The long running lock-out of members of the United Steelworkers union in Canada has been settled, with the union claiming victory based on global union solidarity.
The long running lock-out of members of the United Steelworkers union in Canada by Rio Tinto has been settled, with the union claiming victory based on global union solidarity.
The International president of the Steelworkers Leo Gerard hailed the settlement by saying:
“We faced the third-largest mining company in the world and we won.”
United Steelworkers members in Alma, Quebec, Canada were locked-out six months ago by the multi-national metals and mining giant Rio Tinto.
The Steelworkers appealed to the trade union movement across the globe and they took their fight to front door of Rio Tinto. They also ran a campaign to highlight Rio Tinto’s tainted involvement in London 2012.
Leo Gerard said:
“Many thought this was impossible, given the power imbalance, but we sent a message to the resource industry throughout the world that workers and their unions can take on huge multinational corporations to stop unjust demands.”
Daniel Roy, Steelworkers director in Quebec, said:
“The key to victory was the enormous solidarity shown by our members in Quebec who inspired trade unions across the globe to support them.”
“After union members around the world learned that our members were selflessly fighting to protect their community and future generations of workers, support and funds came pouring in.”
Steelworkers Local 9490 president Marc Maltais said:
“Our members and their families suffered for six long months but never wavered.”
“It began in the small town of Alma, but it became a defining labour struggle in Quebec, Canada, and around the world. Our members are walking back into the plant as heroes.”
Ken Neumann, USW Canadian national director, said:
“As they return to their jobs, our members will work to rebuild our relationship with Rio Tinto management.”
“The USW will continue working with unions around the world to demand that Rio Tinto respect workers’ and human rights and the environment. We know there will be new attacks by Rio Tinto on trade unions and communities. The Steelworkers will be there to help them resist Rio Tinto’s assaults.”
The Alma workers were locked out in late December 2011, after they refused to accept Rio Tinto’s demand that retiring employees be replaced by non-union contract workers earning half the wages and no pensions or benefits.
The Steelworkers maintained Rio Tinto’s plan was to increase profits at the expense of young workers and the community.
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The new contract rejects Rio Tinto’s demand. Contracting out will be strictly managed and limited for the collective agreement’s duration, up to December 31st 2015.
Throughout the lockout, the Quebec Steelworkers worked closely with the Quebec Federation of Labour to build public support and to expose a secret deal between Rio Tinto and publicly owned Quebec Hydro.
The deal allowed Rio Tinto to sell the Alma smelter’s unused electricity back to Quebec Hydro, for up to $15 million per month. In effect, Quebec’s population were forced to finance Rio Tinto’s attack on Quebec workers. The secret deal remains a major political controversy in Quebec.
Steelworkers officials Maltais and full time officer Guy Farrell travelled the globe to build support for the Alma workers and develop the international campaign.
On March 31st, 8,000 union members from Canada, the USA, Europe, Africa and Australia attended a historic rally in Alma.
A key component of the global campaign against Rio Tinto was to expose the company’s hypocrisy as official supplier of the metal used to make 4,700 Olympic medals for the 2012 London Summer Games.
The London Games promised to be the greenest and most sustainable Olympics ever. However, these principles were contradicted by the official designation granted to metal supplier Rio Tinto, given the company’s long record of alleged labour and human rights abuses and environmental destruction.
More than 13,000 people wrote letters to the International and Canadian Olympic committees protesting Rio Tinto’s involvement in the London Olympics link. Fifty national trade unions in 37 countries sent letters to their respective Olympic committees asking that Rio Tinto be taken off the Olympic podium.
Demonstrations were held in several nations on three continents, including the Switzerland headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. Steelworkers Local 392 in Utah, whose members mined the metal for the Olympic medals, also demanded that Rio Tinto be taken off the podium.
Major support came from Unite in the UK – the Steelworkers partner union of Workers Uniting – which became the face of the campaign with the London Olympics, with demonstrations at the Rio Tinto AGM in London and pressure being applied to the London Organizing Committee for the games.
Other major supporters included the Canadian Labour Congress; Mining and Maritime Trade Union Initiative; the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) of Australia; the Australian Workers Union and the Australia Maritime Union; the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication Energy and Paperworkers Union; trade unions of the Rio Tinto European Works Council; and IndustriALL, a new global federation representing union affiliates with over 50 million workers.
The Steelworkers union and Workers Uniting are now working closely with the CFMEU, IndustriALL and non-governmental organizations to build a strong global network seeking to change Rio Tinto’s destructive practices.