KITCHENER WORKERS OCCUPY FACTORY:
Ledco, a tool and die maker in Kitchener Ontario, has had a long history in that community since 1932, having once manufactured parts for the Avro Arrow project in the 1950s. Lately, however, due to the rising Canadian dollar and outsourcing of production to low wage countries, the company has fallen on hard times. Employment at the plant has fallen from over 100 to about 65 people in recent years. Rather than innovate, management opted to try and squeeze the workers at the plant- much easier than actually being creative in either one's production or one's sales. The management demanded a pay cut of 25% in wages and a 20% cut in benefits from its employees, an offer that the workers, represented by Canadian Auto Workers' Local 1524, rejected. The company's next move was to close its doors last Wednesday (Jan. 23) and declare bankruptcy the next day (Jan. 24). A note was taped to the door of the plant stating, :The employment of all employees of Ledco Limited is hereby terminated effective immediately".
The response of the workers affected was rapid. On the day of the bankruptcy declaration many employees of the plant moved to occupy the premises, bypassing two security guards who elected to do nothing. They were bolstered by people from other nearby Canadian Auto Workers locals. Contingents were split up between people inside the plant and those outside who succeeded in blocking trucks coming to pick up recent production (yes, the owners, the Arends family of Ottawa, continue to make money despite their putative bankruptcy). The union plans to have at least 100 people present at the site at all times, split between the inside and outside contingents. Those outside moved in a trailer and built fires in barrels to keep warm (see above photo). It ain't as bad as out here in the west, but it's still bloody cold. The Kitchener police parked a van across the street, along with two cruisers and began to take video of the strikers.
The workers have vowed to stay as long as it takes to get the severance pay that they are entitled to by law. As one worker said, "We own the building now. It's the only thing we can do to leverage for severance pay and other benefits". On Friday the union allowed representatives from Deloitte & Touche into the plant to conduct an inventory of remaining assets. Deloitte & Touche are the accounting firm appointed as bankruptcy trustees. Ledco had claimed total liabilities of $14.5 million and total assets of $ 7 million. No effort is being made to investigate possible transfer of liquid assets prior to the declaration of bankruptcy. Rather typical of many bankruptcy events actually. Deloitte & Touche have so far refused to issue any comment to the media. The CAW has also begun talks with customers of Ledco who are awaiting orders yet to be shipped.
Typically in bankruptcy cases in Canada workers come well down the list of preference in terms of creditors. The CAW has used plant occupations in previous closure cases. In 2005 workers occupied the VSA plant in Kitchener over the company's refusal to pay severance pay. this occupation lasted only 14 hours due to a court injunction that the workers decided to obey. The plant closed a month later, and the issue was lost. Last April, however, members of the CAW took over the Collins & Aikman auto parts plant in Scarborough. After two days, Daimler Chrysler, a major customer of the plant, agreed to provide the severance pay owed to the workers in order to obtain release of the parts that it had ordered from the plant. The pressure on the plant was increased by solidarity strikes across the province of Ontario. Soon afterwards a steel smelter in Hamilton announced that it would be closing its doors and not honouring severance agreement. The workers responded by occupying the plant, and within a day the company backed down.
A lot of this history and more can be found in an article by Julian Benson and Alex Grant entitled 'High Strike Rate and Factory Occupations in Canada'. Just a little public health warning here. The authors are unreconstructed commies, of which flavour Molly is unsure. As such anything they say should be considered as "provisional" until otherwise verified- commies being the most notorious liars that human history has ever produced. When checking the "strike rate" that they cite from their original reference, the 'UK Office for National Statistics', Molly found out, to her joy that they were only "partly bullshitting". Their main point was that strike activity was higher in Canada than in any other OECD country other than Iceland (I kid you not !). That is at least partially true, as averages from 1996 to 2005 show that "working days not worked per 1,000 employees" due to strikes and lockouts were quite high for Canada. Iceland came in at 401. Canada rated 208. The next highest numbers were Spain at 186 and Denmark at 165. What the authors of the report ignored during the process of grinding their axes was that these averages conceiled some very largen year to year fluctuations. They also ignored the effect of population on the statisgtics they cited. large strikes in small countries such as Denmark or Iceland can skew the numbers tremendously, as can large strikes in Canada when compared to countries with larger populations such as France or Italy.
This is hardly the place to argue how Marxists cherry pick their "facts" to support some already determined conclusion., What is interesting about the original reference is that, taken as a whole, it shows a remarkable consistancy in painting the Canadian industrial scene (and even more so the "service sector") as relatively militant even in comparison with countries such as France and Italy where labour militancy and factory occupations are pretty well standard fare. What it fails to prove, because it doesn't eneter into such territory at all, is that factory occupations in Canada are occuring at a higher rate than in other OECD countries, and that their rate is increasing.
That's too bad beacuse the subject is important. If you are not deluded enough to imagine, as the authors of the above report are, that all of this is some sort of "dialectical buildup" that will inevitably produce a revolution that will raise them up as a new ruling class, the subject of factory occupations is important because it relects on the subject of "property rights". In a realistic approach to socialism, without the grand drama of repeating the storming of the Winter Palace, cetain sets of "rights" are gradually transformed due to social struggle. "Property Rights" are often complete legal fictions. Nobody in their right mind believes, for instance, that "Crown Lands" are actually the property of the Queen of England to do with as she will. Constant battles are found out in boardrooms and the courts over "corporate governance" over whether assets of a corporation are the property of the managers who really control them or the stockholders who nominally own them. Ownership means control. factory occupations are important because they are small skirmishes in a long term battle to embody the concept that workers have "property rights" over their jobs. Just as communities should have "property rights" over the enterprises that are in their locality. The reform whereby workers would count much higher on the list of preffered creditors would be one milestone in the move to such an expansion of the idea of "property". Eventually social practice should make it plain that the "equity" of workers who have worked for a long time in a given enterprise would have firm legal (which depend upon customary) rights. Factory occupations are battles where such rights can be established. Political parties will only repond to enough "boots on the ground". They will not legislate such rights out of the kindness of their social-democratic hearts. they react. they don't initiate. It is useless to vote for the NDP because they exude a warm and cozy odour of "being friendly to labour".