Another chapter in the UNIFOR / Dias crisis

The Taylor Report interviewed Tony Leah on March 28, 2022

Listen on Soundcloud or read the transcript (below):

Phil Taylor follows up on the Jerry Dias Affair with Tony Leah, Political Action Committee Chair of Unifor Local 222 in Oshawa.

According to Leah, Unifor’s “transparency” about the Dias affair has been grudging at best. In fact many important questions remain unanswered, such as:

– Who is Unifor’s “independent” investigator?

– What is the name of the company that gave Dias $50,000 after he promoted their Covid-19 test kits to corporations that bargain with Unifor?

– Why did it take 6 days for Dias’ assistant, Chris MacDonald, to turn over to Unifor’s Secretary-Treasurer the $25,000 in cash that Dias gave him? What discussions occurred between MacDonald, Scott Doherty (another assistant to Dias) and Unifor Ontario Director Naureen Rizvi during those 6 days?

– Did Dias offer anything to the employers who purchased the test kits? Was there a quid pro quo?

Leah noted that Chrysler officials explained that their payoffs to UAW officials in the US were motivated by a desire to secure concessions by keeping those officials “fat, dumb, and happy.” The auto companies have also benefited from concessions and two-tier contracts in Canada. GM was able to shut down vehicle assembly in Oshawa in 2019 and start up again last year with an entirely new workforce earning the much lower starting rate.

Full transcript of the interview:

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Montreal radio host reports on “Jerry Dias Street” reaching a dead end.

Respected publisher, author and commentator Robin Philpot reported on the bizarre spectacle of a union leader asking to have a street in Oshawa named after himself. Philpot, the publisher of Baraka Books, presented the fascinating story to the Francophone audience of his show on Montreal community radio station CKVL on November 10, 2021.

You can listen to the French audio of this episode of “Le pied à Papineau” at this link:

Philpot finds the fitting literary reference for the narcissism of Jerry Dias – the La Fontaine fable of The Frog and the Ox. In the fable, the frog keeps trying to make himself look larger than he is, in a vain attempt to be seen as big and powerful as the ox. The only result, however, is that he puffs himself up until he explodes. As Philpot says, it is clear Jerry Dias hasn’t read the fable.

Here is the English translation of the description of the radio broadcast, followed by the French. The English translation is by DeepL Translate (Google Translate provides a somewhat different and more comical translation).

Jerry Dias, president of UNIFOR, will not see a street named after him in Oshawa. The members of UNIFOR Local 222 don’t want to hear about it and neither does the Oshawa City Council, which voted 9-2 against the proposal.

It’s a funny story if ever there was one, which shows that Jerry hasn’t read Lafontaine’s fable of the frog and the ox.

Basically, it’s the story of a unionist’s all-consuming ambition to be a working class hero while making out with Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau.

Unifor is expelled from the Canadian Labour Congress and all provincial federations of labour, EXCEPT the FTQ, which has sovereignty-association status within the labour movement. Excluded for raiding other unions instead of organizing non-unionized workers.

Despite the great history of the UAW (United Auto Workers), which became the CAW (Canadian Auto Workers) before becoming UNIFOR, the Canadian leadership of UNIFOR seems to have turned its back on the working class and on social democracy for whatever crumbs the political leadership deigns to give them. Hence the rapprochement with the Liberals and Conservatives, including Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford.

So Jerry wanted the City of Oshawa to honour him by naming a city street after him. He had one of his employees, a man named Terry Farrell, make the request. He said, and had people say, that it was Jerry who “saved the plant in Oshawa”.

The members of Local 222 at the GM plant in Oshawa got wind of this. They flooded the city council with messages of disgust and protest. They wanted nothing to do with the proposal.

The view of some members of Unifor Local 222

Check: Jerry Dias did not save the plant. GM ended vehicle production in December 2019. Workers were making $36 an hour at the time. GM decided in 2021 that it would reopen the plant to produce trucks. Workers now earn $23 an hour, a drop of $13. Jerry Dias is responsible for this and other setbacks.

