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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    New Hazelton Mill Fight Intensifies

    The media doesn’t report it, but the controversy around the Carnaby mill is turning into a battle between North Coast communities and the corporate bosses that have taken over the mill.

    The recent repeated arrests earlier this month of protesters blocking the mill gate, located in New Hazelton, to stop the dismantling on the plant has brought together former mill employees and other union members, local first nations and small business and a wide variety of other community residents in what is seen as a war to save their towns from extinction.

    Former employees and many community residents are calling this an atrocity, claiming the mills are still viable—but just not viable enough to satisfy what they see as the greedy agenda of New Skeena management. They are also angry the firm’s bosses are moving to gut the mills after getting millions of dollars in monetary concessions from the workers in order to keep them opened.

    In addition, workers at the mills who have been laid off for over two years are owned over $3.7 million in back pay, which they may not see.

    “If you went into a bank and took $20,000.00 out at gunpoint the RCMP would go after you,” says Mo Azaz, president of Local 404 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers of Canada. “But if you take $3.7 million from people you do not even have to wear a mask, and the RCMP will be forced to help you.”

    Protests and blockades have been growing as have the number of arrests at the mill gates. Protesters are demanding that New Skeena managers negotiate an agreement to sell the operations to the local community, to then be run as a cooperative venture.

    A high point of the protests occurred on August 13, when an 80-year-old Aboriginal woman was arrested after chaining herself to a truck destined to haul equipment from the Carnaby mill. The coalition is maintaining the practice of adding at least one additional protester to the blockades for each one who is arrested by the police.

    New Skeena Manager Dan Veniez says he sympathizes with what the community and former employees are going through, but insists the Carnaby mill not being dismantled, and that no serious offer or plan has been made by anyone in the community to purchase the mill.

    We are not (dismantling). We have been selling equipment that is surplus to the operation,” he said. “Our plan has always been to run that sawmill. In fact, we reversed a September 2001 decision by the previous owner to close it permanently because we believed that with a proper restructuring, it could work. However, the CEP local at the Carnaby sawmill rejected our repeated offers to sign on to a new labour agreement. As a result, we are focusing our efforts on our other operations where new labour agreements are in place, and financing the start-up of those businesses.”

    He admits there had been a tentative discussion about selling the operation to a community consortium made up the mill’s unions, The Gitskan nation, the municipalities and local sub-contractors. But he adds that no further work has been done on developing the idea.

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