Green Dreams: Unifor Releases New Economic Strategy for Canada
Unifor hopes to sway the Canadian government toward an automotive strategy centered around the adoption and manufacturing of electric vehicles and a totally revised economic system. On Wednesday, the union released its “Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery” while announcing that corporations have failed everyone.
It’s all part the campaign, which sees the coronavirus pandemic that made 2020 a collective — yet strangely isolating — hell for all of us as a unique opportunity to rebuild society under the banner of economic justice. “Unifor’s plan is designed to build a more strategic and self-reliant economy that can both withstand and prevent future crises,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in the initial announcement.
“This is an ambitious road map but I think ambition is what our country and its workers need right now.”
The union will engage in contract negotiations with Detroit automakers later this year, so this could be seen as a preamble for the main event. It gives us a good idea of what Unifor will be requesting and what the public is willing to embrace — as each page of the strategy includes a petition at the bottom.
We begin with climate change and green technologies.
Unifor believes Canada needs to make an overt effort to meet its commitments to the environment, saying leadership must “put in place measures necessary to spark a virtuous cycle that benefits both the environment and workers.” That includes bolstering public transit, establishing a targeted energy industry support program and Federal Just Transition fund, setting up a tripartite model for advisory groups and oversight bodies in relation to green transition and climate issues, and holding automakers accountable for not meeting stated commitments to build zero-emission vehicles.
Under the proposals Canada would enact focused subsidies and investments into battery tech, the construction of a nationwide fast-charging network, and new incentives to spur consumer EV adoption and the formation of green jobs at the expense of less environmentally friendly positions.
(Ontario residents might be wise to recall the past decade and a half. – Ed)
Unifor also proposed creating a federal minimum wage pegged at 60 percent of the median hourly wage of all full-time workers, adding that the absolute minimum would be $15 per hour. From there, the income would be linked to the Consumer Price Index or national average annual wage bumps — whichever ends up giving workers more money. The union would also like to see a 4-day work week or simply providing more vacation/sick leave for employees.
“Tomorrow’s economy cannot look like the one that we left behind, where essential workers could barely get by on low wages, could not access sick pay, and where the social safety net failed them,” Dias said. “Eventually this crisis will end and we want to ensure that a more fair, inclusive, and resilient economy takes shape on the other side.”
The union likewise wants the government to take automakers to task before issuing any bailout packages, à la the last big recession. Unifor basically confessed that it thought the federal and Ontario governments’ approach to saving GM and Chrysler in 2009 left a lot to be desired. In the future, it would like to see the government maintain control of companies accepting financial relief for longer periods, forcing investments in Canadian manufacturing and enforcing stronger job protections.
“Clearly, it was a short-sighted decision by both the federal and Ontario governments to sell their equity stakes in GM and Chrysler as the industry recovered,” the union said. “Governments could have leveraged the power they held as shareholders to entice further investment in the Canadian auto industry. Instead, they used the proceeds to balance their own budgets.”
Truth be told, some of this stuff sounds like the kind of thing guaranteed to scare some manufacturers into skipping town. But it isn’t wrong about corporations taking the big slice of pie for itself during times of trouble. We’re sure it’ll argue money with Detroit like mad this year until a compromise is reached. But the green initiatives could be harder to swallow.
The automotive industry has a clear interest in electric vehicles, but it’s grown cautious as costly development programs have been slow to bear fruit. Whatever plans are in place to advance EV adoption, they need to be balanced with the present-day realities of the technology to avoid wasting investments. Loads of analysis suggested less complicated EVs would require fewer hands to build, making industry job losses a likelihood. However, completely ignoring green tech would also be a mistake, requiring the industry to find a balance point nobody seems to have figured out just yet.
Unifor wants to enact some really dramatic changes, going so far as to suggest the current economic structure has failed us completely and needs to be redone. While that’s a truly scary prospect, and may look rather bad with benefit of hindsight, one cannot argue that the status quo has left something to be desired in 2020. Some of that can be laid at the door of aggressive lockdown protocols that nuked the economy. But corporations have also shown a willingness to really screw the little guy when it helps their bottom line — making the union’s ire less than surprising.
“The current economic crisis will almost certainly prove to be the worst economic downturn in modern history,” the union prophesied. “The response to this crisis must be equally unprecedented in order to stave off the worst effects a downturn can bring. The devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic had opened many eyes to the inequality and unfairness that is at the root of our current economic system.”
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Some interesting themes here and more thoughtful than I would have expected. Instead of pandering to any kind of 'green new deal' I would have liked the language to focus more on making Canada a centre of research/development in EVs (but R&D people are typically not union members, are they). Some interesting thoughts on bailouts, why is it we are expected to tolerate socialism of private corporate debt? It's pretty obvious this document was directed at Prime Minister Trudeau more than their own members.
As Lord Black of Crossharbour, wrote extensively, rather than bailing out Chrysler, the government of Canada (with assistance from Ontario) should have purchased its assets/operations outright. Chrysler has large facilities Windsor (Caravan) and Brampton (300, Charger, Challenger) that have no new product in site. Much like the now moribund GM plant in Oshawa. Surely the government of Canada could not do any worse than the governments of France, Italy and Saxony which own major shares in auto manufacturers? Although there is the possibility that they could pull a 'British Leyland'. Unfortunately my old hockey teammate Jerry Dias never pushed this option.