Local Union 343
United Steelworkers of America
Making The Difference
50 Years of Local 343
This history was completed after 5 years of work by number of dedicated people. Bill Murningham (then a Queens University student, now a researcher for the Canadian Auto Workers Union) began with historicial research in 1990 and Ian MacMillan wrote and completed the project in 1995. The book was a labour of love and was possible due to a grant from the Ontario Historicial Society, and the United Steelworkers Canadian National Office. It is the second history of Local 343 and follows a "A History Here At Home" written on the ocassion of our 25th anniversary in 1970.
You can download a word document 343 History
which is a complete text copy without photos and graphics of the book.
To order a copy of the book contact Local 343
History Here At Home: USWA Local 343
Trade unions are the principal institution of workers in modern society. Democratic in form, their primary purpose has been to represent workers in the workplace and to protect and enhance wages and working conditions.
Unions have always played a significant role in expanding citizens' participatory rights, making society more democratic. Many of the advances in modern society - from the formation of Mechanics' Institutes (which were the basis of many of the first public libraries) to freedom of speech, assembly and belief, the franchise, women's rights, and freedom of choice in sexual orientation - are largely due to the efforts of organized workers. Annual events celebrated in many nations such as International Women's Day, May Day, and Labour Day have their roots in the labour movement.
In addition, the labour movement has been responsible for influencing society in the introduction of social programs such as health and safety laws, unemployment insurance, pensions, employment standards, pay and employment equity, that benefit all workers.
Historically, unions have taken many forms ranging from craft guilds to industrial unions, Christian to Communist, or combinations of those ideologies. Industrial unions have been the pre-eminent form of unionism in North America, and its greatest achievement, for over half a century. Unlike craft unions, industrial unions were open to all workers, not just skilled trades, and were usually organized on the basis of product, for instance, steel, auto, or rubber. Within a few years in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the industrial unions signed up millions of members, many of whom were formerly disenfranchised workers such as minorities, immigrants, and women. Through industrial unions our modern collective bargaining system matured and became effective, setting new standards relating to wages, working conditions, and social change that were the pattern setters for other unions and workers in the community.
The purpose of this book is to detail the history of Kingston's Local 343 of the United Steelworkers of America. Created in the 1930s, USWA has been one of the predominant industrial unions of the post-war period. Since 1945 USWA has represented production workers at the "Kingston Works" of the Aluminum Company of Canada.
Members of Local 343 have experienced many changes in the 50 years since their local's formation. None, however, have been more profound than those now referred to as technological change and workplace reorganization. Workplace organization at the Kingston Works has evolved from "Taylorism" (often referred to as Scientific Management) of the 1930s, to robotics and CAD-CAM, (computer assisted drafting - computer assisted manufacturing) of today.
Taylorism, named after Frederick Winslow Taylor who conducted time and motion studies of worker functions in factories, promoted a systematic separation of "conception" (mental labour) and "execution" (manual labour) in the industrial workplace. Through Taylorism management gained almost total control over the production process. Workers, conversely, lost leverage, performing ever more fragmented routine tasks, increasingly subordinate to management's rule and the tyranny of "the line". In popular culture the most vivid portrayal of scientific management was Charlie Chaplin's film "Modern Times" made in 1936. In the workplace Taylorism was fully perfected by Henry Ford and took on the name of "Fordism."
With the advancement of computer technologies such as Cad-Cam and robotics, management has been able to design into machines even greater quantities of knowledge and control of the production process formerly possessed by workers. The effect of these changes has been to "deskill" much of the labour process even further. Fordist offspring, these changes and their impact on society - plant closures and declining employment, changing markets and transformation of the global division of labour - are referred to as "post-Fordism". Together Fordism and post-Fordist transition have been the backdrop to 20th century change throughout the industrialized world. In this sense the experience of Alcan workers has been a microcosm of the labour movement and of the broader social, political and economic currents that continue to affect our communities. Telling the story of Local 343 is long overdue.
Recognition: War on two Fronts: for the hearts and minds of workers
The strength of the labour movement goes beyond any one individual. Yet in the case of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) it is impossible to study the evolution of Local 343 without knowing about Charles Millard, the first leader of the USWA in Canada, whose convictions still shape its policy today. The depression of the 1930s made Charles Millard a socialist and trade unionist, while his religious convictions made him a Christian Socialist; in some circles he became known as "Christian Charlie." Millard was associated with the United Church, which he thought should respond to the needs of workers through such groups as the Religious Labour Foundation and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). For Millard those organizations became the ultimate reflection of his Christian principles. Millard's activities were mocked by his Communist opponents whom he had been battling since the 1930s.
The CIO and USWA Come to Kingston
Millard was employed at General Motors Corporation (GM) in Oshawa and actively promoted trade unionism. This led to his election as President of the newly chartered Local 222 of the United Auto Workers union (UAW), a Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO). The CIO, headed by John L. Lewis, had been formed in 1935 through the American Federation of Labor to organize workers in the mass production industries such as steel, rubber, chemical, and auto manufacturing. The idea of industrial unions had been introduced to North America by the Knights of Labor in the 19th century, and later advanced by the Industrial Workers of the World before the First World War. Yet the IWW was among the first victims of the Bolshevik rise to power in the Soviet Union, becoming a target of persecution in North America by the traditional craft unions, business, and governments. Thereafter the Communist Party attempted to carry the torch and form industrial unions in the early 1930s. Though largely unsuccessful, it gained valuable organizing experience and many of its members emerged within the new CIO unions.
In 1937 Millard led his local out on strike in an attempt to gain recognition. Reminiscent of the current condition of many workers, GM employees were subject to their fifth consecutive wage cut, while at the same time GM announced that profits were the highest in the history of the company. The media, and the Premier of Ontario, Mitch Hepburn, portrayed the CIO and the UAW as Communist dominated organizations in an attempt to avoid the issues of the strike. Hepburn stated that the CIO was working ."..hand-in-glove with international communism." The strike was settled with GM acceding to the workers' demands, while refusing to recognize the UAW or the CIO by name. Hepburn, therefore, could claim that the CIO and the Communists had been stopped at the 49th parallel. The Globe and Mail stated "The settlement... was a permanent defeat for Lewisism and Communism in Canada... no matter what false and flimsy claims may be put forward by Lewis agents and their comrades, the Reds, the CIO is repudiated."
After this victory Millard was elected as the first Canadian director of the UAW and to the CCF's provincial executive. Yet behind the scenes intra-class struggle for control of the organizations of the working class was taking place between the CCF and the Communists. Millard was a key protagonist in the struggle, but lost control of the UAW when Communists mobilized electoral support around George Burt who deposed Millard as head of Local 222 and the UAW.
Down but never out, Millard was not long on the sidelines of Canada's growing industrial union movement. In 1939 he was appointed by Lewis as Secretary of the Canadian CIO. When Lewis was asked whether he was concerned about Communists who were organizing many CIO locals, he responded by asking "Who gets the bird, the hunter or the dog?" Millard's appointment threatened the Communist faction within the Ontario region of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), which was soon to be known as the USWA. Philip Murray, the head of the SWOC, received reports from Millard that acknowledged the presence of Communists within the Hamilton local of SWOC. Lewis and Murray had exerted tight control over the CIO organizing committees; organizers were hired, paid, and fired by head office. Once a known Communist had organized a local he was moved to another location, allowing SWOC officials to take over. Murray's staff were experts at their task. Communists, therefore, had reason to be concerned when Millard became Executive Director of the SWOC in 1940 with the task of bringing "the various elements into line." Millard acted with zeal, firing two prominent Hamilton organizers who then rallied support against him, accusing him of being appointed to high office from "outside." Many Ontario locals stopped paying dues to the international. An uneasy truce was reached between the divided camps within SWOC, yet Millard's goal of house-cleaning was largely achieved with the assistance of Social Democratic missionaries such as the Sefton brothers, Murray Cotterill, Eamon Park, and Eileen Talman replacing the Communists. Meantime between 1941 and 1944 the USWA expanded from 15,000 to 50,000 members in Canada.
Much of the organizing activities of the USWA in the war years took place at large employers such as steel and mining companies.
The Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan) was not immune from these efforts. Alcan was formed in 1928 to take control of the Aluminum Company of America's foreign assets. It was a vertically integrated aluminum producer whose activities included bauxite mining, aluminum refining and smelting, and the manufacture and distribution of aluminum products. Alcan's involvement in Kingston began in 1939 when the British Air Ministry contracted Alcan to build and staff a plant to supply its wartime needs for aluminum. With a peak of 3,700 employees during the war, it became a target of trade union organizing attempts soon after the first workers punched in. Kingston was chosen as the site of the plant partly because it had the advantage of being physically isolated from the war and the community had a ready supply of available labour. Employees at the new Kingston Works were overwhelmingly of British heritage with the exception of a group of francophone female employees who were brought from the border areas of Quebec to work at the plant during the war as labour became more scarce.
By 1944 the Kingston Works supplied 40% of the aluminum used in allied war planes, in the form of structural tubes, extruded shapes, skins, air-frame components, and propellers used in planes such as the Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, and the Lancaster bomber. In addition, components were sent to the Soviet Union in the latter years of the war. Production from the Alcan plant reflected the massive increase that was taking place in Canada's Gross National Product. The GNP, which had been below 1929 levels until 1939, peaked by 1943 and in only five years had more than doubled. The Alcan plant has dominated Kingston's industrial landscape for the latter half of this century.
The first union organizing attempt at Alcan was not initiated by the USWA. That honour went to the United Electrical Workers Union (UEW), another CIO union that already had a presence in Kingston, unlike the USWA. The 1941 organizing drive failed because the UEW did not have majority support. Although The UEW signed up approximately 1,000 workers in 1942 alone, 2,835 new workers were hired and 1,987 were terminated. The rapid turnover probably reflects young men joining the armed forces and women entering the labour market. Under these revolving door conditions it was extremely difficult to retain the requisite number of employees in a short period of time. Dues would have to be collected each and every month until a target of at least 50% was reached; with the high turnover the union would have had to have gone well beyond that target to succeed. Also, union petitions and other documents were seized by the company and union members were harassed. Employers were not under any legal obligation to bargain with employees or their unions since there was no collective bargaining legislation and those responsible for organizing were often fired. In order to forestall another union drive, Alcan created an elected "Employee Council" (EC) in 1942.
Industrial Democracy Delayed
Millard sent Murray Cotterill, one of his prominent public relations and education personnel, to Kingston to assess the situation and encouraged him to unite the workers under the Aluminum Workers of America (AWA), a CIO union, that represented aluminum workers in the United States. The AWA agreed to finance an office and hire Don Montgomery, a SWOC staff member from Hamilton, to head the campaign. In the United States the AWA represented over 50,000 workers and women's earnings had been boosted by the "equal work-equal pay principle. In Canada they [AWA] desired to organize the employees of the ...nominally independent Aluminum Company of Canada."
As the war progressed the labour movement was becoming more assertive in demanding collective bargaining rights from the government. At the same time it was growing rapidly. The Canadian Congress of Labour, to which the CIO unions had affiliated, had expanded from 77,000 members in 1940 to 200,000 by 1942. In 1943 there was a vast strike wave (surpassing that of the post World War One period), particularly in the steel industry, in which the central demand was collective bargaining rights. The governing Liberal Party was also faced by an emerging alliance between the labour movement and the CCF. Polls showed that the CCF could become the government; they had begun to take on the appearance of the official opposition party as they articulated the views of labour. In British Columbia the CCF received 33% of the vote in 1941, and in 1943 became the official opposition in Ontario, electing 34 members, 19 of whom were trade unionists. One year later the CCF formed its first government in Saskatchewan. The CCF were thought to be 'liberals-in-a-hurry,' demanding collective bargaining rights and an interventionist role for the state through unemployment insurance, pensions, and full employment, broadening the possibility of benefits for the subordinate classes from the state along with a partial regulation of capital.
The first meeting of the AWA organizing committee was held in Kingston on Tuesday, September 28, 1943 at the union office at 334 Princess Street. Union activists realized that it would be difficult to communicate with workers in the plant, due to intimidation and the overriding paternalism of the company, that tended literally to cocoon employees 24 hours a day, with no neutral ground on which to engage employees. For instance, many workers from the outlying regions were transported to work in company buses while others, particularly women (who made up 35% of the workforce), lived in company dormitories. Most employees were working well over 40 hours per week and their time off was absorbed in Alcan sponsored social events, ranging from dinners and dances to skating, bowling, curling, and baseball. A contest developed between Alcan and the union to control the minds and loyalty or allegiance of the production workers. With far greater economic and political resources, Alcan used paternalism to block the union drive and increase worker efficiency. It is not surprising, then, that at the first meeting of the AWA it was suggested that organizing meetings take place in outlying communities such as Napanee, and that, as moved by one Mrs. Murray, meetings also be held specifically for women.
