A proposal to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production under public and worker ownership

gm oshawaTriple Bottom Line Preliminary Feasibility Study of the GM Oshawa Facility: Possibilities for Sustainable Community Wealth was released in September 2019 by Green Jobs Oshawa  – a coalition of workers, community leaders, environmentalists, labour and social justice advocates whose goal is to  re-purpose the soon-to-be-shuttered GM Oshawa auto assembly plant “for socially beneficial manufacturing.”

The call to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production has been made before – notably by Sam Gindin, as part of a Lucas Plan-style conversion, and by journalist Linda McQuaig, most recently in her new book The Sport & Prey of Capitalists . But the new Triple Bottom Line feasibility study fleshes out these goals with facts and figures: it  estimates that a  public investment of $1.4 to $1.9 billion would be required to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) production, which, when supported by government procurement of the vehicles, would result in financial break-even by year 4, and create over 13,000 jobs (up to 2,900 jobs in parts supply and manufacturing) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.

The Triple Bottom Line study was written by Russ Christianson,  a consultant and active proponent of worker cooperatives. He uses “a triple bottom line evaluation”, including: 1. an economic analysis of the current and future auto industry market, capital investment required, skills and equipment available at the GM facility and in the community, and the potential new products that could be manufactured. 2. Social needs in the Oshawa community for well-paid, dignified work , and 3. “How production at the plant can address the defining issue of our times, climate catastrophe”.

Some Highlights from the report: 

“By paying a good wage to auto workers – this study proposes the existing GM Oshawa tier 1 wage of $35 per hour for assembly workers – it will be possible to gain the workers’ commitment by investing in their jobs through shared-ownership of the new organization.”

“Governments will need to negotiate alongside the workers and community to gain public ownership of the GM Oshawa plant. The financial forecasts include a start-up investment of $10,000 from each of the workers combined with community investment for a total of $37.5 million in Scenario 1, and Scenario 2 estimates $25 million in investment from workers and the community.”

“By the end of year 5, the forecasts show that BEVs will represent 30 to 40 percent of these governments’ total fleets, except for Canada Post, which (like the U.S. Postal Service) is expected to replace the majority of their delivery fleet vehicles with BEVs.”

The CBC reported on the launch of the feasibility study on September 21 in “Autoworkers at GM’s Oshawa plant ask feds for more than $1B to build electric vehicles”  and included commentary from supporters and detractors.  In support, the article quotes from an email by Olivier Trescases, head of the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre,  which stated: “I think that aiming for government owned EV fleets and electrified public transportation is strategically very important and more logical than trying to produce passenger cars though a Crown corporation.”

The potential of worker ownership to finance Just Transition – and other inspiring Canadian examples

briarpatch special issueSaskatchewan’s Briarpatch magazine has published a Special Issue on Just Transition. It is a treasure trove of inspiring on-the-ground perspectives and information from Canadians working for an economic  Just Transition. 

All the articles are worth reading, but here are some highlights:

How will we pay for a Just Transition”   expresses doubt that we can rely on the usual government policies to finance meaningful transition – for example, it reviews the One Million Climate Jobs campaign of the Green Economy Network and the inadequate response by the Trudeau government.  Instead, the article provides examples of more innovative models of worker ownership and cooperation which support redistribution of wealth and financial capital. First,  The Working World, which launched in 2015 in Buenos Aires to finance employee ownership of non-extractive businesses, and now administers a “financial commons” Peer Network .  The Working World has inspired other projects, such as the Just Transition Loan Fund and Incubator and the Reinvest in Our Power projects , being launched by the U.S. Climate Justice Alliance . The article discusses the role of philanthropy, specifically the U.S. Chorus Foundation, which states that it “works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.” In Canada, a much smaller similar philanthropic initiative is the Resource Movement,  a project of Tides Canada, which gathers “ young people with wealth and class privilege working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power.” 

Other articles: