Tag Archives: CLC

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.


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

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


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.

Public Forum in Montreal

If you are in the Montreal area on May 5, do you plan to attend this event?

The Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition

invites you to a Public Forum at the site of the Canadian Labour Congress Convention

in Montreal, Monday, May 5, 2014.

No more Labour Concessions Defend Canada’s postal services: 

Fight for Union Democracy, Smash Capitalist Austerity

with speakers (followed by discussion):

  • Hassan Husseini (invited), negotiator for PSAC, member of UNIFOR, and candidate for President of the Canadian Labour Congress.
  • Donald Lafleur, 4th V.P. of CUPW, candidate for Vice-President of the CLC.
  • Lindsay Hinshelwood is a member of UNIFOR, Local 707. She works at Ford in Oakville, Ontario, and was a candidate for UNIFOR President in 2013.
  • Julius Arscott is President of Local 532, Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, and an executive member of OPSEU Greater Toronto Area Council.
  • Barry Weisleder, organizer, Toronto Substitute Teachers’ Action Caucus, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation; co-editor, Socialist Action newspaper.
  • Chairperson:  Elizabeth Byce, retired member, Toronto Local, Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Monday, May 5, 12:30 p.m.

in Room 515 AB, Palais des Congres, Montreal Convention Centre, 900-159, rue Saint-Antoine O., Montréal, Quebec.

For more information, contact the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition
phone:  647 – 986-1917  or   647-728-9143       e-mail:  barryaw@rogers.com