On January 1st, 465 members of the Canadian Auto Workers were locked-out at Caterpillar’s Electro-Motive Diesel Plant in London, Ontario. Shamefully, the company is demanding a 50% pay cut from its employees. Despite Caterpillar’s massive profits, they continue to demand major concessions from workers at EMD. This lockout can’t be seen in isolation. It is part of a broad assault by the capitalist class, who are attacking workers and pushing down wages around the world. CAW President Ken Lewenza has said that the demand for such massive wage cuts is unprecedented in the history of collective bargaining in Canada. This means that this struggle could also be precedent-setting and have wide implications for workers across Canada. The entire labour movement must respond.
Workers manning the picket lines at Electro-Motive Diesel are holding strong. They have successfully blocked scabs from entering the plant on several occasions and are in high spirits. Just days before the lockout, the members of CAW local 27 voted 97% in favour of strike action and were preparing for a confrontation. The company’s demands are completely unjustified and the workers are prepared to fight against them. Local 27 leaders have been preparing their members for this struggle for months.
There is a serious risk that this fight, to save EMD workers’ contract, could turn into a fight to save the plant itself. Rumours are swirling that Caterpillar is planning to move the factory out of the country if they don’t get their way. This is the gun that they are holding to the heads of CAW members with a nasty ultimatum — cut your wages in half or lose them altogether. Workers on the line should be prepared to take action against this. If there is any sign that they are trying to move equipment from the plant, they need to occupy it immediately. Not one screw should pass through the company gates.
After years of concession bargaining in the manufacturing sector, it appears that the CAW leadership is prepared to stand and fight against Caterpillar. They have declared a hot-cargo edict against anything going to or coming from the factory. Canadian Pacific Railway currently has 35 locomotives on order from EMD and the CAW is instructing their members not to ship or receive those orders. The implications of this are huge, as CAW represents workers at all of Canada’s major railways. The Teamsters’ Union, who also represents workers at CP Rail, have said they will honour the edict and do “everything they can within their power” to support the CAW members at EMD. The wider labour movement is also mobilizing in support of EMD workers, with their massive rally held on January 21st in London.
These types of actions are exactly what is needed to halt production at EMD. But why stop there? Labour must target Caterpillar as a whole. Caterpillar only recently purchased the EMD factory and they are now trying to break the union. It is clear that this was their plan all along. They are known for their union-busting methods. Caterpillar has a history of digging in their heels and holding out as long as it takes to break a union. They are a multi-national corporation that has other subsidiary companies that can take over the work from EMD, if needed. They will not have a problem flexing the muscles of their entire corporation to defeat CAW members and labour must respond with the same force.
The Canadian Labour Congress should call for a global boycott of Caterpillar. The corporation produces everything from locomotives to farm equipment and other heavy machinery. The National Farmers’ Union has already issued a statement in support of CAW local 27; surely they would also honour a CLC boycott. A labour boycott of all Caterpillar products would significantly increase pressure on the company. In addition, unions that have pension funds invested in Caterpillar should do everything in their power to pull those investments. Labour must use every weapon in its arsenal.
CAW local 27 will not win this fight on their own. We must broaden the struggle. If workers at EMD are forced to take these massive wage cuts, it will embolden the bosses throughout the manufacturing industry. Demands for another round of concessions across the board would be a certainty. Conversely, if CAW members are successful in this fight it could turn the tide in the Canadian labour movement. It would prove to workers everywhere that it is possible to stand up to the cuts, and win.