Category Archives: Labour

Beyond optics, towards politics: A report back from CLC Convention

By Joel Harden, CUPE 1281 (Published with permission of rankandfile.ca)

At its best, the recent 28th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress demonstrated how far unions have come on Indigenous rights, Palestinian rights (more on that later), racism, queer or trans rights, mental health, and environmental justice. Delegates made passionate appeals to support these and other important struggles.

Impressive speakers like Angela Davis, Candy Palmater, Cindy Blackstock and Mary Walsh argued unions must champion issues suppressed by powerful insiders. Heartfelt videos acknowledged former CLC President Bob White, outgoing Secretary-Treasurer Barb Byers, the 25-year anniversary of the 1992 Westray Mine disaster, and the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. On the fourth day of CLC Convention, a union “street party” occupied Bay and King Streets, the heart of Canada’s financial district.

At its worst, the 28th CLC Convention also illustrated the limited thinking that exists in union circles, particularly at the leadership level. Election leaflets festooned the halls making few, if any, specific promises.

A 5 per cent pay increase (indexed to inflation) was approved for CLC leaders who currently earn over three times the average wage in Canada, despite stiff opposition from convention delegates. UNIFOR (the largest private sector union) and Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union continued their public feud after an attempted raid by UNIFOR failed earlier this year. Premier Rachel Notley arrived to celebrate achievements made by the NDP government in Alberta, but ended with a pitch for export-driven oil pipelines, the impact of which would undermine current efforts in Canada to meet global climate change targets. 

At a time when organized labour faces existential challenges, these optics at union conventions leave many cold. Before going to the 28th CLC Convention, I canvassed my Facebook contacts to see who else was attending, and this reply earned the most praise: “I’ll be raking leaves in my yard during CLC Convention, which is likely to add more to the class struggle.” Ouch.

While such cynicism is understandable, I’ll offer another perspective here. Yes, union conventions are spaces where top-down strategies get used for particular outcomes, but they are also moments where activists can shift beyond optics to politics. With the right strategy, activists can organize, appeal for support, and advance important work. Two examples from the 28th CLC Convention help illustrate this point.

The first was an emergency resolution urging the CLC to support a hunger strike of 1500 Palestinian prisoners in Israel that started on April 17, 2017. At the CLC Convention, this resolution was promoted by a network of delegates and earned 15 endorsements, including the CLC’s Canadian Council (a decision-making body that meets daily at the CLC Convention, and four times a year). When the resolution hit convention floor, it was attacked by some as anti-semitism, and an unfair targeting of Israel. But after a spirited debate, the resolution passed. CLC President Hassan Yussuff’s ruling on this outcome was challenged from the floor, but the challenge was defeated.

Thanks to grassroots organizing, the CLC took a clear position on a Palestinian-led human rights campaign for the first time in its history. It also joined the International Trade Union Confederation (representing 176 million workers worldwide) and other unions to send a clear message to Israel, and the corporations involved in Israel’s prison system.

In a related effort, union activists inspired by the Leap Manifesto organized a forum over lunch after Premier Notley addressed CLC Convention. Their intent was to discuss ideas that ensured no worker was left behind by climate change, and to seek alliances with energy workers in doing so. People wanted specific proposals for green jobs (beyond general concepts like “just transition”), and were concerned Premier Notley’s push for pipelines might divide union activists concerned about the climate crisis.

The Leap forum drew fifty participants, many of whom intervened later during the convention’s panel on green jobs. In that debate, Ken Smith (President of UNIFOR Local 707A, representing 6000 energy workers in Fort McMurray) declared he was “undecided” on pipelines, but was convinced “there are no jobs on a dead planet.” Carolyn Egan, President of the Steelworker Toronto Area Council, said “transition [to a new energy economy] is inevitable, but justice is not”.

Kim Fry, an elementary teacher activist in Ontario, declared it was time for unions to fight for a new energy future, and that starts by rejecting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

Interestingly enough, Fry ran into Premier Notley later that afternoon, and wrote about their conversation on Facebook:

This exchange demonstrates the importance of grassroots unionism, and how it can impact larger forces. When Premier Notley spoke at the Federal NDP Convention last year in Edmonton, her pipeline pitch earned a standing ovation. At the CLC Convention last week, it drew tepid applause.

The work of climate justice campaigners is a major factor, along with the continued evidence of climate change. The climate drivers behind recent floods in Ontario and Quebec were on peoples’ minds, as were the deplorable conditions in many Indigenous communities impacted by fossil fuels projects. Delegates at the CLC Convention entered that context with grassroots organizing, and this contributed to a shift in opinions of Premier Notley’s plans for Alberta. Notley is now publicly campaigning to ensure the BC government doesn’t become a pipeline opponent.

All of which is to say: union conventions matter, and how they are utilized by activists and movements matters. The unions our grandmothers and grandfathers built must not be left to those concerned only with optics, however sincere their intentions may be. Our unions need better politics, and activists prepared to fight for them.

