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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Sat, 22 Nov 97 15:35:17 CST
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Oz: Unions go global in fight with Rio Tinto
Article: 22468

Unions go global in fight with Rio Tinto

By Brad Norington, Industrial Editor,
Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 21 November 1997

Rio Tinto will be the first target of a new ACTU strategy to fight companies that are anti-union on a "global" scale by using strong links with international unions and pressuring world financial institutions.

The plan, announced after it was endorsed by the ACTU's executive in Sydney yesterday, will aim to force companies such as Rio Tinto into backing away from non-union contracts that shut unions out of workplaces.

The ACTU president, Ms Jennie George, said unions had to become more savvy about how they dealt with multi-national companies.

While Rio Tinto is the first target, the ACTU has drawn inspiration from the maritime union's recent success in mobilising international union support that forced the multi-national Freeport into retreat at the port of Cairns.

"This is not just on Rio Tinto," Ms George said.

"This ... will be the prototype of further campaigns that we will consider running against companies that have an ideological obsession about getting rid of union intervention in their operations here in Australia."

The first stage of the union strategy will be a meeting of international unions, community groups, churches and indigenous peoples in South Africa next February at which a draft "stakeholders" report will be prepared.

The president of the mining division of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Mr John Maitland, said the report would highlight the activities of Rio Tinto over alleged workers' rights abuses, human rights abuses and environmental damage in its international operations.

Unions would then begin a "cyber campaign" on the World Wide Web site in which messages about Rio Tinto would be conveyed to Governments and other unions. Unions would approach banks and financial institutions to make them aware of Rio Tinto's activities.

Mr Maitland said: "We have in mind talking to these institutions about the image they may develop when the conduct of Rio Tinto is published, and people look at associations."

Rio Tinto dismissed the plan as a stunt and compared it with warning letters send to Japanese power companies by Mr Maitland and the ACTU secretary, Mr Bill Kelty, during a lengthy strike at one of the company's Hunter Valley coalmines.

A company spokesman said customers and shareholders had lent their support to Rio Tinto.

"Unions are pretty good at stunts, but when it comes to the substance of reform they're not too flash," he said.

Ms George said she would advance the union campaign by leading a delegation of senior officials to Canada, the United States and Britain next April that would investigate how unions could call on international resources for campaigns being run in Australia.

The decision of unions to look internationally reflects a realisation that the only way to combat growing multinational companies is to match them.

Ms George said the maritime dispute in Cairns in September, in which Freeport backed away from its attempt to replace unionised waterfront labour with contract workers, had shown the efficacy of relying on international solidarity in certain situations.

"Working in a much more global economic environment, we have to strengthen and forge better links with our counterparts overseas," she said.