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North America cement workers join for network meeting in Pittsburgh

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9 January, 2023Delegates from IndustriALL affiliates in North America gathered in Pittsburgh, PA, early December 2022.

United Steelworkers’ union hosted the meeting on 5 December in their headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Delegates from United Steelworkers US and Canada, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Teamsters Canada and Unifor participated in the meeting.
While this year saw a very positive development of inclusion of the right to occupational safety and health as fundamental principle and right at work at the International Labour Conference in June 2022, the participants noted with regret that this year was very challenging for workers around the globe.
According to ITUC Global Rights Index monitoring the situation with trade union rights in 148 countries, 113 of them excluded workers from their right to establish or join a trade union, an increase from 106 countries in 2021. 41 per cent of countries denied or constrained freedom of speech and assembly, while workers experienced arbitrary arrests and detentions in 69 countries. 77 per cent of countries denied workers the right to establish and join a trade union. 87 per cent of countries violated the right to strike. In Belarus, Egypt, India, Myanmar, the Philippines and Sudan strikers and union leaders were arrested or faced with violent repression. In thirteen countries trade unionists were killed.
The two first biggest companies are of Chinese origin China National Building Material and Anhui Conch Cement. The third in the row Holcim changed its name back (previously LafargeHolcim) finished the year 2021 with 350Mt/y capacity, but in 2022 decreased cement capacity by 23 per cent from 270 Mt/y. In India the company divested 70Mt/y capacities to Adani Group for $6.37bn, which allowed the latter to enter the ten top producers of the world. This was the biggest deal since acquisition of Italcementi by HeidelbergCement in the sector.
The fourth biggest group HeidelbergCement in 2021 sold their Kuweit, Sierra Leone and US West Region cement businesses. In September the company removed "cement" from their name and became Heidelberg Materials, and most likely may follow similar approach as Holcim diversifying their portfolio from cement to other building materials and solutions.
The delegates noted problems with implementation of sustainable health and safety practices at work such as problems of lockout-tagout in some Holcim cement operations in US resulted in a series of near miss incidents.
Participants noted an increased pressure during their bargaining from the side of employers who use different tactics of delaying and pushing off grievances and try to undermine workers and their unions in their capacity to negotiate decent working conditions and improved living standards. Understaffing at workplaces is another problem felt by many in the post pandemic period.
Unifor reported details about the end of 16-month lockout at Joliet Ash Grove in Quebec, Canada. Workers returned to work in October 2022.
In the same time, the delegates reported of an increasing interest on the side of union members to give a stronger focus on Just Transition, green upgrades to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, carbon taxation and other.
Alexander Ivanou, IndustriALL materials director, said: 

“Information is power, and this network allows us to continue our exchange of information and update each other on fights and struggles in our unions. The delegates agreed to maintain the communication within the network and continue the activities of the network in the next year.”