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April 24, 2012 - No. 59

Rio Tinto Alcan's Phony Government Subsidized Lockout

Smash Rio Tinto's Arrogance!
Unlimited Subcontracting, No!
Guaranteed Union Jobs for the Region, Yes!

Militant contingent of 150 Alma workers were a bold presence amongst the quarter million people
at Earth Day in Montreal, April 22, 2012.

Rio Tinto Alcan's Phony Government Subsidized Lockout
Smash Rio Tinto's Arrogance! Unlimited Subcontracting, No! Guaranteed Union Jobs for the Region, Yes!

A Fitting Reply to Rio Tinto's Threats
Énergie électrique Workers Give $25 a Week to Support Alma Workers

Locked-Out Alma Workers Continue to Raise International Support 
Second Phase of International Tour
Protest at Rio Tinto Shareholders' Meeting in London, England
Interview - Marc Maltais, President, Syndicat des travailleurs de l'aluminium d'Alma
Rio Tinto's Conflicts with Workers and Communities in England and France - Pierre Chénier

Rio Tinto Alcan's Phony Government Subsidized Lockout

Smash Rio Tinto's Arrogance!
Unlimited Subcontracting, No!
Guaranteed Union Jobs for the Region, Yes!

Rio Tinto's arrogance knows no bounds. The company is thoroughly exposed in Alma, in Quebec, across Canada and around the world as a self-serving behemoth which gets electricity for free, rapes the land and labour wherever it operates and devastates the communities left in its wake. It does not give a damn about its workers who create all the wealth for Rio Tinto Alcan. But when it comes to crying about "needing" to remain competitive, or threatening countries that it is going to pull up stakes if governments do not give more concessions on power and other demands, it has crocodile tears to spare. At the Shareholders' meeting in London, England on April 19, CEO Tom Albanese refused to permit Alma union president Marc Maltais to speak, or the representatives of the community who had traveled all the way from Utah, USA, or the representatives of the super ill-treated workers who traveled all the way from Papua New Guinea and the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in Mongolia. In his arrogance, Albanese repeated the litany that Rio Tinto has very good labour relations everywhere (except in Alma), which is an outright fabrication. (Way to Go, Alma!)

Now the company is isolated and exposed. It is even faced with 250,000 people in Quebec who agree with the Alma workers that the resources belong to the people and the people should get to decide what happens to them. Under these circumstances, Albanese and Rio Tinto Alcan's CEO Jacynthe Côté are making noises that they are willing to return to the bargaining table soon. A settlement is possible providing the talks are "reasonable," they were quoted in media reports.

Does this mean they are going to be reasonable, the workers want to know? Workers' demands have been reasonable since the get go. In fact, their only demand is that the jobs which create the wealth should be protected union jobs, not open to subcontracting. The company's position is to guarantee current jobs, but not those lost through attrition. All those jobs, which means all future jobs, it wants to subcontract, which means at first two-tier wages, two-tier working conditions, and then nothing but low wages and unprotected working conditions. In other words, Rio Tinto Alcan wants unfettered monopoly right, unfettered so-called management rights and this is not reasonable at all. To even apply the word reasonable to this demand is irrational.

"Charest, you and your
corrupt gang get out!"

Of course, the company sees nothing but dollar signs in front of its eyes, not people with hearts and minds and the tremendous talent it takes to produce, innovate and move forward by opening a path for society to move forward. To the way of thinking of the working people, proposals to go back to feudal times when workers were serfs and indentured labour, and had to pay tithes to the church as well as to the government, and local authorities dictated what they were and were not allowed to do, calling them sinners if they dared to express a thought of their own -- those days are gone. We don't know what world Tom Albanese and Jacynthe Côté think they live in, or Jean Charest and Stephen Harper, but it is not a desirable world; it is not a sustainable world; it is not the world which represents the interests of the people of Quebec or Canada or anywhere else. The workers and their families not only in Alma, Quebec, not only in all of Quebec and all of Canada, but all over the world, are very clear about this!

