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An Interview with a Miner

by Workers Struggle - Sudbury


Saul Idarity works for Vale as a miner. He is unionized with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6500. With twenty-five years seniority, he’s done it all: drilled, blasted, mucked and bolted – but he has worked right at the face, on the jumbo, for more than twenty of those years working underground.

The jumbo drill represents a technological “advancement” which reduced the number of workers needed and transitioned miners to working alone underground, while simultaneously boosting production and profits significantly. Late last year, Saul was injured while working close to the face. We cannot describe the injury in any detail in order to protect his identity but he was working alone at the time and all of his emergency equipment failed, including his man down button. If it were not for the arrival of another worker sometime later, on an unrelated matter, Saul is not sure he would have made it out alive.

We interviewed Saul in June, and despite his WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) claim having been approved several months previous, he had yet to receive any money.

The main areas of struggle in Saul’s workplace are: 
• Production over safety as culmination of anti-worker culture 
• Recovery from his injury, post trauma and accessing benefits 
• Recuperation of union

Production over safety

Saul perceives Vale’s corporate culture as aggressively anti-worker compared to that of Inco, especially when it comes to safety. “The change of it all is Inco was Canadian. And they were willing to work. And it’s a give take. We gave, they took. They gave, we took. Never seen the way it is now. It’s a dog eat dog world….Unfortunately, they sold the country out and now the workers and people that live here pay for it….Before I got injured, you were pushed to the brink of fatigue and I worked right at the bottom, it was hot and everything. They want more, more, more. We get it. It’s what pays the bills, but when is it enough?”

“A lot of guys aren’t saying nothing ‘cause they’re scared, but there’s lots of close calls – lots….Nobody wants to say anything and it’s unfortunate. They preach: you have to report near misses and everything, but as soon as you do, they crucify you….You’re considered a shit disturber….Don’t forget, every time there’s an incident or a minor dressing or a medical, the company’s – their statistics, they’re charged. They were livid when the doctor put me off ’cause I went from a medical leave to a lost time.”

Despite a lot of lip service about health and safety, Saul feels workers are made to feel obligated to look the other way because they’re well paid. “I’m not sayin’ we don’t make good money. I was making thirty-two dollars an hour wages in the environment I work in and hopefully Vale during the last strike opened everybody’s eyes – it’s not the employees. It’s not. Like I had a lot, I was open to people comin’ down on tours, Americans, Germans, they all come down to see me work the jumbo, eh, the technology and that. And they were fascinated, but they said, ‘I’d never work here.’ My young lad doesn’t even want to go underground, which is good, wanted to take him on a tour but, it’s not the environment [for him], where when we worked for Inco, we were treated good, work safe, safe environment. Now there, it’s nothing. All the guys that died to make that green book, you may as well burn. They’re takin’ all our rights away.”

“What’s the green book,” I asked. “It’s the uh, Ministry of Labour. It’s what they call your, your Bills and stuff like that. Usually when a new bill comes out for mining, it’s because somebody was killed or there was a near [death].” “Do you think the injury and/or death rates have gone up under Vale?” “Uh, injuries? Yes. Total Vale, all of their industries? They’re complaining about it. Near misses and close calls? Through the roof. Uh, the crew that I had, we were together for fifteen years, we knew how everybody worked and when they did send young guys, and nothin’ against the  young guys, Vale’s training is brutal…we have four crews and they have one crew, they’re young, and you should see it. It’s bad.”

To highlight how working conditions have changed under Vale, and how this impacts younger workers, Saul gives the example of the Richter scale policy. “Like I remember with Inco, workin’ down on 7400, any time you got a magnitude of one, they brought you to surface. One on the Richter scale. I’ve been involved in lots: 3.2’s, 4.2’s, 4.3’s, 4.7, now it’s three hours, go back to work….There was one point, last year, we’re all on 76 and we had a major rumble below us and then it migrated up and we all wanted to go to 7000, that’s where the train is to go to the shaft. They said, ‘No, go to 79. Go past the rumble. Go to 79 because it’s migrating up. It’s already gone past you.’ Fuck you, we all jumped in the jeep and we drove up. We all got shit for it. Why would you go deeper? Then try to get out? That’s just their mentality. It’s already hit down there, it ain’t gonna happen again. Pfft, ain’t happenin.” But this was an experienced crew, and  Saul is not so sure a younger crew, without an understanding of this history, wouldn’t just obey orders.

