Requiem for a Union Town

How the fight went out of Windsor

Photograph courtesy of the Windsor Star
Photograph courtesy of the Windsor Star
Photographs courtesy of the Windsor Star Workers march out of Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant minutes before a 1982 strike deadline.

When the telephone rang, it was about 8:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9, and Mike Melo was sitting on the couch watching TV at his parents’ home in Windsor, Ontario. The woman on the other end identified herself as the human resources manager at the stamping plant where he had worked for twelve years at a job that paid him $21 an hour. Chrysler was ordering an immediate halt to production, she told him. Neither he nor any of the shop’s other twenty-eight employees were to show up the next morning. They were laid off—effective immediately.

Melo is thirty-four years old, with dark hair, a medium build, and a goatee. He often wears a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, and carries himself with a confidence suggesting that in his youth he would have been one of the boys picking teams at the local sandlot. At his stamping plant, Aramco, owned by American auto supplier Catalina Precision Products, he was the union steward—the elected leader who represents workers in their dealings with management.

Ontario labour law dictates that terminated employees receive severance pay according to their seniority, but when termination results from a shop closure, there’s a strong risk that workers will get no severance at all. Melo felt certain Aramco was shutting down permanently. One of two plants formerly owned by a pair of local brothers, it made hood hinges, battery trays, and tail light casements for such Chrysler vehicles as the Dodge Dakota and Ram pickup trucks. Catalina had bought Aramco and the other shop, Aradco, in September 2006, hoping to get work from other manufacturers. When that plan failed, worrisome signs began to crop up: if a gear snapped in a press, managers opted to weld it back together rather than buy a new one. Instead of repairing forklifts, they parked the vehicles and forgot about them. “It was just a feeling you got,” says Melo, “that things were going downhill.”

Melo belonged to caw Local 195, the oldest automotive local in the country. Shortly after receiving the phone call, he began getting in touch with his union brothers and sisters: his vice-chair, Pat Ganney; the national representative to the caw, his good friend Mike Renaud; and dozens of others. At some point during the speed dialing, the idea of a blockade was proposed and agreed upon. “It was almost a given,” says Melo. “In this situation, here’s what you do.”

According to the union’s calculations, Catalina’s two shuttered shops owed their eighty-odd employees about $1.5 million in back pay, vacation pay, and severance. Melo and his co-workers believed the only way they’d get it was by holding the equipment at the shops hostage—in particular the Chrysler-owned moulds (commonly referred to as “tools”) that were the most valuable assets in the plants.

The workers began arriving at the Aramco parking lot around 6:30 Tuesday morning. It only had two gates, and thus only two spots accessible by tractor-trailer. The union members set about blocking these off with their North American–made vehicles. Then they dragged over some picnic benches, opened their Tim Hortons cups, and sat down for a long wait. Over at Aradco, a similar scene was unfolding.

The first of Chrysler’s trucks showed up at Aramco on Thursday. It encountered a line of workers set up across the yard entrance. For a while, the driver idled his rig in front of them, creating a standoff that looked like a small-scale Tiananmen Square. Eventually the truck left. It was early in the following week before another one showed up, this time accompanied by Windsor police cruisers. The workers again stood firm, and again the truck withdrew.

Without parts from Catalina’s two shops, Chrysler assembly lines across North America faced wide-ranging production stoppages that were certain to cost the company—already facing bankruptcy—millions of dollars a day. Six days after the protest started, the company responded, offering Local 195 a severance package of $205,000, to be distributed among shop employees entitled to vacation pay that year. Local president Gerry Farnham endorsed the deal, saying it was the best the union could hope for. But the workers disagreed; that evening, 64 percent of them rejected the offer.

At that point, Melo and other union reps began to discuss breaking into one of the plants and barricading themselves inside. Lawyers representing Chrysler and the union were arguing over whether the automaker was legally allowed to force its way into the Catalina shops. The workers knew that if a judge granted the company an injunction to enter the plants, the only way to prolong the protest would be an occupation. “We were ready to do what we had to do,” Melo says.

This was just the sort of fight Windsor had been spoiling for. A feeling of injustice pervaded the city as the recession began to take its toll. No burg in Canada is as dependent on automobile manufacturing as Windsor, where Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors have been the top three employers for years. According to the city’s manufacturers directory, some 15,000 of Windsor’s 200,000 residents work directly for a Big Three automaker or a top-tier supplier. Thousands more work for stamping plants, tool and die shops, and mould makers. And thousands of others have jobs in the health care and service sectors that come and go depending on the number of North American vehicles sold in any given year. The result is an urban ecosystem almost entirely sustained by the production of cars and trucks.

