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NEWS: Barlow says Caterpillar running roughshod over Canadian workers

The London chapter at the Jan. 21 protest

The London chapter at the Jan. 21 protest

Electro-Motive Diesel is owned by Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc., the parent company of Progress Rail Services. Almost 500 unionized workers were locked out on New Year’s Day, two days after rejecting a contract offer that would cut their wages and benefits in half. On January 21, the Council of Canadians London and Hamilton chapters joined with thousands of others to support the then-locked-out Electro-Motive Diesel workers. This past Friday Caterpillar decided to close its London plant.

The London Free Press reports, “Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians said the Harper government is allowing companies like Caterpillar to run roughshod over Canadian workers and families. ‘The Council of Canadians is calling on the Harper government to impose tariffs on imports of equipment from Caterpillar on the grounds that their actions will have dire fiscal and social consequences for the London community and by their use of unfairly subsidized labour in Mexico and right-to-work Indiana.'”

In late-January, Linda McQuaig commented in the Toronto Star, “As the 500 London workers have bundled up in the cold, the Harper government refuses to get involved, sitting silently on the sidelines as Caterpillar brings its notorious anti-union fervour to Canada. In fact, the Harper government is involved, having played a key role in bringing about this disaster for the London workers by approving the sale of the company, Electro-Motive Diesel, to foreign-owned Caterpillar in 2010, after supposedly investigating whether the deal was in Canada’s interests. …Ironically, the Harper government has complained forcefully about ‘foreign’ interference from outside environmentalists protesting a proposed pipeline across the Rockies. But when it comes to foreign companies stripping Canadian workers of half their wages and then moving operations out of the country, the government hasn’t a negative word to say. Harper is of course staunchly pro-capitalist, and has aggressively lowered corporate tax rates, while refusing to link lower taxes to investment or job creation. …He seems determined to turn Canada into an anti-union paradise…”

The Toronto Star also reports, “(Caterpillar) won’t just relocate the heavy equipment on the factory floor, but harvest the technological know-how subsidized with government incentives and writeoffs. This wasn’t bullying, it was highway robbery — with our politicians watching from the sidelines. …Lost jobs aren’t our only loss. Be it Nortel or RIM, we need to value the technology and patents in play when foreigners start kicking the tires. The buyers are just as likely to be scavengers as investors. And if their primary goal is to spirit away our intellectual property, they will treat the ancillary human resources as an expendable asset to be stripped away, bargained down or locked out.”

In terms of next steps, the London Free Press reports today, “The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union is prepared to occupy the Electro-Motive plant in London if owner Caterpillar Inc. doesn’t bargain a severance package, Local 27 president Tim Carrie says. The union occupied a Caterpillar front-end loader plant in Brampton in 1991 to get the company to the table after it announced it was closing that factory. It worked then, and the workers are prepared to do it again, Carrie said on the weekend. …Talks begin Tuesday on a severance package for the plant and the bargaining committee will meet Monday to hammer out its requests. Charlotte Yates, a labour professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, said she believes the severance talks could also prove difficult. Caterpillar has a history of trying to get by paying as little as it can, she said.”

CBC adds, “Mark’s Work Wearhouse has pulled Caterpillar-brand boots off the shelves of its London, Ont.,-area stores in support of hundreds of local Electro-Motive workers who are losing their jobs. …Graham Morley, the retailer’s district manager in the Greater London Area, told CBC News that many Mark’s Work Wearhouse customers worked at the plant that is now being shut down. Morley said it was a local decision to drop the Caterpillar products. He said it is not clear how long the boots will be held from sale, though it will likely be only a temporary move.”