Saul elaborated on this pressure to produce. “It’s all young guys. They’re all based on – their bonuses at the end of the year are based on safety, production, hours, you know, stuff like that, so if they bring us to surface and send us home, or even sit there for four hours, they don’t get no numbers. So if we sit underground for two hours and they get the clearance from the rock guys, we’re goin’ back to work….You go two hours and it’s gotta get to background, if there’s a burp, you gotta go another two hours.”

Saul feels this focus on production is because the balance of power between the company and the workers is too uneven now. “Vale’s big. Vale broke the union with the lawyers last time during the strike. How do you fight somethin’ that you’re not gonna win? Like, we still push, we still have rights, but it goes so far and at the end of the day the Mine Manager has the say. So that’s where we’re at with this.

“I think back earlier in my career with Inco….I know a few of ‘em, some of the guys where staff wasn’t allowed to talk to hourly. There was a lot of dictatorship. When I just got hired twenty-five years ago, they’d just come out of that within the ten years – it’s gone back to the way it was. They used to tell us horror stories, horror stories. For example, staff, you live for Vale, your family doesn’t count and like the old Inco way was if you missed a shift and they make a phone call and they call the morgue, you better be there. Staff used to say that.”

This “dictatorship” creates conditions which are favourable to the company. “We all, we were all scared about this strike because the last one, because the xxxxxxx falling apart, everything needs work, smelter, whatever, everything, ‘cause there’s no shutdowns. You need shutdown periods to repair stuff, to keep maintenance on stuff….So, the longer you wait to fix stuff, you can only patch it so much and then major catastrophes happen.

“I used to get a hard time when I used to stop in between, to have a quick lunch, and I didn’t eat too often. Everybody else eats in the jumbo. Well, guys died and this and that to have a lunchroom, I’m paid a half hour, I’m gonna have lunch.”

These favourable conditions for the company are eroding the miners’ ability to work collectively. “Accidents happen. It’s an environment where it’s hostile. You have to be on your guard all the time. Back when it was Inco, they called it Brother’s Keeper….Now the younger guys coming in, I was always taught to crawl, walk, then run. As a miner, it’s just a miner’s saying. I listened to my Dad and even thirty years of mining, every round, every day I learnt somethin’ new. And the Brother’s Keeper always comes into it and we tried to have, like I’m using my crew, we were close, we communicated. And then you get this gut feeling, you hear a bump, you get a gut feeling, so it’s like holy, you start walkin’ out to go check on your brother and he’s walkin’ out because he thought it was you. So the camaraderie was good. When we make decisions as a crew, management don’t like it.” So workers rely on each other to stay safe underground, and the practice of isolating workers compromises their ability to do this.

“Nobody goes underground to get hurt. Nobody cuts corners because you cut a corner, look what’s above you. You know, if it needs a bolt there, you’re gonna put a bolt there. You’re not gonna skip stuff. [In the media] we’re labeled as, the mining, the bonus and all that, we’re spoiled, we cut corners, don’t care about the next guy, it’s all about money….But we’re putting bolts, eight foot bolts, rebars and we’re hittin’ slips at seven feet….Slip is a void. So, actually only about six inches of the bolt is holding seven feet up.” Unfortunately, our local corporate media isn’t as keen to investigate corporate wrongdoing as they are to bash workers.

