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Niki Ashton

Niki Ashton represents the electoral district of Churchill in Manitoba in the Canadian parliament

February 25th, 2011 8:05 AM

It Was Flint Yesterday, It's Us and Wisconsin Today, and Tomorrow It's Going to Be Everyone

It came as a shock.

Vale, the Brazilian world mining giant that had taken over Canadian-owned Inco in 2006 announced it was closing the smelter and refinery in Thompson, Manitoba, Canada -- our hometown.

Since 1956, Thompson has had a fully integrated mining operation, the first of its kind in the world. It combines nickel mining with value-added smelting and refining jobs. The announced closure would eliminate nearly 600 jobs, eliminating all of these value-added jobs.

We had expected some challenges with Vale. After taking over Inco, the company had targeted the wages and pensions of its workers. Steelworkers in Sudbury, Ontario had been on strike for 10 months and were on strike for over a year in Voisey's Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thompson had faced tough times in the past, but this was different. Nickel prices were high at over $11 a pound compared to as low as $1.65 more than ten years ago. When there had been challenges, Inco had worked with stakeholders to find solutions. Not Vale. They arrogantly announced their decision was final.

To add insult to injury we found out that Canada's Federal Government had given Vale a $1 billion unsecured loan weeks before. Fully $500 million will be used to take the jobs out of Thompson.

But it doesn't stop there. Under the Investment Canada Act, multinationals like Vale may only receive approval to invest in Canadian industries if it will provide a net benefit to Canada. In 2006, to get this approval, Vale signed a contractual agreement with the Government of Canada. Yet this agreement is secret -- and even today, the Conservative Government refuses to release it to the public.

Despite this lack of transparency, a media investigation found that Vale broke its contractual agreement. Nevertheless, our Government has refused to initiate any punitive action against Vale.

So instead of looking out for the Canadian people, the Canadian Government has been making it easier for foreign companies to buy out Canadian companies and our strategic resources. Instead of a net benefit to Canada we are seeing fewer jobs and the erosion of workers’ pensions and the standard of living in communities like Thompson.
Once the shock from the announcement wore off, one thing was clear. We knew we had to fight back.

Our fight is for our hometown. It is a fight to ensure we benefit from our resources. It is a fight to control our own destiny.

But in many ways our fight is much broader. Vale's goal is to be the world's largest mining company. Vale is targeting the model we have built in our community: workers with decent wages, pensions and benefits sharing the wealth from our resources with the company that mines them.

So our fight is for our community, and it is for many other communities as well. Today though, the corporate headquarters are in Brazil or China, not here in North America.

We need to fight to save not just our jobs, but also the quality of life that we have struggled to build up over the years. At the same time it is a fight to extend what we have built to working people and communities in the third world.

It was Flint yesterday, it’s us and Wisconsin today, and if we don’t stop this, tomorrow it’s going to be you.

We need to fight for the future of our communities. We need to fight back. And we need your help.

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