ALMA, QC, Jan. 24, 2012 /CNW/ - Daniel Roy, Quebec Director of the Syndicat des Métallos (United Steelworkers/USW), announced on January 12 at a rally in Alma, Quebec, that the USW and unions around the world are drawing a line in the sand against Rio Tinto after the company locked out 780 USW Local 9490 members 24 hours prior to its legal authority to do so under the Quebec labour code.
"Rio Tinto has declared war not only on USW members but on our communities, on Quebec and on Canada," said Roy. "We believe Rio Tinto will use its attacks in Alma to begin a major assault on workers and communities around the globe."
The company is demanding to replace every retiring worker with a contract worker at half the wages currently earned by current unionized employees at its Alma aluminum smelter. Rio Tinto informed workers that it intends to increase the proportion of contract employees from 10.7 to 27 per cent in 2012 alone without consulting the union.
According to Roy, accepting this demand would cause a dramatic downward economic spiral not only for the workers but for members of the community which would see income, local business sales and tax revenues drop precipitously. In less than a decade, as retirements occur, the proportion of unionized workers will be greatly diminished and workers will lose their power to protect not only their economic well being but also their health and safety at the Alma plant where workers are exposed to extreme heat, explosive materials and toxic chemicals.
The International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), whose affiliates together represent over 45 million union members throughout the world, have pledged their full support to the locked out workers in Alma. In a joint letter to Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese, IMF General Secretary Jyrki Raina and ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda wrote, "Our two global federations will join an international campaign announced by the United Steelworkers against Rio Tinto."
Already offers of support have come from trade unions in the U.S., United Kingdom, France, South Africa and Australia and plans are underway for a series of global actions against Rio Tinto in addition to continuing actions in Alma and throughout Canada and the U.S.
Ken Neumann, USW Canadian National Director, links the struggle in Alma to the fight in London, Ontario, where members of the Canadian Auto Workers at Caterpillar's Electro-Motive Diesel plant have also been locked out since January 1 after workers rejected demands to immediately cut wages in half, eliminate benefits and gut pensions.
"Both Rio Tinto and Caterpillar are committing economic rape of Canadian workers and communities with help from Prime Minister Stephen Harper who allowed foreign corporations to invade our country without any net benefit to Canada," said Neumann.
Harper gave approval to the takeovers of Alcan in 2007 by United Kingdom and Australia based Rio Tinto and of Electro-Motive Diesel in 2010 by U.S. based Caterpillar. Under the Investment Canada Act, such takeovers of Canadians companies require foreign companies to demonstrate a "net benefit" to Canada. Similarly, US Steel acquired two Stelco steel mill operations in 2007 and proceeded to lock out workers in Nanticoke and Hamilton and forced USW members to take major concessions. In 2009, after its takeover of Canadian miner Inco Ltd., Brazil-based Vale forced 3,500 USW members on strike in three locations, resulting in major pension cuts for newly hired workers.
"We are seeing an outpouring of support from around Canada and other parts of the world for the workers in Alma and London that we have rarely seen in the past," said Neumann. "Yet our own government which should be standing up for Canadian citizens and workers has been silent."
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