The Capitalist versus the Proletarian: The Adversarial Relationship Continues

Any of us who has had some exposure to Labour Relations (LR) knows that the relationship is fundamentally adverse in nature and has been since the industrial revolution of the 1800s.

Labour and management seem to get along for periods of time, but in the end the balance of power shifts and one party takes the route of conflict to try to improve its position against the other side.

There has not been a better illustration of this adverse relationship than the one that played out on Super Bowl Sunday.  As the two football teams battled it out in a very slow and sleepy football game this past February, another battle was being waged between the capitalist systems and the proletarian. The former being represented by General Motors (GM), and the latter by Unifor, the union that represents a majority of Canadian Autoworkers.

GM, the largest employer in Oshawa, announced last November that after 100 years of production, it would be closing down its Oshawa plant at the end of the year.

It is obvious why the union is upset about the plant closing. A union’s reason to exist is to help workers with employment, obtain better wages, as well as fair working conditions for their members. When that is gone so is the union’s purpose. However, this adversarial relationship story goes much deeper.

In 2008, GM received a $10 billion bailout by the provincial and federal governments and according to the Globe and Mail, Canadian taxpayers have been shorted by GM to the tune of $3.5 billion dollars.

Click here to read the Globe and Mail article.

Unifor placed a TV advertisement during the Super Bowl calling out GM and trying to shame the company for their actions. The ad ends with the following comment:

“You may have forgotten our generosity, but we’ll never forget your greed.” – Unifor Advertisement February 2019

To view the advertisement click here.

As we all know, companies are very protective of their brand and do not want to be chastised in public. GM responded by sending a letter, which threatened to sue Unifor.

“While GM respects Unifor’s rights to protest, we cannot condone purposely misleading the Canadian public,” the letter said.

So, the conflict between workers and the capitalist continues, but who is right? Does a company have moral obligations or is it just business? Each one of us in HR will have to reflect on that question.

Discussion Questions

After watching the Unifor GM advertisement and reading GM’s complaints, discuss the validity of the Unifor ad under Canadian Law, and consider the following questions:

  • Is this advertisement legal? If yes, support your answer, if no support your answer.
  • Do you think Unifor’s ad will have any impact? Explain your position.
  • Why do you think Unifor chose to run a boycott campaign?
  • Do you think a union running a product boycott campaign has any effect?