by Barry Weisleder
The triple crisis of capitalism –health/economic/environmental — has many unions on their knees. But the labour tops seem content to pursue business as usual. Sadly, this was evident when the House of Labour convened, June 16-18, 2021 via an electronic platform replete with hiccups.
Citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Labour Congress held its triennial convention one year late. A glaring democratic deficit marked the event. One of the 4,000-plus delegates to the three-day virtual gathering rose mid-way on a point of privilege to call it a “horrendous convention”. When it was clear that only a very few (non-controversial) resolutions would be considered, Jim Lawrence of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers denounced the frequent procedural bottlenecks and wasteful ceremonies. He demanded more time for delegates to debate and vote on policy.
The convention rubber-stamped a series of flowery policy papers dubbed “Democratic Agenda”, “Good Jobs”, “Climate Action” and “Human Rights”. Under pressure from the floor, one was even re-titled “Emergency Climate Action”. But that didn’t alter the thrust, which was to “press” government for mild reforms that do not put the culprit capitalist private profit system into question.
Fortunately, the insurgent Workers’ Action Movement intervened in almost every debate, setting a critical tone. Soon, delegates (even conservative ones) were calling one another “comrade.” Votes to approve milquetoast resolutions that would have been nearly unanimous instead registered dissent in the range of one quarter to one third. 26 per cent of the delegates voted to oppose the Per Capita Increase requested by the outgoing CLC Executive. WAM supporters stressed the need for mass job action to defeat bargaining concessions and legislative strike-breaking, rather than have the CLC continue to lavish its spending on commercial media ads, opinion polls and routine lobbying of politicians.
The Convention rejected a constitution amendment designed to give post-facto approval to CLC President Hassan Yussuff remaining in office after his union, Unifor, quit in January 2018. In a nod to equal rights, delegates passed an amendment to remove the age limit of 65 years to seek or hold office in the Congress.
On Day 3, participants voted narrowly to re-affirm the CLC partnership with the New Democratic Party. 57 per cent said Yes. Among the 43 per cent who voted No were Liberal, Green, Conservative, even Communist Party partisans and opportunists who muddied the waters by claiming that the CLC risked being ‘controlled’ by the NDP. To the contrary, labour can and should control its political arm, the NDP, to compel it to advance pro-worker, socialist policies consistently. The regressive alternative is evident in the USA where there is no mass-based labour party, and where union bureaucrats urge workers to vote for the so-called ‘lesser evil’ Democratic Party, the prime tool of Wall Street and the Pentagon. The CLC and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation merged to co-found the NDP in 1961.
Team Unite, representing the conservative top brass, swept the Executive elections. That was no surprise.
But WAM’s Labour Forward team of Julius Arscott for President, Jennie Esnard and Sandra Griffith-Bonaparte for the two Executive Vice-President positions, and Harold Marcotte for Secretary-Treasurer, captured up to 17.1 per cent of the votes cast. (For their bios, go to: www.labourforward.ca )
That means hundreds of delegates embraced and endorsed the class struggle politics of the Labour Forward campaign — ideas which were clearly expressed in many of the debates during, and in the months leading up to the CLC Convention.
The concepts of general strike action, workers’ power and socialism reached unions, labour councils and rank and file workers by the thousands across the Canadian state. Hundreds of thousands read the CBC interview with Julius Arscott. Workers noticed that Team Unite shifted to focus more on issues, and adopted more leftist rhetoric in the late stages of the campaign.
Dozens of workers attended the online Daily De-Brief sessions hosted by WAM. Many pledged to join the WAM steering committee, whose goal is to build class struggle caucuses in every union, in every region of this vast country.
The effort to put the Movement back into the Labour Movement, now active on a higher plane, is just starting.
To get involved, please visit: www.labourforward.ca