Fire Flaherty

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Monday was the sixth day of the CAW blockade of GM Canada headquarters in Oshawa. A community demonstration is planned for Thursday, June 12. The autoworkers anticipate a court injunction will be issued shortly prohibiting their members from protesting the shutdown of an Oshawa plant producing trucks — expected to lead to the loss of 2,600 jobs. The plant was shutdown only three weeks after the company had signed a collective agreement with the CAW promising to keep it open through 2009, and make it the production site for a planned hybrid truck.

The union does not plan a strike, and the blockade has been peaceful, but there is great anger in Oshawa, and Durham County, the fiefdom of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, member of parliament for the area adjoining Oshawa.

Support for the CAW action is growing. President Ken Georgetti of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) came to Oshawa to address workers at the blockade, and pledged to throw the weight of the 3.2 million-member CLC into the battle for industrial jobs. Georgetti has said that rather than fire Maxime Bernier for misplacing some confidential papers, Finance Minister Flaherty should be fired for allowing 132,000 manufacturing to go lost. The "Fire Flaherty" campaign signs should be ready to go in time for the next federal election.

It is no secret Jack Layton has wanted Ed Broadbent to throw himself into battle again as the NDP candidate for his former riding of Oshawa, now held by Conservative Colin Carrie. We can expect new pressure will be exerted on Ed to come into the region, and help send Flaherty home from Ottawa to live among his neighbours, so he can witness first-hand the destruction brought about by the hands off approach to industrial policy he and the Harper government have promoted.

The Province of Ontario had provided GM with a $175 million loan, and the Martin government gave GM $200 million in 2005 as part of a job creation strategy. A joint approach by the two governments, along with the CAW, could push GM to talk about what it expects to provide in return for this public money other than broken promises. So far the Harper government is silent, while GM claims it has the authority to close plants when market conditions change.

Ontario remains the largest auto assembly jurisdiction in North America even after the loss of truck assembly jobs in Oshawa, and the recently announced loss of 1,200 jobs in Windsor due to the closure by Chrysler of a transmission plant. While the CAW has taken the lead in calling for a concerted Canadian approach to automotive production and trade, Ottawa prefers to cut corporate taxes.

The CAW points out that while Canadian-based corporations invest the equivalent of only one per cent of GDP in research and development, corporate tax cuts since 1999 amount to a reduction in their effective tax rate from 35 per cent to 25 per cent, worth $20 billions per year to corporations in the form of forgone government revenue, at a time of record corporate profits.

The CAW argues the $20 billion in tax cut money needs to be invested in industrial policy measures instead. As it is, an increasing share of the tax gift money goes into the coffers of foreign-owned companies, and leaves Canada.

CAW president Buzz Hargrove has called for the Canadian government to require the same cars to be built in Canada as are sold in Canada. This goes beyond the auto pact signed by the Canadian government with the big three automakers in 1965 (but ruled inoperative by the WTO in 2000) which allowed the companies to choose where they would build cars so long as they built as many in Canada as they sold in Canada.

The CAW has been calling for a green transportation strategy encompassing rail, airplane, and auto production, and including an important role for public transit, and public ownership. Instead Ottawa wants to sign free trade agreements with countries producing autos for sale here, but not allowing Canadian auto exports into their own markets.

While media reports highlighted labour disrupting auto production last Saturday, the truth is that job action by the CAW is about fixing the Canadian manufacturing sector before it breaks down even further, and leaves Ontarians in particular to suffer even more.

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