May 14, 2012
On April 29, 780 Caterpillar production workers voted NO on a takeaway contract and went on strike at their plant in Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago. As of May 13, they were still on strike.
The workers, members of the International Association of Machinists, Lodge 851, are going up against a monster. Caterpillar has long been one of the most ruthless corporations.
Cat was one of the earliest companies to force major concessions on its workforce.
In the early 1990s, it provoked workers covered by a UAW Master Agreement to go on strike, then used scabs and professional strikebreakers to break their strike. Cat routinely threatens to do the same thing again to any workers who dare to strike or it simply shuts their plants.
The 1992 defeat imposed two-tier wage scales on active workers and shifted retiree healthcare benefits into a quickly dwindling VEBA fund that soon ran out. Those 1992 concessions became the pattern for the GM, Ford, and Chrysler contracts from 2007 on.
Yet some Caterpillar workers decided to strike, in this economic climate. The Wall Street Journal cannot understand it! “Are you crazy?,” writes the Journal.
It may be true that the odds are long. And it’s true that strikes have been very rare in the U.S. for decades – with the result that the working class standard of living has dropped like a rock.
The contract rejected by the workers would have frozen their wage and increased their health care costs, to the point that second tier workers would be working for eight dollars an hour. As one of the workers quoted by the Journal said, “It’s a good wage here, but if you take it away, why work here?”
All we hear these days is: “You’re lucky to have a job.” The Cat workers of IAM Lodge 851 in Joliet, Illinois seem to have decided that it isn’t worth keeping that job without fighting for something better.
When that attitude catches on more widely, the businessmen and their Wall Street Journal will have some real problems to cry about.