Boycott might be Unifor’s weapon of last resort in bid to save plant

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To boycott or not to boycott is the question Unifor President Jerry Dias must eventually answer when it comes to his plan of attack against General Motors, which has said it will close its Oshawa, Ont., assembly plant after 2019. Initially, the union called for Canadians to stop buying GM products — after 2019. 

The fiery union boss said again this week he “will never call for an outright boycott.” But that hasn’t always been the case — and it might not remain the case as his battle against General Motors drags on.

For example, Unifor Local 222, which represents about 2,600 workers at the factory, on Dec. 5 asked owners of GM vehicles to display lawn signs that read: 

“If GM pulls out of Oshawa, this is the last GM vehicle I buy.” 

The tone changed after the automaker reviewed — and rejected — union proposals to save the plant and told Dias as much in a face-to-face meeting in Detroit on Jan. 8. 

“We are not calling for a boycott, but we are asking Canadian consumers to continue showing their displeasure with this decision,” Dias told reporters after that Motown meeting. 

Three days later, at a rally in Windsor, Ont., on the banks of the Detroit River and in the shadow of GM’s world headquarters in Detroit, he reiterated the point three times. 

“At this moment, we are not calling for a boycott of GM vehicles,” Dias said. “But we will absolutely be talking very shortly, based on General Motors’ decision, about whether or not Canadian and American consumers should be buying GM vehicles built in Mexico.” 

One of Unifor’s proposals to save the Oshawa plant was to have GM move Chevrolet Blazer production there from Mexico. 

His brothers and sisters in the UAW in the United States have done what Dias has avoided; they have decided to boycott the Mexico-made Blazer. 

In a Jan. 4 letter to members, obtained by sibling publication Automobile News | tomobile.org, the leader of the union’s UAWGeneral Motors Department wrote he hoped “that not a single UAW member, family member ever purchase this vehicle unless it is made in the USA by our UAW members.”

It’s something a few vocal Unifor members want — and likely plan — to do given the fact there was more than a handful of protesters among the 2,000 in Windsor who made it known they wouldn’t buy GM again

But Dias might have good reason to not boycott — yet. 

It’s possible company executives warned him that if he called on Canadians to stop buying GM products, the CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., and the St. Catharines, Ont., propulsion plant could be next to close. 

And then there’s the point a Twitter user tweeted to me: He didn’t call for a boycott “‘cause he is getting major blowback from other locals that rely on GM products to sell. No hope. It’s gonna be a war now.” 

There’s no question Dias is prepping for war. He promised “one hell of a fight.” 

But, so far, bluster and flag-waving outside the windows of Detroit’s Renaissance Center and GM Canada’s headquarters hasn’t worked in getting GM’s attention.  

Few things hurt a brand more than bad public relations and dwindling sales — and right now, after a 30-per-cent drop in December sales, GM is acutely suffering both in Canada

A boycott might just be the only weapon Dias has left. 

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