The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

France:
Caterpillar Workers in Struggle over Layoffs

May 4, 2009

The end of April marked seven weeks that Caterpillar workers at two plants in Grenoble, France have been carrying out a fight against the giant U.S. company. Seven weeks ago, the company announced that 733 workers were to be laid off. It’s part of the company’s drive to eliminate 22,000 workers worldwide. This company had 3.5 billion dollars in profits last year, and it has greatly increased its dividends to stockholders quarter after quarter.

Caterpillar workers have carried out a number of different actions over the last two months. On March 17, they blocked the road to the Grenoble plant. The next day, 500 workers rallied in front of the factory. Some got inside, where guards had dogs and shot at the strikers with water and tear gas. Workers occupied the offices all night. Two days later, Caterpillar strikers made up one of the biggest and most combative contingents during the day of strikes and action in Grenoble that were part of a national protest.

At a meeting of March 18, the workers demanded that each laid off worker be paid $39,000 plus three months of pay for each year of service. They also refused any concessions for those who remained in the plants.

On March 27, there was a demonstration outside management’s offices and a hundred strikers took over the office of the metro area government. Beginning March 30, there was a strike at both plants and on March 31, workers blocked the plant manager and three of his assistants in his office overnight. On April 8, 200 workers went to Home Box, another Caterpillar plant, to talk to workers there. The workers also visited a contractor for Caterpillar, CMI/CGMI, which laid off 41 workers. The same day the workers again blocked management in their office until 7 P.M. and extracted another two million dollars for the severance package and reduced the number of layoffs from 733 to 600. When management left by car, workers threw eggs at them.

On April 14, a meeting called by the unions to calm things down instead had a combative tone. It was attended by 700 workers and spilled out into a demonstration. The next day, workers occupied one of the two Grenoble factories, escorted the managers out, took over the cafeteria and moved bulldozers outside the entrance.

On April 19, the company and the unions signed an agreement for 600 layoffs and brought the total severance pay from 63 to 65 million dollars. This agreement demanded that the workers must vote in a secret ballot, i.e., hidden from each other. Instead, a mass meeting, where each worker could hear the reactions of the others and discuss it openly, rejected the agreement. The company continued to demand a secret vote, which has been resisted. Then on April 27, most of the morning shift went out on strike again.

After seven weeks of rolling strikes, occupations, demonstrations and a movement, the workers have been able to block the company up to now. They have renewed their strike, extended it and reached out to other workers. The latest development was that workers mobilized in front of a court where Caterpillar tried to get its layoff plans imposed, but the court, feeling the pressure of the workers, put off a settlement.

The Caterpillar workers are continuing their struggle.