The City Council realized that the idea was unacceptable, rejecting the proposal in a 9-2 vote.

And so Jerry Dias’ dream fizzled, just like that of the frog who wanted to be like the ox in Lafontaine’s fable.

His all-consuming ambition was devoured. (Translated with

Jerry Dias, président du syndicat UNIFOR, ne verra pas une rue à son nom à Oshawa. Les membres de la section locale 222 d’UNIFOR ne veulent rien savoir, le conseil de la ville d’Oshawa non plus, qui a voté contre la proposition à 9 contre 2.

Histoire cocasse s’il en est, qui démontre que Jerry n’a pas lu la fable de Lafontaine de la grenouille et le boeuf.

En gros, c’est l’histoire de l’ambition dévorante d’un syndicaliste qui se prend pour un héros de la classe ouvrière tout en faisant des mamours avec Doug Ford et Justin Trudeau.

L’Unifor est exclu du Congrès du travail du Canada et de toutes les fédérations des travailleuses et travailleurs provinciales, SAUF la FTQ qui jouit d’un statut de souveraineté-association au sein du mouvement syndical. Exclu parce qu’il faisait de maraudage chez d’autres syndicats au lieu d’organiser des travailleuses et des travailleurs non syndiqués.

Malgré la formidable histoire des TUA (Travailleurs unis de l’automobile), devenus les TCA (Travailleurs canadiens de l’automobile) avant de devenir UNIFOR, les dirigeants canadiens d’UNIFOR semblent avoir tourné le dos à la classe ouvrière et à la social-démocratie pour quêter des miettes que les dirigeants politiques daignaient leur donner. D’où le rapprochement avec les Libéraux et les Conservateurs, dont Justin Trudeau et Doug Ford.

Donc Jerry a voulu que la ville d’Oshawa l’honore en donnant son nom à une rue de la ville. Il a fait faire la demande par un de ces employés, un dénommé Terry Farrell. Il disait, et faisait dire, que c’est Jerry qui a « sauvé l’usine à Oshawa ».

Les membres de la section locale 222 de l’usine de GM à Oshawa en ont eu vent. Ils ont submergé le conseil de ville de messages de dégoût et de protestation. Ils ne voulaient rien savoir de cette proposition.

Vérification : Jerry Dias n’a pas sauvé l’usine. GM a mis fin à la production de véhicules en décembre 2019. Les travailleuses et travailleurs gagnaient alors 36$ l’heure. GM a décidé en 2021 qu’elle allait rouvrir l’usine pour produire des camions. Les travailleurs et travailleuses gagnent maintenant 23$ l’heure, une baisse de 13$. C’est Jerry Dias qui est responsable de ce recul et d’autres.

Le Conseil de ville a compris que l’idée était inacceptable, rejetant la proposition dans un vote de 9 à 2.

C’est ainsi qu’a pété le rêve de Jerry Dias, tout comme celui de la grenouille qui voulait être comme le boeuf dans la fable de Lafontaine.

Son ambition dévorante s’est dévorée.

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“Workers Have No Interest in War with China” – Australian Unions Oppose Nuclear Sub Pact

Two important unions in Australia have taken strong stands against the aggressive pact to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. The deal is referred to as AUKUS because it is between Australia, the UK, and the US – three of the so-called “Five Eyes”.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) released a statement on September 21, the International Day of Peace: “No to Nuclear Submarines – Jobs and Health, not Nukes”. The MUA noted pointedly that “at a time when Morrison [Australian Prime Minister] should have been pursuing vaccination supplies and providing maximum support to our health system and millions of people in lockdown, he has been pursuing secret military deals. The deal will continue to escalate unnecessary conflict with China.”

