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Caterpillar worker speaks out against lockout

By: 
Melissa Graham

February 13, 2012

As the New Year began in London, Ontario, families across the city saw their worst fears become reality. In a community already reeling from several large plant closings, and with the second highest unemployment rate in Canada, the Caterpillar lockout is a significant blow.

There have been many articles about the corporate greed that this lockout represents, but it’s also important to keep in mind the impact the lockout has on the workers themselves. Here is one perspective.

Like many, she honestly believed that the company would negotiate in good faith, and that the concessions requested in the final offer would be respectful of workers and their families. Instead, Caterpillar put forward a devastating contract that the workers would never be able to accept. It wasn’t their choice not to be working. They were willing to work while negotiations continued, but the company chose to lock them out.

Impact

The impact on families has been even more devastating. “My husband was a welder and union member who was locked out and I was a contract salary employee in the engineering department. On New Year’s Eve, my supervisor called me to tell me my contract was being cancelled due to the fact that they didn’t see a quick resolution to the labour dispute.

“Locked out workers are not eligible for employment insurance. I am eligible but it is still being processed and I have heard the wait times are quite lengthy at the moment. We are quickly going through our savings. Our family still needs to eat and our mortgage and vehicle payment still need to be made. Worrying about money is a stressful event on its own, never mind coupled with two income losses.”

She is also concerned about what will happen to her community if the plant should close. “There will be a giant hole in the community if this company moves the work from London to another community. Electro-Motive employees not only provide a big tax base for the community, but they also provide huge support to charitable organizations.

“In addition, losing approximately seven hundred employees (including both salary and union workers) removes a lot of well paid families with disposable income to support other businesses.”

Solidarity

When asked how she feels about workers in Indiana (where Caterpillar is sending the jobs), she had this to say: “Muncie, Indiana has an extremely high unemployment rate (I believe about the same as London) and for any community to refuse jobs would be foolish. I think that on moral grounds it feels wrong for Muncie to feel happy about taking jobs at the expense of another community because they have dealt with this very issue first-hand…

“Unfortunately, the employees at the Muncie plant are severely underpaid, in my opinion. To keep skilled workers you have to have some good pay incentives… If all the locomotive plants under the Caterpillar umbrella were to stand together, they would have a much better chance of success.”

The struggle has been enough for them to decide to move to Alberta for the sake of their family. “Ontario just doesn’t have a whole lot to offer workers, or to allow their children to have a secure future when they enter the workforce. We certainly don’t expect riches but would like to retire some day.” She knows other families are considering similar options.

Hope

Despite this decision, she still has hope for the lockout. “There was a lot of positive energy [at the rally] on January 21. It was nice to see and feel the support from union members around the province and citizens of the community. Every day there are more supporters showing up. Not only the general public but with business owners as well… TSC stores in London have removed all Caterpillar brand products from their store shelves… People can continue to support the strike by boycotting CAT products and urging the government to get involved.

“This may have started out as a lockout of over 450 employees at one company, but you can be sure that many large and small companies are watching closely and waiting for the outcome. If this company is successful with this kind of slaughter, many other companies will attempt the same thing to fatten their bottom line and leave more money for the CEOs’ bank accounts…

“The simple truth is [they are trying] to make more money for their stock holders and the corporate CEOs. So far they haven’t gotten away with anything but people need to feed their families and will have to move on.”

‘Don’t give up’

On a final note, she offers us this warning: “More and more families will be pushed to have incomes below the poverty line, and generations to come will have to fight for a better life that our predecessors have already fought and won for us. We shouldn’t give up without a fight. Any working citizen needs to wake up and pay attention because it won’t stop here.”

The January 21 labour-led solidarity action was an important step in building a broader struggle that unites workers and their communities. and that can help defend Caterpillar workers in the short term, and resist more effectively the neoliberal agenda in the long term.Everyone needs to support Caterpillar workers, since a victory for them will mean a victory for workers everywhere, and will help add momentum to the ongoing struggle against austerity.d

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