“When we used to make recommendations where ground is bad, we’ll say let’s bolt it and then shotcrete it. Shotcrete is a form of cement with an accelerant in it, and once the screen, it’s shotcreted to the screen, it creates like a cement pad. Really, really good. And we’ve had instances where, and it’s bad down there, we don’t mind the shotcreting, we don’t mind this, now it’s, they’re pickin’ and choosing. And the down ramp was bad, we went through a whole bunch of structure so we said ok they brought Boltec in to recon, it was that bad, it’s a machine, put in Swellex, which is a temporary support. Didn’t shotcrete. Swellex is just like a hollow tube. They drill a hole, they push it in, they swell it up with water and it corrodes over time. Main ramp. They didn’t shotcrete. This is what I’m getting at. They’re cutting corners where they shouldn’t be. We bucked it, we bucked it, we bucked it. Every time we used to drive by it was [indicates shaking motion]. Welcome to the miner’s world.

“It was simple, but now because we’re deep and they’re pushing for footage, it’s huge. You know, where you could have a round on 82, round on 79, a round on 76, two on 75, you gotta wire everything up and then blast all the way up. It’s complex. It’s complicated. Too many factors and variables, somethin’ could happen.” I asked, “So was that not done before, multi-level blasting like that?” “Yes, yeah, but they were closer though. Now they designate guys to stay and for a while they designated guys with no mining experience…..So they force the young guys to do it. So, young guys like doin’ it. ‘Woohoo, blast! Holy crap, I got stuck in the smoke last night, what the hell happened?’….It’s wild….we used to have control of stuff before, now we don’t.”

Deskilling, a common management tactic, has compromised miners’ ability to organize their work together. “We worked in the area. We were all together. We used to always make the same calls. We did it all. We drilled, we did services, we blasted, we bolted, we mucked, we did it all as a crew. Now we have mucking, somebody else, services, somebody else, bolting is somebody else, drilling is somebody else, we’re not working together….It’s divide and conquer, they get everybody against each other….Give a young guy a Maclean bolter, cut him loose, then give him his first bonus cheque…he’s finished. All he sees is dollars….That’s why they call it bonus. It’s an incentive to blow up ground….They’re being forced into situations where I myself would say, I’m not doin’ that. It’s that mentality again. It’s not that they’re working unsafe, they have no knowledge of what they’re doing….Workplace safety? There is none….Don’t say nothin’, just go in there and do it….Vale? Xstrata? Bunch’a bullies….It's a dictatorship. There's no family morals, there's no nothin'. They do stuff behind closed doors, and I'm sittin' here and I'm being open with you guys. And we could be sittin' here, the three of us, with three managers, and we'll be in the wrong. I'll get fired and you both will get charged. That's just the way they operate. How many innocent people get thrown in jail because somebody decided to tell the truth? They're forcing guys to work dangerous, and the guys don't want to work dangerous. And they get hurt? It's his fault.”

These bullying tactics are creating divisiveness between younger and older workers. The company even puts pressure on workers not to socialize in the cage. “It's divide and conquer. They find the weakest one out of that link, and they start with him. And I've seen it in different crews. They know how to get to 'em, and that's how they train their management. It was to the point at the end of the day, we survived another day in Hell, we're in the cage, everybody jokes around...they tried to take that away from us, too. Called it horseplay. We're not allowed to joke.”

This increased isolation compromises the psychological and emotional wellbeing of workers. “Everybody has anxiety. When I got in the cage, I always tried to stay to the wall, or closest to the front. What if? If I'm at the front or along the walls, and the floor lets go, 'cause there's tracks....On my way to work, I always made it a train of thought: What do I need to do during the shift to make sure that I'm back in this truck goin' the other way?...Guys try to stay strong, then after a while, guys just give up, and next thing you know - and I'm not going to say I wasn't one of those guys: fuck it, I'm just gonna go to work, I'm gonna do my job and I'm gonna go home. Boom! Layin' there, bleedin', sore. What happened? Now what? My radio doesn't work, jumbo doesn't work, I'm three levels down from the nearest guy.”

