Could Oshawa lose its golden egg?

Post by Eric Mang in ,

3 comments

General Motors Oshawa

Stories about GM leaving Oshawa are becoming more common in the media. I don’t know if this is a manufactured crisis meant to force the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) into a diminished position, or if this truly spells the end of an industry that has called Oshawa home since 1908.

An exit from Oshawa would mean the end of 12,000 direct jobs and hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs (on a personal note, these job losses would affect some members of my family). I’ve had a tough time trying to rationalize the bailout. On the one hand, should taxpayers be on the hook for a product that nosedived into poor sales? On the other, there are myriad jobs and whole economies, particularly the city of Oshawa, at stake.

What irks me is the ridiculous level of blame laid at the feet of the auto workers/CAW. Was it the workers who decided to spread GM thinly with 96 models under nine brands? Was it the workers who insisted that output be more important than quality? Was it the workers who devised disastrous business plans that helped lead to this dire situation? No, in many cases it was the highly paid managers and millionaire VPs and CEOs who were at the helm.

So why all of the focus on the workers? Why aren’t we hearing calls for well-paid management to take pay cuts (albeit, there have been many layoffs, but workers have also been fired along with management)? Why? Because it’s easy to pin failures on unions. Corporations and right-wing governments have traditionally loathed unions and when things go awry, unions become the focus of blame. Witness federal Industry Minister Tony Clement’s bright idea to chip away at people’s livelihoods by suggesting reduced labour costs – and this while the feds are asking people to spend more to prop up the sagging economy. Why isn’t he publicly laying some blame at the feet of management?

Again, the fact that it was corporate leadership that helped lead GM into this mess barely registers in the media while anger is simply and easily fomented (and manufactured) toward the people who do the actual work making the product. When Chrysler was limping toward its deathbed in the 1970s, CEO Lee Iacocca worked for $1 a year until Chrysler was a potent player. Where’s that kind of leadership and why isn’t that leadership being demanded from GM management?

In the meantime, Oshawa teeters on the brink of mass unemployment for about 20 per cent of its citizens.

3 Comments

Interesting perspective (from the City Caucus site) how when there are problems - many point the finger at the unions...didnt think that sort of print would be found here...I agree with the mgmt being a big part of the problem ,,,and much duplicated waste and too many brands....after watching "Who Killed the Electric Car" I lost a lot of respect for GM when they chose corporate greed over this great invention...that they shredded...and wouldnt let anyone renew their leases....About the workers though I take some issue that the perverbial "service sector worker" ie the walmart / retail / coffee shop employees tax dollars are being used in the bailout which is also supporting the great pensions and benefits of these workers...should these folks taxes be used to bail the company and also fund the pensions and benefits when many of these taxpayers are not getting any such benefit themselves?? maybe there should be some more give on the pension and benefits side before you come to the average canadian worker for bailout money..when they dont have such "negotiated perks" ...and have alook at the succesfull companies Honda / Toyota...they stick with a brand --for example the civic , accord camry tercel corrolla, have all been around for decades...GM experiments with "tempory models" the cavalier, sunbird, fiero, firefly, acadia, delta 88 / 98 park avenue, parisienne, caprice, ...where are these cars...they have been replaced with malibu and impala..(for now) they need to trimm the fat and make fewer models of cars ...better and quit changing out the brands...why do we need a tahoe / yukon / escalade - when they are virtually the same with different badging??? come on....anyway go watch Who Killed the Electric Car ...its in video stores and on youtube..it will blow your mind....with what GM made - how good it was - and how they shredded over 4000 of them in the desert!

Thanks for the comments Jamie - a number of good points.

Two things: 1) most of my posts on CityCaucus are written with a leftist perspective. We encourage a variety of political views. 2) I believe it was the Stonecutters (the secret cult Homer Simpson attempted to join) who stopped the electric car (and made Steve Guttenberg a star)...

Regarding Eric Mang's editorial on the subject of the auto unions, of course there is enough blame to go around in this mess. Management has a large cross to carry because of poor performance. Of course management must take a haircut on their compensation. Much of that has already happened, and some management positions have been eliminated. But it is the unions that have escaped so far. For far too long, the North American autio unions have been the tail wagging the dog and the companies have allways folded to the exorbitant union demands. Well, the time has come to push back. The union members will have to reduce their compensation and excessive benefit packages if the companies are to survive. They must remember that all of the southern states are recruiting more transfers of production. And the workers from those stses produce high quality vehicles at a lower cost. It would not be a surprise to see more Canadian plants close because of this southwards migration. So, if the Canadain auto workers want to continue in their jobs, they must very soon wake up and smell the roses.

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