February 3, 2012

Governments should seize Caterpillar assets

Caterpillar: crushing communities near you

American industrial giant Caterpillar is closing its locomotive plant, putting 460 workers out of their jobs just over a month after they were locked out for rejecting pay cuts of up to 50 per cent.

OTTAWA – “The decision announced today that US Caterpillar Corporation will close its Electro-Motive plant in London instead of negotiating with the Canadian Autoworkers Union requires an immediate response from the Canadian and Ontario governments.” That statement from Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP).

“This decision is a slap in the face to Canada which gave Electro-Motive tax breaks to protect jobs,” continues Coles. “It’s an act of corporate aggression against Canada and we should retaliate with an immediate tariff against Caterpillar products imported to Canada.  The Ontario and federal governments should take the same action in this situation as former Premier Danny Williams did at AbitiBowater in Newfoundland – they should seize the Caterpillar assets in London and ensure that all community and worker obligations are fully met.


PV Ontario Bureau

The CAW and Ontario Federation of Labour organized a massive demonstration on Jan. 21, when 15,000 workers rolled into London's Victoria Park on 72 buses rented for the occasion by unions and Labour Councils across the province.

They were there in a massive show of unity and solidarity with the almost 500 members of Local 27 CAW, locked out since December 29 by Electro‑Motive Canada. EMC is a subsidiary of the super-profitable transnational corporation Caterpillar, which produces heavy equipment in plants located around the world.

EMC illegally locked out its employees after they voted to refuse the company's final offer: a 55% wage cut and deep cuts to pensions and benefits. Workers were told that a "no" vote would lead to the company relocating its operations to Indiana, leaving its employees in Canada jobless. But the concession demands were so outrageous that Local 27 members voted against the offer anyway. Many are skilled trades workers who earn as much as $35 an hour. The company sought to cut their wages to $16.50. Since the lockout began, the company has removed machinery and equipment from the plant in violation of the collective agreement.

EMC is owned by Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar, which had global operations and revenues of $58 billion last year and posted profits of $1.14 billion. Progress Rail has received an estimated $5 million in corporate tax breaks from the federal government.

The trade union movement is warning that a victory for Caterpillar will encourage corporations across Canada to roll out equivalent "offers" in a race to the bottom for Canadian workers. OFL President Sid Ryan and CAW President Ken Lewenza both called on the labour movement and its allies to rev up for a major battle with Caterpillar to protect the jobs, wages, pensions and living standards of workers, as well as Canada's sovereignty and independence.

The OFL and CAW are demanding that the terms of sale of EMC to Progress Rail under the Investment Canada Act be made public, and that the federal government hold the company accountable to obey Canadian investment and labour laws. They are also demanding the Harper government stop all tax breaks going to the company, stop removal of machinery and equipment out of the plant, and allow locked out workers to qualify for EI benefits and supplemental unemployment benefits.

As the federal and provincial governments across Canada get ready to introduce deep new cuts and austerity, including job and wage cuts in the public sector, many of those workers present in Londonwere aware that they could be next. The crowd was loud and enthusiastic, and many of the buses stopped at the plant for a rally with picketers before leaving town. Busses from as far away as Timminsmade the trek to show labour's opposition, and its muscle too.

The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) supports the union's demands, and also calls on the government to introduce plant closure legislation with teeth that would require companies to show just cause before a public tribunal with the legal power to stop the closure, levy fines and even jail terms where necessary.

The Party also called on the provincial government to be prepared to put EMC under public ownership and democratic control in the event its owners don't reconsider their approach to free collective bargaining, and to Canadian workers, Canadian laws and Canadian sovereignty.

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