The election of Hassan Yussuff as president of the Canadian Labour Congress has breathed a sense of excitement into the labour movement across the country. The key task for activists now is to push to translate this into a concrete fightback against austerity.
What was originally a three-way race between incumbent Ken Georgetti, left candidate Hassan Husseini and former secretary-treasurer Yussuff turned into a contest between the two long-standing members of the CLC executive when Husseini withdrew in favour of Yussuff.
Georgetti had been president for 15 years, while Yussuff had been Secretary-Treasurer for 12 years. Georgetti's entire slate was defeated, and Yussuff did not run a slate. Barb Byers was elected Secretary-Treasurer, and Marie Clarke Walker and CUPW National VP Donald Lafleur were elected executive VPs.
Many workers of colour see it as a significant breakthrough that an immigrant worker from Guyana has won the highest position in the labour movement in Canada.
Close to 5,000 delegates were registered for the convention, almost double the numbers for the 2011 convention.
Many were first time delegates, many were young workers. An impressive contingent of labour council delegates—including young activists from Halifax, Fredericton and Cape Breton-played a key role in stopping a proposal that would potentially have bureaucratized and strangled labour councils.
About 1,100 attended just for the vote late in the week.
Interestingly, one of the most hotly contested elections in memory has produced a “renewal” executive where 3 of the 4 officers have a combined 40-odd years at the head of the CLC.
This was not the only paradox at the convention.
When Denis Coderre, the recently elected Mayor of Montreal (and former cabinet minister in the Paul Martin Liberal government) welcomed delegates to Montreal, he wore a CUPW ball cap with "Save Canada Post", and led a chant of "So-so-so-solidarité" in support of the fight to maintain home delivery.
But when federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair addressed the convention saying "Canadians can vote for change and actually get change" by voting NDP, he pointed to restoring Old Age Security to 65 years and beginning the process of increasing the Canada Pension Plan. With a federal election coming in 2015, his message to delegates was clearly: don't expect much.
Another paradox: the unions widely seen as more militant, such as Unifor, endorse strategic voting (vote Liberal or NDP), while unions that are viewed to be more moderate, such as USW, call for a vote for the NDP, seeing Liberals as a party of business.
Navigating through these paradoxes at the CLC, in provincial labour federations, local labour councils and our own unions can be like walking through a minefield for activists. We know only too well how union leaders often use these divisions and contradictions to justify inaction and infighting. This is the situation in Ontario today, where unions are divided while Hudak prepares an all-out assault on workers.
As one Ontario labour council leader said, "Now the hard work begins."
Save Canada Post
The movement on the ground is key to ensuring that the new leadership of the CLC, and the broader labour movement, feel the pressure to deliver on the expectations that were so visible at the convention—starting with Canada Post.
In every union local, labour council and beyond we can push for concrete action around saving home delivery. This is already underway in many communities where door to door campaigning is underway. Federal MPs like Alexandre Boulerice and Peggy Nash have organized town halls.
By activating union members in every neighbourhood, this can also build pressure on the NDP to do more than pledge to restore a couple of the things that Harper has cut.
Finally, activists who met and organized in Hassan Husseini's campaign to “Take Back the CLC' have pledged to try to maintain a network beyond this CLC convention, and plan to meet again at the People's Social Forum in Ottawa August 21-24: www.peoplessocialforum.org.
If you like this article, register for Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis, a weekend-long political conference June 14-15 in Toronto. Sessions include “Taking on the anti-union threat in Ontario and Quebec,” “Rebuilding our unions: a rank and file strategy,” and “The birth of industrial unionism in Canada 1937-46.”