Parts of the deal regarding what is considered force majeure and how it frees RTA from its contractual obligations were highlighted in Le Devoir's report.
"The expression 'force majeure' in the first paragraph, means any unpredictable and irresistible event that is beyond the control of a party and delays, interrupts or prevents full or partial implementation by the affected party of its obligations as spelled out by this agreement; without restricting the scope of this definition, any of the following events constitutes a case of 'force majeure': war, embargo, insurrection, invasion, riot, social unrest, epidemics, flood, fire, explosion, lightning, earthquake, freezing rain, storm, sabotage, labour dispute, strike, pickets or lockout (including labour disputes, pickets and lockouts happening to the party that invokes 'force majeure'), and any act, omission, or constraint caused by a Court or public authority."
"The party that is affected by a case of 'force majeure' has its obligations suspended only insofar and as long as it acts with reasonable diligence to eliminate or correct the cause and effect of the case of 'force majeure'. However, the settlement of the labour disputes, strikes, pickets and lockouts is left to the full discretion of the party that is being affected and is facing this difficulty." (Emphasis added.)
The deal stipulates that in a lockout situation, RTA does not have to abide by its obligation to use all the hydro it produces for industrial purposes. The document states that Hydro-Quebec has no other choice in such a case but to buy all the hydro not being used by the monopoly because of the lockout and to do so at the industrial rate of $0.045 kw/hour, even though the production cost for the hydro RTA produces is estimated to be $0.01 kw/hour. The Quebec government has admitted it is buying all of RTA's surplus hydro even when Hydro-Quebec has no need for it. According to the media, this means Rio Tinto has received $10 million from Hydro-Quebec for its hydro just for the month of January 2012 while the workers were locked out.
The responses to the publication of the secret deal from both the Quebec government and RTA executives have gone from denial to disinformation. When asked by the press if it is true his government allowed RTA to shirk its contractual obligations in a lockout situation, Premier Jean Charest replied: "Rio Tinto is a net buyer of energy and when we signed these agreements, it was not with the perspective of [it being in] a strike or a lockout. It was never our expectation."
His Minister of Natural
Resources Clément Gignac skated around the issue better than a
champion figure skater when he answered a question from the Opposition
about the secret deals. He refused to say whether characterizing the
as force majeure is part of the secret deal and said, "It is
not true that
at a political level we are going to interfere with Hydro-Quebec
contracts with businesses depending upon how things go in terms of
labour relations." Gignac did not mention that the deal was not a mere
business contract between Hydro-Quebec and Alcan but an agreement
signed by Hydro-Quebec, Alcan and the
Quebec government spelling out conditions for the
continuation of the operations of Alcan in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. It
a political document based on the arrangements between the Quebec
government and a specific global monopoly, whole sections of which were
secret from the workers and the
The Alma workers have already pointed out that Rio Tinto
was planning this lockout for a long time. To then claim force
majeure described as "any unpredictable and irresistible event
is beyond the control of a party," is totally unacceptable. They are
also upset that a government that is duty-bound to represent the people
of Quebec has shown such a lack of respect for the workers that it
frees a global monopoly from its contractual obligations in a manner
which is totally self-serving and then claims it is neutral or can do
nothing about it. This too is unacceptable. Added to this is the fact
that this government is acting in the same way as concerns all the
secret deals it is signing related to the Northern Plan. This means
that the demand of the Alma workers to overturn the secret deal between
Hydro-Quebec, Rio Tinto Alcan (originally Alcan) and the Quebec
government, is a line in
the sand for all Quebec workers and people determined to defend
As far as RTA's executives are concerned, they admit there is a secret deal, but claim secrecy is a must; otherwise, competitors would make use of the information. They also said that in spite of the fact that what Le Devoir has printed is true, RTA has not invoked force majeure and is not planning to do so. They just take it for granted as something they are entitled to -- that the secret deal gives them full discretionary power to decree a lockout and throw the workers out on the streets until they have achieved whatever aim they set for themselves.
