Two hundred and fifty Windsor Stone Canyon salt mine workers with Unifor Local 1959 and 240 are entering their third month on strike against the company’s union-busting efforts.
Since the Windsor Salt mine, the second largest in Canada, was bought by the Los Angeles-based industrial holding company Stone Canyon, management has demanded job cuts. During the first bargaining period since the Stone Canyon purchase, the company has pushed to subcontract jobs to non-union workers. This would eliminate hard-fought protections for workers in these positions and weaken the presence of the union within the mine, allowing for even greater cuts to wages and regulations in the future. Facing such a blatant attack on their livelihoods, the workers voted to strike, walking off the job Feb. 17. Negotiations resumed in March, but the company refused to discuss in good faith until the union agreed to let them outsource factory jobs to non-union workers. Despite crying poor, Stone Canyon has no excuse for penny-pinching: in 2022, they reported a revenue of $1.1 billion. The Windsor Salt mine is already profitable, and should be exploitable for at least another 40 years.
Now the company has ceased talks again, following the news that a scab at the salt mine was attacked by three masked individuals at the Ojibway mine facility. Though there is absolutely no tangible evidence that the attack was carried out by members of the union, and the Windsor police have not even contacted Unifor about the case, the company has seized on the incident to demonize the workers and try to break the strike. In a statement released by Windsor Salt through the media, they stated that they are breaking off negotiations “in light of” the assault, clearly implying that it was carried out by Unifor members. The bosses’ callous use of the attack as bargaining leverage is made obvious from the fact that the rest of the statement is spent whining about the union’s “repeated mischaracterizations […] as to the Company’s intentions at the bargaining table.” What are these apparent mischaracterizations? That Windsor Salt is seeking to eliminate union jobs through subcontracting, and that they have not negotiated in good faith. But if these are mischaracterizations, why did the bosses immediately turn to scab labour, all while refusing to meet the union at the bargaining table? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Stone Canyon’s actions show that they view the union as an impediment to their profits, and an enemy to their interests.
Can workers put their faith in Ontario legislature?
The provincial government has taken up its usual place as a bulwark for corporate profits, granting Stone Canyon an injunction that allows it to bring in scab labour to continue operating the mine and weaken the strike effort.
In response to the strike and the injunction, Windsor West MPP and NDP member Lisa Gretzky has reintroduced Bill 90, the Anti-Scab Labour Act, for consideration in the Ontario legislature. The bill would prohibit the hiring of new workers to perform the duties of union workers during a strike, and protect non-striking workers from reprisals if they refuse to scab. It is valuable for workers to have someone fighting for their interests in the parliamentary arena, which is so often merely a debate hall between the bosses’ parties, but there is a limit to how effective these methods can be. This is the 16th time the bill has been introduced! Trying to pass pro-worker legislation through Doug Ford’s government is as practical as smashing your head against a brick wall.
Which way forward?
Where the workers have the upper hand, though, is on the streets. Recently, the salt workers extended their picket line to the loading docks on the river, and their fellow workers from the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada responded in kind, refusing to cross the picket line to unload their cargo. Spontaneous acts of solidarity like this are inspiring, but more must be done.
In Windsor alone, Unifor represents 16,000 workers. A unified, militant fightback against scabbing and union busting would swing the momentum decisively to the side of the workers. Such a campaign would involve solidarity action from all the union locals, not just the salt workers. Outreach and education are necessary for countering the slander of the bourgeois press, which takes great pride in blaming striking workers for any and all problems in the world today. For instance, just one month into the strike, CBC News was already blaming the workers for hypothetical future increases in table salt prices in an article titled “Windsor Salt strike might show up in your grocery bill.” Finally and most importantly, this campaign would require setting up hard pickets at each strike location, which is the only surefire way of preventing the bosses from bringing in scabs.
Beyond Unifor, the Ontario Federation of Labour represents 1 million workers in the province—more than enough to make this a province-wide struggle. There is a real mood of discontent among the working class in Ontario, as well as a willingness to fight for better wages and conditions. This spirit must be mobilized in support of the salt workers. Just look at the recent CUPE education workers strike, when workers from all over Ontario took to the streets to protest Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause to crush the strike. The economy does not run without the collective effort of the working class, and it is only by uniting and mobilizing this tremendous power that we can fight against the extreme wealth and political influence of the capitalists. The rank and file of the labour movement have already demonstrated the energy and class instincts to do this.
The current strike has some key features in common with another Unifor struggle: the 2020 Regina Co-op Refinery Complex lockout. Though the lockout began with an attack on Local 594 workers’ pensions, the use of scab labour became the focal point of the struggle. After the Unifor workers set up hard picket lines, the bosses began flying in scabs and supplies on helicopters to keep the refinery running. As with the salt mine strike today, the state threw its support behind the bosses, threatening the union with a court injunction to make the hard pickets illegal. Unfortunately, the union leadership blinked first, agreeing to temporarily take down the hard pickets, and this show of weakness invited aggression from the owner of the refinery, Federated Co-operatives Ltd. Despite a bold beginning, the lockout ended in defeat for the workers.
Strike to win!
Time and again, stories like these show the need for militant tactics and leadership, even if it means breaking the law. Once more, workers must look to the CUPE strike: by bravely defying unjust and anti-democratic laws, the education workers got the back-to-work legislation rescinded, as well as the fines for striking illegally. This is not just a matter of sticking up for a few workers, but a crucial moment for the entire labour movement. We are facing a serious, worldwide slump, with inflation on the rise and countless countries headed towards recession. Many of the Windsor Salt workers are already working two jobs to get by, and this is not out of the ordinary for Canadian workers. Real wages, benefits and job security will continue to fall at dangerous rates so long as we continue to rely on the courts and the government to fight our battles for us. The salt workers’ strike will establish a precedent throughout the city. If the bosses succeed in crushing the union here, they will seek to do the same in every future negotiation. Workers need to fight with their own power, but this can only be done on a mass basis. An injury to one is an injury to all; fight back against the bosses, and strike to win!