The international action in Alma to support the locked out Rio Tinto workers featured speeches by representatives of various national and international labour organizations, as well as local politicians. The events began with an opening rally, emceed by Guy Farrell, Assistant to the Director of USW District 5, followed by introductory remarks by Marc Maltais, President of Syndicat des travailleurs de l'aluminium d'Alma, Local 9490 USW. In his opening remarks, Maltais stated in part, "Thank you very much for being here in such large numbers, for answering our call for solidarity. It is an honour for us, for the people of Alma to receive you in our beautiful city in the beautiful Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region." The opening rally was followed by a march through the streets of Alma, ending at the Festivalma amphitheatre, where events finished with a closing rally. Posted below are excerpts from the speeches made throughout the day.
Jyrki Rayna, General Secretary, International Metalworkers' Federation: It is a great honour and pleasure for me to greet you and bring you a message of solidarity from metalworkers from all over the globe. Greetings on behalf of our new global union that is going to be created in June and will represent 50 million industrial workers in 140 countries. We are here to express our full support for your just struggle and for the Métallos demands because they are fair, reasonable and just. Rio Tinto is a cynical multinational whose philosophy is to maximize profits and dividends and reduce labour costs. Rio Tinto must keep in mind that its profits come from the work of the workers and from the communities in which it operates. Last year this company made a net profit of $6 billion. They have no justification in these circumstances for replacing good permanent jobs with subcontracted ones where workers are paid 50 per cent less, have less benefits and where the community is losing. We need good permanent jobs. We admire your great mobilization and your courage. We are here now to transform your local struggle into a global struggle. Together we are strong, together we are going to launch this world campaign to force Rio Tinto to respect its workers across the globe. You are not alone! We are with you! We the workers of the world are going to fight side by side with you until you win, until you get a fair collective agreement.
Manfred Warda, General-Secretary, International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM): On behalf of the 20 million workers who are affiliated with ICEM, I came here to tell you that we are supporting your struggle. ICEM is saying No to this attack by Rio Tinto against the standard of living of the Canadian workers. Shame on Rio Tinto that made $15 billion in [gross] profits in 2011 but is trying to reduce your benefits, which means less job security, less trade union protection, less income and less benefits. Shame on Rio Tinto's CEO Tom Albanese who pocketed [...] millions of dollars but does not give a damn about your families, your communities and your history. Shame on the Harper government that spent the last year relinquishing control over natural resources and allowed multinationals to [...] attack the industries. We are ready to give the Métallos all possible support during this dispute. Many of our workers have been involved in conflicts with this company. If Rio Tinto is able to get what it wants from you then this means less hope of success when others come under attack. Your fight is part of the global fight against Rio Tinto. We need the global solidarity of all the unions in the world. We are impressed by your determination and you can be sure that we are going to be together in this common action against Rio Tinto. Everywhere in the world we are going to shame this company until it agrees to stop its attacks against workers, their communities and their unions.
Alexandre Cloutier, MNA,
Lac-St-Jean, Parti Québécois: I am here with a
group of MNAs of the region. We are
here to express our solidarity of course with the workers but also with
the community because you came here in large numbers today answering
the call of
the workers. We are proud of you, we are proud
of you Marc, we are proud of the
debate and the issues that you have raised and defended. We are proud
to see you standing up and being proud of what you are doing. We have
been making aluminum in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean since 1925; our region is
the main aluminum producer in North America. Your grandparents and
your parents made aluminum;
today you are the ones making aluminum and our hope is that our
children and grandchildren are also going to make aluminum and enjoy
good working conditions and good wages. If we accept that Rio Tinto
controls the level of water of Lac-St-Jean as is the case now, if we
accept that Rio Tinto produces hydro
with our most beautiful rivers and if we keep accepting that Rio Tinto
owns over 30 km of the Saguenay, it is because in the past there were
quality jobs in return. The problem today is that there was a time when
had 12,000 jobs [at Alcan] but then that went down to 10,000, then
and 6,000 and now we are down
to less than 5,000 jobs. We have to put our foot down and say "Enough
is Enough!" The problem today with the multinationals is that they are
only interested in their bottom line, the profits. They do not take
into account the social conditions, the workers, the communities and in
this the government has a key role
to play. In your negotiations, which are going relatively well,
remember all those who are with you today and always keep in mind that
we are there with you.