The first official election of officers of Local 43 of the AWA took place on October 12, 1943. Bob Black was elected President and Robert Brown Vice President. Members of the union were obliged ."..never to discriminate against a fellow worker on account of creed, colour, or nationality; to defend freedom of thought, whether expressed by tongue or pen,..." One of the issues discussed at the meeting was that the International Association of Machinists (IAM) , which represented "skilled workers" had broken a verbal agreement to hold a vote on the choice of bargaining agency for the forge die shop and the main plant machine shop. The agreement was therefore nullified, but to avoid internecine conflict it was decided to grant the IAM jurisdiction over the Main Plant Machine Shop for the time being.
The AWA was attempting to sign up 70% of the production workers by November 17, at which time the ballots would be counted by the Labour Court of Ontario to determine the bargaining agent for the plant. By November 3, inspection, shipping, service, and the Forge Plant were the weakest departments in relation to the number of members signed up. Areas of emerging strength were the extrusion plant, sheet mill, and remelt department. "After Work" crews were organized to visit people at their homes and persuade them to sign up. All new members were required to contribute a dollar, which would make the union's case stronger in court. Ever practical, it was also suggested that although it "may seem odd," it was "a very feasible suggestion" to have crews visit the "Beverage Rooms," now better known as bars, to sign up members.
Eileen Talman of Toronto, a prominent SWOC, CCF, and labour activist who would later attempt to organize Eaton's workers, addressed a meeting of the AWA on November 9 and commended the committee on the speed of organization at the works. She outlined the union organizational campaign at the Inglis Plant in Toronto. Three thousand AWA ribbons had been ordered for the Kingston plant and Talman suggested that the ribbons would "encourage the weak sisters to get off the fence." Cotterill added that even one person wearing a ribbon would strengthen the union since it showed "fearful employees that they needn't fear company opinion." Talman said that "The big job, that of consolidating the union comes next. Good Stewards, capable of dealing with foremen etc. must be found who know the fundamental points of unionism." Grievance settlement had proven to be the biggest task of the union at Inglis. Talman then wished the union good luck, which they would need because shipping required 38 union members to get over 50%, service needed 46 members, and, most importantly, the forge needed 225 members. Areas of strength were tubing and remelt, while the sheet mill needed 18 to get 50%. Extrusion was close to 100% organized and shipping needed 38 for a majority.
Andrew Brewin, a CCF member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament and the AWA labour lawyer, came to Kingston to obtain evidence for the forthcoming Labour Court hearings. In his anti-communism, Millard went as far as declining the services of J.L. Cohen, a prominent civil rights and labour lawyer who had worked on behalf of Communist influenced unions, preferring to use the services of Ted Jolliffe, and Brewin, labour lawyers active in the CCF. Cotterill urged that committeemen (or union organizers) not use scare tactics to get members into the union. "A certain amount of pressure is required to get supporters to sign up before the deadline but stick to the facts." He pointed out that the only successful union is a union to which every employee belongs because their fellow employees insist upon them belonging.
By November 16, 1943 the AWA had signed up 1,346 out of 2,500 potential members with more cards to be turned in. Cotterill congratulated the organizing committee and thought that there were three possibilities in relation to the Labour Court: the court may certify the employee council; the court may order a vote; the court may certify without a vote. As recorded in the minute books of the AWA, he urged the committee to keep signing up members because:
A great number of new people have been brought into the plant in recent days, we feel with the hope that a vote would result favourably for the council. So the Committee must keep punching. The vote must go over in a big way... The drive as far as the A.W.A. is concerned has been kept clean, and we are sorry to learn that the council are beginning to post notices that may have the effect of intimidating newer employees of the plant.
At a meeting of the AWA on December 23, members were given the news that Justice McFarland had dismissed the AWA application, stating that the members had been pressured into making payments and refused to order a vote as to the choice of bargaining agent. Cotterill then read Millard's statement on the judgement and explained that the judgement had "caused a lot of interest to be roused, especially in Labor circles, and that all Labor organizations were 100% behind us." The Toronto Star condemned the decision, stating that the Supreme Court (or Labour Court) should not be making such decisions and insisted that a secret ballot was the only fair means of determining who should represent employees. The vagaries of this outdated system were apparent with no set rules in place and each judge essentially setting his own rules.
Sisters Go Home
McFarland ended up certifying the Employees' Council as the bargaining agent without holding a vote, and a ten month collective agreement was signed with Alcan on March 8, 1944, making it impossible for the AWA to apply for certification until the collective agreement expired. Shortly after McFarland's decision, another judge ordered a vote at the Steel Company of Canada in Hamilton, even though the USWA had not signed up a majority of the employees. Therefore, indirectly, the unfairness of the labour laws that manifested itself in Kingston aided the workers at Stelco who were given an opportunity to vote immediately. The vote at Stelco was easily won by the USWA. Finally, in early 1944, the task of guiding labour relations was transferred from the Supreme Court to the new Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Meanwhile, in early January 1944, Local 43 of the AWA received a letter from C.B. Wade of the School of Commerce and Administration at Queen's University on behalf of the National Council for Canadian-Soviet Friendship. The letter stated that the Lions Club of Kingston had offered to donate $500.00 towards rebuilding a city in the Soviet Union if the City Council would put up the same amount. Wade appealed to the AWA Local to donate $25.00 by commenting that "...I bring this matter to your attention because participation in such projects will show Kingston people that organized working men and women are just as public spirited as any other group of citizens." It is not known whether the city or the union responded.
Because union jurisdictions often overlapped within the CIO, which was beginning to consolidate, a merger between the AWA and USWA took place in late 1944. The merger appears to have been conciliatory. This was not surprising since all the AWA staffers in Kingston had come from SWOC. The first official meeting of USWA Local 343 took place on February 25, 1945.
As the second "certification" of a bargaining agent other than the Employee Council was coming before the Ontario Labour Relations Board in late February 1945, Alcan's Plant Manager, Rodney Northey, claimed that the purpose of the labour legislation would have been defeated had there been a vote after the company had signed a collective agreement with the EC, even though it had not been elected by the plant employees. Clearly, Alcan hoped that the EC would be able to solidify its position. Clarence Drew, chairman of the EC, claimed that the Labour Board vote would be a "renewal of confidence" in the EC, and that the employees would recognize "the outstanding and splendid advantages now in existence under the present agreement." Robert Black, the president of Local 343, of the USWA stated that he felt "confident that in the near future a bona fide union will represent the employees of Kingston Works." The January 1945 edition of The Aluminum Worker, published by the aluminum division of the USWA, had stressed that an agreement between the EC and Alcan was analogous to:
A contract between a master and a slave , even if signed, is ridiculous. What can a slave do if the master breaks the rules? ... The union doesn't depend upon company favours for its income. It maintains its own meeting hall. Its committeemen work, not in the hope of promotion or smiles from the foreman, but because they believe that by advancing the interests of their fellow-workers they can best guarantee personal improvement.
Victory for the union would mean that employees would have a counter-vailing power to the despotism of the workplace that was sometimes exercised through foremen and the inhumane mechanized production process.
Days before the vote to determine the bargaining agent was to take place, Rodney Northey had an "open letter" published in the Whig-Standard. Claiming neutrality from the "political arguments" he said that management had a "keen interest in the outcome of the vote" and that:
The difference between a plant that is operating successfully and one that is shut down is important to a lot of people. It is important to the employees of the Kingston Works because their jobs are involved. ... If plants which fabricate aluminum in Canada cannot be a success, it means that the metal aluminum, which is made in Canada, will be fabricated in other countries. ... Even though Kingston Works is not an all-important unit of the company, it is regarded as an integral part of the business.
The letter was also published in the company newspaper The Press and had been published in the Whig because citizens ."..might be interested in the Company's views on the subject." The veiled threat of the company to close the plant elicited vocal calls from the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the USWA. M.J. Coldwell, the federal leader of the CCF, said that the company had threatened to close down the plant if the workers did not choose the "company union." Ted Jolliffe, the USWA lawyer (and the official opposition leader for the CCF in the Ontario Legislature), lodged a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board that Alcan had attempted to improperly influence the vote by the use of the advertisement, which threatened unemployment. Despite the advertisement, the employee council was easily defeated by a margin of two to one. In an effort to smooth over the situation Alcan published a letter by Northey that congratulated the USWA and the IAM and stated that if collective bargaining was ."..to mean anything it must mean the right of labor to select its own bargaining agency."
On April 4th, 1945, the Labour Board issued formal certification for Local 343 of the USWA. From the beginning, the organizing drive by the USWA at Alcan had employed gentle persuasion and legal mechanisms to obtain its status and had largely refrained from direct action such as plant sitdown strikes, which had been common in other organizing campaigns of the period, particularly at automotive plants in the United States. Local 343 members were the first workers in the aluminum industry in Canada to endorse the USWA as bargaining agents, thereby opening up the field for the USWA within the industry.
In June 1945 the first elections for the executive of Local 343 took place. The following positions were obtained by acclamation: Bob Black, president; Lorne Hogan, financial secretary; Charles Wright, guide; and Ralph Mouldey and Hugh Clark, guards. The positions of vice-president, recording secretary, treasurer, and trustee were hotly contested with women being elected to the two positions for which they ran. Margaret Jenson received 109 votes for the position of recording secretary while Thomas Raycraft and Charles Murphy received 84 and 42 votes respectively. The trustee position was won by Eileen Dawson who received 100 votes against Arthur Hall and Arthur Shields who had 70 and 65 votes. The success of women in obtaining positions on the executive was rather remarkable in light of the fact that their percentage of the work-force in the plant had been steadily falling, from 35% in 1943, to 22% at the end 1944, and 4% at the end 1945, as the war time need for materials decreased.
Despite the success of women being voted into positions on the executive, it would appear that no issues were formally articulated by women through the union. The most likely reason for this was that the few remaining women were laid off once the war with Japan concluded in August 1945. This is possibly substantiated by their names not appearing in the minute books of union executive meetings in the period after their election. Men, however, did make statements concerning women. At a union executive meeting in February 1945 "It was moved by T. Raycraft and seconded by R. Tousignant that the girls have their own Shop Stewards." This measure could be interpreted as either a progressive move of affirmative action or as an attempt to segregate women. Perhaps another telling indication of the view of women was a cartoon that appeared in The Aluminum Worker in January 1945. The accident rate at the plant was extremely high during the war relative to peacetime. This was due to the inexperience of many workers with heavy machinery. The cartoon depicted a woman being twisted around the bit of a huge drill press with a male co-worker asking "What seems to be the trouble, Veronica." Although accidents such as that may have occurred, it is obviously fatuous to have thought that women, as opposed to men, were the only victims of a lack of knowledge and proper training and experience. Women had been able to operate machinery for the duration of the war and the cartoon would almost seem to be suggesting reasons why women should go back to their traditional role in the home with the coming cessation of war on the horizon.
In June 1947 the union executive sent a letter of protest to the Minister of Labour concerning the "importation of Polish girls for exploitation." The Polish girls were likely being employed in domestic service. Yet it is clear that a patriarchal view of society was still predominant within the union. In February 1949 the executive passed a motion "That married women whose husbands are gainfully employed should be laid off before married men with responsibilities are laid off." Then in response to a question by a male unionist concerning the layoff of women in October 1949, Bob Black responded that women would be laid off unless they were "in dire need of work." Young women were generally being enticed out of the labour market by inducements such as the "baby bonus," which provided $8.00 per month for every child. It was also an era in which salaries were becoming high enough that one wage-earner per family was sufficient. By the 1950s the few women who remained employed at Alcan had achieved parity in wages with men for production work.