The MUA called for the billions wasted on submarines to instead be directed to building renewable energy, pay increases for health workers and investments in the health system, investing in education and firefighting, and support for job seekers. The MUA statement concludes with a strong statement of international solidarity:

“Workers have no interest in war with China or any other country. Every effort should be made to pursue peaceful relations. The MUA stands in solidarity with workers in all countries in opposing war and wasteful environmentally harmful military spending.”

The Maritime Union of Australia represents some 16,000 waterside and port workers, seafarers and divers. In 2019 the MUA called a work stoppage for workers to attend September 20th Global Climate Strike rallies.

The Electrical Trades Union, representing over 60,000 Australian electrical workers, also condemned the AUKUS deal as a “dangerous delusion”. In addition, the ETU forcefully pointed out the ways that the deal undermined Australian control of engineering and manufacturing capacity:

“Nuclear submarines will require significant offshore maintenance, undermining Australia’s sovereign capability. Surely the recent experience with COVID demonstrated the danger of relying on international supply chains for the core needs of a self-respecting nation.”

ETU National Assistant Secretary Michael Wright said the decision represented a betrayal on two fronts:

“This decision represents a betrayal of responsibility to Australia’s non-nuclear policy and a betrayal of two generations of highly-skilled, secure, well-paying Australian shipbuilding jobs.”

“It is dangerous and delusional to rely on nuclear submarines for our defence. We are fearful this will also cost Australia much needed engineering, manufacturing, and construction jobs.”

The MUA and the ETU should be applauded, and emulated, for opposing the efforts of their own government to enmesh Australia in the war-mongering foreign policy of the United States. Workers have no interest in being used as cannon fodder in wars of aggression or regime change. Allying with our governments in imperial adventures is a threat to peace, but it also weakens our fight against the corporations and governments that we face here in Canada. The example of international solidarity set by the MUA and ETU is a better road for the labour movement than tailing our government’s slavish obedience of US commands and chasing Senate appointments.

Who Are the Five Eyes?

Who are the Five Eyes? Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden described the clandestine intelligence alliance of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as a “supra-national intelligence organisation that does not answer to the known laws of its own countries” Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the Five Eyes have been spying on one another’s citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on surveillance of citizens. In the case of AUKUS, even Canada and New Zealand were excluded from the machinations by the senior partners of the very Anglo-imperialist alliance.

Canadian unions should follow the example of our Australian counterparts and fight for a policy of international peace and co-operation, and oppose Canadian support for American saber-rattling.

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Worker Solidarity Cavalcade in Oshawa Demands N95 Masks Now!

Worker Solidarity Cavalcade at the GM Oshawa plant.
Cavalcade arrives at the GM Oshawa plant.
– photo by John MacDonald

On Saturday, May 9, 2020 a large cavalcade wended its way through the city of Oshawa, past the major city hospital (Lakeridge Health) and Hillsdale Terraces, a long-term care home where Covid-19 has infected 42 residents (of whom 14 died), and 13 staff members. The cavalcade of 65+ vehicles ended up at the sprawling General Motors Assembly Complex, now mostly empty since GM abandoned vehicle production last December.

Support Health Care Workers – Manufacture More PPE

People gather for the Cavalcade.
– photo by Julia McCrea

The Cavalcade was organized by Green Jobs Oshawa to demand government action to meet the desperate need for PPE for front line workers by ordering vastly increased production at the GM Oshawa complex, especially of N95 masks. Green Jobs Oshawa led a determined campaign for three weeks that led to a major breakthrough on April 24. On that day the Canadian government announced that GM would manufacture masks in Oshawa. However, GM is only recalling 50 to 60 workers, and will only be making surgical masks, not the critically important N95 masks.

The Cavalcade at Hillsdale Terraces. video by Jesse Michael Cullen

This is the speech delivered by Green Jobs Oshawa representative Tony Leah with the plant behind him, and people standing by their vehicles, or sitting in them and honking, in the employee parking lot.

