by Lindsay Hinshelwood
On Sept. 19, 2013, it was announced that another $135 million of taxpayers’ money will be invested at the Ford Motor Company of Canada’s Oakville Assembly Complex (OAC). Jerry Dias, newly elected Unifor national president, claimed at an Oakville news conference, “We won this investment. We earned this investment. We absolutely fought for this investment.” He uttered these words amidst a photo opportunity with the company executives and former minister of labour and enemy of workers, Lisa Raitt.
In exchange for more of taxpayers’ money going to car makers, Dias made no demands on behalf of the Canadians he claimed he was negotiating for. There were no demands made for better wages and benefits for the low waged, part-time workers in the auto industry. He made no demands for a reversal of the six rounds of massive concessions the first-tier OAC workers have taken in the last decade in order to make the company more competitive and save their jobs. He made no demands for passing legislation to protect manufacturing jobs in Canada.
During the 2009 auto industry bailouts, then Canadian Autoworkers National President Kenny Lewenza made no demands for job security in exchange for worker concessions. Canadian taxpayers got nothing in return as their money was transferred to some of the world’s richest corporations. Meanwhile, their social safety net – old age security, Employment Insurance, and workplace safety protections for ill and injured workers – is deteriorating.
General Motors (GM) has pulled product from Canada despite all the concessions and taxpayers’ money it has received. The GM Navistar assembly plant in Chatham and Ford St. Thomas assembly plant have both closed since the 2008 recession. Thousands of jobs have been lost and the economy continues to decline.
Dias claimed the Ford OAC investment will be a boost to the economy, but the jobs created will be at half the wages of the plant’s first-tiered workers, which will reduce the tax revenue base. Such second-tiered jobs are emerging as replacements to retired workers, and form the jobs that were previously outsourced but are returning to the plant after 2012 negotiations undercut the wages of the outsourced work units. These positions, also represented by the CAW, are putting others workers of the same union out of work.
When we are told we must be competitive and that public money is an investment, what does this equate to beyond low wages and corporate welfare? Why must we compete for lower wages that drive our own economy down, and why is our tax revenue not funding our social safety net? This public relations opportunity came at the heels of the Ford plant Unifor members engaging in a week long fundraising campaign for school supplies because the Ontario Ministry of Education does not provide them, and parents cannot afford them.
It was only this past Jan. 4, 2013 that Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited this same plant, granting taxpayers’ money in order to secure a future in Canada for the auto industry at the expense of the workers. The union leadership, headed by Lewenza at the time, lined up to shake hands with the government that demanded worker concessions for public money. Meanwhile, the RCMP removed a worker from the assembly line and held him in the plant offices without charge until Stephen Harper left the building: a warning marking the erosion of our civil liberties. At the same press conference, Lewenza reached out to KIA with the message that if KIA came back to Canada, they could fill a plant with low-waged workers.
In 2002, 2004, and 2005, these Ford workers made concessions in belief this would ensure the future of the plant. In 2008, they made more concessions when they opened the contract early and were robbed of their right to strike. It was in 2008 that Oakville Ford workers made history when, against the recommendation of their union leadership, rejected the proposed contract, only to be outvoted by other Ford units.
In 2009, these workers were told by the local President Gary Beck that another round of concessions would guarantee the plant’s survival until 2020. Soon after, Beck told workers they were in trouble, and had to take more concessions to compete with United Automobile Workers’ members. After the 2012 contract ratification, Lewenza stated, “Let this be an indicator to Toyota and Honda,” encouraging those companies to implement the same cuts.
If all these prior concessions and all the billions of taxpayers’ money given to these car companies has not been enough to secure a future, what is an additional $135 million going to secure for Oakville’s Ford workers? Dias is part of the contingent of union leadership that negotiated an economy of low waged part-time work, which drives everyone’s standard of work down.
We still don’t have any worker protection policies legislated, and we cannot guarantee that whatever products these car makers produce, customers will actually buy. How many low waged part-time workers buy cars? The economy would be strengthened if Dias and Unifor stopped lobbying on behalf of the Detroit Three car makers and start lobbying on behalf of the taxpayers. CAW-represented companies have closed and left the country – such as the recent departure of the Electro-Motive plant in London, Ontario owned by Caterpillar – despite worker concessions and despite the payout of billions of public tax dollars.
Lindsay Hinshelwood is a member of Unifor and assembly line worker at Ford’s Oakville Assembly Complex