Aside from wages and working conditions, one of the first tertiary issues in bargaining for Local 343 was an attempt to gain joint control of the paternalistic activities that were formerly Alcan's domain, namely sporting activities. In June 1945, Lloyd Smith reported to the executive that although Alcan and Local 343 were to be the joint sponsors of the Sports and Recreation Club "the company was reluctant to give the union any credit what so ever." It was therefore moved by P. Miles that the name remain the Alcan Recreation Club but the words "sponsored by Local Unions 343 and 54 [IAM] and the Company be added" to sports clothing and other promotional material. It was further moved that, if the company did not agree to the proposal, Smith's committee was authorized to withdraw from the club. Despite the advent of collective bargaining, Alcan was unwilling to cede any ground without making the unions struggle for their newfound rights. There were 1,600 members of the Alcan Recreation Association in 1965 whose members participated in bowling, hockey, softball, curling, golf, and basketball as well as Christmas parties, plant picnics, dances and banquets.
By 1945 the labour movement in Canada had made important strides since 1937 when Millard had helped introduce the two largest industrial unions (the UAW and the USWA) of the CIO into Canada. Unions were expanding alongside the CCF, which was making important inroads. Local 343 of the USWA had won the struggle for the loyalty of the workers over the Alcan-sponsored employee council. The struggle for recognition had been legalistic or parliamentarian in nature, and was largely non-confrontational. Alcan somewhat reluctantly embraced the USWA and the new and evolving collective bargaining rights of workers, yet ceded ground only at the last minute. Women had played an active and important role in bringing about the USWA victory, and were recognized as an important constituency in the campaign for union recognition, by their male co-workers and trade unionists. Yet, the "equal work-equal pay principle," espoused by the Aluminum Workers of America, was of little benefit to women if their future role was to consist of unpaid work in the home, or being confined to traditional areas of female employment in teaching and healthcare. As in the rest of society, the role of women in the work-force was becoming marginalized with the return of peace time conditions.
Fordism Comes of Age: Partners in Prosperity in the Free World
Out of global conflicts combatant nations usually strive, but often fail, to ensure that measures are taken to avoid a recurrence. Such was the case at the end of the First World War when under the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations was to set up the International Labor Organization (ILO) since it was thought that universal peace could be established only on the basis of social justice. The goals of the ILO read like a wish list of the international labour movement and include the protection of all workers whether men, women, or children, full employment, an adequate living wage, workers compensation and pensions, access to education, and freedom of association. After WWII the ILO became one of the first agencies of the newly formed United Nations, which replaced the League of Nations.
One World View
Following the carnage of WWII it was not surprising that chastened nation states such as Canada once again strived on the domestic scene to meet the goals that they had been unable to attain in the wake of the First World War. In Canada this was to be achieved through the Keynesian economic system, which stressed government intervention in the economy to stimulate demand and meet the needs of workers. The post-war settlement with labour was to include full employment policies and new social services such as family allowances, mortgage lending programs (Canada Mortgage and Housing), and the promise of post-war spending to avoid unemployment during the transformation from the wartime to peacetime economy. New government departments were created such as Reconstruction, Health and Welfare, and Veterans Affairs, along with the promise of health insurance. These elements were partially evident in the federal government throne speech , which stated:
...social security and human welfare should be advanced as rapidly as possible. Such a national minimum contemplates useful employment for all who are willing to work; standards of nutrition and housing adequate to ensure the health of the whole population; and social insurance against privation resulting from unemployment, from accident, from death of the breadwinner, from ill-health and from old age.
Industrial unions such as the USWA, UAW, and John L. Lewis's United Mine Workers of America (UMW) had already begun on the road to social justice whether or not governments introduced measures to aid workers. For instance, in advance of public programs, the UMW won pensions in 1946 and health benefits in 1949. Evidence of the push for social justice was partly reflected in the increasing rates of unionization, which rose from 16.3% in 1940, to 30.3% in 1950. The collective bargaining system was never meant to challenge the values or assumptions of the free enterprise system and remained constrained by the larger economic environment, that separated workers from one another by not permitting them to coalesce their strength with other locals connected with the same company. With the legal recognition of collective bargaining, business and government accepted union representation and increases in wages and benefits (tied to productivity growth) in exchange for unions largely giving up protection against technological change and the restoration of managerial control over the labour process.
Fordism in the workplace also came into its own in the postwar period. Named after the founder of the automotive company, Henry Ford, Fordism describes the way large businesses in the western world were organized from the late 1920s to the 1970s. Assembly lines and mass production were fully refined with economics of scale balanced by high levels of consumption in the market, stimulated in part by the state-regulated Keynesian demand policies.
When the lease agreement with the British Air Ministry ended in 1946, Alcan exercised its option to purchase the plant, which was the largest employer in Kingston. Many industrial facilities, such as Crown Corporations, that had been set up specifically to meet wartime production needs, were sold off to private investors after the war at prices well below the market level on the condition that employers maintain existing employment levels for five years. Alcan and its consolidated subsidiaries had been more than modestly profitable in the war years, showing a profit of $307 million, and a further $114 million between 1946 and 1949. Aluminum had become so "popular" that it was ."..exceptionally scarce. The industry could use another half-billion pounds a year if the re-armament program is to get its share and the European Recovery Program supplied."
The first contract between Local 343 and Alcan was signed in February 1946, and achieved plant wide seniority that governed layoff, rehiring, and job openings if candidates were "equal." Other gains included a paid half-hour lunch break for shift work, and a paid company meal after two hours of overtime. Workers had had four paid statutory holidays, and gained two more that were unpaid, and one weeks vacation after one year, and two weeks after seven years service. Wages increased by ten cents per hour. A summary of the contract states that wages were "as posted in plant." It is not known what the base rate was. Yet in 1947 production workers were making 67.5 cents per hour, and 77.5 in 1948; therefore, wages had likely increased from approximately 47 cents per hour in 1945 to 57 cents per hour in 1946.
While Alcan enjoyed exceptional profits in the years after the war, workers faced cost-of-living expenses that had soared to an historic peak. During bargaining in 1949, Local 343 responded to the situation by staging a three day "rest cure," or strike when negotiations were not moving forward. Production employees received 77.5 cents per hour for a forty-eight hour week. Local 343 now desired a share of the "huge profits" in the form of a 15 cents per hour increase, pay for all eight holidays, and the compulsory check-off of union dues, which the company must have been threatening to take away since dues checkoff was included in the previous contract. The union could not agree to any offer "that excludes the women and outside service men."
During the strike the union made use of a "Flying Squad" that mimicked a tactic used by large corporations to form special elite groups of employees who were familiar with all operations in a plant and could be called upon to fill temporary gaps in production, or, in the case of "labour difficulties," to maintain production. They would be referred to as a "service squad" or "shock troops" who were specially selected and eligible for executive promotion. Unions such as Local 343 therefore developed their own flying squadron that would fulfil the inverse role of bolstering weak areas on a picket line or disrupting the movement of materials in and out of the plant.
The union emerged from bargaining with a new agreement that provided for a 12.5 cents increase in the hourly wage, time and a half after forty hours, a shift premium of 5 cents per hour, six paid statutory holidays out of eight, and dues check-off. The collective agreement moved the USWA and Local 343 closer to the long term goal it had set in 1945 to obtain ."..a 30 hour week, with hourly rates increased to provide a guaranteed minimum annual income of $1,700 per year. Only by reduction of hours and increase of rates can we provide jobs for all and buying power to keep our economy rolling smoothly."
The post-war boom and the Cold War were thought to have produced the "end of ideology" and a "new capitalism" where everyone could move ahead socially and economically. It was a period of relative affluence that was thought to have eroded class lines in society and allowed greater social mobility. If necessary, the populace would have financial support from the state through welfare programs. The ideology of socialism was therefore thought to have been unnecessary since its goals of full employment, unemployment insurance, education, pensions, and medical care had largely been met through the welfare state and the partial regulation of capital. Wages were generally rising and the unemployment rate was a meagre 2.8% between 1946 and 1953. Labour, therefore, became economistic and conservative in outlook. This was further fostered by the "Cold War," which cast suspicion on socialism and radical politics and directing hostility against the left and Communists, who were soon to be purged from the labour movement. The anti-communism of the CCF was unparalleled, due in some measure to the unwillingness of the Communist Party and its related organizations to sustain coalition politics. And in this period the Communists were constantly changing their policy positions and continuing vitriolic attacks on social democrats, such as Millard and the CCF, who had been referred to as social fascists. Many viewed the Communists as unfaithful trade unionists who were not free agents owing to their ties with the Communist International based in Moscow, and therefore agents attempting to destabilize society and aid the Soviet Union. Communist trade unionists combined a blend of national and international radicalism and saw no conflict between a commitment to internationalism and the interests of workers in Canada. Only the theories of the Communist unions challenged the assumptions of the system, therefore both business and labour unions were equally well served by any demise in the alternative world views that the Communist unions theoretically held.
Cold War Prosperity
Throughout the late 1940s minor skirmishes took place between Communists and Local 343. In 1946 union members authorized the distribution of a leaflet to counter one that had been distributed at the plant gate, questioning the election of Millard as national director, and John Mitchell as director of District Six, which then covered all Canadian territory west of Quebec. The letter of rebuttal distributed by Local 343 stated that:
We are confident that no union member will be confused by the libelous statements contained in the Communist sponsored leaflet entitled "Have we been informed." There is not one member of our union in any manner connected with Communists responsible for the falsehoods contained in the leaflets.
The letter stated the union was "distressed to learn" that two local members had permitted their names to be associated with the group that was attempting to ruin USWA leaders by issuing false statements.
Two years later, in October 1948, a special meeting of Local 343 was called to discuss an amendment to the constitution of the USWA that had been passed at the Boston Convention of the international. The amendment read that:
No member shall be eligible for election, or appointment to, or to hold any office or position, or to serve on any Committee in the International Union or a Local Union or to serve as a delegate therefrom, who is a member, consistent supporter, or who actively participates in the activities of the Communist Party.
Ironically, it was called the first amendment. Although the motion was open for debate it elicited none. However, the second amendment of the international to raise dues by fifty cents a month was greeted with a heated and lengthy debate.
The USWA had not led the parade to rout the labour movement of Communists. The movement was already well under way in civil society in the United States and Canada. Congress had initiated 22 investigations of Communists through the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Within the CIO, the UAW was leading the way in pushing for the removal of Communists. Initially the anti-communism had little to do with workers mistrust of Communists who had been active leaders for many years of workers' struggles for collective bargaining rights. In 1946 Walter Reuther, the newly elected president of the UAW, used anti-Communism as a means to solidify his control of the union and unseat Communists and their left-wing supporters who controlled the executive, and many of the largest locals of the UAW. Reuther stated his intention to enforce a section of the UAW constitution that banned Communists. In doing so, he received favourable press and kept his factional opponents on the defensive.
Meanwhile the Taft-Hartley amendments 1947 to American labor legislation required officers of unions to sign non-Communist affidavits. Reuther had in large measure contributed to the inclusion of the clause in the act at a time when John L. Lewis, Philip Murray (leader of the USWA in the U.S.), and other leaders of the CIO were denouncing the law and refusing to sign affidavits. Lewis and Murray could not be described as supporters of Communists. However, they presumably recognized the wider implications of the infringement on civil liberties, freedom of association, as well as the intrusion into internal union affairs that such a law would cause. By 1948, with the amendment to their constitution, the USWA had decided to fall into line. It is unlikely that Millard would have voiced any objections to the amendment to the USWA constitution given his previous disposition to Communists that had developed early in his career. Millard would later use anti-Communist sentiments to further build the USWA in Canada through raids on the UEW and the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers.
Discussion of the Communist question was not raised again in Kingston until 1950 when Bob Black asked for the support of Local 343 in the "fight against Communists" who had distributed another leaflet attacking his leadership. After much debate the motion was endorsed, along with full support for the United Nations, which was engaged in the Korean War. Black was instructed by the membership "to assist members of any Communist-dominated union who wished to throw off the Red yoke and join with the other free trade unionists..." Assistance would be given to local union members who wished to rid themselves of red leadership. Many years later, both Bob Black and Lorne Hogan, the first two presidents of Local 343, would admit that they didn't care who joined their union, Communists or otherwise, as long as they worked towards its goals. "Red baiting" had long been popular among the business and political elites. But now the settling of old accounts within the labour movement was sanctioned by the state, which may have served both parties equally well since competing world views were eliminated, and, for the labour movement, a competitor was removed from the field. The CIO put 11 of its affiliated international unions on "trial" based on pseudo-legal "cases." In the era of McCarthyism, the Korean War, and the Cold War, it should hardly be surprising that if Washington, Moscow, and Hollywood could have show trials, so could the labour movement.
Closer to home, however, in bargaining with Alcan in 1951, the main issues for the 1,500 production workers was the failure of the company to grant a union shop clause. Members expressed the view that those who gain from the union's activity should pay their share to maintain the USWA local. In addition workers desired to establish pattern bargaining (where the union seeks identical terms from an employer) at the other two Alcan plants in Toronto that were also represented by the USWA. Workers soon ratified a contract by a vote of 942 to 21. The contract provided an increase of 23 cents per hour, raising base wages from 95 cents, to $1.18 per hour. The matter of union security was referred to national director Millard. James Robertson, the chairman of the Alcan coordinating committee of the USWA, said that tying the three plants together for negotiations was useful. However, no formal agreement was reached on entrenching pattern bargaining. The advantage of pattern bargaining is that more pressure is put on employers and gains made in one industry are often indirectly passed on to other more peripheral workers in the industry.
Building For the Future
One persistent message that ran through the corporate ideology of Alcan during the Second World War and the Cold War, was the fact that Alcan's development, and that of its employees, was closely tied to the task of nation building and to the defence of the Western World and its way of life against threats from the Nazis and later from the expanding empire of the Soviet Union. Even though Canada was not officially at war with North Korea, or its mentors, the message from Alcan advertising would lead one to think otherwise. Alcan's resource and development extraction in British Columbia was thought to represent a quantitative and qualitative march forward on the road of progress. Alcan placed full page ads in newspapers under the heading "Operation Aluminum":
Where now stands the tiny Indian village of Kitimat, a whole new town will be built; here Alcan will construct a huge smelter. At Kemano, 50 miles away, Alcan will build a powerhouse inside a mountain; a ten mile tunnel through this mountain will carry water from a chain of lakes down a 2,600 foot drop to develop an eventual 2,000,000 h.p. capacity. ..."Operation Aluminum" means jobs for thousands of Canadians... millions of dollars and is a big thing for Canadians and for the free democratic world. It means a further line of defence against aggression. And it means a busier, more prosperous country in which to live and work.
The negative impact of these developments was felt by the Carrier and Cheslatta native peoples of British Columbia who were displaced, and by the environment. Virtually the same sentiments as those of Alcan in relation to the free democratic world were voiced by the USWA. James Robertson called on members of Local 343 ."..to fight Communists in Canada and abroad and thus defend the Canadian way of life. The unions are the backbone of democracy, he said, and the greatest foe of the Communists." The interests of the union and the company merged on certain goals: both were trying to demonstrate their loyalty to the nation in the face of perceived threats from outside.
Aluminum, along with magnesium and titanium, was regarded as one of the "Wonder Metals," and was a ."..glamorous symbols of a highly advanced age." Alcan had become one of the world's largest suppliers of aluminum ."..thanks to access to huge sources of low-cost hydro electric power." It supplied most of the "floating" supply of aluminum on world markets. Aluminum was one of the key strategic metals in the defence programs of western nations and was incorporated into "the aircraft, vehicles and weapons of modern warfare." Of the 410,000 metric tons produced in Canada, the United Kingdom had first call on 200,000 metric tons "under the terms of its loans to Alcan." The American government bought much of the remaining production for its defense needs, and the Canadian view was that the Americans should also contract for aluminum on a long term basis. But no matter what happened, Alcan "was destined to play a key role in the defense program of the western nations."
Although, as previously stated, Alcan and the unions had some goals in common, the mutual interests of Local 343 and Alcan usually parted only on economic issues when it came time to sign a new collective agreement. In 1952 Alcan wanted to take away the two rest periods pershift, which were thought to be "wasteful and of doubtful value to the employees." Meanwhile Robert Black thought the refusal of Alcan to pay two cents per hour per employee, half the costs of a hospitalization, and a medical and surgical benefit plan was "unreasonable and not in the interest of the welfare of employees." In having the company's offer rejected, M.N. Hay, the works manager, commented that any man who has gone courting or who has a family knows how easy it is to act with the best of motives and yet get a rebuff. "A thoughtful gesture to a wife," observed Mr. Hay, "sometimes leads to an argument as to what the husband is up to now!" Mr. Hay was thought to have been respected by the union's leadership, yet his approach to bargaining was familial, paternalistic, and patriarchal.
Despite the often acrimonious overtones to collective bargaining, throughout the post-war period there was a sense that unions such as Local 343 were now active and accepted partners in the development of the country along with other elite groups. With collective bargaining rights, unions thought that they had found a legitimate place for themselves in the Canadian social fabric. This was demonstrated by the inauguration of the "Union Institute" in 1950, which ran for at least five consecutive years and was aimed at education for union leadership and held at Queen's University, in conjunction with the Kingston and District Labour Council, and the Canadian Congress of Labor. Local 343 played a prominent role with Don Montgomery, the full-time field representative of the USWA in the Kingston area leading one of the courses along with other instructors from the Ontario Federation of Labour and the CCL. Special speakers at the conference included Dr. J.A. Corry, vice-principal of Queen's, and Larry Sefton of the USWA. The chairman of the closing banquet was Dwight Storey, the international representative of the USWA.
Global Outreach - USWA and Alcan in Jamaica
One of the significant achievements of Local 343 was the construction of its new hall in 1956. The USWA had become the largest union within the Canadian Labor Congress in little more than a decade. Lorne Hogan, the president of Local 343, commented that "we have recognized the need of a labor centre that could be utilized by all those labor organizations within the city... we have every expectation that this building will stand as a milestone in the further betterment of labor organizations in Kingston." The hall featured a 476 seat auditorium that would be used to serve community projects and a two storey front section with offices and a boardroom on the second floor. The latest construction methods were used including a front wall that featured "aluminum spandrel wall construction." The boardroom, a rectangular room with windows facing the street, red mahogany panelling on three walls and a coffered mahogany ceiling, still appears much as it did when first built. The Local 343 USWA union charter dominates the end wall with black and white portraits of the presidents of the local on the other walls. The end wall has a faux rough cut stone fireplace and trophies for bowling and golf set on the mantel, indicating the important place sporting activities played for the identification of the union and its members within the community. A large period portrait of Queen Elizabeth the Second hangs on the wall outside the boardroom, attesting to the union's role as a legitimate, loyal, and equal partner in the development of the community.
The importance of Local 343 in the community was measured in part by the mayor of Kingston attending the official opening of the new hall; others from the USWA and the labour movement attending included Murray Cotterill, who had become the director of research for the USWA in Canada; and Cleve Kidd, president of the newly formed Ontario Federation of Labour, which was intended to be the legislative arm of labour movement. Cleve Kidd said that labour had now come of age and that the building was "a place to meet, which is the basis of democratic society." M.J. Fenwick of the USWA picked up on this comment and stated that "not too many years ago unionism was considered a conspiracy and that its pioneers had to meet in little rooms, in secrecy."
During the 1950s Local 343 contributed financial support to virtually every community group that sought it, including Children's Aid, Community Chest (United Way), YMCA, cerebral palsy, Religious Labour Council, Industrial Education Council, and the Mentally Retarded Children's Hospital, to name just a few groups. One important exception found in the minute books of Local 343 union meetings was the Kingston General Hospital. Members felt that unions in Kingston should not contribute to the hospital until "they have representation on the Board of Governors." The labour community was still shut out from membership in some establishment groups. Local 343 was vocal through City Council on other social issues and opposed the removal of rent controls in Kingston. The only political party supported during elections was the endorsement of the CCF through advertisements in the Kingston Whig Standard by Local 343. Financial relief was also extended within the labour movement to striking workers across the country, including Stelco workers, Eaton's employees, and loggers in Newfoundland.
As Alcan extended its global reach in the 1950s the USWA attempted to keep pace. In 1953 Charles Millard travelled to Jamaica to assist striking bauxite workers employed by Alcan. Millard had been sent to Jamaica by David McDonald, head of the USWA, who was based in Pittsburgh, after an appeal had been made by the Inter-American Regional Organization (ORIT) based in Mexico City and affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to aid Jamaican workers in organizing. Immediately upon his arrival Millard was greeted by a restraining order that forbade him from addressing ."..any group of persons or any topic relating to political or trade union matters, or [from] discuss[ing] such matters with any group of persons,.."
Visions of the Future
Millard, it seemed, had bumped up against the limits of speech and action in the free world. Unions may have been thought to be the basis of a free and democratic society in North America, but certain bounds were difficult to cross. After four days of protest to the Colonial Affairs secretary by the USWA, the ban was lifted. Millard was welcomed enthusiastically by the workers, who were striking for a raise in pay from the 19 cents per hour they were earning. Similar work in Canada paid $1.46 per hour. Millard commented that "We have an obligation as a union to do something about the low pay of workers supplying industries where we have contracts. And we have to protect our own standards by seeing they are not undermined elsewhere." The USWA contributed $3000.00 and made available research, publicity, and education departments to the striking Jamaican workers. Millard persuaded McDonald to finance a full-time organizer with a car and office equipment to be assigned to the National Workers' Union (NWU) and the Bauxite and Allied Workers. The organizer hired was Ken Sterling with whom Millard would continue to have contact throughout the 1950s. Sterling was the island supervisor of the NWU and worked with Michael Manley (1st Vice President of the NWU, and later Prime Minister of Jamaica) to gain working class support for the Peoples National Party. Sterling was also to organize Alcan and other workers in Trinidad and British Guiana. Millard stated that "Jamaican workers are British citizens living closer to Toronto than workers on the west coast of Canada." Closer co-operation between nations of the Commonwealth demanded ."..a closer similarity of living standards as well." He also urged a relaxation of immigration restrictions from Jamaica. Luis Alberto Monge, the Regional Secretary of ORIT, wrote to Millard that he considered his actions to be ."..a great gesture of solidarity on the part of the USWA."
Members of Local 343 voted full support for the striking Jamaican workers and sent $100.00 to them as well as sending a telegram to Alcan headquarters protesting "payment 19 cents an hour to fellow unionists in Jamaica bauxite properties being exploited by your subsidiary... Workers in Kingston Aluminum solidly behind bauxite strikers demands and are contributing to their strike fund. Robert Black, President, Local 343." A letter of thanks to Local 343 from Ken Sterling was received from Jamaica shortly afterwards.
At the time of Millard's visit to Jamaica, Wilfred List, The Globe and Mail labour reporter, noted that "A new role for Canadian trade unions is being pioneered by the United Steelworkers of America... It marks the first time a union in North America has given direct and active assistance in a union struggle outside Canada or the United States." List also speculated that the one million-member USWA would one day extend its jurisdiction to permit it to organize workers in other countries. Serafino Romualdi, Assistant Secretary of ORIT, wrote to David McDonald that Millard's work in helping the NWU establish a foothold in the bauxite industry greatly enhanced the prestige of U.S. unions and the organization of Alcan's bauxite workers would establish pattern bargaining in the industry. Kaiser Aluminum had already indicated a willingness to sign a collective agreement similar to Alcan's and Reynolds aluminum would probably have the same attitude. Millard would later write to McDonald that he expected ."..that the bauxite workers in Jamaica will be requesting a Steelworker's Charter. They feel that this direct affiliation would greatly enhance their bargaining strength." Millard advised that if the request was made the union should first consider a policy for the entire Caribbean before acting on it.
Despite its physical and economic presence in Canada, Alcan had made it known that it was willing to pack up and leave if operating conditions did not meet its needs. This was clear in Mr. Northey's statement in 1945 in relation to the Kingston plant. Speaking to the Gordon Economic Commission in 1956, Alcan representatives stated that there were other attractive plant and smelter sites for producers in other parts of the world. To back up the point, Nathanael Davis, the president of Alcan, mentioned that ."..economic decentralization of supply of smelter materials has permitted the company to plan four off-shore and separate alumina supply plants in the West Indies, South America, and Africa."
The displeasure of Alcan over the USWA support for striking Jamaican workers came to the surface four years later when Local 343 tried to arrange a tour of the Kingston plant for Wesley Wainwright of the National Workers' Union. Although the request for a tour had been granted by Alcan, it was then refused because Mr. Wainwright "had engaged in an illegal strike in Jamaica" and it was felt that if he "could not obey the laws of his own country we could not go out of our way to entertain him." Dwight Storey of the USWA responded that he found the refusal "puzzling in view of the fact that The Press recently reported arrangements for Alfred Krupp, a war criminal, to tour Alcan's plant at Arvida [Quebec]." Lorne Hogan, the president of Local 343, termed the refusal a "feeble excuse." Also visiting Canada was Ken Sterling, who by then had become the secretary-treasurer of the Caribean Aluminum and Allied Workers federation, which was organizing 14,000 bauxite workers in Trinidad, British Guiana, Surinam, and Jamaica. Sterling was visiting Banff, Alberta to attend a seminar organized by the ICFTU and the Canadian Labour Congress.
