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article imageMayor of London: 'Get your ass down here, Prime Minister Harper!' Special

By Ken Wightman     Jan 21, 2012 in Business
London - "Get your ass down here, Prime Minister Harper!" bellowed Joe Fontana, mayor of London. In 2008 Harper visited the city's EMD plant, announcing corporate tax cuts to increase job security for Canadians. Now, EMD workers are locked out by their U.S. owner.
"We're not building tweezers," Fontana said. He went on to tell the locked out EMD workers, Caterpillar "needs to respect your skills. You can't buy those skills for $16 an hour."
Since the start of the year, about 425 unionized Electro-Motive Diesel workers in London have been locked out by Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc. The highly profitable, global company shocked many by demanding London workers take a 50 percent drop in pay, accept deep cuts to their benefits, and stand by as their pension plans were gutted.
Rows of buses lined streets near London's Victoria Park Saturday, some carried supporters from as far away as Sudbury in northern Ontario. City police controlled traffic as 15,000 people gathered for the late morning rally at the downtown park to show their support for the locked out EMD workers.
Buses  some from as far away as Sudbury in northern Ontario  line the street beside Victoria Park in...
Buses, some from as far away as Sudbury in northern Ontario, line the street beside Victoria Park in London, the site of Saturday's rally in support of the locked out EMD workers.
Mike Temmerman  of London  hands out Ontario Federation of Labour scarves to supports of the locked ...
Mike Temmerman, of London, hands out Ontario Federation of Labour scarves to supports of the locked out EMD workers as the supporters arrive at the downtown London rally Saturday morning.
As people crowded into the park, they were given bright red Ontario Federation of Labour scarves. With only 5000 of the simple strips of red cloth, the stock of scarves quickly ran out.
One demonstrator, Joe Edwards, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said that Caterpillar had opened a Pandora's box. "I've been a union member for years and this is the first time I have ever seen all these unions coming together. We're all together now --- even the Americans."
He said there were reports of supporters coming from Detroit, Michigan and other American cities. The situation at the London EMD plant is extreme but not unique. EMD workers in La Grange, WI. are working without a new contract and watching developments in London with concern.
UE local 506 President Roger Zaczyk represents workers at the GE locomotive plant in Erie  Penn.  ye...
UE local 506 President Roger Zaczyk represents workers at the GE locomotive plant in Erie, Penn., yet he was in London defending good jobs for all.
Even the locomotive workers in Erie, Penn., who build engines at the General Electric plant there, are concerned about the London lockout and they have a contract. United Electrical and Machine Workers of America local 506 President Roger Zaczyk made the trip to Canada to attend the rally and give a brief speech in which he said he was in London defending good jobs for all.
Zaczyk told the Huffington Post, “We build locomotives just like these people. Exactly the same. What they’re trying to do up here is exactly what they tried to do to us during our negotiations.”
Caterpillar is a company known for its union busting expertise. It has deep pockets and the patience to wait out its workers when strikes or lockouts occur.
A crowd of 15 000 or more gathered Saturday in Victoria Park  in downtown London  showing support fo...
A crowd of 15,000 or more gathered Saturday in Victoria Park, in downtown London, showing support for the locked out EMD workers.
As the crowd of thousands waited for the rally to begin a rock group entertained, sometimes with rock anthems from the tumultuous '60s like the Buffalo Springfield's famous Somethings Happening Here. The line after "There's battle lines being drawn" may be "Nobody's right if everybody's wrong" but you can be sure everyone at the rally agreed Caterpillar is wrong. Period.
Mary Giampa  left  and Kim Buchanan wave signs in support of the locked out EMD workers. Giampa s so...
Mary Giampa, left, and Kim Buchanan wave signs in support of the locked out EMD workers. Giampa's son works at EMD, as does Buchanan's husband.
Stop, ask a pleasant looking older woman why she is there. You learn her son has worked at EMD for years and his reward is being locked out, put onto the street in January in the middle of the Canadian winter. "Tell Harper to get the money back . . . It's our money he gave to those bastards!" She spits out the words with venom.
Everyone hears the personal story of the Jones family when Brianna Jones and her father, Ian, take centre stage. Brianna made her contempt for the giant American company clear. Without unions she said, "We'd all be living in the slums. They don't care." She continued, "Our family's budget will be slashed in half." Brianna is attending university in Windsor and plans on going on to earn her doctorate. A crumbling family budget would hurt.
The crowd at the Saturday rally was estimated at 15 000 or possibly larger.
The crowd at the Saturday rally was estimated at 15,000 or possibly larger.
"It is morally wrong to call (my father's) life's work unskilled," she says talking about her dad. Brianna is proud of her father. "We should not have to inherit a society where greed trumps morality." The crowds loudly chants, "Greed. Greed. Greed."
The event attracted a Who's Who of big labour, including Sid Ryan of the Ontario Federation of Labour, organizer of the rally, and Ken Georgetti of the Canadian Labour Congress. All slammed Caterpillar and many railed against the Stephen Harper led federal government.
Georgetti called it a "cryin' shame" that the ruling Conservative party did not send even one representative to London. "They (Caterpillar) want to take away what we have struggled to build for decades." Georgetti said the EMD lockout has become the focus of labour across Canada from Halifax to Vancouver. He might have added that it is becoming big news in the States as well.
Ryan said, "We're sick and tired of the corporate greed." He called Caterpillar "the poster child for corporate greed." He continued by saying that if Caterpillar is thinking of taking equipment out of the London plant, it had better think again.
President of CAW local 27, Tim Carrie, told the crowd, "Caterpillar has a history of beating down workers and getting away with it. Not this time."
Ken Lewenza  national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union  leads a chant of  Harper s got t...
Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, leads a chant of "Harper's got to go."
But it was not only private and public-sector labour unions that were attracted to the rally; It also drew non-labour supporters as well. Sister Sue Walker of the Sisters of St. Joseph in London warned, "The social contract is breaking down." She said, "Wealth is trickling upwards" and this is "tearing at the fabric of society. Now is the time for the 99 percent to stand together."
Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents the EMD employees, was the last speaker. He blamed the Harper government for the loss of 450,000 manufacturing jobs.
He said the federal government should have blocked the sale of Electro-Motive to Caterpillar two years ago. Cat paid $810 million for EMD, buying it from a pair of private-equity firms that took control of the locomotive builder back in 2005. They bought the operation from distressed owner General Motors for what many saw as a fire sale price of $201 million.
Lewenza noted the absence of Conservative MPs at the rally. This may be seen as exceedingly odd, considering the city sent three Tory backbenchers to Ottawa in the last election.
As the event wrapped up, many supporters indicated they were heading for the EMD picket line in East London.
According to London Community News, by about 2:30 supporters numbered about 1,000 and spilled onto Oxford Street East in front of the EMD plant. Despite the efforts of a London police officer to keep people off the street, the situation became unmanageable and police had to shutdown traffic on the important east-west traffic artery from Clarke Road west of the plant to Industrial Road east of EMD.
With a crowd of 15 000 expected  London police controlled and redirected traffic around the Victoria...
With a crowd of 15,000 expected, London police controlled and redirected traffic around the Victoria Park area in the city's downtown core.
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