Fightback recently published our analysis of the latest attack on the Canadian Autoworkers by General Motors, in which the corporation announced plant closures in Oshawa, Ontario. This announcement flies in the face of a collective agreement GM had signed with the union less than a month ago, guaranteeing no closures until 2011, and promising new products lines to replace job losses. The planned closures would result in 2,600 layoffs. A day after this announcement, on the 4th of June, CAW workers from Oshawa Local 222 responded by establishing a blockade around the General Motors headquarters building in Oshawa. Fightback sent a delegation to the blockade on the second day of the action to show solidarity with the workers and to get a ground level perspective on the fight to save jobs.
The mood of the workers was very militant and it is quite clear that they are willing to remain on the picket lines for as long as it takes to win. Terry McDonald, a member of the Oshawa Local’s bargaining committee, told Fightback, "We’re right. We’re going to stay as long as it takes for them to realise that."
There was a strong feeling of urgency that the movement needs to grow, to encompass a larger portion of the community. "For every auto worker that loses their job, seven others in other sectors lose their jobs. We aren’t just fighting to save the union workers here, we’re fighting to save the whole community," Linda Curier, a CAW worker and mother, said.
There was also an understanding that if the national leadership of the CAW took on the fight wholeheartedly, it would have a larger impact. However, many workers expressed frustration with the Hargrove administration for being too friendly with management, giving up to many concessions, and, most of all, being unwilling to use militant tactics to fight to save jobs.
"Some people in the CAW seem to think that when there’s a problem, ‘Oh, the Union will fix it.’ They need to wake up! The big-boys are just dragging their feet, spending too much time on the golf course instead of the picket line," one worker said.
At one point during the day, John McCallum, former Liberal Finance Minister, arrived at the blockade to try to paint the Liberal Party a pro-worker opposition to the Harper Tories. He was immediately surrounded by angry workers, who had not forgotten the Liberal’s record. "We’re not the government," was McCallum’s talking-point response to demands for political action to save the plants slated for closure. One member of the bargaining committee interrupted McCallum, "You were the government, and we know what you did then: Nothing!" At one point, the only thing protecting the right honourable gentleman from his would-be constituents was the ring of journalists and cameramen that had formed around the ex-minister.
"They spend so much effort to get down what he says," said Terry McDonald, "they should listen more to what we say. They haven’t got the story right, but they know which side their bread is buttered."
The most telling aspect of the day was the attitude of many of the workers towards the idea of nationalization. "We’ve put so much effort into supporting these companies. We are constantly telling people to buy Canadian, and I still am. But no matter how much effort we put into supporting these guys, they have no loyalty to the country they’re in or to the people that work for them," said a worker from Kitchener, Ontario, "They pour hundreds of millions of tax-payer money into these corporations and then they turn around and move the whole sha-bang to China or Mexico or some other country where they shoot you for being in a union. I figure we’ve paid for it, now we ought to own it."
One CAW retiree told us, "We’ve got guys that have worked their whole lives in the plant, had their children follow them in, been on lay-off for years at a time and they still come back to work. If that ain’t worth the cost of a plant, nothing is."
Fightback had brought copies of our analysis of the auto industry, calling for it to be nationalized, which we had been distributing. In a very short time workers began actively seeking us out for political literature. By noon, we had none left.
The workers are prepared to fight, what is more, they recognize that it had been the militant actions used by the movement, such as factory occupations and the blockade, that have had the most impact on the bosses and their hirelings in government. They want to see more of the same, on a larger scale, lead and co-ordinated by the trade unions and the NDP. However, it is up to the leaders of these organizations to put the power of the labour movement’s apparatus at the service of the workers. The fight for these plants is a fight for the future of the working class in Ontario. All the gains we have made in the last 60 years are bound up with the fate the CAW workers. There are more confrontations on the horizon, and for the sake of our future: they must be won.
[NOTE: Solidarity messages for CAW 222 can be sent here]