Minutes before the 11:59 p.m. Wednesday deadline, the Unifor union announced that it had reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year agreement covering 9,000 workers at Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) Canada. Presented at a press conference by Unifor President Jerry Dias as a big win, the deal is based on continued downsizing of the workforce and entrenching a multi-party wage system. levels which will allow FCA to significantly reduce labor costs.
The centerpiece of the deal touted by Dias was the FCA's commitment to invest between $ 1.35 billion and $ 1.5 billion to transform its Windsor assembly plant into a facility capable of building hybrid and electric vehicles. . However, this investment depends on the granting by the federal and provincial governments of Ontario of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the automaker, and of Unifor's complicity in reducing, at least temporarily, the workforce. Windsor work force of over 1,000 workers.
At the press conference, Dias boasted that of the 1,500 workers who were made redundant following the cancellation of the third shift at Windsor in July, only 425 retained their right to be recalled under the new agreement. Based on early retirement plans and other "incentives," FCA and Unifor have teamed up to persuade or intimidate the remaining 1,050 to leave. Dias added that even this very small number of workers will not be recalled until 2023, which is more than two and a half years.
During talks, Dias said two new products were needed for the Windsor plant in order to recall the third team. The tentative agreement provides that FCA will only commit to supplying one new product after 2023. Nonetheless, Dias argued that the third team will return because the new production capacities of the plant will allow it to build a range of hybrid and electric vehicles. His boast about the return of the third team was toned down when he was forced to concede, in response to a reporter's question, that it wouldn't happen until 2024.
Even this latest promise must be viewed critically by auto workers. Dias said the deal between Unifor and FCA follows Ford's model. This means that various early retirement and buy-back mechanisms will be included in order to force former higher-paid workers out of factories in Windsor and Brampton, and the multi-tiered wage system will be even more entrenched. This will allow FCA to hire lower paid second-tier workers if they expand to Windsor in 2024 or flood their factories with temporary part-time workers (TPTs) with virtually no rights.
If the deal follows Ford's, it will likely also allow FCA management to institute the alternating work schedule (AWS), which is currently used in the United States to have production workers work regularly for 10 hours. or more per day and to require skilled workers at FCA's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant north of Detroit to work 12-hour shifts for seven consecutive days.
Dias also acknowledged that FCA has the right to revise its investment commitment based on a “market conditions” clause in the agreement. This is the rationale used by General Motors when it reneged on its previous commitments and closed its truck and car assembly plants in Oshawa.
Dias' remarks about the future of the Brampton plant were even less reassuring. With some 3,400 workers currently employed at the Toronto-area plant, which is operating well below capacity, all the Unifor president has been able to deliver was promises to introduce three derivative vehicles during the duration of the agreement. No production guarantees for the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedan, the three models currently built there, exist beyond 2023.
An auto worker wrote in response, “Jerry Dias has to get out… I think he's getting paid in secret. You should all vote no. Nothing for the Brampton assembly plant, believe me, it will probably be the last 3 years for Brampton. ” Another added, referring to the AWS perspective, “Like the Ford contract, we're going to do the AWS. Which means working 10 hours a day for 4 days and Friday 8 and maybe Saturday ”.
Unifor also agreed to a significant reduction in workers at FCA's Etobicoke casting plant, just outside of Brampton. While 500 people were employed there at the start of the previous contract, this number has been gradually reduced to just over 100 today. Dias said returning 80 jobs previously transferred to Brampton could see the Etobicoke plant employ just over 200 workers – less than half of 2016's number – by 2022.
At the press conference, Dias spoke as a consultant or business partner offering his services to large investors. He was excited to develop a "national auto strategy" in partnership with the Liberal government of Trudeau and the right-wing provincial government of Doug Ford, on the basis of state subsidies to automakers. to ensure lucrative payouts to shareholders, and Unifor's complicity in reducing wages and benefits. He also advocated the development of a national economic strategy for Canadian businesses based on exploiting their natural resources and the working class, with the union serving as a police force in factories and other workplaces to enforce low wages and block strikes.
But the style of Dias is not just a personal matter. Rather, it expresses the role of Unifor and the union bureaucracy as a whole, which is to strengthen the competitive position of Canadian automakers' businesses by reducing labor costs and increasing exploitation of workers. Unifor falsely claims to represent.
Unifor's promotion of Canadian nationalism aims to pit Canadian, American and Mexican autoworkers against each other in a race to the bottom on wages and working conditions. Its pro-capitalist corporatism unquestionably accepts the claim that the jobs of auto workers should be subordinated to the benefit of investors and the generous pay of CEOs of companies. On this basis, Unifor, its predecessor, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and its US counterpart, the United Auto Workers (UAW), oversaw the downward haggling of jobs and benefits through national borders over the past three decades, while championing the profitability of the auto giants.
Unifor's contempt for auto workers was demonstrated recently at Ford, where similar promises of major investments were used by Dias to cover up massive attacks on working conditions. The union deliberately concealed the fact that it had accepted the AWS until after the ratification vote. He also buried his acceptance of a reduction in the Oakville assembly plant workforce of more than 10% in one year in the fine print of his "Highlights" brochure.
FCA workers should expect Unifor to attempt a similar deception as it seeks to smuggle the deal in an online ratification vote scheduled for Sunday. They should resolutely reject this attempt by demanding that the agreement be published in its entirety before the ratification vote, and that they be given at least a week to study the details and discuss them with their colleagues. If Unifor denies these legitimate demands, which were approved by more than 1,800 grassroots workers in an online petition, FCA workers would automatically have to vote “no” to the deal.
But a rejection of that surrender is only the first step, as Unifor wouldn't come back with something different. That is why the fight for decent and secure jobs requires the formation of independent Unifor factory committees. These committees are expected to respond to key worker demands, such as the FCA Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) Safety Committee, which is fighting against 12-hour shifts for skilled workers and unsafe conditions. during the pandemic.
Actions by workers in Windsor against the spread of COVID-19 in March helped spark spontaneous strikes at the SHAP plant and other factories in Michigan and Ohio, which ultimately forced the shutdown of the North American auto industry in mid-March. It was the workers themselves, not Unifor or the UAW, who were behind the strikes. Whether it is defending lives or the right to a secure job and a decent standard of living, everything depends on the independent initiative of the workers themselves.
Grassroots committees should also unite autoworkers in a common struggle across all Detroit Big Three operations in Canada and across North America. In opposition to the nationalism encouraged by the unions, their guiding agenda should be the unification of Canadian, American and Mexican auto workers in a counteroffensive against all job cuts and setbacks.
(Article published in English on October 15, 2020)