Sleazing Up to Caterpillar

Last week the Leicester Mercury gleefully informed us that “Construction equipment giant Caterpillar UK saw its profits quadruple to £136.4 million last year”. These immense profits “followed strong demand and cost cutting”; with “cost cutting” being a euphemism for attacking the pay and conditions of their employees. No context was provided in what amounted to a simple regurgitation of Caterpillar’s corporate press release.

Strangely although the Mercury reported that Caterpillar’s locally-based Desford plant currently “employs more than 1,400 people,” only two months ago they ran an article which informed their readers that the Desford construction equipment manufacturer “employs 1,800 people.” Surely this change would be worth mentioning, or maybe even investigating?

Even keen to promote the good deeds of the highly exploitative corporation, earlier in the year the Mercury kindly told us about Caterpillar’s not-so-grand generosity when they gave a £2,500 donation to Action Homeless “to help rough sleepers in Leicester.” While last December the Mercury ran another Caterpillar puff piece saying they had “been commended” by the The Manufacturer magazine “for its commitment to its workforce and training.” Likewise the month before, the newspaper of record was blowing Caterpillar’s trumpet again, writing that: “Manufacturing giant Caterpillar has been named one of the top 100 apprenticeship employers” in the country.

But there were no tears shed at the Mercury in August 2012 when Caterpillar axed 175 jobs at their factory, and had then “launched a voluntary redundancy scheme” ostensibly “after a fall in demand from customers in the eurozone and US.” Remember now, this is the same company which over the last year had seen its profits quadruple following “strong demand” no less!

Regarding these job cuts, the Mercury did at least observe that “Many business leaders were surprised… that it did not have enough work to continue employing 175 temporary agency staff.” Noting: “The company had enjoyed the most productive year in more than half a century at its Leicestershire factory in 2011 and forecast a further increase in production this year.” Yes surprising it was; but such brutal behaviour is par for the course for an employer that considers their workers to be an expendable commodity… to be hired and fired at their beck-and-call.

Take the example of Denis Aspin, a factory assembler who in 2008 died from an asbestos related cancer after working at the Desford factory from 1979 until the year of his unnecessary death. “He was never warned that asbestos was being used nearby nor of the dangers.” Thus it was only after legal action had been taken by Unite the Union that his family were able to force compensation out of Caterpillar in an out of court settlement.

Adrian Axtel from Unite said:

The union willingly supported Mrs Aspin in her claim for compensation. Sadly mesothelioma is a disease which affects many of our members who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace but were never warned of the dangers or protected by the employer.”

Such reprehensible behaviour on the part of Caterpillar is sadly to be expected, and all the more so in America where this US-based corporation takes special pride in their “aggressive approach” to dealing with their employees workplace demands. That said it is great news that Unite are working to counter such aggression by striving to strengthen international co-operation between workers employed by Caterpillar in the UK and those working in the United States.

“If Caterpillar continues down a path of confrontation with unions in the U.S., it’s only a matter of time before they bring their anti-union agenda to the UK. We’ll all be better off and stronger by sticking together,” said Tony Murphy, a national office for Unite with responsibility for Caterpillar work sites.

Indeed just last year Caterpillar again demonstrated exactly how little respect they have for their employees, effectively sending the clear and brutal message to their factory workers, as one trade unionist wrote, that:

“No matter how healthy we are as a company, no matter how profitable we become, and no matter how much cold, hard cash we manage to rake in, we will never, ever, under any conditions, share one more nickel with the hourly workforce than is absolutely, positively necessary.”

This is totally unacceptable, as was Denis Aspin’s untimely and tragic death; and it is certainly clear that such aggression is totally related to the current government’s ongoing attacks on their citizens livelihoods. Not that things were any different under a Labour government, which always placed the need of the rich and powerful before the rest of us. Of course this is exactly why it is so necessary for workers across Britain to push their union leaders to demand united strike action in the face of a barbaric and relentless opposition. Sadly it seems that only a 24-Hour General Strike will force the powerful to treat us with respect.


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