Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When Workers Can’t Find Work: GM Cuts Another 2600 Jobs in Oshawa

by Enver Harbans
Basics Issue # 10 (Aug/Sep 2008)

On June 3rd, 2008, Canada’s manufacturing sector was dealt another blow as General Motors announced they will be shutting down their Oshawa truck plant in the third quarter of 2009.
With this decision the Oshawa community is out another 2,600 jobs adding to the 10,800 jobs they lost in the last 2 years alone. This disturbing trend of job losses throughout Canadian society adds to the troubles working-class people are facing as energy costs and food costs sky-rocket. In the last 5 years alone, Canada has lost 350,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs, most of which were covered under union collective agreements.

Consider 2008 alone, where days before the Oshawa closures were announced Air Canada had announced that they were going to lay-off 2,000 union members. A little earlier in the year, Canac Kitchens in Scarborough announced that they would be closing, and thus, shall we say, draining out another 900 unionized jobs.

The situation in Ontario and Canada is such that the capitalist system cannot guarantee work for its servants and the working-class advocates in the trade-unions are scrambling for answers. Take the case of Oshawa workers and their union representatives, the Canadian Auto Workers Union. CAW made it clear in the contract that job allocation was the key item in this round of negotiations. It was agreed upon that new car parts would continue to come through the Oshawa plant throughout the life of the contract, which would have expired in 2012.

Members ratified the contract, taking serious concessions on wages in exchange for ensuring the long-term productivity of the plant. This was all shot down when GM decided they were going to move the plant to Mexico and Fort Wayne.

Free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have made it possible for corporations to make these plant closures and moves easy and without any penalties for businesses. Under such free trade agreements, countries that allow for corporate profits to be impeded by unions, high wages, health and safety standards, etc., are faced with the threat of capital packing up and moving out.

However through mass mobilizing tactics, which included a 12-day blockade of GM headquarters, forced the company back to table to negotiate new terms of closure. The union was able to secure buyout packages for workers which include compensation anywhere from $37,500 to $120,000 (depending on seniority) plus a GM car voucher worth $35,000. The buyout packages are good for the short-term but what about the next generation of workers?

The trade-union movement must come to terms with capitalism and its ongoing crises and working-class organizations must develop methods to unite workers in and out of the trade-unions to struggle against this exploitative system.

The right to a good job should be a guaranteed human right., and this system can promise workers no such thing. Working-class Canadians must organize and fight for a nationalized industrial base owned and operated by the people.