in the steel
union's anti-communist purges carried out by Phillip Murray and
Charlie Millard, but went to work immediately for the United Electrical
Workers Union which organized three large Westinghouse plants in
Hamilton. Later he worked full time as a Communist Party organizer and
played an important role on Hamilton City Council for many years.
Steel local in Canada
at Dofasco is long forgotten, and the courageous efforts of left
militant workers like Harry Hunter have been either forgotten or
purposely obscured by historical revisionism. Labour legend has it that
the implementation of profit-sharing and a carefully nurtured sense of
community implemented by the Dofasco corporate brass have made the
second largest steel producer in Canada un-organizable.
is legend, and the
truth is there has never been a massive serious attempt to organize
Dofasco by the Steelworkers, who were too busy in the 40's and 50's
raiding Mine Mill and UE to organize much of anything unless workers
came pounding at the door. I have lived in Hamilton since I was born in
1941, and I have been involved in Hamilton labour since 1961; in my
opinion, the organizing attempts have been half-hearted.
of the 1946
Hamilton Labour war, and Dofasco, notoriously unorganized, have both
disappeared in the cauldron of Free Trade neo-liberal foreign
take-overs. Stelco is now US Steel and Dofasco is now Arcelor-Mittal.
The U.S. and Euro-Asian imperialists have divvied up Hamilton's
waterfront, eyeing the windfalls of ownership as they compete globally
for resources and markets.
industrial cities has felt the effect of globalization and Free Trade
like no other. We have lost the manufacturing enterprises of
Massey-Ferguson, a Studebaker auto plant, Otis Elevator, Proctor and
Gamble, Canadian Porcelain, three Westinghouse plants, Frost Fence and
Wire, International Harvester, Hoover appliances, Dominion Glass and
the American Can Company, and literally dozens of peripheral secondary
plants and suppliers. The products these plants made now arrive in our
city on trucks carrying containers from ships and rail, acquired from
off shore or other parts of the Americas. Tens of thousands of lost
jobs, but still we survive in a sort of industrial twilight zone
created by a succession of Liberal and Tory governments that have
peddled us as commodities for sale - cheap.
twilight zone we still
produce even more and better quality steel with less than 25% of the
1960's work force. The Steelworkers union is still in Stelco, and has
fought its way through bankruptcy protection and past bottom-feeding
capitalist speculators. Overall, the union has represented Hamilton
steelworkers very well.
so-called "profit sharing"
plan at the now Arcelor-Mittal plant (still called Dofasco in local
vernacular), is really an employee investment fund: the company matches
employee contributions up to a ceiling and pays dividends on the
employee share, according to a corporate controlled percentage
supposedly based on annual profits. Employees receive lump sum or other
payments on retirement, really based on their own investment.
In a real
profit sharing plan,
workers receive a portion of the profits they have created. The Dofasco
plan is not this at all. It is a hybrid, and in this writer's opinion,
there has never been a thorough and public comparison of this plan with
the real benefits of the Steelworkers Union pension and benefits plan.
The Dofasco workers are very edgy right now, because in a non-union
situation the plan could fall under the axe at any time at the whim of
their new owners, and what would they have left?
corporate myth is
unravelling. The myth of a corporate family where there have been no
problems for almost seventy years, no grievances, no health and safety
grievances, no unfair dismissals and no need for representation at the
Labour Board, is digestible only by those who believe in Bugs Bunny and
the Tooth Fairy. The rest of us know better and Dofasco workers are
there is a feature at Dofasco that is the direct result of a non-union
environment. The amount of "contracting in" of labour not directly
employed by Dofasco (cleaning, maintenance and engineering services) is
only known to the corporation, but it is a serious quantity.
March 20, on the
front page of Hamilton's only large daily newspaper, The Spectator, is
a half page picture of Wayne Fraser with the headline "The Dofasco
Choice". Under the picture is this caption: "For Decades, the steel
company founded by the Sherman family fought fiercely to keep the union
out. Today, United Steelworkers leader Wayne Fraser makes history by
walking through Dofasco's gates. He has permission to ask workers if
they want a union." Wow! Permission?
USW and ArcelorMittal
have similar agreements at their US plants. ArcelorMittal purchased
outright International Steel Group, which had cornered a majority of US
steel manufacturing through the purchase of plants under bankruptcy
protection, then re-tooled at the expense of retirees and reduced
pension and health benefits. The purchase injected the Euro-Asian
interests into US manufacturing in a rather large way.
Dofasco agreement, the company will issue a letter to 3500 workers from
the desk of vice-president Andy Harshaw, where the workers are
"strongly encouraged to consider" the union pitch. Union Reps will be
escorted by company officials to different work areas to address the
workers and make the argument for unionization. If a majority of
workers agree, they will elect from amongst themselves members to
comprise a negotiating committee which will at some point present a
contract for ratification. If the contract is ratified, the plant will
automatically be unionized and the Steelworkers will become the
certified bargaining agent.
important here, and is
shared by the CAW-Magna deal, is that ratification of the first
agreement and certification of the union are the same. One vote. What
is different, at least with the limited information, is that the first
agreement will be hammered out by a committee of elected workers free
of management input, instead of being presented by a union-corporate
committee as at CAW-Magna. Also the Steelworkers have made a big effort
to point out that the right to strike has not been and will not be
Is this a
organizing strategy, or another corporate-union partnership? The jury
is still out on this one and will stay out until more than the initial
sketchy information is available. There are definitely perks for the
corporation, and we must analyze these as well as the union benefits to
make a sound judgment. Until this becomes clearer, we must hope for the
overall welfare of these workers who have been riding the benefits
unionized Steelworkers struggles for generations without being in the