Caterpillar: An opportunity to rethink European industrialisation

Caterpillar, a producer of bulldozers and heavy machinery from the United States, recently announced plans to shut down its Belgian headquarters in Gosselies – a step which would lead to at least 2,200 job-cuts and will certainly have a big impact on regional subcontractors and suppliers.

Alstom, an engineering company with production sites across Europe, announced one month ago a plan to close its Belfort plant in France and redeploy up to 400 employees onto other sites. This was averted by its main shareholder, the French state, which stepped in to buy fifteen new TGV high-speed trains in order to keep the plant alive.

These are only the most recent examples that demonstrate a decades long inability of the European Union to develop a reliable long-term industrial strategy that equally acknowledges the interest of workers, producers and the environment. Recent years of industrial policymaking were instead characterised by short-sighted political actions, including last-minutes bailouts of manufacturers as a result of threats by employers to lay off workers.

The employees of Alstom and Caterpillar are the most recent victims of this lack of political leadership and a focus on trade policies that nearly exclusively favours the maximisation of shareholder profits. This comes at the expense of workers’ rights, planning security for suppliers, environmental protection and tax justice.

Yet companies have to be held responsible for their business activities and cannot pass on the consequences of their questionable decisions onto society. Mass redundancies and tax evasion are a threat to workers and taxpayers alike. It is time to make sure that stronger measures are in place so corporations reinvest in industrial tools and create employment instead of remunerating shareholders in the first place.

The European Greens always highlight how workers’ rights and a green transformation of the economy go hand in hand. Against this background, the resolution that was passed by the European Parliament just this month is an important step in the right direction. It includes a clear commitment to develop a long-term strategy for a common European industrial policy that strengthens the rights of workers in cases of restructuring, maintains the quality of employment and creates jobs in the green industry.

The final resolution includes a range of amendments that were tabled by the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, including:

  • clear green targets and indicators for industrial policy to make the European economy more resilient and less resource dependent;
  • greater use of demand side measures to stimulate employment and the economy, including public spending and wage increases;
  • prevention of trade policies that foster anti-competitive practices like environmental dumping, which puts EU standards at risk and affects EU-based industries;
  • the end of the financialisation of the real economy, instead the introduction of measures to stop economically unjustified mass redundancies;
  • ensuring that all workers are treated equally to prevent discrimination of younger and older workers when restructuring occurs.

The Greens’ priorities are simple and clear. As underlined in a resolution that was adopted at our Council held in Utrecht in May 2016, we want ambitious energy and climate policies in the framework of a Green New Deal, in order to drive a sustainable infrastructure construction. We want a surge in renewable energies, building renovations, public mobility, and other sustainable infrastructure.

We work to build a green sustainable economy that works for all. That demands greater investment in energy efficiency and renewables, and a departure from damaging investments into fossil fuels. We believe that this can only work if there is a long-term strategy that makes trade policies consistent with reindustrialisation objectives and respects the rights of workers when it comes to mass redundancies. The EU has to offer support to help workers reintegrating into the workforce. For this reason, the adopted resolutions in the European Parliament are a step in the right direction.


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