Harper trying to buy union votes: Hargrove
Nicolas Van Praet , Canwest News Service
Published: Saturday, September 06, 2008
TORONTO - Canada's most prominent union leader raised his middle finger in disgust over Stephen Harper's Conservative government Saturday, accusing the prime minister of trying to buy the votes of auto workers in an election campaign that will start Sunday.
In his last speech before stepping down as president of the Canadian Auto Workers, the country's largest private sector union, Buzz Hargrove said the prime minister has ignored pleas to help the auto industry financially for three years only to find money just days before an election call.
"This is a government that we've been meeting for three years and that has said time after time not only to us personally but in public that 'we will not support any industry, we're not going to put any money into an auto plant, we're not going to pick winner and losers'," Mr. Hargrove told hundreds of CAW delegates gathered at a special convention in downtown Toronto. "Yet four or five days before an election call, they find over $300-million. Not to help the industry - they don't give a damn about the industry. Not to help the workers and families and communities.
"They don't give a damn about them. They're doing it trying to convince people that they're good people and they want to buy the votes of the auto workers. Well we should send them a message today that this is what we think of their effort," he said while raising his middle finger to rousing applause from his members.
The defiant political statement was unusual for Hargrove, who has generally remained polite in his otherwise scathing public criticism of the federal Tories.
Harper announced last week that his government would commit up to $80-million to help Ford Motor Co. develop a new line of engines at a plant in Windsor, Ontario.
The government also disclosed Saturday that it has struck a special deal with General Motors Corp. that will see the automaker spend $290-million to expand production at GM transmission facility in St. Catharines, build a new hybrid vehicle at its Oshawa, Ont. car plant, and boost research work on electric vehicles at its Oshawa engineering centre.
To help the company finance the investment, both the Ontario and federal governments will suspend loan repayments owed to them by GM worth an estimated $25-million to each government. The repayments were triggered when GM announced it would close its Oshawa pickup truck plant earlier this year.
Hargrove, who campaigned with former Liberal leader Paul Martin in the 2006 federal election, urged union members to vote "selectively" to defeat the Tories this time. Several Ontario ridings, such as Oshawa, are auto manufacturing areas that could emerge as key battle grounds as the Conservatives hunt for a majority government.
Hargrove has been CAW leader, and arguably the most recognizable public face of organized labour in the country, since 1992. He leaves a union under pressure to replace the dues of thousands of auto workers who have lost their jobs, largely in the manufacturing belt of Ontario and Quebec. Since 2005, the CAW has seen its membership decrease by 10,000 people. It now represent 255,000 workers.
As expected, delegates at the CAW convention elected Windsor, Ont. labour leader Ken Lewenza, head of a big CAW local representing workers at Chrysler LLC's minivan plant, to become the new CAW president.
Michael Lynk, associate dean of the University of Western Ontario's faculty of law, said Mr. Lewenza may be the last in a line of autoworkers who dominate the CAW. The union has expanded into other sectors such as health care and services, but the union leadership does not reflect that, he said. "They still largely operate out of an older instinct that comes out of manufacturing."
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Lewenza characterized Mr. Harper as an ultra-conservative bent on destroying the rights of organized labour.
"We've got to stop him in his tracks," he said, vowing to "strategically work" in ridings where the union believes it can influence the vote.
© Canwest News Service 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Posted by Fillibluster at 10:18 PM