The following is a statement by the editors of the Canadian labour news website RankandFile.ca (I am one of the editors). This editorial was originally published on the RankandFile.ca website.
After careful consideration of election platforms, RankandFile.ca is endorsing Hassan Husseini for president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The proposals put forward in his platform, if implemented, will work to develop progressive change in the Canadian labour movement. RankandFile.ca also believes that the current CLC leadership needs to be held accountable for its lacklustre record and poor decisions over the past fifteen years, especially since the economic crisis hit in 2008. The following is an explanation of why we came to this decision.
The Canadian Labour Congress is witnessing its first contested presidential election since 2005. It is also a three-way race between the CLC’s current president Ken Georgetti, the CLC Secretary-Treasurer Hassan Yussuff, and Hassan Husseini, a negotiator with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). This candidate primer has a useful breakdown of the three campaigns.
If official endorsements are any indication, Yussuff and Georgetti have the strongest campaigns. National executives from the Steelworkers, Teamsters, UFCW, NUPGE, LiUNA, CUPE, and IAMAW have all endorsed Georgetti. Yussuff has won support from national executive members of Unifor, PSAC, OECTA, FTQ and the presidents of the Toronto/York and Peel district labour councils.
Meanwhile, Husseini’s campaign has won the support of three labour councils, (Halifax-Dartmouth, Guelph, and Fredericton district councils), two components of PSAC, several Unifor and CUPE locals, a couple area councils, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Ontario chapter), and the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance. There is a noticeable absence of individual union leader endorsements.
The three-way contest neatly represents the two souls of the Canadian labour movement. Early on, with just Husseini and Georgetti in the race, it looked as if there was a neat divide between those who wanted the CLC to continue on its current path and those looking for a shake-up. However, when Yussuff entered the race, it complicated the battlegrounds as both Yussuff and Husseini claim the mantle of change.
The platforms of both Ken Georgetti and Hassan Yussuff are too vague to warrant serious support. There are no real concrete proposals put forward. Buzzwords are not enough. And being a “good guy” is not a good enough reason to deserve votes for president of the CLC. Hassan Husseini’s campaign, meanwhile, includes several important concrete proposals.
One of the most exciting is his promise to shift resources away from the bizarre and far too expensive “Fairness Works” popsicle-themed ad campaign, and to hire organizers for each labour council. Husseini also speaks about cross-union collaboration in training, solidarity actions, and organizing the unorganized. This is a necessity if labour councils and the movement as a whole are to stop the employer and governmental offensive and begin making gains again.
Husseini is also proposing an independent set of political demands by labour which can be taken to political parties as a means of holding them to account. With the ongoing drift of the NDP (provincially and nationally) towards shallow tweakings of the system (i.e. going after ATM fees instead of the banks as a whole), labour also has to use its collective strength to place demands on political parties, including the NDP.
Endorsing Husseini is also a vote against a leadership that needs to be held to account for its record. The Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) campaign waged a few years ago is the most glaring example of the sort of self-inflicted failures that demand accountability. The campaign had pulled thousands of trade unionists into activity at town hall meetings and educationals. A series of MP office occupations took place, including around the raising of Old Age Security eligibility from age 65 to 67. Real pressure from union members and retirees put CPP reform on the national agenda. But once Ken Georgetti’s leadership team got closed-door hearings with politicians, the wider campaign was wound down. While direct lobbying of politicians cannot be ignored, the collective strength of the members, which built the labour movement in the first place, was squandered.
This meant that when CPP reform was finally on the agenda in 2013, the labour movement had no collective strength or bargaining power to bring to bear against the Tory government. As a result, the moment to reform CPP was lost, setting Canadian workers back once again.
RankandFile.ca believes Ken Georgetti and the CLC leadership should be held accountable for this unacceptable failure. It’s the most basic principle of trade unionism: without working together, collectively, we have no power to force employers to bargain. The same is true when we place demands on the government, whoever is in power. The CLC leadership didn’t simply fail to mobilize the membership. It mobilized members and then squandered that momentum through a failed lobbying effort. It chased leaders instead of building movements. This breeds cynicism among workers about the labour movement’s potential for a fightback.
This is why workers who recognize the need for a renewed labour movement driven by the rank-and-file ought to be organized into networks and groups capable of making decisions independent of labour leaders, or pushing labour leaders into making the best decisions, decisions which necessitate an active membership. Without such organization, labour leaders remain the only cohesive layer of the labour movement capable of making independent decisions. The rank-and-file need this power when labour leaders make bad or cowardly decisions, and the rank-and-file can only do this collectively.
Let’s be honest. The CLC itself is weak, perhaps weaker than it has ever been. The real power lies with the component unions of the congress. No matter who is elected, they will be facing an uphill battle in uniting the labour movement. However, at this juncture, electing a progressive leadership in Canada’s house of labour is an important step in rebuilding the confidence and militancy of the Canadian labour movement at all levels. Regardless of who ultimately wins we should recognize this election as an opportunity to build and strengthen networks of trade union activists and determine to make unions relevant political fighting forces for all workers in Canada. It is through this lens that we should understand the importance of the CLC presidential and other executive races.
Editors of RankandFile.ca
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