Early in the year, everyone I spoke to told a story that illuminated the city’s distress. GM had announced plans to eliminate its Windsor Transmission Plant in 2010, effectively pulling out of town. Ford had laid off about 40 percent of its workers. The city’s unemployment rate was the highest of any urban area in the country. And then, at the beginning of March, came what may have been the most psychologically damaging blow of all: Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant, the economic marvel that had churned out minivans in twenty-four-hour, three-shift production cycles since 1993, was cutting a shift.

It wasn’t just the additional 1,200 employees who would now be out of work. It was an indication of the way things had changed. If people weren’t even buying utilitarian minivans, then the situation was worse than anyone thought. And it had symbolic significance. Chrysler, more than the other Big Three companies, occupies a special place in Windsor’s consciousness. Its Canadian headquarters is a prominent bump on the city’s skyline. The Peace Fountain, in a park on the Detroit River, memorializes Charlie Brooks, the man who founded Local 444 in the Chrysler Assembly Plant. And a former Chrysler executive lent his name to the city’s most travelled highway, the E. C. Row Expressway.

These are things you just know when you grow up in Windsor, as I did. And yet when I think of my hometown, my mind doesn’t summon images of assembly plants. In fact, I didn’t realize how integral the auto industry was to Windsor’s identity until after I left for university. Only then did I grasp what people meant by “blue collar,” and once I understood that Windsor epitomized the concept I spent a few years rolling my eyes at the mere mention of the place. I also worked on dropping some characteristic hometown traits, like the tendency to dismiss anyone with ambition as a keener or brown-noser, and the habit of pronouncing “them” as “thum.” During my last years in university, I was in a long-distance relationship with a girl from home. She was beautiful and smart, but we bickered endlessly over the future. I wasn’t moving back; she wasn’t moving away. Her excuse was the job she had on the line at “Ford’s.” I pushed her to switch from part-time studies at the University of Windsor to full time at some other school—a step that would have required her to give up her union job. She never did.

I married another girl, also from Windsor. We settled in Toronto. Now that we have kids, we sometimes discuss moving back. After years away from the place, I’ve grown to miss certain things about it. When I was a boy, my family lived on the north shore of Essex County, on a stretch of Lake St. Clair beachfront twenty minutes from downtown. From the vantage of our beach, you could see the smokestacks of Detroit and, on a clear day, the shore of Grosse Pointe, where the Ford family had a much-ogled lakefront property. The Canadian side of the lake was far more equitable. Most of my neighbours were auto workers, or people who enjoyed the benefits of an economy dominated by the industry. Back then, you were considered lucky if your parents were auto workers. You were set. When they were on the day shift, they arrived home at 4 p.m., so you could eat by 4:30 and still have a good four hours before bed. That left time for hockey games on the lakefront rink and snowmobile rides on the ice. Time for bike rides and water skiing. It wasn’t so much that the auto workers’ kids got Atari 2600s or Cooperalls; it was that their parents were around for them—for the soccer practices and hockey championships, the ballet recitals and fashion shows.

Windsorites didn’t define themselves by their jobs. That’s probably why I don’t think of cars when I think of Windsor; it’s certainly why my ex-girlfriend opted to settle for a factory job. Income calculated on what is now a base wage of $33 an hour, with health benefits and a guaranteed pension, allowed auto workers to concentrate on anything but their work. They defined themselves by their hobbies, whether it was photography or mountain biking. And they defined themselves by their familial responsibilities, their roles as fathers and mothers. Now that I have a family, I’ve come to understand that ours was a middle-class paradise, and that this paradise existed because of gains a radical and militant caw had won for its members over the years—gains that had trickled down, in turn, to eyeglass shop clerks, pizzeria owners, and members of the Windsor professional class (of whom my father was one). When auto sales were booming, when the overtime was rolling in, there wasn’t a better place in Canada to grow up.