The last time the Alma union and Rio Tinto Alcan spoke was on April 6 and the company negotiators walked out after just a little more than one hour. Even though there was an agreement not to speak to the media during negotiations, they started spouting accusations against the union. Like crazy people who do not know the meaning of words, they accused the union of using blackmail and committing aggression against the monopoly with its demands to restrict subcontracting and guarantee minimum levels of employment. At that time RTA's head negotiator said no bargaining would take place for the foreseeable future.

This show of frustration and expression of arrogance and craziness did not win the company any favour. Despite this, the Rio Tinto executives now say they want to have talks with the Alma union once again. They have not learned that it is they who are in the wrong, not the union. Very well. But will they stop repeating all the lies and disinformation they have been throwing at the workers to deny RTA's responsibility to negotiate in good faith? We hope so.

The Rio Tinto executives have a great self-image which may sound fine in the boardrooms where they vie for position with others of like kind, but it does not look very good "on the ground." They huff and puff that they are "wise" and "reasonable" and "know what is happening in the world" and "only have the best interests of the workers in mind." They portray the workers as country bumpkins who know nothing of what is happening in the world or what's good for them! They claim the company is reasonable because it came to these negotiations with no new demands and would gladly live with basically the same contract and that it is just the workers' intransigence on the issue of subcontracting that blocks a settlement.

The truth of the matter is that some things that were not an issue in the prior period have now become a big issue and the workers need to defend their interests. Rio Tinto Alcan does not need to make new demands in the contract for subcontracting because every day the company acts with impunity and dictates the working conditions on the shop floor. Maintenance jobs in anode production, electrolysis and metal casting, jobs at the potlines maintenance centre and in the office are routinely being transformed from union jobs with protections won over decades of struggles, to precarious contracted-out non-union jobs with radically inferior conditions. It has been very difficult for the union to restrict this regressive transformation of jobs at the plant because of the understanding which informs the labour code, and thus all labour contracts, that anything that is not tied down with contract language is a "management right."

It is therefore reasonable for the union to use the occasion of the renewal of the contract to introduce contract language which restricts RTA's ability to change working conditions with impunity and restrict its so-called management rights. It is not only reasonable but imperative that the union do so. At this time, the company is on a declared mission to lower wages and deprive the workers of union protection under the capital-centred hoax that workers are "costs" of production. It says these "costs" must be eliminated in order to improve the company's rate of return. In other words the company's raison d'etre is to benefit its private shareholders, not the common good, which is fine but that is not the raison d'etre of the workers. Their private interests are not in contradiction with the common good but in fact make the common good possible. Besides this, by negotiations it is understood that a mutually beneficial arrangement must be the aim. The workers want to work, but not as slaves! If the company thinks it can produce wealth for the private interests it represents with slave labour, then it is living in Lalaland.

The company knows very well that its logic is not "reasonable" but in fact irrational. Workers produce the wealth; they are not "costs of production." The fact that we all depend on society to meet our needs, means that it also stands to reason that we should all be socially responsible towards that society, towards how it is organized and how we use our resources and spend the common wealth we all create. Just as the members of society are not liabilities to that society but its very raison d'etre, so too workers are not liabilities for companies but their greatest assets. Take the example of a family. Does a family not consider its children to be its greatest assets? Of course it does. Imagine looking at them as burdens and declaring that the family will thrive if it gets rid of the family members! Would one even consider it "reasonable" to have such a discussion? Of course not. Why then does Rio Tinto Alcan fancy that it can spout nonsense about being "reasonable" when it refuses to provide its workers with secure conditions of work and life?

The issue in these negotiations is the same as it is today all across the country and the world. The company must stop its arrogant repetition of idiocy and settle down to negotiate in good faith. The workers' demands in these negotiations reflect their direct experience with Rio Tinto's attempts to act with impunity. It is not reasonable for a company to think it can act with impunity. It must negotiate the conditions under which it is reasonable for the workers to work.

Because the company cannot justify its position on reasonable grounds, it resorts to name calling. It calls the workers' opposition to unfettered management rights on the issue of subcontracting "unrealistic," "job killer," "rigid," something that does not exist and cannot exist anywhere. The company will not even permit a rational discussion on the workers' proposal for a flexible arrangement that establishes a ratio between the number of workers in the bargaining unit and the production output in terms of tonnage of aluminum produced in a year. The company distorts the content of the demand claiming, for example, that the workers want the company to guarantee 900 jobs even though there are only 778 union members. The union's real demand is to recover for its members the jobs lost to subcontracting and provide them with the same working conditions the other workers have.

