Jul 30, 2012
Almost 800 workers at the Joliet Caterpillar plant near Chicago, Illinois are in their 13th week on strike. Defying the bosses’ attempt to extort more concessions, Caterpillar workers made the decision that “enough is enough” and came out on strike.
Caterpillar’s latest round of attacks includes a 6-year wage and pension freeze for top-tier workers, along with higher health care contributions – almost $2,000 more in costs per year for all its workers.
This huge corporation spearheaded two decades of cuts imposed on the whole working class – cuts that city and state workers are reeling from today.
Caterpillar laid out the path the auto bosses followed, splitting the work force into lower paid tiers, dumping retiree health care benefits into an underfunded VEBA account, eliminating pensions for the lower tiers. In spite of a determined fight by Caterpillar workers, the company succeeded in crushing two strikes led by the UAW in 1992, then in 1994-95.
Just this past year, Caterpillar locked out workers at a London, Ontario plant who refused a 50% wage cut.
Caterpillar wants more. Why? Could it be the company is in financial trouble?
On the contrary! Despite what they call “softer” global markets, Caterpillar, Inc. just announced first quarter profits at all-time record highs – a whopping 1.586 billion dollars for an increase of 67%! This on top of 2011 record profits of 4.9 billion dollars – profits amounting to $39,000 per employee!
Demanding further concessions, the Caterpillar bosses have issued a declaration of war. No record profit, no mountain of cash is high enough – no labor cost is low enough.
Don’t believe it’s only Caterpillar! The rest of the bosses are eager to follow. When the first quarter 2012 Caterpillar record profits were announced, it rallied the stock market in a frenzy of anticipation of profits to be taken by big bosses all over the country.
They are lining up behind Caterpillar to launch another round of deeper attacks on all workers throughout the country, tearing up the unions, the workplaces, the cities, the entire existing economic and social fabric.
They are doing it because they think they can get away with it, that workers won’t respond.
Well, the Joliet Caterpillar workers did respond. They are right to dig their heels in: to strike and to fight despite the odds. There is no other choice for any of us if we want to retain any fragment of a decent life.
This is not just the Caterpillar workers’ fight. Of course, we should stand in solidarity with them, offer support.
But it will take much more than just building a support movement for the Caterpillar workers to throw back this latest attack. It will take engaging in a fight ourselves to force the bosses and their politicians back. The longer we wait, the harder the fight.
There is an opening to engage a struggle today; to join the Caterpillar workers and city workers and state workers across the nation in a groundswell of anger and defiance that can put the wealth we create back where it belongs: in our pockets and in our communities.
What do we have to lose? We are losing already. We need to join our forces and look beyond the walls of our own individual workplaces and communities to a mass fight, strong enough to stop Caterpillar and the other bosses in their tracks.