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Oshawa GM plant did not need to close

Windsor General Motors Transmission plant workers finish their shift in Windsor, Ont, Monday Nov. 21, 2005. More than 3,600 General Motors Corp. workers in Ontario lost their jobs by 2008 as the world's biggest automaker made sweeping cuts to its North American operations. CP PHOTO/Windsor Star - Jason Kryk

From a historical perspective, the Oshawa closure is completely unnecessary.

Had the provisions of the 1965 Canada-U.S. Auto Pact not been traded away by our leaders to get a free-trade deal in the 1980s, GM would have been unable to close the plant because the Big Three automakers were required to produce as many vehicles as they sold in Canada. There were also Canadian content rules in place for auto parts.

COMMENTARY COUNTERPOINT: GM is behaving exactly as it should

Instead, since then, GM has closed one plant after another, starting with its Toronto-area Scarborough van plant in 1993, followed in 2004 by its assembly plant in Sainte-Thérèse, Que., the Oshawa truck plant in 2008 and the Windsor transmission plant in 2010. GM’s Canadian operations are now limited to two communities in southern Ontario: an assembly plant in Ingersoll and an engine plant in St. Catharines.

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General Motors of Canada has been part of Oshawa since 1918. Had the Canadian and Ontario governments placed more stringent conditions on the $3-billion bailout of GM in 2009, the Oshawa plant might have been saved.

For example, in 1979-80, the federal and Ontario governments helped bail out Chrysler on the condition that it reinvest hundreds of millions into its Canadian manufacturing plants.

The result was the reindustrialization of Ontario at a time when plants were closing in the United States.

Had the Canadian and Ontario governments not quietly sold off all their shares in GM (at a heavy loss) in 2016 that they acquired as a result of the bailout, then we might still have had the needed leverage to convince GM not to abandon Oshawa.

National Unifor president Jerry Dias, the union president who represents the Oshawa autoworkers, said as much at the time.

The union had used what negotiating power it had, pushing the Big Three to reinvest in Canada — but, without backup, it was not enough.

Industrial workers are thought to inhabit the past, not the present — even though the world hasn’t deindustrialized.

WATCH: Jerry Dias reacts to GM closure news

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There is a depressing inevitability to plant closings that prevent us from responding with more than platitudes. We have come to accept the structural violence of industrial plant closure as a fact of life. They have become normalized to such an extent that we may not even recognize plant closings as a form of violence.

Decades of internalized despair have broken out into open revolt against political “elites” across the deindustrialized world. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president (thanks to the five Rust Belt states that flipped from Obama to Trump) and the rise of right-wing populism are all tied to working-class rage.

So far, Canada has largely escaped this political tumult. But if our own political parties continue to fail working people, this too will change.The Conversation
Workers of Oshawa’s General Motors car assembly plant, listen to Jerry Dias, president of UNIFOR, the union representing the workers, at the union headquarters, in Oshawa, Ont. on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

Steven High is a professor of History, Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS), at Concordia University

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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