Rio Tinto Alcan's claim that granting a minimum level of employment is impossible under neoliberal globalization is an admission that the capital-centred anti-human system it espouses does not work and that another system is necessary. Refusal to recognize the human factor/social consciousness is not an option. But the company's aim is to divert attention from its Achilles Heel, the fact that it makes its superprofits because of the hydro privileges and now it wants to make even more by converting the workers into enslaved labour.

The fact is that the workers have hit the nail on the head with their banner which points out that this phony lockout is subsidized by the government. Their argument that in return for hydro privileges, RTA must at the very least provide minimum employment levels with decent conditions, merits attention. This is what the people of the entire region asked the Charest government to do when it allowed Rio Tinto to seize control of Alcan in 2007. But this government refused to do that. Instead it signed a secret deal with Rio Tinto and Hydro Quebec that hands over the people's hydroelectricity to the monopoly, even allowing it to organize a phony lockout so as to declare a phony force majeure and make money from the sale of hydro while aluminum prices are pushed up.

Rio Tinto, the Charest government and the monopoly-controlled media present the workers' demands as unrealistic. They claim that as a result of neoliberal globalization, the people's demand for sovereignty over their resources, way of life, culture and traditions, is finished.  Today the law of the jungle must prevail and that is the end of the story, they say. The workers "have no choice" but to buckle under.

But 250,000 Quebeckers this weekend said No! Our Resources, Our Decision! The demand for minimum levels of employment is not only an economic demand to protect livelihoods and working conditions. It is not only a very just economic demand in itself; it is also a political demand directed at global monopolies and governments. The monopolies which operate in Quebec must abide by strict conditions whereby private monopoly interest must be subordinate to the public interest. This is the case for everyone else's private interests -- why not those of the monopolies? The Charest government will not answer this question. It arrogantly says there is nothing it can do. When it comes to the youth, it simply sanctions police violence and calls people names.

The monopolies cannot be allowed to use the people's resources unless they meet their social responsibilities enforced by governments. Rio Tinto Alcan workers are firm in their resolve not to let the company and the Charest government get away with their anti-social agenda.

RTA should restart the negotiations and it should negotiate the Alma union's proposal in good faith. The demand for the government of Quebec to stop subsidizing this phony lockout is more urgent than ever. It is quite possible the illegitimate secret deal is illegal. It is certainly an act of great irresponsibility for the government to declare that when the secret deal was negotiated it did not consider the possibility of a lockout. Well, the company did which is why it is written there. It is quite possible it can be proven in court that the company planned the lockout for self-serving reasons and that it can be found to be in contempt of the spirit of the labour code for that reason. This could provide just cause for the government to declare the secret deal null and void. But, where there is no will, there is no way. The government should answer for this.

Whatever legal recourse the workers might have, one thing is for sure. The lockout is phony. The lockout is subsidized by the government. It is a phony government subsidized lockout. The government is in contempt of its social and legal responsibility to the people of Quebec to make sure the resources of the people are used to benefit the people. It is corrupt. It is not worthy of the people's trust. It must cancel the secret deal. It must stop subsidizing this phony lockout and Rio Tinto Alcan must be brought to its senses.

End the Phony Government Subsidized lockout!
Rio Tinto Alcan Must Negotiate in Good Faith!

"Alma lockout financed by the state -- no losses for Rio Tinto Alcan"; "Liberal Scandal:
Lockout subsidized by stealing $175 million a year
from Quebeckers !"

(Photos: S. Deschenes, STAA)

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A Fitting Reply to Rio Tinto's Threats

Énergie électrique Workers Give $25 a Week
to Support Alma Workers

Pierre Simard, President of the Syndicat des employés d'Énergie électrique, in Alma, April 13, 2012.

