PARTiZANS magazine takes on Rio Tinto


By James Vassilopoulos

People Against Rio Tinto Zinc and Subsidiaries (PARTiZANS) publish a newsletter of the same name. The latest issue contains much useful information.

PARTiZANS is the group which produced the book Plunder, detailing the history of the company, its poor treatment of indigenous peoples across the world, its environmental hooliganism, its anti-union policies and how it has used politician friends to get what it wants.

In Australia Rio Tinto, formerly known as Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA), is well known for its attacks on workers. In the mining industry it has been the spearhead for introducing individual contracts and getting rid of unions.

Rio Tinto has been the protagonist in the Weipa, Hunter Valley Mine No. 1, Mt Thorley and Hamersley iron disputes. Internationally it is involved in the destructive Bougainville copper mine, and more recently it has increased its stake in the Grasberg mine in West Papua, also known as Freeport.

The editorial in the newsletter exposes the so-called new "community policy" of Rio Tinto, which claims to be based on dialogue and respect for indigenous people affected by mining.

The first test of this was in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines. Rio Tinto obtained the largest single exploration concession in the country. The land is the territory of the indigenous people there — the Subanen .

The Subanen have — through meetings, demonstrations and letters — declared that they are opposed to any exploration. Rio Tinto, instead of respecting this wish, has claimed that a survey is necessary to find out what the local people want. It describes the opposition as "undecidedness" or "ignorance".

The "survey" will be undertaken by anthropologists who are on the Rio Tinto payroll.

Rio Tinto's tactics of trying to divide the opposition to its mines are hardly new. At the Grasberg mine, it has set up its own "people's organisations" to compete with those that oppose the mining and the human rights abuses by the Indonesian military.

As the editorial states, until the indigenous people have their demands met or the promises made to them kept, "the community policy isn't even worth the paper that it's printed on".

Another article goes into the court victory of a former Rio Tinto worker, Edward Connelly, who has won the right to sue Rio Tinto in Britain and to receive legal aid. Connelly worked at the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia and now has laryngeal cancer.

The Rossing mine was the main source of uranium for Britain's nuclear weapons program.

Connelly stated that when he first started working there, "Nobody had a mask there, nobody, at the mine ... they never offered them a mask. We were told it was quite safe, it's low grade, you know, just to stand back away from the dust, which is impossible."

The case also has implications for Namibian miners, many of whom are likely to launch similar claims.

Often transnationals have been able to get away with environmental destruction or awful safety conditions, because the laws in many Third World countries are so weak.

The next time Rio Tinto cries poor or demands productivity improvements in order to stay afloat, don't buy it. Its 1997 profits increased to $US1.22 billion from $US1.1 billion in 1996, a 10% increase.

[To subscribe to four issues of the PARTiZANS newsletter, send £4 unwaged, £5 waged overseas sea mail; £10 airmail (for all other currencies, add equivalent of £5 to cover bank charges) to: PARTiZANS 41a Thornhill Square, London N1 1BE.]