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

May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail