There is seldom a good time to find out your job has been eliminated. A month before Christmas is about as bad a time as that news could ever be delivered.
Close to three thousand salaried and management employees at the Oshawa General Motors facility found that as of December 2019 their plant had no new car to manufacture.
The Oshawa plant was thought initially to be the only line being closed, but then the scope and breadth of the entire corporate restructuring was rolled out by management in Detroit on Monday, November 26.
Four plants in the United States, two in Europe, and one in South Korea were also slated to be shuttered. General Motors will shed over ten thousand full time employees with this move, claiming it wanted to refocus the company’s product on self-driving and electric cars.
Entire car lines including the Chevrolet Malibu built in Oshawa, the Buick Lacrosse, the Chevrolet Volt and the Chevrolet Cruize will cease production completely.
Automotive analysts added to an already dark day by adding that for every General Motors job lost, seven more jobs will be lost somewhere in the companies massive supply chain bringing the job losses in Canada to over fifteen thousand.
The Oshawa plant has a long and storied history in Durham Region. Originally a McLaughlin Motors facility it was bought by what was to become General Motors after World War One. Industrial unionism as we know it in Canada was born in Oshawa during the long and bloody General Motors strike of 1937, when workers occupied the factory rather than allow scab labour to manufacture cars while they walked the picket line. The contract signed at the end of that strike set the template for conditions and benefits that many non-General Motors employees would soon enjoy themselves like guaranteed breaks, paid holidays and the right to organize unions at their job place. At its peak in the 1980’s, G.M. Oshawa employed more than twenty thousand men and women, and thousands of their workers lived in the City of Kawartha Lakes causing mini-housing booms in Janetville, Bethany and Pontypool whose affluence grew with that of the car manufacturer.
The Oshawa plant was widely praised within the General Motors family for quality of product, and cars from that plant like the Buick Regal won multiple awards for quality of manufacture. UNIFOR, the union representing the workers at General Motors, also believed they had an ace up their sleeve in the form of universal health care for all in Canada. The “Big Three” car manufacturers released a study near the end of the last century quantifying the competitive advantage that government provided health care gave them in Canada versus similar operations in the United States. The number worked out to more than seven dollars an hour in benefits that the company had to pay for in the United States, but not in Canada. This time around not even that was enough to save the jobs in Oshawa.
Australia recently became the first G-20 nation to have no car manufacturing facilities in their nation. One hundred percent of cars sold in Australia are now imported. Canada is now teetering dangerously close to joining their Commonwealth friends in this dubious honour.
Both the provincial and federal governments have been told by General Motors the jobs are gone, and no amount of government money will bring them back. Both levels of government were intimately involved with bailing out General Motors in 2008-2010, and not much political will seems to be present to try that option again. UNIFOR is promising “a hell of a fight,” but short of the union buying the plant and setting up a new worker run car manufacturer along the lines of Tesla that statements rings very hollow for all involved.
In this part of Central Ontario a job at “The Motors” was once a ticket to the middle class with a living wage, benefits and a retirement plan. Thousands of local workers and retirees made General Motors great, but after a century of growth, conflict and prosperity that dream has come to an end. The current generation of General Motors workers will be the last, and the CKL will never be the same