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Ontario Federation of Labour: Time to be bold


November 20, 2019

The biannual convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, the umbrella organization of most unions in Ontario, will take place the week of November 25th. Thousands of trade union activists and delegates will gather to discuss and debate what next for unions in Ontario.

The back drop to the convention is that we are heading into the second year of a Tory majority government, looming teachers strike and a growing movement around climate change. Sadly, the past two years have seen little coordinated action on the ground. The OFL has, beyond the odd flurry of activity, done little to regroup labour and build a sustained militant fight against the Doug Ford Tories. 

The current President Chris Buckley, who’s own union UNIFOR is no longer part of the OFL, having left to engage in what was a failed raid on the Hotel workers union (HERE 75), is not running. A slate of current officers who have overseen the lackluster response to Ford is being joined by a few new faces and is being put forward by the outgoing executive. 

At a moment when Ford is plummeting in popularity, millions around the world are in open revolt against neo-liberalism and capitalism. When millions of young people view socialism favourably and are mobilizing around climate, now is not the time to maintain the status quo.

Fortunately they will not just be ordained – two rank and file militants will be challenging the slate.

Barry Conway, the Outside Workers Vice President of CUPE 5167, Hamilton City workers and Kurt Young, an activist from the Sheet Metal workers Union are running for OFL President and Vice President respectively.

Barry Conway is a respected working class activist in Hamilton and has a long track record of defending and supporting his fellow workers. Barry also is on the executive of the Hamilton District Labour Council and a member of the Hamilton IWW (who organised the cross picketing of Postal depots during the back to work legislation). He also as an outstanding record of mobilising against the far-right and racist attacks. 

Every delegate to the OFL who understands the need to build a stronger and more active OFL should vote and encourage their union to vote for Barry and Kurt.

Interview:

Q: Why run for OFL?

A: the question to me is why not run. Last time from the floor I got about 18%. The OFL needs leadership that leads. Leadership that speaks out on both workplace, community and broader social issues. It needs to be an organization that inspire confidence and help rank and file organizing. We need to be able to help re-build rank and file confidence and make the OFL relevant to working people again.

Sadly right now there’s lots of questioning about the OFL and is it even worth paying per caps to. Lots of union members don’t see it as relevant to them or the fights they are engaged in.

Even if we don’t win, ensuring that their is opposition to the status quo in the labour movement is important. It shows that there is growing anger at the base of the unions that want to fight and is looking for stronger responses to the attacks we face.

The larger our vote, the better chances we can push the rest of the labour and open more space for rank and file driven politics.

Q: How do you do that when affiliates keep threatening to pull their per capitas and starve the OFL of resources.

A: The OFL leadership needs to be bold and reach out the rank and file members. Build their confidence by being more visible in building support for strikes, fightbacks in the communities etc… Obviously the OFL has to work with the leadership of the affiliates, but it may mean having to go around others if they don’t want to be part of re-building rank and file confidence to take on the employers. 

We also need to look at how the labour movement is structured: is it structured to meet the challenges we face today? We can find examples where we’ve succeeded and learn from them, build on the successes that do happen. 

There are lots of struggles coming up and the OFL needs to not just be verbal allies, but mobilizing allies in those fights. Calling on all workers to join these fights.

I think if we can build an OFL that starts to do that, we can start to rebuild the trust and begin to build confidence in the OFL again.

But that can’t be done if the leadership isn’t out mobilizing and showing up at workplaces, picket lines and demonstrations. It has to be more than a photo op and press release.

Q:  How come it isn’t a full slate

A: Kurt, who is a strong rank and file militant from the sheet metal workers and myself are running. We have worked to get others on board and build a diverse rank and file slate for leadership. Sadly, some who were interested couldn’t get credentials and others backed away worried about how their leadership respond to them running.

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