‘Groundswell of support’|
backs Caterpillar workers
Bosses demand 50 percent wage cut
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Dave Chidley
Locked-out members of the Canadian Auto Workers block train in Ingersoll, Ontario, Jan. 25 to prevent movement of locomotive made by Electro-Motive Diesel, a Caterpillar subsidiary.
BY JOHN STEELE
AND JOE YOUNG
LONDON, Ontario—Some 10,000 unionists from throughout the province rallied here Jan. 21 to back the 465 members of Canadian Auto Workers Local 27 locked out New Year’s Day by Electro-Motive Diesel, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc.
Since Jan. 25, CAW members have been blocking a Caterpillar locomotive on a railroad siding in Ingersoll, Ontario, not far from here. The locomotive was built at the London plant but still needs to be painted. Supporters of the locked-out workers held solidarity picket lines at Caterpillar dealers in cities across Canada Jan. 26.
Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. assembles railway locomotives. Bosses shut the plant after workers voted by a 98 percent margin to reject concession demands that include cutting wages by more than half and the virtual elimination of their pension plan and benefits. Present wages are about $34 an hour.
“We are fighting for what we believe in,” Graham Alexander, a painter at Electro-Motive for seven years, told the Militant at the solidarity picket line following the Jan. 21 rally. “When I was hired there were 70 painters. Now there are 36 doing the same work. They don’t care about us and never have. I think there is a groundswell of support starting for this. We have a moral obligation to look after each other.”
“All workers, union and nonunion, should recognize this is their fight,” said Chris Colby, a member of the United Steelworkers who came to the rally from Sudbury, Ontario, where he works at a legal aid clinic. “We have to tell the lords and masters that enough is enough.”
There were many unionists from the Canadian Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada and other unions. Speakers included Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan, CAW President Ken Lewenza, Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti, interim New Democratic Party leader Nycole Turmel, Roger Zaczyk, president of United Electrical Workers Local 506 at the General Electric locomotive plant in Erie, Penn., and London Mayor Joe Fontana.
“We have 530 members and they support this fight,” said Allison Gardiner, a machine technician and member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union at the nearby Kellogg’s plant, on the picket line Jan. 20. “We organize a 50/50 raffle every two weeks. Last week we gave $750 to Local 27.”
Electro-Motive retirees have been active participants on the picket line. Many people drop off food or honk as they go by.
Workers told the Militant that before the lockout their average take home pay was $800 a week. They are now receiving strike pay of $200. Under Ontario law, they are not eligible for unemployment compensation.
Caterpillar has 95,000 employees in 50 countries. Members of the United Auto Workers at Caterpillar plants across the U.S. struck for five months in 1991-92 and 17 months in 1994-95 in an unsuccessful attempt to push back attacks on their wages and working conditions. Subsequent contracts at the company’s unionized plants in the U.S. have included further concessions. Bosses seek to leverage the fact that Caterpillar workers in the U.S. are now paid considerably less than those here. At the company’s locomotive plant in Muncie, Ind., workers earn about $12.50 to $14.50 an hour.
Electro-Motive management did not respond to calls from the Militant.
“They created a solidarity monster,” Nelson Sarty, a locked-out welder, told the Militant. “People have never been through fights like we are going through today. We are getting growing support.”
Messages and financial contributions can be sent to: CAW Local 27, 606 First St., London, Ontario N5V 2A2 (attention Electro-Motive workers). Fax: (519) 455-3960. E-mail messages can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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