On April 13, the President of the Syndicat des employés d'Énergie électrique, Pierre Simard, paid a visit to the Alma workers and made the important announcement that each one of the union local's 300 workers will give $25 a week until the end of the lockout to support the struggle in Alma. This amounts to about $30,000 a month. Simard also brought with him a $50,000 cheque. In his brief presentation Simard said the lockout is "creating a historic bond of solidarity between the two unions." Alma union president Marc Maltais and the workers present warmly thanked Simard and applauded this move by the workers of Rio Tinto Alcan's electric division who have been staunch supporters and active participants in the Alma struggle since the beginning. This support is not only a sizable financial contribution but a demonstration of courage in the face of the threats by Rio Tinto against these workers in particular and all those who denounce Rio Tinto's lockout. The Énergie électrique union and its President received a formal notice from Rio Tinto in mid-March demanding they desist from supposedly harming Rio Tinto's interests during the lockout by supporting the Alma workers. Simard told the local media that he and his union reject the company's attempt to interfere in the affairs of their union.

More and more people in the region are denouncing Rio Tinto for criminalizing and threatening workers as a means and excuse to refuse to negotiate in good faith for a contract acceptable to the workers.

(Photos: E.R. Pelletier, P. Vaillancourt)

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Locked-Out Alma Workers Continue to Raise International Support

Second Phase of International Tour

Protest at Rio Tinto's Annual General Meeting, London, England, April 19, 2012. At left, Marc Maltais and Guy Farrell,
representing the locked-out Alma workers. (IMF)

On April 15, the locked-out Rio Tinto Alcan Alma workers began the second part of their international tour to mobilize global support for their struggle. Once again, the delegation representing the Alma workers is composed of Marc Maltais, the President of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l'aluminium d'Alma and Guy Farrell, the Assistant to the Quebec Director of the United Steelworkers. This 10-day tour of Europe has visited England and France. The workers and economies of both these countries have been affected by aluminum plant closures. At the end of March, Rio Tinto Alcan closed the Alcan Lynemouth Aluminium Smelter in Northumberland on the northeastern coast of England, using the pretext of rising costs due to environmental regulations. More than 500 workers were thrown onto the streets and many more jobs connected to the smelter will be lost. Rio Tinto Alcan was by far the biggest employer in Northumberland. In France, Rio Tinto Alcan is threatening to close its smelter in the small town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in southeastern France that employs 600 workers and is the centre of the region's metallurgical industry. The deal Rio Tinto has with Électricité de France for hydro-electricity expires in 2014 and it is using the occasion of the renewal of this deal to threaten to close the plant if it does not get what it wants.

Among other things, the delegation intervened in the Rio Tinto shareholders' meeting in London April 19, taking part in launching the United Steelworkers' campaign calling on the International Olympic Committee to drop Rio Tinto as a supplier of gold, silver and bronze for the medals for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Earlier this year, an international tour took representatives of the Alma workers to the United States, Australia and New Zealand, successfully mobilizing support that included financial support and participation of international delegations at the mass demonstration in Alma on March 31.

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Protest at Rio Tinto Shareholders' Meeting
in London, England

London, April 19, 2012.

On April 19, workers and community members from various countries demonstrated outside the Rio Tinto shareholders' meeting in London against Rio Tinto's track record of attacks against the workers and communities. The delegation representing the locked-out Alma workers participated alongside workers from the British union Unite, the International Transport Federation and others. The demonstrators also demanded that the International Olympic Committee drop Rio Tinto as its supplier of medals and an official sponsor of the London Olympic games.

The demonstrators asked that Rio Tinto lift its lockout against the Alma workers and sign a contract that is acceptable to them and the community. Demostrators from Mongolia highlighted their concern about the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mining project, a joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines, Rio Tinto and the Government of Mongolia. The mine is in a desert region and a key concern is that it is going to use huge quantities of water and affect the water supply of local communities and nomadic herders. People also protested Rio Tinto's refusal to answer the concerns of the communities over toxic emissions coming from its mining operations. Utah Mothers for Clean Air denounced Rio Tinto's environmental degradation in the Salt Lake City area from its Kennecott Bingham Canyon copper mine. Also denounced were the attacks on workers and the environment by Rio Tinto in West Papua and Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The residents of Bougainville blame Rio Tinto for its participation in the violent attacks of the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea against the uprising of the people of Bougainville Island in the 1980s, where Rio Tinto operated one of the world's biggest open pit copper mines. Bougainville residents, who were part of the London action, have been pursuing a class action lawsuit in the U.S. against Rio Tinto since 2000 for environmental degradation and war crimes.

