Yesterday, the Canadian Auto Workers local 222 held a solidarity rally outside the gates of the Oshawa GM truck plant. The rally was for union members and the community to express their anger at GM after they broke an agreement and laid off 2600 workers. As workers marched up Park Road, injunctions were pending on a blockade of GM Canada headquarters. This was no normal rally with the usual suspects of protesters. New layers of workers were present wanting an answer to the crisis facing their community. Supporters of Fightback and the Occupied Factories Solidarity Network travelled to Oshawa to show their solidarity.
As we reported previously, (see Save the Oshawa GM plant! Nationalize the auto industry!), the North American manufacturing crisis has hit workers at GM hard. In response to the shutting down of their award-winning plant, CAW members blockaded GM Canada's Oshawa headquarters in order to save their jobs. Unionized employees are being stopped from entering, which means no mail, no cleaning and no maintenance (especially important for air conditioning in a hot and humid Ontario summer).
Supporters of Fightback and the Occupied Factories Solidarity Network attended the rally. There was a real sense of anger amongst the workers present. Most of whom were from union families, but this was not the normal crowd that attends demonstrations. These are people who either directly or indirectly will be hit hard by the lay offs. Oshawa depends on the auto industry and for every worker in the plant it is estimated there are 7 other ancillary jobs in parts plants, services, schooling and even restaurant workers. While thousands marched outside the plant chanting "SAVE OUR JOBS!" hundreds of workers inside lined the fence or climbed the roof of the factory to thank the protesters.
Amid the fear of what the closure will bring was a real thirst for ideas. Leaflets calling for the nationalization of the auto industry were literally torn out of our hands as people lined up to get them. A stack of 100 leaflets would disappear in 10 minutes flat. Workers were heard saying, "why aren't we occupying the plant?" Others said there should be solidarity strikes at other plants while some were critical of the union leadership for not spreading the movement wider and using more radical methods. It remains to be seen what will happen once injunctions come down against the blockade. GM is also demanding $1.5-million of damages against the union. If the CAW leadership just bows down to legality then the movement is sure to be channelled into ineffective avenues. The blockade and the mass movement of the workers is the only thing that keeps GM negotiating. Without tactics that really hurt the company, such as strikes, occupations and blockades, the bosses can just wait out the workers and the jobs will be lost.
At the end of the rally there were speeches from the CLC, the CAW national union, Federal NDP MP Peggy Nash and Howard Hampton leader of the Ontario NDP. CAW Local 222 President Chris Buckley summed it up best when he said that this rally is not the end, it is just the beginning of a movement to save manufacturing jobs. Whether or not the GM Oshawa truck plant can be saved depends on the leadership and whether the rank-and-file can put enough pressure on to ensure the union keeps up the radical action. Whatever the outcome, this struggle stands as another milestone in the growing factory occupations movement in Canada. A movement that is sure to become generalized in the fight to save quality union jobs against the destructive capitalist economic system.
[NOTE: Solidarity messages for CAW 222 can be sent here]
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