Quebec Steelworkers rally in fight against Rio Tinto

Vol. 76/No. 20      May 21, 2012   http://www.themilitant.com/2012/7620/762055.html

BY MICHEL DUGRÉ AND KATY LEROUGETEL  

QUEBEC CITY—Hundreds of Steelworkers locked out by Rio Tinto Alcan in Alma, Quebec, rallied outside the Quebec legislative assembly here May 3 to greet 24 fellow union members as they completed a several-day marathon from Alma to the provincial capital to present the government with a petition signed by 12,000 people. The petition demands an end to the government’s buying of Rio Tinto’s excess electricity during the lockout, boosting the company’s union-busting campaign with more than $50 million for its war chest.

Pauline Marois, leader of the provincial opposition Parti Quebecois, a bourgeois-nationalist Quebecois party, addressed the union rally before presenting the petition in parliament. The Liberal government lost no time in rejecting the petitioners’ demands. Alma’s mayor has maintained formal neutrality from the outset.

Rio Tinto locked out 780 Steelworkers Jan. 1. Workers are demanding a guaranteed minimum number of union jobs. The bosses are pressing to replace many union positions with subcontractors at half the pay as workers retire.

At the rally, Solène Boudrias and her mother Marlène Boudrias, both members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada union, told the Militant about their participation in an April 21 “wife picket,” in which some 200 family and friends of locked-out union members took over picketing for the day. “It helped break our isolation. We learned that we all have the same experience,” Solène Boudrias said. “It’s hard to keep arguing with others. People think the guys are on strike and are doing this for more money.”

Rio Tinto employs roughly 77,000 people in 40 countries. The international company mines, refines, and smelts aluminum, copper, diamonds, coal, iron ore, uranium, gold and other minerals. It’s the world’s second largest aluminum producer, with the bulk of its aluminum smelting operations in Canada.

“The company is looking at this long-term,” locked-out Steelworker Martin Potvin told the Militant. “It’s only in Canada that we still have defined-benefits pensions. In 2015, all company installations in the region will renegotiate the pension plans.”

Currently operating at one-third of its normal production, the Alma plant has not been able to meet customer orders, company press liaison Claudine Gagnon told the Militant, but “our clients are aware of the situation.”

The company broke off conciliator-initiated negotiations April 6. Gagnon told the Militant that Rio Tinto does not agree with the union’s demand to maintain 900 guaranteed union jobs.

“People are getting sick of nothing happening,” locked-out Steelworker Danny Bouchard said in a phone interview. “The company broke off negotiations when they saw that solidarity is still flowing in.”

On April 20 Rio Tinto suspended two union members, effective once the lockout ends, for alleged acts of sabotage last year.

“We firmly defend these workers,” union President Marc Maltais told the Militant. “We went out with 778 members, we’ll go back with 778 members. There was no sabotage.”

Picketing continues around the clock seven days a week in Alma.

For information on union actions planned in the coming weeks, or to send messages of support, contact: Métallos local 9490, 830 rue des Pins ouest, Alma, Quebec G8B 7R3. Tel.: (418) 662-7055. Fax: (418) 662-7354. Email: syndicat@staalma.org
 

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