A Brief History of Unions in Sudbury – C. Anderson (August 1970)

Please note that this is a very short version of the union history in Sudbury. The subject of the Steelworker union raids on Mine Mill has only been briefly touched upon in this account and issues like the RCMP surveillance of union leadership were not know in 1970. Furthermore the Catholic Church consistently worked against the Mine Mill union due to communist influence – a significant issue in one of the largest Catholic cities outside of Quebec – and played a major role in the ultimate victory of the Steelworkers. – Stan Sudol

The Western Federation of Miners (WFM), Local 182 was formed at Garson Mine, operated by the Mond Nickel Company on March 9, 1913, but it was dissolved within one year. WFM, Local 183 was organized in Sudbury on April 18, 1913 and it managed to remain in existence until 1916.

WFM changed title to International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. In 1919, Local 116 was formed at Coniston but it disappeared by 1920. Mine Workers Union of Canada attempted to organize Sudbury miners in 1933, but had dissolved by 1934. The name of E. Makela as secretary of the Sudbury local shows the support given to the left-wing movements by a section of the Finnish community in Sudbury.

In 1936, George W. “Scotty” Anderson, an organizer for Mine, Mill, came to Sudbury. In March, Local 239 was chartered and by May had 150 members. Mine Mill was now publishing “Union News”, a monthly information bulletin for the Northern Ontario locals.

Local 278 was chartered for the Falconbridge workers in July, 1937, but by the next6 year it had been dissolved. Local 239 dissolved in 1939, unable to maintain a paid-up membership of ten.

On April 30, 1942, Local 598 International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) was granted a charter. Robert Carlin, an international representative of Mine Mill, and a committee worked quietly organizing among the men. Inco applied pressure by sending goons to wreck their office and beat up two organizers. The Sudbury Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) Club assisted Carlin in his efforts to form a union.

Carlin was selected as Executive Board Member of District 8 (Canada) at the Mine Mill Convention held in Denver in September of 1942. Along with this went the position of Director of Organization in Canada and memberships on the executive council of the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL). In January 1943, the union started publishing a weekly newspaper called The Sudbury Beacon.

In November 1942, in an attempt to block the union organizing, some members of the Employees Welfare Associations constituted themselves a union – the United Copper-Nickel Workers (UCNW). The UCNW or “Nickel Rash” as it was often refereed to, set up an office off Inco property and provided stewards, but it was a company union, financed by Inco.

Mine Mill reached an agreement with Inco that a vote be held December 17th and 18th, 1943 at Inco and December 20th at Falconbridge. At Inco, 8,814 of the 10,050 eligible voters had cast their ballots. 6,913 voted for Local 598, 1,187 voted for UCNW, 675 preferred no union at all, and 39 ballots were spoiled. At Falconbridge, 959 of an eligible 1,090 voted, with 765 favouring Local 598 and 194 voting for the plant council and three ballots were spoiled. Based on this vote, the Ontario Labour Court certified the Sudbury Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union, Local 598 as the collective bargaining agency for the employees of Inco and Falconbridge on February 4, 1944.

On May 3rd, Local 598 was certified at the Canadian Industries Limited sulphuric acid plant and a contract was negotiated there by June 15th. By the end of 1944, 80 per cent of the miners and smeltermen were dues-paying union members.

The Sudbury Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) was formed in September 1943, to organize all workers in the Sudbury area into the CCL. A Sudbury Civic Employees Union was formed to represent the employees of the Public Works Department and the Hydro Commission. A few service industries, such as the Street Railway Workers formed active unions but he bulk of Sudbury’s service employees were unaffected. In 1945, there was some organization in the building trades. A creosote plant and the beverage room workers in the local hotels were also organized.

Friction was developing between the leadership of Mine Mill and the CCL. The CCL leadership objected to the political ideology (very left-wing) of some Mine Mill officers. In 1943, the CCL endorsed the CCF as the political arm of labour in Canada. This upset the communist labour leaders who opposed the CCF in favour of a non-partisan, liberal-labour coalition policy. Bob Carlin, who had been elected as CCF member of the Ontario Legislature and was vice-president of the CCL Political Action Committee, attempted to take an independent position between the CCF and Communist strategies.

In the Local 598 election of June 28, 1945, James Kidd became president. Kidd sided with the right-wing of the Mine Mill, while Bob Carlin supported the leftist president Reid Robinson. Nels Thibault challenged Kidd for local leadership in June 1946, but lost.

At the international convention in 1946, in Cleveland, Kidd opposed Carlin for Board Member of District 8, but was defeated. There was a further consolidation of power by the left-wing forces at the Mine Mill convention held in the last week of August, 1947.

In Local 598’s election of December 8, 1947, Nels Thibault and his entire left-wing slate was victorious.

In 1948, the CCL announced that it agreed with the government’s deportation of communist labour leaders. Because Carlin did not co-operate with the CCL, and because he had sided with the leftists in the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW), he was tried by the CCF executive and caucus. Carlin’s defense was that the union was built on support from both the Communists and the CCF. However, the executive council agreed that Carlin had “acted and is acting contrary to certain fundamental policies and principles of the CCF” and that he should be asked to resign.

Because of an election coming up, they didn’t expel him, but decided not to endorse him as a candidate. A.V. Whalen received the official CCF endorsement and Carlin was nominated as an independent CCF candidate. The Conservative candidate won the election. Carlin’s treatment by the CCF alienated many of the party supporters and the party was destroyed as a political force in the area.

