The locked-out Electro-Motive plant in London, Ontario has decided to close the plant permanently. The announcement comes just over a month after Progress Rail decided to lockout its workers citing operating costs as its main motivation.

Progress Rail Services Corp., a subsidiary of U.S. construction equipment conglomerate Caterpillar that owns the Electro-Motive plant had locked out its unionized workers on New Year’s Day. The company demanded that workers take a 52% pay cut along with fewer benefits despite the fact Caterpillar earned record profits last year of over five billion dollars.

The 450 locked out employees naturally protested in anger and found plenty of outside support. The lockout brought upon the biggest protest in London’s history; company personnel alongside the people of London, other union chapters and politicians all voiced their opinion denouncing the lockout, all but the most important voice that is, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper used Electro-Motive as a backdrop in 2008 to promote big tax breaks and incentives for industrial capital investments, he even gave the company a five million dollar tax cut before Caterpillar took over. A clear blow to the Conservative myth that corporate tax cuts create jobs and that free trade will attract job-creating foreign investment.

Harper still refused to get involved in the labour dispute right up until the announced closing and impending move to Indiana, predictable given Harper’s staunch anti-union history. CAW President Ken Lewenza called the decision a “callous move,” and was extremely critical of Ottawa for failing to require that companies commit to Canadian jobs when making corporate takeovers.

Something is clearly wrong when a foreign corporation can swoop in and buy up Canadian companies, lay off their work force and move them at will, especially when the government has given them incentive to stay. “There were particular incentives and advantages offered to this company and the net result is that 450 jobs have been lost,” Liberal MP Ralph Goodale suggested.

No one in their right mind would consent to such a decrease in a person’s standard of living. It was clear Caterpillar wanted Electro-Motive to pack up and leave from the get go. Whether it is by coincidence or design, the move comes as Electro-Motive was set to host a job fair in Muncie, Indiana this past weekend.

Additionally, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill into law last week that effectively bans mandatory union membership. The starting wage for Indiana labourers is expected to be around $13/HR and thanks to the “Right to Work” bill, they’ll have far less bargaining power.

With all the talk throughout the 99% movement about the declining middle class in the last six months, I hope this blatant example of corporate greed continues to garner the attention of the press, politicians and everyday folk. The best thing we can do to honor the 450 people whose lives have been turned upside down and careers flushed down the toilet is to make sure it does not happen again.

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The great thing the truly amazing thing, about the Occupy Wall Street movement is its lack of unified voice. Every person who is a part of it or who seriously thinks about it is forced to decide for themselves if and how the status quo needs to be changed. Brilliant.

In following the Occupy Wall Street protests and the sympathy demonstrations around the world, I had to consider my own thoughts on the matter, and I came up with one obvious, glaring, pernicious facet of the world we live in: Corporate Personhood.

I believe that the best way to actually make changes that can be seen and felt in the world is by demanding status of the corporation change from a legal “person” to that of a company run by real live people. People who have real liability, responsibility and accountability, and will face real consequences for each and every action taken by that company.

This point was hit home to me recently while reading a novel recently published by an old business school friend of mine. When we were class mates, back at the University of Ottawa, and we had many an ideological discussion about corporate personhood and what it meant. Justin Mazzotta went on to fully imagine a world wherein corporations were not ethereal, legal technicalities, but actual breathing, walking and talking people. He wrote a book about it called Psych. Co: The Corporate Awakening.

It was one of the most horrifying pieces of literature I’ve ever read.

The premise of the book is that across the world, corporations are taking over the bodies of humans and using them to conduct business in the real world. They lie, cheat, steal and kill to make money. They admit it. They have no problem with it, because to a corporation none of those things are wrong.

The reason people are standing up and clamouring for change right now is because, at the fundamental level of our economy people don’t matter as much as profit. That’s not conjecture, and that’s not hyperbole that’s fact. A corporation in its current form is legally obligated to generate the maximum amount of profit before anything else and if people get hurt that’s just too damn bad.
In the novel, you get a picture of what it would be like if corporations were things you could talk to, but in the real world they’re not. They’re entities that affect our daily lives in myriad ways and have no concern are allowed to have concern – for the individual, for the environment, or even for the law. If the potential profit is greater than the cost of breaking a law… well, we’ve seen the result of that often enough.

I doubt that corporate personhood is an issue that will factor strongly in this round of dialogue, and that’s okay. There are scores of ways improvements to the system can be made without touching the matter, and there is an argument to be made about limiting personal liability in order to facilitate business. I’m not certain I agree with it but it’s there.
Whether or not corporate personhood is something that bothers you – the status quo must, and so it needs be changed. We can no longer tolerate the fact that large entities, who no one elected, and who bear no responsibility for their actions get to make decisions about our nations, our environment and our lives.

So protest. Demonstrate. Write articles, and blog posts. Shoot videos and write plays. Make your voice heard. I’ll do it because I believe that corporate personhood is wrong and allows otherwise moral human beings to take actions that would make any dictator blush. You have your reasons too.

The scenario painted in Psych. Co is a little too close to reality for my comfort.

Have you demonstrated? Will you? Why?

Ed note: We are glad to welcome back Megan Dougherty. Megan used to write The Lemonade Stand for FTB and has successfully been working on several other business ventures that have kept her very busy (too busy to write for FTB). Megan Dougherty is a Montreal blogger and marketer trying to carve out the smallest bit of respect for new writers, freelancers, interns and the otherwise entry-level over at She likes fall vegetables, skirts that reach her knees and chubby felines.