Author's note: Michelin is one of the global giants in the manufacturing of tires; they have been staunchly anti-union since they began in France. In the 1970s, they decided to locate plants in Nova Scotia with the understanding that the provincial government would introduce a law, which became known as the Michelin Bill, to make it almost impossible to organize employers with multi-site plants. A number of unions, including Rubberworkers, Steelworkers and Autoworkers, all tried, but were foiled by what Larry Haiven, a professor in the Department of Management at Saint Mary's University, called "an act of corruption." This column documents the first attempt to organize by the Canadian Auto Workers in the 1980s.
At the recent Convention of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada, delegates heard Ed Broadbent speak on "Equality and the Importance of Unions," and we wanted to find out what their unions had meant to them. This column is the second in a series of columns based on interviews carried out at the convention by Angus Ricker.
I am now finally emerging from the mental fog induced by the 24-7 triennial marathon otherwise known as "CAW major auto bargaining." To close the circle, here are my thoughts in retrospect on the bargaining: how the union prepared for it, the issues at stake, the contents of the final deal, and the challenges that remain ahead for the CAW (and for anyone else with an interest in the future of manufacturing here).
Triennial contract talks between the Canadian Auto Workers union and the North American automakers kicked off last week in Toronto, the first since the industry's near-death experience of 2009. The discussions feature a familiar clash of ideas: the auto makers are demanding labour cost reductions to match cheaper foreign jurisdictions, while the union argues that workers deserve some payback for their sacrifices, which boosted the industry's profits. (Full disclosure: I crunch the numbers for the CAW side in these negotiations.)
Some commentators argue it's not just wages and benefits that are at stake in these talks, but the future of the whole industry in Canada. If the union doesn't cut compensation, they suggest, the auto plants will leave.
It's no secret that people in southwestern Ontario -- Londoners in particular -- are seriously pissed with Caterpillar. In fact, in an unprecedented show of support for labour, both London Mayor Joe Fontana and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty are on record as saying Caterpillar has been unfair to the employees of Electro-Motive.
Thursday afternoon I caught up with the president of CAW Local 27, Tim Carrie, in the lobby of the London Hilton during a break from closure negotiations with Caterpillar.
Meg Borthwick: So Tim, negotiations seem to be progressing ...
LONDON, ONT. - It was a loud and boisterous scene outside the massive Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) factory on Jan. 21 as more than a thousand trade unionists joined the picket line in solidarity with 465 workers who have been locked out by the company for the past three weeks. With a punk rock band blasting music from a makeshift stage by the front gate, hundreds of workers disrupted traffic by crossing back and forth across the road regularly. A lone London police officer pleaded with them to keep things moving. It was the second show of support that day; earlier, an estimated 7,000 workers from across Ontario and the Midwest United States rallied at Victoria Park in downtown London.
Hundreds of shivering factory workers locked out of their plant by manufacturing giant Caterpillar in London, Ont., might well draw some warm comfort from -- of all things -- the sayings of Newt Gingrich.
Of course, the conservative Republican presidential contender is no friend of labour or social justice; he recently proposed that poor children be schooled in the ways of free enterprise by being hired to clean school washrooms.
Nonetheless, Gingrich, one of the stars of the Republican freak show, is desperate to defeat front-runner Mitt Romney. With the mitts off, Gingrich is denouncing Romney's background as a Wall Street corporate raider, accusing him of practising a form of capitalism where "you basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers."
Join Lieutenant Stanfordo (CAW Economist Jim Stanford) as he attempts to find out what has actually happened to Canada's supposed economic recovery. In The Curious Case of the Missing Recovery, Stanfordo searches far and wide for answers to a mystery that continues to baffle hard-working Canadians. How can the federal government and Bank of Canada proclaim an economic recovery when hundreds of thousands of workers are still jobless, and millions are still reeling from one of the worst downturns since the Great Depression?