A number of workers and community members intervened inside the meeting including Guy Farrell, the Assistant to the Quebec Director of the United Steelworkers, who denounced the lockout in Alma and asked that it immediately be lifted. Rio Tinto's CEO Tom Albanese arrogantly brushed off the concerns of the workers and of those who had travelled from the U.S. and Mongolia to denounce the attacks on the environment. He repeated the lies and slanders according to which the just demands of the Alma workers about working conditions and in defence of the union are unreasonable and would cause a dangerous precedent in Rio Tinto's facilities across the world if they were to be satisfied. He also disgraced himself by repeating the slander that the lockout was justified because the Alma workers were sabotaging production. He said that Rio Tinto's track record on the environment is great and cut off any discussion on this matter. He refused to let Marc Maltais speak and was denounced by the workers present for his arrogance and cowardice. 

The delegation representing the Alma workers left England for France following the action with the first stop in Dunkerque where Rio Tinto owns an aluminum smelter.

(Photos: IMF)

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TML: One of the highlights of your tour in England was your participation in the Rio Tinto shareholders' meeting in London on April 19. The media reported that Rio Tinto's CEO was very arrogant towards you and other people protesting the monopoly's attacks against workers and communities. Can you tell us more?

Marc Maltais: For us the shareholders' meeting was an opportunity to try to influence the shareholders. But Tom Albanese and the other Rio Tinto executives were very arrogant when they answered questions and actually refused to answer many from the people in the room. Tom Albanese simply laughed in my face every time I raised my card insisting to ask my question and there was no way they would allow me to speak. Overall their attitude was that they felt cornered and refused to give answers; it was total intransigence. And it was not only myself. Albanese did not answer the questions from the Utah mothers and the person who travelled all the way from Mongolia on their concerns about Rio Tinto's track record on the environment. Rio Tinto is all alone and refuses to address concerns from anybody in this world.

It applies the same method everywhere. The tribal chief from Papua New Guinea who came to London to protest Rio Tinto's attacks on his people even decided not to attend the meeting and went instead to talk to students in an elementary school because at least they listen. In my case I was not even allowed to raise my question. Albanese knows me; we have met before. As soon as Guy Farrell and I arrived in the hall, we were greeted by two head security staff -- one from Quebec and one from Switzerland. They knew my name and Guy's name. I crossed the Atlantic to come to the meeting and Albanese sneered at me. He showed no respect for myself and our membership. He does not respect the hard work and professionalism of the Alma workers. They allowed Guy to speak; I think they didn't recognize him. Farrell asked how could Rio Tinto justify locking out the workers at its most profitable aluminum smelter. Albanese spoke against our demand for guaranteed minimum levels of employment and he went so far as to repeat the false accusations that Alma workers were sabotaging the plant. He made no sense at all. Then Farrell asked if Rio Tinto was interested in negotiating in good faith with the Alma workers and when were they coming back to the bargaining table and Albanese answered that there might be negotiations soon. There was a good demonstration outside the meeting with workers from Unite, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and people from communities in many countries where Rio Tinto operates.

Meeting with Aluminum Workers in Dunkerque, France

TML: You met with the Rio Tinto workers of the aluminum smelter in Dunkerque, France. How did it go?

MM: We were very well received and the meeting was very interesting. In France, there can be many different unions organizing the same workers in a plant. There are four unions in this plant. They told us it was the first time they had ever sat together at the same table. Rio Tinto is creating links amongst workers with its aggressive stand. We could also see how Rio Tinto lies to workers everywhere and tries to divide us. In Alma they oppose our demands by telling us they have better deals with unionized workers around the world. In Dunkerque they tell workers, "look how great things are in Alma!"

In Dunkerque, Rio Tinto is also using subcontracting to degrade working conditions. There they are called interim workers. They were supposed to be hired just for specific projects but Rio Tinto is using them to replace permanent workers and violate the collective agreements and of course their working conditions are very inferior. That reminded me of what the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) workers told us in Australia, that whether we are talking about coal mines, aluminum smelters or steel plants, the methods are the same. Rio Tinto is anti-union and is trying to smash them.