I want to thank everyone for being here, this is such an important event. This is a great show of support from workers, from the Oshawa community.

We are here to support our front line workers. Those workers don’t need applause; they don’t need medals. What do they need?

Supporting Front Line Workers
– photo John Macdonald

They need proper personal protective equipment! They need N95 masks!

And those masks can and must be manufactured here – in the massive, mostly empty GM Assembly Complex behind me.

Let’s review the facts.

There is a shortage of N95 masks:

“Federal government tracking shows that of the 155.4 million N95 masks Ottawa has ordered, 5.3 million have arrived. And a “significant portion” remain in testing, the government’s website says. Globe and Mail, April 30, 2020. That is a shortage of over 150 million N95 masks.

photo by John MacDonald

In a recent survey of doctors by the CMA – 71 % said the supply of PPE was worse or unchanged from one month before. CTV News April 28, 2020

The results of the shortage are devastating.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) – CUPE has revealed:

The number of Ontario health care workers infected with COVID-19 rose from 2,016 on April 27 – to 2,892 on May 5. That is an increase of an alarming 43.5% in just 8 days.

Today more than 3,000 Ontario health care workers are infected with COVID-19. Think about that – 3,000 of our front line health care workers have been infected. Five have died.

Those on the health care front lines now account for nearly 16 per cent of the province’s COVID cases. That is an infection rate four times that of China. Our governments are not protecting them.

photo by Francesca Hannan

On April 24 we had the announcement by the Canadian Government that GM will use 50-60 workers to make surgical masks in Oshawa. No N95 masks are to be manufactured. This work is not beginning until May 11.



The Ontario government declared an emergency on March 17 ( the day of the 1st death in Ontario).

The Canadian government issued a “call to action” on March 20 – calling for companies to manufacture needed equipment.

But there have been no orders to corporations, no national planning, no co-ordination. If our governments can mandate workers and remove their collective bargaining rights – they can mandate corporations to meet public needs.

Dismayed by the lack of action, on April 5 Green Jobs Oshawa sent an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau. It included this sentence:

In the GM employee parking lot
– photo by John MacDonald

“We are seeing the consequences of not having manufacturing capacity in Canada when the government of the US threatens to prevent delivery of N95 masks manufactured there.”

When the April 24 announcement came – it still did not include N95 masks.


From March 20 (the “call to action”) to April 24 is 5 weeks.

From April 24 to May 11 is another 2.5 weeks. That is 7.5 weeks just to set up mask manufacturing by 50 workers.

In contrast – China built two complete hospitals, with over 1,000 beds each,  from the ground up, in less than 2 weeks. They were completed February 6.

Is our government taking this crisis seriously enough?


GM is manufacturing 3 million masks per month in their Warren, Michigan plant with 140 workers – both surgical masks and N95 masks.

GM’s plans for Oshawa – barely more than 1/3 the number of workers, 1/3 the number of masks – and NO N95 masks!

Photo by John MacDonald

50-60 workers – when there are 5,000 assembly and supplier workers whose jobs were taken away by GM when they ended vehicle production here.

Mask production will occupy 30,000 square feet out of 10 million square feet (3/10 of 1%).

If GM can manufacture N95 masks in Warren – they can manufacture them in Oshawa! They MUST manufacture them in Oshawa!

We need to take this crisis seriously.

During WWII – the Canadian government ordered industries to convert to necessary war production – including the GM Oshawa plant.

Canada lost 42,000 lives in WWII – about 20 deaths per day for the 2,068 days Canada was at war until VE Day.

Canada has so far had 4,700 deaths from Covid-19 in 61 days – That is 75 deaths per day. For the past two weeks, there have been 150 deaths per day.

Today, the number of Covid-19 deaths in Canada exceeded the death toll in China, a country with 40 times the population.

Are our political leaders taking this crisis seriously enough? They are not doing enough to protect Canadians. They are not doing enough to protect our front line workers.

