Local 1005 fought for the broader community, future

What does 70 years mean?

In 1946, Mayor Sam Lawrence stood in Ward 3 at Woodlands Park along Barton Street. It was a cloudy day. He was there to support steel workers in their gruelling strike for fair wages and job security for their families. Mayor Lawrence declared that he was a “labour man first”.

The 1946 strike wouldn’t be settled for months and when it finally was, the workers of the day won many gains including a strong foothold for industrial unions in Canada, and providing precedent for fair wages for families across this country. Thereafter for countless families, getting your union card meant you made it.

The impact of the workers’ success cannot be understated. Good wages — some to be paid during their working years, the rest as pensions and health benefits after retirement, provided economic uplift for Hamilton, and security for their families. Their work, often in harsh conditions, made Stelco profitable for decades. Local 1005 steelworkers were rightly proud of winning not only wages they could raise families on, but also annual vacations, and pensions and benefits for a dignified retirement. They fought not only for themselves, but also for the broader community and for future generations.

This Labour Day is about organizing to build better paying jobs for our children.

For decades these workers paid their dues, invested in taxes, bought homes and raised families. They not only built steel; they built a movement; and they proudly built Hamilton.

Sixty-nine years later, government MP and former Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina (East-Hamilton Stoney Creek) turned his back on Hamilton’s steel workers. He and his government refuse to open the secret deal that ended a lawsuit against U.S. Steel for not living up to its commitments. During the federal election, Bratina promised to support steel workers. Now that he’s elected, he acts like he doesn’t remember, or that he just doesn’t care.

In August, a Superior Court denied a motion to restore benefits for pensioners, while at the same time U.S. Steel was paying management bonuses. The company sits on $150 million in cash and is overpaying its parent company another $123 million for supplies, according to the union.

And now, on Labour Day 70 years later, what does it all mean? Their sacrifice, courage, and their hard work?

Stelco is gone. Production has slowed. There are fewer jobs. But the workers still remain. They are our parents, our neighbours, our friends. I see first-hand the contribution steelworkers continue to make in our community. For instance, this year, they hosted the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Steelworkers have always had Hamilton’s back.

For me, this Labour Day isn’t just about remembering the past, but it is about learning to build a better future.

This Labour Day is about supporting our more than 20,000 Hamilton steel worker pensioners who paid their dues and punched the clock for decades.

It’s about building a better world for all those single parents working two or three precarious jobs so they don’t need to worry about putting food on the table.

It’s about supporting students or recent graduates who are in debt tens of thousands of dollars with fewer and fewer good job prospects.

This Labour Day is about organizing to build better paying jobs for our children.

It’s about the past, present and the next generation working together to build the future Hamilton. A city with good jobs, and an even more vibrant community.

So, what does 70 years mean on Labour Day 2016? For me, it means what’s next.

Matthew Green is city councillor for Hamilton’s Ward 3