It is the job of trade unions everywhere to not only preserve good working conditions but to constantly improve them. That is the nature of the trade unions. I have no problem asking for guaranteed minimum levels of employment considering the profits Rio Tinto is making and the hydroelectric advantages it has in Quebec. It is because our forefathers fought that we were able to improve the conditions of the people in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean. It was not given to us.

Before it was like the Middle Ages there.

When RTA tells me to look at what is happening elsewhere, how much better off you are here, and you should not make these demands, I answer that I negotiate in Alma, not elsewhere. Deal with us here. The other unions are doing the best they can in their conditions to improve their situation and we help each other, but we don't play Rio Tinto's game and get pitted against each other.

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Rio Tinto's Conflicts with Workers and Communities in England and France

As the delegation representing the Rio Tinto Alcan Alma workers tours England and France, it is appropriate to review some of the global monopoly's most recent attacks against workers and communities in these countries. Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) carries out anti-worker practices and abuses natural resources wherever it goes. Two prominent examples of its attacks at this time are the closure of the aluminum smelter in Lynemouth, England and its threat to close the one at St-Jean-de-Maurienne, France.

Closure at Lynemouth, England

Until 2009, RTA operated three aluminum smelters in the United Kingdom: the one at Anglesey in North Wales, jointly owned by RTA and Kaiser Aluminum; the one in Lynemouth in northeastern England and the Lochaber smelter in Fort William, Scotland. While the Anglesey facility was closed in 2009 over termination of an electric power contract when RTA rejected new conditions, the Lochaber facility is still in operation.

On March 29, Rio Tinto Alcan stopped production for good at the Lynemouth facility. Of the 515 workers who were working there, 323 will be laid off permanently in May. Over 100 are expected to stay until year's end in the carbon and casting plants and about 60 workers are expected to remain at work decommissioning and decontaminating the facility. Besides the 515 direct job losses, the unions and local politicians estimate over 3,500 workers in the smelter's supply chain are going to lose their jobs. RTA also owns a coal and biomass-fired power plant in Lynemouth that produced electricity for the smelter while excess power is sold to the national grid. The power station employs 111 workers and at the moment Rio Tinto says it is trying to sell it; otherwise, it may close as well. The smelter is by far the biggest private employer in southern Northumberland county where Lynemouth is located and is the last major manufacturing plant in the area. The blow to the workers and community is particularly severe considering that according to the GMB -- Britain's General Union -- as of the end of 2011 over 146,000 people were unemployed in northeastern England, a rate of 11.6 per cent, the highest in the UK. The area has long been affected by high unemployment and under the hoax of reducing it the government at the beginning of the 1970s gave large amounts of public money to Alcan to build the smelter and the coal-fired power plant.

RTA announced the smelter's closure at the end of November 2011, totally indifferent to the fact it provided livelihoods directly or indirectly to thousands of people in an area suffering high unemployment and is a centre of integrated economic activity with a chain of suppliers, a deep sea port, railway, power station and all kinds of services and is one of the last producers of primary aluminum in the UK.

RTA blames rising energy costs because of environmental legislation and an insufficient rate of return on investments to try to justify the closure. Besides, RTA's CEO Jacynthe Côté went so far as to suggest that, with some sadness, the workers agreed with the closure after what she called a "fair and transparent consultation process."

She said: "I am saddened by the closure of Lynemouth Smelter but we have reached this decision only after a thorough strategic review of the plant and a fair and transparent consultation process. I have met with Lynemouth unions and staff members and I have great respect for the manner in which they have represented their colleagues during consultation."

The so-called strategic review exposes the monopoly's self-serving considerations. According to RTA, the first consideration was rising energy costs related to environmental regulations. The mainly coal-driven power plant is known for the pollution it causes the community. New carbon taxes are expected to be put in place by the European Union and Britain by 2013. RTA says the measures it will have to take to reduce emissions will reduce profits and therefore claims it is justified to shut down production and leave the area stranded. For a number of years it has asked for public money to be spent to reduce its emissions, another example of this monopoly refusing to take responsibility for its activities.

