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From Friday’s Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 2:00AM EST

Business lobbyists used to express grave concern about the economic impact of strikes. Those concerns were always overstated; time lost in work stoppages has declined by 90 per cent from the 1970s. Nevertheless, companies traditionally complain that work stoppages damage sales, productivity and, of course, profits.

web-labour_1360167cl-3.jpgRecently, however, business leaders have warmed to work stoppages. In the current bargaining environment, companies (especially multinational firms) hold the best cards. And executives are increasingly willing to precipitate their own work stoppages – through management lockouts – to enforce demands for lower wages and benefits.

Two New Year’s Day lockouts highlighted this strategy. U.S.-based Caterpillar Inc. locked out 450 locomotive builders in London, Ont., demanding wage cuts of more than 50 per cent. The same day, Rio Tinto, the U.K.-based mining giant, locked out 755 smelter workers in Alma, Que. That company’s demand to outsource all future bargaining-unit openings would ultimately achieve an even larger reduction in wages. In both cases, the future of middle-class incomes in our manufacturing and resource sectors is at stake. And in both cases, executives are willing to lock the doors until workers swallow their pill.

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