It's time to stop the corporate gravy train

By James Clancy
National President National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

We’re living in tough times and our political leaders are calling for "shared sacrifice." But corporations are being spared. It’s actually difficult to imagine a more coddled group than big profitable corporations.

The Harper government in particular has taken corporate coddling to a whole new level. The recent decision by U.S corporate giant Caterpillar Inc. to close its London, Ontario locomotive plant (Electro-Motive Diesel Inc.) is the perfect example. Caterpillar’s annual profits rose 83% to a record $4.9 billion last year. Their CEO was paid more than $10 million - he made as much in two days as one of his workers made in a year.

In 2008, Electro-Motive received a $5 million tax break announced on the factory floor by Harper himself. Plus the company has benefited generously from Harper’s deep cuts in general corporate tax rates. How did Caterpillar respond to this generous support from taxpayers? They made the outrageous demand that their workers in London take a 50% cut in wages. When the workers fought back, Caterpillar closed the plant down and tossed 450 highly-skilled Ontarians on the scrap heap.

What has Harper done to stand up for these workers, their families and the community of London? Absolutely nothing. In three recent labour disputes involving Air Canada and Canada Post, the Harper government gratuitously involved itself (on the employer’s side) in order to "protect the economic recovery." In the Caterpillar dispute, Harper said and did nothing.

Did I miss something? Or does Harper live in some Bizarro World where the loss of 450 highly skilled jobs is somehow good for the economy? Harper could have demanded job guarantees when his government approved the sale of Electro-Motive to Caterpillar in 2010.

Rather than spending wildly on no-strings attached corporate tax cuts, he could have provided tax refunds to corporations after they actually created jobs; instead, job-killers like Caterpillar get to take our tax money and run. Harper could have demanded Caterpillar pay back the corporate tax breaks. If they refused, he could have passed a tariff on all Caterpillar imports. Or he could have passed a regulation prohibiting any federal infrastructure dollars from being spent on Caterpillar equipment. Harper has been the prime minister since 2006 and he could have developed a modern industrial strategy that includes good manufacturing jobs But he has and continues to do nothing.

Except, of course, he has demanded that families tighten their belts and prepare for deep cuts in the public services and public pensions they need. While poor and middle income families struggle to make ends meet, big profitable corporations like Caterpillar continue to be coddled. Let’s work together to pressure Harper to stop the corporate gravy train.

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