Over the past few months, I’ve spent more time in Windsor than I have since I left seventeen years ago, thanks in part to my brother-in-law’s impending nuptials. The place has changed, particularly lately. Merchants have migrated from the once-thriving downtown to a booming commercial strip south of the airport, a process expedited by the city’s puzzling decision to move the largest municipal hockey arena, home to the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires, to a patch of scrubland on the east side. But most striking was the air of doom that pervaded nearly every interaction. There was a sense that circumstance was pushing the city from relative prosperity toward something else—and in those early months, while the Aramco/Aradco blockade still held, while Chrysler and GM both fought bankruptcy, the whole city seemed uncertain of how to shift the tide.

Photograph courtesy of the Windsor Star
Chrysler engine plant workers protest working conditions en route to the company’s Windsor personnel office, 1978.

Thirty years ago, Windsor—and Chrysler—faced a moment much like this one. In the autumn of 1979, the company teetered on the precipice of bankruptcy. It had positioned itself as a manufacturer of youthful cars, the hip counterpart to the more staid GM and Ford. But its Dodge Chargers and Plymouth Road Runners, with their neon paint jobs and hot rod engine packages, were never huge sellers. At its peak, the Plymouth Duster, a Chrysler success story, had sales of just over 280,000 units; in the same year, 1974, Ford sold nearly 386,000 of its comparable but higher-priced Mustangs. Meanwhile, new environmental realities were taking their toll, as Chrysler struggled to meet new emissions and safety standards levied by the US government in the early ’70s.

To cope with all this, the company’s executives slashed costs, particularly via staff reductions, a strategy that backfired in the fall of 1978 when its new models arrived four months after those of its competitors. That year, American automakers sold a record-high 12.9 million vehicles, yet Chrysler lost $205 million. And when oil shocks, inflation, and high interest rates began to depress the industry, Chrysler again fared worst, with a 30 percent decline in sales and losses of nearly $1.1 billion. Then, as now, it tried to stave off bankruptcy by seeking a new owner, but in the end it only managed to sell its European operations to Peugeot-Citroen. What saved it was the hiring of former Ford president Lee Iacocca, who initiated an audacious turnaround that included bailouts in the form of loan guarantees from the American and Canadian governments—plus demands for unprecedented wage and benefit concessions from the auto unions.

At the time, Canadian auto workers were represented by a new union leader. Bob White had led the Canadian region of the United Auto Workers for about a year when Iacocca started at Chrysler. White’s membership was far different from today’s. Unionists were much more combative then, and they expected more from their leadership. Membership meetings sometimes resembled riots. Fist fights were not uncommon. And Windsor’s Local 444, Canada’s biggest Chrysler chapter, was one of the most cantankerous groups on the continent.

Iacocca’s first concession proposal asked Local 444 and other North American Chrysler workers to delay the start date of a new labour contract by six months, which would have saved the company $200 million. It would also have marked the first time the uaw allowed pay hike deferrals by one of the Big Three. Much to the 444’s dismay, the union eventually consented. The local had been hit hard by the company’s ongoing problems, starting with the 1978 closing of Chrysler Plant 1, which made pickup trucks; and Plant 2, which built big six-cylinder and V-8 engines. Members believed the American-run uaw had sold them out. As White recalled in his memoirs, “They were furious.”

The union boss was in Chrysler Canada’s executive offices, then located immediately adjacent to the Windsor Assembly Plant, when what he later described as a “boiling mob” began to agitate. Someone pitched a brick through a window. The more industrious fashioned effigies to dangle by the neck. Some of these read, “Hang Iacocca.” More troubling for White were the ones attacking the union, such as “Hang Doug Fraser,” the uaw’s leader. And then there was “Hang Bob White.”

Days later, the US treasury secretary demanded still more concessions in exchange for $1.5 billion in loan guarantees. The government wanted Iacocca and the uaw to open up the agreement they’d just negotiated, and for Chrysler to cut another $259 million in labour costs. Perhaps remembering 444’s angry demonstration, Bob White said no. Defying Fraser’s direction, he declared that his Canadian members would not be ordered around by the US government. “I want to make it absolutely clear to all of you today,” he promised a Local 444 meeting at a Windsor arena. “No American government official is going to change what happens here.” In his memoirs, he speculates that “the reason the uaw was being asked to take cuts was that the government needed something to throw to the wolves of public opinion. Spending taxpayers’ money to bail out a big corporation like Chrysler wasn’t a popular move.”

