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Labour's pains are no reason to give up the fight

By Buzz Hargrove, President of the Canadian Auto Workers union, The Globe and Mail, Friday 30 June 2000

We've heard a lot in recent weeks about the efforts of Canada's conservative movement to reinvent itself. At the same time, though, Canada's labour movement has been going through a less public but equally important process of reflection, debate, and gut wrenching change.

Earlier this year, eight local unions in Ontario decided to disaffiliate from their U.S. union and join the Canadian Auto Workers. Now that decision, initially affecting 30,000 service workers, may ultimately spark a restructuring of the entire Canadian labour movement, with implications for every union member in the country.

The decision to join the CAW was supported unanimously by the elected leaders of the union locals at issue. And the decision has since been ratified by more than 95 per cent of the thousands of individual workers who have been allowed to vote on the issue. But their parent union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), refuses to accept the verdict of its members. It has placed the eight locals under dictatorial trusteeship, and is suing the renegade leaders personally for millions of dollars.

Now the Canadian Labour Congress, the umbrella organization for most unions in Canada, has closed ranks with the SEIU by imposing sanctions against us for accepting these new members. As of July 1, we at the CAW will be effectively thrown out of the Congress, our leaders and members barred from participating in events ranging from national-level conferences to nitty-gritty local labour council meetings.

According to Congress rules, it is virtually impossible for workers to switch their membership from one union to another; as a result, the decision of the eight locals to join the CAW technically constitutes "raiding." It doesn't matter how badly a union represents its members, or how much it loses the confidence of those who pay its bills. Its members can't switch affiliations without serious risk of losing their certification and their hard-fought bargaining gains altogether. And as long as dues money keeps flowing in from workers who are treated more like indentured servants than trade unionists, then the picture of happy solidarity is preserve -- for the union leaders, anyway.

Many people have asked me why the CAW would risk a split in the labour movement in order to accept only 30,000 members in what for us is a new sector. Our decision was not about getting new members, or moving into a new sector. Rather, our actions are motivated by a deep-seated commitment to union democracy, informed by our own bitter experiences with unaccountable leaders. The CAW was formed only 15 years ago because the Americans running our parent organization put their own agendas ahead of the preferences of their Canadian members. We cannot watch as the aspirations of other Canadian workers are similarly sacrificed.

In part, the current dramatic events have occurred because of the CLC's failure to evolve in response to long-run changes in the broader economy. Hostility from employers and governments meant that cozy business unionism, in which union leaders take few risks and actively co-operate with employers in return for annual wage increases, was no longer sustainable. Meanwhile, the rise of multi-industry unions such as the CAW made old jurisdictional rules obsolete.

The CLC needs new rules governing membership disputes between unions. It also needs to facilitate more creative and militant tactics on the part of the movement as a whole. If it fails, then the cozy non-aggression pact between member unions will soon become the CLC's very raison d'être -- and that's no basis on which to build a vibrant and effective federation.

There's another, deeper failure on the part of individual unions that also underlies the current conflict. Why was a group of service industry workers so intent on joining the CAW in the first place? Because they, like so many other union members in both the private and public sectors, had suffered years of concessions, wage freezes, and other setbacks. Worst of all, they didn't even see their union doing much about it.

Yes, the obstacles confronting unions in recent years have been daunting ones. But many unions lost the basic determination to carry on the fight. Some leaders seemed content to accept huge concessions and other setbacks, so long as the dues kept coming. And if union members are prevented from democratically selecting new representatives, then the gradual decline and bureaucratization of Canada's labour movement will continue.

No union can promise new members rich collective agreements. No union can win every battle it undertakes. But every union must promise that it will fight creatively and forcefully to improve the lives of its members. And every union must respect the democratic right of its members to freely choose their own representatives.

It may be a rocky road for the Canadian labour movement in coming years. But there are other times in our history when we reinvented and restructured ourselves to reflect new challenges, and new ways of facing them. It's far better to take a few risks to revitalize the hopes and dreams of rank-and-file union members than to watch the steady degeneration of a business-as-usual institution.