Claude Patry, MP, Jonquière-Alma, NDP: It is a memorable day today, there are many different union centrals but we are all here for the same aim, for solidarity with the workers in Alma. I admire your President, he made a good international tour, there are some who criticized him but when you fight against a multinational you have to get international support and he understood that. You are acting in a disciplined way, your actions are always proper, you have earned the respect of the people and I support you. The NDP supports you. I am asking the government to sit with Rio Tinto and tell the company that their hydro privileges are illegal because we the workers are like David fighting against Goliath.
This money from hydro that goes to RTA during the
lockout should go to the region, it should be put in the pension funds
of the workers because we are all Alcan workers and we are all going to
retire at some point. Today we don't come here with different trade
union colours. I remember when we tried to get both the federal and
provincial governments of the time to put a strict framework on the
sale of Alcan to Rio Tinto; both governments refused to do it. Now I
hope things are going to change. We have MPs and MNAs here, we are fed
up with the way things are going. We said in the regional referendum in
2005 that we want to recapture our natural resources and we want to
manage how they are being used.
Louis Roy, President, Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN): The multinationals have damaged our health, they have taken our lives and today they would like to take our jobs? Our answer in NO! For 200 years the unions are the organizations that have looked after their members. We are taking care of our people, our co-workers, our families, our regions. We are that solidarity! The big bosses would like us to tear each other apart, to not work together but only for ourselves. Today we are showing them that when they attack us on sensitive issues for the working class, all the unions answer "Present!" All the unions across the globe are going to stand with the Alma workers. Why? It is because these big companies want to break the trade union unity in each factory. They want to divide the unions by giving to subcontractors the jobs we won with great difficulty with our fights, with our strikes over so many years. They want to force us to our knees but they are going to fail. Everywhere in the world, whenever there is a struggle in defence of the basic rights of the unions, we must all give the same answer. Today it is in Alma, tomorrow everywhere in the world. Solidarity!
Ed Abreu, President, CAW Local 2301, Rio Tinto Smelter, Kitimat, BC: Our members to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters here, are giving two hours of pay every month until July. I am here to present the cheque, the first one, for $68,000.
Ken Lewenza, President, Canadian Auto Workers: First I want to recognize on behalf of the labour movement the students in Quebec who are fighting for reasonable, accessible education in Quebec, with the expectations of having a good job, a decent job, that pays good wages, good benefits and good security. And then when you take a look at Rio Tinto's membership today, 780 families are fighting for the next generation to receive good wages, good pensions, good working conditions. Today we fight together, young people in their classes, seniors for pensions and workers for decent jobs and decent wages and decent benefits. My message is to Rio Tinto. Today is a demonstration for good jobs, for good future. Rio Tinto is making billions and billions of dollars in profits and they are saying to the next generation of workers you must work for less -- this is [...] immoral [...]. This is not about the United Steelworkers, this is not about students, it is about what kind of a nation we want in Quebec and what kind of a nation we want in Canada. Today's multinational corporations that exploit workers, we are going to fight back with a collective voice, we are going to fight back for our country and we are going to fight back for good decent jobs in Quebec. On top of the amount from Local 2301, here is $25,000 from the CAW.
Hassan Yussuff, Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress: How is it that corporations that make billions and billions in profits continue to demand that workers go backward and reduce their wages, their benefits and their pensions? This is unjustified and we are not going to let it happen across the country and we will stand with you in solidarity.
Where is our national government, where is our Prime Minister? They don't miss an opportunity to legislate workers when they decide to exercise their right to strike but where is the government to stand up for the workers in Alma? Where is Stephen Harper? Today the river that flows generates the power that Rio Tinto is using to lockout the workers; the time is coming now to take back our power. Right across the country, whether it is the workers in Sudbury or the workers in Hamilton or most recently the workers in London from Caterpillar, workers are fighting the same battles over and over. We will stand together, because the future of this country depends on this struggle. We must win this because the next generation must have hope they can have a better future.