The Americans weren’t pleased. “Well, fuck you Canadians,” one uaw executive said to White. “If you’re not going to make the sacrifice with us, then we’re going to demand that all the jobs come over here. Chrysler Canada’s gone.” It was the sort of threat negotiators had made for decades, and White didn’t blink. It helped, of course, that the Trudeau government had the Canadian auto industry’s back. Industry Minister Herb Gray was from Windsor, and when the Canadian government granted Chrysler $200 million in loan guarantees, it made them conditional on the company continuing to build cars in Canada.

Iacocca, meanwhile, was preparing to go back to the US government for another $400 million, but not before asking the uaw for another, even more significant round of cuts, worth perhaps $4 an hour. Unwilling to worsen his relationship with the union’s leaders, White chose not to criticize their decision to go along with the cuts. But neither did he issue a recommendation to his members on whether to ratify them. In the end, Local 444 rejected the concessions, although other Canadian locals carried the day: 51 percent of Chrysler’s Canadian workers opted for ratification.

It was a watershed moment for Canadian auto workers. Lingering displeasure over the deal led to widespread disruption in the Chrysler workforce, a long-standing “no concessions” policy within the Canadian union, the 1985 secession of White’s Canadian region from the uaw, and the subsequent formation of the Canadian Auto Workers union. “We’ve learned the hard way what happens when workers attempt to save their jobs with concessions,” read one union text. “Demands for concessions [lead] to more demands for concessions. Workers end up competing to see who can give away the most.”

Looking back, this stance seems almost quaint.

On the evening of March 11 of this year, while Mike Melo and his fellow union members manned the barricades in Windsor, Chrysler president Tom LaSorda, a Canadian, was testifying before a Commons committee on Parliament Hill. In a month when only 122,194 vehicles sold in Canada, a 17.7 percent decline from the previous year, he was asked what would happen if the caw didn’t accept concessions to bring Chrysler’s labour costs in line with those at non-unionized plants run by Honda and Toyota. His reply made up in bluntness what it lacked in creativity. He said what Chrysler executives had been claiming for decades: the company would pull out of Canada.

The ultimatum only fuelled anger along the Aramco and Aradco lines. On St. Patrick’s Day, exactly a week after the blockade began, Chrysler deployed another security detail to accompany a flatbed truck in a third attempt to get into one of the shops—and nearly triggered a riot. Some 100 workers staffed the blockade. Melo was among the group that gathered around the rig’s cab in an ultimately successful attempt to stop it from going in. “You try not to give the police an excuse to act,” he recalls. “But that one got pretty heated—lots of four-letter words.” At some point, workers noticed the nearby presence of the sort of police vehicle once known as a “paddy wagon.”

Worried that the police were planning to use riot dispersal tactics, Melo and other union leaders decided to execute the operation they had been planning since the weekend. Accompanied by nine men selected for their clean police records and trustworthiness, he drove to a parking lot adjacent to the building that held Chrysler’s most valuable equipment. What the men were about to do was straight from the playbook of the activist unions of days past. During a twenty-month strike in the mid-’70s at the United Aircraft facility in Longueuil, Quebec, for example, thirty-four workers smashed their way into the plant with the help of a commandeered truck. In 1979, disgruntled workers in Oshawa, Ontario, staged a thirteen-day takeover of the Houdaille Industries bumper plant. Closer to home, seventeen men occupied the Windsor Bumper company in 1981; Melo was then just six years old.

He and his cohorts infiltrated the yard, toting duffel bags with enough supplies to keep them fed and clothed for a prolonged stay. Once inside, they seized forklifts to push massive steel coils and other heavy objects in front of the entrance. By about half past five on St. Patrick’s Day, they had the plant under their control.

The next day, the union staged a show of support that was as much a celebration as a rally. Several hundred people showed up, including caw director Ken Lewenza and the riding’s ndp Member of Parliament, Joe Comartin. As the rally began, Jerry Dias, Ken Lewenza’s number two, snuck into the shop to deliver good news to Melo and his men: Chrysler had submitted a better offer. The occupiers emerged from the building to raucous applause. Referring to “the heroes of Local 195,” Lewenza promised, “There’s tens of thousands of workers facing the same experience that are going home with absolutely nothing. Who’s speaking on behalf of our workers? Who’s defending the interests of the workers? The momentum doesn’t stop here.”

