Tag Archives: CEP

UNIFOR – will Action match the Rhetoric?

by Lindsay Hinshelwood,

assembly line worker at Ford Oakville, candidate for Unifor President on August 31, 2013

Uniforbuzz

As a 15 year member of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) I couldn’t buy the line that my union was merging with the Communication, Energy and Paper Workers Union (CEP) just to have greater strength in numbers. The labour movement already had the numbers; what it needs is greater solidarity in action. So why this merger to form Unifor?

The CAW name was tarnished for many reasons, not just the lack of democracy and vision, or the plague of appointed reps, or nepotism and tokenism. It was also because of the 2009 auto bailouts in exchange for massive concessions, and for not supporting any other workers.

Here are two examples from my own experience. 1) My Local (now Unifor Local 707) President tried to get a court injunction against the CEP-represented workers at the Ford Oakville Assembly Complex, both in 2006 against an information picket line they set up, and in 2010 for being locked out by the company, instead of supporting those workers and blaming the company. 2) The Local invited Lisa Raitt, the former federal Minister of Labour, to the union hall as a guest speaker after her government legislatively broke the strike of Air Canada and CP Rail workers.

The merger also provided an opportunity for the founding unions to rewrite their Constitutions and tighten up their Policies and Procedures. Which is exactly what they did. The new Unifor constitution protects the National Officers a little more, it reduces the role of the Public Review Board, diminishes the appeal procedure for members who want to grieve decisions, and it allows the union to collect dues from laid off workers who have found other jobs to help them pay bills while they are waiting for a return to work call from their employer.

Back in 2009, during the auto industry bailouts, the CAW was not prepared with a plan. It has yet to come up with a vision, other than the Auto Policy Plan which is full of absurdities, often enacted at the expense of other industries and taxpayers. At the Unifor founding convention officials made claims about union renewal and moving forward. So why didn’t the National Officers, who brag about their experience and knowledge, implement a measure of democracy at the initial convention?

It was an opportunity to implement One Member One Vote, and to invite nominations for the new 25 National Executive Board positions elected at the convention. But this didn’t happen. The retiring National Officers declared it wasn’t the right time — an excuse I’ve been hearing for 15 years.

However, I did get nominated by Bruce Allen, Vice President of former CAW Local 199 and one of the most outspoken militants. I proudly accepted. Never in CAW history had the top positions been contested. It was necessary that Unifor’s first National President be elected instead of following the usual practice where people at the top pick and choose the people at the top.

With a modest grassroots leaflet and only 4 minutes to speak, I managed to snag 17.49% of the vote. That sent a strong message that members want change at the top. It hopefully set the precedent that these positions in future will be contested. The other 24 nominees, all promoted by the National Officers of both unions, were acclaimed. Acclamation should be a dirty word in an organizaton that purports to be democratic.

In 2012 many autoworkers were hoping for a strike. But a strike was avoided by hyping threats of plant closures, followed by more frightful concessions. Unifor has since ‘moved forward’ by ratifying the same massive concessions for GM Cami workers. It accepted that the ‘supplementals’ in those bargaining units will now become full time — but with a 10 year phase in period to reach the top pay rate, so these workers will be working nearly 15 years before they achieve it. And they will never receive the same benefits as those on the first tier. This is shameful. Unifor’s new National President, Jerry Dias, was at the Ford Plant in Oakville on September 19along with Lisa Raitt, now federal Minister of Transportation, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and company executives to celebrate the $135 million in taxpayers’ money to bribe the car bosses to retool for new product lines. Sadly, this P.R. Exercise came on the heels of Unifor Local 707’s fundraising for school supplies.

These latest examples show why the union needs to be independent of, and not a lobbyist for, the government and corporations, because the outcome of subservient lobbying is almost always in favour of the employers and not workers.

Unifor needs to acknowledge the dissension in the rank and file and come up with a vision to bring the ‘supplemental’ and lower waged workers up to a living wage, and address the plight of youth unemployment and underemployment, to truly move forward. It will not thrive if it refuses to lead the fights workers are facing now.

