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CAW Embattled – Solidarity and Support

April 22, 2009

Don Currie, Chair, Canadians for Peace and Socialism

Which Side Are You On?

No labour struggle in Canada today puts the question “which side are you on” more starkly than the bitter confrontation now underway between the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) on the one hand and the anti-labour Harper Conservatives, the Dalton McGuinty Liberals and the big three auto corporations, GM, Ford and Chrysler on the other.

An anti-union coalition of governments and corporations has been forged to take advantage of a global capitalist depression to wring more concessions from the union, further reduce its membership, and drive down wages and ultimately break the union. This anti-labour alliance as its first priority seeks to maintain and increase corporate profits to satisfy bond holders and big stockholders, company brass and promote the narrow political interests of the Obama and Harper Governments.

Restructuring did not begin with the current depression. For a decade GM, Ford and Chrysler have been “restructuring” reducing staff to more than half while continuing to produce the same or greater numbers of vehicles. Record profits were realized in that period. The near bankrupt state of the industry today is due to a cyclical crisis of capitalist over production, worsened by corporate greed and mismanagement, not the auto autoworkers who are among the most productive in the world.

Basis of Support for the Auto Workers

There is no moral, social or ethical obligation on the part of the auto workers and their families owed to the auto moguls and governments to save the industry. There is no obligation on the part of other working class Canadians to make sacrifices and commit billions of tax dollars to bail out this capitalist industry and its profits. Only the vital class interests of the auto workers and their families, the fact they must have work and income to survive, can be the principled basis for organizing working class solidarity and support for the CAW’s struggle. 

The auto workers and the companies and the government are not “all in this together”. The capitalists and their government helpers are “all in this together.” The CAW, the CLC and the entire Canadian working class are “all in this together”. These are two great diametrically opposite camps. Their interests are opposite not common. Their goals are opposite and in conflict and that fact cannot be allowed to be obscured by a corrupt media, government hacks and company bafflegab, double-speak and above class propaganda of academia and capitalist economists. Most importantly organized labour and the aware and non-sectarian left is called upon to begin to expose and purge all talk of a commonality of interests between the bosses and the union as they go forward.  

What Marx Said About “We Are All In This Together?”

Whence the bourgeois theory of the commonality of interests between workers and their exploiters? Now is a good time to re-read Karl Marx and his breakthrough work; “Wage-Labour and Capital” to get a grip on that question and other working class fundamentals. The references in this effort are the April 30th 1891 edition as edited by Frederick Engels and as published by International Publishers, New York 1933.  One is tempted to quote the whole pamphlet and its fundamental statements of the dialectical (living contradictory relationship) between wage- labour and capital.

In the introduction to the work Engels defines labour as the mental and physical potential to work that all humans posses. Engels points out that what is prized and coveted by the capitalist is not labour but labour power, the actual living application of the mental and physical energy of workers directly in the production process.

The capitalist possesses capital to acquire requisite materials, plant and machines to commence production, but it all lies lifeless until the capitalist purchases the one commodity that can bring it to life, labour power. The capitalist covets this human commodity above all others because it alone not only brings to life raw materials, activates machines and imparts to products a value, but in the course of so doing creates what the capitalist desires above all else, something exceeding the cost of production, a profit and preferably a maximum profit. 

The source of all profit and hence all capital is labour power. Labour power possesses the ability when put to work to impart to the products produced, a value greater than the cost of reproducing and renewing labour power itself or as Marx describes it the “necessary means of subsistence” of the workers and their families.

When the worker sells his/her labour power it is sold for a defined period of time. During an eight hour shift, the worker creates in the first part of the day the cost of renewing his/her own existence and needs, food, housing, transportation, social obligations, taxes and in the remainder of the day works for nothing but continues to add value to the products produced that the capitalist appropriates.  The worker’s unpaid labour time creates what Marx called surplus value. When the product rolls off the assembly line and heads out the door, the surplus value is already in it. All costs, including wages are paid and the profit waits to be realized when it is sold in the market place and returned to the capitalist as the private owner of the plant, machines and raw materials, defined by Marx as the means of production.

Wages and the Cost of Production

The lie that wages are the main cost of production realized and returned to the capitalist only after the product is sold in the market is the biggest hoax and best kept secret of capitalism. When 30,000 auto workers go to work for the Big Three their wages, the price the capitalist pays them for the commodity labour power, have already been paid long before the vehicle is sold.