It’s worth mentioning that Lewenza and his nemesis, Tom LaSorda, have deep roots in Windsor. Both were born there in 1954. Both were raised in big families—Lewenza was one of eight children, LaSorda one of nine—with strong ties to the labour movement. LaSorda’s father and grandfather were presidents of their union locals, making LaSorda the first child of a union leader to head up one of the Big Three. Lewenza, meanwhile, was a Local 444 member and union steward back when the chapter was led by LaSorda’s father. He ran 444 himself from 1994 to 2008, before succeeding Buzz Hargrove as the caw’s national president. Now, months later, he was fighting LaSorda, not only for the survival of the union, but to protect a way of life in the city they both called their hometown.

The crowd cheered Lewenza’s speech, as it was supposed to. Few noticed that he had avoided mentioning the terms of the new deal. Nor did he and other union leaders permit Melo and his fellow workers to vote on whether to accept it. In fact, the Aramco workers didn’t find out what Chrysler had offered until the company had safely retrieved its tooling. Only then did the unionists learn that the new offer totalled just $400,000, twice the original offer but less than a third of the approximately $1.5 million the union believed its members deserved. In the end, the payout gave employees a severance package of about $5,000 each. The caw claimed fighting back had made a difference.

Then came the pile-on. By mid-March, most of the components of Chrysler’s eventual bailout were in place. After a two-year, globe-spanning fishing trip, LaSorda had landed a tentative merger with Fiat SpA, the Italian automaker run by ceo Sergio Marchionne, a graduate of the University of Windsor’s business school. Public discussion about the gap in employee costs between the unionized Big Three and their non-union, foreign-owned counterparts gained further focus when US president Barack Obama entered the fray.

On March 30, Obama committed to spending billions on assistance for Chrysler and GM, on the condition that they negotiate deals with the unions that would bring about wage parity with foreign-owned North American manufacturers. An hour later, Canada’s industry minister, Tony Clement, imposed the same conditions in exchange for further funding from the Canadian and Ontario governments. On April 15, the Globe and Mail’s European business correspondent, Eric Reguly, published an interview with Marchionne from Fiat’s headquarters in Turin. The Chrysler-Fiat deal would evaporate, Marchionne told Reguly, if Canadian auto workers didn’t agree to match the lower labour costs of the foreign automakers. As though the point needed any more emphasis, LaSorda and his American boss, Bob Nardelli, sent a letter to Chrysler’s Canadian workers on April 17 warning of dire consequences if an agreement wasn’t reached.

The script was the same as it had been thirty years ago when Iacocca was running the show. But this time, the Canadian auto workers could muster only a feeble response: references to the threats as “blackmail,” and the odd, impromptu parking lot bonfire. The caw had no effective answer to the anti-union posturing. The single most significant act of protest during these historic bargaining sessions was Mike Melo’s twenty-two-hour occupation of a Windsor stamping plant.

“It didn’t seem to me that there was a strategy,” says James Winter, a professor of communications at the University of Windsor and a long-time union observer. “It seemed as if the caw leadership was reacting reflexively to events.” He mentions a study released in mid-April by caw economist Jim Stanford showing that Chrysler and GM’s Canadian operations generated after-tax profits of approximately $36.7 billion between 1972 and 2007. “This should have been a huge ‘Where’s the beef? ’ campaign,” says Winter. “They needed TV and radio spots. Instead, it was a one-day news story.”

One of the few union figures who displayed any will to fight was retired. Buzz Hargrove, the caw’s president from 1992 to 2008, had left the job just months before the economy imploded. One afternoon in mid-April, he bought me a coffee at Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel. “It’s a charade,” he said of Chrysler’s threat to pull out of the country. “It’s absurd. [LaSorda] doesn’t have enough money to run the company, and he’s gonna close two of his most profitable plants? Spend hundreds of millions of dollars on severance payments and early retirements under our contracts? And then spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create a new workforce and set up in the US? The whole thing is illogical. And Mr. Marchionne, the same thing. He doesn’t even know what the labour costs are in Canada. He doesn’t have a fucking clue what’s going on. It’s all part of a charade to try to force the union into giving major concessions and to undermine the credibility of the union.”