This article first appeared at this address

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Another Delegate’s Comment:  The Missing Ingredient

by Julius Arscott, OPSEU Executive Board Member, and organizer, Workers’ Action Movement.

Missing at the CLC convention was a critical element:  an organized class struggle left wing.  Such a radical caucus could unite militant workers, speak to issues, try to amend resolutions, even run candidates on a socialist platform. 

Some small break-time meetings did occur.  One was a forum hosted by Avi Lewis to discuss the pro-environmental, anti-capitalist LEAP Manifesto.  Another, organized by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, discussed creating links between organized labour and community grassroots organizations — a theme addressed by the CLC bureaucracy the next day. Neither of these meetings, however, led to any effort to form an organized left wing in the labour movement to challenge the status quo.  In fact, in the latter case, organizers asked that the actual convention proceedings not be discussed as it might upset some union officials.  

Needed now more than ever is an organized left wing, similar to initiatives on a modest scale in OSSTF and OPSEU, to oppose concessions bargaining and the austerity agenda of the Bay Street political parties, as well as to fight for democracy in our labour movement. 

Efforts by Socialist Action during the convention were well received by delegates who bought over 100 copies of SA newspaper and accepted many more Turn Left magazines.  The SA booth in the Exhibitors’ area, alongside affiliated unions and labour allies, welcomed many visitors.

SOCIALISM 2017 videos are now available online

The Relevance of the Russian Revolution Today

Speakers:

  • Jeff Mackler, national secretary, SA USA
  • Barry Weisleder, federal secretary, SA Canada
  • Aurélien Perenna, teacher and union activist of the New Anti-capitalist Party, France.

Videos:

Part 1:

Part 2: 

Q and A: 


Millions on the Move: Behind the Refugee Crisis

Speakers:

  • Jaime Gonzales, LUS-Mexico
  • Sharmeen Khan, No One Is Illegal
  • Yasin Kaya, SA-Canada
  • Nikolas Skoufoglu, a leader of OKDE, section of the Fourth International in Greece.

Videos:

    Part 1: 
    Q and A: 

Basic Income or Raise the Rates?

Speakers:

  • John Clarke, provincial organizer, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
  • Sharon Anderson from Put Food In the Budget

Videos:

    Part 1: 
    Q and A: 

Fake News: Who’s the Real Culprit?

Speakers:

  • Yves Engler (author of 8 books on Canadian foreign policy, including “Propaganda System”)
  • Jeff Mackler, national secretary, SA USA
  • John Wunderlich, Toronto Danforth NDP executive member and privacy issues consultant.

Videos:

    Part 1: 
    Part2: 
    • Q and A:

 


Labour Revivial: What will it take?

Speakers:

  • Sid Ryan, past-president of the Ontario Federation of Labour
  • Julius Arscott, Executive Board member of OPSEU
  • Aurélien Perenna, teacher and union activist of the New Anti-capitalist Party, France.

Videos:

Part 1:

Part 2:

A short report on the Ontario NDP Convention… and related texts

During the three days of the Ontario NDP Convention, April 21-23 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the party’s left wing won several significant policy and procedural victories. Leader Andrea Horwath adapted to the situation, somewhat desperate to present a progressive face to the sparse crowd, and to a somewhat indifferent electorate. The provincial Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne is in crisis, while the Tories led by Patrick Brown hold the lead in the latest opinion polls. Continue reading A short report on the Ontario NDP Convention… and related texts

Change coming to OPSEU

On March 18, members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union met in seven regional assemblies across the province to elect members of the union’s executive board, as well as to fill equity seeking committees and send delegates to affiliated labour bodies.

A campaign for “class struggle and union democracy”, launched in Toronto, succeeded in electing socialist Julius Arscott to one of three executive board seats in the Toronto region. The 188 delegates also elected militants Myles Magner, who is the Regional Vice President, and Jessica Sikora. Seven candidates contested the election, offering a spectrum of views from left to right. The successful candidates, all on the left, won on the first ballot, each garnering over 50% of the votes cast.

Myles Magner received a strong 76.5% after declaring that, if elected, he would run for President of OPSEU against incumbent Smokey Thomas who is mired in controversy over concessions bargaining, bad relations with staff, and possible collusion with a community college boss to have a union activist fired.

A clear mandate for change emerged from the Toronto Region 5 meeting of OPSEU. There are indications of this sentiment across the province. Elected are eight new Executive Board Members, some 40% of the top executive. This result comes at a volatile time, rife with intimidation tactics directed against union activists. One case is currently before the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Trudeau clings to Harper’s odious refugee (and other) laws

Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum, can designate innocent groups of individuals arriving in Canada for discriminatory treatment. Designated Foreign Nationals (DFNs) are subject to mandatory detention for lengthy periods, with minimal review. There is no right of appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division for those whose refugee claims are denied. Even if a claimant is eventually recognized by Canada as a refugee, he or she cannot begin the process of bringing relatives to this country for at least five years — a violation of the fundamental right to speedy family reunification. Continue reading Trudeau clings to Harper’s odious refugee (and other) laws