Behind Bars

Union-Busting: Rio Tinto Style

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Not since the infamous PATCO action of the '80s, the Reagan-era attack on the air traffic controllers union, have we seen such an open assault on a union, as has happened to hundreds of workers at Rio Tinto, the California open-pit mine owned by the global conglomerate in Boron.

On a brisk morning in Jan. 2010, Rio Tinto bosses locked out nearly 600 workers, members all of Local 30, of the ILWU (Int'l Longshore and Warehouse Union), and brought in a scab crew waiting in the wings.

The lockout came because the workers rejected an unconscionable collection of union givebacks, which essentially nullified not only previous contract agreements, but Federal and State laws in support of labor and human rights standards.

At a time when politicians cry crocodile tears at miners' funerals, the livelihoods and living standards of real, living miners (and their families), like the hundreds locked out of Rio Tinto, gets barely a whisper.

Not surprisingly, Rio Tinto, a wily corporate giant, chose a time of near collapse of the economy to try to hammer its laborers. Nor is Rio Tinto hurting, having posted a $16 billion dollar pre-tax profit in 2008.

The mega-corporation owns mines in Papua New Guinea, in Namibia in Africa, and throughout Asia. When the original contract expired in 2005, Rio Tinto responded by offering an agreement that would've, among other things, cut full-time jobs to part-time jobs, reduced pay at will, sent jobs abroad by outsourcing at will, require the union to pay the company's fees and penalties if Rio Tinto violates any State or Federal labor laws, and the like.

Many of these proposals were designed to push union buttons, to force it to oppose any agreement.

For the company's objective wasn't agreement it was domination; the power of the employer to crush the employee; the power of wealth to smash a union.

But the ILWU local 30 is fighting back, supported not only by its International, but by shipping and maritime unions around the world. Workers in Australia, New Zealand, Poland, South African and Canada have supported their efforts.

For this is an assault not just on workers at Rio Tinto, it's an attack on all workers and their very right to organize., April 30, 2010