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Flood of solidarity with Rio Tinto workers

Michelle Robidoux

February 25, 2012

Since they were brutally locked out by Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) on December 30, 780 workers in Alma, Québec have been building a global wave of solidarity against a ruthless employer.
The workers, members of Steelworkers local 9490, were locked out 24 hours before their collective agreement expired. A hundred and fifty security guards—many of whom spoke no French—kicked the workers out, not even allowing those who had been exposed to toxic beryllium to decontaminate themselves before being forced out.
The fight at RTA’s Alma plant is about contracting out. The company wants to move two-thirds of the 780 jobs to sub-contractors, who will be paid half of what the current employees receive.
About 200 “managers” are currently running the plant at about one-third capacity. Many of these managers were hired just before the lockout, and have been dubbed “scadres”, a combination of “scab” and “cadre” (manager). The company has obtained an injunction against picketing.
The workers said “No” to contracting out, in defence of decent jobs for the region and for the future. And they have been spreading the message far and wide—and gaining inspiring support.
So-so-so, solidarité
Workers from ABI in Bécancour, from US Steel in Hamilton, from RTA’s port installations and from its operations in Kitimat, BC have pledged support. At a general meeting, the workers at the Rio Tinto plant in Kitimat voted to give $60,000 per month to the Alma workers until their own contract with Rio Tinto comes up for renewal in July.
Union president Marc Maltais and several other workers at the Alma plant began a world tour to build support in late February. Starting in Los Angeles, the LA County Federation of Labour and the longshore workers pledged support. The Alma workers then visited Rio Tinto workers in Utah, and are getting support from workers in Australia and Europe.
In Québec, they have joined striking students in Montreal and visited iron and titanium workers in Sorel-Tracy. They have received support from different federal and provincial MPs, but have yet to hear from anyone from Québec’s Liberal government. So on February 23 they demonstrated outside a speech Prime Minister Jean Charest was giving at the convention centre in Jonquière, where they denounced the government’s failure to act in support of the locked out workers. They also held a minute of silence to symbolically bury the credibility of RTA communications flak Claudine Gagnon, who has been busy concocting false allegations of vandalism against the locked-out workers.
Steelworkers from Toronto will be in Alma on March 5 to deliver solidarity and to show their support. On March 31, the locked-out RTA workers will host a global day of action in Alma. Los Angeles longshore workers have already pledged to send 11 members, and support is building across Québec for this show of solidarity.
The support being generated by the strong determination of the Alma workers is reminiscent of the movement that developed around the strike by Inco miners in 1978. This fight deserves the support of every trade unionist in this country. Workers have taken punishing losses in recent fights at US Steel, Vale Inco, Electro-Motive and elsewhere. If these workers are given the means to outlast and out-organize RTA, whose Alma plant is one of the most profitable plants it owns, then workers everywhere will gain.

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