While many the US were celebrating seemingly positive job numbers yesterday, for London, Ontario residents such news was caustic, rock salt poured into a gaping wound.
Caterpillar subsidiary Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) has announced that it is transforming the lockout at its London, Ontario diesel-locomotive manufacturing facility into a plant closure.
Six weeks ago, Caterpillar locked out the 465 production workers at its London plant after they overwhelmingly rejected the company’s demands for a 55 percent wage cut, the elimination of their pension plan, and other sweeping concessions.
EMD announced the closure Friday morning in a terse press release that blamed uncompetitive labor costs and worker intransigence for its decision. “The cost structure of the operation was not sustainable,” said the release, “and efforts to negotiate a new, competitive collective agreement were not successful.”
Just last week Caterpillar boasted that the 2011 fiscal year was the most profitable in its history, with profits rising by 83 percent to US $4.9 billion.
Take a moment to absorb the jarring ironic contrast between those last two paragraphs, then listen to London Mayor Joe Fontana give Caterpillar the business for letting naked greed determine the bottom line — at the expense of local workers whose lives have now been callously thrown into total flux.
And wither the Harpercons? Alas, Canada’s market fundamentalist government always respects the sanctity of the Invisible Hand (except when it doesn’t).
Prime Minister Stephen Harper used Electro-Motive as a backdrop in 2008 to promote big tax breaks for industrial capital investments, but the federal government declined to get involved in the labour dispute.
“This matter falls under provincial jurisdiction, and we are also disappointed that the Ontario Government was unable to mediate a solution to the dispute between the company and its employees,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The statement also promised that the federal government will continue to work on a plan that will generate new jobs and opportunities for those affected by the closure.
Thanks for providing a great campaign backdrop, but, um, we have our majority now, and besides, we can’t help it if the crummy Ontario Liberal Government is teh suck. So, uh, anyway, don’t call us — we’ll call you.
Of course, the matter of government responsibility — yes, at all levels — goes beyond mere inaction.
It is not so much its inaction that looks bad on the Harper government, but that the lockout undermines its argument that corporate tax cuts produce jobs. Electro-Motive Canada, under a previous owner, was given $5 million in tax cuts by Harper personally. The Harper government recently lowered Canada’s corporate tax rate by an additional 1.5%, voluntarily cutting almost $3 billion from government revenue. This at a time when it is planning massive budget cuts to reduce its deficit.
The lockout is equally damning to the Conservative claim that free trade will attract job-creating foreign investment. The federal Conservatives are finishing up a new free-trade deal with Europe and have plans for a deal with India next. Given the fact that the government will not discuss the details of these free-trade negotiations, there is no way of knowing whether they would leave Canada more vulnerable to actions like those of Caterpillar’s.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has largely escaped the anger directed toward Harper. That may be in part because Harper is seen as more of a poster boy for the free-market policies.
But McGuinty is equally committed to corporate tax cuts and free trade. He is planning to cut another $2 billion in corporate taxes in the 2012 budget, and is an enthusiastic supporter of free trade, even if a deal with Europe risks overturning local content rules in the Green Energy Act, his chief response to Ontario’s manufacturing losses.
Given Harper’s preference for an Alberta-style resource economy, his indifference to Ontario’s manufacturing losses can be understood. For McGuinty, the Caterpillar lockout hits closer to home.
Partisan/jurisdictional slap-fighting aside, 465 workers have been pink-slipped and now find themselves stuck in financial limbo as severance negotiations delay the already-tedious Employment Insurance application process.
Federal MPs stressed that the workers couldn’t get EI because they hadn’t officially lost their jobs. Well now they have – sacked in fact – and that’s a game changer. Terminated by their employer, they now qualify for EI. The problem is that they are fighting for severance at the same time and EI can’t kick in until that is solved. So here’s something you can finally do without any jurisdictional excuses. Seek to streamline the access to EI in this unique situation. Given Caterpillar’s modus operandi, the severance issue might not be settled for months. Get these workers EI now and help them to survive. The maximum a veteran worker gets is two-thirds of their salary for 42 weeks. They’re about to lose their homes, so maybe a little intervention would be nice – it’s now in your jurisdiction. If severance is an issue, then arrange it so that it can be clawed back out of EI once the negotiations are concluded. But please, do something. This isn’t about your party’s detached position but about human justice, ostensibly offered to every worker who has paid into the system.
In an age when austerity rules, justice for workers is a rare commodity — especially in London, Ontario, where the willfully indifferent, cruelly banal machinations of the 1% have become all too apparent as a community reels in shock from the latest top-down missive of an ongoing, all-too-asymmetrical class war.
