Curragh miners hold the line against ARCO

August 20, 1997

By Jim McIlroy

BLACKWATER Striking Curragh coal miners remain defiant despite attempts by the company, ARCO, to break their picket line and intimidate workers. The strike has entered its 15th week, as ARCO steps up its pressure on the miners to accept severe cuts in conditions and individual workplace agreements.

A train ordered by the company on the morning of August 15 was turned back by a large group of determined picketers at the entrance to the mine, situated near Blackwater, west of Rockhampton on the central Queensland coast. The train driver refused to cross the picket, but the company has threatened to continue to order coal trains to attempt to break the line.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union lodge president and single bargaining unit spokesperson for the combined unions at Curragh, Ray Coleman, said the strikers would do all they could to stop trains, "no matter how many times they try". Coleman told Green Left, "For every new move by the company we'll be there".

The picket line is being maintained 24 hours a day, with all workers doing their normal shift on the site. A Christmas tree has been placed beside the access road to the mine, to show that "we're prepared to stay out till Christmas if necessary", Coleman said.

On the afternoon of August 14, we observed several hundred picketers and family members block the road as the day shift of staff strike-breakers arrived in a bus and other vehicles.

As they have done every day for weeks, the strikers surrounded the vehicles and walked slowly down the mine road toward the highway, chanting "The workers, united, will never be defeated!"

Coleman and other workers at the picket which is now an established area with all facilities, including a golf course, cricket pitch and amenities area, and children's playground told us that support from the local community and from other unionists has been "enormous". A display board holds dozens of telegrams of support, union notices and media coverage.

Paul Tudman, a CFMEU member and local councillor for Djuaringa Shire, said that the Howard government was fully behind the company's actions, which were testing the new Workplace Relations Act.

"It's just like Thatcher in Britain", he said. "If you defeat the miners, you can roll over the other unions."

CFMEU general president John Maitland issued a media release on August 13 warning that ARCO's attempt to break the strike while negotiations are continuing would provoke "bitter confrontation".

Maitland accused Arco of collaboration with Rio Tinto strategists in the Hunter Valley No. 1 dispute. "We have leaked documentary evidence of this. ARCO and Rio Tinto, two huge foreign multinational corporations, are working together in a campaign to destroy Australian mineworkers' rights and conditions."

Maitland said that all ARCO's coal mines in the US are non-union and that Rio Tinto's corporate philosophy called for the elimination of third parties unions in the company's dealings with employees.

"Neither ARCO nor Rio Tinto are interested in negotiating settlements; they want to break the union. Well, if they want to throw down the gauntlet to Australian workers and our families, then we are left with no choice other than to rise to the challenge."

Messages of solidarity to the Curragh miners can be sent to Ray Coleman, fax (079) 861 458 or to the CFMEU national office, 3rd floor, 361 Kent St, Sydney 2000, fax (02) 9262 1928.

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