Dear Brother White
I, like many others, read with interest your perspective of the CAW/MAGNA deal. Allow me to respond, not to lecture, but to express my beliefs.
First let me state that I agree with your observation that Magna workers "will make the final decision whether or not to approve this arrangement." Assuming as I do, that current Magna workers are as you and I were in the plant many years ago, one has to question why on earth they would seek union representation under the conditions presented them?
When you and I joined the UAW, we did so because the union provided the vehicle within which we could fully challenge corporate power when needed. When the boss said no, we could walk to back up our demands. The Magna deal circumvents and sets aside this most basic of workers rights – the right to withdraw their labour. It is not the frequency of a strike that is at issue – it is the ability to do so when workers in a democratic manner, weighing possible gains against consequences, decide to exercise their right to strike.
The entire Canadian sector of the UAW, and later CAW, supported your leadership in the fight against concessions within our union and the CLC. I and many others remember your remark that became a rally cry for workers fighting the employers. You said "workers donít need unions to walk backwards." Where is the forward progress in the Magna deal? There is no similarity between Magna and Cami. Cami workers can exercise their right to strike and the workers there elect their in-plant representatives and local union executive. Not so at Magna. Indeed, Cami workers are on record as opposing the Magna deal.
I also am aware of my unionís policy positions taken over the years in opposition to binding arbitration in the private sector – particularly the auto sector. If there exists any lack of respect for workers in this growing debate, it is for those parts workers whose jobs are now at peril in Stronachís enhanced competitive position, solidified in the Magna deal, not to mention the line of employers at the ready to put yet another obstacle on the Bargaining Table to the detriment of workers.
It is true that were Magna workers to join our union they would benefit from many CAW programs. But I would argue at what price? Union membership without democratic control and stripped of the right to strike when necessary is not consistent with our unionís standards. To my knowledge, with the exception of Magna, no other newly organized CAW worker has had to give up the right to strike as a pre-condition for membership.
It is "pithy" at best to contend that the voices of dissent in this debate are those that suggest that public sector workers without the right to strike have thrown up their hands and "... might as well give up." Indeed at the time your text appeared, the largest public sector union in the country in Convention went on the record criticizing the CAW/MAGNA deal. CUPE concluded it to be a barrier to the efforts of those of their membership that currently do not enjoy the freedom of the right to strike and continue to battle their employers and Governments to win it. I donít believe their concerns to be "nonsense."
Not one aspect of the Magna deal reflects our unionís gains. It is not a split to preserve the rights of autonomy. It is not a joint venture that maintains fundamental worker freedoms. It is an agreement that is detrimental to other parts workers and establishes a precedent which both Public and Private Sector Employers will advance in the future. Like moths on a hot August night, employers will flock to the porch light illuminated by the CAW/MAGNA undertaking.
Most of all, this deal is not innovative except in the negative. Innovation in the popular connotation is the practice of improving upon an existing condition. This deal, from a workers perspective, does not meet the test by any stretch of the imagination. Drawing "long bows" is an acceptable form of debate but is unacceptable as an imposed condition of employment.
I agree that the role of "a strong leader is to challenge employers to respect workers rights and treat employees fairly." As the CAW has often pointed out, Magna has a track record both here and abroad that reveals the opposite. Indeed as I write these words, Magna operatives are already in violation of the deal in a number of workplaces using their patented processes to intimidate and misinform Magna workers.
As for leadership courage; why not spend CAW resources in a positive way directed at organizing new workers in the non-union auto assembly plants within Canada. Many workers have joined our unionís ranks when the CAW demonstrated a lasting commitment where many thought the UAW/CAW would fail. When one looks at the auto sector decline and the ability of the BIG 3 and parts suppliers to move across borders, placing workers in competition for jobs, one has to ask why our union is not mounting a major and unrelenting fight-back campaign to restore the Auto Pact, thereby guaranteeing Canadian jobs. Surely the opportunity exists. As in the FTA fight when labour leaders convinced David Peterson to defend Ontario workers, the CAW clearly has an opportunity now to capitalize upon their relationship with the Ontario Government. The auto sector is as important to Ontario now as it was in 1988, indeed even more so.
Well, Bob, over the years we have had our differences but I have always respected your ability. As I said in the beginning of my remarks, what I have expressed are my beliefs. As one "armchair critic" to another it appears that you and I have but one more disagreement – or as buzz stated on TVO last night, those of us engaging in dissent are enjoying our "good pensions." I agree. My pension is good and I believe every worker should have one as good. The point is, they wonít get one without their right to strike.
Notwithstanding my respect for your past leadership, I draw enormous comfort in the realization of the growing numbers of workers and their local union leadership that share my view that the CAW/MAGNA deal is simply a reflection of a newly applied concept of Paternalistic Liberalism and a major step backward in time for CAW workers, and for the Canadian Labour Movement.
CAW Member since 1961 - Retired