Keeping up the unity at Boron

Union workers at the Boron plant run by mining giant Rio Tinto in California’s Mojave Desert have been locked out of their jobs for more than 100 days. The workers, members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 30, had been without a contract for months when Rio Tinto closed the doors on them.

The fight at Boron isn’t about money. Rio Tinto, an Anglo-American multinational, is trying to impose contract provisions that would produce a tame and powerless union–for example, elimination of seniority rights, elimination of half of accrued sick days, a 25 percent reduction in pension contributions, and management’s right to administer drug and alcohol tests, and physical or mental exams at any time.

The Boron miners stood up to the company, and they have won union solidarity from around the U.S. and across the globe. In an example of how ILWU members see their battle as part of a larger fight, Tom Owens, a locked-out miner, traveled halfway across the state to speak at a rally in Oakland during the Oakland Education Association’s one-day strike on April 29. Before he spoke, he talked to John Green about the lockout.

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YOU’RE 350 miles from Boron, why are you in Oakland today?

I’M HERE to stand in support of everybody fighting corporate power. How can the government give handouts to corporations while reducing wages and cutting jobs from these teachers? I’m here to stand up against privatization of our schools by the same corporations that need federal bailouts but end up running the schools, like here in Oakland. That concerns me.

WHAT’S THE status of the lockout?

WE’VE HAD some negotiations over the last two weeks, and brought in a federal mediator for a closed session. There’s no actual offer on paper yet, but it looks like Rio Tinto has come off of some of their initial demands. But we still have a long way to go.

Lately, we’ve had several large rallies of Local 30 members to keep up unity and strength–to get people to understand that this is their fight.

But miners are visiting us from across the globe. Two weeks ago, we held protests outside the British consulates in Los Angeles, San Francisco, even Seattle. There were 2,000 people in Los Angeles. Our brothers and sisters in LA organized a food caravan “From the Docks to the Desert.”

As a local, this brought us a lot closer together. Lots of members have had their eyes opened to the reality of the strength that unions bring, and the importance of solidarity in a struggle such as ours.

WHAT CAN supporters do to help?

I WOULD say to continue to keep our struggle at the forefront of their minds. But also take action when it’s necessary, wherever there’s injustice in this world. Of course, there are still ongoing requests for donations of food or money. It’s much appreciated.

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What you can do

Visit the ILWU Local 30 web site for updates and solidarity actions. The grocery fund needs donations; mail a check for any amount to: ILWU Local 30, 24000 Chaparral Ave., Boron, CA 93516.

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