On August 23, 1948, the CCL decided to suspend Mine Mill as an affiliate of the Congress. On October 7, 1949, Mine Mill was expelled from the CCL. Mine Mill’s jurisdiction was granted to the United Steelworkers of America in 1950.

In June of 1948, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) with the assistance of James Kidd had attempted to raid the employees of CIL. UMWA returned in May, 1949 to try again and applied for certification. At the hearing on June 21, 1949, the Ontario Labour Relations Board dismissed the application.

Steel began raiding Sudbury early in January 1950, but was repelled by April. On August 24, 1951, Nels Thibault was appointed regional director for District 8. Carlin’s illness was given as the reason. Thibault’s promotion left a vacancy in the presidency of Local 598 which was filled by his vice-president Mike Solski.

Mine Mill organized Local 902 as a General Workers’ Union in October 1949 and launched a campaign of organizing all service workers in the area. The taxicab drivers were unionized. By the end of 1950, Local 902 had 24 contracts (17 with hotels). One of its most significant achievements was the organization of the grocery chain stores in Sudbury. By 1956, Local 902 held 50 contracts in the Sudbury area. Mine Mill union halls were built in Sudbury, Garcon, Coniston, Creighton and Chemlsford between 1951 and 1960. In 1952, Weir Reid, was hired as Recreation Director. He developed a program of cultural and recreational activities. A summer camp was built on Richard Lake.

At the Mine Mill Canadian Conference of 1953, the Canadian Mine Mill Council was formed to act as a permanent body to administer Canadian Affairs. In 1954, the Canadian Council was given authority to direct the organizational work of the union in Canada and the position of Canadian vice-president was created on the International Executive Board.

Nels Thibault was elected to this position. At the International Convention in March 1955, an amendment to provide for Canadian autonomy was passed and later ratified in a referendum vote. On November 29, 1955, Mine Mill became the first International union to grant autonomy to its Canadian membership.

In May 1956, James Kidd was expelled for life from Local 598 because of trying to break the union, but by this time he had already taken a position as a full-time staff member for the Steelworkers and had established a Canadian CLC office in Sudbury.

On March 15, 1958, Inco announced that it was reducing production and was laying off 1,000 employees in Sudbury. In April, a further cut-back in production and the lay-off of 300 more employees was announced. During negotiations, Inco refused to offer any wage increases. The Conciliation Board supported Inco. A strike vote was called for September 12th-13th. 12,887 voted, with 10,662 favouring strike action. On Wednesday, September 24th, 1958, Local 598 struck Inco. A referendum vote was held on December 22, 1958 and the workers ratified the agreement. Wage increases for the next three years were one, two and three per cent.

Three months after the strike ended, a reform slate headed by Falconbridge timber repairman Don Gilles and Inco smelterman Don McNabb swept into office, its main platform a promise to seek reaffiliation to the CLC and the mainstream of labour. At the Canadian convention of Mine Mill in 1959 Gillis introduced a resolution that would have de-Communized Mine Mill by forbidding communists to sit on the executive board. The Motion was defeated and Nels Thibault decided to quell their dissent by returning to Sudbury and running against Gillis for the presidency of Local 598. However, he was defeated twice.

In 1961, the reform administration, frustrated because they were unable to get reforms in Mine Mill which would enable it to return to CLC, decided to cut off its per capita to the national office. The CLC told Local 598 executive that it could rejoin CLC only through the appropriate union in the mining jurisdiction, the Steelworkers. To give Local 598 members a chance to decide their own future, the reform group scheduled a meeting in the Sudbury arena for September 10th where CLC president Claude Jodoin; CLC vice-president William Mahoney, National director of the Steelworkers, and CLC vice-president Larry Sefton, District 6 director of the Steelworkers would outline the courses open to people fed up with Mine Mill.

Bob Carlin, the founder of Mine Mill in Northern Ontario, emerged from voluntary retirement to join the Steel campaign. A vote was held and in June 1962 the ballots were counted be employees of the Labour Relations Board. Steel had captured the biggest local union in Canada by a majority of 231, only 15 votes over the required 50 per cent.

The official count was 7,182 to 6,951. Mine Mill protested that 71 of the ballots were not stamped with the official mark of he Board officials and that the 72 hour no propaganda rule had been deliberately violated by the Steelworkers. However, on October 15, 1962, the Board ruled that the Steelworkers should be certified.

On July 25, 1962, the Steelworkers withdrew their application for a vote for bargaining rights to the more than 2,000 Falconbridge workers, after learning that not enough cards had been sighed to force a vote.

At Canadian Industries Ltd., the workers voted 45-25 to join the Steelworkers.

July 15, 1966 to August 7, 1966 – Wildcat strike at Inco.

July 10, 1969 to November 14, 1969 – Steelworkers strike at Inco.

August 21, 1969 to November 22, 1969 – Mine Mill strike at Falconbridge.

The Sudbury and District Labour Council was chartered in January 1957.

Sources:

Drea, Frank. “The Nickel curtain is dissolved”, in Information. United Steelworkers of America. June, 1964.

Lang, John B. “A Lion in a Den of Daniels; A History of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in Sudbury, Ontario 1942-1962”. Thesis presented to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research of the University of Guelph. 1970.

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