Members of Unifor local 1075, consisting of 900 trades and assembly line workers at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant, have been on strike since July 14 over the issue of pensions and benefits for newer hires. This follows a strike in 2011 over more or less the same issues, which once again has Bombardier demanding concessions of its workers at the same time that its business continues to boom.

At issue are the company’s proposals to enroll new hires in a defined contribution pension plan instead of a defined benefit plan, and for workers hired after May 2010, to cut their post-retirement benefits. Why is this date significant? Since 2010, Bombardier has nearly doubled its workforce in Thunder Bay, meaning that this proposed change to retirement benefits will affect 70% of the workforce. This boom has come from contracts awarded to the company by the Toronto Transit Commission, first for $710 million to build 234 new subway cars, and subsequently for $1.2 billion for 204 new low-floor streetcars. With GO train coaches also included, the plant is currently working through $3 billion worth of orders in total. And demand is not expected to dry up just yet. The new Ontario Liberal government has committed to $29 billion in spending for public transit and other transportation priorities over the next 10 years. Clearly, then, Bombardier cannot simply justify these attacks by crying poor, as the big automakers did in the wake of the 2008-09 economic crisis.

There is a larger backdrop to all of this. In 2013, Bombardier hired a new president of the transportation arm of its business, Lutz Bertling, who came on with a mandate to trim costs and increase the profitability of the corporation. This, among other things, meant that an attack on its Canadian workforce in Thunder Bay was logical, as workers have been organized there for the better part of the past century, and have fought for and won decent wages, benefits and pensions. This contrasts with Bombardier’s production in 27 other countries, including amongst them Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and China, where workers have not likely had sufficient time and ability to organize themselves and establish comparable standards. It is in this context that the spectre of outsourcing persistently hangs above the heads of the Thunder Bay workers, who are technically only under contract to build streetcars and subways for the TTC until 2015.

Bombardier already announced earlier this year it plans to lay off 1700 workers in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere in its aerospace division, and relocate these jobs to Mexico. This is the race to the bottom which the capitalist system engenders in its relentless pursuit of profits at all costs. Globalization has only exacerbated this phenomenon since the late 1970’s, the result of which has been the decimation of the manufacturing base of the advanced capitalist nations such as the U.S., U.K, Canada, and so on. Companies like Bombardier are ultimately mere pawns which must move as commanded by the so-called ‘invisible hand’ of the market, meaning that any gains won by organized workers are always subject to reversal, so long as capitalism prevails.

Capitalism, moreover, is currently in the midst of an systemic and ongoing crisis. There has been no real recovery from the financial crisis of 2008, in the sense that investment, economic growth and employment remain stagnant. The ruling class, consequently, is demanding huge concessions from the labour movement, so as to restore its ability to reap profits according to its own needs. With their backs against the wall, workers are increasingly being forced to fight back across the country to protect past gains. To this extent, the national president of Unifor, Jerry Dias, has talked about drawing a line in the sand with the current struggle against Bombardier. While this is useful, it helps to specify further. Militant striking methods and a refusal to capitulate in the face of media slander, court injunctions and associated goonery on behalf of the bosses is what is required to win these episodic battles.

Workers don’t like to go on strike. The act of striking involves significant personal sacrifice in the form of the foregoing of income on an indefinite basis. In a general environment where workers must take on significant household debts in order to finances the homes and vehicles successive generations have been led to reasonably expect, this can produce significant strain. That is why it is imperative that when a strike is taken, it must be carried out in the most resolute manner so as to ensure victory. The workers at Bombardier have shown considerable resolve thus far in the face of the bosses’ intransigence. The entire labour movement, along with the NDP, should see it as an obligation to support this strike and see it such a victory. Beyond verbal proclamations, concrete actions are required, such as solidarity pickets in larger urban centers to raise awareness, and picket line visits to the workers in Thunder Bay to boost morale. Such united action would send the bosses a clear message that the workers have had enough of austerity and concessions, and are ready to fight back to stop it.