Labour Studies Index

“Caterpillar Hates Unions More Than It Loves Profits”: The Electro-Motive Closure and the Dilemmas of Union Strategy

Document type Article
Author Russell, Jason
Author Ross, Stephanie
Journal Labour / Le Travail
Volume 81
Date 2018 Spring
ISSN 1911-4842
Pages 53-85
URL http://www.lltjournal.ca/index.php/llt/article/view/5882

Abstract

The February 2012 closure of London, Ontario’s Electro-Motive Diesel by the notoriously anti-union US multinational Caterpillar symbolizes the deep challenges faced by private sector unions in globalized industries. This closure was the final blow in Caterpillar’s negotiations with Canadian Auto Workers Local 27. This article explores the implications of changes in corporate structure, investment, and labour-relations strategy in manufacturing that have reduced capital’s dependence on production and increased corporate power over workers. Through a detailed case study based on extensive analysis of a range of sources, the authors argue that union strategy must be guided by a more differentiated understanding of corporate structure. While unions can effectively mobilize in response to attacks by anti-union employers, union strategy must first be rooted in a careful study of the employer’s structure, strengths and weaknesses, and industry context. Second, unions must develop capacities to intervene at scales beyond the local employment relationship and community. Third, unions must consider more carefully the nature of the various forms of power they seek to deploy and how these forms of power can amplify each other. Even the most effective campaigns will fail to muster leverage over an employer or industry if they neglect developing these forms of knowledge and capacity.