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Workers for the Leap: a great step forward

Carolyn Egan

June 13, 2017

The Canadian Labour Congress convention took place in Toronto in May. Thousands of trade unionists came together to assess the state of the labour movement and develop strategies for the future. Many were first time delegates. Unfortunately, there are usually more policy statements than direction for action coming out of these gatherings.

There were a number of highlights, one of which was a side meeting on the Leap Manifesto. About 65 delegates attended, including members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers from both Alberta and Ontario, the president of a large Unifor local in Fort McMurray, autoworkers from GM in Oshawa, the presidents of a number of labour councils, postal workers, steelworkers and others.

The manifesto is making the rounds of NDP riding associations, as was mandated at the last party convention, and has been getting strong endorsement from members across the country.

Building on that momentum, it was felt that it made sense to go directly to unionized workers attending the CLC convention to have a conversation about what needs to be done, and to start a new organization to press for change: Workers for the Leap. Avi Lewis spoke, as well as others including myself. It was a very good dialogue with many intervening and addressing the need for strong policies to be implemented for a just transition for workers.

Many of those present felt that we have to pressure our unions to demand the needed infrastructure, mass transit, high speed rail, retrofitting of buildings, etc. that will provide good green jobs for workers. These jobs must be long term, union and environmentally friendly so that workers don’t have to depend on fossil fuel extraction to put food on the table.

There was a tremendous urgency in the discussion and a concreteness in the steps that need to be taken. The Greenprint put out by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council was seen as a document that could be duplicated in other jurisdictions, pointing out specific areas such as Tower Renewal (dealing with older apartment buildings), expansion of mass transit including public ownership and operation, the renewal of community housing etc. A follow-up meeting has been planned with the involvement of more workers across the country. It was a great step forward.

Another high point of the convention was a session by Black activist and intellectual, Angela Davis, well known for her writings on class, race and gender in the United States. She spoke at the Human Rights Forum to over eight hundred participants. She spoke of how she was fired from her first job teaching Marxist philosophy because she was a Communist, and went on to say that “demonstrations are a rehearsal for revolution”. She urged us to stay in the streets and stated that we will be post-Marxism after demolishing capitalism, not before, and that we need a richer working class consciousness. She also said that for feminism to succeed, it must be grounded in Marxism.

Although there may be differences among the left, and those can be debated out and proven in practice, it was very refreshing to hear someone speaking clearly about the need for a revolutionary theory at a national labour convention.

Another lesson that I learned from Quebec workers was about the real fights that have been going on through strong strikes and strike votes against two-tiered pension plans. The employers are on an offensive to take away defined benefit pensions, which will harm new hires. Quebec workers have drawn a line in the sand and are fighting back hard and winning victories.

This should give all workers the confidence that our battles over concessions and good jobs for all can be won if we take them on with determination and unity.

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