Community solidarity targets Alcoa

November 4, 2006

The construction of the giant Alcoa aluminium processing plant in Pinjarra, south of Perth, was held up for several hours on November 1 as the local community protested against sackings at the site.

Thirty workers employed by Moore's civil earthworks and building services at the refinery found themselves without a job on October 31 after Alcoa decided to terminate Moore's contract. The workers were immediately approached by a successful contractor, C.E.C.K., with an offer to re-employ them under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs — individual contracts) that would have reduced their earnings by 25% and cut their conditions.

Incensed by this attempt to cut wages, approaches were made to the newly formed Peel Community Solidarity group to help protest Alcoa's decision. The Australian Workers Union (AWU) tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Alcoa management about the issue.

Within 24 hours, 120 Peel Community Solidarity supporters assembled on the main access road to the refinery. The protesters decided to hold a public meeting in the middle of the road during the morning shift change at the plant. Alcoa employs around 2,000 workers at the plant and the road meeting caused a massive traffic jam.

The community protesters were determined not only to show their contempt for Alcoa's decision to sack the 30 workers, but also to force management to negotiate with the AWU. When the rally adjourned after 45 minutes, there was agreement that if Alcoa did not make a serious attempt to negotiate, the protesters would re-assemble the next morning to decide further action.

Alcoa stonewalled during the day and Peel Community Solidarity members issued a wide appeal for supporters to rally during the shift change on November 2. Fifty protesters rallied again and Alcoa, desperate to thwart the protest, used security guards to divert traffic along back roads.

The community rally decided to send people to block traffic on the new access point, and traffic immediately began to bank up for kilometres, spilling onto the South West Highway, through to the township of Pinjarra and beyond to the main road leading to Mandurah. At one stage around 10 kilometres of traffic jammed the roads. Many people heading to support the sacked workers were themselves held up in the gridlock.

The protest lasted for two hours, adjourning only when it was learned Alcoa would meet with the AWU that day. However, Alcoa was warned that the public meetings on their roads would expand if there was any indication that it was not serious about resolving the issue with the AWU.

This community action in defence of workers' rights is the first of its kind to occur in Perth, and follows recent successful actions in Victoria led by Union Solidarity. Because the Work Choices laws make it difficult for individual workers and their unions to take industrial action (for fear of heavy fines and even jail sentences), action generated by the broader community in support of workers under attack is very important.

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