As Marx illustrates in an example of a weaver employed to produce cloth, he says:

“Long before the cloth is sold, perhaps long before it is fully woven the weaver has received his wages. The capitalist then does not pay his wages out of the money which he will obtain from the cloth but out of money already on hand.”

In other words, capitalists buy labour power out of existing capital as they would any other commodity. Capitalists can’t get steel, energy, machines, for nothing. They have to purchase these commodities and so must they purchase labour power before production proceeds.

Marx summed up the truth of the matter this way:

“Wages therefore, are not a share of the worker in the commodities produced by himself. Wages are that part of already existing commodities with which the capitalist buys a certain amount of productive labour power.”

The “Moral Obligation”

The exponents of capitalism attempt to impose on workers some moral obligation and gratitude to employers for the wages they receive in exchange for the sale of their labour power. Why don’t the capitalist ethicists and moralists impose on let us say the supplier of steel, energy and machines some sense of gratitude and moral obligation to the  purchaser of their commodity for the privilege of selling their wares to the auto moguls?

The supplier of steel for example doesn’t care a fig what happens to the steel after the auto maker buys it. The seller only cares about getting paid for the product. Then why professor ethicist, moralist, capitalist apologist should the worker care what happens to his/her labour power after it has been sold and used up and they leave the plant?

It will come as a surprise to every parasite not compelled to sell labour power to live to discover that a worker’s life is not in the plant in loving devotion to the boss, but his/her real life begins after they leave the workplace. Inside the plant they are a commodity. Outside the plant they are a human being. That is when they embrace their families, rest, have a beer, enjoy music and do the things the parasites believe only belong to them.

On a strictly class basis workers are not responsible for what happens to their labour power once it is sold to the employer. They don’t own what they produce.  They are denied by private ownership of the means of production of any say over the disposition of what they produce except the right to purchase it for an inflated price in the market place. Workers are alienated from what they produce, don’t own the means of production and have no moral obligation to the capitalists to help them out their predicament when the system collapses.

The auto moguls are attempting to make the auto workers responsible for the fact that the capitalist system has failed once more. The profiteers are stalled in realizing the profit created by unpaid labour time that is congealed in unsold cars. The demand for a bail out is a demand by the auto moguls for an advance public payment on unrealized profit at the expense of Canadian taxpayers among who are also autoworkers. One could truthfully say that the capitalists are mad as hornets that they paid wages that created profits they can’t realize until inventories are sold off. They want their profits now before inventories are sold and at public expense.

The “Necessary Sacrifice” Hoax

A public bail out is a carefully concealed and deceitful means of the capitalists to make the autoworkers and the whole working class give back the cost of wages already received and to give them back out of workers tax dollars. When Obama and Harper and McGuinty tout this scam as a “necessary sacrifice” by workers they are sanctioning robbery. The only bailout that is morally justified is one that comes out of the profits of the private owners of the companies, the bondholders, the exorbitant unearned wealth of CEO’s, preferred  stockholders and the banks all of whom have appropriated billions from the labour of the auto workers and then squandered it in speculation and financial bubbles.

Workers owe them nothing. The only justification for using workers tax dollars in this scenario is to provide unemployed auto workers with a living income until they can get back to work. No worker will complain about helping their brothers and sisters but are justified in screaming bloody blue murder when their tax dollars go into the pockets of Big Three CEO’s, coupon clippers and parasites.

What did Marx have to say about this so-called commonality of interests between workers and capitalists? What is the class and economic basis of the assertion that “we are all in this together?”  The assertion derives from a real objectively true mutual dependency of capitalist and worker under capitalism. The capitalist cannot employ capital and make a profit unless there are workers willing to sell their labour power.

The relationship has nothing to with “shared values” and it is certainly not moral or ethical. The relationship has to do with ruthless realities of the system of private ownership of the means of production and how humans stand in relationship to that fact as either owners of capital or sellers of labour power.

How did Marx describe this relationship? Using the example of a farm labourer who sells his labour power he said:

“The labourer belongs neither to an owner nor to the soil, but eight, ten, twelve, fifteen hours of his daily life belong to whomsoever buys him. The worker leaves the capitalist, to whom he has sold himself as often as he chooses and the capitalist discharges him as often as he sees fit, as soon as he no longer gets any use, or not the required use, out of him.  But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labour power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers ie. the capitalist class, unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist but to the capitalist class; and it is for him to find his man ie. to find a buyer in this capitalist class.”

