It is a victory because our main goal was to protect existing jobs and
those for the coming generations. We obtained a guarantee in terms of
percentage of work the company is allowed to subcontract. It is only
to subcontract 10 per cent of the hours being worked. For example, if a
of 200,000 hours are worked in a year including overtime, the company
be allowed to subcontract 20,000 hours. This means that if RTA wants to
increase the number of jobs it subcontracts, it must hire more regular
unionized workers to maintain this ratio.
We also won the point that the positions that the
agreement says can be
subcontracted, will count toward the total 10 per cent of subcontracted
hours. This limits the company's ability to subcontract more jobs and
a good idea of what the workforce will look like during the life of the
contract. As well, if the company goes over the 10 per cent limit in
of the contract, the agreement states that the allowance for
hours will automatically be reduced correspondingly in the following
That means that if one year RTA subcontracts 12 per cent of the work
the next year it can only subcontract eight per cent.
As you know, we demanded that a minimum level of employment be guaranteed, meaning that we keep the jobs we already have. We were successful in winning this as there will be no layoffs for the life of the contract and if RTA wants to keep subcontracting it has to guarantee a certain number of unionized workers based on the percentage limit.
We were also able to fend off the company's plan to lay off 80 permanent production workers over the life of the collective agreement. It is now in the contract that there shall not be any lay off of production workers for the duration of the collective agreement.
We also won another major gain, the kind not written as a clause in a contract. We said many times that, according to RTA, the union is nothing more than 30 rabble rousers. They had no respect for us. Today, after a six-month long dispute, they know we are able to stand up to them and make gains. They won't be able to ignore us and say we are not representative. Respect is priceless. We won it and we are very proud of that.
TML: The major concession you referred to is on the Potlines Maintenance Centre.
MM: Yes, it is a major concession and a very difficult one as far as the union is concerned. All the jobs at the Maintenance Centre will be subcontracted. That is 56 workers. But we won the provision that none of the workers who currently work there will be laid off. Fifteen will immediately join the hourly workers at the plant and the others will be moved, either within the Alma plant or to the Arvida and Laterriere smelters in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean. As well, every time there are job openings in Alma, these workers will have first choice according to their seniority. This means much higher wages for them, at least $8 an hour more than they were making at the Maintenance Centre. It is a major gain for these workers not only in wages but also in terms of getting permanent jobs because the positions at the Maintenance Centre are quite precarious. We also won the provision that any of these workers who didn't finish high school and never passed the general aptitude test (BGTA) would still be allowed to work on the production shop floor. It was difficult for the union to accept losing a unit, but for those workers it means better working conditions.
With respect to the office workers, we have also made a gain. These workers expected their jobs to be subcontracted as soon as they retired. Subcontracting these jobs is often more costly than keeping them inside the company because many of them are technical positions. We put in the contract that the company will have to prove to the union that subcontracting these jobs will be cheaper and more efficient than keeping them as part of the regular workforce.
TML: One of the union negotiators told the press that this is the first time workers at any Rio Tinto facility have been able to get language limiting subcontracting in a labour contract.
MM: Yes, this is true. No other Rio Tinto facility has this. What we have done is build on what workers before us have achieved. We have made new gains. Now other unions must try to go even further than us. This is what we wanted to do -- open new doors, go forward -- so that other workers try to obtain, with the assistance of all workers, at least what we have, and then we in turn will try to gain what they are able to win. We have done our share. This gain is very important for all Rio Tinto workers.
We have done something else previously unheard of, either at Alcan or at Rio Tinto Alcan. We put the issue of discipline in the contract. Before this, Alcan and then RTA could do basically whatever they wanted to discipline workers as part of their administrative policy. We established a process that is part of the collective agreement. They have to inform the union ahead of time and follow rules that are spelled out in the contact.
We have proven that yes, workers' solidarity works. Life shows you can be attacked by a mining giant that is assisted by the government, but with the assistance of all of the workers, you can nonetheless stand up to them and make gains.
TML: In one of your statements to the press after the tentative agreement was endorsed, you said the union will carry on opposing the secret deal between the Charest government, Hydro-Québec and RTA, especially the provision that says that during a lockout Hydro-Québec must buy all of RTA's unused hydro.
MM: Unless this agreement is changed,
collective agreement expires at the end of 2015, RTA could once again
out the workers and sell its electricity to Hydro-Québec. We are
not going to
wait until 2015 to have that debate with the politicians. Our union
continue to be very active on this issue. The war is not over. We have
that to face Rio Tinto you have to be more than just ready. In
the next negotiations, we are working with other unions to deprive
Tinto of its ability to sell its hydro during a dispute. We will keep
pressure on the political parties.
"The government is in the service of the multinationals and the employers"; "RTA finances its lockout with money from all Quebeckers -- stand up! No to Rio Tinto!"; "No to secret deals!"
TML: How important is the support of other workers in what you have been able to achieve?
MM: The conflict in Alma was not sorted out by the 800 Alma workers alone, but by workers across the globe. Without the support of our brothers and sisters in Quebec, Canada and around the world, especially their financial support, we would not have been able to carry on a six-month struggle, we would not have been able to make gains and probably would not have taken up the fight. We knew what RTA was up to.
We owe our success to the solidarity of all the unions, the political parties that supported us, the people of the communities and many small businesses. The support of small businesses was tremendous. A lot of them supported us because they understood the dire consequences for their businesses if workers lose their wages. We also had a lot of support from subcontractors, including from the unions representing those who work for subcontractors. We did good work to provide information for the people about the issues at stake and people responded. In this, financial support from the unions was very important. We involved ourselves and others in something that gave rise to precious support including financial support. Something was built and we are not going to let it go. As well, our own ranks showed a lot of discipline during the whole conflict and I think it inspired many people.
We want the corporations to know we will be there to support any workers under attack. The fact that we settled does not mean that we will sit idle. There are other disputes in the making and we know Rio Tinto is a very aggressive and anti-union employer. We are sending a very strong message of solidarity that our success in the struggle belongs to all the unions that supported us. We are going to share what we have learned with others and we want the other unions to know that whenever they are under attack, they will find us by their side.
TML: Today, market prices for aluminum are low and we see anti-labour restructuring being done by aluminum monopolies, including Alcoa and Rio Tinto. What is your take on that?
MM: Corporations like Rio Tinto Alcan are making the same mistakes as those made in the forestry industry. Rio Tinto produces a lot in terms of tons of aluminum per year, but look at what they are doing, for example, in St-Jean-de-Maurienne, France where they are preparing to close the smelter. St-Jean-de-Maurienne used to be a world class research centre. The technology we use in Alma was developed in St-Jean-de-Maurienne. But according to Rio Tinto Alcan, research and development is just an expense. They are doing the same thing the forestry companies did 30 years ago when they refused to diversify their production. If they had diversified, developed new products and so on, the Canadian forestry industry would not be in the sorry state it is today. It is the same thing with aluminum. Pechiney and then Alcan used to develop new technologies and products but RTA is not interested. It is just going for short-term profit with the least effort possible and without any consideration for what it takes to keep the industry in good shape. This does not bode well.
In Alma we have our problems but we also have our strong points. When the price of aluminum dropped to $1,400 a ton, there were only five smelters in the world that posted profits and we were first on the list. We are a smelter with lower production costs. At the same time, despite being the most profitable, look at how severely Rio Tinto attacked us.
TML: What would like to say in conclusion?
MM: In my opinion, the world of labour is changing. In this struggle, we have been able to put aside our different affiliations to work together and we have achieved concrete results. Meanwhile, the corporations are also becoming harder to deal with, but we have shown that workers' solidarity is something that works and enables us to stand up to them. We have shown this in practice.
Once again, on behalf of the union I want to thank all those who have supported us and tell them that when they face difficulties we'll be right beside them too.
Alma, March 31, 2012
Opposition to the Coup d'Etat in Paraguay
Message from President Fernando Lugo to National and International Public Opinion
"No to the coup d'état! Respect the people's will!"
No to the illegitimate coup regime's violence!
The June 21 and 22 impeachment was an act of violence that left 17 dead in Curuguaty and part of a conspiracy to destabilize the Executive Power.
The Presidency proposed the creation of a special commission, with support from international organizations, to thoroughly investigate what happened. However, the first step of the regime headed by Federico Franco was to suspend this initiative, raising the suspicions of the whole nation that he does not care to examine those tragic events.
The current regime came into being through violence and in the face of this from the beginning we have called for the people to remain calm, to avoid provocations and violence. We did this on our part, but we have been met with violence and persecution on theirs.
After more than fifteen days and despite several requests, the Bureau of the Senate still has not delivered to either President Fernando Lugo nor to Senator Filizzola the taped record of the meetings where the decision to dismiss the constitutional president was made and the reasons for the dismissal given, although several requests have been made.
Coup senators are threatening Senators Carlos Filizzola and Sixto Pereira with suspension for opposing the impeachment.
In SENAVE [National Service for Vegetable and Seed Quality and Health] (the body which controls seeds), its new president, a pesticide salesman and a member of the PLRA [Authentic Radical Liberal Party], has arrested over a hundred officers on charges of being "luguistas" [supporters of Lugo].
At the Itaipu Binational Dam [on the Paraná river between Paraguay and Brazil -- TML Ed. Note], the Paraguayan general director of the union STEIBI, also a leader in the PLRA, announced the dismissal of 300 staff accused of being "leftists." The union is controlled by the Honor Colorado Movement [which supports the impeachment of President Lugo -- TML Ed. Note].
The new regime tried to storm TV Pública, which was heroically defended by its officers. But then began the demands to stop the resistance along with threats of massive layoffs.
Several government ministries have received complaints of similar attacks.
Layoffs for ideological stands were past practice of the Stroessner dictatorship [president of Paraguay for 35 years until the election of Fernando Lugo in 2008 -- TML Ed. Note]. Now they come from the PLRA.
With a clear intention to intimidate, the new regime has brought out a video made many years ago in which political leaders such as current senator Sixto Pereira and the governor of San Pedro Jose Ledesma Pakova appear.
From various platforms, coup supporters are announcing actions against President Lugo.
Not only have the coup supporters violated the fundamental principles of law in order to orchestrate a rigged political trial, but they now persecute and attack people who peacefully resist and also seek to intimidate those political leaders who have not wavered in the defence of democracy in Paraguay.
These are some of the facts that stir national and international public opinion and all who support democracy in the region and the country, and regional and international institutions that they must not stop fighting to prevent this outrage against democracy and Paraguay's Constitution from going unpunished.
Thank you very much.
(Translated from original Spanish by TML.)
Would you buy whiskey or a Louis Vuitton bag smuggled from Paraguay? Surely you would be suspicious of their quality. Well that also goes for the "new democracy" imposed by the coup that toppled President Fernando Lugo.
The country was ruled for 61 years by the Colorado Party, led by General Stroessner, and to which the current coup president, Federico Franco, is also affiliated. After 35 years under the Stroessner dictatorship, the people of Paraguay elected President Lugo in April 2008. There was hope that social inequality in the country would be reduced, having been freed by democracy.
The new government became vulnerable after it failed to meet major campaign promises such as land reform, and distanced itself from social movements. Twenty per cent of the country's landowners own 80 per cent of the land. There are also the "brasiguayos," landlords who drove small farmers off their land to expand their estates.
After adopting the anti-terrorism law and militarizing the north, stopping peasant leaders and criminalizing social movements, and failing to purge the police apparatus, Stroessner's curse was inherited.
