Canadian GM workers fight to stop plant closings
Windsor, Ont., is just across the border from Detroit. General Motors’ world headquarters was in clear view from a riverfront park where thousands of angry Canadian autoworkers rallied Jan. 11. While GM was holding a meeting of institutional investors, union members made it clear they will fight tooth and nail to stop the closing of GM’s Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant.
About 2,000 members of UNIFOR Local 222, which represents the Oshawa workers, came by bus to Windsor for the protest. UNIFOR Local 444, whose largest unit is the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles minivan plant in Windsor, sent a large delegation. UNIFOR, formed in 2013, was the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers. The CAW was founded in 1986 when Canadians left the United Auto Workers in opposition to concession bargaining.
Local 444 President Dave Cassidy chaired the rally. Speakers included Local 222 President Colin James, Shop Chair Greg Moffat and rank-and-file member Jackie Sobil.
Sobil was a “temporary” worker for six years until finally becoming a seniority worker in 2016. Now her economic prospects are dim if GM closes the plant.
UNIFOR President Jerry Dias pointed out that GM made a $6 billion profit in the first three quarters of 2018 and is projecting record profits for the year. Even bigger earnings are anticipated in 2019 despite weakening sales. Dias blasted CEO Mary Barra, who not only made $22 million personally last year, but is the company’s largest individual stockholder.
“General Motors is not closing our plant,” Dias vowed. UNIFOR also wants action from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Canada gave $11 billion to bail out GM during the 2009 bankruptcy.
Militancy and solidarity must be stronger to win
Dias expressed solidarity with autoworkers in the U.S. where GM plans to close four plants in Michigan, Ohio and Maryland. About 5,000 UAW members will be laid off or forced to relocate to keep their jobs.
With additional cuts in the salaried workforce, 14,000 jobs are on the chopping block in North America. Jon Gabrielsen, an economist who consults with automakers and auto suppliers, predicts the cuts will not stop there. (Detroit Free Press, Jan. 9) Unfortunately, the UAW — which could easily have sent a solidarity delegation to the rally across the river — did not even send a message of support.
The Oshawa plant produces both cars and trucks. GM plans to terminate production of the iconic Chevy Impala and move truck production to Mexico, where autoworkers make $2 an hour. In 1993, GM produced a million vehicles in Oshawa; now it makes the same number in Mexico.
While UNIFOR’s support for UAW members is laudable, solidarity needs to be extended to super-exploited workers in Mexico and around the world. GM has announced mass layoffs at its Bogota, Colombia, plant. That is the same plant whose injured workers whom GM fired have maintained a tent encampment demanding restitution outside the U.S. embassy since 2011.
Sit-down strike tactics
While the rally was a tremendous display of strength and unity, UNIFOR rank and file realize the need for more militant tactics. On the morning after GM made a public statement announcing the planned closing — before even notifying the unions as a courtesy — Oshawa workers walked out. There was no production Nov. 26.
UNIFOR then attempted to negotiate with GM to keep Oshawa open. On Jan. 8, GM stated publicly that it would go forward with the shutdown.
After the evening shift watched the GM news conference in the plant, Local 222 members staged a five-hour sit-down strike, stopping production but staying in the plant.
It took a 44-day occupation of GM plants in Flint, Mich., to force the company to recognize the UAW in 1937. Inspired by that victory, Oshawa GM and workers at local parts suppliers then struck for union recognition and a contract. As a result, Local 222 became the first UAW Local in Canada.
Now, members are determined to keep their militant history alive and beat “Greedy Motors.”