MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling Arizona - Australia

Published by MAC on 2005-11-28

London Calling Arizona - Australia

By Nostromo Research

28th November 2005

"Down KEX!"

Now here's a heartening little tale. Or is it?

The location is the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. The wolf at the door is Rio Tinto/Kennecott. On the threshold, a small group calling itself "Apaches Against Rio Tinto", while the cake in the parlour is a potentially lucrative lode of minerals.

First, we'll hear it from the Big Bad Canis Lupus itself : "Kennecott Exploration (KEX) has been bargaining with the semi autonomous tribal council for one and a half years." Or so we're told in Rio Tinto's June 2005 in-lair "Review": "Last year an access agreement was signed for a preliminary geological reconnaissance. The idea is to finalize a more comprehensive partnership agreement that will set out the benefits and obligations of both sides for exploration purposes and what would happen in the event of a mineral discovery being made.

"The chairwoman of the San Carlos Apache, Kathy Kitcheyan, greets the film crew at the administration office. The crew cross the road to do the interviews under the shade trees outside the medical centre. Besides Kathy, there is Edwin Hopkins, an Apache who works for KEX, and Leonard Polk, who is opposed to mining and doesn't want an agreement with KEX.

"The reservation, about 80 by 110km, is home to 8,000 people. Kitcheyan says that her greatest concern is to create more jobs, and she gives credit to the potential offered by working with KEX. Polk goes on camera to object to mining in principle. It's bad for the water and a recipe for broken promises, he says, especially as a foreign company is involved."

Now here's the unauthorised version, from one of the Native Americans on the reservation, representing a group called "Apaches Against Rio Tinto". She contacted London-based Partizans (People against Rio Tinto and its subsidiaries) early this summer. Having heard from Aboriginal leaders in Australia of previous "problems" with the UK-Australian company, the group had already begun disseminating critical information among fellow tribe members.

By June, while the campaign was "progressing every day", the toughest challenge was "encouraging people to sign the [anti mining]petition. They are very fearful for their jobs and scared of retaliation. The tribal council is leaning heavily toward granting Rio Tinto a renewed lease permit".

Then, out of the blue, the group learned that one its reservation members had married into the Dann family in Nevada. "This is the same Western Shoshone family that has had their own personal dealings with Rio Tinto/Kennecott. They have now become active in the San Carlos campaign and speak out at the meetings on what happened to them. Very powerful testimonies..."

After several weeks vigorous lobbying, on September 15 the tribal council voted 6 - 2 to "instantly cease negotiations with Rio Tinto". According to our contact in the anti-mining group, the company's representatives were "absolutely stunned because nobody expected the council to be voting that day". On discovery "they were enraged. The chairwoman was their biggest ally and she was just sick with the decision". Now, London Calling has been informed, "thee majority dissidents are working on removing the company altogether from the reservation. There was no time limit given to them which makes us a little nervous but after defeating them we know we can handle it."

So far, so safe: the wolf is still at the door but hasn't yet crossed the threshold and grabbed any cake. By justice - and certainly by Rio Tinto's own policy ("The Way We work") - the company should now be a thousand miles away from San Carlos, and still running. But reflect on this: early in the struggle Rio Tinto had identified one of its key opponents as the tribal purveyor of breakfasts to the reservation - we'll call him Mr A. The company allegedly then brought in its own merchandiser of meals in a deliberate attempt to undermine Mr A's business. Shortly afterwards, an Australian Aboriginal woman approached Mr A's wife, identifying herself as a "Murri from Queensland" and "an Indigenous Employment Strategist with Rio Tinto". Mr A's wife told us she was "blown over, knowing that they pulled this woman from over there just to come and 'talk' to me. Trying to pit one spouse against the other. Real sneaky, huh?"

In light of much greater recent betrayals by the world's second biggest mining company, this may seem small beer. The tribal council's resolution merited only a few paragraphs in the local newspapers, let alone in a national daily. But the story must surely resonate - and not only among the Western Shoshone who've had their treaty rights already soundly trounced by Rio Tinto, Placer and Newmont; but also among the Mirrar people in Australia's Northern Territory who fought for several years to tie the company to a binding agreement over the Jabiluka uranium deposit.

If the rest of us thought that Rio Tinto's legendary tactic of "divide and seize" had gone out with its architecting of the ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals) three years ago, we have another think - and many more battles - coming.

Hard rocks and requisitioned workplaces

Our colleagues in Australia's trade unions - in particular those within the CFMEU - know this only too well.. They may now feel that the attempts they made, from 1997 onwards, to break Rio Tinto's anti-union strategies have finally foundered on the rocks of corporate intransigence and government collusion

A fortnight ago, Australia's Channel Nine "Sunday" programme revealed Rio Tinto's role in "developing Prime Minister John Howard's Workchoices legislation." The programme's researchers (according to Workers' Online) had "stumbled across the influence wielded by the mining giant and anti-worker law firm, Freehills". They investigated how the hard Right ideology, developed at those firms, was "spread across the economy and welcomed into Canberra's halls of power".

Channel Nine says that "this Christmas, Australian business will get its biggest present ever. Courtesy of control of both Houses of Parliament, Prime Minister John Howard will finally achieve a career-long dream - a stripped down system of industrial deregulation that prefers individual contracts between employers and employees, sidelines unions, scraps the 'no disadvantage' test, removes recourse to unfair dismissal for employees of small business, and reduces the minimum conditions of employment to a set of five."

Just before the programme aired, Rio Tinto issued a press statement claiming these viciously anti-union "reforms" to be 'irreversible" (Has Rio Tinto become the de facto government of Australia, when it comes to industrial relations?)

The company's Australian managing director, Charlie Lenegan, (former general manager of the disastrous Kelin gold mine in Indonesian East Kalimantan) claimed the legislation was "necessary to encourage high performance workplaces."

But hundreds of thousands vehemently disagreed, taking to the streets in protest at the legislation, on Tuesday November 22nd, while the opposition Leader Kim Beazley vowed to "rip it up" if Labor won the next Australian election.

And so he should. Meanwhile, let others not ignore the growing fraternity of desperate concern between still relatively powerful mineworkers' bodies (as in Australia), and small community groups like the Apache band in Arizona. "Unite and fight" isn't just a hoary and redundant slogan.

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