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Glencore unions build strength in Cape Town

11 February, 2016Trade unionists from Glencore operations around the world made their voices heard in Cape Town on 10 February under the slogan “Glencore – we demand justice now”.

As commodity prices continue to fall around the world, the mining crisis is intensifying.

The IndustriALL Glencore Global Network met in Cape Town on 9 – 10 February. Participants from Chile, Argentina, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Canada, USA and Australia shared their experiences from Glencore operations around the world and set a plan for union action.

“These are our jobs, our livelihood,” says Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director.  “International standards exist to ensure that multinationals cooperate with unions in times of crisis to minimize the impact on workers. Unfortunately Glencore is turning a blind eye to these standards.”

“The company has a long history of aggression against unions and collective bargaining is the first victim as the sector bleeds.”

Sixteen months ago, Glencore locked out members of IndustriALL US affiliate the United Steel Workers after the union rejected the company’s first offer at the bargaining table. Since then, Glencore – which claims to be an industry leader in health and safety - has operated the hazardous Sherwin Alumina processing plant in Texas with untrained scab labour. Now the multinational is trying to cheat workers and other creditors out of tens of millions of dollars by shifting ownership from one Glencore subsidiary to another under US ‘chapter 11’ bankruptcy law.

The network expressed its solidarity with USW and called on Glencore to secure a resolution to the conflict.

In addition, the network expressed its solidarity with SUTRACOMASA, a union at Antamina in Peru belonging to IndustriALL affiliate FNTMMSP, whose leadership has faced death threats while engaging in collective bargaining.

Many of the participants reported of permanent employees being replaced by contract workers with worse salaries and conditions. An increased number of precarious workers also leads to lower union density – in many countries it is impossible to join a union on a temporary employment contract.

The network also heard reports of positive developments, such as in Argentina where IndustriALL affiliate AOMA has negotiated the same conditions for contract workers as for permanent workers.

As Andrew Vickers, chair of IndustriALL mining sector and general secretary of IndustriALL affiliate CFMEU, pointed out – the global trade union movement doesn’t walk away from a fight.

“Global network campaigns are one way of winning a fight. And this is also an opportunity for our unions to organize and grow in strength.”

The Glencore Global Network adopted a solidarity resolution for the three miners trapped underground in the Lily mine in South Africa, wishing for their safe return to the surface and calling for an end to bad management and blatant neglect for worker safety in the mining industry.

Glencore is one of the largest and most diversified mining and commodity companies in the world.