By Greg Keenan, Globe and Mail, February 3, 2012
Caterpillar Inc. (CAT-N113.032.702.45%) is closing a locomotive plant in London, Ont., where locked out employees have been off the job since Jan. 1.
Caterpillar did not say when it will close the Electro-Motive Canada plan operated by its Progress Rail Service, which employs more than 400 people.
The employees, members of the Canadian Auto Workers union, were locked out after the union refused company demands to cut wages by as much as 50 per cent.
The closing came eight days after Caterpillar reported record revenue of $60.1-billion (U.S.), a profit surge of 83 per cent to $4.9-billion, results that it said it hasn’t seen since the days of U.S. President Harry Truman, who presided over the first years of a postwar economic boom when he occupied the Oval Office from 1945 to 1952.
The work will be shifted from London to Progress Rail’s other assembly plants in North and South America, the company said in a four-paragraph news release Friday.
“All facilities within EMC, EMD and Progress Rail Services must achieve competitive costs, quality and operating flexibility to compete and win in the global marketplace, and expectations at the London plant were no different,” the company added in the statement.
The gulf between the company’s position on how to reduce costs and increase flexibility and the union’s position was too wide so market actions dictated that the plant be closed, the statement added.
When 400 London Ontario workers are effectively competing and losing with 400 workers in the U.S.perhaps Mexico and in South America, while producing high quality machinery, in an admittedly highly competitive industry, there must be a public response, from the government of both Ontario and of Canada.
Are we going to lie down and effectively capitulate to the dictates of the CEO's and the investors of large multinational corporations and in so doing surrender the lives of these 400 workers and their families to the ravages of globalization.
As Bill Clinton public declared following the Monica Lewinsky affair, "I did it because I could!" the executives and board members of companies like Caterpillar "are doing this because they can" and they know that no Canadian government is going to challenge their decision.
However, the budgets of the province and the federal government now have to assume the burden of many of these workers' expenses, including EI, health care, and the potential social costs of disillusioned, dispirited and depressed workers and their families. And this is only one chapter of this incredibly tragic drama that is playing out across the western world, as corporations shift work, wages, benefits and lowered environmental expectations to other countries and continents.
There is reported to be a memo from then Premier Mike Harris to the curriculum designers at Queen's university, who were developing curriculum for grades nine and ten Canadian History courses. The memo told them to exclude all accomplishments of First Nations, organized labour and women.
These corporations, like Caterpillar, will effectively remove from our history and from our workplaces, all of the many reasonable and helpful and healthy improvements that have been achieved through long negotiations and many labour strikes and lock-outs over the last century. Our grandchildren will have to be taught the meaning of the word "union" and the meaning of "labour contract" because both of these phenomena will be eliminated from both the daily media and the history books, within the next decade, without even a whimper of protest from the Canadian public.
In Wisconsin, when the Governor pulled a stunt like this one, angry public service workers jammed the state legislative building in a protest the ripples from which are still reverberating across the U.S.
In Canada, when Caterpillar workers are thrown out onto the street, there is a one-day story, and people go about their business, unless and until they are put in a similar position, as a result of their employer's taking a similar decision. And have a second look at Caterpillar's profits of $60 billion for the last year, figures not seen since Harry Truman's presidency!
Still silence, because in Canada, only the young, those "rebels" who created those several encampments in various cities across the country, have the courage, the fortitude and the hutzpah to challenge the existing and worsening situation that confronts the next generation.
Perhaps courses like Civil Disobedience need to be designed and delivered to the nation's secondary school students, in part to enrich their curriculum and in part to guarantee another generation of those willing to fight for the rights, privileges and benefits that were once considered normal, until they were eviscerated by the cutthroat profiteers in the corporate executive suites, with the government's compliance and support.