Recovery from his injury, post-trauma and accessing benefits

Injury

“They had committees about bolt-facing, like facing the bolt – bolting the faces with the jumbo and stuff like that, uh, it looks good on paper, where a jumbo driller, he only goes to the actual danger zone they call it – the face – once or twice a shift, per round to change bits. And bolting the face, you’re there thirty to forty times a round, so you’ve increased the chances of [an incident]. I dodge lots, this one hit me. This one here yeah, cut me wide open here [points to injury site], right down to [the bone], uh jarred my back, my neck. It was eight months of physio and that’s the last time. I’m not givin’ them another scar….Missed my artery by an inch and I was all by myself and I did everything: man down button, everything, workin’ alone, radio didn’t work in the jumbo, my transmitter didn’t work…..I could hear everybody but no one could hear me….A lot of us are workin’ by ourselves. Uh, so, every two hours, if you don’t use your radio, first aid’ll beep ya: beep, beep, beep. So you key and if you don’t answer after fifteen minutes, you go in the red, somebody’s gotta go find ya. Well that happened and I tried the radio, didn’t work, so I hit my man down button. Nothin’. Didn’t – nothing’registered.”

“So, the emergency equipment you needed at that time, failed?” “Failed – yeah.” “If the other guy wouldn’t have come?” “I was all by myself on that level.” “What would have happened?” “I would’a somehow tried to keep going until there was radio. I had lost my lamp.” “You were bleeding?” “I was gashed, bleedin’, sore. I would’a had to get off that level and try to get up to radio communication.” “How come, why is it so common for guys to be working alone?” “It’s the new thing.” “Is that not a good idea?” “Well, it’s economical. It’s just, it’s the industry….there’s only one guy that’s needed to run the machine….And it’s only the legal right of the shift boss to see you once a shift. So, they put the onus on the worker. They put the onus on the worker.

“They try to twist it on ya. ‘What were you doing, what were you doing, what were you doing?’ I've done the same job for twenty-five years. I'm not there to get hurt. This is what I was doing. I don't smoke dope, I don't drink. You get hurt, the first they do is make you pee in a bottle.

“I used to just, y'know, you fall down, you get back up and go. With this one here, when I was in emerg and pretty banged up…that was tough.”

Post-trauma

“I have physical injuries, scars and everything, but the mental part of it, ’cause of the digs, guys writing stuff, seeing guys brought up in wheelchairs while I’m on light duty since xxxxxxx. I went to my Superintendent, he laughed. Went to my Mine Manager and asked him, all he wanted to do was talk about hockey and throw you aside. They don’t want to hear about that.

“They put me on light duty doing computer stuff, like uh, procedures. For example, as a jumbo driller you have procedures, you gotta follow procedures, some of ‘em were ten years behind, so they used me to catch up and it kept my mind busy. You know, and then they just said, more or less, you’re just a dumb fuckin’ miner, you’re wasting your time on computers. That’s what they do to you. So I seen somebody come up in a wheelchair that was hurt, this was fresh after my accident, ‘member I’m going through all this and reliving stuff that I’d forgotten about. I went to the Mine Manager to move me please and they just push you aside. You’re just a number. My Superintendent told me, ‘You have to get back to your job,’ ’cause I’m not producing yet they’re still paying me. It’s costing them money and I’m not giving them nothing back in return.

“Twenty-five years, I was hurt, I got hurt….Everything I done up to the time the doctor put me off means nothing. I used to give ‘em two, three rounds a shift. Drag my ass to work after gettin’ hurt, buried, my partner got buried twenty years ago, light duty for three days, bruised up, scarred, back to work, that means nothing right now. Nothing. No. Sad….Until we take control, it’s just a losing battle for the worker.

“I’m in this position because I gave twenty-five years of hard work to that company and this is the thanks I get. And I’m speakin’ for a lot of guys. ‘Cause when I walk out of the counsellor, I walk out of the psychiatrist, we don’t say hi, we recognize and there’s a lot of us. A lot of us.