This is one more reason to step up the fight in defence of the rights of the Alma workers and to hold governments to account.
to Secret Deals!
The Truth from the Minister's Own Mouth --
"[Charest,] the people's mandate is going to be very clear."
In response to the Minister's statement, Quebec Director
of the USW Daniel Roy stated, "The Minister is mixing up pears and
bananas! RTA isn't talking about subcontractors making
separate components, but actually having RTA workers and subcontractors
side by side doing the same job while one is paid only
half as much as the other. It's a form of orphan clause in order
to pay new employees less." More specifically, it seems RTA's goal is
to have unionized and non-unionized workers on separate shifts.
Regardless of how illogical the Minister's proposals are, they show one thing: the Charest government is not "neutral" in the Alma workers' conflict with RTA. The fact it is part of the secret deal with RTA and Hydro-Quebec, a deal which gives RTA the green light to act with impunity, shows it is not neutral.
"The loss of quality jobs stops here."
Let us not forget that it was the Liberal Party which in 2004 amended the Labour Code with Bill 45 to facilitate the use of subcontractors. Then, last week it came to light that the secret deal that accompanied Alcan's acquisition by Rio Tinto in 2007 stated that in case of a lockout it would be released from various obligations and allowed to keep its hydroelectric privileges.
Here's what Jean Charest told the Alma workers in February during his visit to the region to promote the Northern Plan: "As a family man, I want the workers to be at work and well-paid. I want good working conditions, so, let's find what's not working. It disturbs me that the two parties are not at the table right now."
The farce has been exposed and it is no accident that it happened in the course of the promotion of the Northern Plan. By resisting monopoly dictate, the RTA workers in Alma have further exposed the Charest government's pretence to defend the general interests of Quebec society with its secret negotiations with international monopolies. As the Alma workers say, they are taking up the social responsibility to defend their community and Quebec's interests, precisely because the government refuses to do so.
Support the Alma workers! Demand the Charest government
render accounts for its secret deals with international monopolies!
(Translated from original French by TML
Daily; photos: E.R. Pelletier, STAA)
On March 5, a bus-load of 50 Toronto Steelworkers went to Alma to support the locked-out Rio Tinto workers and their fight.
"We must respond to this attack on communities and Rio
attempt to end good jobs for future generations," said Steelworkers
Toronto Area Council President Carolyn Egan. "That's why we're
travelling to Alma, Quebec. So we can stand with our brothers and
sisters and their families and bring them support
on behalf of 13,000 Steelworkers in the Greater Toronto Area."
(USW; photos: E.R. Pelletier)
International support for the Alma workers continues. Nurettin Akçul, General President of the Mine Workers' Union of Turkey (Türkiye Maden-Is), recently sent a letter to Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, to express the support of the Turkish miners' union for the fight in Alma and inform members of the situation there. The Mine Workers' Union of Turkey is the largest trade union organization in the country representing more than twenty-thousand miners. The letter stated in part:
"[...W]e have also taken it as an important task to give input to this important struggle. You may have been already informed that my union does not directly organize Rio Tinto workers, but one of the companies where we are organized has a strong commercial relationship with this giant multinational. This is why my union had already been actively involved in another Rio Tinto campaign in California, USA a few years ago.
"From our perspective, such a campaign should be able to go beyond simple solidarity expressions. With this sense I personally travelled to the plant where products are sent to Rio Tinto. I gathered all our members, and explained to them what happens in Alma in detail. Please be assured that full support and solidarity is there. I send you some pictures from that meeting. I have also conveyed a message to the company management about our sensitivity and decisiveness on this ongoing campaign.
"[...P]lease pass our solidarity and support on to your locked-out members at Rio Tinto in Alma. If we want to be successful in such struggles, the global union movement needs to be united and stand firm. Turkish Mineworkers will continue to be shoulder-to-shoulder with you."
Thinking About Pensions
Pensions are a modern feature of life. They arose as a necessity because of changes in the economic base and the relations among people during the last four hundred years.
