Roadkill! Big 3 Runs Over CAW

by Jeff Shantz

Generally speaking, you might expect any union executive wrapping up negotiations that will see the loss of around 3500 members to be feeling as though things had gone dreadfully wrong. Yet there was Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) leader Buzz Hargrove announcing the loss of almost 1500 GM jobs (following losses of 1100 at Ford and at least 1000 at Daimler-Chrysler) by claiming: “I’m absolutely elated.”
The Ford deal will have a devastating impact on Windsor which will see the closing of a casting plant and reductions at the city’s engine plant, while St. Catharines too will suffer another severe blow with over 700 jobs lost from parts operations. The CAW exec has tried to soften the blow of the Chrysler cuts by once again delivering the tantalizing promise of a $575 million paint shop in Windsor. The paint shop was used by the union to sell the previous agreement with Chrysler which left hundreds of members on regular layoff. Yet as residents of Windsor know the shop was built and then dismantled without a single autoworker stepping inside the place.
Hargrove has built his reputation on a supposed refusal to negotiate concession contracts and perhaps the 0.9% wage increase Ford workers will be looking at in the last two years of their contract will allow him to cynically continue that claim. Yet as CAW members in Windsor have related to Strike these latest contracts continue a long line of union losses that have left in their wake job cuts, layoffs, health and safety atrocities and increased company surveillance and disciplining of workers.
These same rank-and-filers suggest this flows from the entrenched business unionism of a CAW leadership in auto that sees itself as fixers for the missteps of company management. The watchword is ‘working together to find solutions for improving production efficiency’ (as if this is a union’s job). “There’s a good mood,” Hargrove said. “People know the union, and the company, by the way, have done an excellent job in terms of dealing with what was a very difficult situation.”
While some might think that such cuts would be cause for a strike it should be remembered that there hasn’t been a strike against any of the Big Three in nine years (almost 20 years for Chrysler). For many rank-and-filers there’s a sense that that weapon has been permanently retired (“Partners” don’t strike ‘partners’ after all).
“Instead of solely resisting change, we’ve put the focus on managing change in a compassionate way.” So I guess the 3500 folks who will soon be former autoworkers --and their families and communities-- can consider this a big ol’ hug from Buzz.