Category Archives: Labour

CLC: Disaffiliation, Dues Strike or Special Convention?

by Mike Palecek, President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers

(Introduction: On January 17, 2018, UNIFOR, the largest mostly private sector union in Canada announced that it quit the Canadian Labour Congress. On its website, UNIFOR National President Jerry Dias and Quebec director Renaud Gagne claimed the Congress failed to deal with their concern that U.S.-based unions are “trampling on the rights” of workers to choose their union representation. Rather than lead a fight for more democratic procedures in the CLC and its affiliates, the UNIFOR leaders, wrapped in the Canadian flag, and without a vote of the union’s members, conducted a split that weakens the House of Labour, stepped up a wave of union raiding (instead of organizing the unorganized), and helped the Liberal government in Ottawa to continue to carry out its anti-worker policies.  The break also precipitated an internal crisis over whether UNIFOR members, like CLC President Hassan Yussuff, can continue to hold office in the CLC, provincial federations of labour and local labour councils.  Overall, the split shows the new depths to which the labour bureaucracy has sunk. It underscores the urgent need for a radical rank and file movement, from below, to change the present course of the workers’ movement.  – Editor.)


At the emergency meeting of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Canada Council in early February, it was clear that many large affiliates were opposed to CLC President Hassan Yussuff’s constitutional interpretation.  Despite this fact, the interpretation was upheld by a large margin.  This in itself raises other constitutional questions.  There are also disagreements on other questions that were left unsaid.  These deep divisions within the house of labour cannot be papered over.  We can be certain that many of the larger affiliates are now considering their options for how to move forward.  Below are a few of the possibilities.

Disaffiliation

Any union has the right to disaffiliate from the CLC at any time, as UNIFOR did recently.  For some, this question can be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis.  Do they get out of the CLC as much as they put in?  This is a difficult question to answer at the best of times.  For CUPW, this is also a principled question.  We are constitutionally-bound to be affiliated to the CLC, the federations of labour and the labour councils and for good reason.

We know that we are stronger with a united labour movement that can advance the struggle together.  A recent example can be found in the Save Canada Post campaign.  We never could have stopped that austerity-drive without the broad support we received from the entire labour movement.  Labour councils across the country were key to mobilizing communities and ultimately defeating this agenda.  It was a spectacular demonstration of what could be done when labour comes together at the grassroots level.

We have always remained in the CLC even when unhappy about the direction it is taking.  For us it is not only a question of what is, but also what could be.  This is why our conventions have committed time and again, through our action plans, to attempt to rejuvenate and revitalize bodies of the labour movement, to arm them with a militant, grassroots agenda of mobilization.  There is no force stronger than an organized and united working class movement.

Dues Strike

Another option that some affiliates are likely considering is withholding their dues payments from the CLC.  This is a means of putting financial pressure on the organization, without actually withdrawing entirely from the house of labour.  This is something that has been done many times in our movement, often with bad consequences.  These kind of pressure tactics could have unintended consequences on staff and severely inhibit the work of the labour movement.  This is a poor means of settling political questions.

Special Convention

It is clear that the most democratic means of solving important divisions within the labour movement is with a convention.  Conventions of the CLC happen every three years, with the next convention scheduled for 2020.  But when matters of extreme importance are raised, such as the current internal crisis facing the labour movement, there are provisions in the CLC constitution to call a special convention.  A special convention can be called by a majority vote of the Canada Council, or by request of affiliates representing 50% of the membership of the CLC.

This is a costly exercise, and this alone gives reason to be hesitant.  But when one considers the cost of any other course of action, it is obviously the right one.  A convention where thousands of delegates from across the country can meet, debate and decide the future of the labour movement is the only means of solving these questions

OFL opts for Political Action

by Julius Arscott *

The Ontario Federation of Labour convention, held in Toronto, November 20 -24, saw several large affiliates that withheld dues for four years rejoin the House of Labour in Canada’s most populous province.  The dues strike by OPSEU, SEIU and ONA, actuated by a factional battle between conservative union bureaucrats and the progressive past president of the OFL, Sid Ryan, crippled the federation, forcing it to sell its headquarters building. The right wing coup replaced CUPE’s Ryan with UNIFOR’s Chris Buckley.

Many workplace and equity issues were discussed at the convention, but the OFL brass exerted every effort to keep ‘divisive’ issues off the floor.  Several resolutions submitted in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli apartheid state, as well as for the eco-socialist LEAP Manifesto, were buried at the back of the resolutions book.  Convention guest speakers included former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, current ONDP leader Andrea Horwath, and Black Lives Matter activist Desmond Cole.

The legislation that broke the community college teachers’ strike, passed in the Ontario Legislature on the eve of the convention, hung over the proceedings like a foul cloak. The teachers’ battle against precarious work and for workplace democracy evoked great admiration and support, tinged by bitterness at the outcome.  Outrageously, at a march of a few hundred of the 1,100 delegates led by Buckley to Queens Park there was no mention of the strikebreaking legislation; only praise for the labour law reform Bill 148.  Important gains in the form of better union organizing rules, and a rise to a $15/hour minimum wage by 2019, cannot justify turning a blind eye to Liberal government strike breaking and the lasting blow it deals to collective bargaining.

