Tuesday, June 10, 2008



As the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) blockade of the Oshawa Ontario headquarters of General Motors enters its second week the company has announced its intentions to seek a court injunction to end the blockade. So far the response of the union brass has been feeble at best. The present plans, if you can call them that, of the CAW involve lobbying for the federal government to insist that GM live up to the terms of of the Auto Pact. Can we say "snowball's chance in hell", particularly as the feds are getting geared up to award GM with yet another few hundreds of millions of dollars for technical development at other plants. One hopes that union head honcho Buzz Hargrove starts his lobbying efforts at his "commemoration dinner" where such horny handed proletarians as Frank Stronach and Brian Mulroney (quick- lock up the bar!!!) will be in attendance to fete him upon his past services. The lack of reality contained in the CAW "plan" is astounding, and it may be on a par with the Trotskyist "demand" to "nationalize the auto plants under 'workers' control' "(a more than slightly self contradictory statement as "government control is not "workers' control") In both cases such "demands" are made for press play rather than any realistic plan.

No one doubts that the workers of the Oshawa truck plant have a hard row to hoe. The type of vehicle produced at the plant is and will continue to be economically unviable. Gas guzzlers will soon become more museum pieces than actual transportation options. The amount of government slush money that would be necessary to bribe GM to keep the plant open (when they are closing other such plants in the USA as well) far exceeds the $200 million give-away that the feds are presently offering to GM for "technical development" of other lines.

Does Molly have a solution up her sleeve ? The basic answer is "no", and while I may decry the craven attitude of the CAW in this (and previous) situations I know that simple "militancy" can hardly solve this problem. What I would propose is as follows. That the Oshawa plant be indeed closed, but that the physical assets of the facility be retained as "partial payment" for previous subsidies to GM because the company has not fulfilled the terms of such 'contracts". I further propose that the plant be retooled for other production, if this is at all possible. being unfamiliar with the physical layout and technology I am uncertain that this is possible. Electric cars maybe ???? I further propose that about 1/4 to 1/2 of the presently planned reward to GM for its bad behavior be directed towards this retooling and the support of the workforce while this is underway- with priority, of course, towards employing the present workforce during the transition period. i further propose that upon re-opening that the GM plant be incorporated as a producers' cooperative and given all the tax advantages of such status. I also propose that the federal and Ontario government treat the new entity in the same way that they have treated GM in the past (and how they propose to treat it in the future). No better. No worse. If government monies are grants, then let the same flow to the new coop. If they are "easy term loans" then let the new coop receive the same terms.

"Nationalization under workers' control" is, of course, an oxymoron. It's one or the other, and the historical record of statist so-called "socialism" says very plainly that it means the control and ownership of the Marxist or social democratic ruling class. As such it means an enterprise where the sort of creativity and enterprise that could be brought forward under real workers' control is a non-starter. It would end up as a bureaucratic boondoggle with little to recommend it to customers or the long suffering taxpayer. The government, of various levels, will obviously have to be involved in a project of this magnitude, but their involvement and control should never exceed that of any other creditor. Banks don't dictate the fine details of the business operations of those whom they make loans to. They are also not in the business of handing out free money as governments are by the way.

Is such a scenario possible ? In some ways it shares the same sort of air of unreality as the present CAW proposal. Can you see Harper biting at such a thing ? On the other hand it is important to make such proposals in the here and now. In a different situation, with different governments and, most importantly, a different labour movement that would be willing to consider such solutions proposals such as this would be far more realistic than anyone's plans today. A different labour movement ? Decades ago, when I first became an anarchist, the idea that anarchist ideas could have an influence on the labour movement was a ridiculous pipe dream. Today the situation is quite different, and there are numerous labour activists with anarchist ideas. They may still be far too sparse to push unions in a consistently libertarian direction, but they do at least exist. What Molly proposes is that they cease to hold their anarchist views separate from their daily activity, that they abandon the ideological dream of "revolution" that translates, at its worst, into dog-tailing the "left" while making appeals to "militancy" at its best. That they begin to formulate long-term plans of action that are at least as possible as social democratic solutions.

