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!