Researcher collecting stories from historic INCO strike
SUDBURY -- Workers at INCO, the mine now known as Vale, began a historic strike 62 years ago and now, a University of Saskatchewan professor and researcher is gathering memories and stories to chronicle in a new book.
About 17,000 members of the Mine Mill Union began their job action in Sudbury and Port Colborne Sept. 24, 1958, and the dispute wasn't resolved until the end of that year.
Dr. Elizabeth Quinlan works in the department of sociology and said she is inter interested in this strike because she thinks it's an important one.
"Of course there were other strikes then that lasted longer, but this one was the first one of the local after it was certified in 1944," said Quinlan. "So it tells us, I think something about how people face a brand new experience. The workers and their union were learning as they went. They had no experience with a strike. Certainly none with a strike of 17,000 workers."
After the union was formed, it was able to negotiate improvements in wages and working conditions each year, Quinlan said.
"Then all of sudden in 1958, INCO wasn't interested in bargaining. And we know now that, it wasn't so well-known then, that INCO was sitting on a stockpile of nickel and the metal markets weren't doing particularly well," said Quinlan. "So it took many people by surprise, the strike did."
She credits that first union strike with bringing the workers and the community together.
"Everybody had to adapt quickly to figure out how to support one another so that they could survive long enough for a settlement to be reached. And people did support each other," said Quinlan. "This is the part that I find so heartwarming. Food and clothing and kids toys and money came pouring in from the local area and all across the country."
She said the strike illustrates the harsh reality and difficult choices that people had to make at the time of the strike, but at the same time is an uplifting story.
"It does demonstrate what people are capable of doing when they're faced with adverse circumstances when we all work together," said Quinlan.
She has heard from many retired workers and is looking for more stories from people who worked at INCO during that time and those who have memories about their experience during the strike.
Putting a call out to people that may have been part of the strike, who remember the strike, what kind of information are you receiving right now.
"I've talked to some of the men who worked underground and in the smelter and in the plants in very dangerous conditions," said Quinlan. "Some people say to me 'I never complained about any jobs after that job I had at INCO. They all pale in comparison working for INCO in those early days.'"
To share your story with Quinlan, contact her here.
With files from Tony Ryma, CTV News Sudbury.