M&M Face Off Rio Tinto

In the southern California mining town of Boron, 600 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union are in a standoff with mining giant Rio Tinto.  Under threat are their union rights and working conditions. 

But they are not alone. 

The ILWU last week called on the Mining and Maritime initiative for solidarity.

"They seem ready to want to break the local there in Boron and destroy the workers and their families," wrote ILWU Secretary Treasurer Willie Adams. "We might ask that you send over a small delegation for international solidarity.  Our miners, brothers, sisters would be uplifted and inspired knowing they are not standing alone."

The MUA and the CFMEU were quick to respond.

"I'm saddened to hear that those bastards from Rio are screwing good working class people at Boron," wrote CFMEU mining and energy general secretary Andrew Vickers. "I'm sure we can assist."

 MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin called for a joint letter of solidarity to go out under the Mining and Maritime letterhead and within 24 hours an Australian delegation was on the ground at Boron.

The M&M statement reads:

"On behalf of the Maritime Union of Australia and the CFMEU Mining and Energy division and on behalf of the unions internationally in the Mining and Maritime Initiative, we the undersigned extend our fraternal greetings and sincere best wishes to ILWU members involved in the campaign against Rio Tinto at the Boron Operations.

"While our unions have had a long and bitter experience with Rio Tinto and their anti-union, anti-workforce tactics and policies here in Australia, we continue to be amazed at the way in which multi national corporations like Rio Tinto, demand and expect working men and women to sacrifice hard won conditions of employment in order to prop up already bloated corporate profits.

"To the ILWU members at Boron, we offer international solidarity in your struggle.  We commend you on your tenacity, and will continue to give you whatever support may be required until your campaign is successfully concluded. "

Assistant MUA National Secretary Warren Smith and national lead organiser Bernie Farrelly yesterday drove out from LA union meetings to join the ILWU at the township.

"They were incredibly pleased to see solidarity from Australia," said Warren.  "We met with the local 30 officers President David Liebengood and Vice President Jack Liebengood.

"We gave them the letter from Paddy and Andrew and had long discussions on international solidarity and how we can further assist defend the community from the anti union Rio agenda. 

"The local then took the Australian delegation on a tour of the borax mine.

"While we were there we ran into an Australian delegation of Rio bosses and told them we had come to visit our really close mates from ILWU.  I introduced myself from the MUA and Bernie told them he was representing the CFMEU mining.

"They've got the message now that there's plenty of eyes and ears watching what they are up to."

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, General Workers and Mine has also stepped up its support for the miners of US Borax in recent weeks.

The Rio subsidiary is one of the few global suppliers of borates, and has the reserves for nearly 40 years.

Workers at the mine are demanding a wage an increase that will redress their loss of earning power over the past five years, improvements in sick leave and medical benefits the company has been eroding.  They are also  defending their pensions from the company axe. 

"Rio Tinto are clearly up to no good with attacks on wages, pensions, arbitration rights, sick leave and seniority," Warren Smith reports.  "It's a familiar tale. All the company's demands could have come from any of our employers as the Local 30 placards could be used at any of our negotiations.  

"The miners are exceptionally well organised and have fully functioning committees and organising structures operating. They seem well placed and united.

"They have asked for ongoing support of which we pledged. The form of which will no doubt have to be discussed and be dependent on the conditions.

"Local 30 made it clear our attendance in town would be well noted by the bosses. The visitor's book at the mine will record our presence as well."

"Today's visit by Warren Smith and Bernie Farrelly brought a powerful message of solidarity from our brothers and sisters in Australia, to the ILWU members at the mine in Boron, California," wrote Willie Adams.  "It sends an important message to Rio Tinto that this struggle is gaining international support."

The ILWU is also affiliated with the ICEM, which is urging trade unions and activists to let Rio Tinto know that these miners are not alone in their fight for economic and social justice in this contract period.

Please write and fax a letter (using the model found here) to Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese, and be sure to send a copy to Willie Adams, Secretary-Treasurer of the ILWU at william.adams@ilwu.org.