Support Appreciated

We appreciate the support for this campaign that we have received from the Durham Region Labour Council, the Leap, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE, the Ontario Federation of Labour, Niki Ashton, Jennifer French, the Council of Canadians, Councillor John Neal, who is with us again today, and many others in the community, and across the province and the country.

The Unifor Local 222 Executive Board and the Local 222 Retired Workers’ Chapter Executive passed motions to:

“Endorse the Green Jobs Oshawa cavalcade that is supporting front line health care workers and pressuring GM to produce far more masks, especially the N95 masks, in Oshawa …”

We cannot rest until we have enough PPE being manufactured in this country – for this crisis, and for the next one.

Manufacture N95 masks in Oshawa!

Make essential medical production in Oshawa permanent!

Make it a Crown Corporation to ensure we have a secure supply of critically important products for the future!

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Covid-19 Pandemic: China vs the Capitalist World

China reacted swiftly to the threat of a new coronavirus, quickly notified the World Health Organization, and took the necessary steps to contain and eliminate the virus within China. The Chinese government was praised by the World Health Organization for their effective measures, transparency and cooperation. Because of China’s actions, the rest of the world had time to prepare – and wasted it.

From the World Health Organization meeting on January 30, 2020:

Representatives of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China reported on the current situation and the public health measures being taken. There are now 7711 confirmed and 12167 suspected cases throughout the country. Of the confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital. 

The Committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government, their commitment to transparency, and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak. China quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence, so that other countries could diagnose it quickly and protect themselves, which has resulted in the rapid development of diagnostic tools. 

The very strong measures the country has taken include daily contact with WHO and comprehensive multi-sectoral approaches to prevent further spread. It has also taken public health measures in other cities and provinces; is conducting studies on the severity and transmissibility of the virus, and sharing data and biological material. The country has also agreed to work with other countries who need their support. The measures China has taken are good not only for that country but also for the rest of the world.

The WHO declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern at this meeting.

Key Dates

December 26, 2019 – 4 unusual cases of pneumonia were noticed by Dr. Jixian Zhang.

December 27, 2019 – Dr. Zhang reported the cases to the local CDC.

December 31, 2019 – The World Health Organization was notified.

January 7, 2020 – The virus is identified.

January 12, 2020 – The genetic sequence of the virus is identified and shared.

January 13, 2020 – Test kits are available.

January 23, 2020 – 259 new cases for a total of 830 in China – Wuhan City is shut down.

January 24, 2020 – 15 other cities shut down, new cases immediately plummet.

January 30, 2020 – WHO declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The spread of the virus in China was almost completely stopped in a few weeks. There were almost no new infections occurring by February 11. Almost all new cases now are from returning travelers.

Western capitalist countries like the US, Spain and Italy show a stark contrast with China. They had the warning, and failed to adequately prepare. Once the virus hit their countries, they did not react effectively. They did not have the capacity to test in the numbers required. They did not provide the necessary resources to health care professionals on the front lines. They had inadequate ICU beds, and their hospitals became overwhelmed.

This should not have been a surprise. “America is about to get a godawful lesson in why health care should never be a for-profit business” was the February 27, 2020 headline on a Mark Sumner article in the Daily Kos. That day the US had 60 cases of Covid-19 and no deaths.

The forecast was terribly accurate.

As of today, the US has reported by far the largest number of Covid-19 cases of any country in the world – 141,781. The number is still accelerating. The total number of new cases reported in the US from Wednesday, March 25 to Sunday, March 29 is 83,918 – more than the total number of cases in China (81,439).

China has had 3,300 fatalities from the Covid-19 pandemic. That is now dwarfed by the number of fatalities in Italy (10,779) and Spain (6,803). The US will pass China’s fatality numbers in a few days. The UK currently has 1,228 deaths – and yesterday at the daily press conference on Covid-19 at Downing Street, the national medical director, Prof Stephen Powis said: “If we can keep deaths below 20,000 we will have done very well in this epidemic.”

