Le Lézard
Classified in: Mining industry, Business
Subjects: LBR, AVO

Solidarity March Supports Locked-Out ABI Workers

Massive demonstration of unity on the streets of Trois-Rivières.

TROIS-RIVIÈRES, QC, May 25, 2019 /CNW/ - A wave of solidarity is breaking out today on the streets of Trois-Rivières as thousands of demonstrators demand a negotiated resolution to the lockout of ABI smelter workers.

Locked-out workers and their families have been joined in the city's downtown core by supporters from across Quebec, members of virtually every union in the province, labour leaders from elsewhere in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., as well as the leaders of Quebec's four labour federations ? the FTQ, CSN, CSQ and CSD. Supporters travelled from as far away as Toronto and the regions of Chibougamau and Abitibi.

The Grand Solidarity March has been organized in support of 1,030 workers, members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9700, who have been locked out of their jobs at the ABI smelter since Jan. 11, 2018.

"It is heartwarming to see our families and friends, as well as members of our greater trade-union family, take to the streets with us to protest this 16-month lockout," said USW Local 9700 President Clément Masse.

"There must be a negotiated settlement and the hope is that the end of the U.S. aluminum tariffs will provide a positive momentum for an agreement. Our smelter is very competitive, versatile, and our members are highly skilled and qualified in producing several aluminum products with significant added value," Masse said.

The lockout has been prolonged by ABI's owners, aluminum giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto, which have continually moved the goal posts with increasing demands for concessions from the workers. Alcoa holds a 75% stake in the ABI smelter.

Tom Conway, the USW's International Vice-President whose responsibilities include leading the collective bargaining process for workers at Alcoa's U.S. operations, called out the multinational's regressive approach to negotiations.

"Unfortunately, we see that Alcoa is waging war on its workers rather than focusing on human capital. It's true here at ABI and it is true in the United States. We will denounce this harmful attitude wherever Alcoa operates," Conway said.

Alcoa's increasing disrespect and assault on its employees is affecting its international reputation, said USW Canadian Director Ken Neumann, returning from a meeting in Brussels of the leaders of IndustriALL, the global labour federation representing more than 50 million workers worldwide.

"Alcoa is making a name for itself on the international scene for its mismanagement of human resources and its ideological attacks on workers," said Neumann, who travelled with Clément Masse to Australia last month to build global support for the ABI workers in their struggle against Alcoa.

Throughout today's boisterous march, demonstrators also made clear their anger with Quebec Premier François Legault, who abandoned his previously stated sympathies with the ABI workers to aggressively support the attacks by Alcoa and Rio Tinto.

"This interference by the Premier, who has chosen to support the employer, has only entrenched the employer's positions rather than promoting the conciliatory approach needed for a fair resolution. Let's hope the Premier decided to pursue a more constructive approach in his meeting this week with Alcoa's CEO," said Serge Cadieux, General Secretary of the Quebec Federation of Labour.

Alain Croteau, the Steelworkers' Quebec Director, denounced a "scandalous" contract between ABI and the Quebec government's public utility, Hydro-Québec, that allows ABI to classify its decision to lock out employees as a 'force majeure,' or Act of God.

As a result, ABI is absolved of its electricity-purchasing commitments with Hydro-Québec, which is depriving Quebecers of huge hydro revenues ? $165 million in 2018 alone, Croteau noted.

"All Quebecers are paying for this lockout, for an abuse of power by multinationals that are trying to provide fewer benefits to Quebec. It is repulsive to see the Premier condone corporate behaviour that harms working conditions and good jobs in Quebec," he said.

Alcoa and Rio Tinto triggered the ABI lockout in 2018 even though the union had indicated it did not intend to strike and it was prepared to continue negotiations to resolve the only two outstanding issues.

In the ensuing months, ABI has demanded increasing concessions from workers, further undermining prospects for a negotiated settlement. On March 11, 82% of union members rejected a company offer that demanded further concessions.

The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos, affiliated with the FTQ, is the largest private sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers from all economic sectors.

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)

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