The transformation of the economy from petty production to industrial mass production precipitated changes in the objective and subjective conditions beyond the control of any individual. Industrial mass production gradually transformed a mostly rural setting of extended families engaged in subsistence agriculture and other petty production and created a modern urban life of small interconnected families within an extended society consisting of a socialized economy, public education, science, information, public health, mass culture and forms of general welfare.
The many small families of today, some consisting of but mother and child or even single individuals, are joined together in society. Society has become the modern extended family and people are born to that extended family -- society.
The previous subjective outlook reflected the objective
conditions of a mostly rural life within a self-sustaining extended
family that cared for its members as best it could. The watchword was
one for all and all for one within the extended family. The bond of the
extended family was nurtured in culture, religion,
tradition and fixed in class privilege and rank. Family property,
especially productive property such as farmland whether owned or held
as a communal or feudal right, and the right of membership in guilds,
manors, clans and villages was fiercely guarded and passed on to young
family members as the material guarantor
of their individual and collective welfare. The old outlook was founded
on class privilege and rank, and the belief that the world and social
relations were static and ordained by a supreme being and any change
contradicted the natural order.
The Spirit of ’46: the mass strikes of industrial workers across the U.S. and Canada that established the post-war social contract. Left to right: United Autoworkers on strike at General Motors for 113 days; the Bituminous Coal Strike across the U.S.; and the Stelco strike.
The new objective conditions of today demand a modern outlook of members of society that rejects the old one based on class privilege and rank. The objective basis and practices of extended families no longer exist except in the wealthiest families that own social property but soon they too fall apart as inheritance and infighting divides social property, and bankruptcy consolidates ownership of social property in fewer hands.
Most Canadians must sell their capacity to work to gain a living. Inheriting the capacity to work is very different from inheriting a small farm or rank in a protected guild. Successive generations of workers inherit the capacity to work and a claim on the value they produce but not ownership and control of the socialized means of production. Workers depend on a claim on the wealth they produce or service they provide, which in turn is only guaranteed by their capacity to work and whether they can sell that capacity or not. The modern world is fraught with insecurity and crises because the actual producers do not own or control their means of production. When not working for whatever reason, workers must depend as best they can on the wealth generated by other workers and distributed through social programs, but at this time, that dependency lies beyond their control because they do not control the socialized means of production and the general economic and political affairs of the country.
The wealth workers create through work to transform the bounty of Mother Nature into use-value is claimed partly by workers who are the actual producers, partly by governments and partly by the small number of owners of parts of the socialized productive forces.
The means of production and means of providing services cannot be inherited by the offspring of the actual producers for modern workers only possess their capacity to work, which they sell to earn a living. When workers lose their capacity to work through accident, illness or old-age or when owners of capital refuse to buy their capacity to work for whatever reason and workers' capacity to work languishes unsold on the labour market, they must rely on society to guarantee their welfare, for society is the new extended family of the modern world.
The changes in the objective conditions from petty production to industrial mass production necessitate a change in the subjective outlook guiding society. The changed conditions should move humanity towards a broader outlook of personal and social welfare resting in the bosom of society. One for all and all for one no longer resides in the extended family but in the broader family of society. Concern for the well-being of all humanity and society itself is paramount for the well-being of each individual. Harmonizing the relations among individuals and between individuals and their collectives and society itself should guide activity.
The well-being of one and all is found in nurturing and developing the human factor/social consciousness and treasuring the collective public property, the socialized means of production and means of providing services. An outlook that reflects the changed conditions would assert the social and political responsibility to defend the security and rights of every individual and the general interests of society into which all are born. This demands as well that the socialized means of production and means of providing services are passed to the next generation of workers in better condition than when they were handed over to the current generation. The rejection of class privilege and the demand for control and inheritance of social property by the actual producers are paramount to a new outlook in conformity with the changed conditions. Guided by a modern outlook, Canadians can build a society of socialized humanity fit for human beings in which the rights of all are recognized and guaranteed. The right to a Canadian-standard pension equivalent to a standard while working is one of those modern rights.
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