“Fighting back makes a difference!” - This slogan was written on a cardboard placard by workers who occupied their former workplace, Aradco – a parts supplier for the vehicle manufacturer Chrysler, in Windsor, Ontario this week.
After the plant closed, last week, union members from Aradco and workers, and it’s sister company, Aramco, owned by Catalina Precision Products Ltd, a US based company, voted 64% to reject an offer last Monday of just over $200,000 in severance pay. It has been calculated that they are actually owed $1.7 million in severance, vacation and termination pay. This is in stark contrast to the $165 million A.I.G bosses decided they were owed in bonuses alone!
Workers entered the building and welded the entrance tight from inside in protest at the measly pay-out offer. The workers knew that if they took no action it was unlikely they would get anything. The option of occupying their workplace was the last they felt they had, as tools had not yet been removed and that was the last bargaining power left. The local CAW (Canadian Auto Workers Union) president, Gerry Farham was quoted saying:
“Some of the workers here have decided to take over the plant. That’s the only thing they have in order to try to get the monies that are owning to them.”
As of Wednesday 18 March, the occupation was over, after union representatives struck a deal with the former employer, which saw the 80 workers offered $400,000 pay out instead of the $200,000 originally offered. While falling short of the workers’ overall demands and needs this is a big improvement on the bosses’ offer made at the beginning of the week.
Fighting back in a time of recession
What this protest shows is that fighting back can make a difference and has given many workers in Canada confidence that they can organise and win - even in a time of recession when many are told there is nothing we can do.
The fact is – after big bail-outs and tax breaks in the car industry – these plants are in large or even whole owned by the workers and should be nationalised. If linked to industries which have overproduced goods, such as cars and trucks, the workplaces should be adapted and used to make goods and provide services working class people need.
There is no shortage of equipment needed in local hospitals, schools and health centres. New affordable good quality homes should be built to solve the problems of homelessness and substandard living many Canadians face.
Job losses in Canada keep rising, throwing hundreds of thousands of skilled workers into unemployment. There were 129,000 job losses in January, alone, bringing the national unemployment rate up to 7.2%. Almost all these jobs were in full-time employment. Around 101,000 of these jobs were in manufacturing, which makes it the highest loss for the industry on record.
Ontario has been hardest hit, where many of the manufacturing jobs are based, with 36,000 workers laid off, followed by Quebec with 30,000 and British Columbia with 18,000. There has also been a sharp fall in housing starts, putting many construction workers out of work.
Yet in the fall of last year, during the federal election, Stephen Harper, the Conservative Prime Minister, during his election campaign was promising Canadians they would not suffer under the recession, that Canada was a strong economy and that there would be no deficits run in the following years!
For many workers and youth these words have not been forgotten and anger and frustration is growing, while the effects of the world economic crisis escalate.
Unemployment is rising, and a $64 billion deficit has been projected for the next two years. Many workers trying to claim unemployment pay (E.I), which they are entitled to, are told they have to wait many weeks before receiving their first payments – leaving thousands of workers who have paid for years into E.I, worrying about how to pay the mortgage and buy food.
This week it was announced by Statistics Canada that inflation has risen again to 1.4%, up from 1.1% in January. The main contributors have been a rise in the cost of food and shelter. Overall food prices rose 7.4% in the past 12 months to February. Fresh vegetables rose 25.8%.
This situation is making even harder for workers and youth to afford the basic necessities.
Although it is true that Canada has not yet felt the effects of the economic crisis on the level of the US or many European countries, there is no doubt that the impact, so far, has hit workers and youth the hardest and has made many feel very uncertain about their future. After a lot of government spin last year, trying to convince people that the recession would not be ‘too bad’, the reality that Canada is in a deep and most likely long recession, alongside the rest of the world, has hit home.
But as the actions of the Windsor workers show, fighting back is and must be an option. It is likely this will not be the last of such action and the unions across the country need to step up and launch a fighting grass-roots campaign, with action to defend jobs and services, linking up with workers in the US and worldwide. The need for a new mass workers’ party is an urgent task that needs to be built by the working class and young people of Canada, to enable them to have the tools necessary to create a real opposition to the crisis of capitalism.
As the large bail-outs of companies, such as AIG show, it is impossible to change the way these companies work. Based on the capitalist system, which has created this crisis – there will be no end to the continual cycle of boom and bust where it is always workers that pay the heaviest price. The need for a democratic socialist society has never been so urgent and the task ahead for workers and youth must be to change the way this system is run – not for the needs of the few but for the needs of the majority to ensure a decent future for all.