The smell was sweet but the sound was sour as about 50 protesters, including several laid-off Kellogg workers, rallied in front of the Dundas Street East plant Saturday (Feb. 1).
The crowd formed up from a number of social justice groups and unions including The Council of Canadians, CUPE, and the Bakers, Confectioners, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union Local 154g, which represents the more than 500 people who will be out of work when the plant closes at the end of this year.
Trade Justice London chair Jennifer Chesnut and London and District Labour Council chair Patti Dalton, both London teachers, organized the rally, the second this week to decry more job losses in London after a rally for Canada Post workers took place on Highbury Avenue Monday afternoon (Jan. 27).
Though focused on the still-raw wound the Kellogg closure will leave on London’s labour landscape, the event also marked the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and included the Forest City with about 50 others around the world in marking the Inter-Continental Day of Trade Action.
According to Chesnut the Canadian economy created half as many jobs in the first 13 years of NAFTA as it did in the 13 years before the accord was signed.
The Council has fallen in with dozens of groups, including Canadian city councils like Toronto that have declared they do not want to be a part of what they say will be the next slow motion disaster for this country’s economy, the Canadian European Trade Agreement (CETA), which the federal government is negotiating behind closed doors with the European Union.
The text of the agreement has never been revealed to the public through the House of Commons, and critics are worried it could open up procurement policies of local governments and allow foreign firms to bid on city contracts like infrastructure construction and utility (water) management.
Toronto council went so far as to call for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s resignation over the issue in November.
“We need to invest in research and sell our products to the world, sell our natural resources more selectively and refuse to sign trade agreements that allow private corporations to sue the government,” Chesnut said. “We’ve defeated these people before,” Chesnut said. “We defeated the FTAA (Fair Trade Area of the Americas). We’re just regular people, but we each have a small piece to play.”
Ann Slater, vice-president of policy for the National Farmers Union, said southwestern Ontario farmers need food processors and packers like Kellogg to sell high-value grains and produce to, but only if they are locally owned, not a multinational like Heinz.
“That (grain for Kellogg) was a high value product for local farmers, who will now be pushed into producing soy beans and corn for the export market,” she said. “We have to do something. We can’t just lay down and get run over.”
New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe) had inspiring words for the Canada Post employees in the group, saying it would take the federal government five years to dismantle the home delivery side of the business.
“That will give us time,” noting elections are definite or probable at all three levels of government in the next 18 months. “Door-to-door service is something Canadians expect and deserve and it’s delivered by people I trust.”
She said the New Democrats have been in pre-election mode since last summer, and have hired an organizer from President Barack Obama’s campaign to consult.
“It’s time to think about the next election,” she said. “They’re terrified of us.”
Larry Baird has been an industrial mechanic at Kellogg, looking after the enormous plant’s high-speed packaging lines that produce everything from tiny camp friendly perf-packs to the econo-size boxes you find at Costco, since 1981.
“I don’t know what company would be big enough that they produce so much product that they’d be able to utilize that space,” he said. “When that plant shuts down and they remove the equipment, I can’t imagine an employer anywhere else in Canada that could occupy that kind of space.”
The 57-year-old planned to work until at least 60. He brought the two daughters he has in post-secondary and his wife, who’s been working long hours for low pay in the hospitality industry, to the rally Saturday as proof he had no plans to retire in 2014.
He’s going to miss the “giant family” he works with the most, but with full pension eligibility, it’s not himself he’s most worried about. At 38, his son has 17 years in at the plant and won’t get a severance package anywhere near the same ballpark.
“There’s a lot at stake here, for not just me but for five or six hundred other people in there,” he said. “I guess the only thing feel comfortable about is fact still young, go back to school or find something else. But the problem is there aren’t really any jobs out there that pay the kind of money we’re accustomed to.
“It’s going to leave a huge hole.”