Why we should all care about GM’s Oshawa plans

When we came out of our meeting with General Motors in Detroit on Thursday, we knew we had delivered them a strong message. Unifor and Ontario workers will not go down without a fight. We were clear that GM is playing a dangerous game that will have harmful impacts on workers and our country’s economy for decades to come.

General Motor’s plans to close the Oshawa plant were not unveiled in a declining market, or because the company is in a dire financial position. The company has raked in more than $6 billion USD in profits in the first nine months of 2018 alone. This is a very good time for GM.

Nevertheless, General Motors has decided it can wind down more production in Canada while continuing to boost production in Mexico. Under GM’s restructuring plans, Oshawa accounts for 45% of the impacted workers in North America. And if GM proceeds with its plans to close Oshawa, that would result in Mexico producing 1 million vehicles per year compared to Canada producing just under a fifth of that.

After 100 years, the Oshawa plant - once seen as the lifeblood of economic development in central Ontario – is facing its greatest crisis. The jobs of 2,600 workers and 2,700 more at auto parts suppliers that service the plant are at risk, with thousands more likely to be lost in the wider economy as every direct auto assembly job creates seven other jobs. But for GM, this isn’t about workers – this is about delivering short-term profits to investors. It is a cash grab.

No doubt, GM CEO Mary Barra will be named Mexico’s business woman of the year, as she tries so hard to ship Canadian jobs and product to our southern neighbour.

That is why Unifor has launched the first phase of our major campaign to Save Oshawa GM. We’ve launched ads, we’ve held major demonstrations and we’ve met with politicians of every stripe across the province.

We are building momentum. And we won’t stop there.

Focus group research is telling us the more Canadians learn about the closure, the angrier and more passionately they feel about it. That’s because Canadians know this is not just about Oshawa the move affects Canadian manufacturing nationwide, including other GM facilities across Canada.

Our objective is clear: we need to tell Canadians from coast to coast what is really happening with GM. We need to engage all Canadian by informing them and encourage them to use their voices – and their pocketbooks – to tell GM that closure is not an option.

So you’ll be seeing a lot more of us over the coming weeks.

You’ll see us when you’re catching the Toronto Maple Leafs on TV with your friends over the holidays.

You’ll see us telling investors why this will be a debilitating decision for GM as a company.

You’ll see us on evening broadcasts telling the stories of thousands of workers who have received the worst possible news just weeks before Christmas.

And just when you think we’re done, we’ll come back even stronger.

We’ll be on the radio speaking to morning and evening show hosts. Commuters will see our billboards along the Gardiner on their way to work. We’ll be in your Facebook and Twitter feeds, reaching hundreds of thousands of people across Canada and the US. We’re going to activate people Canada-wide by organizing demonstrations and meeting with every politician we can.
And unlike the leadership at GM, Unifor staff and our members will be working through the holidays to Save Oshawa GM.

We know that Oshawa is only the tipping point for GM production in Canada. If we don’t fight this with every weapon at our disposal, every other facility in Canada will be at risk. We need to win here so we can send the message to GM that they can’t shut us down without significant repercussion. GM needs to know that if they decide to ditch Canada, Canadians may well ditch GM vehicles.

But there is still time for them to change their minds.

There is a finite period of time for constructive dialogue and that time is now. We will do everything we can to protect Canadian manufacturing and we will do it together as a nation. Join with us as we show GM that we will stand up for our jobs, our industry and our people.

Jerry Dias is the National President of Unifor.