Marx went on to say of this mutually dependency:

“And so, the bourgeoisie and its economists maintain that the interests of the capitalist and the interests of the labourer is the same. And in fact so they are! The worker perishes if capital does not keep him busy. Capital perishes if it does not exploit labour-power which in order to exploit it must buy”

And further still Marx says:

To say that the interests of capital and the interests of the workers are identical signifies only this, that capital and wage-labor are two sides of one and the same relations. The one conditions the other in the same way as the usurer and borrower condition each other.”

And finally Marx concludes this point by saying:

“We thus see that even if we keep ourselves within the relation of capital and wage-labour, the interests of capital and the interests of wage-labour are diametrically opposed to each other.”

Wage, Labour and Capital and the CAW

Let us return to the 21st century and Canadian auto workers and what they confront today. Auto workers have sold their labour power to the auto industry for decades and are the source of all of its wealth. The workers productivity has kept the auto industry afloat and profitable. If the auto workers were the only “stakeholders” and owned the plants collectively, they would solve all of the problems and even expand production. That would mean the workers would own the means of production. The capitalists would be dispossessed and fired because they were redundant and no longer necessary. That would be socialism.

What has changed since Marx wrote Wage-Labour and Capital? The answer is obvious. Nothing has changed in its fundamentals.  Government corporate restructuring plans for the auto sector have nothing to do with the social needs of assembly and parts workers, their families or the communities in which they live.  To the owners of the companies, workers are mere commodities who have something to sell, their labour power. The companies view workers as they would any other commodity such as raw material energy, machines, and wear, tear and maintenance costs of maintaining a plant. The corporate moguls seek to purchase all the commodities they need, including labour power at the lowest possible price.

Demand the End of Secrecy

What then lies at the bottom of the fear and anger of the auto workers about the present situation? They fear the destruction of the entire auto sector, or at the minimum a restructuring that will leave most with no purchaser of their labour power. Mass layoffs are already underway and there is nowhere for the unemployed to turn. The unanswered question confronting auto workers and all Canadians is what are the auto moguls and government insiders discussing as the plan for restructuring and what kind of industry will it be?

The auto moguls won’t say. The government won’t say. Their deliberations are a secret kept from the workers and the public. The critical discussions since both the Obama and Harper administrations halted further bail out money have gone underground, are not public and therefore not democratic. Not only is the union excluded but the elected members of the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament are effectively excluded. 

The collective bargaining process is on hold until the bosses and government insiders have reached a consensus without the workers and without the taxpayers and without the elected members of Parliament.  When the big three moguls, bond holders, government finance ministers and the banks have their plans approved by the Obama, Harper and McGuinty cabinets, it is only then that the elected legislatures and the union will be invited into the process. This is what is passed off in the press as democracy in action.

One thing is clear. The restructuring is primarily designed to make the North American auto industry produce more surplus value (profit), not more cars. Those consumers that may expect a flood of cheaper cars will be disillusioned. The principal way auto producers extract more surplus value is by increasing the exploitation of assembly and parts workers. They do this by forcing fewer workers to work longer, harder for less. When the final product is sent to market embodying more profit arising from a lower price for labour power, subsidized costs of materials and energy, scaled back marketing costs, that increased profit will not be shared with either the workers or consumers. The auto companies will be seeking to keep every penny for themselves, to pay bondholders, pump up big three stock, and build up new reserves of capital. As soon as the restructuring is complete expect the auto moguls to unleash a campaign to forgo paying back government loans.

At the bargaining table the union is accorded a look at only those restructuring proposals that demand concessions from the workers. The corporate government anti-union coalition bargaining strategy is to attempt to limit the negotiations to staff reductions and the price of labour power. The competitive goals of the revamped companies will be the widely promoted by a corrupt media and capitalist economists blaming the workers for being unreasonable and ungrateful.

The Universal Character of the CAW Struggle 

These realities give the CAW vs. corporate-government anti-union coalition fight a universal character and pose questions about labour relations and the future of manufacturing in Canada that can no longer be evaded. The outcome of the struggle between the CAW and the corporate-government anti-union coalition will affect every Canadian worker. No worker anywhere in the country, whether employed in the auto industry or elsewhere will be unaffected by a setback for the CAW, nor fail to gain, if the CAW wins on any or all of the issues it fights for. The struggle of the CAW is the struggle of every worker in Canada and of every democratic Canadian that accepts the need to maintain the manufacturing and industrial sectors of the Canadian economy and supports the progressive role that organized labour plays in that economy and in the democratic life of the country.

