LONDON, ONTARIO — “Caterpillar equipment is used to destroy homes in Palestine. Kind of like what Caterpillar is trying to do to our homes here in London,” a locked-out worker commented outside the Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) plant last week on their picket line.
Home losses are a likely outcome of the aggressive concessions the locked-out workers’ employer (owned by Caterpillar since 2010) is demanding. Wage cuts of more than 50 per cent plus loss of benefits would mean families not being able to make mortgage or rent payments. I spoke to one welder, a father of five, whose spouse also worked at EMD. With both breadwinners hit by drastic compensation cuts or job loss, what sort of future would a family like theirs face?
It doesn’t have to be this way. The EMD workforce is highly skilled and highly productive, and their work returns handsome yearly profits to their company. Caterpillar’s profits from EMD are up, in part thanks to generous tax gifts from Harper’s Conservatives, paid for by Canadian taxpayers. The rollbacks Caterpillar is trying to force on EMD workers are not needed in order to stay in business, they are based on one thing: corporate greed.
So the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) members walking the line at EMD are defending their families — and ours. Those union paycheques pay for homes in our neighbourhoods, and they support businesses in our communities. If Caterpillar is allowed to get away with their home-smashing tactics at EMD, similar race-for-the-bottom demands will be pushed on other private and public sector workers, in London and beyond.
That is how bullies operate: one bully’s success encourages others to try to push people around — until someone says “enough bullying, stop!” That is what the EMD workers are doing now.
Caterpillar has an ugly history of using strong-arm union-bashing tactics to roll back wages, close plants and move manufacturing to lower-wage jurisdictions. They also supply equipment, like the D9 armoured bulldozer, which is used by the Israeli army to destroy Palestinian homes. The corporation refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the thousands of homes demolished in the West Bank and Gaza using Caterpillar equipment.
The price of opposing bullies can be high: in March 2003, U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by a Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier, as she attempted to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian family’s home. Other solidarity activists have been killed and injured, and many Palestinian civilians injured and/or detained for peacefully protesting against home demolitions — despite this heavy toll, the protests continue. Bullies driving Caterpillar equipment can destroy buildings, but they cannot bulldoze a grassroots movement.
The price of defending our communities from Caterpillar’s intimidation tactics need not be as high as in Palestine. We can help counter bullying by joining the CAW picket lines and by demanding that Canadian politicians hold Caterpillar accountable for its purchase of EMD and for keeping quality jobs in our community.
The Harper Conservatives have made it clear that they side with the community-demolishing bullies, at home and abroad. The question is, where do the rest of us stand?
Those CAW pickets on Oxford St. East are standing against the bulldozers of corporate intimidation on behalf of all of us. When we join them on the line (and at the upcoming January 21 mass Day of Action in London) we are sharing more than a walk with a hot beverage in the face of nasty weather: we are helping to defend communities against an international bully.
David Heap is Peace & Social Justice Chair for the London Chapter of the Council of Canadians and on the Steering Committee of the Canadian Boat to Gaza. He was on the Tahrir when it was taken by force in November, and spent six days in an Israeli prison before being deported back to Canada.