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  Issue No 62 Official Organ of LaborNet 14 July 2000  




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Rio Versus the Rest of the World

Union members around the world have taken part in a week of international action against the mining giant Rio Tinto. Andrew Casey looks at all the hot spots.

The week was kicked off in Australia by the CFMEU holding stoppages at Rio Tinto mines on Monday.

On the same day Rio Tinto has made an offer to settle a long-running dispute at its Mt. Thorley mine in the Hunter region.The proposed settlement was announced to a mass rally of striking mineworkers at the three Rio Tinto mines in the Hunter Valley. (see news story)

Rio Tinto has faced serious industrial disputes across all of its Australian coal mines since it sought to cease bargaining with unions and to push workers on to individual contracts - a process begun in 1993.

The company concession came just as the international trade union action week on Rio Tinto began its week of action which was planned in countries ranging from Australia to the USA, Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil.

Here are some reports from around the world.

In Indonesia at the Rio Tinto coal mine in East-Kalimantan the independent trade union SBSI reported there is an on-going strike and occupation which started several weeks ago and has virtually stopped production.

But this Tuesday (July 11) local Rio Tinto management agreed to have what the union said was the first real negotiating meeting, according to Sebastianus Nira and Didik Hendro the General Secretary and Chairman of SPE-SBSI.

More than a thousand workers have been involved in a sit-in for more than a month. Knowing that people at the other end of the world are supporting them is important, say the SBSI officials .

At the beginning of last week local Rio Tinto management tried to break a long strike and site occupation by bringing in 300 strike breakers from another village who usually have no close relationship with the local people. These people were paid transport, food and some wage to break the strike, if necessary using violence,.

Local political pressure - including the regional governor and the regional parliament - was brought to bear on Rio Tinto management forcing them to meet several times with SBSI union leaders, and workers to discuss the strikers demands.

The 300 strike breakers brought in by Rio Tinto were largely neutralized after they had had a chance to talk with the workers whose jobs they would have taken.After about three days most of the strike-breakers had left and gone back to their home villages.

The regional governor has forced Rio Tinto to continue to supply the site with water, food, electricity, etc. The company had hoped to turn supplies off and force the workers out of the mine area. About 85% of the workers is now still on the site, continuing their passive action. They know that if they leave, they'll have lost.

In the USA on Monday members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 30 held a demonstration in front of the Rio Tinto owned Borax mine in support of Rio Tinto workers around the world - in particular Indonesia, Australia, Chile, Brazil and Namibia -- where workers are struggling for basic human and worker's rights. Borax mineworkers held up picket signs that expressed their support for other Rio Tinto workers in the specific countries listed above. The desert heat was intense but it did not dampen the resolve of ILWU Local 30.

The Borax workers also discussed the problems at the mine the mine itself. US Borax has been cutting costs at approximately 3% annually for a number of years. It is our understanding that the company is now attempting to cut back 24% annually but has only been able to average 14% annually. While the company is talking a lot about health and safety, these attempts at irrational cost cutting are causing serious health and safety and quality of product problems at the mine and have the potential to seriously undermine the future safety and job security of the workers.

Rio Tinto company representatives, including Alexis Fernandez, the Rio Tinto/US Borax Global Executive for Communications and Community Affairs, spoke with the media, and watched the events with tremendous attention and interest. It was very obvious that word of the California protest reached the head offices of Rio Tinto within moments of the event.

Today ( Friday), ILWU Local 20A will also be acting as part of the international Rio Tinto trade union week by holding a lunchtime protest with workers outside the US Borax Chemical and Processing Plant to demonstrate their concern about Rio Tinto's global treatment of workers and their communities. The chemical and processing plant is located in the Los Angeles harbor area. The plant processes and ships out materials that they receive from the US Borax mine located about two hours outside of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert.

In Utah, the members of Steelworkers District #12 who are employed at Kennecott Utah Copper will be meeting with top management today ( Friday, July 14) specifically to protest the companies lack of support for human rights and workers' rights around the world. The Steelworkers work at one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world, located near Salt Lake City, Utah.

In Canada, in the French-speaking state of Quebec, the Steelworkers at the QIT-FEr et Titane mine and smelter have an official meeting scheduled with the top company management in two weeks and will be directly expressing their solidarity with other Rio Tinto workers around the world, The QIT mine and smelter produce titanium dioxide feedstock for the pigment industry.

In Chile workers from a Rio Tinto copper mine in northern Chile have been in Santiago this week protesting the termination without cause and blacklisting of 84 miners. These workers were fired in 1999 from the largest copper mine in the world, Escondida. A delegation of the workers met with representatives from both the office of the President of Chile and the Ministry of Mines and Energy earlier this week.

This mine is actually majority owned and wholly managed by Australia's BHP - but Rio Tinto owns one third of the company. As part of this international week of action on Thursday a delegation of Chilean miners was scheduled to visit the Australian embassy to protest Rio Tinto's actions against workers and their communities in Australia.

For more information about the Rio Tinto Global Union Network - and a copy of a letter you can send - on your letterhead - to Rio Tinto management contact the Rio Tinto Global Union Network Email: [email protected]


*    Visit the CFMEU's Rio Tinto Campaign page

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 62 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Fair Trader
AMWU boss Doug Cameron is gearing for a showdown with the ALP over their free trade agenda. But what's he really on about?
*  Politics: Free Trader
Trade Minister Peter Cook states his case for coninuting trade liberalisation and why the 'fair trade' agenda is against the interests of Australian workers.
*  History: Organising - Fifties Style
What do the new wave of organisers do? Pretty much the same hard slog that Audrey Petrie did in the 1950s around Sydney for the Hotel, Club and Restaurant Union (HCRU).
*  Unions: The Whistleblower
A lone Chinese seafarer is fighting to stop a Panamanian flagged vessel from dumping toxic waste into Australian waters
*  International: Jakarta Breakthrough
Indonesian workers have just won a new historic bill of rights which gaurantees them legal protections when they form unions.
*  Solidarity: Rio Versus the Rest of the World
Union members around the world have taken part in a week of international action against the mining giant Rio Tinto. Andrew Casey looks at all the hot spots.
*  Satire: Amnesty Branch Targets Lazy Letter Writer
Police are investigating claims that the Glebe branch of Amnesty International has captured and tortured a member whose tardiness in letter writing had become renowned.
*  Review: Little by Little
Clinton Walker's groundbreaking book, CD and video charts the careers of indigenous artists like the legendary Jimmy Little.

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»  Unchain Your Mind
»  ACTU Womens' Conference

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Political Hackers and the Law
»  Still a Role for Tariffs
»  Fair Trade - Australia Would be Hit Too!
»  Mexican Greens - A Different Analysis
»  Korean unrest - All the Latest Here

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