What cannot be evaded is the fact that if an outcome favourable to workers is envisioned it will require a much higher level of class solidarity, involving all of organized labour and a preparedness to confront the government-corporate coalition and defeat it. That will inevitably include a political dimension to the struggle not yet fully accepted or elaborated.

Organized labour and in particular its leadership at the highest levels confront an anti-union offensive aimed at the CAW because it has been one of the most successful private sector unions at winning and defending gains for its members even as the industry was downsized, rationalized.  The political goal of the anti-union government business coalition is to weaken and ultimately break the CAW to pave the way for an across the board attack on the wages of all workers, organized and unorganized. The attack on the CAW is designed to drive down living wages in the auto sector to poverty levels,  purge collective agreements of job security, lay-off  protection health and pension benefits that have for decades set a bench mark for workers in other industries and accorded CAW auto workers, retirees and their families a decent standard of living. 

The CAW Stands Up for Canada

The defence of the CAW is much more than a union vs. employer issue. Support for the CAW is part of the struggle to preserve, improve and expand manufacturing in Canada and is another unavoidable challenge to trade union rights that must be joined sooner not later. The auto corporations relying on the support of a compliant anti-labour right wing minority conservative government in Ottawa and a double-dealing Liberal Government in Ontario aided by anti-labour media hacks deliberately inflame public opinion against the CAW.

The CAW cannot by itself fight and  maintain the whole Canadian auto sector which accounts for 20% of overall US-Canadian auto production, about 2% of GDP and approximately $25 billion in value.   A higher level of solidarity and support is called for if the CAW is to win and all Canadians benefit from that victory. What is so important to study, discuss and act upon, is the political dimension to this struggle and the forces that must be mobilized to win.

At stake is an industry that only two years ago accounted for 219,000 motor vehicles and parts industry jobs of which 34,100 hourly and salaried workers were employed by the so-called Detroit Big Three - General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Each job in the combined unionized and non-unionized auto sector, according to the CAW website; “supports 7.5 jobs in the national economy. The auto industry in Canada supports 440,000 or more jobs in total, including in the auto parts sector and generate many billions of dollars per year in tax revenues.  A recent study by the Ontario Manufacturing Council estimates that should General Motors, Ford and Chrysler disappear from Canada, so too would as many as 582,000 jobs.” 

Canada Will Not Be the Sacrificial Lamb

The political threat arises from Canadian dependence on the US market. Prime Minister Harper has no alternate plan for the auto sector if that market weakens or is closed to Canadian auto and parts production.

Nothing said thus far by President Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper or any of the top brass of the big three indicates they have agreed to maintain the 20% Canadian share of the market or the present numbers of workers that now work in the industry.

Prime Minister Harper was not truthful when he assured Canadians and forestry workers their interests were protected under the soft wood lumber agreement and he can’t be trusted to uphold Canadian interests in the struggle for the Canadian auto industry.  Prime Minister Harper is primarily concerned with the fortunes of the Alberta based energy giants and their plans to sell raw bitumen to the USA for a fast buck. He is preoccupied with the foreign investment plans of the banks and mining interests. He is motivated to keep the banks and financial institutions afloat. What he does for the rest of the country is done reluctantly and only under the most extreme public pressure. Prime Minister Harper is the Prime Minister of finance capital - not the common good. If he was the Prime Minister of all Canadians he would declare the threats of Chrysler Corporation and Fiat to be threats against the Canadian people.

Reject the Chrysler Threat to Canada – CAW Speaks for All Autoworkers

The threat of Chrysler Corporation to abandon its Canadian operations is designed to force the union to capitulate to company demands to accept a $19 per hour in concessions and permit the auto corporations to escape from an estimated $1 billion in negotiated pension and retirement benefits, so-called “legacy costs”.  The Harper Conservatives and McGuinty Liberals are threatening to renege on promised government restructuring loans if the union doesn’t capitulate. 

The anti-labour Harper McGuinty coalition has intruded into the bargaining process on the side of the companies in a blatant attempt to overturn long established big three pattern bargaining agreements and drive a wedge between the union leadership and membership.  The union leadership is adamant to maintain the pattern agreement reached with GM as the template for bargaining with Chrysler and Ford and reject  any and all attempts to divide GM, Chrysler and Ford workers that would result from separate, wage, working conditions and benefits agreements. 

