If you want to see what a NAFTA-caused race to the bottom looks like, go to Ingersoll, Ontario.
In that picturesque town west of Toronto, workers at the CAMI automotive plant are on strike over a reasonable proposal that their employer, General Motors of Canada, refuses to accept. – enhanced job security language.
Like workers across Canada, they just want to know that their livelihoods, the stability of their communities and the prospect of a decent future for their children will not be lost to cheaper labour made available by trade deals that failed to take these needs into full consideration.
The members of Unifor Local 88 have asked General Motors for assurance that the plant, which has won many awards for the quality of their work, will continue to be the lead producer of the top-selling Equinox for the duration of their new collective agreement.
This is a live and very real issue that reveals the significant flaws in NAFTA. Just weeks ago, workers at the Ingersoll plant saw production of the Terrain move to Mexico, resulting in some 600 layoffs of good unionized jobs.
The Equinox, now the only vehicle assembled at CAMI, is also produced in Mexico. The 2,500 workers at the plant aren’t asking that the vehicle only be made in Ingersoll, and nowhere else, simply that they remain the lead plant.
It is not an unreasonable request. Drive along Ingersoll Street South, where the CAMI plant is located, and you’ll see plant after plant where workers are employed making parts and providing logistical support for CAMI.
Drive around the corner, and you’ll see a Tim Hortons where managers have been known to call the union hall asking whether there’s an extra shift on at the plant, so they know how many workers they’ll need to fill demand.
In short, this is a town where the community knows how important the CAMI plant is to their economic viability.
"[The strike] affects everyone," Lori Perkins, who works at a plant across the street that supplies CAMI, told the CBC. "From our fast food people to our grocery store to what we can afford. It affects everybody."
As Canadian, Mexican and American negotiators gather in Ottawa this weekend to begin the third round of talks toward a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement, the problems with the deal identified by the labour movement over the years are playing out right now in Ingersoll.
Such deals are written to serve the needs of big companies and corporate investors. Workers, such as those walking a picket line right now, were supposed to benefit when businesses do well.
It simply hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, we’ve seen manufacturing leave Canada for places such as Mexico. Trade deals such as NAFTA that contain no direct measures to meet the needs of workers, only encourage companies to move jobs to wherever they can get the work done most cheaply.
The case was even made when NAFTA was first coming into effect that the deal would lift Mexican workers out of poverty. This has not happened, either. In fact, despite nine of 11 new car plants in the last five years going to Mexico, poverty has remained unmoved since NAFTA came into place. With a 65-cent an hour minimum wage (80 pesos a day), Mexican workers can’t even afford to buy the cars built in the country.
Workers in Canada and the US have not benefited from NAFTA. Mexican workers have not benefited, either. Only the corporations have benefited, because the deal was written with a corporate lens to line the pockets of the rich, and that must change. It’s time for workers, the 99 per cent, to get a fair share.
This weekend, with the third round of talks kicking off to renegotiate NAFTA, there is a chance to fix the inequities and misplaced priorities of the original trade deal.
Progressive voices warned a generation ago that NAFTA, and similar trade agreements that followed, would hurt working people. We were right.
Before another generation goes by, it is imperative that we – you, me, trade unions, progressive organizations and community groups - come together to make a clear demand on our government fix NAFTA and make the needs of all workers - Canadian, Mexican and American - the top priority.