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Fighting the GM closure in Oshawa: Company Town review

Brian Champ

October 15, 2020

Company Town, available to view on CBC Gem, is a fascinating and heartbreaking look at the struggle in Oshawa to fight back against the GM closure of the plant that happened at the end of 2019. The GM plant had operated continuously for over 100 years - Oshawa is a car town, at it's peak employing over 23,000 workers in the facilities in all parts of the city, eventually concentrated in the massive facility at the south end.

The closure affected 5,000 workers, half in GM's own facilities, half in the facilities of parts suppliers. But many more beyond these workers have been affected.

The documentary follows a cast of characters from the time of the closure announcement on November 25, 2018 up until the final day of production on December 19th, 2019.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias has a presence throughout the film. He declared "They are not closing our plant without one hell of a fight" to satisfy the anger of the rank and file who walked out after the closure was announced. But when his negotiations only saved 300 jobs he said he was just "making the best out of a bad situation" and that GM had "lied to us and betrayed us".

Kevin Craggs, a fork lift driver who works for CEVA Logistics had a different take: while agreeing about GM's lies he said "What's the surprise is how we were treated by our union. I'm a unionist through and through. But there was a hell of a lot more that they could have done for us.".

The complexity of the local agreements with GM and the many parts suppliers is made clear, and the bitterness of Unifor members in parts plants is palpable as the future looks bleak for many. Colin James, Local 222 president said " I don't know what replaces those jobs. I realy don't see it getting better for a long time."

While these are bitter pills, there was honey as the camera followed the Green Jobs Oshawa campaign. In the words of Rebecca Keetch, a long-time assembly line worker at the GM Oshawa plant: "We are here today to talk about whether electric vehicle production is possible in Oshawa? Whether government investment in production is possble in Oshawa? Is maintaining the productive capactity of the Oshawa assembly plant possble? And is building a new way of thinking that prioritizes the environment, the community, and citizens of our country over corporate greed possble? The answer to all of these questions is yes. We need to address the climate crisis. We need good jobs to fight inequality and precarity. We have a plant, a sklled workforce and a big idea. All we need is the political will".

Rebecca is shown speaking in front of thousands of young people articulating a vision for a just transition led by workers at the November 29th Climate Strike at Queen's Park in Toronto.

I would have liked to have seen a little less focus on the union leadership and more on rank and file workers, but I recommend watching Company Town for a look inside the fight against the GM closure in Oshawa.

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