The cheque was delivered as part of a mass rally that included 250 workers including more than 60 from the port facility.
(Translated from the original French by TML Daily; Photos: STAA, Eric R. Pelletier)
Canadian Union of Public Employees'
Support for the California borax miners. Left to right: Protest at Rio Tinto annual general meeting, London, England, April 15, 2010; San Francisco, California, April 20, 2010 (Mark Thomas, Rand Wilson)
In 2010, the borax miners in Boron, a small town of 2,000 people in the high desert of southern California, waged a pitched three-month battle against the lockout imposed by Rio Tinto in order to extort concessions from them. Concessions ranged from the demand to include non-union work in the collective agreement to the gutting of seniority. Workers rejected the concessions and what they called the "junk jobs" Rio Tinto was trying to impose upon them. Workers said at that time that they were able to fend off most of the concessions, largely due to the tremendous support they received from the people of their small town and from workers from elsewhere in the state. During the lockout a worldwide campaign was also organized by the unions to demand that Rio Tinto withdraw its demands for anti-labour concessions.
In Papua New Guinea, South Africa and elsewhere Rio
Tinto is attempting to degrade workers' wages and working conditions
and people are also accusing the global monopoly of environmental
This month the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Lynmouth, Northumberland County in northeast England, is scheduled to close with over 500 jobs lost. This is a blow to the workers and the community as a whole as many firms over the years opened up business in the area, where Rio Tinto is the largest employer, based on continuation of aluminum production in the region. The company cited "high energy costs" due to environmental legislation for the closure.
In 2007 Rio Tinto purchased Alcan and is now the world's largest manufacturer of aluminum. It operates seven smelters in Quebec, employing, according to Rio Tinto's figures, about 4,000 workers. It employs about 1,400 people at its operations in British Columbia and Alberta combined, including 1,150 unionized workers at the Kitimat smelter and Kemano generating station in BC.
In March 2009, Rio Tinto was listed as the fourth-largest publicly listed mining company in the world with corporate headquarters in the UK and Australia, and it has grown since then. Besides Canada, it has mining, smelting and other operations in Africa (Guinea, Namibia, South Africa, Namibia); in South America (Brazil and Chile), in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, France, the UK and the U.S. The bulk of its operations, investments and source of profits are in Canada and Australia.
The contract between Local 2301 of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) at Rio Tinto Alcan in Kitimat, British Columbia expires July 23, 2012. The union local represents 1,150 workers at the Kitimat plant and the associated Kemano power generating station. Since Rio Tinto bought Alcan in 2007 the workers in Kitimat have been faced with many of the same attacks on their rights and their jobs as have the workers in Quebec. The negotiations which are expected to begin in May will be the first between the union and the new owners. In late January a delegation from the local travelled to Alma, Quebec to support the locked out workers at Rio Tinto Alcan's Alma plant and to learn more about the company's actions and plans.
Kitimat workers visit locked out Alma workers.
Their visit served to express their support for the just stand of the Alma workers, as well as to exchange experience as they prepare for their own upcoming negotiations. Rio Tinto has recently announced a major project to modernize the Kitimat smelter. In a press release dated November 30, 2011 the company states, "The Kitimat modernisation project will increase the smelter's current production capacity by more than 48 per cent to approximately 420,000 tonnes per year. First metal is expected to come on stream in the first half of 2014, with an expected ramp up of nine months. The modernised smelter will be powered exclusively by wholly-owned hydropower and use Rio Tinto Alcan's proprietary AP40 smelting technology to reduce the smelter's carbon dioxide emissions intensity by approximately 50 per cent." The company website also points out that not only will the productive capacity of the smelter increase, but fewer workers will be needed. On top of this, the company is already subcontracting more and more work formerly done by unionized workers.
In an interview on Vancouver Co-Op Radio's Discussion hosted by Charles Boylan, two spokespersons for CAW Local 2301 explained some of the concerns which the Kitimat workers share with the Alma workers and all the Rio Tinto workers around the world. Ed Abreu, president of the local, spoke about the recent visit to Alma. "When we heard about the lockout we were really concerned [...] It was important that we went down there, as Marc (Maltais, President, Alma Local 9490 United Steel Workers) said, to show solidarity, to send a message to Rio Tinto that we're all in this together. As well, it was important for us to understand what it was that the company put out in terms of the last offer. We here in Kitimat, the smelter that we're getting built, is going to be no different than what is in Alma, so there's a lot of similarities between the two of us and we just needed to really understand why they locked our brothers and sisters out in Alma. To this day, I don't think we really understand why they locked them out."