A weakened CAW union would rebound on unorganized auto workers at Toyota, Hyundai and Honda that rely on CAW negotiated big three agreements to uphold their wage and benefit packages. The struggle of the CAW on behalf of assembly workers is also a struggle in defence of union and non-union auto parts workers and retirees relying on pension income as well as whole communities dependent on auto sector jobs. 

In addition to its obligations to its membership the CAW has been compelled to consider the social consequences arising from the abandonment by the Harper Government of the defence of the manufacturing economy of the Province of Ontario and the whole country. The CAW has demonstrated a level of concern for fellow manufacturing workers and the Canadian economy as a whole that is exemplary.  The CAW not only preaches but practices “all for one and one for all.”

Support the CAW Fight Back

The CAW confronts outrageous government and corporate betrayals and pressures for wage and benefit concessions. The union is being pressured to forgo negotiated severance pay and pension protection for retirees and laid off workers. As the economic depression creates mass unemployment, demand for labour power declines. The auto companies and government have become more reactionary and emboldened in their effort to drive down wages. The union confronts arrogant affronts to established collective bargaining norms and a rogue attitude by company executives and federal government ministers attempting to marginalize and bypass their obligations to consult with the union. The demand to tear up all legally negotiated contracts is on the corporate agenda only awaiting the right moment to set government legislation in motion.

Responsible and Irresponsible Talk

Under such class versus class realities gratuitous “wise after the fact” advice by “labour analysts” to an embattled union leadership that labels tactical errors and missteps as evidence of a voluntary class collaborationist stance is reprehensible and must be condemned.  Tagging the union leadership at this stage, with a class collaborationist-concessionary bargaining stance is not only unprincipled but flies in the face of the facts.

The struggle is unfolding. There will be missteps. There are some safeguards against fatal errors. The CAW is probably the most democratic and experienced in the country and its membership has scope to speak and criticize and demand actions that it believes its leadership must take like no other private sector union. No one has the full answer to what lies ahead and it could very well be that the struggle can take an abrupt turn at ant time.  

The job of the responsible left at this stage is to avoid the temptation to micro-manage the affairs of the CAW and go to the working class as a whole, and in the first place every union affiliated to the CLC to mobilize support. The CAW thus far is doing its job. What it needs is support.  That is why Lewenza announced in his Port Elgin speech that the union is heading back into the ranks of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

The All Sided Response – Lewenza Answers the Critics

The CAW has been conducting thus far an all-sided fight back beginning with its Manufacturing Matters campaign, mass demonstrations and membership meetings, defending rank and file plant occupations, taking the fight to the public on prime time TV programs, reporting the facts at press conferences and to any groups that will listen. The union is evolving its exposure of government corporate collusion and is vigorously defending its record of defence of its membership interests and its social responsibilities to its class and to the country. The next big event is the April 23, 2009 Pension Rally at Queens Park to protest the government-corporate attempt to renege on its pension obligations to auto workers and to all recipients of union negotiated pension funds.  The McGuinty Government on April 22, 2009 stated it will do nothing to protect CAW pensions.

On April 17th CAW President Ken Lewenza hit back condemning the “unprecedented and outrageous series of attacks on Canadian autoworkers and their union. One after another business executives and  political leaders, working clearly in tandem, have lined up to denounce the CAW’s role in the auto restructuring process, and to demand that we accept up to $19 per hour in concessions or else face massive job losses and economic dislocation.”

Lewenza cited statements by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne (Fiat is touted as a possible participant in a merger with Chrysler) Federal Minister Tony Clement and Chrysler Canada CEO Reid Bigland and a letter distributed in Chrysler plants on April 16th from Robert Nardelli and Tom La Sorda, Chrysler top executives, implying CAW’s refusal to accept major wage and benefits concessions threatened a government company plan to “restructure” the industry.  The workers showed their contempt for the Nardelli La Sorda attempt to drive a wedge between them and their leadership by burning the letter outside plant gates.

Lewenza condemned the corporate attack as “a clear attempt to sidestep and undermine the CAW.”  The CAW President went on the defend the union’s record of good faith collective bargaining and responsible negotiations with government and the auto companies to reach agreement on how to restructure the industry that would save jobs, protect benefits and defend whole communities threatened with the consequences of plant closures.

