South Milwaukee, WI - On August 7, workers from Caterpillar, alongside with members of Occupy Milwaukee, kicked off the campaign to expose and defeat Caterpillar's attempts to disenfranchise and exploit workers at that plant.
Thus far, Caterpillar has already forced a contract on the workers of the UAW that includes a six-year wage freeze and demands higher employee contributions to benefits. But that contract did have a sign-on bonus and a one-time cost of living increase.
In London, Ontario, Caterpillar took the austerity measures further by demanding that the workers accept a 50% cut in wages. When the workers there rejected the cut in wages, but agreed not to go on strike, Caterpillar locked out the workers on Jan. 1. The final result was the closure of the plant in February. The plant moved to Indiana only 36 hours after Indiana was declared a ‘right-to-work’ state, costing 465 workers their jobs. A few months later, Caterpillar declared $4.9 billion in record profits. Caterpillar’s CEO, Doug Oberhelmen, makes $16 million a year.
On the topic of the importance of solidarity between the labor movement and Occupy, Dale Prellwitz, a Caterpillar worker and union member, states “Its [solidarity] is important because if one part one local union, or one small group of people fail in whatever cause they fight for, the impact is felt by many others. If Caterpillar wins its fight against workers and unions, other corporations will learn how it’s done and do the same to their workers.” On an optimistic note, however, Dale Prellwitz added “If workers, regardless of their union affiliation, and other activists join together to defeat the greediness of corporations and work to win a living wage for workers, then everyone will benefit.”
The record profits and the austerity measures are indicative of an increased concentration of capital brought on by the purchase of Bucyrus International, which was once in the current South Milwaukee location. Under the current contract, which workers at the plant signed while still under Bucyrus management, workers are protected from austerity measures until April 2013, when the current contract is up.
Caterpillar has made other attempts around the U.S. to make similar cuts and draconian demands of workers. Currently, workers of the International Association of Machinists Local 851 are on strike in Joliet, Illinois after rejecting a contract that included almost the exact same austerity measures that were forced upon the Canadian workers. Support for the strike is growing each day.
In Pulaski, Virginia, Caterpillar and the Unites Steelworkers are now in talks and Caterpillar is yet again making the same demands. Dale Prellwitz said that the next big step in the labor struggle is to “redefine what it means to be in a union and the role of unions. Second, we need to establish workers’ rights laws. Finally, we need to change the political landscape.”