PMP Stands for "Politicize, Mobilize, and Power": Priority #8: Integrate Unemployed Workers (Union and Non-Union) into the Fightback
Ng, Winne, Labour/Le Travail
ON JUNE 30, 2008, Progressive Moulded Products (PMP, the largest employer in Vaughan, Ont.) filed for bankruptcy protection and closed its eleven facilities. The company closed up shop owing its 2400 workers a total of over $30 million in severance and termination pay. Ninety per cent of these non-union workers were born outside of Canada. The realization that they were used, abused, and now tossed aside like scrap metal, ironically on the Canada Day long weekend, completely shattered their notion of Canada as a society that upholds fairness and human rights. The resulting shock and sense of betrayal inspired the workers to stage a sixteen-day round-the-clock blockade to stop the company from removing heavy machinery from the main plant.
For these workers, predominantly workers of colour, turning rage into collective action and resistance was an extraordinary act of defiance. Their strength, courage, and sense of justice captured the support, respect, and imagination of the labour movement in Toronto. Other unions organized a two-week solidarity picket involving activists from various unions marching alongside the former PMP workers; this solidarity action exemplified the essence of community and social justice unionism.
The caw stepped forward to act as a sponsoring organization with the provincial government, in order to establish the PMP Workers' Action Centre to provide support services to the unemployed PMP workers. Fa Lim, one of leaders of the blockade and now the Centre's internal coordinator, aptly describes the CAw's action as akin to "offering us a lifeline when we were drowning."
The Action Centre has been warmly embraced by the PMP workers as their "second home". The Centre is grounded in the principle that workers who are going through job loss themselves are the most appropriate persons to provide support and assistance to their fellow workers. The Centre has become not just a source of practical assistance and support (for job search, referrals, and more). It has become, more importantly, an organizing base where victims of plant closure are transformed into social change activists. Over 60 workers have volunteered as peer helpers or committee members. From assisting their former co-workers (over 1900) to file for severance and termination pay claims, to mobilizing them to march in the leading contingent of last year's Toronto Labour Day Parade, these activists have applied the same intensity and generosity of spirit, they demonstrated on the picket line to the day-to-day running of the Centre.
For many, it has been a journey of recovery and transformation. They have found their own voices, participated in rallies, and gained the confidence to speak up. As a result, more stories of past workplace discrimination have emerged. In as much as this transition has been a period of grieving over their lost jobs and their sense of workplace community, it has also been a healing process of asserting their own continuing presence as workers with rights, dignity, and voice.
This has also .been a politicizing process for many of the PMP workers, as they experience the injustice of federal bankruptcy law which places them at the bottom of the list as "non-secured creditors," despite their many years of service. They are now keenly aware that they are casualties of a legalized fraud that dismisses workers as powerless, and therefore, insignificant and irrelevant.
The PMP experience demonstrates that there are many non-union workers in the community who also bear the brunt of economic restructuring (despite the focus of the media and politicians on higher-profile crises at unionized firms, like General Motors, AbitibiBowater, or Air Canada). Displaced non-union workers generally must face the stress and challenges of job loss without the support of an action centre or adjustment program (of the sort regularly negotiated in unionized plant-closure situations). …