The Maritime Union of Australia and other unions organised an action outside Rio Tinto’s headquarters on March 5 in solidarity with Quebec workers who have been locked out by Rio Tinto since December 30.
Members of the United Steel Workers (USW) Local 9495 District 5 branch came to Australia to gain support for their campaign.
The dispute began over Rio Tinto’s decision to use more sub-contractors at the aluminium smelter in Alma, Quebec. Click here to see campaign actions.
The steel workers’ demands don't include a wage rise, but focus on ensuring more full-time jobs that are secure and have benefits.
A member told Green Left Weekly he had been working at the plant since he was 17 and has managed to obtain, through union action, a $35 an hour wage with health insurance and pensions. However, his son has been working as a contractor for only $14 an hour without any benefits.
The union's branch president, Marc Matais, said the workers are not selfish and the fight is about securing jobs for the future generations of workers.
This is represented in the fact that none of the union members at the plant accepted an individual agreement to keep their current awards. They instead chose to support the younger workers in their struggle.
Matais said Alma was a town with a population of only 30,000 and the average age was over 35. It was at risk of becoming a ghost town in the future if full-time work was not secured for the next generation.
Rio Tinto began a “hidden lockout” on December 30, before the collective agreement was due to expire, which left 780 workers on the street. More than 150 security guards prevented them from going to work. The union has been protesting against the company with support from the community.
The action outside Rio Tinto’s headquarters began with several Australian unionists condemning the behaviour of the multinational corporation around the world, including the infamous incident in Bougainville.
The members of the USW spoke about the origins of the dispute and what the struggle means for workers in Australia, and said the working class need to unite to resist attacks in the form of casualisation and contracting.
The action ended with a message of hope, saying multinational corporations will always lose under the strength of working-class solidarity — the workers united, will never be defeated.
The USW is facing a hard fight, however, and many workers face big losses to maintain the campaign. Every little bit helps and if you can, please consider donating or buying a T-shirt at the MUA's website.