Why can Unifor's battle against GM really be a struggle for its own survival?



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TORONTO – Jerry Dias is sick and tired.

At Labor, press conferences, anywhere people can hear, the director of Unifor has been expressing for more than two months a deep frustration about how General Motors broke one more promise with its plan to close its assembly plant of Oshawa.

"There is no one on the face of this earth who is more than General Motors," Dias said in a recent interview.

"That's why we're so furious, that's why we're doing this campaign and that's why we're beating them every day."

Last weekend, the announcement of the Super Bowl against GM, an outburst at a parts supplier on Friday, and the union's request for a partial boycott of GM vehicles are just the latest efforts to pressure the company financially, and try to keep the plant's closure celebrated in the eyes of the government and the public.

GM, however, has shown no sign of hesitation in its decision, saying that the shutdown is part of an effort to become more efficient, and has already committed to generous recycling and retirement programs.

With the two opponents entrenched, the dispute is likely to be a protracted case, as Unifor seeks to protect unionized jobs – and its reputation – amid a rapidly evolving automotive industry.

"It's really understandable why Unifor is all-in on this," said Steven Tufts, an associate professor at York University who studies work.

"For Unifor as a union, to make them more relevant, even to members outside the automotive sector, they have to show they can fight."

The union, however, is struggling against a shrinking company. In 2007, General Motors was the world's largest automaker, an industry titan built on a century of development. But high profile stumbles, including his bankruptcy, bailout, and efforts to repair the ship have left the company's production at about half its peak.

Cutbacks in production have had a direct effect on Canadian workers, who have been shut down or laid off at various operations in Ontario over the last decade. Dias maintains that several rounds of cuts came not long after GM's assurances that they were not coming. GM declined an interview request for this story.

The fight has an additional level of tension for Unifor, as unionized workers have been shrinking for the past two decades, with Detroit's three retreating even as Toyota and non-unionized Honda added volume in Ontario.

"For Unifor this is significant, because if the industry is shifting from syndicated to non-syndicated, this is a big deal," said Charlotte Yates, a labor industry expert at the University of Guelph.

The campaign also raises questions about priorities and focus on the union itself. Automotive workers account for only about 13 percent of the membership after the mega-merger between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Communications, Energy and Paper Union in 2013 to create the 315,000 strong Unifor.

"It's really about them fighting for the definition of what union is based on, and where it's going in the future," said Tufts.

Days, however, said members understood the need to fight GM and would expect nothing less.

"The only chance you have is to roll up your sleeves and get there, and that's what we are as an organization.

While the union has withdrawn all stops in this fight, it says that governments are not doing the same. Dias persuaded Premier Doug Ford of Ontario and Minister of Economic Development Navdeep Bains to raise the issue with GM but, in addition to brief meetings in January, the company has been silent on the issue.

"When governments say nothing, it's almost as if it's a passive acceptance of the company's right to make the decision," Dias said.

"They need to know that if you actually leave and betray Canadians, there will be a price to pay."

According to Yates, governments in Canada have levers to influence the industry, just as US President Donald Trump has tried to do.

"This is not a posture of Unifor, what they are telling the government is that this industry is vital, and you have to fight for it," Yates said.

She said the government's response has been to express some disappointment and then move on, but they need to understand that automatic jobs are not like other jobs.

As Dias has struggled to emphasize, each of the 2,600 union jobs being lost in Oshawa supports between seven and ten secondary jobs.

The closure is also part of a long-term decline in Canada's automotive sector, which saw production numbers fall from almost three million vehicles in 1999 and 17 percent of US automotive production to less than two million vehicles and 12%. last year.

The closure of GM's Oshawa plant will not kill the industry, and it does not foresee the end of GM in Canada, but it's another step toward it, Yates said.

"When you lose an assembly plant, it looks like you're pulling the wire that could unravel the whole sweater."

Meanwhile, Dias promised a fight to the end.

"The struggle we are fighting is a fight that is going to continue and we will not slow down. This is not about the labor movement retreating or somehow the labor movement accepting the decisions of raw capitalism as inevitable," he said. Days.

"From the point of view of leadership, we are all in and always were, because losing is not an option."

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