Massive Rally in Support of Electro-Motive Workers

January 21, 2012, 4:57 PM EST

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More than 15,000 demonstrators rallied in London's Victoria Park today in a show of solidarity with 465 CAW Local 27 members who have been locked-out by U.S. multi-national Caterpillar.

Labour and community leaders (including students and representatives of Occupy London) as well as interim federal NDP leader Nycole Turmel and London Mayor Joe Fontana addressed the massive crowd.

CAW President Ken Lewenza said the struggle at Caterpillar today is a struggle that has been going on across Canada's manufacturing sector for more than five years when 450,000 Canadian workers have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

He blasted the greed of corporate executives who have taken advantage of increasingly weaker government rules and regulations under the Harper government and around the globe.

Lewenza told the crowd that Caterpillar has made billions in profits, its top executives have made tens of millions in bonuses, and yet the company wants to take away more than $60,000 per year from each worker at its London diesel engine manufacturing plant, Electro-Motive Diesel.

He said the Electro-Motive lock-out should be a rallying point for all workers to pull together to demand equality and good jobs.   

OFL President Sid Ryan said the rally demonstrates that Canadians are tired of corporate greed and are seeking a new economic model that distributes wealth fairly.

"We've come here today to send a signal to Harper," Ryan said. He stressed that foreign purchases of Canadian plants must provide a "net benefit" under the Investment Canada Act.

The real net benefit, Ryan said, are jobs for Canadians that provide a decent standard of living and which allow workers to retire with dignity.

The Harper government has yet to comment on the lock-out directly, other than to say that the situation involves a private corporation and falls outside of federal jurisdiction (although the Investment Canada Act is federal legislation). In 2008, the Prime Minister visited the plant to tout a $5 million package of tax breaks.

Sister Sue Wilson, director of Systemic Justice, said Caterpillar is a corporation making huge profits, yet it is still demanding cuts from its workers. She said it's more than a labour issue; rather it's an issue of justice.

Wilson said recent studies show the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow and the result is that communities are weakened and the social contract is unraveling.

"Too many people are being excluded from the benefits of the economy," Wilson said. 

Brianne Jones, the daughter of an Electro-Motive worker, said the lock-out has had a devastating impact on her family.

Jones said her father's job has supported her family through good wages and benefits including tuition supports, medical care and dental care among others.

She thanked the CAW for fighting for decent jobs for workers at Electro-Motive and in other workplaces across Canada.

"For young Canadians, we have to understand that this fight is our fight. It's our future that's at stake. We have to build on the progress made by past generations. We can't afford to go backwards," Jones said.

"We shouldn't have to inherit a society where greed trumps morality, where the rich rule and where the rest of are left to suffer."

CAW Local 27 Electro-Motive chairperson Bob Scott thanked community members and all the unions, including United Electrical members from the U.S., for taking part in the rally. 
Scott said the rally demonstrated that the membership and the entire community are prepared for a fight if that's what Caterpillar wants. 

He said the dispute is about Caterpillar workers today but is just as much about standards and opportunities for the next generation.

"Caterpillar - anytime you want to come back to the bargaining table we will bargain," Scott said.

CAW members at Electro-Motive have been locked out since January 1.

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