CAMI strike: An Oshawa autoworker’s view

by Cory Weir
GM Oshawa autoworker, Unifor Local 222

hold-the-line-200As we rolled into the town of Ingersoll on Friday night a familiar sight was noticeable from the highway: an otherwise quiet night sky filled with industrial light from a burgeoning automotive facility much like the one we had just finished our shifts at in Oshawa.

Striking workers from Unifor Local 88 and others lined the entrances to CAMI production facility, with tents and lawn chairs strewn around them. Spirits were high and music played from the back of a GM pickup truck as we piled out to join them. We were greeted warmly by our sisters and brothers as they entered the sixth night of their job action.

Moments after our arrival a security van drove by with surveillance cameras trained on the the workers. Hired by the company and tasked with monitoring strikes across the province, these pinkerton-lites spy on the picket line from a distance and report back like clockwork. Much like the constant supervision on the line, the workers remained largely unphased by their presence.

Talking contracts

21950718_10154761946241960_3034280952331094912_oAs we introduced ourselves to our fellow workers it didn’t take long for us to start talking contracts and strike demands. For all of us from Local 222 in Oshawa who had just weathered the signing of a disappointing 4 year deal with the auto giant the empathy was immediate and palpable.

Their demand for job security and a letter of lead production for the hot-selling Chevrolet Equinox struck us as both reasonable and well earned after the enormous profits the workers of CAMI have allowed General Motors to enjoy for many decades.

Workers were sick and tired of having their wages frozen while the cost of living skyrockets around them, and seek improvements to benefits that have grown in cost as well. Aside from the big-ticket demands, many of the issues they faced are the same as all workers regardless of the industry: dignity and respect in the workplace.

Corruption and disgust

The recent bombshell of corruption and collusion between Alfonse Iacobelli and top UAW leadership – where contract concessions were bought and sold through an illegal company/union slush-fund – left many of them with a bad taste in their mouths. This was especially true after finding out that Iacobelli was instrumental in inking the deal with Unifor last year.

21992764_10154758313121960_2043852187697743037_oThey were disgusted by it and are determined not to go down the same road. Many of them expressed disbelief that the rest of the auto industry would ratify the pattern deal offered up in last year’s round of bargaining. During that round their plant chairperson Mike Van Boekel walked away from the table and issued a letter to his shop floor with a promise to never bring such an insulting deal back to CAMI. With the full support of the Local 88 membership, their local leadership have made good on that promise.

Global and local

It became clear throughout our stay that these workers see the importance that their strike carries for the rest of the auto industry and the broader workforce as they reject free trade deals like NAFTA that pit worker against worker in a global race to the bottom. As we shared our stories with each other, more skids were thrown on the fire barrels which sunk into the asphalt from the heat. We walked from entrance to entrance speaking with workers about their issues as well as broader social issues, and their resolve was the same at each line. They have planned for this and are determined to see it through until they win.

As sunrise came and went, we decided to stop into a local restaurant for breakfast. The workers serving up meals at Miss Ingersoll’s were very sympathetic to the strike. In a town of 13,000 everyone knows someone who works there and everyone is affected. A local independent grocery store has even changed their schedule to remain open around the clock providing free water and snacks to their striking family and friends. In the early morning members of the community stopped by with their families in tow to show their support for the strike. When workers build real solidarity in their community like Local 88 has it comes back tenfold when they hit the picket lines and fight for justice.

Their local mayor has come out in support of the strike and visited the picket lines, however their Oxford County Conservative MPP took to social media earlier that week and said he couldn’t take sides in the strike. “He doesn’t want to take sides? You just did asshole!” was the response from one worker who felt betrayed after risking his job for the security his family deserves. He would later change his tune and visit the strike after a barrage of anger on social media.

21762488_10154758356926960_2431198955211748216_oAs politicians wade into the strike waters and double back for personal gain, it remains clear to many of them that the only support worth a damn comes from their fellow workers and their community.

Solidarity

For the rest of us in the auto industry, we can only look on with admiration and pride for the principled stand of our sisters and brothers. As the strike wanes on these workers will feel the weight of economic hardship and uncertainty about their future, but they will prevail; it is in these moments of shared struggle that unbreakable bonds are forged and true working class solidarity flourishes.

As we said our temporary good-byes and drove away Saturday afternoon with a promise to return, I couldn’t help but look down at the barrels which had sunk even further into the asphalt. It seemed a fitting metaphor for these workers who have defiantly dug in their heels at what will be looked upon as a critical moment of resistance for all autoworkers in the pages of labour history.

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12 thoughts on “CAMI strike: An Oshawa autoworker’s view

  1. Thank you, great article. Yes there is a movement happening here, all of labor has to start the fight back.
    For the life of me I don’t understand why our CLC is not stronger at pulling all unions together to force change.

  2. Thanks for that report Cory, great to know you and others expressed the solidarity from all workers and retirees of Local 222. Great job.

  3. Thank you so much Cory.
    This is a great article, well written, & quite accurate. Your welcome back anytime as we very much appreciate the support of our sisters and brothers from 222. I’m proud to call you my brother and friend.

    In Solidarity
    Steven Pye
    UNIFOR Local 88
    Sergeant At Arms

  4. Amazing!!
    Well written article!
    Thank you for your support, it is appreciated!
    In Solidarity
    Tammy Hundt
    Unifor Local 88 member

  5. One of the best articles I’ve read to date. Its been a very long time since I’ve seen and felt this kind of solidarity. We showed tremendous strength during our 1992 strike and 25 years later that strength holds true.

    On September 17th GM whispered in our ears, “you’re not strong enough to withstand the storm”
    On September 17th, Unifor Local 88 shouted, “WE ARE THE STORM”

    In Solidarity

  6. this was a great read ty i am with 2163(autrans) i have only been able to make it out a few times as i have had to take certain measures into my own hands but please know even though i may not be there my heart and soul are thank-you for standing up for us all you will prevail don,t lose faith as hard as it may be and i will return soon!!! to join you all again.

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