The disparity is even more shocking if we look at the numbers on a per capita basis.

China was able to bring the pandemic under control and limit the number of cases to 57 per million of population. Their fatality rate is 2 per million of population. This chart shows the comparable numbers for some Western countries. The numbers will be much larger before long, since the pandemic is still spreading rapidly in these countries.

Number of cases Number of deaths Cases per million Deaths per million
China 81,439 3,300 57 2
Spain 80,110 6,803 1,713 146
Italy 97,689 10,779 1,616 178
United States 141,781 2,471 428 7

Numbers as of March 29, 2020 at 7:45 pm from Worldometer.

Not only did the government of the People’s Republic of China act decisively and effectively to deal with the outbreak of Covid-19 in their country, they also swiftly identified and sequenced the virus and shared that information with the world through the World Health Organization. Once the virus was contained, the Chinese government went further in offering support and aid to other countries dealing with the pandemic. China has sent two teams of medical experts to Italy to share their Covid-19 treatment experience. China has provided medical equipment to many other countries, including a shipment that arrived in Canada March 27.

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Linda McQuaig supports call for public ownership of Oshawa plant to produce electric vehicles

Linda McQuaig spoke recently on The Taylor Report, CIUT 89.5 fm, about her new book, The Sport & Prey of Capitalists. Linda’s book is an intriguing and informative exploration of the history of public ownership in Canada, and demolishes the myth that private ownership is always best.

My book is basically the story of privatization … The doctrine that the private sector always does things better – it’s always asserted by the business community with great confidence, but never with any evidence. In fact, there’s no evidence that they always do things better … overall, the evidence is it’s very costly when we turn to them, when we privatize things and hand things over to them. It ends up costing us a fortune … My favorite example is the 407.

Here is what Linda said about GM’s closure of the Oshawa plant: “Rather than shut down this historic plant that was the centre of the automotive industry in Canada, let’s have government take it over and let’s use it to create green production vehicles … which we desperately need as part of a Green New Deal.”

Linda McQuaig – “Let’s have government take it over”

Click here to listen to the full interview on The Taylor Report, which aired on Monday, September 16, 2019, on Soundloud.

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Unifor Local 222 sends message of solidarity to injured Colombian GM workers

General Motors has profited for many years by operating in countries like Colombia where wages are low, where safety standards non-existant, and where governments are anti-union and anti-worker. Many workers at the GM Colmotores plant in Bogota, Columbia have suffered permanent injuries due to the unsafe conditions. GM routinely fires injured workers, and prevents them from getting compensation.

Injured GM workers in Bogoto, Colombia express their solidarity.

Over eight years ago, the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colmotores (ASOTRECOL) was formed to fight for the rights of these injured workers. Since August 2, 2011 they have maintained a tent encampment in front of the US Embassy in Bogota. They have carried out hunger strikes, sometimes sewing their mouths shut. In the process they have gathered international support, and won some victories. However, there are still many injured workers who have not received justice, and the protest continues.

I made a motion at the Unifor Local 222 membership meeting on September 5 for our Local to send a message of solidarity to the injured workers in Colombia, donate $500 to help them in their struggle, and also send a letter to General Motors demanding that they provide justice. The motion passed. Here are the two letters sent by Local 222 President Colin James based on the membership action. Above is a picture of the appreciative workers in Colombia.

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Electric Vehicle Production is Possible in Oshawa

Green Jobs Oshawa distributed this leaflet at the Unifor Constitutional Convention on Wednesday, August 21. It calls for government action to establish electric vehicle production in Oshawa, under public ownership.

Links to download PDF copies of the leaflet in English and French are at the end of this post.