Napoléon Gomez, General Secretary, Mexican Union Los Mineros: For three months you have been facing difficulties, threats and repression by Rio Tinto. I come from a similar conflict in Mexico, for six years we have been fighting for justice and dignity for us and for all the workers of Mexico and of the world. [...] We need international solidarity, we are working together -- solidarity knows no borders. We are facing rabid global capitalism which is trying to wipe out the rights of workers. But ambition and greed are not able to win this war against the workers. We must defend our rights, our wages, our families. If Rio Tinto has a problem with the local union in Alma, it is going to have a problem with all the workers of the world. We are not going to tolerate the aggressions and the terrorism of the companies against the workers.
Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada, United Steelworkers: You are on the front lines of the fight against corporate greed, you stand up for the workers and you are also making a stand for the communities and you are also taking a stand to make sure that we are here for the next generations. You should be complimented for your solidarity, your vision and I can assure you on behalf of the labour movement, the steelworkers, our International Executive Board, our President Leo Gerard, we are going to stand with you every day, we are going to be with you right to the end to bring Rio Tinto back to the bargaining table and negotiate a collective agreement that is decent and fair, that is going to respect Quebec, that is going to respect the natural resources. Solidarity for all of us. I also want to say: When companies come in and buy out natural resources and these great commodities, aluminum or steel or mining, they do not have the right to take that from us. That belongs to us. There should be a net benefit for Canada and why is the Canadian government allowing them to go ahead and why is the government closing their eyes and is not making sure that there is going to be a net benefit for Canada. Where is the net benefit if they are allowed to get away this -- trying to reduce the salaries for the next generation by 50 per cent?
Mick Carr, Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Queensland: You are not alone. The eyes of the world are on Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto has been exposed. Workers are standing with workers all over the globe. We are very impressed by the strength of your resolve. Your recent tour in Australia and New Zealand was very successful. Our union has already raised $25,000 to support your struggle. [...] Rio Tinto has a history of attacking workers everywhere -- Australia, Bolivia, Namibia, USA. It has an abysmal record of human rights violations and it has not stopped up to today. Rio Tinto is using the beautiful natural resources of your country and is giving nothing back to the workers and your community here in Alma.
Liam O'Brien, Vice-President, Australian Workers' Union (AWU), Victoria: Our workers are standing shoulder to shoulder with you today. Everywhere in the world the story with Rio Tinto is the same. It is a story of exploiting workers and depriving communities. It is a story we are all too familiar with. Fifteen years ago Rio Tinto deunionzed and busted the union in Tasmania. Today that workplace is being reorganized. We are doing it because after 15 years workers have lost up to $30,000 a year and that is exactly why Rio Tinto is attacking you. They want what you have got. They want your solidarity, they want your union to be taken away from you. The eyes of the world should remain on Alma until Rio Tinto does the right thing and gives you back your jobs and maintains good decent jobs for all workers in the future.
Ian Murray, Vice-President, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Australia: First of all, congratulations for a marvellous demonstration. We are glad to be here today in person. On the other side of the world, in Australia today, there are actions being organized today in conjunction with your actions. On the other side of the world, the Alma story is being told. We will not give up. For 20 years we have been demanding in different areas that Rio Tinto shows respect to its workforce, acts as a decent corporate community person and does the right thing. It does not matter where in the world, Rio Tinto has been attacking workers since its inception. In many cases, Rio Tinto has been defeated because workers of the world have united. We will continue to fight. You have our honest commitment to that. My union executive met before we left and we are here today with $50,000 to support your campaign.
Véronique Roche, Secretary, Rio Tinto European Works Council: I had to travel 6,000 kilometres to come to get the right information. [Rio Tinto CEO] Tom Albanese told me a month ago that I did not have the right information, that we are not sharing the same information. I was able to see that Rio Tinto has thrown onto the streets 778 workers because they are unionized. It is totally discriminatory. Shame on Rio Tinto. Shame on the non-unionized managers who stole your work. These managers better wake up because today they are overpaid to do your work, tomorrow they'll be gone too. On April 4, I will be back in Paris for a meeting of the Rio Tinto European Works Council this time to deal with the loss of 700 jobs that Rio Tinto does not want anymore. We are going to try to protect these jobs. I am going to tell Tom Albanese that he has won a new bonus and this one he can keep. He has woken up the workers and the unions of the world and the struggle is just beginning, the struggle for jobs, for training, for good working conditions. We have to stop that -- people thrown onto the streets by security goons, in Alma, in France and elsewhere. This movement you have initiated, it is global.
