Ontario: Scarborough Auto Workers' Direct Action Gets the Goods

Workers at Collins & Aikman in Scarborough, east Toronto, reacted to the companies refusal to pay severance pay by occupying the plant. This and solidarity action by workers at the plants in Guelph and Ingersoll won a victory in only two days, guaranteeing six million in payments.

Collins & Aikman, a Michigan-based company with 45 manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2005. The Scarborough plant manufactures plastic dashboard parts for Chrysler, Ford and GM. It employed 400 workers, most of who had been laid off at the end of March. The workers are members of CAW Local 303 whose local bargaining committee was demanding one week of severance pay for each year of service. Many of the workers have been in the plant for 20 years.

On Friday the workers heard that the company intended to try and remove the plant machinery the following morning. A blockade of the gates was quickly organized with up to 300 workers blocking the gates on Saturday morning while another 100 occupied the plant itself. The Toronto Sun quoted 56-year-old, machine operator Josephine Ebanks, who had worked in the plant for 30 years as declaring "I'm going to be here every day until I get my money".

The solidarity actions demonstrated how Just In Time production methods can give power to workers. The plastic parts of the Scarborough plant go to the Guelph plant whose output is in turn largely used in the Daimler Chrysler’s plant at Brampton. When the Collins & Aikman workers in Guelph stopped working in solidarity with the Scarborough workers production at the Daimler Chrysler plant also quickly ground to a halt due to a lack of parts. Daimler Chrysler assembly was disrupted for four hours leading to the loss of production of several hundred vehicles. Daimler Chrysler caved in and guaranteed to pay $1.8 million toward the outstanding severance, its proportion of output from the plant.

The union told Ford and GM that unless they likewise agreed to guarantee their proportion of the severance pay their production would also be targeted. Ford gave in before the union deadline on Saturday, agreeing to pay $1.45 million. On Saturday night workers at the Collins & Aikman plant in Ingersoll stopped shipment of parts to General Motors truck plant in Oshawa. According to the CAW web site "On April 4 General Motors agreed to contribute its proportional share", the CAW described this as "a hell of a victory for the workers at Collins & Aikman".

Workers are often told that the dispersed manufacturing methods of modern industry, including Just in Time production, mean that the corporations can do what they like. The idea of workers standing together and trade union solidarity we are told is old fashioned nonsense. The speed at which these solidarity actions forced not just one but three of the major auto corporations to back down and cough up the cash suggest otherwise.

Andrew - NEFAC Ontario - individual capacity
First written for http://anarkismo.net

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More information

  • Workers occupy Scarborough plant - Toronto Star
  • Severance dispute hits GM in Oshawa - Toronto Star
  • Deal reached between union, auto parts supplier
  • Scarborough Plant Occupation Ends - CAW site