From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Mon Jul 3 17:15:49 2000
Date: Sun, 2 Jul 2000 17:38:07 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Jim Jaszewski <grok@SPRINT.CA>
Subject: Fwd: [LLO] CAW Expulsion

Mailing-List: ListBot mailing list contact CLC_LO-help@listbot.com
Date: Sun, 02 Jul 2000 16:29:40 -0400
From: Gary Lawrence <lawrenga@total.net>
To: CLC_LO <CLC_LO@listbot.com> Subject: [LLO] CAW Expulsion

Labour Left Opposition - http://CLC_LO.listbot.com

I think it would be good if we had more discussion about the expulsion of the CAW from the CLC and subordinate labour bodies. I have attached [...] Buzz's article on the subject from last Friday's Globe.

Though I think this is a very unusual action on both sides, it presents the left a very good opportunity to encourage reform in the labour movement. I agree with Buzz that our union bureaucracy needs a little shaking up. We need "to facilitate more creative and militant tactics" in defending the rights of working people.

These bureaucrats protect the state by actively (or inactively) stifling the struggles of their members. They are most interested in protecting (their) status quo that's why they are throwing the book at the CAW. The CAW has been a progessive force in the labour and social justice movement. OFL bureaucrats, for example, deliberately overturned a convention decision to organise a General Strike. They selectively enforce the rules. I didn't see anybody expelling them... Maybe we should have.

... gary lawrence

From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Mon Jul 3 17:15:51 2000
Date: Sun, 2 Jul 2000 17:43:48 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Jim Jaszewski <grok@SPRINT.CA>
Subject: Re: [LLO] CAW Expulsion
In-Reply-To: <395FA634.F883541E@total.net>
X-UIDL: 5b52bb41d23ea5f452a26e285ca4ed50

At 04:29 PM 7/2/00 -0400, you wrote:

>I think it would be good if we had more discussion about the expulsion
>of the CAW from the CLC and subordinate labour bodies.

Where else but here and on a few other Internet Lists? Conversations in donut shops, homes, offices, and on the phone and individual email are, almost by definition, limited -- and by the time any 'meeting' is set up, decisions have usually(?) already been made, etc. Not to mention that these meetings are all too often inconclusive in their outcomes...

>OFL bureaucrats, for example, deliberately overturned a
>convention decision to organise a General Strike. They selectively
>enforce the rules. I didn't see anybody expelling them... Maybe we
>should have.

I've personally expended a LOT of energy over the last few years (even to the detriment of any 'career' I might have had) trying to do my bit to burst asunder the ties which bind bureaucrats and other careerists and political fools to the workers' movement, like so many lamprey eels to a fish. I've done this not least for the knowledge that there _would_ be a 'payoff' down the line -- for workers in general, if not for me.

Many hackles have been raised over this, and seldom has this led to an objective appraisal of what I've been alluding to (surprise). One such matter is the question of working 'inside' or 'outside' presently existing workers' organizations. Many will assume, I'm sure, that I am adamantly opposed to _any_ working 'inside' existing organizations -- but this is just simply not so (of course, the 'ends' to which I work are exactly those which these people fear in their tiny little hearts...) :> In the case of the OFL bureaucrats' treachery regarding the Ontario 'Days of Action' I simply want to point out that I would work WHOLEHEARTEDLY to see that these scum are made to account for their sins. At the very least, all non-elected 'decision-makers' should be summarily removed... As for the 'elected ones' -- a 'convention' couldn't come soon enough...

And by 'convention', I am meaning some GRASSROOTS (non-bureaucrat-controlled) forum where changes are to be made CONSTITUTIONALLY: whereby ALL duly passed decisions MUST be implemented -- or the 'responsibles' are OUT on their ears 'toute suite'!!

I am sure that others would want to elaborate on this idea (whether from myself or another source...)

[...] >By Buzz Hargrove
>We've heard a lot in recent weeks about the efforts of Canada's
>conservative movement to reinvent itself. At the same time, though,
>Canada's labour movement has been going through a less public but
>equally important process of reflection, debate, and gut wrenching

How come 'less public', Hargrove? Maybe because we don't have a daily labor newspaper or cable channel?

The rest of his opinion piece is kinda hypocritical -- given the less than democratic internal goings-on in the CAW. I won't comment further on what others are more than capable of replying to...

Jim W. Jaszewski.