Mark’s pulls Caterpillar work boots as Canadians urge wider boycott over plant closure

Steve Mertl
Daily Brew
February 6, 2012

People angry about Caterpillar's callous closure of a a London, Ont., locomotive plant are trying to put the boots to the multi-national heavy-equipment maker. Literally.

National clothing chain Mark's Work Wearhouse has pulled Caterpillar-branded products, including popular work boots, from its shelves in London amid furor over the announced shutdown of Electro-Motive Canada and the loss of some 700 jobs.

Critics contend the shutdown was long-planned because Caterpillar wants to move locomotive production to a lower-wage U.S. plant. Management locked out unionized employees on Jan. 1 and demanded a 50 per cent pay cut to reopen the plant.

Some want Mark's move to be the first in a larger boycott of Caterpillar products, including making it harder for the company to sell its trademark construction and mining equipment in Canada.

Twitter and Facebook are full of calls from people wanting to lash out at Caterpillar.

"Time to boycott Caterpillar company and all the products it is associated with manufacturing," tweeted Brendan Lusk.

"I totally support Caterpillar boycott," said Jim Botari. "Mark's Work Wwearhouse in London pulled all products w/ Cat logos off their shelves."

"Spread the word," tweets Mary Kosta. "Divest. Buy from other suppliers."

Graham Morley, Mark's London-area district manager, told CBC News many of the retailer's customers worked at the plant. He said the decision covers only local stores and likely is only temporary.

The Globe and Mail reported some people want Mark to ban Caterpillar products from its stores across Canada.

Facebook user Del Jones echoed that demand, adding "municipalities and rail companies across Canada should refuse to buy locomotives and heavy equipment from Cat."

Some are calling for the government to use heavier weapons on Caterpillar.

Toronto Star business columnist David Olive said Canada could stand by helplessly as it watched another piece of its industrial capacity slide permanently into foreign hands.

"Or we could take a tad more control of our economic destiny," Olive argued.

"We could nationalize EMD, for which there is abundant precedent across the continent ... Short of nationalization, Ottawa could impose prohibitive tariffs on all Cat products.

"That might eventually bring Athabasca tarsands production, heavily reliant on Caterpillar equipment, to a halt. Which would be a useful topic of discussion between Barack Obama and Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman, since Athabasca is America's largest source of imported oil."

Olive admits some of the moves might be dubiously legal under international trade agreements but "it's Cat alone that has consistently acted in bad faith."

The idea of lashing back at Caterpillar has sparked fierce debate. Opponents argue a boycott will only hurt Caterpillar-linked jobs in Canada without doing much damage to the multinational.

But many also pointed fingers at the federal and Ontario governments.

"Canada being Canada will roll over and say please please pretty please don't do it again," said one unidentified commenter to Olive's story.

"Neither of our governments have the courage to do any thing more about it. We have to remind ourselves that we have the water and the oil until we roll over once again ( we seem to be getting good at it)."