The network Steering Group met and approved a work plan in Belgium shortly after the closure of Caterpillar's EMD plant in Canada.
BELGIUM: The Steering Committee of the IMF Caterpillar union network met at the Elewijt Centre near Brussels on March 20-21, 2012. Formally established in 2011 in Chicago, the Committee is composed of union officers from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA. In attendance were also, for the first time, delegates from India Caterpillar Workers' Union, from the CAW, Canada and the USW which represents Bucyrus workers in Wisconsin, USA. Last year Caterpillar took over Bucyrus International, which manufactures surface and underground mining equipment.
The meeting took place a few weeks after the abrupt shutdown of Caterpillar's train locomotive plant (EMD) in Ontario, Canada, which resulted in the dismissal of 465 workers. One CAW representative commented "This struggle was a wake-up call for many. The support workers received from social groups, politicians and labour around the world was unprecedented. The fight is not over though, the CAW is demanding changes to labour laws and foreign investment rules" to better protect workers from corporate abuse.
During the meeting the delegates reviewed the results of two surveys carried out by the Network under IMF coordination - one of training and skills development and the other on occupational health and safety at Caterpillar facilities worldwide. Both surveys have shown that there are major differences between countries and there is a need for upward harmonization in terms of both training and occupation health and safety standards. In addition, discussions took place on working conditions at Caterpillar subcontractors which indicated the importance of extending the network to workers employed by subcontractors as well as dealers and engineering service providers.
As an outcome of the debate, the Steering Committee agreed to:
- Further expand and strengthen the network, developing links with workers at Bucyrus worldwide and Motoren-Werke-Mannheim -MWM, which Caterpillar also acquired in 2011,
- Continue to monitor collective bargaining developments at Caterpillar facilities and report to the network,
- Provide support to each other in time of need and promote the regular exchange of information between meetings,
- Carry out a survey on employment status at Caterpillar facilities as part of the IMF campaign against precarious work,
- Conduct research on Caterpillar locations in Asia,
- Do a mapping of Caterpillar operations around the world, including dealers and engineering service providers, and
- Seek to open a constructive dialogue with management to address issues of mutual concern.
In concluding the meeting UAW's Dennis Williams, Chairperson of the network, stated "The global network is growing stronger. With the participation of unions from more and more countries we can only better working conditions for all workers around the world. Caterpillar cannot continue to ignore the global unity of its workers through this network."
The Steering Group will convene again in Spring 2013 to assess progress in achieving these objectives and adopt further steps to strengthen the network.
The meeting was hosted by the IMF Belgian affiliates and benefitted from the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.