by Jesse Cullen
Between the age of three and eight, my family moved five times as my step-dad was transferred for work. Sometimes, we didn’t even stay in one city for an entire year. This instability meant I was unable to form friendships with other kids and I was isolated from extended family for long periods of time. The ripple affects of that time have had a lasting impact on the lives of my immediate family. In 1993, we finally settled in Oshawa, Ontario, a city I still call home today.
Oshawa is a city built on the auto industry. At its height, tens of thousands of people worked at General Motors and many more thousands of spinoff jobs were indirectly supported by the industry. While those directly employed at the Motors is now around 3000, it was no less devastating when GM announced it was completely pulling out of our city at 10am on November 26, 2018.
While I never worked in the factory, my brother did while he was in school. Growing up, many of my friends and their parents worked at GM. In Oshawa, literally everybody knows somebody who works or has worked at one of the factories or feeder plants.
It is hard to measure the impact of the shut down in Oshawa. Beyond the cold, hard numbers we hear about from politicians, economists, and the media – which could mean upward of 10,000 people, or more, will lose their job – it will have devastating impacts on families, neighbourhoods and communities across Oshawa and Durham Region.
In elementary school, I remember friends having to move away so their parents could find work after a round of layoffs. I distinctly remember having to say goodbye to the first friend I had met in school after moving to Oshawa. The shutdown means lifelong friendships that will never be. It means kids being uprooted and it means broken families.
After the announcement, I picked up my oldest daughter from school early, so I could head down to the blockade at the factory. When she got to the office, I told her she was leaving school early, so we could support the GM workers. An Early Childhood Educator who was in her kindergarten class the year before overheard our conversation. She burst into tears. She thanked us and told us that her husband and her son were both going to lose their jobs and she didn’t know what they were going to do.
Lives of countless children will be forever altered. Many for the worse. Schools will lose teachers and support staff whose families look for jobs elsewhere. Desks at which smiling children once sat will become vacant as our kids’ classmates start to slowly relocate to other schools. Sports teams will lose players. Folks who volunteer at the local soup kitchen this year may be clients next year. Community centres, families, neighbourhoods will all be disrupted and debased.
My best friend’s dad has worked at the Motors for almost 36 years. We met up with him at the union hall, where hundreds of workers gathered for a press conference held by their union. As we were leaving he said, “I have worked there for almost 36 years and I never knew if I had job the next day. That is no way to live.” This is the anxiety that the company has ingrained in the psyche of our community for generations.
I understand the personal costs that displacement has on a family. Abuse. Addiction. Trauma. A sense of insecurity that never quite goes away. This is the toll the shutdown will have on countless families and their children.
And after all this, the media is reporting that GM stocks have surged since the announcement. There is a lot of money to be made from human trauma and misery.