News of Alcan's refusal to allow Mr. Wainwright through the plant did not appear in The Press, which was published weekly by the Kingston Works ."..to serve as a source of information pertaining to the plant, its related activities, and the progress of the aluminum industry in Canada and elsewhere." Typically articles in the company paper related to social events planned by the company, births, deaths, weddings, sports, management changes, lists of those making it on to the "Long Service Honour Roll" and reprinted editorials pointing out the futility of strikes such as the one by Alcan employees at Arvida. A particularly poignant article attributed the following comments to the "chief" of the Sagamuk reserve near Spanish River concerning the uranium boom in Northern Ontario and how it was helping the community.
Indian never get anything from white man. Two or three hundred years ago white man first come to North Shore. He take all fur and give Indian a few strings of beads. Then a few years later he build saw mills at Cutler, Spragge, Spanish and Blind River. Cut down all big trees. He burn down mills and go away. Few years later he come back, build paper mill, cut down small trees. Nothing left on North Shore but rock. Now, by gosh, he come back for rock!
It is important to remember that it was a period when Canada's aboriginal people had virtually no rights, not even the right to vote. It should not have been surprising that the year after the article had appeared, the executive of Local 343 passed a motion moved by Sister (Bea) Gibson that the union send two delegates to a human rights conference in Ottawa. Unionism was an important avenue through which members could expand their knowledge of social, labour, human rights, and education issues.
The media has never fully accepted the labour movement as partners in community development. This was shown in a December 1958 Gallup Poll that suggested that more Canadians than ever before thought that unions had become "too strong." The leading question asked was "Do you think labor unions are getting too strong in Canada, or not?" Neither the pollster nor the respondents gave any indication as to how the union strength manifested itself, nor to what other institutions they might be compared. Nor was there any indication as to why it was a "bad thing" that unions were perceived to be too strong, or who in society had been aggrieved by the unions, which had by definition misused their strength. The strawman poll ended its analysis by stating that "as might be expected," the more education one had the more likely that person would be to agree with the poll.
During the 1960s, Local 343 made a number of advances in relation to their working environment that were very progressive for the time and might still be considered as such. The first development was that time clocks were removed by 1963. Lloyd Fell, the USWA Local Representative in Kingston, commented that ."..from a labour point of view, we believe it has established a much better relationship between management and its employees." The change had apparently also been desired by F.C. Whitney, the plant personnel manager. Murray Cotterill of the USWA would later comment that "The demeaning foolishness of school-type bells warning adults of shift changes has stopped. Men who can read blue prints and afford watches can tell their own time." Although members of the union gained a sense of self-respect and the working environment became marginally less dehumanizing and alienating, it would be wrong to suggest that the company had given anything up other than one of its more authoritarian practices. With no outlay of its own in monetary terms, Alcan gained greater productivity. With the absence of time clocks, shift changes progressed more smoothly with machines not being left idle if a co-worker did not appear on time. More often than not workers would pass information on to one another in relation to the operation of the machine rather than stampeding for the exit. Workers tended to arrive ahead of time and would usually wait for the person to replace them. Fewer workers were late and group or peer pressure was put on poor performers.
The next important advance in collective bargaining for Local 343 came in 1966 when production workers ceased to be paid by the hour and were henceforth paid a weekly salary. Larry Sefton, the director of District 6 of the USWA, described the collective agreement as a "real breakthrough in industrial relations for which Kingston unionists and company management deserve a great deal of credit." Workers were to receive a guaranteed full salary weekly regardless of absence due to occasional illness. Those with ten years experience could draw a salary for up to 52 weeks due to compensation, sickness or other claims. Other workers with less tenure had the length of time prorated. Murray Cotterill wrote that "hourly paid" was the latest "sacred cow to be booted out of the industrial relations pasture by a tough Steelworkers' local union and a daring management." Salary was always thought to have been:
...strictly for the upper educated types who didn't have to line up, wore white shirts and got a nod from the big boss at church socials or lodge meetings... According to traditional concepts, a "salaried" employee is a cut above the hourly paid. Salary is often more than a caste symbol which distinguishes the management Brahmin from the non-management Untouchable.
In addition, the production workers received many other improved benefits from the contract, an increase in salary of $10.80 per week over the life of the contract, fully paid medical benefits, increases in vacation time to two weeks after two years, three weeks after three years, four weeks after 10 years, and five weeks after 20 years. Vacation pay was to be supplemented by a 15% bonus on top of their salary; full pay for jury duty and bereavement time; employees could even receive cash advances if they required them.
The most important contract initiative from the union's viewpoint appears to have been the move to a salary with its perceived increase in status for the workers who were thought to be moving from the working class to the middle class, evidence of which was first and foremost their relatively high wages in comparison to other workers, both blue collar and white collar. The underlying significance of a guaranteed annual salary for those who were willing to work was that it moved the USWA towards a guaranteed annual wage. Since 1955 this had been a goal of the United Auto Workers, one of the other trend-setting industrial unions. Although workers were covered for sickness and accident or compensation cases, they were not covered for lack of work, which may have been the ultimate goal of the union. Political parties, including the New Democratic Party and the Liberals, had speculated on introducing a guaranteed annual income for years. What governments could not achieve the collective bargaining system and the industrial unions could.
The other significant aspect of the collective agreement was that the USWA and Alcan were introducing elements of what has become known as "Total Quality Management" through the elimination of time clocks and the move towards a guaranteed income. The initiative for these measures appears to have come only partially from the USWA. In a letter to production employees H.S. Ladd, the works manager, explained that the move to a salary would "improve the teamwork." The move to a salary was also "championed" by the personnel manager F.C. Whitney. One year after the introduction of salaries Wilfred List would write in The Globe And Mail that "The union regards the companies attitude as progressive and enlightened. The company, in turn, regards the union as a permanent and responsible institution." Yet none of these arrangements changed the fundamental relationship for the workers, who were still selling their labour. These same measures would later be instituted at a new non-unionized Alcan rolling mill built in Arvida in 1971. Another important distinction of the Arvida plant was that "men working in the plant are skilled tradesman who not only operate the equipment but also are involved in maintenance. There is no union at the plant... perhaps another indication of what is in the future in industrial production."
Local 343 of the USWA had achieved a great deal since their recognition as the bargaining agent for production workers at Alcan's Kingston Works in 1945. With only one minor labour dispute in 1949 the union emerged into the 1960s with an increasing living standard that could support a one income family, and was beyond what the expanding welfare state provided in the areas of medical benefits, holiday pay, and workers' compensation. The Keneysian economic system was efficient with an expanding GNP and an unemployment rate of 3.6% in the mid 1960s. Alcan was extremely profitable through this period, gaining significant portions of its business through state- sponsored defence procurement programs. The USWA was perceived to be a legitimate partner in community development, and, along with Alcan, a defender of the over-arching beliefs of the free world in working to defeat the communist threat. Yet Alcan made it known that it was willing to move beyond Canada if operating conditions were thought to be unfavourable. The USWA had become one of the largest industrial unions in North America and showed a willingness to follow Alcan throughout the Western Hemisphere in a movement of economic determinism that benefited workers in developing nations, such as Jamaica, at a time when there was little consciousness in relation to the working conditions of people in other nations.
Fordism Ends - Post Fordism Begins: Baptism of a Union
Local 343 entered the 1970s not having had to withdraw its labour in over twenty-five years to support its goals of improved wages and working conditions. This situation was about to change dramatically. On July 22, 1974, 1,300 union members of the USWA and the IAM at Alcan's Kingston Works went on strike for the first time in a generation. The plant was the largest aluminum fabricating facility in Canada and this was its first complete work stoppage. 950 of the strikers were members of USWA Local 343. The issues for the unions were a cost of living adjustment scheme (COLA) and a dental plan. Strike Bulletin NO 6 of Local 343 reprinted an open letter to W.H. Mair, the works manager, and outlined the concerns of the workers:
Prosperity and Social Peace
It is not a question of what Alcan could afford, nor a question of the reasonableness of the Union's demands. Alcan can at any time raise their prices. The profits in the first six months of this year clearly indicate Alcan's ability to cope with inflation. The Union on the other hand negotiates once every two years. Once that agreement is reached the employees are powerless to make adjustments. That is why a cost-of-living clause is necessary to allow for adjustments during the life of the agreement.
COLA's were common in the steel industry but there were none in the aluminum industry, according to Doug Tousignant, the president of Local 343. The importance of a COLA clause was that workers would be able to maintain any wage increases they received. The consumer price index had increased 21% in 1973-74 with wages falling behind. Negotiations often broke down, leading to strikes. A record 9.4 million days were lost in Canada in 1974, and over 10 million in 1975. Italy was the only other country to lose more time to strikes. Between 1976-1987, increases in wages were ahead of productivity in only three years, illustrating that even the best-protected workers were unable to hold their own and required protection against inflation.
At the end of August 1974, both unions voted to accept a new two-year contract after the parties had submitted their differences to a mediator. Members gained across the board wage increases of $1.47 per hour by February 1976 as well as a $300 cash settlement to make up for the rise in the cost of living. Spokesmen for both unions described the contracts as extremely satisfactory. Amidst this inflationary environment, wage and price controls were introduced by the federal Liberal government in 1975, after a pre-election promise that they would not introduce such measures. Ultimately only wages, and not prices, were held below the rate of inflation.
By July 6, 1978 members of the unions at Alcan, including the 920 member USWA, were out on strike in opposition to the possible introduction of continuous operation (CO), which would require round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week operation and mandatory weekend work. The Whig Standard reporter commented that "Their opposition to a company proposal is so strong it might mean a long strike." At the time, the plant operated 24 hours a day, five days a week, with over-time for weekend work on a voluntary basis. The USWA would not negotiate while the CO proposal remained on the bargaining table, and Alcan refused to negotiate unless CO was accepted. G.A. (Sandy) Little, manager of the Kingston Works. said "...our goal is simply to utilize this high capital investment [in machinery] where and when conditions demand." Alcan said that up to 400 new jobs could be created through CO. In order to remain competitive, management desired to secure the right to operate 24 hours a day, thereby squeezing everything possible from the human capital that employees represented. It would mean that orders could be completed and delivered faster in a cyclical market that tended to be concentrated in the summer months. Mr. Little stressed that employees had been cooperative about working overtime, but there was always the "unsettling" chance of not having sufficient employees who would work voluntarily.
Doug Tousignant, president of Local 343, responded that "Alcan is production; but, it's also people." There were many reasons to resist CO, one of the most important of which was that family life could be seriously disrupted with the loss of weekends. As well, the physical demands of a twelve hour shift would take a toll on the workforce whose average age was in the late 40s. Twelve hour shifts were also against USWA policy. Members were concerned that overtime would not be paid for weekend work and would therefore result in a loss of income. Since the plant opened in 1940 most departments worked five days a week. CO would be a step backwards in the union movement's goal of better working conditions and shorter hours. "That's why unions were organized" "To protect employees from the domination of management." Tousignant rejected the idea that companies have the right to schedule work hours as best suits production needs. "Our contract sets out our rights" "Why should we give them up?" At the same time he thought that one of the outstanding things about Alcan was that it had always been a "family plant." During the course of the strike the remnants of paternalism between the workers and the company were becoming frayed at the edges. Tousignant's role, aside from being the full-time president of Local 343, was that he was required to circulate through the plant "to try to keep the problems under control on a daily basis rather than letting them pile up." Tousignant's function was not unusual in that unions often become the managers of discontent playing a mediating role between the workers and the company.
The unions and Alcan reached a tentative agreement on Continuous Operation towards the end of August. Overtime work would be offered to employees. If that failed to meet production requirements students would be hired for extended production. If this was unsatisfactory Alcan could introduce CO in the second year of the contract. In the short term approximately 70 jobs were created through the use of CO. This was only a fraction of the 400 that Alcan said might be created. But the strike was to continue for another two months since the parties could not agree on monetary issues and a COLA. After three and a half months the longest strike in the history of Local 343 ended with an agreement that raised wages from $6.65 to $7.26 in year one (7.6%), to $7.67 in year two (5.6%), and $7.97 in year three (3.9%). In addition, a COLA clause would begin in the third year of the contract and workers gained a dental plan that supplemented the fully paid OHIP, which had come into effect in 1976. Doug Tousignant asserted that Local 343 of the USWA had won the strike. Company officials were more circumspect and stated the old adage that "Nobody wins a strike."
