by Barry Weisleder
Dozens of activists gathered on March 8, or watched from afar live-streamed portions of the Workers’ Action Movement (WAM) Conference held at the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Toronto Region Membership Centre. The theme was “Fight Austerity, Precarious Work, Inequality and Concessions Bargaining! The alternative is Union Democracy and Class Struggle! No to ‘strategic voting’ for Liberals. Victory to PSAC! Seize GM and convert it to electric vehicle production. For a General Strike to Dump Thug Ford! Build on the gains of WAM at the OFL Convention. On to the Canadian Labour Congress Convention!”
The opening panel addressed “The State of the Labour Movement”. Speakers Sandra Griffith-Bonaparte, President of Public Service Alliance of Canada/UNDE Local 70607 in Ottawa, Nigel Barriffe, Toronto Teachers’ Executive Member, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, and Barry Conway, V.P. of CUPE Local 5167 in Hamilton, and past WAM candidate for President of the Ontario Federation of Labour presented the topic. A lively discussion ensued.
Kurt Young, member of Sheet Metal Workers’ union, and this writer, a member of the Substitute Teachers’ Action Caucus, OSSTF, spoke on the next panel “For an Action Program and a Rank and File Team to run for top executive positions at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention, May 4-8, Vancouver.” The text of my speech is appended below.
At the conclusion of this discussion the meeting unanimously adopted the following resolutions: “Resolved that WAM demands that the CLC break with the Liberal Party, and give critical support to the NDP as a labour party”, and “Resolved that WAM strive to run a team of candidates for CLC executive, standing proudly on a platform centered on ecology, public ownership, union democracy, anti-oppression and anti-imperialism.”
The final session focused on “Organizing to win – Fund raising, literature production, and social media tasks to advance the WAM campaign.” Alternate to the OPSEU Executive Board Julius Arscott, who chaired the entire WAM conference, led the discussion.
Members present volunteered to serve on working committees to seek candidates for CLC executive (we presently have two in view) and endorsements, including money for the WAM campaign; writing and production of literature, buttons, stickers, etc.; and to promote the WAM campaign on social media.
The conference concluded with a rousing singing of Solidarity Forever, and the Internationale.
WAM it to the Bosses!
Workers’ Agenda – Past and Present by B.W.
Just over one hundred years ago a turning point in the history of Canada was reached. It was a seminal moment for the working class. On May 1, 1919 the Winnipeg Building Trades Council unions went on strike for union recognition and higher wages. On May 15, telephone operators, joined by thousands of other workers, heeded the call of the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council and walked off the job. So began the famous General Strike. Sympathy strikes broke out across the country, from Vancouver to Calgary to Toronto. In Winnipeg it ended on June 25, in the throes of a wave of state repression that continued for years. Thousands of workers lost their jobs; hundreds were deported. But for forty days, the democratically elected General Strike Committee virtually ran the city. The strikers did not win their demands for decent wages and hours immediately. However, their courage and example spawned independent labour political action, and guided labour legislation for generations. The general strike unleashed a serious debate and a revolt within the union movement over issues that unions had been considering. They included: craft versus industrial methods of organizing; the relationship to international unions; and the role of political affiliation in the union movement. These became life and death questions. How, today, does the agenda of the workers’ movement compare?
For over thirty years, Capital has been on the offensive, and Labour has been in retreat. Wages have stagnated or declined. Full-time employment has plummeted. Union density in Canada, which in 1981 was over 40 per cent, is now about 30 per cent. Austerity is the bosses’ agenda. It is taking the knife to public services and environmental regulation. In the midst of a corona virus epidemic, does it make sense that many workers have to fight for paid sick leave? In the midst of galloping climate change, with temperatures in Antarctica nearly reaching 20 degrees Celsius and the continent of Australia on fire, why must we fight to stop pipeline construction? The answer is simple: Capitalism is committed to burning carbon — to fuel its insatiable profit drive.
