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Caterpillar trade union network masters challenges and makes progress

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26 June, 2017More than 30 trade union delegates from North America, Brazil, Europe, Japan and India from unions at multinational mechanical engineering giant Caterpillar met in Frankfurt, Germany, from 22 to 23 June. 

Caterpillar has undergone huge change over the past few years. The company seems to follow no distinct strategy and instead is taking ad-hoc decisions driven by financial markets.  The situation continues under the new CEO, Jim Umpleby.

Many plant closures (including Monkstown in Northern Ireland and Gosselies in Belgium) in recent years were executed with no proper information and consultation and without any real discussion with employees and their trade unions. It shows that the global trade union network is increasingly necessary to share information and communicate better between affected unions and workers.  

As one delegate stated the network's position and meaning:

“Caterpillar management must be aware: whatever they do and wherever they go, unions will keep an eye on them and will be there. We don’t care whether they acknowledge us or not – we just want to make sure that our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, are not played out against each other.”

Caterpillar is arguably one of the most anti-union multinational companies in the sector, but the existence of the IndustriALL trade union network and its improving internal communication, shows that even Caterpillar will not be able to avoid unions in the long term.  

Participants at the meeting not only discussed the bad practices of Caterpillar and their plant closures, but also developed strategies to find joint answers and to improve internal communication and information exchange. These activities will be conducted during the next twelve months and then revised at the next global network meeting in 2018.   

Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director, said about the meeting:

Caterpillar is a company which does everything to avoid unions, and at the same time they treat their workers without respect. We will do our best to give workers a voice. We will never accept an attitude that sees workers just as numbers on a balance sheet.