The writ­ing was on the wall for Oshawa plant many years ago

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Jen­nifer Wells

As Ot­tawa, On­tario take their pitch for jobs to De­troit Auto Show, Jen­nifer Wells asks where were the in­no­va­tive minds years ago when the writ­ing was on the wall for GM’s Oshawa plant?

The di­chotomy could not have been more clear.

As Uni­for mem­bers took to the mi­cro­phone in Wind­sor on Fri­day morn­ing amidst a vi­brant rally, rail­ing against the planned clo­sure of the Oshawa Gen­eral Mo­tors assem­bly plant, GM CEO Mary Barra took to the mic at the com­pany’s cap­i­tal mar­kets day in De­troit to crow about the au­tomaker’s per­for­mance and its plans for the fu­ture. At 11:15 a.m. the stock was up $2.84 from Thurs­day’s close.

On the cor­po­rate side of the river: the pri­macy of “share­holder value.”

On the labour side of the river: the 2,500 au­towork­ers who will soon enough be out of work.

“Right across the wa­ter GM is hold­ing an in­vestor ef­fort pitch­ing its cor­po­rate greed di­rec­tion,” bel­lowed Uni­for’s Dave Cas­sidy, first to the mic be­fore a sea of wav­ing red Uni­for flags. “Canada did not give you a bailout only for you to bail out of Canada.”

Over at GM head­quar­ters Barra noted re­duced struc­tural costs, con­sid­er­able cash sav­ings — $6 bil­lion (U.S.) by the end of 2020 — and an­nounced that the Cadil­lac mar­que has been cho­sen as the au­tomaker’s lead elec­tric ve­hi­cle, un­der­scor­ing GM’s com­mit­ment to re­store Cadil­lac’s stand­ing as a true lux­ury brand. The mar­ket was pleased.

This is the bi­fur­cated back­drop against which On­tario Premier Doug Ford and fed­eral In­no­va­tion Min­is­ter Navdeep Bains will travel to De­troit

WELLS con­tin­ued on B5

this week, meet­ing with GM rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

I can’t imag­ine that GM will be sub­stan­tially moved.

For her part, Barra has some­what smoothed po­lit­i­cal con­cerns in the U.S., which loses two assem­bly plants and two parts plants, through job trans­fers for dis­lo­cated work­ers. Of the 2,800 U.S. work­ers fac­ing job loss south of the bor­der, 1,500 have vol­un­teered for trans­fer and 703 have al­ready been re­as­signed — 418 from the De­troit-Ham­tramck assem­bly plant and 285 from the Lord­stown plant in War­ren, Ohio — with the com­pany pledg­ing “a plan for ev­ery per­son.”

At Fri­day’s rally, OPSEU pres­i­dent Smokey Thomas made a shout out to Ford to “get off your lazy a—.” Which I guess is a call to find some po­lit­i­cal lever­age this side of the bor­der, where the plan for ev­ery per­son leans sor­rily to­ward out­place­ment ser­vices.

I sus­pect that Uni­for pres­i­dent Jerry Dias’ re­brand­ing of Gen­eral Mo­tors as “Greedy Mo­tors” isn’t go­ing to help much.

What I’m get­ting at here, in a tor­tured way, is that Uni­for made a pub­lic re­la­tions play on Fri­day, at­tempt­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the rich­ness of the HQ pro­ceed­ings in con­trast with the dire straits at home.

The rally made for OK view­ing. (Mes­sage to Uni­for: find more women. One is not enough.)

In sub­stance, the rally fell short.

What pre­cisely does the union pro­pose?

For that mat­ter, where were the in­no­va­tion minds in Canada years ago when the writ­ing was on the wall for the Oshawa plant? As Min­is­ter Bains went on to plan for su­per­clus­ters and hubs, what was the deep plan for the auto shop? How hard has Ot­tawa worked on this file since com­ing to power more than three years ago? Where was Queen’s Park? What role did Dias play? What were his strate­gies and tac­tics?

It wasn’t all that long ago that Gen­eral Mo­tors was singing the high praises of Steve Carlisle, who, as manag­ing di­rec­tor of GM Canada, lead what the com­pany called the resur­gence of the GM fran­chise in this coun­try, claim­ing the No. 1 spot in Cana­dian auto sales in 2017. Carlisle started his ca­reer with the car com­pany as a co-op stu­dent at the Oshawa truck assem­bly plant in 1982. Last April, he was moved south to head the Cadil­lac divi­sion, where it sounds as though hap­pi­ness reigns to­day.

I won­der how it feels for Mr. Carlisle to see the com­pany he has spent his ca­reer work­ing for so rad­i­cally trim­ming its pres­ence in Canada.

I won­der if Mr. Carlisle’s ten­ure could have been an im­por­tant one in lay­ing the ground­work for the fu­ture of the Oshawa plant.

I won­der un­der what cir­cum­stances Oshawa could have been part of the car of the fu­ture.

The re­course now for an­gry work­ers is to call for a boy­cott of made-in-Mex­ico GM au­tos. As of Fri­day, Uni­for had not yet made that call.

In­stead, Jerry Dias put GM on no­tice that the union is go­ing to go big and loud at the up­com­ing De­troit Auto Show. “We’ll have a mes­sage,” the union leader made clear.

“You haven’t seen any­thing yet.”

What we have seen is a Uni­for ad cam­paign: “Hey GM, you want to sell here, build here.”

Mary Barra was cov­ered in glory Fri­day, at least in the com­mu­nity of in­vest­ment an­a­lysts and happy share­hold­ers pleased with the au­tomaker’s fore­cast of higher than ex­pected earn­ings. She noted the stresses on fam­i­lies af­fected by the clo­sures. She seemed supremely con­fi­dent that the com­pany was al­ready do­ing ev­ery­thing it re­spon­si­bly needed to do in this sit­u­a­tion. GM was about to un­veil its Cadil­lac ST6 cross­over in De­troit, she added. As a PR play, GM’s per­for­mance was mas­ter­ful. Shares closed at $37.18, up $2.45.


Jerry Dias, pres­i­dent for Uni­for, the na­tional union rep­re­sent­ing auto work­ers, ad­dresses a rally within view of Gen­eral Mo­tors head­quar­ters on Fri­day in Wind­sor, Ont.

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