Here is a very hard-line piece from David Olive today in the Star about what the Canadian government should do about Caterpillar – a tone I’m not used to seeing Olive, the Star’s business columnist, come out and write in his pieces, so he’s obviously ticked off:
We could nationalize EMD, for which there is abundant precedent across the continent. America’s third-largest bank, biggest insurer and dominant home-mortgage guarantors are now wards of the state. Short of nationalization, Ottawa could impose prohibitive tariffs on all Cat products. That might eventually bring Athabasca tarsands production, heavily reliant on Caterpillar equipment, to a halt. Which would be a useful topic of discussion between Barack Obama and Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman, since Athabasca is America’s largest source of imported oil. Yes, the tariffs could be contested as an alleged violation of World Trade Organization rules. But then, it’s Cat alone that has consistently acted in bad faith.
Caterpillar likes to play hardball. So let’s play hardball.
You can be almost guaranteed the Harper government won’t touch nationalization with a 60 foot pole. How about the others? I’m not inclined to think Harper and company will do a darn thing. They’re too busy trying to kiss and make up with China, who they’ve alienated for several years now, and only because they’re trying to find a new market for their tarsands oil. Meanwhile, Caterpillar is raiding Canadian intellectual property and patents made by a former Canadian company and whisking them away, (as others have done before) throwing our folks out of work in the process, while this government does nothing – particularly galling in this case because Harper was in this plant in 2008 waving his corporate tax cut for the company around bragging about how it would be good for business in Canada and for London Ontario.
The only thing Caterpillar used that for apparently, was to add to their tally sheet of their billions made in profits, and made our government look like suckers in the process. You can bet that they will be too ideologically bound to their economic philosophy to care. I’d not be surprised to see them say that Canada needs similar “right to work” legislation up here in order to compete with Indiana and other states.
I was reading a column that Martin Reg-Cohn wrote yesterday on the continuing saga in London where as those who’ve followed it know, Caterpillar has locked out it’s workers in a draconian effort to get them to slash their wages by half – this as the CEO earns a million $ salary and the company worldwide made profits in the billions of dollars.
I agree with the column where he says it is now time for the Premier and by extension, his Labor Minister Linda Jeffery, need to do something more then just issue statements saying they are “hopeful” the 2 sides will moderate their tone. Let’s cut to the chase; Caterpillar is the one that has initiated this lock-out by negotiating in bad faith. The only one that needs to moderate their tone is them by coming back with a more reasonable offer to the table.
Caterpillar is also going to do no such moderation while it faces no external pressure to do so. There’s a time for moderation and a time for action. If Harper isn’t going to do anything (and there’s little reason to believe he’ll step in), McGuinty should be trying to do something more then give speeches. The time for hopeful words is over, Mr Premier, and Minister Jeffery – who I’m astounded said she hadn’t considered trying to implement a Manitoba law that mandates compulsory arbitration if the 2 sides in a labour dispute drag things out for too long. That option should have been considered yesterday, as well as other options.
UPDATE @ 6:08 pm: Caterpillar has announced record profits:
Caterpillar’s fourth-quarter sales and revenues in 2011 were an all-time quarterly record at $17.243 billion, an increase of 35% compared with $12.807 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010. Fourth-quarter profit was $1.547 billion compared with $968 million in the fourth quarter of 2010. Profit of $2.32 per share was 58% higher than the $1.47 per share in the fourth quarter of 2010. This follows record third quarter profits which amounted to $1.14-billion, up 44% from a year earlier.
The big news down in this area the past few days – specifically in London – is that the big company Caterpillar decided to lock all of its employees out at its London based ElectroMotive plant. It is trying to force its employees there to take more then a 50% wage cut in salary and benefits, as well as trying to get rid of the pension plan. You might think the company is in a bad position, but it has profits in the billions of dollars, while it gives its CEO a multi-million dollar salary. Times aren’t tough for it – it’s just decided it’s going to try to break the union and hang the threat of leaving the country and replacing the London plant with a plant in Indiana.
This is the same company and plant that Stephen Harper was touting tax breaks for three years ago, saying it was essential to keep the plant open in London. He has so far been silent on this issue – perhaps hiding behind the holidays as an excuse. It is no different today in London – a city that has close to 10% unemployment and cant afford losing several hundred more jobs because of corporate greed. Harper and the government should speak up publicly – as a company three years removed from getting a big tax cut that Harper himself announced shouldn’t be getting away with this type of behaviour – the very stuff the Occupy Wall St. movement was born over – and remind the company it wasn’t given tax breaks only to threaten to leave three years later, if the blackmail it’s trying to attempt on its workers fails.