PV Ontario Bureau
Twenty-eight hundred Cami workers, members of Unifor Local 88 at Ingersol Ontario, walked off the job September 17, after a 99.8% strike vote August 31. It’s the first strike in 25 years and it’s all about Canadian jobs, job security, wages and pensions under NAFTA.
Cami workers say their contracts were stripped in the years after the 2008 crisis to aid in General Motors’ recovery. It was also a strip imposed by the Canadian and US governments. But now GM is doing very well indeed with a net profit of $9.4 billion and record earnings in 2016. Autoworkers want back what’s theirs, starting with wages, pensions and job security threatened once more by both NAFTA and GM.
Twenty-four hundred workers have less than 14 years seniority at the plant, with many dual-income families working at CAMI. The plant has been operating six days a week with mandatory overtime for the past seven years, consistently winning awards for quality, efficiency and productivity. They produce the Equinox, and until recently the Terrain. But despite $560 million investment in a new weld shop, GM has now moved production of the Terrain to Mexico where they can pay much lower wages to autoworkers. Four hundred CAMI workers were laid off when the Terrain left Canada. This is the race to the bottom, and workers at CAMI aren’t about to buy in.
Local 88 Chairperson Mike Van Boekel said a key demand for the union is that GM declare CAMI the lead plant for Equinox production, which would prevent GM from ending production of the Equinox at CAMI and secure at least some production – and jobs – in Canada. The union has won similar contract language at Chrysler and Ford, declaring plants in Windsor and Oakville as lead plants in their North American operations under NAFTA.
According to the union, GM has about 53 days’ supply of Equinox vehicles, but the pressure is on the company to settle during record sales of the popular cars. The union is in a good position to push forward with its demands, and has the support of the labour movement and autoworkers across the province that are also at the mercy of GM and NAFTA.
Meantime GM operations in St. Catharines are at a standstill, and parts plants employing about 1600 workers in Southern Ontario could also be laid off as the strike continues.
Communist Party leader Liz Rowley said the strikers have her party’s full solidarity and support, and that it’s another demonstration of why Canada should pull out of NAFTA now, introduce plant closure legislation with teeth, and negotiate multi-lateral and mutually-beneficial trade agreements with the world that respect Canadian sovereignty, jobs, and standards.
“PM Trudeau and the Liberals say they will defend workers’ rights, but what are they doing to defend manufacturing and auto jobs which are sliding south, like the 400 CAMI jobs, faster every day. NAFTA is killing manufacturing jobs and the only way to stop it is to pull out of NAFTA now and bring in plant closure legislation to stop corporations from leaving Canada for low-waged, unregulated jurisdictions where workers are at the very bottom of the agenda.
“Canada needs an industrial and manufacturing strategy that will build value-added manufacturing and secondary industry, create good jobs – not destroy them. Canada should fight for permanent, well-paid, unionized jobs for workers everywhere and here in Canada in the first place,” Rowley added. “The CAMI workers are doing their best to keep these jobs in Canada, under very difficult circumstances, created by the Big Business parties in Ottawa. The NDP should show their support for the CAMI workers – and all workers – by also demanding Canada’s withdrawal now from NAFTA.”