"Unauthorized strike" tells interesting story
Times are tough for Buzz Hargrove.
Following the 2006 federal election, wherein he violated NDP rules by supporting "strategic voting" (read: selling out to the Liberal party), his party membership was revoked. In retaliation, Hargrove called on all CAW members to renounce the New Democrats -- despite Jack Layton's assertion that he wouldn't have expelled Hargrove. Last month, Ontario bus driver Willie Lambert threw his hat into the ring to challenge Hargrove for the presidency of the Canadian Auto Workers union (also known as CAW).
Now, to make matters worse for Hargrove, CAW workers at a General Motor plants in Oshawa, Ontario have gone on what he refers to as an "unauthorized strike". The strike could cripple these operations, and threaten the jobs of hundreds, according to Hargrove.
The strike began in earnest on friday, more than a full day prior to a Saturday midnight deadline during which Hargrove and GM would continue to negotiate regarding wages and the quantity of future work.
Yet, somehow, Hargrove has a little rebellion on his hands. The workers that he claims to represent and work for have rejected his edict, and taken matters into their own hands. How could this be?
The answer to this question is simple: Hargrove simply may not have the trust of CAW members any longer. When he severed official ties between the CAW and the NDP, Hargrove removed the CAW from Canada's largest, most comprehensive labour coalition in Canada. All the other "big unions" (such as CUPE) remain aligned with the NDP. CAW leadership claimed they had a majority vote from CAW members, yet have never released an official vote tally to prove it.
Hargrove's hold over CAW has been reported to be tenuous for some time now. At many CAW protests, many members have been spotted wearing "Buzz Off" T-shirts that were distributed within the union by Hargrove's rivals.
The prognosis is evidently clear.
After fourteen years of holding the CAW presidency (he was first acclaimed as CAW president in 1992, and has never been defeated), it's become obvious that Hargrove has become unable to separate his own interests from that of the CAW, or the workers he represents. In March, Hargrove insisted that "the action of the Ontario NDP is a direct attack on the CAW and our members."
Combine this with the fallout from his election-time abandonment of the NDP and subsequent denunciation of them, then consider the fact that this took up much of the time that Hargrove should have been using to try to and protect his workers from Ford lay-offs, and the picture becomes clear.
Buzz Hargrove is not as in charge as he would like a lot of people to believe. But then again, this may not be a very recent development. On www.westernstandard.ca (on January 26), a CAW member identifying himsefl as "Chazz", wrote: " As a CAW member in Ontario, I can tell you that Buzz is absolutely despised by many union people at the local level and the national level. He should have stepped aside before the last CAW elections, but he hung on."
It could be considered in terms of the butterfly effect. Hargrove got a little too comfortable in his position, and a ripple started. As years progressed, and he became bolder and bolder, he eventually alienated much of his party membership, and these waves are now climbing ever higher. A 2005 settlement between GM and CAW that many workers were disatisfied with (but Hargrove considered satisfactory) may turn out to be the tsunami that erradicates Hargrove's CAW presidency.
In the end, Hargrove may simply have forgotten where he came from. A ROB Magazine salary survey reports that Hargrove earns $131,110.00 per year... probably much more than the rank-and-file CAW members whom he "represents". It isn't terribly likely that the average CAW worker earns that kind of scratch.
As a result, Hargrove's complacency began to shine through in spectacular ways. In 2005, Hargrove announced, " It's inevitable that we'll face some downsizing at GM, as we do at the other two companies. That's the pack of cards we're playing with."
Yet somehow, Hargrove's own job was secure enough that he could spend precious time climbing into bed with Paul Martin and the Liberal party -- time that should have been spent trying to save CAW jobs.
In the end, Chazz himself may describe Hargrove's trouble's best: " ...Like the federal government, change is needed right now at the CAW. Buzz's days are numbered. Not a minute too soon."
The time for CAW to have a president who will actually stand up for workers -- and not pursue his own ill-concieved political career -- has long passed.