As the 1980s began, Alcan president Patrick Rich stated that all that was needed to face the challenge of the future was for everyone to work together ."..towards our common goals - prosperity and social peace." Alcan made 938 million dollars before taxes in 1980, therefore, as Mr. Rich desired, the company did not have any problems achieving prosperity in the short term. Increasingly, the workers were not to share in the prosperity as the entente between business and labour began to break down. Workers were to have little of the social peace they had known for a generation. The troubles were perhaps foreshadowed early in the decade, with the layoff of 102 workers in October 1981, and the installation of the Kingston Works first industrial robot in 1982. The "Unimate 2105F" was used for arcwelding and the History of Kingston Works published for Alcan noted that "The advantages of the robot were positive. A robot could relieve a man from boring, repetitive functions. It operated at a higher production rate since it did not require a rest period. It guaranteed consistent quality shift after shift." The robot would more likely displace, rather than relieve "a man," from boring and repetitive functions. Another new development was that for the first time in 50 years Alcan lost money in 1982. By 1985 the red ink had risen to a loss of $180 million over the three years.
In May 1983, the USWA and Alcan once again entered into bargaining. The 727 Members of Local 343 had given their bargaining committee an overwhelming show of support, by voting 605 for the right to call a strike. Only 18 were opposed. The mood was far from settled with Tousignant commenting that the "viciousness" of Alcan was reflected in the way it treats its employees. "All we are to them is people to operate machines...I can't believe my own plant has done this." Tousignant accused Alcan of attempting to gut the union contract by eliminating seniority rights, transfer rights within plants, and the full introduction of CO. Tousignant noted that the previous understanding on CO had been used only once, therefore he questioned the need for a new understanding on the issue. Despite the rocky beginnings, a three year contract was reached at the end of June that allowed workers to maintain their seniority, and to transfer to departments without CO if they desired. Most lay-off or seniority provisions in contracts require the employer to take seniority and productive qualifications into account. This makes older workers vulnerable since they may not have the "productive qualifications." Workers gained wage increases of 55, 50, and 52 cents in succeeding years and the continuation of the COLA clause. In 1990, 72% of all collective agreements covering 500 employees or more had no protection against inflation (this compares with a figure of 45.9% in 1976). Most often workers have to give up something such as seniority clauses in order to gain somewhere else in the contract.
For members of Local 343, the long post-war boom ended on September 19, 1984, when the headline of The Whig-Standard announced: "Alcan chops 485 jobs" with the closure of the extrusion plant. 390 of those losing their jobs were members of the USWA. The cuts represented approximately 30% of the workforce and would leave 1,240 employees at the Kingston Works, 915 in the sheet rolling facility, and 325 in the research division. Don Neil, the works manager, said that "business conditions in the 1980s have forced many corporations to make tough decisions and Alcan is not immune to these realities." The layoffs were blamed on a slowdown in consumer demand and automation of the manufacturing process. Flora MacDonald, the area MP and Minister of Employment and Immigration, commented: "I must say that I am very distressed about the closing of the extrusion operation."
Alcan hoped to establish a tri-partite task force with government and union officials to provide job-search assistance and re-training for workers affected by the layoffs. Alcan was thereby shifting responsibility for the unemployed workers back to the state and the individual workers themselves. John Hall, a retired Du Pont Canada Ltd. manager, was hired as chairman of the Alcan placement assistance committee. Kingston's mayor, John Gerretsen, stated "It is sad and I feel extremely sympathetic. All we can do at this time is urge the two [higher] levels of government who have responsibility for the employment situation, to look at this situation seriously." The MPP for the area, Keith Norton, said that he was "deeply concerned" and that if there was anything that the provincial government could do to alleviate the situation it would be done. Not surprisingly, the last person to be quoted in the newspaper article, and the only one not to get his picture in the paper, was one of the people who most closely represented the affected workers, Fred Belanger, president of the Kingston and District Labour Council. His response was the most visceral: "What is happening to industry in our area is completely disgraceful." He noted that the layoffs came on the heels of the closing of Lee Jeans in Napanee and Aerofin in Gananoque.
In the mid-1980s, Alcan asked for the co-operation of the union to lobby the government of Ontario to change the law on the use of aluminum cans in Ontario. After this successful campaign, plant manager Ross Tamblyn stated that the can stock production line would carry the plant into the next century, and maintain the workforce. By 1985 Rolled Products was soon becoming the sole production department left at the Kingston Works. Reflecting the poor economic atmosphere, Local 343's new president, Dave Herrington, signed a three year contract with Alcan in 1986 on behalf of the production workers, which provided for no increase in the base wage but which gave workers a cash payment of $2,100 over the term of the contract. As well, the union gained a "letter of understanding outlining consultation for technological change."
The situation for Local 343 became even more bleak when, in 1987, 335 jobs were lost with the closing of the South Plant, which contained the foil and plate mills. The production line that made aluminum siding was also threatened because its equipment was old and the market for siding had shifted to vinyl. Alcan had prepared itself for the changes in the market by purchasing one of the major vinyl producers, Vycan Ltd. of Mississauga. The affected workers were not as well protected against the changes in the market. Union president Dave Herrington commented that he was trying to come to grips with a workforce that had been cut by 60% in two years. Alcan could proudly claim that 85% of the unemployed workers found "acceptable employment in the Kingston area." However, it would be more accurate to first define "acceptable employment," and to track the workers to examine their current social and economic circumstances. No employees seemed safe when in April 1988 51 "highly skilled [research] laboratory staff members were dismissed." Early retirement packages were offered to production workers aged 55 and over who would receive $1,000 a month until the worker turned 60, up to a maximum of $50,000.
In May 1988 Alcan announced that its $60 million investment in the rolling works was nearing completion. The works' rolling schedule was being computerized and linked to Alcan's continental rolling system, which tracked production and inventory needs. Alcan had 10% more work than rolling capacity to meet demand. With the technological improvements at the plant, production had risen 30% to an all-time high of 130,000 tonnes, with a target of 50% more production by the end of the year, and 120% by 1991. By 1989 an all-time production record 194,000 tonnes was reached. The mills had been fitted with integrated computers that brought them into the competitive world of the late 20th century and produced sheet with a margin of error less than .0002 inches thickness. The "operator" (worker) performed this function while sitting in a "pulpit" guided by computer simulation and readouts.
Reorganizing the Workplace
Site manager Tony Earley said that the mills and their workers had broken through a level of technology that exceeded the toughest American production standards and left behind "any possible competition from the developing world." The technology had come from Japan, England, and Germany. Canadian firms that introduce new technology generally do so five to ten years after their foreign competitors and therefore it is unlikely that such firms can become "leading edge" in their field. The Kingston Works tradespeople received 5,000 hours of training and learned to replace hammers and wrenches with lap-top computers and diagnostic programs. Canadian workers generally receive only 2 hours of in-plant training per year compared to 100-200 for Japanese workers. Earley noted that keeping the mills going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was putting a tremendous strain on people:
When things go down in the middle of the night, there are not the touchy feely things we're used to. You don't go and look for a hydraulic valve or circuit breaker that jumped out in the basement. You have to go with a lap-top and you've got to put in the diagnostics and you've got to bring up the program on a VDT screen.
Most workers have to learn new tasks as they go along, adding to the stress, as Earley noted. Alcan had a jump on the "retraining problem" by involving shop floor workers early in the process. It started an employee involvement program through which workers examined specific problems such as the safety, training, and control layout of the new equipment. Training is intended to ensure that workers adapt to machines rather than machines to workers.
Union officials were much less enthusiastic about the changes in the culture of the plant. Although pleased with the investment in new technology, Tom Murphy, vice-president of Local 343 of the USWA, and a 29 year veteran at the plant, noted that the union membership was quiet and was listening to rumours. "They've seen a lot of changes," he remarked. Murphy had seen the closed steel mills in Pittsburgh and said that he would be worried if he were a younger worker with a family. "You don't know what is going to happen." Donny Decker, the president of Local 54 of the IAM, stated that the new technology ."..won't compensate for closing down the South Plant by any stretch of the imagination. ... I'd like to see them bring more people back right now. It's not to be I guess. ... We have to hope that things are going to change more positively,.. I don't think [union] members are too damn optimistic." The pessimism was due to past plant closures and the fact that Alcan had just laid off more employees from the research laboratories at Alcan. Therefore, neither production workers nor intellectual workers were safe from unemployment.
Workers generally support the introduction of new technology in the belief that it is essential to job security and living standards. Mass dismissals like those at Alcan's Kingston Works tend to lower resistance to demands by employers on the workers who remain. Those who have had relatively good job security find it threatened by "downsizing" and "restructuring" that become the dominant reality around them. Those undercurrents were evident in the comments made by the USWA and IAM union officials at Alcan. Decker stated that "The company used to be a lot different. It seemed to be a family affair. Management changed. They just don't seem to have any feelings for the people. It is money at all costs, first and foremost and the human element seems to be lost."
In August 1988 Alcan announced that the three production lines that produced painted products were to be consolidated into one line. Output from the plant's two rolling mills, would double from 130,000 metric tons a year to 260,000 metric tons. Tony Earley noted that 10 years earlier 80 metric tons of product went out the gate for each employee; that figure would soon be 400 metric tons and those were the ."..macro numbers that drive industry." The macro numbers were cold comfort for the 57 employees who were to lose their jobs. Alcan asked Local 343 to modify the collective agreement to allow a non-continuous 12 hour shift on the paint line, rather than the previous 8 hours. After a lengthy and heated debate, the local passed an amendment by three votes, to allow the twelve hour shift. Some workers viewed this measure as a concession that would be used by the company as a wedge to open up other aspects of the collective agreement with the promise of making jobs more secure without actually offering job security. The company has stated on many occasions that not one job is guaranteed for one day.
Alcan and its workers had left the era of Fordism, and fully entered the era of post-Fordism, characterized by a sense of dislocation and unease brought on by the rapidly changing world order reflected in our economic and social system. At the centre of these changes is thought to be the word flexibility, for instance flexible specialization (permanent innovation and accommodation of ceaseless change), flexible accumulation, flexible firm, and most importantly for workers, flexible labour. These changes are often found in concepts like restructuring, deindustrialization, and globalization. Many commentators on these changes in the nature of work are divided on its efficacy. On the positive side, post-Fordism held the promise of more holistic jobs and a reversal of the alienating division of labour, leading to more satisfying and rewarding work, thereby meeting labour's historic goal of reconnecting the hand and mind. Firms like Alcan become more flexible in their ability to redeploy labour within the plant with their reborn multi-skilled workers. Numerical flexibility to alter the size of the workforce is often gained through technological change, part-time work, lack of job security, sub-contracting and other forms of non-standard employment. Financial flexibility may come through wage concessions, two-tiered wage structures, or pay for performance.
From the mid-1970s until the late 1980s, members of Local 343 had witnessed many changes in the economy and the nature of their relationship to Alcan's Kingston Works. Inflation was rampant and real wages were falling for many workers. Local 343's baptism took place in 1974 when members struck to protect their wages and working conditions. Having emerged holding their own, they were immersed once again in 1978 and after nearly four months settled the strike in a draw. As the 1980s began, Alcan stated its desire to work towards prosperity and social peace. In an atmosphere of inflation, rapidly changing technology, plant closures, unemployment, and enormous increases in productivity the prosperity had become increasingly one-sided. The membership and leadership of Local 343 knew little social peace in an
environment that had witnessed over 1,000 employees, the majority of whom were members of USWA Local 343, laid off within a six- year period. The vestiges of a hollow paternalism bestowed by Alcan were gone, and the state was increasingly withdrawing from its own paternalistic policies of the Keynesian welfare state. The unemployment rate, which had rarely risen above 5% in the first thirty years of the local, began to rest consistently around 10% with falling wages and working conditions. The Fordist era of rising living standards, high wages, productivity, and consumerism had ended, to be replaced by post-Fordism and generally lower wages, higher productivity through increasing technological change, and instability.
