FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Caterpillar Strike as Metaphor

by DAVID MACARAY

Not that anyone—least of all American factory workers over the last three decades—needs to be reminded that corporations have very little respect for working people, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) strike against the Caterpillar plant in Joliet, Illinois, removed any lingering doubts.

Judging by their actions, Caterpillar saw this negotiation as a unique opportunity to stick it to their workers.  Indeed, its truculent, take-it-or-leave-it posture is emblematic of every offensive aspect of post-Reagan corporate arrogance.  Labor relations have gone from hard-nosed collective bargaining to gladiatorial blood sport, with labor now shedding most of the blood. What used to be viewed as an undignified and unnecessary show of muscle by management, is now regarded as standard procedure.

What Caterpillar has said to the IAM is this:  No matter how healthy we are as a company, no matter how profitable we become, and no matter how much cold, hard cash we manage to rake in, we will never, ever, under any conditions, share one more nickel with the hourly workforce than is absolutely, positively necessary.  Which raises the question:  Why is this company taking such a hard line with their long-time, loyal workers?  Simple answer:  Because they can.

While it was announced Wednesday that IAM district leadership (as opposed to local leadership, directly answerable to the rank-and-file) had reached a tentative agreement with Caterpillar management to end the 15-week strike (approximately 780 workers went out on May 1), there’s a good chance the local will reject the offer when they vote on Friday.  No one can predict how these votes will go, especially after a lengthy strike, but given how disillusioned and resentful the membership it, a rejection is definitely a possibility.

According to reports, the company’s LBF (last, best and final offer) was very close to the concession-laden LBF that precipitated the strike in the first place and resulted in the membership spending 15 long, agonizing weeks on the bricks, drawing a paltry $150 a week in strike benefits.  It’s going to be interesting to see how successful IAM’s apparatchiks are in persuading the membership to accept what is, by all accounts, a profoundly inferior contract.

Among other things, it calls for a staggering 6-year freeze on wages and benefits.  A company making billions of dollars in profits off the backs of its workers insists on a 6-year wage freeze?  How cold is that?  And not only is this freeze being offered with a straight face, it’s being presented as one of those “If you don’t like it, pal, you can rot in Hell” propositions.  It’s true.  The company has indicated that if the union remains coy, they’re prepared to fire everybody and take their chances with a brand new workforce.

Last winter, Caterpillar showed how aggressive they were willing to be.  Appealing to that wildly misleading wage statistic known as “fair market,” Caterpillar insisted that the 450 workers at its London, Ontario, plant take a whopping 55-percent wage cut.  When the workers balked (and who wouldn’t?), the company locked them out.  And when it became clear that the union viewed these tactics as a form of economic extortion and were unwilling to roll over, Caterpillar shut down the entire factory and moved away.  Period.  No more jobs.

As far as pure commerce goes, Caterpillar is doing spectacularly well.  Profits are at a record high and forecasts for the future are even rosier.  Moreover, management is so confident and comfortable being in the driver’s seat, they’re not even trying to cosmetically cook the books for negotiating purposes.  Caterpillar executives are more than willing to admit that business is booming.  In fact, they’re bragging about it.

Last year the company earned a record $4.9 billion in profits, and expects to come in even higher this year.  But, alas, they’ve also vowed that none of that increase—none of that marvelous windfall—is going to end up in the pockets of the people who actually do the work.  Why would they give these people raises when, technically, they’re not obliged to?  Only a fool would pay more than necessary.

To make matters worse, Caterpillar executives are playing dumb.  Management is clinging to the fiction that it has no choice but to freeze wages because their pay scale is already higher than the “fair market.”  Of course, the insanely bitter irony here is that today’s “fair market” wage is a grossly misleading statistic, the tragic result of a concerted, two-decades long assault on American earnings.

Which is why the middle-class is shrinking so alarmingly.  It’s not unemployment that is killing the middle-class; it’s the depletion of decent-wage jobs.  While bottom-line fundamentalists like Caterpillar proudly see themselves as benefactors to their stockholders, what they are, in fact, is destroyers of the middle-class and subverters of the American Dream.  And if labor unions can’t put the brakes on this thing, who can?

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
Andrew Levine
Why Not Hillary?
Paul Street
Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé
Chris Floyd
Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers
Eric Mann
How We Got the Tanks and M-16s Out of LA Schools
Jason Hirthler
The West’s Needless Aggression
Dan Arel
Why Hillary Clinton’s Camp Should Be Scared
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Flunks Decontamination
David Rosen
The Privatization of the Public Sphere
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Civil Rights Hypocrisy
Pete Dolack
We Can Dream, or We Can Organize
Chris Gilbert
Corruption in Latin American Governments
Dan Kovalik
Colombia: the Displaced & Invisible Nation
Jeffrey St. Clair
Fat Man Earrings: a Nuclear Parable
Medea Benjamin
Israel and Saudi Arabia: Strange Bedfellows in the New Middle East
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail