In the midst of the all consuming vortex that was The Inauguration, Tom Mulcair went to Hamilton to visit with some retired steelworkers in their union hall. People tend to always call it The Hammer now but those of us of a certain vintage know the place as Steeltown and remember the particulate haze of its glory days. The federal NDP seems to be trying to get back to where it once belonged but it might be a bit late for Tom himself. It’s uncertain as to whether this trip was his initiative or something the party brass decided would be a good mission to rediscover it’s raison d’etre. It would be a welcome homecoming for those holding out for a political hero or two.
The workers seem happy enough that someone is finally paying political attention to them. Thousands of pensioners at the once mighty Stelco are still left to wonder in the fallout of US Steel’s predatory assault on the business as to whether they will have a pension to survive on. U.S. Steel bought Stelco in 2007 and after years of asset stripping and beating it to within an inch of its life, it has been turned back over to a private equity investment firm called Bedrock, who have brought back the Stelco name. Fred Flinstone was not at the ribbon cutting. It is unlikely that Stelco 2 will become the powerhouse it once was but the legacy issue of the pensioners still needs sorting, among other things.
There is a striking difference in tone between the Liberals and NDP on the matter. Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Singh Bains has said he “hopes” the workers and pensioners are treated fairly. The NDP is saying that they must be. The signals would suggest that Mulcair and Co. have got their backs. They are hinting at the rebirth of the party of old that some of us remember you could always count on to represent the workers both current and retired in the political realm. But will it translate into action?
As a young politicized punk kid light years ago, I dared to venture into the old Rubberworkers hall in Etobicoke to watch the travelling NDP leadership debate that eventually led to the election of Audrey McLaughlin, who replaced Ed Broadbent. This would not happen there now. New Toronto was brimming with industry then but as the ink was drying on the Free Trade Agreement that eventually became NAFTA, it was clear the trashing of the factories was looming large. The area once had the highest value of manufacturing per square mile in North America, now it’s vying for the most condos. If you squint you can see the ghosts of the workers.
Many of these spirits are still living breathing people, trying to piece a life together in the fallout of the great industrial cave in. These are the folks that Trump so cleverly rallied in the USA, caught between the rubble of their old workplaces and a wifi driven world of artisanal cupcakes and overpriced coffee. There is plenty of spare real estate capacity on main street where the old-timers once bought vacuum bags and typewriter ribbons. Developers salivate at the thought of this languishing square footage, as every budding mogul aspires to be a baby Trump. Will the slide continue or will we see thee rise to challenge the wholesale neo liberal thrashing of the place? Hopefully somebody reliable will have our backs. The clock ticks on.