Binkley on EMC plant closure


Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ... 

The Binkley Report

Federal government muzzle gets tighter

There are more flacks hiding Harper than reporters trying to get the truth

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

24 February 2012 — Largely overlooked in the flap over Vikileaks was the main theme of a science conference in Vancouver that laid bare as big a threat to an open society as the ham-handed Internet snooping legislation.

The Harper government has essentially gagged civil servants so they can’t talk to reporters or the public. Weather forecasts may be the only communication that doesn’t require approval in advance. (More)

osure of the Electro-Motive Canada plant in London has ignited a furious debate about corporate greed, union misjudgment, and political indifference. There's also a lot of misinformation in the mix.

The decision by multinational Caterpillar Inc. to shutter the plant in Southwestern Ontario in favour of a larger operation in a U.S. state that offers employers all sorts of protection against unions hands the Occupy Movement plenty of ammunition for its campaign against corporate greed and the exploitation of Canadian and American workers.

Kudos by the way to Marks for dropping Caterpillar logo gear from its chain of work wear stores.

The highly profitable Caterpillar clearly showed it's utterly devoid of any sense of corporate social responsibility or interest in the wellbeing of its employees and is solely motivated by a lust for greater profits.

The Canadian Autoworkers Union, known by some wags as Close Another Workplace for its inability to adjust to changing business circumstances in the 21st Century, showed it and the whole labour movement needs to rethink its approach to negotiating with employers. The CAW was clearly out of its depth in this instance.

In fairness, Caterpillar had no interest in continuing to operate the London plant. If it did, it would've tried a smarter approach than demanding a 50% wage cut.

The loss of 450 assembly jobs at the plant is a blow that could cost the London economy as much as $60 million a year. That's gotta hurt.

But there's nothing distinctly Canadian about the operation. It was set up in the days when tariffs kept American made diesel locomotives out of Canada. NAFTA finished that.

The automobile industry has adjusted to that fact of life. EMD, which has gone through a spate of owners since it was spun off by General Motors, fell behind General Electric as the leading North American builder of freight locomotives. The units produced in London were based on U.S. designs.

What's noteworthy about this case is that the Harper government, which is ready to fight tooth and nail for the Alberta tarsands industry, shrugged off the dispute as Ontario's problem.

It left it to Conservative MP Ed Holder to carry the ball for the government while prominent Ontario ministers such as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and Human Resources Minister Diane Finley were MIA.

Holder has more pluck that many Harper ministers and at least mounted a reasoned explanation of the government's inability to influence a labour dispute outside of the federally-regulated sector it is responsible for.

One can't help but wonder if the Conservatives would have been so mute if the company had an operation in Alberta.

Premier Dalton McGuinty wasn't any more impressive. A few public statements about the need for negotiations doesn't amount to much.

Probably the final insult for the EMD workers is that they will have to endure a long wait before they can collect any UI money, after paying premiums for years, because the Conservatives have cut Service Canada so much it can't keep up.

The NDP are trying to keep the issue alive in Parliament. London area NDP MP Irene Mathyssen has brought in a motion to condemn the company and demand better protection for Canadian plants.

The Conservatives will have to use their majority to defeat it.

She said the debate and protests at the offices of Conservative MPs was "an opportunity to get a message to the government and a hope they finally hear us." The challenge for her party is to keep the issue alive and not let the government bury any memory of yet another failure of Canadian manufacturing policy.

Holder said the union has to take some blame for not negotiating with the company. "Clearly the CAW was not prepared to preside over the single largest cut in pay and benefits in its history. Neither side moved enough from their positions and these workers and London are the losers for it."

Most Canadians don't buy heavy equipment so it will be hard for them to boycott Caterpillar products. But they shouldn't forget how little the company stands for.