In summary proceedings, on June 22 Congress dismissed Lugo, without permitting a sufficient right to defence. This is called a "constitutional coup," a method adopted by the U.S. in Honduras, and now in Paraguay. The White House is concerned about the increasing number of Latin American countries ruled by leaders who identify with the popular will and who don't accommodate the interests of the oligarchy.
Unlike Zelaya in Honduras, Lugo did not even think to involve the social movements to resist when he was removed, but he received the unanimous solidarity of UNASUR governments.
He is the second Catholic priest to be elected president of a country in the Americas. The first was Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who ruled Haiti in 1991, from 1994 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2004. Both disappointed their support bases. They failed to put into practice the principle of the "option for the poor." Hesitating before the elites and making major concessions, they lost the trust of the people's organizations.
The Paraguayan bishops supported Lugo's removal. The Vatican also supported it. This is not surprising to those who know the history of the Catholic Church of Paraguay and its complicity with the Stroessner dictatorship, under which peasants were massacred and political opponents tortured, exiled and killed.
The institutional logic of the Catholic Church deems positive a government that favours it [the Church], and not the people. This is exactly the opposite of what the Gospel teaches, for which the rights of the poor are the primary criterion to evaluate any exercise of power.
The fall of Zelaya and Lugo shows that the U.S. interventionist policies continue. They are now carried out in a new way -- using legal tricks to promote summary trials. Despite this the last attempted coup of President Chavez of Venezuela in 2002 did not work. Instead, all of Latin America reacted to defend the rule of law and democracy.
All of this has provided an important lesson for the progressive governments of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and those which are less so, such as El Salvador and Peru. An election is not a revolution. The leaders change but not the nature of power or the character of the state. Nor does it remove the class struggle. Therefore one must ensure governance in the whirlwind of this paradox. How?
There are two ways: through partnerships and concessions with the oligarchic forces or through the mobilization of social movements and the implementation of policies that result in structural changes.
The first option is more attractive to the elected. Nothing is easier than to remain vulnerable to the "blue fly" [whose bite according to ancient legend infects people with a lust for power -- TML Ed. Note]and end up co-opted by the same political and economic forces previously identified as enemies. The second path is narrower and more arduous, but has the advantage of democratizing power and converting social movements into political beings.
The democratic spring in which Latin America finds itself may soon become a long winter, unless progressive governments and their institutions such as UNASUR, MERCOSUR and ALBA become convinced that without a mobilized and organized people there is no salvation.
* Frei Betto is a Brazilian writer,
liberation theologist and Dominican friar.
Sao Paulo Forum 2012 Opposes Coup
The Sao Paulo Forum held in Caracas, Venezuela completed its eighteenth session on July 7 with a mass rally at the Teresa Carreño Theatre and a final declaration criticizing the coup in Paraguay. Point No. 27 of the Forum's final declaration, comprised of 33 points and issued after three days of discussion, clearly expresses the full support of the Sao Paolo Forum for Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and "does not recognize the de facto coup government headed by Federico Franco." It announces continental actions "in support of democracy, as determined by the popular will expressed in April 2008 and for the unity and integration of the peoples and governments of Latin America and the Caribbean."
In an address that closed the Forum, José Ramón Balaguer, a member of the political bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba who comes from the generation who fought the Batista regime, stated, "events such as those in Paraguay seek to block progressive changes in Latin America." In his opinion, he said, "the main power groups in the United States are reactivating a hegemonic offensive" whose main targets are "the countries that make up the Latin American Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA)."
The Forum's final declaration also notes that the international financial crisis "is far from over" and coup attempts still abound in Latin America. In addition to what happened in Venezuela in 2002, there have been "several coup attempts in Bolivia," the overthrow of the president of Honduras in 2009, the coup in Ecuador in September 2010 "and a few weeks ago, the overthrow of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo." Point No. 5 of the declaration notes that "the coup in Honduras and the overthrow of Fernando Lugo show that the right-wing is intent on using violent means and the manipulation of institutional channels to overthrow governments that do not serve their interests."
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