“I tried, I put my coveralls on and everything. They laughed at me….I tried, they were gonna send me to the 3 shaft, not the cage, but, I drive down, I put my coveralls, had my belt, and I just – I couldn’t do it….So, my counsellor – I worked on some stuff, I started wearing my coveralls. I find myself going towards the shaft station on surface. Couldn't do it. I had to go around all the time. Just couldn't do it. If I had to go to the warehouse, I went around. When they called the cage, I disappeared.

“It's not to say that this one was the one. It was the lot of little ones within six months that led to this one. And I'm not a haywire worker, I'm a jumbo driller, and when he says, ‘You got the easiest job in the mine,’ well, how everybody's getting hurt, and I had a few close close calls... They just threw me out, I remembered everything. I remember coming up to Rheaume on the belt twenty-five years ago, me and my partner found him sittin' on the belt – I’d forgotten about that. This time, everything was rollercoaster, couldn't control 'em. All the close calls, all the – like I was saying, the guy that died, found 'im. Just the nightmares, everything, just – stuff that I'd forgotten just overwhelmed me, and like I said, I went to the psychiatrists, seeing counsellors, and stuff like that. Go back there, and it was a constant reminder. ‘Ahh, you'll get over it, you'll get over it. Miners do.’ Not once did they listen. And I wasn't the only one.

“It's hard to explain, and I actually lost it on my superintendent. I said, the only thing that I'm missing, where you would think that I'm injured, is I got a cane. I don't have – my outside scars healed. It's upstairs. And they pick on guys with canes. You should hear that….It's brutal.

“You're a good man until you get hurt….A man gives twenty years, hurts his back. Now he's a dog fuck that never worked a day in his life, look at him,  he's fakin' it. ... I was good in math, I have a good memory... I don't remember nothin'. I have to write down what I have to do now. It's taken over that bad. It's brutal. My Dad...was here a couple weeks back. I got overwhelmed. ‘Remember that time where it bursted?‘ – Dad, stop. I don't wanna talk about it. Even our memories, I gotta stop, that's how bad it is. I'm not a pill taker. You should see the fuckin' pills I'm taking! That's not how you get better.

“It's embarrassing from a man's point of view. I'm fifty-one years old…and the meds that the doctors put me on, I'm impotent. So, that's another part of it….Every day I get up, I try to find value in who I am. I try to stay positive, and thank god I have someone who understands, but it's a struggle, a twenty-four hour struggle. And every day that goes by, where I'm not listened to, and that's one of the reasons I'm talkin' to you guys is because I been eight months, nine months now, everybody asks how you are, and nobody cares. I just feel like I'm going through the motions. I go see my psychiatrist monthly, where he fills my prescriptions, he asks me how I'm doin', and then that's it….I feel like I've been dropped on a deserted island and left there alone.

“[I] just [want to] be treated as a hard worker.” “Do you think the company would ever treat you like that now?” “Not now. Like they said, ‘I can't hide you no more.’ Why you hiding me? You're just hiding me to pay me, 'cause I can't do my job? I got hurt, and I'm doing you a favour. I'm a worker. So don't say you're hiding me. You can bash me 'cause I make bonus, but you make a lot more than I do at the end of the year...so you're a hypocrite.”

Benefits

“My claim was approved six months ago, and like I said, I struggle, struggle, struggle, and I'm off on my claim, and they're still questioning it. Scars heal, you will get better, but, not to be selfish or greedy – I got hurt at work. Why now am I struggling for the next fifty cents? You have all the documents, and that's where they get ya. Guys get fed up.

“Here I am with mental anxiety and I’ve been approved by WSIB and I’m on my own. Forms, forms after forms after forms, even WSIB. I haven’t received a dime from WSIB since the doctor put me off. Vale’s making themself look good, they put me on modified – their sick insurance – four hundred bucks a week, how do you live on that? Until WSIB kicks in then I got to pay it all back. My savings are gone….And, I don’t care who you are, it don’t take long, and that’s the way they get ya.

