National trade discussion starts in Ingersoll
Essex MP Tracey Ramsay, who is also the NDP critic on international trade, was among the guest speakers at a town hall meeting on trade agreements at the Unifor Hall in Ingersoll on Tuesday, July 11. Organized by Unifor Local 88, the pilot meeting titled People's Trade: A New Agenda for Trade Agreements will set in motion a national discussion on trade deals ahead of the 2019 federal election. JOHN TAPLEY/INGERSOLL TIMES
About 100 people, from as far away as Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Vancouver and Montreal, gathered in Ingersoll on Tuesday to set in motion a national discussion about trade deals ahead of the 2019 federal election.
Organized by Unifor Local 88, the pilot town hall meeting titled People's Trade: A New Agenda for Trade Agreements was a forum to talk about the negative effects the agreements have had on several Canadian industries.
“We're hoping to move forward with similar town halls right across the country,” said Roland Kiehne, director of Unifor's membership mobilization and political action department.
He said that while Unifor is launching the initiative, it will be reaching out to all segments of society to join in the discussion and set a new agenda for trade agreements.
The effort will culminate in a rally in Ottawa, Kiehne said, and a document on trade that will be put to candidates in the 2019 federal election.
“We are sick and tired, quite frankly, of trade agreements that do nothing for workers, but do everything for corporations,” he said.
Dan Borthwick, president of Unifor Local 88, said more than 6,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Oxford County and surrounding area in the past several years, losses that can be attributed to trade agreements.
Ingersoll's CAMI assembly plant has been the sole producer of the GMC Terrain since 2010, but GM announced in early 2017 that production of the next generation of Terrain would be relocated to Mexico. The company said the move was due to a lack of plant capacity in Ingersoll, which also produces the Chevrolet Equinox.
That announcement was followed up by news that production of the current generation of Equinox would end one year early and that 625 of the plant's 3,000 workers would be laid off.
Borthwick said ending production of the Equinox early created plant capacity for the next generation of Terrain to be built in Ingersoll.
“We can produce that volume here,” he said.
Every automotive assembly job lost results in seven more “spin off” job losses, Borthwick said.
It's time for change and a new agenda on trade agreements, he said.
“It's time (the North American Free Trade Agreement) be renegotiated and we've been calling for that for 20 years.”
Guest speakers at Tuesday's session included Tracey Ramsay, MP for Essex and the NDP's international trade critic, Sujata Dey, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians and Kelly Gilson, executive director of the United Way of Oxford.
There was also a presentation on building a people's agenda for trade by Angelo Dicaro, a researcher with Unifor.
“Trade deals are responsible for an incredible amount of jobs bleeding out of our country,” said Ramsay, who spent 20 years working at Ford before she was elected to Parliament.
Having been laid off from Ford in 2008, she said she understands the impact layoffs have on individuals and families.
“I know what that feels like,” Ramsay said.
In discussing trade deals, Ramsay said the word sector comes up a lot, but really “they're talking about people and families.”
“Working people continue to be an after thought in trade deals and that has to change,” she said.
Vice chair of the Standing Committee on International Trade, Ramsay said the committee overwhelmingly hears from corporations when it comes to discussions about trade.
“We've never seen the benefits of these trade deals,” she said. “Who has benefited? Corporations.”
Sujata Dey said the Council of Canadians has “sounded the alarm” as far back as 1988 with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
“These are corporate deals,” she said. “These are corporations coming together (and saying) what are the rules and how are we going to set them?”
Dey said even where talks on trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada European Union Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership are held isn't made made public.
“We're not part of the process,” she said. “Even Parliament doesn't have a say. It can either implement (the deal) or not.”
Trade agreements are “vectors for inequality,” Dey said.
“The rules that we have are made to protect corporations.”
With many people around the world protesting trade agreements, Dey said globalization “is an issue.”
“We need your ideas on how we're going to fix it.”
As executive director of the United Way of Oxford, Gilson said manufacturing jobs directly affect the community in many ways.
“I see every day, every single day, the impact those jobs and those companies (that provide jobs) have on the community,” she said.
Gilson said workers at CAMI have donated $9.5 million to the United Way since 1988 and 40% of the United Way of Oxford's annual budget comes from workers at CAMI and the Toyota plant in Woodstock.
“It's instrumental to the work we do,” she said. “Those donations have changed countless lives for the better.”
DiCaro touched on the history of trade and trade agreements.
“It's extraordinary the kind of power corporations grab under free trade agreements,” he said, noting that companies regularly defend their positions through lawsuits.
For example, the Buy Ontario rules for wind and solar products that said a percentage of materials used in the power generation projects must be manufactured in the province were struck down by the World Trade Organization in 2012.
DiCaro said corporations have fostered the perception that “if you are opposed to free trade, you're opposed to the progress of civilization.”
Following the presentation, table groups were asked to come up with answers to three discussion questions. They were:
Draw on your own experiences. Does trade affect your day-to-day life: your work, your family, your community? If so, how?
Let's wipe the current trade policy chalkboard clean. Imagine us starting over. If we were to establish a set of new trade goals, what would they be? Be as general or as specific as you like.
Think creatively. What are some of the things we can do to ensure that these goals are achieved? Who do we need to influence, and how do we do it?
Answers to the questions were recorded by organizers as they were reported.
With 32 years in the automotive industry, Dave Atkinson works at GM's parts depot in Woodstock – his fourth GM plant after having worked at the trim plant in Windsor, the transmission plant in Windsor and the truck plant in Oshawa.
Seven years of his career were lost to layoffs.
“There's several of us (at the Woodstock parts plant) who have been through that,” he said. “All of us, we're just chasing the pension now.”
Hoping to retire in a little over a year, Atkinson said his main concern now is for his teenaged daughter who will be looking for a job in a couple of years.
He said he turned out to Tuesday's town hall for information and education and appreciated that action on the trade issue is being taken.
“It's good to get on board now,” he said. “It's overdue, but better late than never.”
Nicole Lambert, who has worked at CAMI since 1991 and been through one layoff, was also enthusiastic about the meeting and the plan to roll out similar events across Canada.
“I think it's great,” she said. “I think being the pilot (meeting) it's exciting to be part of that very first one. I think there's going to be good things come of it.”