Entirely coincidental, I’m sure.
London’s riots are not the Tupperware troubles of Greece or Spain, where the middle classes lash out against their day of reckoning. They are the proof that a section of young Britain – the stabbers, shooters, looters, chancers and their frightened acolytes – has fallen off the cliff-edge of a crumbling nation.
The failure of the markets goes hand in hand with human blight. Meanwhile, the view is gaining ground that social democracy, with its safety nets, its costly education and health care for all, is unsustainable in the bleak times ahead. The reality is that it is the only solution. After the Great Crash, Britain recalibrated, for a time. Income differentials fell, the welfare state was born and skills and growth increased.
That exact model is not replicable, but nor, as Adam Smith recognised, can a well-ordered society ever develop when a sizeable number of its members are miserable and, as a consequence, dangerous. This is not a gospel of determinism, for poverty does not ordain lawlessness. Nor, however, is it sufficient to heap contempt on the rioters as if they are a pariah caste.
A great deal has been made over the past few days of the greed of the rioters for consumer goods, not least by Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who accurately remarked, “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.
Yesterday, the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be “reclaimed” by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.
Or take the Salford MP Hazel Blears, who has been loudly calling for draconian action against the looters. I find it very hard to make any kind of ethical distinction between Blears’s expense cheating and tax avoidance, and the straight robbery carried out by the looters.
The Prime Minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate. He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor: “We will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.” He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.
Politicians don’t represent the interests of people who don’t vote. They barely care about the people who do vote. They look after the corporations who get them elected. Cameron only spoke out against News International when it became evident to us, US, the people, not to him (like Rose West, “He must’ve known”) that the newspapers Murdoch controlled were happy to desecrate the dead in the pursuit of another exploitative, distracting story.
Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, “mindlessly”, motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought our economy to its knees in 2010? Altruistic? Mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that’s why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few fucking pairs of trainers.
These young people have no sense of community because they haven’t been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron’s mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing.
If we don’t want our young people to tear apart our communities then don’t let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.
The 1980s were marked by a more traditional struggle between the state and organized labor. The present moment, however, is defined by a more disorganized class politics of reaction, propelled by huge inequalities and a perceived injustice and indifference by the state to the fate of those involved. This time it is also not about race. The looting youngsters in London are a mixture of both immigrants and English natives, and they have quickly and deliberately made their way into the fancier neighborhoods of the city. An incident from the much-gentrified Notting Hill neighborhood in London is particularly telling. Hooded rioters armed with bats invaded the Ledbury, a two-star Michelin restaurant, demanding that diners hand over their wallets and wedding rings. As two female rioters told the BBC, “We’re just showing the rich people we can do what we want.”
So class politics are back in what many political scientists see as their most traditional home: the United Kingdom. Most of the country perceives Cameron’s policies as the poor paying for the mistakes of the rich. Thatcher’s neoliberal medicine was equally unpopular in 1981, but she was under no illusions as to what was required to enforce austerity and remains famous to this day for having argued in a 1987 interview that “there [was] no such thing as society.” Cameron’s assumptions have been challenged by these riots, and it is not at all clear that he has an alternative to offer. The rest of the world should take notice: After all, the perverse experiment of high inequality, low growth, and now fiscal austerity is hardly a uniquely British phenomenon.
Jesus– Bernie Wooster Boris Johnson did it, knocking off two-term incumbent “Red” Ken Livingstone and becoming mayor of (formerly swinging, now moping) London. The unlikely victory was emblematic of the record-setting series of council elections across England and Wales, in which the Conservatives absolutely trounced (New) Labour:
Johnson’s victory capped a highly successful 24 hours for the Tories, who won 44% of the vote in the separate council elections in England and Wales, convincing many Conservatives that they are on their way to Downing Street. “This is like the March on Rome in 1922,” one shadow minister said as Johnson inched towards victory. Johnson will not march into London’s City Hall surrounded by blackshirts in the manner of Benito Mussolini’s supporters when they staged their coup d’état in 1920s Italy. But the lighthearted reference to 1922 gave a taste of the high Tory spirits.
Yes, I know that, for me, the first adjective that comes to mind after hearing a pithy (if unintentionally accurate) reference to fascism is “lighthearted” (said shadow minister must have missed the memo re: Mussolini’s liberal roots). No wonder so many purported “progressives” were able to shrug off Johnson’s “lighthearted” racism and homophobia in the lead up to the vote. Regardless, I’m sure there are innumerable watermelon smiles today throughout the suburbs and Tory caucus; I just hope the up-is-down Euston set realize exactly what their ever-so-decent myopia has helped rationalize into existence.