Rio Tinto Replay

It’s been two years since the Local 30 hall in Boron was buzzing with talk about how to beat a lengthy lockout by the international mining giant, Rio Tinto.

“It feels like ‘déjà vu’ all over again,” said Local 30 member Kevin Martz, who came to the union meeting on Tuesday, February 21 to offer his solidarity and support to union leaders from the town of Alma in Quebec, Canada who represent 700 workers locked-out by Rio Tinto since Dec 31, 2011.

Lessons from the Boron lockout

The delegation from Quebec came to Boron because it’s where 550 ILWU members overcame a vicious lockout in 2010 – thanks to an intensive solidarity campaign that mobilized support from workers, family members, local communities, and international unions.

“We’re here because you know what it takes to beat a Rio Tinto lockout,” said President Marc Maltais, of Local 9490 that represents workers at Rio Tinto’s ultra-modern and very profitable aluminum smelter in Alma, Quebec. Accompanying President Maltais were Guy Farrell, assistant to the regional director for the Syndicat Metallos, as the Steelworkers Union is known in French-speaking Quebec, and staffer Dominic Lemieux.

Rio wants cuts despite big profits

Rio Tinto’s goal in Alma is similar to what they wanted in Boron – replacing members with outsourcing and subcontracting to weaken and eventually destroy the union. In Quebec, Rio Tinto receives generous public subsidies in the form of cheap electricity generated by massive dams and hydro projects. But the heavy subsidies, high productivity and big profits at the modern plant haven’t stopped Rio Tinto from demanding even more concessions from the communities and workers in Quebec.

Local 30 members contribute

Local 30 members had already passed the hat at work before the union meeting, collecting hundreds of dollars that were presented to the solidarity team from Alma that travelled two thousand miles to Boron, the first stop on a worldwide, month-long solidarity tour. Before the meeting adjourned, Local 30 members approved an additional donation of $2500 that was presented after the meeting by President Dave Liebengood.

“We know what you’re going through and we want to help out,” said Liebengood. Local 30 members also showed their support by signing a giant “solidarity banner,” including personal messages of support, such as, “hang in there,” and “keep fighting.”

Labor support in Los Angeles

After the final round of handshakes and thank you’s, the Alma lockout team headed toward Los Angeles, for a meeting the next morning at the Los Angeles Federation of  Labor hosted by Director Maria Elena Durazo that featured 60 labor representatives, including Local 13’s Mark Jurisic, Local 63’s Cathy Familathe, Local 20 President Rudy Dorame and Local 26 President Luisa Gratz. Many other unions in the room had provided critical lockout support that helped Local 30 members survive their fight two years ago. “Helping workers win their fight in Quebec will make it easier for us next time if we have to fight Rio Tinto here again,” said Durazo.

Local 13 solidarity

After the Los Angeles event, Mark Jurisic invited the Alma team to visit Local 13’s office in San Pedro where President Joe Cortez, Secretary-Treasurer Chris Viramontes and Vice President Bobby Olvera, Jr., graciously cleared their busy schedules to welcome the visitors. After a tour of the building, President Cortez invited the group into his office for a meeting to discuss the lockout struggle. Cortez offered to help by sending a delegation of Local 13 members to a rally in Alma scheduled for late March. “We understand what solidarity means,” said Cortez, “and you can count on our help.”

Local 20 helps in Wilmington

The final stop on the day’s solidarity tour was a late-afternoon visit with workers at Rio Tinto’s facility on the docks of Wilmington, timed to hit the shift-change. The solidarity banners were displayed outside the plant gate and signed by Local 20 members.  Local 20 President Rudy Dorame prepared special t-shirts for the occasion and presented a check to the visitors as a gesture of solidarity.

Utah, Australia & New Zealand

When the shift change ended at Wilmington, the banners carrying signatures and greetings from union members in Boron, Los Angeles, San Pedro and Wilmington, were packed up by the Alma team members who headed for LAX to catch a plane to Utah. The next day they would meet with Rio Tinto workers at the giant Kennecott Copper mine near Salt Lake City, then fly to Australia to meet union members from around the world – including ILWU International officers – at the Maritime Union of Australia convention. The final leg would take them to New Zealand for meetings with miners and locked-out dockworkers in Auckland.

“Starting our solidarity tour with ILWU members was a great way to start,” said Local 9490 President Maltais.  “Your support means a lot to everyone back home who are still freezing on the picket line.”


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