Hosted by the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), the meeting took place at a time when the global steel capacity exceeds production by 426 million tons, with more capacity coming online. According to the OECD, “the global steel industry could face a new supply glut if certain countries, which already contribute to overcapacity in the sector, bring on new steelmaking plants.” The excess capacity has triggered shutdowns, bankruptcies and job cuts in the sector.
Along with the steel industry, the meeting analyzed the aluminium industry and its production chain.
In his welcoming speech, Daniel Walton, national secretary of the AWU said:
“The AWU is part of a global union movement that delivers fair pay and conditions for workers across heavy industries. We were honoured to welcome our fellow trade unionists from across the world as IndustriALL hosts the base metals conference in Sydney, Australia.”
The meeting addressed key issues impacting the sectors. Participants discussed how base metals unions can work together to address overcapacity, despite different positions on trade. A debate was conducted on the impact of digitalization and Industry 4.0 on base metals workers, and how unions should respond.
Participants shared their views on how unions can more effectively organize in the face of repressive governments, and companies that are making their workforces more precarious.
Songah Kim, an organizer from the Korean Metalworkers’ Union, explained how Posco, the world’s fifth largest steelmaker, uses repressive methods to bust unions. Kim’s presentation was confirmed by similar reports from India, Turkey and Indonesia. The meeting agreed to do further work on campaigning against Posco.
Actions and campaigns against leading multinational companies were debated in the meeting, including Alcoa, ArcelorMittal, Gerdau, Glencore, Liberty House, Norsk Hydro, Rio Tinto, Tata Steel, ThyssenKrupp, Tenaris, Ternium and Vallourec. Michael Millsap from Workers’ Uniting North America briefed the meeting about the ongoing contract negotiations at Alcoa and Arconic, while Antony Pearson of Workers’ Uniting Europe and Roy Rickhuss of Community, UK reported on British Steel.
The meeting welcomed a strong discussion on gender policy. Marina Williams, president of AWU, spoke of her experience in the sector and rise to position of president. Robynne Murphy, an activist in the women’s movement and retired AWU steelworker explained the 14-year campaign from 1980 to 1993 for women to be able to work at BHP Steel, now Bluescope.
“The example of a new film being made, ‘Women of Steel’, highlights the complex realities of a successful women’s campaign against inequality and discrimination in male-dominated industries, which we hope might inspire a new generation of women and working people.”
“The AWU has had strong women in its ranks since our earliest days. Today Bluescope Steel actively seeks to employ women, because these jobs were fought for and won by proud AWU women and men. ‘Women of Steel’ is an important story and AWU is very proud to have helped it be told,”
Daniel Walton commented.
Network meetings of Alcoa and Liberty Steel were organized the day before the steering committee. Alcoa employs 14,000 workers in 15 countries, and has high union density. Over the last year, Alcoa has increased its attacks against organized labour in Canada, Australia, Spain and Surinam. The Alcoa meeting expressed solidarity with the workers in conflict and bargaining negotiations.
With its rapid expansion over a short time period, Liberty House has become an important player in the global steel industry. Following the acquisition of ArcelorMittal steel operations in Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Macedonia and Romania, the Liberty House network meeting discussed labour relations and future of trade union networking.
Both networks decided to strengthen their activities in the period to come.
“Three intensive days of exchange and discussions have brought together an active and dynamic ground for international solidarity in base metals sectors,”
said Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary.
“Together with our affiliates in the sector, we will overcome all the challenges and difficulties.”
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