Responding to the five GM plant closings and 14,000 layoffs, former Canadian Auto Worker union Research Director Sam Gindin talks about alternative strategies to the neoliberal and right wing approaches that fail society
MARC STEINER: Welcome back to The Real News Network, I’m Marc Steiner, great to have you with us.
We’re going to continue our conversation with Sam Gindin about the closing of the auto plants in Canada and the United States, and really focusing here on what the future could be. So when you look at union movements in Canada, union movements in the United States, the flow of international capital being able to dominate everything despite the games that Trump might play with his words, I’m curious how you see that unfolding. You talked about taking over plants as they did in 30s, when the auto workers were actually first formed. But clearly, unions have to reinvigorate and reinvent themselves in many ways, and we have to reinvent what we mean by an economy. I mean, how do you see pushing for that? What do you see the bottom line issues are that will actually attract people to this kind of new conversation, without getting overly burdensome intellectually?
SAM GINDIN: Well, I think we’re in a new historical moment. I mean, if people want to know what the future holds, they can just project what’s been happening over the last 30 years in terms of inequality and insecurity, losing substantive democracy in terms of shaping things, what we expect things are going to be like for our kids. I mean, it’s not hard to see what the future holds. It’s going to be more of the same. The question is, do we want to change it? And what we’re learning is, the liberal movements used to think that this was all temporary, we’ll ride it out. Well, that didn’t happen. The labor movement thought that, well, maybe if we make some concessions, accept two tier wages, that will give us some security. It turns out that all they did was weaken the union, it led to people losing their confidence in the union.
Then people looked to – you know, sometimes they experimented with looking to somebody like Sanders. But what did happen in the States, what’s happening in Canada, is they turn to rightwing populists who gave them simple answers, attacked the elite, and spoke to their frustrations. Well, that’s being exposed right now. Now the challenge is on us, what are we going to do about it? And what you raised is the trade union movement is fundamental in this. You know, sparks can come from anywhere, they can come from a new, radicalized student movement, it can come from people fighting around racism, it can come from movements defending immigrants, but unless the trade union movement is there, it’s hard to imagine this being sustained.
So part of what this is a discussion about is how do you revive the labor movement? And the revival of the labor movement, I think, depends on two things. One is it has to take advantage of these kinds of moments. Advantage might not be the right word, but it has to respond to these kinds of moments in a way that doesn’t just show how weak they really are, because they say a lot but do nothing. So they have to actually act, I think that is critical. And there is so much frustration out there and so much appetite for change that if some decisive actions took place or people really did things like occupy plants, it would be seen sympathetically. It would give people other ideas, maybe not occupying plants but other creative ideas. That’s one thing.
And the other thing we really have to talk about is that we need an organized left. What happened in the 30s was related to there being parties of the working class, socialists and communists. And if the problems are so big, they can’t just be solved by unions working in isolation. We’re going to need to have socialist parties which have feet in the union movement but feet also outside and are going to make links with a community and can develop larger plans, develop the skills amongst people to understand what’s going on, to strategize, to debate these issues democratically, to organize and to act. These are intimidating and almost overwhelming things, but unless we start thinking this way all we’re going to get is just a projection of what we have now.
So at that level, that’s the choice. Do we want to become more radical or do we want to just continue where we are? And because the choices are so polarized, you either give in to the corporations or you have to become radical, what it means is that the radical is actually the only thing that’s becoming practical. To give them subsidies doesn’t work, to give them concessions doesn’t work. What are you going to do? And the only alternative, what’s becoming practical is actually the radical.
MARC STEINER: And it seems in many ways that that solution – there’s very little you can do to stop these plants from closing people out at this moment. Clearly, that’s going to happen, which means all these workers will be out of work.
SAM GINDIN: Yeah, I wouldn’t criticize people for trying to say, “Well, give us another model, or do the electric car there.” I mean, they should do that, but they’ve made it pretty clear that they don’t think we’ve got the power to do this and they’ve got their interest.
MARC STEINER: And you’ve got people now that you’re seeing, whether it’s the Sanders campaign, other things going on around this country, right or left, which you just said. You’re seeing people who are accepting radical ideas because they know that what’s given to them now is pablum and it’s not working.
SAM GINDIN: Yes. And the corollary of that is that people are ready for something, and that something has to be organized so it really brings them together and gives them hope. Because what your expectations are depends on what you think is possible, and what you think is possible is going to depend on what kind of structures there are that you can work through. And if you don’t think you can work through your union to change things, because all your union is offering is concessions, you’re not going to go there. So we have to build those things. We have to renew our unions, but we also have to start thinking about building organizational capacities in communities, and also nationally, in terms of political parties.
MARC STEINER: So Sam Gindin was Research Director for the Canadian Auto Workers from 74 to 2000, and cowrote the book, The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. And Sam, it’s always great to hear your thoughts and ideas. Thank you so much for joining us. Great to have you with us here on The Real News.
SAM GINDIN: Thanks, great to be here.
MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. We’ll be covering this some more. Take care.