With a government-imposed April 30 deadline looming, the final bargaining session began at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre hotel. On April 24, Chrysler and the caw reached an agreement. The new contract gave Chrysler, Fiat, and both the Canadian and American governments everything they’d requested. The union managed to escape cuts to real wages and pensions. The agreement extended to six years from three the time it would take new hires to reach the full wage of approximately $33 an hour. The annual Christmas bonus of $1,700 was toast. Health care coverage no longer provided semi-private hospital beds, and employees would be required to pay $30 a month to the plan. In addition, cuts were made to the Dependent Children Scholarship program and a tuition refund program, along with dozens of other smaller incisions. According to figures from official sources, the cuts saved the company $240 million annually, or about $19 an hour, bringing Chrysler’s labour costs down from about $76 to $57 an hour—a reduction of 25 percent. In both percentage and absolute terms, the concessions are the largest in caw history, bringing Chrysler’s labour costs in line with those at Honda and Toyota. Soon after the agreement was announced, the union offered up similar concessions to General Motors—again, with virtually no public protest. The industry custom of pattern bargaining suggests that Ford will seek the same treatment.

Sam Gindin, the union’s director of research under Bob White and Buzz Hargrove and now a visiting chair in York University’s political science department, was dismayed by the way the negotiations proceeded. “There’ll be long-term consequences,” he says. “This profoundly weakens the union. It’s a turning point; they’ve broken the spirit of the union.”

Photograph courtesy of the Windsor Star
Bob White, president of UAW Canada, 1981.

Several weeks after the blockade ended, I met with Mike Melo at a Windsor watering hole. He hadn’t yet received his severance but was expecting it any day. I asked whether he resented the union for not disclosing the details of the agreement to the workers who staged the blockade. No, he said glumly. “It’s better than we were going to get initially. It was the best we were going to get.” The mood was similarly resigned at the University of Windsor phys. ed. centre on April 26, when some 2,500 members of Local 444 voted on the concessions. No one tipped over any cars or threw any eggs. No one hung anyone in effigy. The only expression of outrage I saw was a worker with a facsimile of a handgun wired to his baseball cap, the barrel pointed at his temple.

Eighty-seven percent of the caw’s workers ratified the Chrysler contract. The formerly militant Local 444 came in at an even more acquiescent 90.3 percent. It seemed like a dispirited showing, but then times have changed. With 225,000 members, the caw is a larger and more diverse body than it was in the early ’80s. Decades of gains have domesticated its rank and file, making today’s auto workers far more inclined toward conservatism than during the age of Bob White.

Some still long for the old days. “Our union has preached the gospel against concessions since the ’80s,” says Willie Lambert, a union rep in Oakville’s Local 1256 who gained notoriety when he positioned himself as an alternative to Hargrove in 2006. “We were told that and told that and told that—one concession begets another. Now we’re supposed to believe the world has changed.

“Fighting back makes a difference,” he continues. “That’s what they used to say. What happened to fighting back? We’ve been falling back. Our leadership doesn’t want to fight back. The leadership today is more worried about people like Sam Gindin speaking out than about concessions. If we had the leadership now that we had thirty years ago, we would be marching. We would be mobilizing. Bob White knew he had to kick ass. He understood. But today, we as a union have not been prepared to fight the good fight.”

Lewenza disagrees. He argues that an absence of political support left the caw without options. The implication is that even if the union had organized widespread labour disruptions the protest would have been fruitless. “In ’79 and ’80, we lost $1.15 right out of our pocket,” he said at the Local 444 ratification meeting in Windsor. “We lost our personal paid holidays. At the end of the day, what did we say to our members? Let’s fight another day, and we will get those things back. And over ten or fifteen years, we fought and gained them back.” But what motivated those gains was the anger of the rank and file, and today that anger doesn’t exist. Since the union agreed without public protest to the largest concessions in its history, it seems unlikely that the caw can reinspire the righteous anger that won its recently surrendered gains.

None of this bodes well for the Windsor that was. During my last trip to the area, I stood on the shores of the Detroit River, dressed in a tuxedo for my brother-in-law’s wedding. During the ceremony, freighters passed behind us. Pleasure craft zoomed ahead of wakes. The groom, a supervisor for a logistics company, worked out of Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant. The best man, a machinist for a tool and die supplier, was in for the week from Alabama, where he’d been forced to move to find work. My other brother-in-law, a sheet metal foreman, once made his living in the plants; now the only work he could find entailed a six-hour commute to and from North Bay each week. Despite how the auto economy had affected everyone’s fortunes, the ceremony was a beautiful, bucolic occasion. I looked around at my friends and family, at generations past and future, and felt fortunate to have grown up where and when I did. It was good while it lasted.

Christopher Shulgan