Oppose Canadian Auto Workers surrender to GM

Fight all concessions and job cuts!

By Keith Jones
10 March 2009

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union is joining hands with the Detroit Three, Canada's hard-right Conservative government and the Ontario Liberal regime of Dalton McGuinty to impose further massive contract concessions and job cuts on autoworkers.

On Sunday afternoon the CAW leadership released the "highlights" of the new concessions it has made to General Motors in the hopes of convincing Canada's federal and Ontario governments to give the company up to $7 billion (Canadian) in emergency assistance.

The concessions include: 

• the extension for a further year of the freeze in wage and cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) the union accepted in early contract negotiations with GM last year; 

• the suspension of COLA for pensioners for the duration of the contract, now extended until September 2012;

• the elimination of a further 40 hours of paid time off per year;

• the elimination of an annual $1,700 bonus that was supposed to partially compensate workers for the elimination of wage increases;

• the introduction of a new health care premium that will cost workers and pensioners under 65 $360 per year and older pensioners and their surviving spouses $180 annually;

• "reduced caps or increased co-pays" for other benefits including those covering dental and long-term care, life insurance, and post-secondary tuition fees.  

The CAW leadership has refused to place any specific dollar value on these concessions. But CAW economist Jim Stanford told the Toronto Star the givebacks exceed the $400 million in concessions the union gave GM in last year's negotiations.   

CAW President Ken Lewenza, for his part, publicly boasted that the concessions "will reduce active hourly labour costs by several dollars per hour, reinforcing Canada's investment advantage relative to U.S. facilities. And they will significantly reduce the company's legacy costs associated with pension liabilities and retiree health benefits."

In return, the CAW claims to have obtained not a job guarantee that stipulates a specific number of jobs, but rather a commitment from GM to maintain a "proportional" share of its Canada-US auto production north of the border. 

In other words, the union will work with GM to carry through its plan to slash 47,000 jobs worldwide.

Under the restructuring plan that GM Canada gave the Canadian government last month, the company said that it will proceed with the closure of its Oshawa truck plant this spring and the Windsor transmission plant next year and that by the end of 2010 its production workforce in Canada will total no more than 7,000. Just four years ago, GM employed 20,000 Canadian workers.

As in the US, the Canadian state is making any aid to the automakers dependent on them reorganizing their operations—overwhelmingly at workers' expense—so as to make them "viable." "Viable" is a codeword for again making the Detroit Three a source of huge profits for investors.  

The CAW accepts this lock-stock-and-barrel. Opposed to any challenge to capitalist ownership and big business' vise-like control over socio-economic life, the CAW

is telling its members the only choice they have is between surrendering the working conditions won by generations of autoworkers through struggle or GM and Chrysler declaring bankruptcy and potentially shutting down altogether.   

With the aim of stampeding GM workers into swallowing the concessions contract, the union has scheduled ratification meetings for today and Wednesday.

It then intends to seek to extend the "GM pattern" to Chrysler and Ford. The latter hasn't asked for any government support, but in the interests of maintaining Ford's "competitive" position, the union will insist that Ford workers match the concessions made by their brothers and sisters at GM and Chrysler.

Last week without even the ritual bleat of protest from the union, Chrysler announced that it is eliminating the third shift at its Windsor minivan plant, tossing a further 1200 workers onto the unemployment lines. 

The CAW leadership's craven concern for the profitability of the Detroit Three goes hand in hand with their hostility to US autoworkers, who are likewise facing a gang-up between their employers, the political establishment and their union, the United Auto Workers (UAW) to impose the burden of the auto industry crisis on their backs.

As the Detroit Three stumbled toward bankruptcy in recent months, CAW leaders, giving voice to the perspective that has long underlined their actions, explicitly identified US autoworkers as the enemy. All their efforts have been directed at ensuring that the Detroit Three will have a labor cost advantage in Canada over their US operations.

Declared Lewenza at Sunday's press conference announcing the concessions deal, "Given the restructuring in the US industry, including changes in the UAW contract, we had to keep pace to preserve our Canadian investment advantage, to make sure there were no reasons to move work from our plants to the United States."

In a press release, GM "complimented" the CAW leadership for its willingness to "share sacrifices." In fact, these sacrifices will not be borne by the CAW officialdom, which constitutes a bureaucracy that has sought to defend its privileges by acting ever more closely with the auto bosses to police the rank-and-file and boost corporate competitiveness. No, the sacrifices will be borne by autoworkers, pensioners, their families and the communities in which they live.

Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Industry Minister Tony Clement also welcomed the concessions deal, as did Ontario Liberal Economic Development Minster Michael Bryant. 

The Canadian ruling elite—as attested to by the lining up of the political establishment and corporate media behind the concessions drive, even as the federal government extends billions of dollars in aid to the banks with no strings attached—views the crisis in the auto industry as a means to restructure class relations. They intend to use the concessions extorted from autoworkers, traditionally among the most militant sections of the industrial working class, as a bludgeon to drive down the wages and working conditions of all workers.

Autoworkers are not responsible for the crisis of auto industry. They have absolutely no say in the financial, investment and production decisions of the firms for which they work.  

Rather the root cause of the crisis is private ownership of the auto industry and the means of production as a whole—the systematic subordination of social needs to private profit, and the economic dictatorship exercised by the corporate and financial elite. The incompetence, greed and single-minded drive to increase "shareholder value" of this elite has played a major role in driving the auto industry and the entire economy into the ground. Now it turns on the workers, blames them for the crisis and demands that they pay the cost through the destruction of jobs, wages, pensions and health benefits

Autoworkers should reject the attempt of their employers, the political establishment and the CAW to blackmail them into accepting the destruction of their jobs and wages.

GM Canada workers should reject the concessions contract and organize themselves independently of the CAW leadership, so as to spearhead a strike movement of all workers in the auto and auto parts sector across Canada and in the US. A decisive end must be put to the attempts of the Detroit Three and the unions to pit worker against worker by waging a struggle in defence of all workers jobs and in opposition to all concessions.

This militant industrial action must be accompanied by a new political strategy and perspective. The crisis in the auto industry is part and parcel of the failure of capitalism in North America and around the world.   

The working class must constitute itself as an independent political force to bring to power workers' governments in Ottawa and Washington that would nationalize the auto companies, other basic industry and the banks without compensation. They could then be placed under the democratic control of working people so that production and employment could be organized in the interests of all, rather than the profits of a few.

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