Source: CNW Group/Unifor

On Aug. 1, Unifor Local 112 went on strike against De Havilland Aircraft of Canada (DHC) who are dead set on laying off workers and relocating production outside of Ontario. Scabs have been flown in and the workers are rightfully using militant tactics to stop production. Facing off against Canada’s wealthiest corporate owners, and now an undemocratic injunction, these workers and their union have a chance to make a bold stand.

Out of a total 2,200 workers with Unifor at the Downsview plant, 1,500 Bombardier workers reached a settlement in July, while 700 workers at DHC remain on the picket lines. These 700 work in production and skilled trades, while the 1,500 who settled are technical, office, and professional workers. 

The Downsview plant is the manufacturing site for Bombardier’s Global Series of business jets, and DHC’s Dash 8 regional turbo-propeller aircraft. As part of their downsizing strategy, Bombardier sold the Downsview facility to Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board in 2018, and the turboprop program to DHC in 2019. Though both companies are currently continuing manufacturing at the site, the runway is slated to be demolished and the aircraft site vacated by 2023. Bombardier decided to relocate to Pearson airport and construction of its new manufacturing facility is in progress. DHC indicated long ago that it will end operations at Downsview once the land lease agreement expires. DHC has not yet decided on a future production location. 

The aviation sector has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. DHC management have stated that they are not getting new orders and, in February, announced that the company would no longer make Dash 8-Q400 turbo-propeller aircraft at the Downsview site beyond confirmed orders. Unifor on the other hand said it is pushing for a commitment from management to maintain the production within a “reasonable radius” of Toronto if manufacturing resumes.

Bombardier and DHC maintain separate collective agreements and both of them expired at the same time. Pensions, use of contractors and erosion of bargaining unit work, and the future of the Dash 8 program are the focus of talks between DHC and the 700 workers still on the picket lines.

Content of the Bombardier settlement

Three days after their strike began, on July 30, Unifor called off the strike of the 1,500 Bombardier workers. Unifor national president Jerry Dias announced that the three-year collective agreement reached with management was approved by some workers. He said that “significant progress” was made in the agreement on key issues such as pensions, as well as job protection against outsourcing and the use of contractors. Some workers would see a meager raise of 0.5 per cent in the first year, 0.75 per cent in the second year and one per cent in the third year. With inflation at two per cent, this is essentially a wage cut.

Besides the fact that the achievements were not significant, the agreement Unifor reached with Bombardier made the conditions of DHC workers vulnerable. Workers at the Downsview plant had clocked together, worked together, bargained together and gone on strike together until they were separated in 2019. However, Dias hopes that reaching a settlement with Bombardier will bring the 700 workers still on the picket lines closer to another settlement at DHC. “[N]o one, not even a billionaire heiress from the Thompson family, has the right to violate the commitments made to Downsview workers,” Dias said. But the history of Bombardier teaches a different lesson.

In its deliberations with the federal and provincial governments in 2018, Bombardier made clear commitments to maintain jobs. Bombardier never met the commitments. Violating the agreement with Unifor, Bombardier sold the Dash 8 program to Longview Aviation Capital, controlled by the Thompson family heiress Sherry Brydson. Even if Longview decides to continue the Dash 8 program, they will be more likely to relocate to Calgary, as reported by Dias. This will cause hundreds of highly skilled aerospace workers in Ontario who built these aircrafts for decades to go jobless.

Meanwhile, as workers suffer, Bombardier has been making billions in increased profits. More wealthy travellers are looking to fly on private aircraft during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. business jet industry has shown signs of recovery and Bombardier’s business rivals such as General Dynamics’ Gulfstream Aerospace and Cessna jet maker Textron are increasing production. Recent quarterly profit reports for Bombardier have shown profits vastly increasing.

Bombardier’s strong-selling Global 7500, which lists for $73 million, a key revenue generator for the company, is manufactured at the Downsview site. But Bombardier shares went down after the strike, so obviously, Bombardier was interested in ending the strike soon and resuming production. This only shows the power the workers have as their labour is what ultimately creates this wealth. The wealth also exists to provide workers with a better living standard, but the executives at the company are more interested in fattening their pockets.

In a statement to the Toronto Star, Dias said that he reached out to Sherry Brydson, granddaughter of the late newspaper magnate Roy Thomson, and majority owner of Longview Aviation Capital. He asked Brydson, who is part of the wealthiest family in Canada, to negotiate the relocation of the aerospace plant but said that she refused to meet with him. In response to the rejection Dias said, “[C]learly she has zero loyalty to the thousand families that she’s about to take away their economic livelihood. She should be ashamed of herself.”

The problem with Dias’s approach is that you absolutely cannot begin to think that a billionaire can remotely be loyal to the workers. Of course Brydson has zero loyalty to the working class. She is part of a different class: the wealthy elite, the capitalist class. The only loyalty of Brydson and the other billionaire owners and millionaire managers of these companies is to profit and building up their capital.

Injunction against DHC workers

Recently, a judge ordered an injunction to vastly limit the picketing ability of the workers. Citing various reasons, the judge mentions that there were workers who “broke through the fence to block the customer plane” to stop production on Aug. 5. The Unifor workers also blocked the replacement workers (scabs). Yet they only did so because the company flew in scabs by helicopter to continue production, essentially undercutting the workers’ democratic right to stop production! 

In his statement the judge continued to argue that production at the facility is “lawful” and that he would deem any blockade illegal. The only leeway he allowed for the 700 workers on the picket line is that, while they are not to “come within a radius of 20 meters” of the entrance, “only once every five minutes, a single picketer may walk across the entrances and exits” that make up the entrance, as long as the worker is “walking continuously and completes crossing the entrances or exits within one minute.” He finished by ordering the sheriff and Toronto Police Services to enforce this order.

It is clear as day whose side the judge takes, despite the fact that the employer is clearly negotiating in bad faith and using scabs to break the strike.

Facing off against an employer and judicial system set to break them, Unifor—Canada’s largest private sector union—has a chance to organize the fightback that hundreds of thousands of workers across the country have been waiting for after experiencing defeat after defeat. At Downsview, it was a mistake to allow 1,500 workers to settle before the other 700 made a deal, as it now puts these remaining workers in a precarious position with the company. The correct decision would have been to hold the strike until all workers reached a settlement on their own terms and continued to fight for more. The workers themselves have clearly shown immense courage and determination to protect their rights.

It’s time the union used this leverage of 700 workers to begin a fightback against the ruling elite who have increased their wealth during the pandemic while workers have suffered the worst of it. All it takes is one courageous fight and the rest of the movement will begin.