On July 4, striking miners and electricians in Goderich, Ont. erected a blockade in front of the salt mine where they work. The approximately 350 Unifor members have been on strike now for almost 10 weeks. The workers hope the blockade will stop the flow of scab labour into the mine, something which the company, Compass Minerals, has become increasingly reliant on as the strike drags on. Union president Gary Lynch made his intentions clear as the blockade went up:
“We are holding Compass out of the gate. We are not allowing anybody in. We will let everybody leave that worked today and wants to go home but nobody is coming in the gate or on site.”
He went on:
“We have members who have had enough and we are taking a stand tonight.”
Goderich is a small town situated on Lake Huron. It is home to about 8,000 people. It also happens to be the home of the world’s largest salt mine, which many of its inhabitants rely on for their pay. If you’ve ever used rock salt to melt the ice on your driveway, it likely came from Goderich.
Like many industrial towns in Ontario, Goderich has been threatened by deindustrialization in recent years. Businesses, in their mad search for profits, either pressure workers to accept lower pay and longer hours, or else shift their operations to low-wage jurisdictions. Goderich is now their latest target.
The miners and electricians walked off the job on April 27 after negotiations with the company broke down. Management is demanding that workers perform longer shifts, possibly up to 12 hours. In some cases, work hours in the week will go up to 72 hours. In their proposal, management would also reserve the right to force them to work on their off days.
How does the company rationalize these unforgiving work hours? They argue that “continuous mining” is an “inherently healthier and safer” way of mining. However, they have yet to explain how pushing miners, who are already in a dangerous workplace environment, to the point of exhaustion is in any way “healthy” or “safe.” The miners know well that the opposite is true.
If this were not enticing enough, the company also promises that longer work hours will result in a “reduced carbon footprint.” How wonderful! The miners may have to work 12-hour shifts inhaling fumes in an underground mine, but at least they can rest easy knowing they’ve done their part to help the environment.
But work hours aren’t only what’s at stake in this strike. The company also intends to slash certain benefits, including medical, dental and life insurance, for those who retire after March 2021. Management has offered a $10,000 signing bonus and a meagre wage increase in return, but this pales in comparison to the benefits being forfeited.
For many, these jobs, and the benefits they provide, are necessary to support them and their families in Goderich. David Kelly, a 33-year old mineworker, was one of the people to express that:
“A lot of young families, a lot of single-income families, rely on these jobs. We’re just anxious to go back to work. It’s hard going from a job that you’re good at and like doing, to being put out.”
Now, in the interest of “continuous mining” (or continuous profits), Compass Minerals wants to make things harder for people like David. This is why the workers have gone out on strike.
The company is using all means at its disposal to defeat them. Scab labour from out of town has been bussed in daily to operate the mine. This tactic has been successful up until now. The blockade, made up of wooden pallets, trucks and people, is the workers’ reply to these antics. They have made it almost impossible for scabs to enter the mine. It is one thing to cross a picket line. It is another thing to cross a fortress.
The company is attempting to scare the strikers by telling them that their blockade violates an existing court order. The strikers just shrug their shoulders. They reply that the blockade will remain for “as long as it takes.” This is the attitude it takes to win. When management pushes back, the only response is to push back harder. The Goderich miners may be up against a powerful enemy, but their numbers and their militancy make them a formidable foe. With that, they can win.
Victory to the Goderich miners!