Post Fordism and Globalism: Winners and Losers in the New Economy
Workers at Alcan were weary veterans of the post-Fordist era by the late 1980s, having experienced massive layoffs and all- encompassing technological change. The criticism of the post-Fordist era is that it tends to repackage business interests in the paralysing and impersonal language of market forces through words like international competition and globalization, with the human element lost in the process. The emphasis on markets, technology, and even public debt encourages a sense of determinism that limits options, leaving only a restructuring agenda for workers to engage in. For all worke,rs the language of flexibility entails living with insecurity and unemployment and learning to like it. Flexibility does not decentralize political or economic power, instead it maintains highly centralized control through decentralizing tactics. The negative costs of the changes from Fordism to post-Fordism have largely been borne by the workers who have lost their jobs.
New Approaches to Old Problems
Alcan was a staunch supporter of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Canada and the United States, as well as its successor, the North American free trade agreement (NAFTA). In 1988, Alcan's chairman, David Culver, led the pro free-trade business coalition that strongly aided the Mulroney government in regaining power. Foreshadowing the FTA, Alcan moved the headquarters of its rolled products division from Toronto to Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1980s. Rolled products were soon becoming the emasculated Kingston Works only product - having rapidly lost other production elements such as extruded products. Alcan rolled products also purchased 60% of ARCO Aluminum's, Logan Plant, located in Russellville, Kentucky. Reflecting the changing economics and trading alliances, the Kingston Works had by 1988 been through 13 mangers in 15 years, according to Tony Earley, and Earley's successor was an American, where as his predecessors were overwhelmingly Canadian, many of them having graduated from Queen's University. The new managers had few ties to the community.
David Morton of Alcan was among the 120 "world business leaders" pressing politicians in member nations to ratify the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Despite vague promises of jobs, jobs, jobs, business generally stands to gain from the competition on wages that free trade mandates, while the larger issues of who pays the costs of adjustment are avoided.
In a dissenting opinion to the free trade ideology, Ross Smith, the president of Local 343 of the USWA, commented in a letter to the editor of The Whig-Standard in May 1988, that the only thing that would rebuild workers' confidence would be the upgrading of the North Plant and a guarantee that the jobs would remain in Kingston. Smith felt that the looming FTA might result in the closure of the North Plant and hoped that the FTA would be defeated when put before the electorate in the next election. Early in 1990, 31 jobs were lost at Alcan, followed by a further 93 jobs in November, representing one fifth of its production line. Works manager Chris Koszewski, blamed the poor economy and said that the company was gearing up for a brutal economic recession. Workers who were being let go were offered one weeks pay for each year of service for up to five years of service, 1.5 week's pay for five to ten years of experience, and two week's for ten to twenty years of service. Alcan would also help these workers "prepare resumes and hone their interview skills" in their search for new employment. Koszewski said he wished "we could get jobs for these guys, but ultimately it's up to the individuals." Once again, a company that had been known for its paternalism was fully prepared to shift responsibility to the state, which, in theory, would look after the interests of workers and citizens. The Council of Canadians (now known as the Action Canada Network), which lobbies for national and social justice issues, attributed job cuts at Alcan to the signing of the Free Trade Agreement. Alcan was the most profitable company in Canada in 1989, making 835 million dollars and 543 million the following year.
The USWA held a conference in 1991 to address the problems confronted by workers such as those at Local 343, where jobs were being lost due to technological change and global outsourcing (having products that were once made in Canada produced in other nations). The following comments come from Empowering Workers in the Global Economy: A Labour Agenda for the 1990s:
We need enlightened management who recognize the importance of competing in higher value-added markets on a high skill basis.... Once there is a commitment to truly developing worker skills and their role in the workplace, workers will be partners in building toward sustainable prosperity in their workplaces and communities.
In recent years one of the workplace bargaining strategies of the USWA has been to participate in tri-partite programs with employers and the government to study quality of work life, or workplace co-determination, reorganization and restructuring, in an attempt to achieve greater competitiveness while preserving employment and sustaining prosperity. "The USWA is playing a leading role in labour-management cooperation and worker empowerment and is encouraging its members to adopt practical new approaches and strategies in order to address the far reaching and fundamental economic changes occurring in the global economy." In 1989, Local 343 negotiated with Alcan to participate in "Work Centre Teams," but these negotiations broke down when Alcan refused to give workers a job security provision similar to one at an American plant that was represented by the USWA. Despite having made changes to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to allow for 12 hour shifts, Local 343 soon found that the North Plant paint line was sold to a South African firm in the early 1990s resulting in over thirty members being put out of work. Had the changes to the CBA resulted in the retention or creation of more jobs, Local 343 would probably have changed its position concerning issues such as work centre teams.
The USWA feels that new workplace practices may give workers genuine benefits, but only if the issue of technological change becomes a focal point of collective bargaining and is not introduced unilaterally. Presently, even the best protected workers covered by collective agreements such as those of Local 343 have very little protection over technological change. Only 47.4% of collective agreements required advance notice or consultation prior to introduction of technological change, while 84% had no provision for the establishment of labour management committees to monitor its introduction. Along with this, only 8.6% of agreements had adequate provision for retraining, and 45.4% had no provisions at all for retraining.
The Return of Russia
As recently as 1990, Alcan was among the 500 largest corporations in the world, ranking 150th according to Fortune magazine. Since its founding Alcan has consistently made extraordinary profits. But in recent years profits have been down. Between 1991 and 1993 Alcan lost 252 million dollars. With all major western aluminum producers losing money in 1993, blame for the losses was placed squarely in the hands of Russia, the old nemesis that had come back from the grave to haunt Alcan. Born again and newly capitalist, Russia was accused of not playing by the rules, "dumping" aluminum on the world market in an attempt to gain foreign exchange. In this situation, Alcan decided to open an office in Moscow "at a time when the aluminum industry in the former Soviet Union is reported having serious production problems." Alcan expected that the office would help the company keep abreast of developments and discover business opportunities.
Restructuring Alcan at Home and Abroad
Alcan no longer enjoyed control of the "free world's" floating supply of aluminum as it had in the 1950s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian production costs rose from a mere 3% of western costs "thanks to naive costing and abundant hydropower, to a current 60% of Western costs." Access to 'cheap' hydropower and water resources in British Columbia and Quebec was Alcan's advantage over other producers since the company's inception in Canada with 'sweet-heart' deals over direct or indirect access to cheap power. Alternative uses for these resources is rarely open to public discussion in Canada as it is in Norway where a former Alcan operation is now owned by the government. The municipality and the workers' union in Norway co-operate to maximize the use of available resources in a manner that will benefit the entire community - a meaningful social contract. Such co-operation has rarely been the case in relation to Alcan's treatment of workers in Kingston and other communities.
As a result of Russian exports, the price of aluminum fell to an historic low of $1,040 a ton on world markets. Western aluminum producers were losing as much as thirty-five cents on every dollar of raw aluminum smelted. With the glut of aluminum on world markets, trade officials and company representatives of aluminum producing nations convened in Brussels in January 1994 and drew up a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which was then finalized at a "multilateral conference" in Ottawa. The MOU stated that "the aluminum oversupply situation of 1.5 to 2-million mtpy [metric tons] can best be addressed by way of worldwide market-oriented commercial decisions by companies on an individual basis." The MOU also included a commitment by western governments "to provide assistance in restructuring the Russian aluminum industry." The market-oriented solution for each nation, including Russia, was to share in a cutback of production by 1.5 million tons. Not surprisingly, this would wipe out the surplus and represented the amount of aluminum being exported by Russia. Russia had become a member of the exclusive club and a team player in the game of international trade. Almost immediately, the impact of the MOU was reflected in the price of aluminum, with the cost rising to $1,500 a ton by July 1994, reflecting a not-so-modest 50% increase. The impact on Alcan was dramatic: the corporation reported its first quarterly profit in three years, while the stock price rose by 35%.
Global trade talks are often thought to be open processes that will lead to "free trade" and falling prices for consumers and producers. This was clearly not the effect of the MOU. Although the Japanese government desired to participate in the MOU discussions, they were turned down since they were not an aluminum producing nation. Only one magazine, the Economist, commented on the nature of the MOU. Under the heading "Aluminum: Smelt a rat," they commented that "aluminum-refining capacity has fallen, prices have rocketed, producers are struggling back into profit, and nobody has yet managed to prove it is a cartel." The aluminum producers had effectively removed competition from the market.
Capital's ability to remain mobile, allowing companies to invest in other areas of the world and fragment the production process, has been clearly demonstrated by Alcan. The relative turmoil in the aluminum markets during the 1990s led to restructuring at Alcan. This manifested itself in a variety of ways. The general trends were plant closures in North America and the sale of "downstream" businesses not directly related to the core business of rolled products and primary sheet production. There was an increasing investment in developing nations, Western Europe, and in low-wage countries of Eastern Europe. A sheet plant was purchased in the former East Germany, which had been conducting a fire sale of state assets since reunification.
Reimaging the Environment and Public Expectations
Expansions were also taking place in select non-unionized plants and "right to work" areas of North America. In the spring 1994 it was announced that a new rolled products plant was to be built at the existing non-unionized facility in Oswego, New York, directly across Lake Ontario from Kingston. For Alcan workers in Kingston, the Oswego plant was just out of sight without the use of binoculars, but it could hardly be out of mind. In October 1994, Alcan informed workers that the can-stock operation at the Kingston Works would be shut down in January 1995, since it was no longer needed in a "mature market." The work eliminated in Kingston would be "absorbed" by Alcan's Oswego plant, and its Russellville, Kentucky plant, also non-unionized, and had been upgraded "to the tune of $255 million." Former Williamson plant manager Ross Tamblyn had been proven wrong: the can stock operation would not carry the Kingston Works into the next century.
At the time of the announcement, Peter Boyle, president of Local 343, did not know how many workers would be affected by layoffs but commented ."..we're told that work for production workers will be cut in half." Lorne Smith, a production worker, thought that those with over twenty years service could be out the door and remarked that "You can be darn sure the Yankees aren't going to lose any jobs before we do." Boyle added ."..by the time they get to me, the place will be shuttin' right down." To date, the anticipated shut down of the can stock operation at the Kingston Works has not taken place although Alcan says it looms in the near future. Thus far, the elimination of the can stock operation has been delayed by the increase in aluminum sheet prices that came about after the MOU and negotiations with the major can sheet purchasers, which likely raised prices for the product.
In the Asian market, Alcan was investing in Malaysia and India. The investments in India were most noteworthy. The new CEO of Alcan, Jacques Bougie, aimed to make Alcan the lowest cost producer of aluminum (discounting the Soviet Union). In order to achieve this goal, an American consulting firm had suggested reducing the cost of alumina, the key raw material, would be the most pressing problem facing the smelting operations. Although Alcan was undertaking massive investments in India, the investments appeared to be done with some trepidation on the part of the business press. An article in The Globe and Mail in December 1993 made the following comments:
Despite the poor quality of Indian labour, the number of days off per year, the antiquated infrastructure, the amount of time it takes to get anything done in India, and the high degree of control by the Indian Government, Canadian investment in the country is increasing, attracted by the size of the market and cheap skilled labour. Alcan International Ltd. (Kingston, Ontario) and its joint partner, Indian Aluminum Co. Ltd. (India), are building a printed circuit board factory.
The main point of the article is quite clear. Despite reservations concerning the poor quality of labour, too many holidays, antiquated infrastructure, and government interference in commerce, Alcan was willing to invest because of "cheap skilled labour." It is difficult to reconcile how Indian labour could be both of poor quality and skilled, but cheap was the operative goal being sought. In addition to the investment noted above, Alcan, along with its Indian partner, was investing $770 million in a plant to produce alumina. Presumably this measure would achieve Alcan's goal of keeping the cost of alumina down. Alcan had also sought to gain joint control of Guyana's bauxite industry.
The irony of the investment decisions being made in other parts of the globe by Alcan, is that nominally, many of the decisions are being made by Alcan International Ltd., which is based on the same property as the Kingston Works, where the few remaining members of USWA Local 343 continue to work. Workers in their communities cannot pick up and leave for another area of the world like capital can. Therefore labour does not have a counter-weight to investment and dis-investment. Corporations are attached to their country of origin in name only, with little accountability for their actions, and have many suitors in various nations of the world anxious to accept any development. Workers and nations are pitted against one another in 'competition' to see who will give the most away in what has been termed "the race to the bottom." Factories and people become inter-changeable parts that may be plugged into any part of the world.
