The never-ending drive for concessions by the big auto bosses is right back in the face of car workers at the Ford Motor Company of Canada.
Canadian Auto Workers' president Ken Lewenza is deep in discussions with Joe Hinrichs, vice-president of global manufacturing and labour affairs for Ford. The automobile giant employs about 7,000 workers at plants in Oakville, St. Thomas and Windsor, Ontario.
Ford wants labour concessions comparable but not necessarily identical to those given by the union affecting some 20,000 GM and Chrysler workers in Canada. These will include, though not be limited to a freeze on wages and pensions, an extension of the two-tier wage structure, contracting out of some in-plant work, cuts to vacation time and reduced benefits until 2012.
GM and Chrysler demanded concessions as a convenient condition to receive almost $15 billion in loans from the federal and Ontario governments amid the industry's worst sales slump in decades. Ford asked for up to $2 billion in a line of credit last December, but later withdrew the request. Still, it demands the roll-backs to 'remain competitive'.
When the next deal is done, Ford auto workers will be asked by the CAW tops to ratify it. Anyone paying attention can see that this has nothing to do with 'economic recovery', and has everything to do with lowering workers' living and work standards, and raising profit margins, for the anticipated post-depression period.
This pattern is now evident in numerous disputes, from strikes involving railway car builders in Hamilton to civic employees in Windsor and Toronto to newspaper workers in Montreal. Windsor municipal workers have been on picket lines for 10 weeks at the time of this writing. Toronto's 24,000 inside workers and 6,200 outside workers, including garbage collectors, walked off the job on June 22. The strike was provoked by city bosses who insist on clawing back long standing sick leave benefits and seniority rights, and on providing a lower pay raise than the city gave several other groups of municipal workers.
Yet another battle taking shape is at the Globe and Mail newspaper where union members voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike. The Globe workers could be out as early as June 30 because management is seeking to reduce the wages of 30 per cent of the staff, and to cut up to 50 per cent in pension benefits for future retirees.
While officials at the Canadian Labour Congress and its major affiliates limply campaign to 'fix E.I.', 'protect penions' and 'put people before banks', a more proactive struggle to reject backward steps and to make Capital pay for its crisis is sorely needed.
If Ford workers, who are in a stronger position than many on the economic battle front, say No to the latest round of concession demands it would be a powerful indictment of the policies of the CAW leadership and might have an electrifying effect on the entire workers' movement. It could be a positive turning point – which is why socialists and militant unionists will be campaigning for a clear and resounding No vote at Ford. -Barry Weisleder