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Punk legends D.O.A. playing rally for local workers in 2-year lockout

Locked out Max Aicher workers have been slogging it out on the picket line for over two years – and now they’re getting help from a legendary Canadian punk band.

'These fellas are kind of 1005's forgotten children'

Locked out Max Aicher workers have been slogging it out on the picket line for over two years – and now they're getting help from a legendary Canadian punk band.

Vancouver's D.O.A. – which has long been credited as a founder of the hardcore punk genre in North America – is playing the Max Aicher North America plant picket line Thursday afternoon in hopes of raising awareness of a longtime contract dispute.

In doing so, the band follows in the storied footsteps of folk legends Pete Seeger and Woodie Gutherie, who did the same thing during the historic Stelco strike of 1946.

"It's just unfair. These people have families and lives," said Joe Keithley, the D.O.A.'s vocalist and guitarist. "Every Canadian deserves to have a fair wage and treatment."

Workers at the plant have been locked out since July of 2013. The company made an offer last March that the union rejected, and since then there have been no talks, said Gary Howe, president of Hamilton Local 1005 of the United Steelworkers Union.

"The guys are pretty upset. It's very disappointing," Howe said.

Max Aicher North America is a subsection of a larger German company that purchased idled bar and bloom mills from U.S. Steel back in November 2010 with the promise of new jobs for the city's struggling steel industry.

But the company has endured many problems with production. The plant's unionized workers were locked out after refusing to accept an offer that would cut wages by up to $10 an hour.

Since then, many of those who were on the picket line have had to find other work, and now only 26 people are still collecting strike pay.

Echoes of the 1946 Stelco strike

Max Aicher North America management did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Union member Glen Faulman (who also co-owns This Ain't Hollywood where D.O.A. is also playing Thursday night) told CBC News that he asked the band to play the picket line when he found out the company was bringing in replacement workers.

"That really got me upset," Faulman said. His grandfather was on the picket line in 1946, when steelworkers marched off the job in what's viewed as one of the foremost labour battles in Canadian history.

"The fact that scabs were used in 1946 split families and friends on to either side of the fence. Many of those wounds never healed," Faulman said. "Today, I don't think our community is as tightly knit, and people aren't as sympathetic to unions as back then.

"But I don't think scab labour should be tolerated anywhere, especially at the former Stelco."

Picking up where Pete Seeger left off

The members of D.O.A. are no strangers to playing picket lines, having done so in years past in places like Toronto, Vancouver and South Dakota. The allure of playing where some of their musical heroes had back during the 1946 strike also held a special appeal, Keithly said.

Folk icons Pete Seeger and Woodie Gutherie played for workers during that strike, and D.O.A. welcomes the opportunity to do something similar. "It's an honour to play in the same spot as those giants of music," Keithly said.

Faulman is grateful for the band's assistance too, seeing as the local 1005's membership has dwindled while Hamilton's steel industry becomes a shadow of what it once was.

"Local 1005 is at its weakest and has its hands full dealing with U.S. Steel's bullying," Faulman said, referring to U.S. Steel Canada's ongoing court case. "So these fellas are kind of 1005's forgotten children. We are doing what we can to stop U.S. Steel's chicanery in the courts, but with this rally I hope that the public could see that MANA is just as bad.

"These workers and their families shouldn't have to deal with this."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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