|March 31 rally in Alma, Quebec. Rio Tinto Alcan locked out 780 Steelworkers at smelter after they demanded limit on contracting out work to nonunion workers at lower pay.|
Unionists and students came on buses from throughout Quebec and Ontario to join thousands of others from the local area in a show of solidarity against Rio Tinto’s union-busting campaign. The central issue is the company’s goal to replace workers as they retire with subcontracted nonunion jobs at half the pay.
Local 9490 voted Dec. 30 by 88 percent to reject the bosses’ contract demands. The were locked out two days later on New Year’s Day.
“We’re not negotiating for wages, we’re not negotiating for pensions … we’re fighting for a community, a community under attack,” Marc Maltais, Local 9490 president, told the rally.
Unionists representing Rio Tinto workers in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa also participated.
Hydro-Québec, the provincially run electricity company, is currently buying Rio Tinto Alcan’s excess electricity, generating up to $20 million monthly for the company, a move widely criticized in many placards and speeches at the action.
François Cardinal from USW Local 6658 in Valleyfield, 325 miles from Alma, told the Militant he traveled to the picket lines in January for two days with two coworkers. “Subcontracting is an issue for us, too,” he said.
“We gave $50,000. And if it continues, we’ll give again because like it or not, they’re fighting for us,” said Steeve Tremblay, Canadian Auto Workers member and port worker at Rio Tinto’s La Baie installations, where Rio Tinto subcontracted out 30 jobs in 2008.
“This is the big stuff. But you don’t hear about the daily things like not getting a lunch break,” said Mike Clark, a Rio Tinto port worker from Los Angeles and a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Through a fight, the ILWU forced Rio Tinto to provide workers with a break during their eight-hour shift. “It took a long time to settle and meanwhile, workers handling hazardous chemicals were not taking proper breaks, covered in filth, you could see it on their hands as they were chewing their sandwich.”
A lively group of strikers from Sept-Îles on Quebec’s North Shore wore green T-shirts and wigs to publicize their fight for better wages against the Desjardins credit union.
Hundreds of students fighting provincial government tuition hikes took part.
Annie-Claude Fortin, a junior college student at nearby CEGEP Jonquière, marched with her parents. She had traveled to Montreal for the 100,000-strong student action against tuition hikes on March 22. Five days later she rallied with 100 locked-out Rio Tinto workers together with 400 students outside her school in a tuition hike protest.
Étienne Jacques, one of some 40 students who traveled here from Montreal, told the Militant, “I learned about the lockout and the march at a table on March 22.”
Smelter workers were buoyed by the show of support.
“We’ll be out eight months, 10 months—up to a year,” said Alain Côté. “All the better if it’s less.”
“It’s going very well on the picket line,” said Gilles Doré, another locked-out worker. “On the negotiations, I don’t know. But on the picket line, morale is very good.”
On the Picket Line
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