On 15 and 16 June, 29 Caterpillar trade union delegates from four continents met in Detroit, Michigan, at the invitation of IndustriALL Global Union and US affiliate United Auto Workers (UAW).
Caterpillar is the market leading US multinational manufacturer of construction and mining machinery, engines, agricultural machinery and equipment and other mechanical engineering products. Because it is a major player in this sector, coordinating trade union activity within this multinational is very important. The delegates evaluated work done previously, and agreed on a future programme.
The Caterpillar trade union network was addressed by UAW president Dennis Williams, and vice president Norwood Jewell, who also chairs the network. Dennis Williams spoke very directly. He emphasized the UAW´s commitment, but made it clear that he expects the network to create added value for the global workforce within this strongly anti-union corporation.
As a consequence of a restructuring plan which was announced in September 2015, mass redundancies have occurred in a number of countries. Especially alarming is the situation in Japan, where the management partly abandoned the longstanding social partnership with the IndustriALL affiliated Caterpillar union when executing the restructuring plans. In Europe, another wave of redundancies led to several thousand job losses, only partly caused by the restructuring.
Delegates agreed to improve the cooperation between the European Works Council and the global network, particularly on a mapping exercise which will lay the groundwork for future organizing activities.
The Japanese delegation offered their help and knowledge in making the network more efficient and flexible in the future, by introducing an alert system that will allow for faster reaction in cases of company announcements that affect different countries and regions. Tim Bressler, as network chair on behalf of Norwood Jewell, and Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL´s director for mechanical engineering and materials industries, were asked to develop a structure accordingly.
The political situation in some of the countries present was a major cause of frustration and debate: the threat of Brexit – Britain leaving the EU – and also the political and economic crisis in Brazil. Both affect the economy and business situation for Caterpillar, and as consequence for Caterpillar´s workforce in the affected countries and beyond.
The meeting was overshadowed by news of the murder of British Labour MP Jo Cox, who was killed on 16 June. A moment of silence was held, and a message of condolence was sent on behalf of the network, at the request of Tony Murphy of UK affiliate Unite. After this moment of silence the network continued with its work in a very focused and serious manner.
Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director, states:
“Whether Caterpillar corporate management accepts it or not, we have initiated a global exchange and will take joint action in the future when necessary. We offer a hand for fair dialogue, but we are not afraid of conflict when necessary.“