Lewenza exposed the hidden hand of powerful behind the scenes government-corporate double dealing that meddles in the bargaining process. Lewenza said:

“Every time we negotiate a new agreement …the goalposts are shifted by companies who sense an opportunity to inflict long-term damage on the credibility and influence of the union. We could have reached a valuable new contract with Chrysler, prior to the original March 31 deadline that would have provided substantial savings to the company (including Chrysler-specific productivity and operational changes worth several dollars per hour). But the company, after accepting our offers, always wanted more; with President Obama’s announcement on March 30th our talks were put on the back burners.”

Barack Obama – Which Side Is He On?

Lewenza was referring to President Barack Obama’s March 30th speech where among other things he said his administration would not advance any more emergency loans to the US auto companies under the mandate of the President’s Auto Task Force. The President imposed on the companies “a limited time period to work with creditors, unions and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional tax dollars; …” Obama went on to say that what he was asking would require hard choices by the companies and “require unions and workers who have already made painful concessions to make even more.” He said the latter after declaring that the crisis in auto “was not the fault of our workers.”

Given the above realities, every worker in Canada, whether employed in auto or not, whether organized or unorganized, is called upon to answer the question:

“Is there a threat to the future of the Canadian auto industry and how will it affect the working class and country as whole?”

Obama - On Both Sides of the Issue

Part of the answer to that question is to face squarely and without illusions the fact that discussions now underway in the United States for the restructuring of the auto industry in that country do not include guarantees for the long term interests of the Canadian auto industry and its workers. In fact President Obama seems to be on both sides of that question. At the February 19th Harper-Obama joint press conference in Ottawa, President Obama said:

“With respect to the auto industry, obviously we are concerned -- we're deeply concerned about the current state of the North American auto industry.  It is an integrated industry.  When we provided our initial federal help to the auto industry, Prime Minister Harper stepped up and provided assistance that was commensurate with the -- the stake that Canada has in the auto industry. 

“We have just received the report back from GM and Chrysler in terms of how they intend to move forward.  My economic team is in the process of evaluating it.  One thing we know for certain is that there's going to have to be a significant restructuring of that industry.  And as that restructuring takes place, one in which all parties involved -- shareholders, creditors, workers, management, suppliers, dealers -- as all of those parties come together to figure out what is a sustainable and vibrant auto -- North American auto industry, it's going to be very important for our government to coordinate closely with the Canadian government in whatever approach that we decide to take.  And we are committed to doing that.”

Fast forward to the President’s statement of March 30th, that stopped the CAW-Chrysler negotiations in its tracks. In that speech, President Obama made no reference to the North American industry or any mention of the future of the Canadian industry. He concluded his speech by saying:

“...this restructuring as painful as it will be in the short-term, will mark not an end but a new beginning for a great American industry: an auto industry that is once more out-competing the world; a 21st century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity, and manufacturing the fuel efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward and energy independent future. I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: the United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars.”

Harper – “Comfortable” With the Obama Formula

Where is the consideration for the Canadian sector of the North American auto industry in that statement? More importantly where is the response of the Canadian government to the prospect of a revival of the US auto industry at the expense of Canadian workers?

The Canadian public is being prepared to accept a Harper government-company brokered restructuring plan for a drastically changed Canadian auto sector in which it is unclear what these “friends of labour” have planned for the long term interests of a majority of Canadian auto workers. 

On March 29th, the day before Obama made his speech in Washington, Prime Minister Harper boasting he was in daily contact with Obama officials said he was “comfortable” with US plans for the auto industry.

Harper, in an interview with CanWest News Service, said his government is satisfied the Obama administration is "prepared to lay down the conditions that will ensure vital decisions" are made to keep the car companies alive. Harper failed to explain how an Obama plan to revive the US industry would impact Canada.

Harper gave assurances to the press, not the unions, that the 20% Canadian share of production would be protected by a government of Canada and Ontario $4 billion aid package, $3 billion for GM Canada and $1 billion for Chrysler Canada. GM is seeking $7.5 billion and Chrysler $2.5 billion. The comparable figures touted in the USA are $16.6 billion US requested by GM and $5 billion by Chrysler. Harper was careful not to discuss what such a bailout package would mean for the protection of the productive capacity of the Canadian auto sector and how many jobs would actually be protected. 

The Ontario Manufacturing Council Lays it on the Line

Canadians should know that studies have been done for the Ontario Manufacturing Council (OMC) on the impact on the Ontario and Canadian economy of a 100% and 50% closure of big three auto production. The OMC is a panel of industry and labour experts reporting to the Ontario Minister of Economic Development on the best ways to strengthen the provinces manufacturing sector.

