Recasting Steel Labour: The Stelco Story
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography
Gerald J. Stortz is an assistant professor of history at the University
of St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo.
This is not, as one might think, a comprehensive history of the Steel
Company of Canada. The four co-authors have instead chosen to focus on
Stelco’s attempts to deal, at the local level, with the world-wide
restructuring of capitalism. It is not an easy book to read. There is
unevenness to the writing styles, and particularly in the introductory
chapters readers will find themselves bogged down in statistical data
and jargon. Despite these deficiencies, Recasting Steel Labour is an
important work because of its examination of the recent developments in
employer–employee relationships in the steel industry, developments
one suspects have parallels in other sectors of the Canadian economy.
Not all readers will share the obvious pro-labor bias of the authors.
There are, however, likely to be few who will not be shocked by the
callous attitude of the company toward its employees. Stelco has used
its position as a major Hamilton employer, with one of the highest rates
of pay, to manipulate the workforce in a boom/bust manner. According to
the authors, not only has the company had little regard for employee
morale, but it has, at times, purposely created dissatisfaction through
layoff policies, working conditions, and the like, knowing full well
that because of the money even dissatisfied workers would return, even
at the price of giving up a less lucrative but more secure position.
More poignant are the stories of those who faced cyclical layoffs and
were unable to obtain other employment.
Those already cynical about the adversarial Canadian labor relations
system are likely to have their pessimism reinforced, if not heightened,
by this book. Those employed by companies involved in the international
marketplace would be well advised to read it as a textbook case of how
global developments can have very serious effects at the local level.