The United Steelworkers’ (USW) global campaign to prevent Brazilian mining giant Vale S.A. from eroding working conditions and denying basic labour rights at its operations worldwide is gaining momentum.
It is being assisted by the International Metalworkers’ Federation, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions and LabourStart.
Members of the two global union federations have held a number of actions around the world targeting Vale business operations and investment.
3,500 USW members in Canada have been on strike since July 13 after refusing deep concessions from the Brazilian mining giant. The company has hired replacement workers to continue production during the strike.
On October 26, workers at Vale’s largest Brazilian mine walked off the job for two days in response to the company’s ‘shameful’ proposal at the bargaining table.
Workers stopped production in the Carajás, Para mine.
They stopped all production in the mines of Parauapebas and Canaã, also in the state of Pará.
The workers at the mines voted to strike.
Vale workers in Brazil report the denial of basic labour rights, low wages and substandard health and safety conditions.
Meanwhile in Canada, members of the United Steelworkers Local 7580 in Timmins say they are disgusted with the way the Canadian government has allowed Vale Inco to treat its Sudbury workers.
Chad Young, chief steward and president, and Carlos Aguiar, recording secretary, expressed their support and showed solidarity with striking members of Local 6500 in Sudbury.
They mentioned several other Canadian locations owned by Vale Inco which have striking workers and said even workers in Brazil recently walked off the job.
‘As Canadians we’ve always shown empathy for other countries,’ Young said.
‘We’ve been compassionate, but I think in this case we’re being violated. The treatment is atrocious.’
Vale Inco is trying to treat its Canadian workers the way they treat workers in Brazil, Young said.
On Saturday, November 7th, Families Supporting the Strikers, a group of family and friends of the members of USW Local 6500 on strike at Vale Inco in Sudbury, Ontario, hosted a family day on the picket line.
The event was organised to provide strikers’ families and community members an opportunity to demonstrate their support for the four-month old strike.
The picket line at the Vale Inco smelter in Copper Cliff saw Families Supporting the Strikers organising activities for families and children, including a picket sign drawing and colouring activity and a union song sing-along.
Additionally, Canadian country singer Larry Berrio was at the event to debut his new single for strikers and their families.
‘We see Vale’s attack on Local 6500 as an attack on our entire community and we want to do our part to fight back against corporate greed,’ said Kari Cusack, a member of Families Supporting the Strikers.
‘This fight is about the future of our community. We can’t just sit on the sidelines.
‘There’s a place for union family members on the picket lines, at the union hall, and reaching out to our community.’
Families Supporting the Strikers is gearing up for a wide range of activities, including rallies, community education, and family support actions.
The group was joined at the picket line on Saturday by representatives of USW Local 2020 who were on hand to make a significant donation to the Local 6500 strike fund.
USW Local 6500 President John Fera said: ‘I continue to be impressed by the support and solidarity that Local 6500 is receiving from this community.
‘It’s not just us that are impacted; our family members and this community are part of the strike too.
‘And they’re going to be essential in keeping this strike strong and helping us to hold onto the gains we’ve won in Sudbury over the years.’
LabourStart, a web-based news service for the international trade union movement, launched an online letter writing campaign last week, with more than 1,000 letters sent to Vale CEO Roger Agnelli within hours.
In coordination with the letter writing campaign, the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) launched its global campaign webpage (www.imfmetal.org/Vale) with information about the struggle in four languages.
IMF and ICEM affiliates are being asked to support the global campaign and send letters to Vale.
IMF and ICEM affiliates in October, with the help of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, tracked a Vale copper shipment from Canada to Germany and on to Sweden.
Union members held a protest at the port outside of Hamburg, and in Sweden they met with board members of Vale customer Boliden AB which owns the Rönnskär copper smelter.
The global campaign is making an impact and has some Vale executives on the run.
The company has twice cancelled its ‘Vale Day’ at both the New York and London stock exchanges.
More global actions are planned until a just resolution can be reached.
Trade union activists and supporters around the globe are joining the campaign in support of workers under attack by the mining giant.
The struggles of Vale workers in Canada and Brazil have been embraced by LabourStart.
In its new global online campaign, LabourStart is urging its subscribers and readers to ‘Act NOW!’ and ‘Tell Vale that divide-and-conquer won’t work.’
The campaign includes an e-mail component through which protest messages can be sent to Vale and its chief executive Roger Agnelli.
Supporters can write their own letters to Vale or send a standard message which reads:
‘I am deeply concerned about how global mining company Vale is treating workers.
‘Although Vale is highly profitable, the company has provoked a labour dispute in Canada and now is replacing the striking miners, while continuing to play hardball with workers in Brazil.
‘Vale should quit trying to divide unions and communities. The company must return to negotiations and make fair offers in Brazil and Canada.’
LabourStart also informs its readers that, ‘Since being privatised in 1997, the global mining giant Vale has unleashed a vicious attack on workers.
‘The company undermined health and safety standards in Brazil and now it’s set its sights on Canada.
‘In 2009 negotiations with the United Steelworkers (USW), Vale claimed it needed deep concessions – despite making over $13 billion (US) in 2008 net profits.
‘The company’s strategy is to divide and conquer by undermining seniority and providing lesser benefits to new employees.
‘3,500 members of the USW rejected Vale’s demands and went on strike in mid-July.
‘Vale has since announced it will hire replacement workers and force other union members to do the work of the striking miners.
‘Meanwhile Vale workers throughout Brazil are struggling to hold on to jobs, earn a living wage, achieve minimum standards for safe working conditions, and guarantee basic labour rights.’