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.