By Graham Matthews and Paul Glenning
EMERALD — More than 1000 miners and their supporters marched through Emerald in central Queensland on February 27 chanting "What do we want — scabs out" and "Workers united will never be defeated" in solidarity with the Gordonstone miners fighting to retain their jobs.
Unionist from more than 20 mines throughout Queensland, NSW and a few from WA attended the rally. They were supported by contingents from the Maritime Union of Australia, construction workers from the CFMEU, members of the Electrical Trades Union and a delegation of meatworkers from Rockhampton.
The march rallied at the Emerald botanical gardens where the CFMEU mining division national president John Maitland addressed the crowd. "Our struggle in the mining industry has come down to one company, Rio Tinto", he said, arguing that Labor's failure to win government in the 1998 federal election meant that the battle to defend jobs now had to be fought.
Maitland outlined a strategy involving appeals to the International Labour Organisation against the Howard government's industrial relations legislation.
MUA national secretary John Coombs told the rally: "We're no longer able to fight these disputes as we did in the past; we have to go global ... International transport workers will declare any coal from Gordonstone black."
The rally was also addressed by Andrew Vickers, president of the Queensland mining division of the CFMEU, and Kirstin Livermore, federal ALP member for Capricornia, who pledged to "keep up the fight" in parliament, in caucus and on committees.
On February 23, the miners' picket line was attacked by police and 61 miners were arrested. Afterwards, Green Left Weekly spoke to Stuart Vacceneo, president of the Gordonstone Lodge. Vacceneo said Rio Tinto has refused to give any of the unionised miners sacked by former mine owner ARCO a chance to get their jobs back.
"Rio Tinto has been recruiting in secrecy, calling people over the phone to suss them out", he said. "As usual, it has been lying through its teeth about the dispute. It says it's got 22 ex-Gordonstone miners to cross over from the union, but it doesn't say that 18 of those were staffies and mine bosses, not union members. The remaining four are scabs from here and other Rio Tinto mines. In reality, they've had no luck in getting people to leave the union — just four out of thousands."
Vacceneo said "that leaves us with one way to get our protest through to them — meet them at the gate and let them know what we think. This puts pressure on the Rio Tinto bosses and the scabs, and we're going to keep going until we get some justice.
"All we can do is maintain a principled position and tell people the real story. Hunter Valley workers have been explaining the history of Rio Tinto to people all over the place, and we're starting a public campaign across the nation.
"Rio Tinto is also going to have to drag out it's dirty linen in the courts for all to see. We can now expose more publicly how they used a $2 shelf company to recruit non-union labour before they even bought the mine off ARCO."
The support the miners have been receiving has been "fantastic", Vacceneo said. "We've got workers all the way from Western Australia and Townsville to show solidarity, because they know that their job is next."