Thankfully, a global climate justice movement is on the streets. A vast Indigenous people’s movement is rising to protect land and water. Mass strikes are challenging governments that seek to destroy pensions in France and accessible public transit in Chile. Teachers across Ontario are standing up for public education, not unlike our colleagues in many states across the USA where teacher strikes were only recently considered very unlikely. And now that a global recession is all but officially underway, we face even bigger challenges as capitalist governments try to make workers pay for a failed system – sometimes by deception, and increasingly by divide and rule authoritarianism. Trump Ford. Dump Ford and Trudeau.
Can you see how a Workers’ Agenda arises from these issues?
1. Organize the unorganized, especially part-time, gig economy, precarious, zero hours, and so-called dependent contract workers.
2. Stand with Indigenous people to defend nature. As CUPE says “There are no jobs on a dead planet.” Nationalize Big Oil and Gas. Invest their accumulated and stolen trillions into an emergency green energy conversion strategy.
3. Build housing, not fighter jets and warships. Feed the poor, house the homeless, tax the rich and giant corporations. Move rapidly towards a planned economy under democratic workers’ control. Of course, there are many more elements to a Workers’ Agenda, all of which is not just necessary; it is possible if unions become instruments of class struggle in the hands of their members.
How does the Canadian Labour Congress stand on these current life and death issues? Not so well, it appears.
It is not leading the way in fighting the pro-corporate trade deals, including the USMCA. It is not standing up to Big Oil and Gas to oppose new pipelines.
The CLC is not supporting, let alone leading efforts to seize the General Motors plants in Oshawa, to convert production to electric vehicles as per the Green Jobs Oshawa campaign. It does not devote significant resources to organizing food couriers, uber drivers and other precarious workers. CLC officials fail to fight Trudeau’s foreign policy which backs Washington’s bid to overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected government by starving the people of that country. The CLC does not campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Apartheid system enforced by the Zionist state against the Palestinian people. Instead of suspending its Vice President Donald Lafleur for going, at his own expense, to an international labour conference in Syria, a country besieged by imperialism and its reactionary agents, like Isis, the CLC should apologize to postal worker brother Lafleur. It should step up CLC support for his union’s postal bank and electric vehicle delivery fleet campaign.
Perhaps the CLC executive can explain how democratic it is when, following the split by Unifor over union raiding, the CLC allowed a Unifor leader to remain CLC President for years.
Furthermore, why does the CLC leadership follow the treacherous policy of Unifor to back so-called strategic voting for Liberal Party candidates at election time? The CLC was a co-founder of the New Democratic Party in 1960, which was the successor to the CCF that enjoyed links to organized labour. That connection was, in part, an outcome of the Winnipeg General Strike. And now we see a regression to the ugly days of unions collaborating with the parties of big business – sadly, just as unions do in the USA. No wonder American workers lack public medicare. No wonder their taxes fund the most menacing military colossus in the world, whose carbon footprint alone threats humanity with extinction.
In light of the outrageous backsliding by the outgoing president and other CLC officials on the matter of labour political action, independent of the bosses’ parties, we must not be passive. As the CLC tops reject the need for a solid but critical alliance with the NDP, we cannot afford to be neutral. WAM must slam the CLC bureaucrats for their unrequited lover affair with Justin Trudeau. WAM should demand that labour re-unite with the NDP – not to be an apologist for the right wing social democrats who mis-lead it, but to fight for a workers’ agenda in the only existing mass labour party in North America. We say: Fight for socialist policies in the NDP!
For all of these reasons, class conscious workers have a duty to unite. We have a duty to present a challenge to the CLC leadership, especially to the incoming establishment figures who are nominated for the top four executive positions. At the convention of the CLC in Vancouver, May 4 -8, we will have a golden opportunity to fight for socialist policies, to agitate for a workers’ agenda, just as WAM did at the OFL convention last November in Toronto. We must not let this opportunity slip from our grasp. The appetite for change in the ranks of labour is great. It needs leadership. WAM is a vital and necessary part of the solution to the historic crisis of leadership we now witness.
So, let’s affirm that WAM demands a break with the Liberal Party, an end to “strategic voting”, and is for critical support for the NDP as a labour party. Let’s declare that WAM will run a team of candidates for CLC executive, standing proudly on a platform centered on ecology, public ownership, union democracy, anti-oppression and anti-imperialism