Vale Versus the Steelworkers: When a Transnational Corporation from the Global South Defeats the Largest Union in North America

April 8, 2024 | 11:00AM - 1:00PM
Centre for the Study of the United States, Central & South America, Government & politics, Human rights & justice

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This event will take place in-person at Room 208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON, M5S 3K7
The presentation will summarize the arguments of The Shifting Ground of Globalization: Labor and Mineral Extraction at Vale S.A. (Haymarket, 2024). It describes the transformation of the Brazilian mining company Vale, global leader in iron ore and nickel production and formerly state-owned, into a Transnational Corporation (TNC). It analyzes the effects of this process on the company's workers and unions, in Brazil and abroad, through ethnographic research in two of the countries where Vale has mining operations (Brazil and Canada), in places as different as Carajás, in the heart of the Amazon forest, and Sudbury, in northern Ontario.
The book also describes the company's union and labor relations strategy, which seeks the weakening and isolation of its unions in Brazil, and especially the restructuring of Vale's operations in Canada after the acquisition of Inco in 2006, which led to the longest strike in the North American country's private sector in 30 years (between 2009 and 2010) against the powerful and multinational union United Steelworkers (USW). Former USW international president Leo Gerard engaged personally in the strike against Vale, since he has deep roots in Sudbury and in Inco mines, where he got his first job and his father was a union leader in the past.
It also delves into recent changes in the ownership structure and "corporate governance" of Vale. After years of international expansion of the mining company, financed by state and parastatal funds in the governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff (Workers' Party, 2003-2016), these recent changes led to the increased presence of large transnational investment funds in its shares. In dialogue with the theories of global capitalism, the book takes the case of Vale, the largest Latin American company in market value, as a telling example of the integration of Brazilian economy into capitalist globalization and its consequences for workers, communities, and the environment in the first decades of the twenty-first century - when many celebrated the BRICS and its companies as an alternative to neoliberal globalization.
Thiago Aguiar holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of São Paulo (USP-Brazil), and was visiting researcher at the University of California, Berkeley (2016-2017). He is currently a visiting research fellow at the King's College London, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Campinas (Brazil) and an associate researcher at the Centre for the Study of Citizenship Rights (USP).
Judith Marshall holds a PhD in Education from the University of Toronto with a thesis - and later book -  on workplace literacy based on her 7 years in the Ministry of Education in post-independence Mozambique.  After Mozambique, she worked for more than two decades in the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, developing labour education programmes on global issues for USW members.   These programmes included a week-long course called "Thinking North South" and many north-south worker exchanges in the mining sector.  The exchanges created working links between Canadian mine workers and their counterparts in countries like Chile, Peru and Mozambique. Often they shared a common transnational employer like Teck, Placer Dome or Vale.  Since her retirement in 2014, Dr. Marshall has been a research associate at the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) at York University.  Her most  recent publication is entitled  Vale in Mozambique: Creator and destroyer of jobs, livelihoods and communities, available in a special issue of EXIS (The Extractive Industries and Society).
Organized by the Centre for the Study of the United States and the Undergraduate Society of American Studies.
Centre for the Study of the United States, Central & South America, Government & politics, Human rights & justice
Sophie Bourret-Klein


Thiago Aguiar

Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Campinas (Brazil)

Judith Marshall (Discussant)

Research Associate, Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), York University