On November 14, the H.J. Heinz Company announced it was closing its plant in Leamington Ontario, putting 740 full time jobs and 500 seasonal jobs in jeopardy.
Leamington is the “Tomato Capital” of Canada. Heinz has had a plant there since 1909 and it was Leamington’s largest employer. At one time it processed more tomatoes than any other plant in the world. The plant’s closure will not only affect its employees but also farmers in the Leamington area who supply the plant with tomatoes.
The political response in Ontario was swift. “It’s a huge concern of mine,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“The Heinz factory closing is a tragedy for the 800 people who are now without a job in Leamington,” said Monte McNaughton, the Progressive Conservative labour critic.
“The closure of the Heinz plant in Leamington is a devastating blow to the workers in Leamington and their families,” said Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
Each party of course had its own view of the causes and solution to the problem. Wynne has been trying to reach out to other businesses to invest in the Heinz plant, so far there are no takers. She even took a swipe at the NDP while explaining her attempts to find new owners.
“The third party thinks they can control the private sector. That’s not how it works,” said Wynne during Question Period at Queen’s Park.
The Ontario NDP no longer wants to do anything of the sort. Bowing to neoliberal pressures, it has given up on the idea of expanding social ownership. It wants to lure jobs to Ontario by giving tax credits to companies who hire workers.
And of course the PCs would like to turn Ontario into a low wage province through U.S. style right-to-work laws to lure business here.
Across the continent in Seattle, Washington a funny thing happened a few days after the Heinz announcement. On November 18 Kshama Sawant, the newly elected socialist Seattle city councillor, attended a rally for machinists at Boeing. The machinists had earlier rejected a new contract that would require them to make concessions in exchange for the 777 airliner to be built at the Seattle plant. Sawant, the first socialist to win a seat on Seattle city council in a century, made waves with her comments at the rally.
“The workers should take over the factories, and shut down Boeing’s profit-making machine,” Sawant said. She added, “We are the ones doing it anyway and we can retool the machines to produce mass transit instead of destructive war machines.”
In other words – put workers in actual democratic control of the Boeing plant. That’s too much for the Bay Street friendly Liberals and PCs in Ontario. The NDP isn’t going to touch that idea because the leadership sees such demands as a relic of the past.
Employees at the Heinz plant have already set up a Facebook group called “Save the Heinz Factory in Leamington Ontario.” While they are still looking for someone to invest in the plant, they are calling for help to turn the factory in to a worker run co-op if no investor steps forward.
Leave it to the workers in Leamington to come up with ideas beyond the grasp of Ontario’s political class. It’s time for some Kshama Sawants in Ontario.
Gerard Di Trolio is a Toronto based journalist. Follow them on Twitter @GerardDiTrolio