So, is the United Steelworkers Local 6500 strike against Vale Inco in Sudbury sheer stupidity from a union unable to read the tea leaves of economic reality, the strength of its foe or the relative prosperity of the agreement it has on the table?
Or, is it the last heroic gasp of the only constituency in this pitiable country (so full of promise and so bereft of business courage) willing to claim its stake to the mining wealth of this country that has been sold out with such pathetic indifference, greed, and alacrity?
It is both.
This Brazilian company, now owner of one of Canada’s most storied iconic mining companies, has every right to restructure its operations, decimate its Canadian management structure, centralize its decisions in Rio de Janeiro, demand changes to its collective bargaining agreement, move its supply contracts to better pricing in other parts of the world or induce a strike when it feels its employees are getting uppity.
To the winner go the spoils. None of this is activity the old Inco wouldn’t have contemplated. The difference of course is that the old Inco had much less leverage and to be fair, in recent years actually seemed to be trying to radically improve its relationship with its workforce which is not a priority with the new boys in town.
Canadians aren’t used to being this unimportant. While negotiating the contract Vale Inco was actually busier firing senior managers including the well-regarded president of the Ontario division Fred Stanford and chief operating officer Parviz Farsangi. One of the ways these people fire people is they give them no authority. Enough to drive you crazy. Very effective. Towards the end of the negotiation process I’m sure the Steelworkers had no idea who they were going to be talking to next.
To be charitable, it is a disaster for the community and the country. As for the company, it depends on your vantage point. No doubt Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD)is happy to be saving the money, teaching their employees a lesson in learning who is in charge and waiting for better nickel prices. Although it might work in the short term they will pay a huge price over the long term.
What Canadians don’t seem to understand is that once you sell out, you sell out. Inco is a dumb terminal with its brain in another hemisphere.
Fortunately for us the Minister of Industry for Canada understands about selling out. He actually thinks the Sudbury operations of Inco would have gone out of business if it had been left in the hands of those incompetent Canadians. Thank goodness those flinty value hunters from other jurisdictions came to the rescue.
"There was going to be no buyer, there were going to be no jobs, there weren't going to be any capital investments, there was going to be no employer," said Clement.
"That was the Valley of Death that Sudbury faced."
Sounds like a press release from Roger Agnelli, CEO of CVRD. It is absurd and anyone in the mining business knows it.
There is no point piling on the Minister. It is too easy and not hugely productive. In fact, at press time the Minister himself recognized his blunder and called his remarks “boneheaded.” He needs new help or a new job. We have a bigger problem than a strike.
We have a Minister of Industry who doesn't understand the file, refuses to release undertakings he secured when the sale took place and just wishes it would all go away. We have a provincial government that has watched all of this from the beginning with a naiveté that leaves one breathless. We have a union stuck in old ways with unrealistic expectations in today’s marketplace and we have a company which is happy to pursue a scorched earth policy in a mining camp it doesn’t seem to understand.
There is no leadership, no sanity, no planning for the future and no common cause among people that need to find it. Blame Canada. The only good news is that when it gets this bad, there is always opportunity.
The opportunity is this: Buy it back.
The Brazilians have already said Sudbury is unsustainable. Strikes me they would be happy to sell. The union needs to get real and buy stock with concessions and be part of the solution. With the current ownership they are headed for decades of brinksmanship and it will be expensive and debilitating.
Our governments need to take a tip from the Brazilians who own a blocking share in guess who... CVRD.
The opportunists on Bay Street who were happy to finance the sell off of Inco should get together and make more money buying it back.
We need someone to broker this deal. Without a change the future is bleak.
Michael Atkins, President
Laurentian Media Group