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Thousands to rally for locked out electro-motive workers

Organized labour across Canada is calling for a massive show of force on January 21 at picket lines in London, Ontario, where members of the Canadian Autoworkers Union have been locked out by their employer Electro-Motive, a subsidiary of multinational heavy equipment giant Caterpillar, Inc.

The employer has demanded the unionized workers sign a new contract that would, union sources say, cut wages in half, and imposed the lockout to enforce its demand at the beginning of this month.

"These workers do not have to stand alone to stare down Caterpillar's ruthless anti-worker bulldozers," says Nancy Hutchison, Ontario Federation of Labour Secretary-Treasurer.

"We plan to mobilize thousands of workers to descend on this London plant to show the overwhelming support that Canadians have for decent paying domestic jobs."

The Canadian Labour Congress’s Ken Georgetti called for a critical review of the role the federal government plays in approving takeovers of Canadian firms by companies that then slash jobs and local investment. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Georgetti said:

"Now, we have the example of Electro-Motive (Caterpillar) that has locked out its workers just eighteen months after the company was purchased by Caterpillar, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Progress Rail Services – a purchase approved by your government in September 2010 under the Investment Canada Act. And once again, Canadian workers with decent-paying jobs vital to the health and growth of the Canadian economy are being betrayed by the weakness of the Act."

Industry Canada has reportedly denied that the Electro-Motive take over was reviewed under the Act. Meanwhile, Carl Vallee, a Harper spokesman told Canadian Manufacturing that "this is a dispute between a private company and the union and we don’t comment on the actions of private companies."

Ontario labour activists have launched an online petition calling on the federal government to investigate the Electro-Motive take over, extend benefits to locked out workers and "discontinue any and all tax breaks the company may have received."

Caterpillar profits were up 202% over 2009 and 2010, and last year the company brought in $1.14 billion dollars in profit in the third quarter of the year on revenues of over $15 billion.

And in B.C., President Jim Sinclair of the BC Federation of Labour told The Tyee that Caterpillar had a long history of using lockouts to slash wages and benefits.

"This isn’t new," he said, "but it’s worse. Again and again we’re seeing powerful companies making billions in profit and still wanting to cut wages. This London lockout is being conducted at a plant Harper used as a backdrop a few years ago to announce tax breaks for big corporations. Why are we following this insane policy that gives companies public money to help them pack up and leave Canada?"

Sinclair said that escalating attacks from employers represented a real challenge for organized labour in 2012.

"This isn’t just about Caterpillar workers in London," he says. "This affects everyone. We have to find ways to step up our solidarity."

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy stories for The Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at [email protected].

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