The point of this short post is simple: As we show our support for those who have recently lost their jobs in the mining sector in Sudbury, we have to keep in mind that poverty in Sudbury has been among the most severe in Ontario for decades. We don't only need to question an economy that can throw Sudburians out of work and into poverty so suddenly -- we also need to question why so many people in Sudbury have never known anything but poverty.
In the last week, mining giant Xstrata, formerly known as Falconbridge, has laid off 680 workers, including 500 members of Mine Mill/CAW local 598. This brings the layoff total in the mining sector in Sudbury in recent months to 2000, and estimates are that about 5000 people live in households that are directly affected. (These numbers are from Sudbury Star articles.) This is a huge impact in a city that has fewer than 100,000 people in the city proper and only about 160,000 in the greater Sudbury area. Families are being devastated, more are at serious risk, and the pain will spread to the rest of the local economy too since this is not just any jobs that are going but the best jobs in town. (A depressing additional factor is that I heard indirectly from someone who works in a women's anti-violence organization that she has already seen an increase in women who need her services since the announcement.)
In recent months I've seen articles in both the Sudbury Star and Northern Life that go out of their way to downplay the significance of the economic downturn on Sudbury. I have no idea what the motivation is, but it is pretty insulting to hear this "it's all okay" mantra in the face of such significant hardship.
Another common theme in media coverage of these events is blaming foreigners. Both of the mining giants that operate in Sudbury were multinantionals based in Canada until a couple of years ago, when they were bought by multinationals based elsewhere. While there is definitely reason to go after Xstrata for violating its pledge of no layoffs in the first three years under new ownership, we are deluding ourselves if we think that somehow they would care more about workers and less about their profits if the owners were Canadian. The problem is not "foreignness." The problem is organizing our economy in ways that do practically nothing to take human wellbeing into account.
But the last point I want to make, and one I haven't seen made elsewhere yet, is that the devastating impact of these layoffs and the others that are likely still coming should not make us lose sight of the widespread already-existing poverty in this city. As I reported a few years ago, more than 60% of jobs in Sudbury pay less than $10 an hour, and there are significant numbers of people who can't even find those kinds of jobs. In my experience of casual conversation with middle-class Sudburians since I moved here, this segment of the population -- the majority -- is simply ignored most of the time.
So definitely let's support the laid-off miners and their families, let's support the unions as they seek a better deal for their members, and let's make sure we keep aware of the direct action tactics that some other workers around the world have been using to defend themselves in this crisis. But as we do all of this, let's do it in ways that links those struggles to the struggles of Sudburians who are already on Ontario's abusive and misery-inducing social assistance system, and to that huge layer of people in this city depending on jobs that pay less than a living wage.