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EMD London closed, Local Support Increases

February 6, 2012

Last Friday, Caterpillar closed the London, Ontario Electro-Motive Diesel locomotive plant for good. The announcement was met with anger, resentment, resignation and a great deal of finger-pointing.  Local workers were informed via a letter dropped off at the picket line, while EMD employees at the LaGrange plant in Illinois were assembled and told that it was essentially the fault of the union that the plant was closed.

Understandably upset, the picket line was crowded with workers, news vans and reporters and various politicians all wanting to make their voices heard or capture the opinions of those most affected by the plant closure. Just the night before, a friend who worked at EMD had mentioned that spirits and morale had been raised by the support received from the community, and that hopes were that Caterpillar would come back to the bargaining table.  Although the closure was far from a surprise, the speed at which the parent company moved to perform the closure was startling.

It has long been thought that the purchase of EMD was enacted simply to obtain intellectual property and the massive cuts presented in their recent contract offer and the plant closure that just happens to coincide with the opening of a job fair in Muncie, Indiana do nothing to quash that particular rumour.  The offer, with its drastic wage and benefit cuts  was the first step in Caterpillar’s plan to exit the country with tax breaks in hand. By offering such a ridiculous contract, which the union was sure to reject, the corporation could lock out the workers and leave – all the while stating that it had tried to negotiate.

Again, it is hard to negotiate when one of the parties does not communicate with the other. That offer was Caterpillar’s first and final offer – once the lockout started, they did not communicate with either the media or the union. There were no negotiations to perform.

Fingers have been pointed at the CAW union, stating that it is their fault that this closure has occurred. I believe that the plant would have closed whether the union had made a stand or not. Nor do I think that it was coincidence that Indiana passed a “right to work” law as recently as a week ago which, in essence prohibits unions. Rabidly anti-union Caterpillar was biding its time until the Muncie plant was up and ready to be populated by non-unionized employees.

What lies ahead for the former employees of the London plant is uncertain.  The picket line remains occupied and there are nine locomotives still in the plant in various stages of manufacture. The CAW has vowed to work hard to get its members fair severance packages, stating it would occupy the plant if necessary.

Locally, support for the now unemployed workers has been strong. Prior to the closure announcement, local TSC stores had pulled Caterpillar products off their shelves and Mark’s Work Wearhouse has now followed suit.  A large sign on a local Source for Sports reads “Caterpillar: Givin insects a bad name since 1925” and a Citizen’s Panel meeting has been called to brainstorm about ways to help those now thrown out of work.

Many have called on various levels of government throughout the ordeal, to fight back against the corporation. Premier Dalton McGuinty accused the federal government of allowing foreign companies to take over Canadian factories and then shut them down. The federal government stated early on that it was up to the provincial government to mediate as necessary or where possible despite the fact that we are waving goodbye to tax dollars he gave the corporation in incentives.

The finger-pointing isn’t just at the governmental level though, comments in various papers were directed at the greed of the unions and how they should be pleased that had lost the jobs those workers needed. A friend of mine also made some great points on where we are as a society. At this point, its not who or why or how – its what can we do to create more jobs and get these people back on their feet.

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