A PDF of the leaflet is available for download:

Download the English leaflet
Télécharger le dépliant en français

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Unifor Convention – Support Progressive Resolutions

Local 222 (Oshawa) has submitted some very important resolutions to the Unifor Constitutional Convention, which is being held in Quebec City from August 19-23.

These resolutions challenge the Unifor delegates to: 1) support a Workers’ Green New Deal, 2) fight for equal wages, pensions and benefits in legislation and bargaining, and 3) rejoin the CLC.

These resolutions were all raised from the floor and passed by the membership at Local meetings. They were NOT put forward by the Local leadership. In fact, the Local 222 leadership did not put forward any resolutions for the Convention.

If you are a Unifor member, please urge your delegates to support these resolutions.

Workers’ Green New Deal

Equal Wages, Benefits and Pensions

Reaffiliate to the CLC

Resolutions Booklet

These resolutions are R-2, R-5, and R-6. All of the resolutions and constitutional amendments can be found in the Resolutions Booklet.

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Unifor Settlement with GM – Footprint or Toe Tag?

Did Jerry Dias make a deal to save the Oshawa plant, or did he give in and accept GM’s determination to end vehicle production in Oshawa?

Just before Christmas last year, GM announced their intention to close Oshawa, meaning the loss of 5,000 direct jobs involved in the assembly of cars and trucks, with a much larger impact on the community of Oshawa – an overall loss of 20,000 jobs.

5,000 jobs, not 2600

GM claimed that 2,600 jobs were affected when they announced the closure, and the media has used that figure ever since. But GM knew that they were taking jobs away from 5,000 workers whose jobs are directly part of the assembly of vehicles in Oshawa. It has been GM’s deliberate policy over the years to outsource as much of the work as possible to third-party supplier companies – to force wages and benefits down. Now GM will claim no responsibility for those workers when they leave town. Many of those outsourced jobs are right inside the Oshawa plant – building services trades, cleaners, workers who sequence and deliver parts, security, the tire room. Others are nearby – including workers who make foam and manufacture seats, and other parts suppliers. At one time all of those jobs were done by workers who were employed directly by GM, and had the same wages and benefits as other GM assembly workers. Now they make less than second tier assembly workers, have inferior benefits, and most have no pensions. And almost all of them are members of Unifor – but has Jerry done anything for them?

From “Save the Plant” to “Keep a Footprint”

Unifor President Jerry Dias vowed to fight to keep the plant open. He hired an expensive public relations company, whose strategic brilliance included a “Tree of Hope”, and an ad on the Super Bowl broadcast, rather than relying on workers’ actions. After several months, the “fight” became reduced to talks with GM to maintain a “footprint” and save “as many jobs as possible”.

Finally, on May 8, the deal was announced – only 300 jobs would be saved – That is only 6% of the 5,000 jobs left in Oshawa. And 300 is just 1.5% of the 20,000 jobs that were in Oshawa not too long ago. Those 300 jobs will be reserved for direct employees of GM. Senior GM workers will be offered retirement or severance incentives. Workers hired by GM since 2006 fare worse – they only get credit for time worked since 2016 to qualify for incentive packages. For the 2,500 workers at supplier companies the deal provides zero jobs, zero incentive packages, zero severance beyond the bare minimum provided by law. Yet, they are Unifor members too. They are workers too.

Here are some of my impressions of the deal and how it was announced.

The Jerry and Travis Show – the members are the last to know

GM of Canada President Travis Hester shakes hands with Unifor President Jerry Dias in front of a company and union backdrop.

Jerry Dias did not meet with the workers affected by the plant closure to let them know what was in his deal with GM. Instead, he took part in a joint press conference with GM of Canada President Travis Hester on May 8 in downtown Toronto. The backdrop featured the logos of GM and Unifor as though the organizations were partners, and the whole set-up was clearly designed to try to rescue GM’s damaged public image. Jerry was on a first-name basis with Hester, while the workers suffered the indignity of learning about their fate by watching the press conference.