Alcan's environmental record has also been less than stellar. At the Oswego, New York manufacturing site, Alcan is appealing a federal court order to pay $3.2 million towards the cleanup of metals and toxic waste dumped in the area. Alcan sought to avoid liability by demonstrating that it was responsible only for background contamination, contending that the environmental law was unconstitutional because ."..it holds pollution defendants liable for dumping innocuous substances at hazardous waste sites." This raises the question of why "innocuous substances" would have to be disposed of at "hazardous waste sites." An aluminum manufacturer in the State of Oregon had a unique solution to environmental concerns by seeking to create a physical testament to "peaceful coexistence" (to use the language of the Cold War) between heavy industry and the community. The physical layout was based on five principles that reflected "the plant's values":
Restructuring the USWA
The first element was to provide a window on the operation so people would see what the company was doing and feel comfortable about it. Second, the company created a habitat for wildlife. The third element involves education- to provide a place of learning so that the company could integrate its activities back into the needs of the community and develop younger people with the skills and recognition of what wildlife management and environmental management is about. The fourth goal was to create a place where those who live nearby could come to relax. Last, Judd [the plant manager] sought to obliterate the boundaries between the park and the plant itself. Judd says the key to the success of the plant is to look at things from a holistic approach.
The appropriation and manipulation of language is pervasive throughout the article, particularly the use of words such as values, habitat, education, learning, and holistic. It is difficult to comprehend how a "physical plant" can have "values." The approach taken to environmental issues by the Oregon aluminum company is much the same as Alcan's. That approach is to promote an image rather than take substantive action when dealing with public concerns about the environment. This was demonstrated by Alcan's efforts to improve its image among young people in Quebec (where it maintains its head office in Montreal) after it "had suffered because of the environmental movement." The avenue of redress was to produce and show an advertising video on Montreal's music/rock video station. The environmental success was then measured by a 15% increase in Alcan's "public favourability" among youth. To further buttress a favourable image in communities where it operates, Alcan supports sports teams, lectures, concerts, and jazz competitions.
The media and politicians continue to promise that democracy, prosperity, and social welfare gains will now come through the globalisation of the economy and free trade in goods and services. In years past, we were largely unwilling to trade with the Soviet Union, or any other state that threatened the free reign of capital, or nations that abused human rights. Foreign Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet now states that the best way to promote democratic development is through developing trade links with countries "irrespective of whether they have dictatorships" or poor human-rights records. Foreign trade is thought to inevitably create economic development, that spreads to a population and creates pressures for democratization. In short, democracy through consumerism. The assumption is that any degree of exploitation and human rights abuses will be tolerated in the process.
Similar sentiments are voiced through the mainstream media. In an editorial titled "The coming boom in the Third World," The Globe And Mail cites the advantages of free trade and how workers in Bridgetown, Barbados type away at their computers processing tickets and boarding passes for American Airlines, and programmers in Bangalore, India write software for U.S. computer companies. The reason is that they are cheap. Beyond this no mention is made of wages and working conditions other than an assurance that ten years into the next millennium "one billion consumers [workers] in developing countries could have per-capita incomes exceeding those of Greece or Spain today." These astounding figures are provided by no less an authority than the World Bank.
Unfortunately, we do not learn the fate of workers who were formerly filling those jobs in the North, yet are left with the impression that they went on to more fulfilling and prosperous careers. The editorial took a swipe at naysayers, those perennials, "The Left, meanwhile, frets about lost jobs in North American factories. These fears are overblown. For it would be folly to choke off a process of free trade with so much potential to raise incomes around the Globe." Within days "Canada's National Newspaper" informed readers in the leading front page story that, according to the Royal Bank's chief economist, (who had written a paper entitled Why Have Canadian Living Standards Declined In The 1990s?), incomes in Canada had dropped an average of 0.9% a year from 1989 to 1994. This was on top of the average decline of 0.3% a year from 1976 until the late 1980s. The cause apparently was Canadian monetary policy as exercised by the Bank of Canada. These policies were compounded by ."..industrial restructuring in response to globalization and free trade... All of the declining per capita income of the 1990s can be explained by a reduction in the share of the population that had a job." According to the article, bankers and their economists usually make their critiques in "more discreet terms."
This type of economic report makes you wonder where you can find a good economist when you need one. The majority of economists must come from the Rip van Winkle school having woken up after more than a decade in which the "official" unemployment rate has hovered around 10% and the number of people on welfare, "Workfare," and "Learnfare" has rarely been higher. The actual proportion of the population engaged in employment and contributing to the social product has been falling, with fewer people working at full-time jobs, and many of those working longer hours, while others in the contingent economy do not get enough or even any hours of work.
The changes in the nature of Alcan's production facilities in Kingston, which has seen plant closings, technological change, outsourcing, and a declining workforce are dramatically reflected in the composition of the USWA in Kingston and Canada. Unlike the 1950s when there were over 1,200 members of Local 343, there are now only slightly over 200. Alcan's world wide workforce has diminished from 63,000 in 1988, to 44,000 in 1994, a 30% decline. In the United States the USWA has diminished from well over 1,000,000 members in the 1960s to a shell of its former self, now representing approximately 340,000 a decline of 70%. This reflects what has been known as the rust belt of the fading steel industry.
However, in Canada, the over-all decline of the USWA has not been as precipitous, falling from 197,000 in 1982 to 170,000 in 1995. Blue collar workers from the steel, manufacturing, and mining industries remain the core of the USWA in Canada. Yet increasingly the USWA is becoming more representative of the few areas of the economy that are burgeoning. New members of the USWA are likely to be found in the service "industry" and include security guards, taxi drivers, hotel and restaurant employees, or retail and wholesale workers. The significance for the union is that it is slowly expanding into new areas of the economy and replacing members from the rust belt who are being lost. It is also significant that the new members no longer represent the aristocracy of labour, but rather the bottom rungs of the labour market where "McJobs" are being created. These groupings of workers are likely to be smaller and more diverse ethnically and socially than in the past.
The latest round of bargaining between Local 343 and Alcan in Spring 1995 has produced positive economic gains for production workers, and the protection of historic gains. The negotiating committee from Local 343 maintained seniority protection, did not acquiesce to a longer work week, or the removal of the traditional 15% vacation bonus. Workers voted 98.5% to endorse the new contract. The new three year collective bargaining agreement provides workers with an approximately 7.8% wage increase over three years.
The late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed many changes in Local 343 and the aluminum industry. Alcan and business elites supported free trade deals that introduce greater competition into the labour market. Competition was also brought into the aluminum market in the 1990s, when the former Soviet Union began to export large quantities of aluminum, with Alcan and other major aluminum producers temporarily losing their oligarchic position in the market. Simultaneously, Alcan was selling "downstream" businesses, and shifting production from the Kingston Works to non-unionized plants in the United States, as well as expanding production in other nations. These measures would lead one to ask whether Alcan still regards unions as "permanent and responsible institution" as they did in the 1960s when commenting on the changes to the collective bargaining agreement made with Local 343. More recently Local 343 made changes in the collective bargaining agreement to allow Alcan to operate the plant on twelve hour shifts but was unwilling to permit the entry of "Work Centre Teams" without obtaining job security provisions.
The "competition" that the Soviet Union introduced into the aluminum market resulted in falling aluminum prices and profits was eliminated through the memorandum of understanding signed by aluminum producing nations in 1994. The agreement restored the oligarchic position of Alcan and other large aluminum producers. The USWA meanwhile had significantly decreased in size from former decades. New members were less likely to come from the manufacturing and resource industries. Instead they were from the bottom tier of the labour market while the middle of the labour market as represented by Local 343 was largely disappearing. Alcan's ability to re-introduce competitive labour markets in North America and elsewhere creates downward pressure on wages. The USWA was less able ."..to protect our own standards by seeing they are not undermined elsewhere," as Charles Millard had tried to ensure in the 1950s when the USWA represented the majority of workers in the aluminum industry in North America and was venturing into the developing nations where Alcan operated. New and important efforts are being made by the USWA to expand the Aluminum Council in Canada and bring together all unions at plants that Alcan and other aluminum producers operate in Canada.
Historic Gains - Historic Losses: The Search for Whence We Came
In 1953 John Mitchell, the director of District 6 of the USWA, and former president of the Ontario CCF retired. At his retirement banquet Mitchell commented in his Scottish brogue that times had not always been prosperous for members of the working class and that his own granny had worked in the mines. He asked his audience who had a better right to the good things of life than those whose toil had created them. "There are no better people on the face of the earth and they should not be content with less than their fair share." He made the prophesy that "Too long we have slaved for the masters without receiving from them our due consideration ...but the day is coming when there will be no need for working men to fear the insecurity of unemployment." Workers had made tremendous historic progress during Mitchell's long involvement with the labour movement and his dreams appeared to be coming true in the post-war period.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the wages, working, and living conditions being achieved by members of Local 343 of the USWA. The plant where members continue to work was created specifically to fulfil the needs of wartime production. Like the allied cause for which they were supplying the materials of war, Local 343 emerged victorious in 1945 as the legitimate democratically elected representatives of the workers. This was a time when it appeared that workers' rights were finally being recognized through legal mechanisms, and along with these rights social programs were being introduced to protect all members of society from privation. Workers were to share in the bounties that they produced, and be repaid for the sacrifices that they and members of the Armed Forces and their families had made during the war, which had pulled Canada out of the Depression. Neither they nor John Mitchell can be faulted for having thought that the "New Jerusalem" was about to arrive, given the changes that they had witnessed during their working lives. Bargains were struck with governments and capital allowing working people to live better and more secure lives. Historically the gains were significant.
On the 50th anniversary of Local 343, and of the end of the war, those historic gains are under fire. Increasingly, capital has slipped out of the entente reached with organized labour and the working class. There is no longer an external model of development -- however imperfect it may have been in the form of the Soviet Union. It was held up as a model that was undemocratic, dictatorial, and imperfect, and therefore could not be tolerated. Yet our society would strive to match any social program to which socialism had aspired, such as full employment, access to healthcare, and education. Now that any alternative model of development and the Soviet Union have collapsed into a sea of poverty, disease, racism, and civil strife unparalleled in recent times, we are told that we can no longer afford full employment, or protection of incomes, or the social wage, or working conditions, or the social programs that had been partially achieved. Despite falling living standards we are told that the short term costs of adjustment to globalisation will be ameliorated and that there is no alternative to this process. Past and present members of Local 343 may find this message difficult since they have lived through thirty years of stable growth with almost full employment, increasing income equality, increasing leisure time, improved working conditions and relative political and economic stability. The tradition of generations of Kingston workers following one another into the Kingston Works ended more than a decade ago.
Those workers who distinguished themselves by making it onto the "Long Service Honour Roll" were never lucky enough to receive a gold watch. In its place they received an aluminum watch, that few workers are likely to obtain these days. Queen's University has long since ceased to be a partner in the "Union Institute" with Local 343, which was aimed at "education for union leadership." The institute has been replaced by other more profitable programs at Queen's such as the "Executive MBA" program while Local 343 supports the "Injured Workers Centre," housed in the Steelworkers Hall. Capital now has many suitors in virtually every nation of the world, with workers in competition with one another like never before. Simultaneously, workers in different regions of the world are now producing the same goods and services for the same markets. Therefore they have much in common and should have a strong basis for solidarity, just as Charles Millard and Local 343 had recognized in the 1950s in finding common cause with workers in Jamaica. Alcan may complain about differentials in hydro-electric costs, but it is unlikely that they will complain about differentials in labour costs that are to their advantage. It should not be surprising that the most productive countries in the world such as Holland, Belgium, Japan have the greatest income and social equality.
The pursuit of profit must be undertaken under clearly defined social goals that include the goals of workers and their communities as social beings in the same manner as it was in the post war period. Whether in the era of Fordism, or post-Fordism, in many respects the situation for workers and their unions remains much the same as it has always been, with corporations seeking profit and workers and their unions struggling to control the conditions of work while protecting their jobs and communities. Yet it is not "the end of history" for the ideals of unionism or progressive social change toward which unions and other social groups strive.
Here are the people who have been elected by their fellow workers to negotiate on behalf of Kingston Works Alcan Employees since Local 343 of the United Steelworkers of America was certified as the bargaining agent.
Art O' Reilly
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Local Union 343
Union Meetings 1st Thursday of the month
6:30 P.M. Steelworkers Hall 206 Concession St.
Kingston, Ontario Canada K7K 2B5