As such a labour movement develops it will be the result of long and hard organizing efforts on the part of ordinary people involved in the labour movement. It will have many temporary victories and defeats, but it is a goal to work towards. It would be a labour movement that takes "class struggle" and "socialism" (not the class rule of government bureaucrats but rather producers' coops) seriously. This is obviously not the situation today, but it is the long term goal that we should work towards.

But enough of the opinions. Here's the news from the Canadian Press about the latest plans of GM and the "non-plans' of the CAW to oppose them. For the official take of these events from the Canadian Auto Workers see their website.


CAW says not surprised by GM's move to end blockade through courts

— The Canadian Auto Workers union says it's not surprised General Motors is preparing to go to court in a bid to end the blockade of its Canadian headquarters in Oshawa.

CAW Local 222 president Chris Buckley said Monday the union anticipated the court fight and has no plans to back down from its roadblock, which was launched last week.

He said the union will wait to see just how aggressively GM pursues its legal battle before coming up with a plan.

Buckley wouldn't say whether the union would consider ignoring a court order to end the blockade.

But CAW president Buzz Hargrove said workers don't plan to stir up trouble.

"We have a rally on Thursday, and our local people have said they're going to follow the law," he said in Toronto after a CAW meeting. "They're not going to challenge the law, so if there's an injunction I assume that would mean they would live by the injunction."

Angry GM employees have spent the past week blocking the entrance to the company's Canadian offices to protest the pending closure of the city's truck plant.

GM has confirmed it will seek "collaborative or such necessary legal means" to end the blockade, which is hampering its Canadian operations.

The closure of the Oshawa plant, which will put 2,600 people out of work, is slated for 2009.
Buckley would not say what other measures the union might be planning to exert further pressure on GM.

"At this time I'll keep that to myself but we are not going to give up our fight to save the jobs of 2,600 of our members," he said.

"This is about our members, their families and all of our communities, and we're not going to stop."

Hargrove admitted prospects for the Oshawa workers appear bleak.

"Next week we're going to look at what are legal options are," he said. "Quite frankly, we're not overly enthused by that. In the history of courts or labour boards or arbitrators, we can't find anywhere they've forced a company to invest or keep a plant open once they've made the decision to get out."

Hargrove said taking the issue to Parliament may be the best chance to save the Oshawa facility.
"If we could get a resolution saying General Motors must live by the principles of the Canada-U.S. Auto Pact, then GM can't do that unless they keep the truck plant open," he said.

"One thing about General Motors and the companies is they don't like to violate the law. If the politicians are joining us on the issue here, I think it can make a difference. It may not - maybe GM will tell everybody to go to hell, who knows? There's an arrogance out there today that's unprecedented in my lifetime."

1 comment:

Werner said...

The history of government bailouts to the automobile industry is not something to inspire confidence. Decades ago the American government did the same kind of thing with Chrysler. That company was able to go into a kind of quasi-bankruptcy without actually going under. The government pressured the company's creditors to accept thirty cents on the dollar while making loans to Chrysler which were guaranteed by the state anyway. The problem then, as now, was partly the sale of gas-guzzlers. The company chairman at the time, Lee Iaccoca, also suggested that part of the problem was Chrysler's stupid decision to stop making the ultra-reliable Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart which still had design possibilities which included a turbo-diesel version of the slant six engine. The government's involvement also deep-sixed forty years of engineering work on automotive gas turbines! As for GM, there needs to be communication between workers at these plants at many levels including design people. The scientific staff might be approached in order to make comparisons with want has happened in the past. Sort of saying " do you guys want to go on working for management jerks, public or private, who don't know the difference between a carburetor and a capacitor or a synapse from a semi-conductor" ... or something like that. But I doubt that anyone in the "scientific working class" would too impressed with a turkey like Hargrove. Like you I am not sure about long term answers.