“Once comp kicks in, and whatever they figure out, whatever I’ve gotten from Vale, they subtract what I owe and then I get that. But, almost two months. Really? And it never used to be like that, so Vale’s actually doin’ a good thing giving me money but I’m cut off, this is my last week, still nothing. It’s only short-term ‘cause it’s WSIB.

“I was on a claim while I was still going to work on light duty. They gave me an amount for lost wages ‘cause I was a bonus miner. Cut it off in January, mind you, I’m still plugging away, plugging away, plugging away, tryin’ to get better, tryin’ to get better, doin’ everything, goin’ here, seeing psychiatrists, seeing counsellors, seeing this doctor. Vale’s doctor put me off, and it’s been nothing but a nightmare since. I’ve been approved for the claim. I’ve gone to the union hall, they’ll answer him. I’ve called her, I don’t know how many times, left messages, they don’t call me back unless they want somethin’. So what do you do? I’m supposed to get better though, to return to work. You know, twenty-five years at Vale and you get hurt…they push you to the point of breaking and borderline losing stuff so you’ll give in and go back.”

Recuperation of union

“I’m all for unions, we need them in our workplace….It’s just the society we live in. We have no rights as workers anymore…I see that ‘cause all my years of mining, Inco for example…they were there for you. Now they’re not. And it’s a struggle. I seen it firsthand since xxxxxxx when I had my last injury….The union’s hands are tied….I’ve been on a limb by myself since xxxxxxx, did everything they wanted. They’ve done nothing but stab me in the back. And the union’s hands are tied, you can only call them and bug them so much. Got hurt, they wanted a second opinion, so they made me an appointment at a walk-in clinic. How do you do that? That’s the power they have, just for a second opinion.”

“But do you think you’re being too easy on the union though? Because I just don’t know if their hands are tied? They’re capitulating, don’t you think? Like, why are they submitting the struggle? They should be letting the –” [Saul makes money gesture by rubbing his thumb, fore and middle fingers together]. “That’s what it’s about….It makes you think because every time I had grievances…for example, like twenty-five years, somebody works overtime, they’re supposed to go the seniority list for hours worked, I’m not asked, so let’s [put in] grievances. Contractor doin’ my job, I’m not bashin’ the contractor ‘cause everyone’s gotta put food on their table, so you put a grievance in, they did my job, you lose. It just tells you that the company has too much power over the union. We put a crew, a crew grievance…before the strike and we reviewed it last year. They brought in a maintenance superintendent – no mining experience, three guys from the union walked in to be my representative – I had to tell the story. They hadn’t, didn’t have a clue what my grievance was all about. Talk about misrepresentation. So our whole crew, we lost the grievance, and should’a won hands down….I sat there and I felt like a fool.

When we went on strike, everybody thought we were greedy, 'cause Vale was puttin' out there what we were makin' with nickel bonus and... We could be five, six miners sittin' in the mall, havin' a coffee, and some – ‘Ah, look at all those dog fuckers, overpaid bums.’ I had a few friends, they bashed me, and I set up a tour and I took 'em underground, and they said, ‘No way, I ain't doin' this. I take everything I said back.’

“It's the pressure they put on families. Money does stupid things to people….With the media, they don't do it when it's ten on one, they do it when it's one on one, the demoralization, the criticism….and that's how they get away with it.

“There's no way to win, because the only way that you could win, years and years ago…you could actually walk out on strike, and stand. Now you can't.

“We have no rights. They say, ‘Well, why don't you stand up for your rights?’ What rights do I have? Yeah, we have that mandate, and we go out on strike, but what did it get us last time? Nothing.”

“Do you think that 6500 is still a workers' organization?” “They try to be. Their hands are tied. We give them money to fight for us, but you're going in to the war knowing you're going to lose. You're going against corporate lawyers, businessmen. Billions and billions and trillions of dollars. They sucked the union dry last time. They got what they wanted, we had no choice. They bled us, we signed a contract that was – even if it stayed the same, you lost a year's wages. How many guys...divorce, lost their houses, lost this. For what?...At the end of the day....There's so many laws and bills and this and that, but where are we? We're goin' backwards. And why are we goin' backwards? Everybody says they care...politicians and businesses and even your friends.

