Alma, QC, Steelworkers Hailed as Heroes in International Labour Movement
TORONTO, July 6, 2012 /CNW/ - The United Steelworkers (USW) and its
global allies are hailing the end of Rio Tinto's six-month lockout of
aluminum smelter workers in Alma, Quebec, as a great victory for the
workers and their supporters around the world.
A collective agreement that will run to the end of 2015 was ratified
Thursday by USW Local 9490 members by a wide margin. The ratification
brings an end to the lockout of 780 Steelworkers imposed by Rio Tinto
Alcan in late December.
The Alma Steelworkers are expected to return to work on an incremental
basis over the next several weeks.
"We were forced to take on the third-largest mining company in the world
and we won," said USW President Leo Gerard. "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."
"The key to victory was the enormous solidarity shown by our members in
Quebec who inspired trade unions across the globe to support them,"
said Daniel Roy, USW Quebec Director.
"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," Roy said.
"Our members and their families suffered for six long months but never
wavered," said USW Local 9490 President Marc Maltais.
"It began in the small town of Alma, but it became a defining labour
struggle in Quebec, Canada, and around the world," Maltais said. "Our
members are walking back into the plant as heroes."
"As they return to their jobs, our members will work to rebuild our
relationship with Rio Tinto management," said Ken Neumann, USW Canadian
"The USW will continue working with unions around the world to demand
that Rio Tinto respect workers' and human rights and the environment,"
Neumann added. "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 USW maintained Rio Tinto's plan was to
increase profits at the expense of young workers and the community.
The new contract rejects Rio Tinto's demand. Contracting out will be
strictly managed and limited for the collective agreement's duration,
up to Dec. 31, 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 secret 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, Quebeckers were forced to finance Rio Tinto's attack on Quebec
workers. The secret deal remains a major political controversy in
Quebec Steelworkers Marc Maltais and Guy Farrell travelled the globe to
build support for the Alma workers and develop a dynamic international
campaign. On March 31, 8,000 union members from Canada, the U.S.,
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. But these principles were contradicted by the official
designation granted Rio Tinto, given the company's long record of
alleged labour and human rights abuses and environmental destruction.
More than 13,000 persons wrote letters to the International and Canadian
Olympic committees protesting Rio Tinto's involvement in the London
Olympics (see www.offthepodium.org).
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
USW 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, the largest private-sector union in the
United Kingdom. Unite, which joined forces with the USW to create
Workers Uniting, the first global union, became the face of the
campaign with the London Olympics.
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 USW is working closely with the CFMEU, IndustriALL and
non-governmental organizations to build a strong global network seeking
to change Rio Tinto's destructive practices.
The public is urged to vote at www.greenwashgold.org to denounce Rio Tinto's deplorable record and to support the Off The
Podium campaign against Rio Tinto at www.offthepodium.org.
For more information, see www.justiceforriotintoworkers.ca in English and www.solidaritealma.org (in French).
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information:
Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5951.
Joe Drexler, USW Strategic Campaigns, 416-544-6009, email@example.com
Denis St. Pierre, USW Communications, 416-544-5990, firstname.lastname@example.org