ILWU leaders join global effort to hold Rio Tinto accountable

Global strength: Dozens of union activists representing Rio Tinto workers around the world gathered recently in Brisbane, Australia to coordinate strategy against the mammoth mining company.

Global strength: Dozens of union activists representing Rio Tinto workers
around the world gathered recently in Brisbane, Australia to coordinate strategy against the mammoth mining company.

ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams led an ILWU delegation to Brisbane, Australia in early May that included Local 20 President Rudy Dorame and Local 30 member Darrell Nichols.

The ILWU leaders joined nearly 50 of their counterparts from 11 countries who comprise the Rio Tinto Global Union Network, which represents thousands of workers employed by Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies.

ILWU’s Rio Tinto contracts

The global group heard a report from Darrell Nichols who explained the story behind a renewed 5-year contract that was ratified last December by Local 30 members at Rio Tinto’s mine in Boron, CA. In 2010, workers waged an impressive fight when the company initiated a 15-week lockout.

“It was incredible to see some of the same Australian workers who came over to support our lockout fight back in 2010,” said Nichols. “I’ve worked at Rio Tinto for 40 years, and seen plenty of things in Boron, including their use of outside contractors at our mine, but I was shocked at the way the company has been treating workers in other countries.”

Local 20 President Rudy Dorame explained that his 67 members who load and store Rio Tinto products at a private dock in Los Angeles Harbor are gearing up to win a new contract in June of 2017.

“The comradery and support we felt from all the different unions was awesome,” said Dorame,  “We have to be prepared for a big fight back home in Wilmington – if that’s what it takes to win a fair contract.”

Strikes and contingent workers

Union representatives from France and Iceland reported on their recent strikes at Rio and thanked the network for supporting those struggles.

Unions from every country reported that Rio Tinto has been increasing the number of temporary workers at their facilities. Representatives from Canada, Iceland, Madagascar and Namibia discussed their recent campaigns to address this problem.  A hard-hitting video was shown that exposed workers being abused at Rio Tinto’s Madagascar operation, where the company has invested billions but failed to address poor living and working conditions there.

Domrame said he was particularly impressed by what workers in Madagascar, South Africa and Indonesia were doing to organize for better pay. Rio Tinto has been paying some workers as low as $167 per month.

The network agreed to tackle an ambitious solidarity agenda that will help union members challenge Rio Tinto on a global scale. A resolution was unanimously passed to support the Maritime Union of Australia which is pressing Rio Tinto to reverse their decision that replaced Australian seafarers with exploited foreign workers who are paid as little as $ 2 an hour.

Shareholder meeting

Following the network meeting, participants went to Rio Tinto’s annual shareholder meeting in Brisbane. Network participants questioned Rio Tinto board members about the company’s global labor problems.

Andrew Vickers, who chairs the Rio Tinto Global Union Network and serves as General Secretary of Australia’s Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), reported that officials from Rio Tinto recently inquired about the possibility of establishing better labor relations around the world. Discussions to explore exactly what that might mean are continuing.

“We’re interested to see if Rio Tinto is just using new rhetoric – or willing to get serious about improving their treatment of workers and unions,” said International Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams.  He noted that the upcoming contract negotiations with Local 20 members will be one way to evaluate Rio Tinto’s claims.

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