Rio Tinto Dispute Set To Go International

Global unions warn against international backlash to US miners lockout

Global unions are calling for international action against Rio Tinto after the lockout of 560 US miners in Boron, California this week.

The Maritime Union of Australia and the CFMEU Mining and Energy division and unions internationally in the Mining and Maritime Initiative yesterday condemned the latest attempt by Rio Tinto to smash the rights of workers by locking out International Longshore and Warehouse Union members at the Boron operations and  called for worldwide solidarity actions.

"Our solidarity goes to ILWU Boron miners and their families in particular who have suffered these attacks on the morning of January 31 for defending workers' rights and refusing to capitulate to the bullying tactics of Rio whose agenda is to break the union in order to slash wages and conditions," the statement read.  "This company posted profits of $3.7 billion last year. Rio Tinto hired vanloads of security guards to storm the mine while helicopters flew overhead only last October. It is a company that has been taken to task for abuses of human rights, indigenous land rights, workers' rights and damage to the environment and local communities in Australia, Africa, Bougainville, Indonesia and Iceland. 

"On the eve of Mining and Maritime meeting in Palmdale, California on February 15, we call for worldwide solidarity actions in support of the locked out workers at Rio Tinto to be placed at the top of the agenda."

On Sunday, January 31, US time, Rio Tinto subsidiary, US Borax and Chemical Corp., locked the gates of the mine on its workforce and brought in non-union labour, after the workers unanimously refused to vote up a contract that undermined wages and conditions at the site.

"We are going into a big battle and it is going to be a long and hard fought one," wrote ILWU International President Bob McEllrath thanking the unions.

On Sunday the US miners made a powerful statement by appearing with their families at the gate, wearing their work clothes, carrying lunchboxes in one hand and American flags in the other," ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees reported.  "They marched up the gate, proud and determined, telling the company officials:  'We're here to work, we have families and communities that depend on us, so open the gate and let us go to work.'"

Bu the gates stayed locked and the workers left for the union hall where they joined committees that will collect and distribute groceries, raise donations, mobilise community and political support. Spirits remained high - despite a few tears that were shed by family members as workers marched defiantly to demand their jobs back.

In the M&M solidarity statement released yesterday MUA National Secretary and chair of the International Transport Workers' Federation Dockers' section Paddy Crumlin and General Secretary of the CFMEU mining and power division Andrew Vickers called on the Rio Tinto to immediately return to aprocess of good faith bargaining and desist from further labour rights abuses at the mine.

The statement addressed to the ILWU pledged  full support for the distressed workers and their families. It highlighted the M&M Sydney Declaration arising from the  2008 M&M conference to counter the impact of worker abuses by corporations in the mining and maritime sector and "to mobilise and take robust and decisive action where called upon and necessary".

Meanwhile calls have also gone out to the worlds' dockworkers and seafarers unions via the International Transport Workers' Federation.

The MUA national council passed a resolution of solidarity with the ILWU miners in November and sent a delegation to the mine earlier last year.

The M&M solidarity declaration comes as the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) announced its unequivocal support to the US miners.

"The ICEM will use its role, as the leading Global Union Federation in the mining industry, to alert trade unions around the globe, particularly those representing Rio Tinto workers, of the lockout and urge them to take action on behalf of ILWU Local 30 in California." the statement read.

The Mining and Maritime Initiative represents five million workers in the mining, maritime, manufacturing, road and rail transport, energy and construction industries chain from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa, USA, Japan, England, Switzerland, East Timor, Canada, Vanuatu, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, Papua New Guinea and Sweden.

The ITF represents 751 unions representing over 4,600,000 transport workers in 154 countries are members of the ITF. It is one of several Global Union Federations allied with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

ICEM represents 20 million workers worldwide that are part of 467 affiliated trade unions in 132 countries.

See also M&M face off Rio Tinto

MUA pledges solidarity with ILWU


Download M&M ILWU solidarity statement below

ILWU Local 30 website

ILWU website

Send letters of support to the ILWU