Emmanuel Zakwe, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), South Africa: We are here today to tell you that your struggle is a march on the road to freedom. We want to make the point that all over the world Rio Tinto will feel your presence. [...] So the message to Rio Tinto is that this is a direct attack on the working class in the world. We are saying to Rio Tinto enough is enough. They must take the decision to bring workers back to work and provide them with good conditions.
Willie Adams, International Secretary Treasurer, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU): You represent the true essence of working class heroes. I want to commend you for your courage, your fortitude. This is about principles. Your ancestors are the ones who gave you those principles in life. What is happening here in Alma with the men and women standing up to Rio Tinto -- Rio Tinto has money but we have something more valuable than money. You have a cause. You have got to win the struggle. We were locked out by Rio Tinto in 2010. The struggle took nine months. Be patient. Do what you are doing now. Be focused. You are going to win. We beat Rio Tinto in 2010 and the reason we did was because of international solidarity, the fortitude and the members believed in themselves. Rio Tinto can be defeated.
Paul Reuter, National Officer for Metals, Unite, United Kingdom: I am proud of standing here with students who believe that education is a matter of right not of affordability. What Rio Tinto is doing here is part of a global assault on working people. I am here to say that that global assault will receive a global response. We will take your campaign to the shareholders and onto the streets of London. Let's make sure we win this dispute and the next dispute and the next dispute. We will protect jobs and working conditions in the future together. We will make sure that education is a matter of right and not affordability together. And together in solidarity we will win.
Dave Coles, President, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada: CEP is going to be here as long as it takes. Our message is this, "It will take time, it will take energy, it will take money and we will commit all of that."
President, Quebec Federation of
Labour: This is an historic day. In the history of the labour
movement in Quebec, it is the first time that in a dispute in the
private sector, we have global international solidarity like we have
today. Thanks to all the international delegations and
delegations from the rest of Canada. There is no language barrier
when we are talking solidarity. You are waging this historic battle for
the coming generations, you are waging this historic battle also for
the regional economy which is a very important issue in
Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean. At the same time, the Quebec students are
waging a battle so that everybody has the right
to an education, an education for all. In the 1950s, education was the
preserve of the elite and those entering the clergy. The middle
the poor had no access to education and there is no way we are going to
go back to those days. But when these youth leave school they must have
good jobs, with good wages --
that is what we are fighting for today. We won't accept that in Alma or
anywhere else in Quebec there are second class workers. Your contract,
your working conditions must apply to all workers working there. An
important player in this dispute is the Quebec government. I am calling
upon Premier Charest and Natural
Resources Minister Clement Gignac to do to Rio Tinto what was done to
Resolute Forest Products, to cut off their access to our rivers. How
can it be explained that the Quebec government signed a deal with Rio
Tinto calling a lockout an "act of God"? Because RTA is locking you
out, the people of Quebec are
paying between $10-15 million a month for hydro we don't need. Who is
in charge of Quebec? Who is running Quebec? Is it the governments we
are electing or Rio Tinto? Charest and Gignac must do to Rio Tinto what
they did to Resolute and not give Rio Tinto $10-15 million a month --
Because of this fight, we are talking more and more to one another, in the labour movement in Quebec and elsewhere. That is very important.
