The Electric Car Comes to Oakville: A Closer Look at a Feel-Good Story

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2216 ... October 15, 2020

The Electric Car Comes to Oakville: A Closer Look at a Feel-Good Story

Sam Gindin

Major auto bargaining has long been one of the most-hyped events in Canada’s labour calendar; historically rich in drama and closely watched for shifts in the flow of class conflict. Opening the latest round this summer, Jerry Dias, the head of Unifor, worked again to rev up interest in the negotiations, pugnaciously warning the ‘Detroit Three’ (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) that the recent history of repeated concessions was over:

"We gave up jobs, we froze wages, we made changes on our benefit plan, there were a whole host of workplace issue changes, but frankly that’s not in the cards [this time]... These are companies that have been printing money ... so this is about progress for working class people."

As it happened, interest in the new collective agreement was comparatively modest, and little public commentary surfaced on the extent of "progress for working class people." In part, this reflected the longer-term decline in the leading role autoworkers have... played. There was little expectation that the 2020 negotiations would be going down any intriguing bargaining paths, and this proved true.

But the more obvious reason for the comparative silence about the bargaining was that the action was elsewhere. In the midst of the contract negotiations, the news surfaced that the Ford Motor Company was bringing electric car production to Canada. Given the disastrous state of the Canadian auto industry, it was hardly surprising that news of a major new investment side-lined interest in the details of a labour agreement.

Elaborating on these developments takes us to larger issues. Does the Ford Motor example indicate a road to reviving the Canadian auto industry? How significant is the electric car as a response to the environmental crisis? Can unions bargain jobs? What role did the union play in Ford’s decision to make Oakville a key center for its electric vehicles? Are there alternatives to the subsidy-dependent government strategy? And above all, what is or is not ‘realistic/practical’ in today’s context?

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