THE 371 USW United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos workers in Quebec, Canada, have won their nine-month strike against Glencore-managed CEZinc.
The workers went on strike at the CEZinc refinery in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec, on 12th February, after the company tried to cut costs by raiding their pension scheme. On Saturday, November 25th, the members of United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos Local 6486 voted 82% in favour of accepting the new contract and their union declared ‘mission accomplished’ in preserving their pension plan for current and future workers. They will return to work on Sunday 3rd December.
‘Our members will be returning to work with their heads held high,’ said USW staff representative Luc Julien. They fought for more than nine months to preserve decent pensions, not only for themselves, but for the next generations of workers as well. The pension plan has been kept intact. The labour movement has a duty to preserve good working and living standards for future generations – that’s what the strikers at CEZinc have done.
‘They waged a battle of principle,’ said Julien. A single concession was granted in the negotiations – the elimination of a holiday premium. Following last Saturday’s ratification vote, Julien recognised ‘the exceptional work of the bargaining committee and the exemplary solidarity demonstrated by the 371 members.
‘We would like to thank the entire labour movement, which supported the strikers financially and morally. Donations poured in from all over Quebec and Canada, from Steelworkers and other labour organisations. This allowed us to fight to the end.’
The strikers benefitted from incredible local and international support, said Steelworkers Local 6486 President Manon Castonguay. Thank you to all the families of the strikers; without you, this fight would not have been possible,’ Castonguay said.
‘We would also like to thank the Steelworkers in Quebec and North America, IndustriALL Global Union and other trade union organisations like the Australian CFMEU that made our global campaign possible. And, above all, the merchants of the Salaberry-de-Valleyfield region, the restaurateurs and all the citizens of the region who supported us throughout the dispute. When you feel supported, it makes a difference.’
IndustriALL took global action in support of the strike at the Glencore AGM in Switzerland in May, and at the Glencore global network meeting in September. IndustriALL also lobbied Glencore top management directly on a number of occasions.
Australian affiliate the CFMEU – which is involved in a bitter dispute with Glencore at the Oaky North mine – also extended the hand of friendship and solidarity. At its meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 9th November, the IndustriALL executive committee endorsed a global campaign at Glencore.
The campaign seeks to establish dialogue with the company at a global level to improve conditions for workers everywhere, and will continue until the company changes its approach to unions.
The campaign will take global action on International Human Rights Day, 10th December, to highlight the company’s violations of workers’ rights around the world. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: ‘This is a very encouraging way to begin our campaign against Glencore. We hope it sets a precedent for more victories to come.
‘The solidarity, sacrifice and commitment of the Métallos and the brave strikers brought this victory after nine difficult months. We salute them, and we take this fight forward, so that Glencore workers everywhere can win decent conditions.’
Elsewhere, unionised employees at Bécancour’s ABI aluminum smelter have voted overwhelmingly to reject the company’s contract offer and strike. At membership meetings last week, members of United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos Local 9700 voted 97% to reject the company’s offer and give their bargaining committee a strike mandate. About 90% of union members turned out for the vote.
The collective agreement for the 1,030 union members has expired and the workers are in a legal position to strike. ‘We don’t want to trigger a dispute at this time. We want to achieve a negotiated settlement,’ said Clément Masse, Steelworkers Local 9700 President.
‘But the employer needs to grasp the message and take negotiations seriously. We have categorically rejected the proposal to impose a two-tier pension plan,’ Masse said. In addition to the employer’s demand for a two-tier pension plan that would discriminate against the next generation of workers, negotiations have stalled on the issue of seniority rights, particularly with respect to widespread job transfers and mobility issues expected in coming years as hundreds of new workers are hired.
• Last Saturday, the USW in Canada and the United States joined the Mexican National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Related Workers (‘Los Mineros’) in demanding justice for the families of two murdered strikers employed by the Media Luna mining operations in Guerrero, Mexico, owned by the Canadian company Torex Gold Resources, who were killed on November 18th.
In a letter to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and chief NAFTA negotiator Cynthia Freeland, USW International President Leo W Gerard and Canadian National Director Ken Neumann called on the Canadian government to meet with Mexican authorities, the employer and Los Mineros to reach a solution to the conflict that avoids further violence.
Workers at the mine have been on strike since November 3rd, protesting against working conditions and demanding the right to join Los Mineros. The workers have been supported by residents of local communities. Members of the company-supported protection union, the CTM, have been accused of responsibility for the attacks.
Armed civilians calling themselves the ‘Tonalapa community police’ killed the workers, who are among about 800 employees of the Canadian-owned El Limón-Guajes mine who went on strike three weeks ago. The workers are affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) as a result of a deal with the mine’s owner, Torex Gold Resources.
But they are demanding the right to join the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers (USW), known as Los Mineros. According to USW leaders, the conflict at Media Luna underscores the need for enforceable labour rights protections that must be implemented prior to the launch of a new NAFTA.
Without such measures, they argue, ‘there is little possibility for improving freedom of association and closing the wage gap that has driven the relocation of Canadian jobs.’ In addition, they state, the conflict ‘underscores the need for an extractive industries Ombudsperson to ensure transparency and accountability in overseas operations’ of Canadian mining companies.
The USW will be sending a delegation to Guerrero to investigate the attacks on the striking miners and their communities. The USW and Los Mineros have had a strategic alliance since 2005 and have worked closely on cross-national organising, bargaining and human rights issues.
Their demands also include improved working conditions and an annual bonus. The strike and the two murders have drawn international attention, particularly from the United Steelworkers (USW), which said the killings underscore Mexico’s repression of labour rights.
‘The root of these brutal murders is the widespread repression of labour rights in Mexico,’ said USW Canada national director Ken Neumann, who urged the Canadian government to intervene with Mexican authorities and for the company to recognise the basic rights of Mexican workers to prevent further violence.
He described the CTM, whose former leader stashed away millions of dollars in foreign tax havens, as a ‘protection union’ that doesn’t legitimately represent workers. Neumann said the Canadian government should intervene with Mexican authorities to push for Torex Gold to recognise the workers’ rights.
He cited the Canadian government’s claims that it wants to see labour standards in a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that improve wages and working conditions for Mexican workers. As NAFTA renegotiations shift to Mexico this week, this is an opportune moment for the Canadian government to back up its words with meaningful action,’ Neumann said.