Sean O'Driscoll, Business Agent for the local elaborated. "You must understand that it's extremely frightening actually for us to learn that the brothers and sisters in Quebec were dealing with a repressive employer that wanted to replace good paying jobs with lower paying jobs side by side. When we heard that we knew it was high time for us to get out there and support our brothers and sisters in Quebec and also to hear first hand what the real issues were. With regards to the model that's being used out here in Kitimat, it's a corporate model, of course, that now we're starting to see coast to coast. It's called the globalization model.
"Rio Tinto likes to use buzzwords like 'New Business Model' and whatnot. We're seeing the same kind of thing. We're seeing the erosion of good paying union jobs. We're seeing the erosion of services that are being performed by our dues paying members. We're seeing more and more outsourcing of what the corporation will describe as non-core activities. For us up in the Great White North here things like snow clearing which, during the course of the winter, is effectively a full time job, they don't do that any more. They've started to subcontract out that work. There's a lot of other ancillary services that we are now seeing that creeping in, eroding the integrity of our bargaining units and contracting out more and more and more work. [...] This of course is just the thin edge of the wedge, what we're dealing with here. So to hear from brother Maltais and the other steelworkers that that's exactly what's happening in the Alma smelter, obviously is disconcerting for us.
"We are going in to try to bargain a new collective agreement. Our current contract expires July of this year, so who knows what the employer is going to throw at us. Who knows what kind of things they're going to tell us about how great things are going over in Quebec, because we hear that all the time. That's one of the reasons why we went there to listen to what's happening there first hand. Up here in the Kitimat region the majority of the contractors are good union jobs themselves, to a degree. Maybe not the same as what we can enjoy in the smelter, but, as contracts expire and are out for tender, then it becomes a race to the bottom once again and it won't be long, we're fairly certain, before non-unionized contractors will be in town, contracts will be settled with unionized workers for a lot less than we're making now. Harper loves it -- the race to the bottom, so that he can line the pockets of his buddies and basically screw the working people. "
On the CAW Local 2301 website (www.ca2301.ca) in the January 26 Negotiations Committee Update, the committee states, "You've all heard bits and pieces of what RTA has done in Quebec to workers at Alma. Recent discussions between our leadership and the Union at Alma have confirmed that RTA in their negotiations has put their agenda ahead of a positive working relationship with the workers. Only time will tell if our experience in Kitimat will prove to be similar with RTA but rest assured we are not entering into this set of bargaining looking to erode our members rights or any of our hard fought gains over the years."
The Kitimat workers consider their visit to Alma to have been very positive and they expressed support against the pressure of Rio Tinto to contract out work, and eliminate union jobs and, ultimately, the union. They have vowed to ensure they have the unity and strength to resist any similar attempt in Kitimat.
On February 14, the Quebec Employers Council (CPQ) went public against the demands of the Rio Tinto workers for a guaranteed minimum number of unionized workers relative to the output of aluminum. It is following in the footsteps of the Rio Tinto executives, the Quebec Minister responsible for Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean Serge Simard and others to present the demands of the workers as out of sync with the times and even harmful to the future of the jobs in the region.
The CPQ president writes that no business in the world could agree to maintain a set number of jobs because the need to be competitive under neoliberal globalization makes it impossible. He says that no company can agree to a number of jobs that cannot be decreased over a period of time. In order to "prove" his point, he distorts the demands of the Alma workers. The workers are demanding that a ratio of jobs to production output be maintained based on the tonnage of aluminum produced per year. They even say that if during the duration of the contract the output increases, the union will not demand an increase in the number of jobs. Furthermore, the union also says that if the output decreases the union will accept a corresponding decrease in the number of jobs, thus maintaining the ratio.
What the CPQ is saying is that any demand for the workers to put any obligation on Rio Tinto to maintain a level of jobs is foolish and irresponsible. It does not recognize any responsibility of Rio Tinto towards the workers and the people of the region and is silent about the immense hydro privileges that Rio Tinto is enjoying in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean with its own hydro electric facilities and leases on the hydro power of the rivers. It does not try to be straightforward about the workers demands and proposals but resorts to derisive sneers as if they constitute an argument.
The only argument that CPQ is putting forward is that no company in the world agrees to maintain levels of employment and that the only job security that may still exist today is in doing everything to attract investments and give unfettered right to monopolies to make their own decisions. "The true guarantee comes with providing an environment that gives the investors an incentive to keep investing," says the CPQ's president. He adds that job security can only be guaranteed if monopolies have the unfettered right to make their own decisions not being hindered by interference such as unions.
The CPQ cannot bring itself to acknowledge that this is not a guarantee. Countless monopolies are laying off workers and closing despite subsidies of public money and other investments. Meanwhile, the absence of the workers having a say in economic decision making creates disequilibrium that makes regions extremely vulnerable.
The Alma workers' fight is a contribution to create security for the workers and the communities in which the global monopolies operate. The CPQ's stand to defend monopoly right must be opposed.
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