Labour Day 2019
Thousands of workers participated in the annual Labour Day march in Toronto. The theme of the event, organized by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, was “Organize, Educate, Resist!” the Ford Conservative government’s anti-social offensive against the workers and society.
Workers from many sectors brought forward their concerns. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, representing 12,000 Toronto transit workers called for the repeal of the Ford Government’s Bill 107 which is aimed at privatizing the transit system. Teachers and education workers from OSSTF, OECTA and ETFO vigorously denounced the Ford government’s cuts to education in Ontario and expressed their determination to step up their resistance.
Library workers in Toronto, organized under CUPE 4948, opposed the introduction of “staffless branches” which removes the human factor in library service. Two branches in Toronto are already “staffless” despite the opposition of the staff and public.
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change brought to the fore the Canadian state’s racist immigration policy which continues to deny migrant workers their basic rights to healthcare and education, forces them into unsafe and low paying jobs and denies them the right to stay in Canada.
The mood of the workers to change this situation was reflected in the enthusiasm with which the Labour Day statement of the Worker’s Centre of the Marxist Leninist Party of Canada — “Uphold the Dignity of Labour! Defend the Rights of All! was received.
Thousands of workers marched in the Labour Day parade in Hamilton, Ontario. Through their banners and placards they stood for their right to negotiated collective agreements, pension security, and justice for all.
The annual event was disrupted when Prime Minister Trudeau attempted to join the march at the invitation of one of the unions. However, Hamilton workers do not see Trudeau as a friend of labour. They do not think that he can waltz in and wipe clean his long record of broken promises from the last election, and anti-worker actions in government, such as his government’s criminalization of postal workers last November by outlawing their rotating strikes. A large blockade quickly formed and initially prevented Trudeau from joining the parade.
Grassy Narrows supporters raised the issue of the mercury poisoning of their waters and demanded action to resolve the issue and bring to account those responsible for the disaster and the ensuing decades of inaction. Anti-war and other local activists joined the blockade of Trudeau with their banners and placards. PSAC members confronted Trudeau demanding a just and swift contract settlement for their 140,000 members, many of whom have been victims of the Phoenix pay debacle. The outrage of many at Trudeau in a Hamilton Labour Day parade forced the Prime Minister to withdraw from the parade’s marshalling grounds before its start. He subsequently slipped in after the rest of the contingents had left the assembly point.
Activists of the MLPC distributed the Party’s Labour Day statement to all the contingents throughout the parade, which was well received.
When speeches began after Windsor’s Labour Day Parade arrived at Fogolar Furlan, the venue of its annual picnic, Dave Cassidy, President of Unifor 444 informed the crowd gathered there that Nemak had decided to close its Windsor Aluminum Plant in 2020 instead of honouring its negotiated collective agreement with the workers, in which it committed to keep the plant open until at least 2022. Because of this negation of the contract, Cassidy announced that the workers and leadership of Unifor Local 200 had taken over the plant. “We own the technology, we own the material, we own the tooling and Nemak owes it to our workers,” he said to cheers and raised fists from the crowd.
As soon as the speeches ended, many workers from other Unifor locals and other unions headed for the Windsor Aluminum Plant on the city’s west side in support of the Nemak workers’ picket line.
During the last week of August Unifor National and Local 200 leaders travelled to Mexico to meet with company CEO Armando Tamez to try to get the early closure decision reversed. As it did not appear the meeting made any headway, Unifor decided to take action to put pressure on the company. It has chained the doors of the factory and the machinery inside the plant and says no one will be permitted to enter and no technology, machines or product will be allowed out. There are 270 people employed at the facility, 170 of them hourly workers who are members of Unifor Local 200. The union has set up an around-the-clock picket at the plant.
John D’Agnolo, Unifor Local 200 president told a press conference shortly after the announcement made at the Labour Day picnic: “We shouldn’t be here right now. We should be celebrating Labour Day with our families. Nemak put us in this position. We’re protesting this because of Nemak and their greed. I want you to think about this: in 2016 the members had to make a decision on their futures. The company came to us and said here’s the deal: we’ll give you three new programs if you freeze your wages. The members ratified that agreement and the company backed out. We’re here today because of this. Our members right now can’t sleep. They gotta think about their futures, how they’re going to take care of their children. When’s enough enough?”
When asked by a reporter whether this action was legal, Jerry Dias, National Unifor president, stated: “This is absolutely as legal as what they are doing. The fact is that Nemak is operating as if there’s no collective agreement, so we are now operating under the premise that there is no collective agreement. So, we accept their version, we accept that there is no agreement in place therefore this is absolutely legal.”
According to the union, in advance of the closure Nemak had been bringing in engineers from Mexico to learn the processes and familiarize themselves with the machinery at the Windsor Aluminum Plant, to facilitate moving production to Mexico.
Over the last four years, Nemak received $1.5 million from the provincial government and $3 million from the federal government to keep its Windsor operations going. It is also of note that in July 2016, a grant of up to $1.3 million to Nemak was approved by Windsor City Council under its “Economic Revitalization Community Improvement Plan.”
Nemak is a subsidiary of the Mexican industrial conglomerate Alfa. Its Windsor Aluminum Plant currently supplies engine blocks to General Motors, mainly to supply its plant that produces Cadillacs in Shanghai, China. The company has indicated that its reason for deciding to close the Windsor plant in 2020 instead of 2022 was a drop-off in demand by GM’s China operations. At the same time, Unifor has said that to replace this loss of work Nemak won a bid on a new contract with Fiat Chrysler. However, even though the bid along with the design and development of the new production process required was prepared by its workers in Windsor, the company has decided to send the work to a plant in Monterrey, Mexico.
Nemak has 38 plants in 16 countries. Its revenues in 2018 were reported as U.S. $4.7 billion. Originally a joint venture between the Ford Motor Company and Alfa, Nemak took ownership of what had been Ford’s Essex and Windsor Aluminum Plants in 2000. In 2008 it closed the Essex Aluminum Plant, throwing 600 out of work. The Windsor Aluminum Plant is its last remaining Canadian operation.
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