“Can you imagine a thousand of us sitting in a room bashing the company why we're in this position? They don't want that. I opened up to you about a lot of stuff that – and if they found out about it, that's cause for termination, or whatever. And it's the truth – they don't want that out there. Imagine a thousand of us sittin' in a room? With people like yourselves and the media? They don't want that.

“The key is: you gotta keep fighting, irregardless of the situation, whether you got thirty years or six months.

“The worker has to be taken care of; it's our community. How many people in this community that Vale and Xstrata – had to close their businesses, had to [look] elsewhere for work. You're a sister, you're a brother, we're a community. And if communities stick together, they don't stick the knife in each other's back….Every pound [of nickel] that comes out of this, what does the community get out of it? A fallen worker? Lost jobs? Lost businesses?...Creighton mine, Coleman mine, they're pretty good rich ore mines. We could sustain ourselves.”

Commentary 

In the interview, Saul referred to “the society we live in” to describe who holds the balance of power in the current mode of production, but he could have used the word capitalism. He also asserted that we have the means to decide for ourselves what we want to produce as a society. In order for that to happen, we would have to stop the accumulation of capital. To stop the accumulation of capital, ending surplus value creation is determinant over fictitious forms of value because it is the only new value entering the economy. All other forms of capitalist accumulation rest on a foundation of industrial production. If we can stop the creation of surplus value, we can stop capitalism. To stop the creation of surplus value, all of society has to get behind the industrial workers who create surplus value. With our support, industrial workers can take over production and transform it to meet the needs of humanity rather than the profit of a few. We can stop capitalists from stealing our collective wealth for themselves.

Miners are industrial workers, which means that they prepare raw materials for the production of commodities. Saul is the first industrial worker we’ve interviewed for WS-S. His relationship to production is distinctly characterized by an advanced working class consciousness. Relationship to production is determinant in the formation of working class consciousness and capitalists excel at dominating and distorting this relationship.

Saul’s working class consciousness is worth condensing: 
-his description of the time that the shift boss told his crew to descend lower during seismic activity and they refused on the spot 
-his pride in being a worker: “I’m a worker” 
-his understanding of the balance of power, demonstrated in his statement of the company’s power over the union 
-his use of the word “dictatorship” twice, “dictate” twice, “control” twice, and [class] war once 
-his understanding of the role of the media 
-his understanding of the role of police 
-his understanding that collectivity and collective action are necessary 
-his understanding that we could decide for ourselves what to produce as a society

The USW has collaborated in the devolution of working class consciousness. If the USW had not foregone internationalism, preferring instead to propagandize workers regarding nationalism, miners like Saul would be even stronger politically.

Although its headquarters were in Canada, Inco was a multinational mining company just like Vale. What’s changed – what’s been hollowed out – is the union. And the union has been vilifying Vale to workers in order to conceal its own recuperation. Capital has an extraordinary tendency to hollow out organizations that collaborate with capitalists, and now there is serious doubt as to whether it remains a workers’ organization.

Benefits we believe miners are entitled to and have struck for are increasingly difficult to collect; miners are de facto insurance-less. Miners are made to feel self-conscious when referring to “contractors” instead of confidently as scabs. The technology of the jumbo sped up work, isolated and divided workers. Vale established a division between younger and older workers because risk tolerance decreases as miners age, and this is unacceptable to the company. Younger workers are exploited for their blind ambition while older workers are ridiculed and emasculated for not being hungry anymore. This division was concretized with the two-tier pension concession of 2010. To add injury to insult to injury, the company is no longer required to perform maintenance shutdowns. This is a serious concern and these are extraordinary achievements for the company. Even the miners’ lunch period has to be defended on a daily basis – all of it under USW’s watch.

Initially posted at Workers Struggle Sudbury.

  


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