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Watch video of Lindsay Hinshelwood candidate speech for President of UNIFOR:

CAW-CEP Merger – Undemocratic from the start

by Bruce Allen

UNIFOR

At the end of August 2013 a new union, called Unifor, will be launched in Canada with a membership of over 300,000 workers.  At a convention in Toronto, the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP), will officially merge, creating the largest private sector union in the country.

Ostensibly, Unifor will be more powerful and influential than either of its founding parts. It will have more members and more resources at its disposal. But that means only that it has potentially greater power and influence. The merger in no way guarantees that these qualities will be fully realized. Size is certainly not synonymous with effectiveness. In fact, increasingly there are compelling reasons to view this merger with considerable apprehension. In fact, the more one sees of this merger and the process giving rise to it, the more there is cause for concern.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the merger process.  A short time ago CAW National President Ken Lewenza, when interviewed by the Windsor Star, had the audacity to claim the merger process could not be more open and transparent.  If he actually believes that, he has a unique concept of openness and transparency. CAW rank and file members have next to no idea what is going on. Even local CAW leaders have largely been left in the dark until very recently.  Many readily acknowledge this.

The merger process has in fact been driven from the very top of the two unions downwards and effectively shaped behind closed doors.  Few even know who are the people on the committees which have been assembling the terms of merger of the two unions.  Certainly the rank and file have not in any way shaped the process, nor have local union leaders. The bureaucracies of the two unions have exclusively shaped the process. Only now are they engaging, in a very limited and controlled way, local union leaders and members via a series of information meetings and a conference call. The membership has essentially been told they can’t just show up at a meeting of their own union to discuss the new union they are about to become members of, and pay union dues to, and be profoundly affected by.

Consider the following. Initially, fourteen information meetings about the merger were scheduled to take place across Canada.  Half were in Ontario.  Only one meeting each was held in the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  None was held in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.  This was hardly conducive to accessibility and transparency.

But the most damning thing is that neither individual members nor local unions can send resolutions to the founding convention of the new union. What this effectively means is that the bureaucracy of these two unions is going to present a complete merger package to the delegates to the founding convention. Basically, the delegates will be told to take it, in its entirety, or leave it. Thus, the delegates chosen by the membership will have a choice between rubber stamping the entire merger package, or voting against it and effectively scuttling the merger.

This is not the worst of it. When the critical vote is held, if brutal past experience is indicative, there will be an element of intimidation at work. The person chairing the convention will likely make it a standing vote. Delegates vote by standing up to vote, rather than by raising a hand — never mind having a secret ballot. Thus, delegates who want to vote against the merger package will find themselves having to stand up with the eyes of everyone in the room glaring at them.

These things must be stressed because the process reveals that there will be a real absence of democracy in the new union which structurally, and in practice, will perpetuate the absence of meaningful democracy — which has been absent in the CAW at the national level since its inception, exemplified by the fact that, at the CAW’s national council meetings, not one recommendation of the national president has been voted down since 1992.

Consistent with all of this, another thing is noteworthy. Back in 1985, when the then Canadian Region of the UAW broke from the UAW to form the CAW, large general membership meetings were held where the union’s rank and file could go to microphones and express their views without facing a wall of intimidation. They actually debated the issue of forming a new union, and then voted on it. The vote was by a show of hands, not forcing people to stand up to vote. Nothing comparable is happening this time around.

What this reveals is a considerable regression in terms of there being democracy within the union. What this shows is that rather than moving towards a stronger, more influential and democratic organization, what is emerging is one big unaccountable, self-perpetuating, privileged bureaucracy over which the rank and file will have very little control.

Despite this generally bleak picture, there is some reason for hope.  That hope lies in the fact that this union is being arbitrarily cobbled together by the bureaucracies of the two unions with huge unresolved issues.

Foremost among these is the question of political action, which centres on the future relationship to the NDP. They have no answer for this question and it is certain to spark intense debate.

I am hoping this debate will lead to what veteran CAW and socialist militant Joe Flexer used to call “an outbreak of democracy.” The task then will be to pour gasoline on the fire and break things wide open. That opening should include challenging the longstanding embrace of contract concessions by both organizations, and the tepid, selective support given to social movements resisting the austerity agenda.

Only if these things are done will the merger constitute a historic step forward for the labour movement. It is imperative that they are done.