However, many people in the area point out environmental legislation is not the whole story to explain why RTA is closing Lynemouth. They base themselves on actual statements made by Rio Tinto executives that highlight Rio Tinto's new policy of demanding a 40 per cent rate of return for investments in its aluminum facilities. One of these executives, John McCabe, of RTA Corporate Affairs, was quoted in the press regarding the closure: "Rio Tinto is streamlining its global aluminium business in order to focus on its top assets globally, unfortunately Lynemouth isn't considered to be one of them as it does not return a 40 per cent rate of return for the business."

As far as the 90-day so-called consultation with the unions and stakeholders is concerned, it was never about whether or not the smelter would close and instead was on workforce re-training and similar measures. Jacynthe Côté's statement suggesting the workers accept the closure and believe in her fair and transparent process flies in the face of reality.

Here, for example, is what the GMB union stated in a communiqué at the end of November 2011:

"GMB, the largest private sector union in the North East of England, reacted with fury at the decision by RTA to close its aluminium smelter in Lynemouth, Northumberland. The Company intends to close the Lynemouth Smelter with the loss of 515 workers and its nearby Power Station with a further 111 workers to go...This decision by Rio Tinto is a disgrace. Rio Tinto bought this firm for several billions just a couple of years ago. It appears that they are dressing up a strategic review and the decision to close, to disguise the money they paid out at the very time when the world recession was starting to bite. We want to know if public money was used to get Rio Tinto to buy in the first place and if so what is going to happen about that. GMB members want to know why they are making this decision yet saying for instance that the Power Station could be sold as a going concern. Why don't they find other ways of keeping the plants open instead of making an announcement and then saying they are going to have a 90 day consultation. At the very time when 146,000 people are unemployed in the North East, a rate of 11.6%, the highest in the UK, this is a callous move by Rio Tinto. At a time when youth unemployment is the worst since 1992, this is a huge blow to manufacturing and to the local economy. The announcement reinforces the need for the government to intervene to protect local communities. Pious words about re-training and seeing what skill matching is available fools no-one. It is brutal out there and people need to wake up and realize what a critical state the economy is in now and act now."

Threats of Closure of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne Smelter in France

RTA is threatening to close its aluminum smelter in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, a small town of about 8,500 in Savoie province in southeastern France. The town is part of the Maurienne Valley, which workers call "the aluminum valley" since it was one of the first places to produce aluminum using electrolysis technology and had many smelters, now closed, in addition to the one in St-Jean. Today, this aluminum smelter is one of only two remaining in France, the other in Dunkerque, is also owned by RTA. The St-Jean-de-Maurienne smelter employs about 600 workers and it is estimated the facility's closure would cause the loss of about 2,000 indirect jobs. Tourism is the second major economic sector in the valley.

RTA is threatening to close the plant because it says it is not satisfied with the conditions of the new electrical supply contract being proposed by Électricité de France (EDF) to replace the current one that expires in 2014. The existing contract was signed in 1984 by EDF and Pechiney which owned the smelter at the time (Alcan bought Pechiney in 2004 and was subsequently bought by Rio Tinto in 2007). The people of the area say Pechiney's contract at that time was an historically low price. It expires in 2014 and RTA has declared the new price is too high and might push it to close the facility upon which thousands of families in the valley depend for their livelihood. RTA pushed its arrogance so far as to say the new price being proposed is competitive in terms of what it can get elsewhere in Europe, but not in the world. It gives itself the right to decide whatever it wants no matter what the costs for the people. Of course these negotiations are held in total secret and therefore violate the right of workers and their communities to decide their future and that of the industry.

Protest in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne at the time of Aluminium Pechiney's purchase by Rio Tinto Alcan demands the new owner increase investments in the plant and step up production to meet France's aluminum needs.
(Le Dauphiné Liberé)

The unions involved and many local politicians say the electricity contract issue is being used by RTA as a pretext to close and they suspect the monopoly of wanting to do so in order to jack up aluminum prices. The former President of Pechiney told local media these were Alcan's tactics when it bought out Pechiney -- to shut down aluminum smelters in Europe so as to jack up prices. Workers point out RTA has barely invested any money to modernize or even maintain the place for years and that it actually restructured the workforce in 2009 through "voluntary departures" that deprived the plant of many workers involved in maintenance.

These cases in England and France underscore the necessity to step up the fight against the anti-worker and anti-social attacks of Rio Tinto.

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