Rebirth of Auto? Unifor and the Detroit Three

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Rebirth of Auto? Unifor and the Detroit Three

Sam Gindin

“HOME RUN!” was how an elated Jerry Dias, President of Unifor, summarized the mid-September outcome of the negotiations with Ford Motor Company, covering 6300 workers in Oakville and Windsor. Ford set the pattern in the closely watched and often trend-influencing negotiations at the ‘Detroit Three’ (formerly the ‘Big Three’ but the market penetration of Japan-based companies had gradually eroded that title). Home runs were soon also enthusiastically declared at Chrysler, covering 8,800 workers in Windsor, Brampton and Etobicoke and at GM, covering 1,700 workers in Oshawa, St Catharines and Woodstock.

In a subtle turn of union bargaining history, this heady declaration had remarkably little to say about... achievements in wages, benefits or working conditions. It had even less to say about the continuation of the industry’s notorious two-tier wage and pension structure that reduced new workers to second class union members. The home runs were rather about the announcements of critically significant investments in electric vehicle assembly in Oakville and Windsor, and large pick-ups with the regular internal combustion engines in Oshawa.

That the hemorrhaging of Canada’s auto industry may be over is clearly worth celebrating. And that Ford and Chrysler are moving to replace vehicles based on the internal combustion engine with forward-looking electric vehicles is an added, important bonus. But does this really represent, as the head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association effusively declared, a “rebirth” of the Canadian auto industry? Is it the case, as he added, that the investments were of a magnitude that “once again” made Ontario “the envy of North America”? Were the jobs to come ‘guaranteed’ or was this a repeat of patterns we’ve seen before? Was there actually a road map here to restoring the core of Canada’s manufacturing base and addressing the scale of the environmental crisis?

Such questions are not intended to disparage the investments promised. Those announcements and the hopes that come with them are obviously positive for workers and their communities. The skeptical edge in the above questions reflects, rather, a cautionary reminder based on the experienced realities of capitalism: dependence on profit-dominated private corporations comes with hard-hearted limits and permanent insecurity.

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