They Made Cars and They Made Plans: Reds, the Rank and File, and International Solidarity Unionized GM

Published Date: November 1, 2024


Pub date, 1 Nov. 2024 – Pre-order now. Free shipping in North America.

Autoworkers in Oshawa unionized the General Motors plant in Oshawa in 1937 after a bitterly fought strike that pitted them against a rabidly anti-union government, hostile press and GM corporation. It was a major turning point in Canadian labour history. Crucial factors contributing to the strike’s success include the historical background of working-class struggle in the community, patient and courageous prior organizing by Communists, the engaged leadership of rank-and-file GM workers, and the solid support of the United Autoworkers International Union.

The author focuses on the voices and actions of rank-and-file workers and on the day-to-day events, many of which have been misunderstood or misinterpreted.

The Truth About the ’37 Oshawa GM Strike takes down the long-accepted—but false—narrative espoused by Irving Abella that the Oshawa workers were “on their own” without significant support from the UAW/CIO leadership and that they would have been better off not to organize under the banner of an international union. It also shows how that narrative fails to grasp the degree to which class struggle organizing principles were crucial to the strike’s success.

A true understanding of the ’37 strike provides valuable lessons for people seeking to revive the labour movement today.

Tony Leah is a long-time union activist with experience in bargaining, shop-floor representation, labor education, and political mobilization. A maintenance and construction welder with GM, Oshawa for nearly 40 years, he has held many positions within the Auto Workers Union at both Oshawa Local 222 and on the Canadian national level. Editor and author of many articles on labor history and activities, Tony Leah holds an MA in Labor Studies from McMaster University. He lives in Toronto.

Praise and reviews

“[A] remarkable piece of research… a real substantial original contribution to the historiography of not just the Local but of the history of the UAW and the CAW in Canada.” Professor Stephanie Ross, McMaster University School of Labour Studies.

“This really needs to be seen, in part because it offers an important re-interpretation of this event in Canadian labour history… beautifully crafted…. It’s clear, it’s thorough. It reads almost like a novel.” Wayne Lewchuk, Professor Emeritus, McMaster University School of Labour Studies

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