While a government-appointed mediator has called for resumed negotiations in an effort to end the three-month lockout of workers at Rio Tinto Alcan's giant Alma aluminum smelter in Quebec, Canada, trade unions are globally ramping up pressure on the company.
CANADA/GLOBAL: Unions launch a full-scale international campaign to shine a light on the Rio Tinto's systemic attacks on workers, communities, and the environment. Meanwhile, talks between the United Steelworkers' Union (USW) and Rio Tinto Alcan have resumed after a three month silence which has resulted in the lock-out of 780 workers.
The government-appointed talks come just days after a delegation Canadian union leaders representing Rio Tinto workers returned from a national tour of Rio sites in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand that was led by the Mining and Maritime Initiative, a coalition of unions representing workers in the mining and maritime industries in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Workers have been locked-out since January 1 after refusing to accept a dramatic increase in the use of precarious work. The plant has been operating with non-unionized workers at about one-third of capacity since early January.
International pressure has begun to mount as unions representing Rio Tinto/Alcan workers around the world, including the Rio/Alcan European Works Council and affiliates of the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Unions (ICEM) are revving up actions in support of the locked-out workers in Alma.
On March 31, union leaders representing Rio/Alcan workers, the IMF and ICEM, labour activists and community groups will come together in a show of might and solidarity. Other international events and actions are planned for the coming months.
"While we were gone, many people accused us of traveling the world to tarnish the company's image. Even if this was our intent, it would have been impossible because RTA's image with regard to respect for workers has already taken hits from all sides. From Boron, California - where Rio Tinto locked out its workers in 2010 - to our fellow members in New Zealand or the Maritime Union of Australia, which represents a number of Rio Tinto employees, people were already aware of how far this company's anti-union practices have gone," explained Marc Maltais, head of USW Local 9490.
"The men and women of Alma have chosen to resist the erosion of their jobs, while deciding to demand respect from this multinational, which benefits from our electricity to run one of the most profitable manufacturing plants in the world. Unionists from all over know that, if Rio Tinto manages to beat us down here, this will embolden the company to attack all the other unions on the planet. From the U.S. to Australia, the entire union community realizes how important it is that we stick together. And this solidarity will surely be felt in Alma on March 31," said Guy Farrell, Assistant to the Quebec USW/Syndicat des Métallos Director.