15,000 rally in London, Ont. against Caterpillar’s controversial lockout of its Electro-Motive plant.
LONDON, Ont.—On Saturday an estimated crowd of 15,000 people protested against U.S.-based equipment builder Caterpillar’s lockout of its London, Ont. Electro-Motive plant—Canada’s last remaining locomotive assembly facility.
The company locked out its 420 plant workers New Year’s Day after a proposed wage cut from $34 an hour to $16.50 and a similar slash to benefits was met with fierce disapproval. Caterpillar says it is looking to cut $30 million in annual costs despite increasing productivity by 20 per cent at the end of 2011.
Caterpillar says the wage cut reflects earnings made by its UAW-represented plant workers at its La Grange, Ill. facility.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the plant in 2008 to showcase a $5 million federal tax break for buyers of the locomotive’s wares and a $1 billion tax break on industrial capital investment.
The company has market capitalization of $68.52 billion and reported profits of $3.96 billion in 2010.
Hence, thousands of people descended upon London to call out Caterpillar and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a situation reminiscent of the recently “resolved” U.S. Steel debacle—another foreign takeover that cost thousands of Canadian jobs.
U.S. Steel tookover Stelco in 2007, promising to keep the company’s 3300 workers. But by 2008, only 900 workers remained and it had de-indexed 9,000 retirees from pension benefits and blocked pension security for new hires.
The federal government, however, dropped the case in December amid promises by U.S. Steel to invest $200 million in its Hamilton and Nanticoke operations by next October and to provide $3 million in educational funding in both communities.
“For workers across the province, this isn’t simply about protecting the jobs of 500 Canadian workers, it is about taking a stand against the worst kind of state-sponsored corporate greed,” said Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) president Ken Lewenza. “Prime Minister Stephen Harper is spending billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize tax cuts for corporations who are taking our cash—and our jobs—south of the border. It is like having our own money used against us.”
Protesters came from communities as far away as Niagara Falls, Ottawa and Sudbury. Supporters drove from the General Electric plant in Erie, Penn. and a Caterpillar plant in La Grange, Ill. to support their locked-out Canadian counterparts.
“Prime Minister Harper has made it clear that he is on the side of corporations that are exploiting weak federal regulations and lax labor laws to rob Canadians of their jobs and their livelihoods,” said OFL President Sid Ryan.
“Our message to the Harper government, Caterpillar and every other company is simple: it won’t be business as usual until community needs come before corporate greed.”
Lewenza has called on Harper to overhaul the Investment Canada Act to ensure more Canadian jobs aren’t lost when foreign companies acquire Canadian businesses, perhaps a more eloquent call-to-action than London mayor, Joe Fontana, who bellowed “get your ass down here Harper” at the end of his address to the massive crowd.
“People are fed up with profit-rich foreign corporations destroying Canadian jobs, our economy and our communities,” said Ryan. “For workers across the province, Caterpillar has become the poster child of the greedy one per cent,” he said.
Ryan added that Caterpillar represents everything that is wrong with the Harper government—rewarding greedy corporations with public tax dollars while exploiting their own workers in pursuit of obscene profits.
Check out the video below of Sid Ryan’s address at Saturday’s rally below.