Financial hardship and frustration may be some of the results of the seven-month-long Steelworkers Local 6500 strike against Vale Inco, but the labour dispute has also given rise to a plethora of multimedia projects.
As the strike wears on, strikers are channeling their creative efforts to spread their own messages and tell their own stories. The Internet, photographs, music and videos are among the mediums they use.
The way Bill Belowos sees it, every time he takes photos of a event put on by Steelworkers Local 6500, he is capturing history.
Belowos, who normally works as a heavy equipment technician at Garson Mine, is one of several striking Steelworkers who have been capturing the strike on camera.
“When people make that comment that a picture is worth 1,000 words, it is,” Belowos said. “You’re capturing history, capturing the moment, you’re capturing whatever it is. We have an opportunity here to capture history.”
Besides taking photos of various rallies and other union events in Sudbury, Belowos has also gone on several excursions with fellow Steelworkers during the strike, including two trips to New York.
Those who want to view Belowos’ photos, along with other images of the strike, can visit www.fairdealnow.com, where they are regularly being posted.
Belowos is also collecting photos taken of the strike taken by other Steelworkers and members of the community, with the view that the union may want to publish a book about this strike one day.
He encourages those who would like to contribute their strike photos to the archive to contact him by phoning the Steelworkers Hall at 675-3381.
Belowos said he first became interested in photography in 1975, when he took an introduction to photography course at Cambrian College as part of the audiovisual technician course.
Although Belowos, who has worked in mines in Sudbury and Elliot Lake for more than 30 years, has never been a professional photographer, he said he’s always been known for being on the other end of a camera.
He said he volunteered to take photos for the Steelworkers during this strike because he has been through several labour disputes over the years, and can anticipate what will happen.
From simple digital camera recordings of union events to more complex productions, Local 6500 strikers have also been posting videos on the Internet to voice their thoughts about the labour dispute.
One striker, who asked to be called by his Internet moniker, Punchlock, has created numerous videos about the strike, and posted them on YouTube.
“Essentially I started creating photo and video documentaries, mostly in satire, to try and get a message across, and to raise the spirits of strikers, who very rarely, when they’re reading blogs, get a positive message,” he said.
“Recently, I did a Star Wars edition. It sent a message about the rally we had for the six-month (anniversary of the strike) event. It has people who are public figures in the strike depicted as Star Wars characters.”
For Punchlock, producing videos about the strike has been the result of his own frustration about being on strike.
“It’s kind of an outlet for me,” he said. To view Punchlock’s “Star Wars” video on YouTube, go to YouTube.com and type “Local 6500 standing strong” into the search bar.
Several musicians have also found the strike to be a source of creativity.
Pascal Boucher, Local 6500’s chief steward of mines, and Mike O’Brien, a striker who normally works at Coleman Mine, collaborated to create a song called The Struggle about the strike.
The song begins with a clip of Steelworkers international president Leo Gerard speaking over a soundtrack, and then features Bouchard singing the folk-rock song, which speaks about Vale Inco coming into town.
It features lyrics like “you came to this town, wanting to change the world, you don’t understand, the Canadian way of the land. You say that you’re a friend of mine, I can see right through your lies, what embarrassing disgrace, the way you treat the human race.”
O’Brien, who has been rapping for about 15 years, did one verse in rap. The song ends with another sample of Gerard speaking.
Boucher said he wrote the original song, and then brought his guitar to the union hall to see what people thought.
“Mike said ‘Hey, I want to do something with this.’ That’s where it all began. We got together in my basement, and we came up with what you heard,” Boucher said.
O’Brien said he’s not surprised that the strike is sparking creativity.
“If people are passionate about something, they’ve always sung about it. Obviously, with our generation, that has to carry on.”
A video which uses Boucher and O’Brien’s song has been posted on YouTube. To view it, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQczYQaMrwc.
Keith Bona, a striking Garson Mine worker, co-wrote another song about the strike with Sudbury resident John Giroux.
The “older rock style” song, called On the Line, “is basically about us singing on the (picket) line, and keeping our spirits up, and standing together and fighting,” he said. “I’ve been writing songs for about eight years now. It’s a hobby on the side.”
Both songs can be downloaded from www.uswlocal6500.ca.
At the beginning of the strike, Local 6500’s website, www.uswlocal6500.ca, was so rudimentary that “15-year-old kids had better MySpace pages than our website,” Jamie West, a Steelworker who pushed for the website’s improvement, said.
“It would just be that whatever came out, we would put at the top. Everything else would be pushed down,” he said.
“We were having the global solidarity rally Sept. 19, where people came from all over the world. Our top story, if you looked at the website, was two-for-one admission at Rainbow Theatres. There was a real push to get that change so that we could get information, and we weren’t relying on what was in the paper.”
But the website, as well as the strikers’ use of the Internet to get their message out in general, has really taken off since the early days of the strike, West said.
Thanks to the work of technologically-talented strikers, it is now home to information about the strike, forums where members can talk, videos, an events calendar, and pictures of those who cross the picket lines.
West, who normally works at the Copper Cliff Smelter, has taken on the role of making sure union members are aware of strike-related events.
Along with old-fashioned phone calls, he said he uses Local 6500’s website, e-mail, as well as a Facebook group dedicated to the strike, Strikeforce 6500, to get out the word about events.
West said the decision to post photos of those crossing the picket lines, or “scabs,” on the website was made so union members have an official place to find out who they are.
The website also features pictures of AFI International employees hired by Vale Inco to provide security on the picket lines, contractors and even some Vale Inco staff workers.
A forum was set up on Local 6500’s website as a place where union members can voice their opinions about the strike without resorting to the comment sections of newspapers, where “anyone can post anything,” West said.
“In order to get onto our forum, you have to be a (union) member, and you have to be verified in real life,” he said.
“There’s a private area where people can vent and talk and stuff. It’s easier because we know they’re members, and we know it’s not just somebody trying to stir the pot.”
A statement on the Steelworkers website, www.uswlocal6500.ca, said that this website, as well as www.fairdealnow.ca, are the “only two forms of electronic communication authorized by Local 6500.”
The same statement warns against posting “scabs’” addresses, phone numbers or threats.
The Strikeforce 6500 Facebook group, while not an official Steelworkers website, has also become an area where members vent their frustrations. The Facebook site has its “pros and cons,” West said. On one hand, the site has been useful as an easy way to let members know about union events. But “sometimes in the heat of the moment, people will say things that are off the cuff. People forget it is a public area.”