Try as it did, the OFL leadership was unable to prevent a debate on a motion to endorse the union-based New Democratic Party in the next provincial election. The amendment to the official Action Plan carried, but was challenged the very next day. The challenge, orchestrated by the pro-Liberal right wing, and ironically backed by supporters of the Communist Party, was soundly defeated, bucking the trend of so-called ‘strategic voting’, a not so modern version of Samuel Gompers’ “reward your friends, punish your enemies” brand of labour opportunism.  The weakening of the party of the unions only fostered illusions in the Liberal side of Bay Street, and served to reinforce the austerity agenda of the state. The role of socialists and labour militants within the NDP is not to be cheerleaders, but to fight for the interests of the working class against capitalism and its labour lieutenants.

A CUPE rank and file activist, Barry Conway, ran for OFL President against Chris Buckley, on an stridently anti-austerity and anti-fascist platform. Conway gained a respectable 18% of the ballots cast despite the lack of an organized effort.  It was a sign of a growing rejection of status quo unionism in Ontario.

At a lunch break, the leftist Workers Action Movement hosted a well attended public forum titled “How to Fight Austerity – lessons from the College faculty strike”.  Guest speakers came from the college academic division, as well as from UNIFOR and Latin America.  During the entire convention, Socialist Action sold dozens of copies of its press, and staffed a well stocked literature table which attracted interested delegates from across the labour movement.

An emergency resolution, reaffirming organized labour’s right to collectively bargain and strike, was passed on the last day of the convention.  Mike Palecek, President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said that labour should be prepared to defy anti-worker legislation and build the general strike which is needed to defeat the bosses’ strikebreaking, austerity agenda.

* Julius Arscott, a member of the Executive Board of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, was a delegate to the OFL Convention.

Liberals break Ontario College Teachers Strike – with hardly a peep from union tops

by Barry Weisleder

After 86 per cent of 12,000 Ontario community college teachers rejected Management’s last offer in a forced vote, the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne broke their strike with a law pushed through the Ontario Legislature on Sunday, November 19.  Conservative MPPs welcomed it.  Only the labour-based New Democratic Party opposed the strike-breaking law.

Sadly, the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Smokey Thomas, expressed relief that the strike was ended.  He actually told the media that if he was in Wynne’s position, he’d have done the same thing.

No section of the labour bureaucracy urged defiance of the blatant assault on the principle of free collective bargaining and the right to strike.  There may be an OPSEU-initiated court challenge, but that will take years for a decision to be issued on the constitutionality of the law.

No union leaders called for mass job action to demand that the colleges’ Management be forced, by an act of the Legislature, or otherwise, to accept the teachers’ requests for more full-time jobs (right now, 70 per cent of all the teaching positions are part-time), and for ‘academic freedom’ to properly teach and grade their students.

The issues in dispute, that fomented months of negotiations and sparked a five-week strike, now go to arbitration.  Meanwhile, students and teachers will have to shoulder an intense work load as the school year is extended by about four weeks.

Photo Credits: Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press

Ontario College Teachers fight for quality education, decent jobs, equity and a better future

Victory to the Strikers!

More than 12,000 community college faculty, members of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, have been making headlines since the start of their province-wide strike October 16.

The union is fighting to improve education quality for students and to stop the shameful trend towards more precarious jobs on campus.  An inspiring feature of the strike is the unity of full-time faculty with their part-time teaching co-workers.

OPSEU is calling for:

  • More full-time faculty to teach students – In the last decade, the number of students has gone up much faster than the number of full-time faculty.
  • Democracy at school.  For faculty and student input into academic decision-making – for the creation of an “academic senate” that includes both student and faculty representatives.
  • Ensure that there are enough counselors for students – put an end to outsourcing of mental health services so that colleges can adequately meet the mental health needs of students.
  • Job security and better working conditions for contract faculty – contract faculty need to reapply to teach every semester, never knowing whether they will have a job next semester.
  • “Equal pay for equal work” for contract faculty – Contract faculty are not paid to prepare courses, correct assignments, or offer out-of-class support to students. Most of them have to work several part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Congratulations to the striking college teachers for showing the way forward to the entire workers’ movement.  For standing up to management on issues of quality education and student services, good jobs, equity, and against the bosses’ austerity agenda, the teachers deserve full support.

Mass rallies, demonstrations, solidarity picketing and sympathy strikes are the order of the day.

Help to turn the tide against the capitalist state and its servile institutions.  Get involved.  Make a difference.  Build solidarity.  Take action.  Victory to the Strikers!


(The text above is based on a leaflet Socialist Action has been distributing widely for weeks.)

Photo: THOMAS CAMPEAN / THE CANADIAN PRES

Socialist Action walks in solidarity with striking Pearson International Airport workers

Teamsters Local 419 represents 700 workers employed by Swissport, a multinational company subcontracted to handle baggage for several airlines at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (YYZ). The workers have been on strike since July 27. Their demands are:  wage increases that will be only slightly above the proposed increases to the Ontario minimum wage, and keeping benefits for part-time workers.

The workers have overwhelmingly voted down two proposed deals because the employer insists upon concessions. In the second vote, it was 98 per cent NO.  The protracted strike will soon create greater problems for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA).  The strike has implications for airport industrial relations and its 50,000 workers.

Socialist Action is proud to express its solidarity for workers on strike, especially for the members of Local 419 who demonstrate the courage to stand up to the bosses’ demands for concessions, and fight back for gains.