The OMC Report predicted that a 100% loss of big three production in Canada would result in an immediate loss of 2.9% GDP for Canada and 7.2% for Ontario rising in five years to 4.4% and 10.6% respectively. A 50% reduction scenario would mean an immediate loss of 1.4% of GDP for Canada and 3.6% for Ontario rising in five years to 2.3% and 5.6% respectively.

What those drops in GDP would represent in job loss was given as an immediate overall drop of 323,100 jobs in Canada of which 281,800 would occur in Ontario rising in five years to 581,900 for the country of which 517,200 would occur in Ontario.

Such rapid job loss in either the 100% scenario or the 50% scenario would trigger a severe depression in Ontario and in all likelihood tip the rest of the country into a protracted recession.  All figures were considered by the researchers to be conservative.

Prime Minister Harper is not levelling with auto sector workers and all Canadians. He is asking that we accept his bland assurances that he is satisfied that the Obama administration’s plans to rescue the US auto industry includes plans to save the 20% of the industry that is now present in Canada.

Harper Can’t Be Trusted – The Politics of Struggle

There is no reason to trust the Harper Conservative Government that has demonstrated nothing but contempt for the efforts of the CAW and organized labour to undertake programs to defend the manufacturing and industrial sectors of the Canadian economy.

Only massive public and united labour pressure on the Harper Conservatives with the active participation of all of the opposition parties in Parliament can defend the Canadian interest in any US sponsored restructuring plan.

The political tasks of this struggle are taking precedence over the actual bargaining that will ensue. With mass support the CAW leadership will be strengthened to face the treachery and betrayals that are coming.  What should those political demands be and how should they be fought for?

The progressive left and in the first place the Communist Party is called upon to demand the Harper Government fully disclose all of the talks that have been underway between the Conservative Government and the Obama administration on the future of the Canadian sector of the auto industry.

Any secret agreements that have been reached between government and the auto moguls behind the backs of the workers and their unions that permit the dismantling of plants, the repatriation of Canadian jobs by the big three to low wage US jurisdictions will be considered a betrayal of Canada and its people.

The NDP Caucus should be pressured to step up questioning in Parliament as to what concrete steps the Harper Government is taking to protect jobs of auto workers and the fate of the sector as a whole and to support the union demand for the nationalization of Air Canada.

And what of the Liberal Party and its leader Michael Ignatieff?  On April 17th Ignatieff released a book published by Penguin entitled “True Patriot Love” in which he makes an appeal for greater Canadian patriotism and less adulation of the USA. Among other things Ignatieff calls for the east-west development of both oil and hydro-electricity before exporting surpluses to the US as the Alberta government allows Exxon Mobil, the newly merged Petro-Can Suncor and other big tar sands players to do. Quebec Hydro, Irving Brothers of New Brunswick, Manitoba Hydro and B C Hydro are all deeply involved in long term plans to sell clean hydro electric power to the USA even as Canadian needs are not met.  Ignatieff is on the right track on the energy issue and he must be pressured to extend that same logic to the auto sector and condemn any sell out of the industry. The Liberals, manoeuvring for power, can be pressured to apply their new found patriotism to the defence of the Canadian auto industry and in the first place the workers and their families and the communities that depend on auto production.

Win the Battle of Public Opinion

In this struggle for the Canadian auto industry, everything must be done to swing public support behind the cause of the autoworkers based on a people’s democratic solution not a corporate profit solution. That means seizing on every opportunity to neutralize anti-union propaganda and winning support to the side of the union for its vision of the future of the industry.

Unemployed autoworkers without exception must be assured of income from any bailout package for the full duration of unemployment occurring from any downsizing of the industry. Exorbitant CEO salaries and bonuses paid out of bail out money while unemployed assembly and parts workers walk the streets without income is a crime. The EI program flush with $56 billion must be made available now to all unemployed for the full duration of unemployment.

The entire organized labour movement is called upon to support the demand of the CAW to nationalize Air Canada as proposed by CAW President Ken Lewenza in his April 17th to the CAW Council in Port Elgin Ontario.

The CAW struggle is a struggle for its members, all workers in all industries and for Canada and its economic independence and future as a manufacturing country. Now is the time to put aside all trivialities and see the big picture and act accordingly. This struggle can be won and with a victory open the door to a new stage in the political struggle for Canadian sovereignty and socialism.