A Case Study: Caterpillar vs Machinists
Aug 20, 2012Posted by Chuck Rocha
At a Caterpillar plant in Joliet, IL that makes hydraulic pumps for Caterpillar machinery, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, known as IAM, have ended their strike in defeat.
The decision to go on strike came after Caterpillar threatened to cut employee pay by up to 50%, increase its healthcare costs, restrict the right for flexible shifts, and decrease employees' signing bonuses. Despite earning record revenue in 2012 and distributing lucrative executive compensation packages, Caterpillar is undermining the workers who turn innovations into reality on the factory floor. Moreover, the global financial recession makes it easier for corporations like Caterpillar to get away with immoral practices when it comes to the treatment of American workers.
The Caterpillar plant in Illinois serves as a case study of this unfortunate phenomenon. This strike, in which over 800 workers walked out of the plant in protest, did not stop the company's production. In fact, Caterpillar had plenty of trained support staff, retirees, and new hires ready to replace the strikers and earn a paycheck. Those strikers trying to take a stand for what is right conceded to all of Caterpillar's demands, gaining only the ratification bonus they originally wanted. The workers were on strike for close to four months, and chose to sign the ratified deal because they realized they would never be given a better offer.
In another Caterpillar plant in London, Ontario, workers who went on strike due to similar complaints about new contract changes received a devastating blow. Instead of reconciling with the workers and opting to contribute to the local economy, Caterpillar decided to close the plant, stating that it was no longer competitive due to wage demands and union rules. Without any consideration for the community's workers and their respective families, Caterpillar left thousands of Americans out of work.
The global financial recession has not only forced many Americans to settle for less, but has undermined the effectiveness of strikes and labor unions. The power of - and solidarity among - labor unions everywhere is waning. Union members must be able to stand together against unfair work conditions without the fear of losing their job and with it the ability to provide for their respective families. Labor unions must maintain their power to prevent corporate greed from taking advantage of the current economic situation, which forces workers to cross the picket line in order to put food on the table.
While labor's power may be diminishing, there is no doubt that organized labor still has the power of organization, as witnessed in Wisconsin last year. Thousands of workers stormed the Capitol building advocating for essential workers' rights, such as collective bargaining. The demonstrations in Wisconsin were one of the purest examples of mobilization, activism and solidarity in labor union's long and pivotal history.
The United States is capable of achieving significant change based on social and economic justice. Unfortunately, corporate powers have the ability to render unions almost pointless. People need employment, and as long as they have no alternative, they will deal with a less than appealing work situation in order to maintain their lifestyle. This can no longer be allowed to continue.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
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