Holding the press conference far away from the workers, who would know how hollow the ‘victory’ was, served a very damaging purpose – it left the public with the false impression that the plant has been saved.

The Good Business Model

Comment by a GM worker.

During the Toronto press conference, Jerry praised GM for promising to keep 300 jobs in Oshawa, and said “I’m content that we have established what I believe to be a business plan for the long term”. The workers in Oshawa who are losing their jobs are a lot less content.

Membership Meetings – Where’s Jerry?

Question by a GM worker.

When meetings were held with the members the next day, on May 9, Jerry Dias did not even bother to show up. That is really adding insult to injury. The post on the right shows the reaction of one Oshawa worker.

The 300 Jobs – Now you see them, now you don’t

It wasn’t until the meetings on May 9 that we got more details about the 300 jobs. The jobs will be in the Oshawa Stamping Plant, a small part of the GM complex, and GM’s only commitment is to have the jobs in place by the end of the 2020 calendar year.  Our leadership expressed faith “that most of them would start … in the second half of the year”. Since vehicle production will be done in December, 2019, this means that people who apply for the 300 stamping jobs could be on layoff for 6 months or more before they start. I asked at the meeting if there was any guarantee that the jobs would last past the expiry of our contract – September 21, 2020. The short answer was “No”, there are no guarantees, of course. When the contract expires, everything has to be renegotiated. If GM announces next year that they have changed their mind, or that “conditions have changed”, there could be no jobs at all.

Why should we trust GM Now?

The deal that has been reached depends on GM’s good will – which means it is worth nothing. GM has promised 300 jobs – but they have until the end of 2020 to deliver them. And that is after the expiry of Unifor’s collective agreement. Why should we take GM’s word now, when we have already seen what their promises in 2016 were worth? This deal provides very little for the 2,500 GM workers. It provides nothing for the 2,500 workers at supplier companies. Most importantly this deal provides nothing for the community – no jobs for the future, and the loss of important manufacturing capacity for Oshawa, Ontario and Canada. GM is already taking inventory of the equipment they are going to take out and relocate or sell.

Demand Public Ownership and a Green Transition

Oshawa Complex. Stamping (in red) – 300 jobs. The rest of the complex, including vehicle production (in black) – zero jobs.

The only realistic way to prevent the dismantling of the Oshawa complex, and the bulldozing of the plant buildings to make space for condos and big box stores, would be for governments to step in and save the manufacturing capacity, and repurpose the plant for electric vehicles, public transit, and renewable energy products. We desperately need that bold action by government anyway to meet the current climate crisis. What better place to start than in Oshawa? If we leave it up to GM, they will put their profits first, and the public interest last. We can’t accept that capitalist cold-hearted logic.

The aerial view shows that GM’s plans will at best keep jobs in a small corner of the Oshawa manufacturing complex – the Stamping Plant outlined in red. All of the automation, robots, technology and equipment used for the assembly of cars and trucks is in the buildings outlined in black – and they will all be empty. We need to force governments to act now, or it will be too late. Can this be done? As veteran union activist Sid Ryan posted recently on Facebook:

One of those alternatives was to push these governments to consider public ownership (nationalise) the Oshawa facility and to repurpose it. After all, the federal and Ontario governments had no problem pumping billions of dollars into GM during the 2008/09 financial disaster brought about by pure greed on Wall St. Why was it ok to hand over taxpayers money to wealthy corporations to enhance their profits in 2008/09 but not do so today to save workers jobs by nationalizing the plant? Furthermore, the federal government had no problem investing in repurposing the Oshawa plants during WWII to churn out military vehicles. Why not now invest in the plant and its workers to design and build electric vehicles, buses and rapid transit systems as just one option?

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has called for the replacement of the entire Canada Post vehicle fleet with electric vehicles assembled in Canada. That could be the ideal start for a publicly owned manufacturing centre in Oshawa, and the kickstart to a greatly needed Green New Deal.

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