Thousands march for locked-out Rio Tinto workers in Canada
8,000 unionists and supporters rally in Alma, Quebec, on behalf of 780 Rio Tinto locked-out members of the United Steelworkers.
CANADA: More than 8,000 people marched through the streets in Alma, Quebec on March 31 on behalf of locked-out workers belonging to Local 9490 of the United Steelworkers (USW). Some 780 workers at an aluminium smelter of Rio Tinto's Alcan subsidiary have been shut out of their livelihoods since the end of December, making the economic stranglehold on the community of 30,000 clear to all.
The lockout was brought about by Local 9490's effort to stop erosion of permanent jobs that pay a living wage of CAD 34-an-hour against Alcan's labour plan, which is aimed at replacing those jobs with outsourced work that pays half that amount.
Bus-loads of union militants from across Canada joined local supporters and 50 international guests representing Rio Tinto workers in Australia, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and US.
Manfred Warda, General Secretary of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) pledged that global labour will mobilize Rio Tinto workers across the globe in this struggle. "If the ruthless social agenda of Rio Tinto cannot be defeated here in Quebec, there will be little hope that it can be stopped when others face company attacks," Warda said.
Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), said Rio Tinto must "show respect for current and future workers and stop callously cutting labour costs and decent jobs without regard for the local economy. In a company that made a huge profit in 2011 with public subsidies, there is absolutely no justification for replacing good permanent jobs with outsourcing".
Daniel Roy, the United Steelworkers Quebec director, reminded the audience that in addition to no-interest loans over 30 years and electricity at an extremely discounted rate, the company was now earning CAD 15 million a month by selling back surplus electricity to the publicly owned Hydro-Quebec company, according to a leaked secret agreement.
ICEM Vice President and USW Canadian National Director Ken Neumann had a message for the Conservative government: "Prime Minister Stephen Harper clearly fell short of his task by failing to impose conditions on the sale of Alcan to Rio Tinto in 2007 and to protect jobs. For someone who is so bent on involving himself in labour relations, why doesn't he intervene with Rio Tinto to put an end to this abhorrent lockout?"
Ken Lewenza, President of Canadian Auto Workers' Union (CAW) told the cheering crowd that CAW Local 2301 had passed a resolution on doubling union dues in order to provide CAD 68,000 a month of support to the workers in Alma.
The USW Local 9490 and Rio Tinto Alcan returned to talks in March that are likely to continue. However, ICEM and IMF promised to go ahead with a global fight against Rio Tinto's anti-social agenda.Apr 03, 2012 – Jyrki Raina