Daniel Roy, Director, District 5, Syndicat des Métallos: The workers of Local 9490 USW were illegally locked out one day before the legal date for a lockout. These workers are fighting for quality jobs for the future generations. Let us all applaud these workers, they are not fighting for themselves, they are not fighting for wages, they are fighting for the coming generations who are here [points to children on stage with him]. I am proud of the battle that our members are waging, to make sure that these children, our future, have quality jobs. Rio Tinto with the complicity of the Quebec government, through Hydro-Québec, which is our collective asset, has decided to let Alcan have its own dams in the region. That was for one reason and one reason only: to build quality jobs in the region, to have jobs for the men and women of the region, to have a strong economy. This social pact is now broken, totally smashed. This tool that was supposed to develop jobs is now being used against the workers. This is obscene! According to this deal, Hydro-Québec has to buy the hydro surplus that Rio Tinto is not using at 4.5 cents a kWh when we know that it is costing them one cent per kWh to produce the hydro. This is four times the price. This government has taken us hostage -- all the Quebec people are indirectly contributing to finance a labour dispute that Rio Tinto has decided to organize, and this is possible because the Quebec government has signed that secret deal. We have to speak out everywhere. If this is the way that they want to develop the Northern Plan, then it won't make any sense. [Hydro] is supposed to be a collective tool to develop employment and it is being used against the workers.
This was the first part of our global campaign, we went to the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. If this company does not concede and maintain quality jobs, we have other things in preparation, we are not going to stop. For example, there is an upcoming meeting of the shareholders in London, they are going to hear from us. Also yesterday, I sent letters to Jean Charest, Marcel Aubut the Chair of the Canadian Olympic Committee and to Régis Labeaume the Mayor of Quebec, because we just learned that the medals for the next Olympic games in London are going to be made in Utah at Kennecott Copper. This smelter is unionized with the USW. We have the support of the union local to try to prevent the Olympic athletes from wearing medals that are made by Rio Tinto. When Charest calls an election, there is going to be an orange bus that follows him everywhere he goes.
Some of the executive of the Alma workers' union at the March 31 rally, left to right: President Marc Maltais,
Vice-President Hugues Villeneuve, Finance-Secretary Patrice Harvey, Grievance Officer Alexandre Frechette.
Marc Maltais, President of Syndicat des travailleurs
de l`aluminium d'Alma, Local 9490 USW: You
look great in orange! My first word is to the locked-out workers, men
and women who are fighting bravely against a
multinational that is much stronger in terms of money. Look around, at
your co-workers, your friends, at the unions that came from everywhere,
at the community groups, all these people
are here for one reason, to support us, to show us that we are not
alone. To those who are here today to support us, look around at those
who are bravely fighting today, not for us as we said it, not for wages
or pensions. In spite of the reputation they are trying to give us that
we are just spoiled, we are fighting for
a community, a community that is under attack. Since the 1980s we have
been through closures of factories especially sawmills and pulp and
paper facilities, one after the other. What have we got left here if
not a number of decent jobs that we have to protect? As a matter of
respect for our predecessors, our grandfathers,
our fathers who fought so hard and made huge sacrifices so that we have
the working conditions and the living standard we have today, as a
matter of respect for those past generations, we have no right to
concede anything today. We have a responsibility towards the coming
generations, the students, the generations
of tomorrow. We do not have the right to leave them with less than what
we have today. We do not have the right to leave them with a lesser
future than the one we have. We are fighting to make sure this does not
happen. Today there are no language or cultural differences. There is
one aim, solidarity. Thanks to all who work with this spirit of
sacrifice to make this struggle a success. Financial support is coming
non-stop. I have two pages of contributions but there is no time to
read it now. All of you are an inspiration for all of us, thank you all.
The Quebec government, how can they pretend to be neutral when your community is being attacked by a multinational and foreign interests? How can a government plead neutrality when it allows this to happen, that it allows hydro that is supposed to be used for industrial purposes to be used to finance this lockout? Our message is clear. The Quebec government has the responsibility to protect its population, its citizens and its economy. Rio Tinto is duty-bound to come back to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith a collective agreement with us. The most important message is that we are going to hold on until we win. Let us go back to the regions, circulate the petition demanding that Hydro-Québec stop buying Rio Tinto Alcan's hydro during the lockout and let us fight for a Quebec that belongs to Quebeckers!
(Translations from original French by TML Daily; photos: TML Daily, STAA, G. Boudreau, G. Depalo, C. Desgagné, S. Deschenes, M. Lafrance, S. Larouche, J.-P. Ouellet, E.R. Pelletier)
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