31 March 2012
Alma – Thousands of people marched through the streets of Alma in Lac Saint-Jean today to demand an end to the lock out and to fight for the preservation of jobs at the Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) smelter. Three months and one day after the multinational corporation’s reprehensible lock out of its workers, largely subsidized by public funds, citizens from the region, families, workers and unionists from all over the world have their eyes set on RTA.
The General Secretary of the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), Jyrki Raina, said an international movement of resistance against this global corporation is imperative.
"Companies such as Rio Tinto need to remember that they are making their profits thanks to the communities in which they are operating. They need to show respect for current and future workers and stop callously cutting labour costs and decent jobs without any regard for the local economy," Raina said.
"If Rio Tinto wants to prosper, it cannot break the delicate balance that connects it to the community. This is true not only in Africa, Europe or Australia, but also in Quebec," said Raina, who also participated Friday in a joint meeting of the IMF and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mines and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) in Alma. Combined, the IMF and ICEM represent 50 millions workers worldwide.
Rio Tinto Alcan’s lockout is all the more reprehensible in that it is funded by public money as the result of a secret agreement between the Quebec government, Hydro-Québec and RTA.
"In addition to no-interest loans over 30 years, subsidies and electricity at an extremely discounted rate, the government is paying this company $15 million each month to buy surplus electricity that Quebeckers don’t even need. What a travesty!" said Daniel Roy, the United Steelworkers’ Quebec Director.
"The Premier tells us he placed a call to Rio Tinto Alcan’s CEO. That’s all well and good, but there must have been a disruption on the line somewhere between Québec and London, because the message never reached its destination," said Roy. "Quebeckers deserve greater respect from a multinational corporation that is making its money using our electricity."
The Steelworkers’ Quebec Director said he was thrilled at the sight of so many flags over the streets of Alma, which he characterized as a sign that the incredible solidarity of Alma’s locked-out workers is inspiring so many others.
United Steelworkers Canadian Director, Ken Neumann said pressure also is being applied on the federal government to act.
"Stephen Harper clearly fell short of his task by failing to impose conditions on the sale of Alcan to Rio Tinto in 2007 and to protect jobs," Neumann said. "For someone who is so bent on involving himself in labour relations, why doesn’t he intervene with Rio Tinto to put an end to this abhorrent lockout?"
Having just completed two days of negotiations, Local Union 9490 President Marc Maltais was moved by this wave of solidarity that washed over his community.
"It’s one thing to go meet our brothers on their own turf to explain the conflict, but it’s even more rewarding to see supporters from all over the world come out to support us and march in our streets, after 10, 15, or 20 hours of travel. Everyone understands that this battle is much more than just our own story, that we are fighting for our future, to ensure that those who will follow in our footsteps will also have decent jobs," Maltais said.
The thousands of demonstrators at Saturday’s rally came from across the Lac Saint-Jean region and Quebec, as well as communities outside the province, including Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area. Supporters who came to Alma also included union representatives from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Mexico and several other countries.
The 780 workers at RTA’s smelter in Alma were thrown onto the street during the night of December 30, 24 hours before the company had acquired the legal right to lock out its workers. The conflict centres on RTA’s plan to replace regular workers with subcontractors paid at half the wage rate.
The United Steelworkers, which is affiliated with the FTQ, is the largest private sector union in Quebec, representing over 60,000 workers in all sectors of the economy (mining, metallurgy, aluminum, industrial manufacturing, security, hotels, restaurants, trucking, taxi, etc.).