When 30 Canadian steelworkers who had taken over their plant on May 3 looked out the windows, they saw hundreds of supporters cheering them on.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union, Local 4752, occupied and halted production at the Hamilton Specialty Bar plant last week because the company, which is closing the plant May 29, had announced that it would slash retiree benefits and withhold shutdown pay from the active workers.

Although the plant will still close as scheduled, the occupation ended in less than 24 hours with some major victories for the workers.

The company agreed to pay all final wages and vacation pay to active workers, including wages lost during the occupation of the plant. Dental, vision and prescription drug benefits were restored to the retirees. Although Canada has national health care, the unions still bargain for certain benefits not covered in the government system.

The action taken by the workers at the plant had the backing of both the national steel union and the Ontario Federation of Labor. Federation President Wayne Samuelson stood with Wayne Fraser, director of the USW in Ontario Province and Atlantic Canada, as Fraser praised the unity and determination of the workers and their supporters.

“The settlement to end the occupation is the least the company can do as it prepares to abandon the plant and the community of 320 workers that have depended on good-paying jobs at the plant once known as Slater Steel,” Fraser told workers and their supporters.

Workers at Hamilton Bar have been making high quality steel products since 1910. Currently, hundreds of steelworkers are laid off.

Like thousands of cities and communities across the U.S. and Canada, Hamilton is in crisis. Corporations, by closing plants, have destroyed 250,000 jobs in Ontario Province. The ruling party there, the Liberal Party, is a centrist party that has done little or nothing to prevent this from happening. With 12.1 million residents, 38.5 percent of Canada’s entire population lives in Ontario.

Plant occupations and demonstrations are “effective tactics,” Fraser told the World in a phone interview. “We have to raise public awareness and political mobilization because manufacturing jobs are the core to success for our communities, our families,” he said.

“The government has a key role to play in saving and bringing manufacturing jobs to Ontario,” Fraser said. “The people who inhabit the towers of Bay Street [the Wall Street of Canada] have no idea of the suffering their faceless corporate decisions have on working people and their families.”

The USW is supporting the New Democratic Party in the October elections in part because it proposes to form a Jobs Commission. The commission would be an independent government body, with union representatives, that would serve as a rapid response team to find alternatives to corporate padlocking of plants that are having difficulty.

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