By Roger Annis, May 31, 2014
The new president of the Canadian Labour Congress is pledging that the CLC will become a more active and fighting organization on behalf of workers in Canada. He outlined his outlook and objectives in an interview on CBC Radio One’s The Current on May 22. The CBC program titled the segment, ‘Hassan Yussuff and the war on Canadian labour’.
Yussuff says in the interview that he plans to be, “Far more aggressive with employers and governments that are pushing us back.”
Read an excellent report by Evert Hoogers on the Canadian Labour Congress convention of May 5-9, 2014 and the significance of the election of Hassan Yussuff as the new president of the body: Aeration and the CLC convention of 2014, by Evert Hoogers, The Bullet, June 9, 2014.
“Workers in this country want to fight, they want to push back against their employers and governments and they need a leader who is going to lead them in that direction. I’m committed to mobilize our base… If governments continue to attack us, we’re going to respond.”
Yussuff says there is a “war against labour” taking place in Canada and he says he will lead a “ground war” against it. He provided several examples of such a fight during the interview, including a fight to defend the pensions of public service workers, opposing austerity policies that see governments cutting spending on public services, and organizing new sections of the working class into unions, such as retail and service workers.
Hassan Yussuff was elected as CLC president at the triennial convention of the labour federation this month. It was the first time in many CLC conventions where there was an election for the position of president. He was elected executive vice-president of the Congress in 1999. In 2002, he was elected secretary-treasurer.
The Canadian Labour Congress has for years been an entrenched, conservative bureaucracy that has faded into irrelevance for most workers in Canada. It has stood by as federal governments and private employers have attacked or refused improvements to wages and working conditions; social programs such as the Canada Pension Plan, unemployment insurance and childcare; and government services such as postal delivery and passenger rail service. The CLC is nowhere on the urgent climate change issues of our time.
Not coincidentally, over this same time, the ties between unions in English speaking Canada and Quebec have withered. The large, nominal CLC affiliate in Quebec, the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ), exercises an autonomy in CLC structures. That’s not bad in itself, but the FTQ no longer participates meaningfully in the CLC, including at the triennial conventions of the organization.
The long decline of the CLC as a fighting organization cannot be reversed by the election of a new president alone. This must flow from a trade union movement-wide decision to join the new president in making the needed “ground war” a reality. That is a very tall order, indeed. Frankly, it is well-nigh impossible.
The website Rank and File.ca provided extensive news coverage and analysis of the CLC convention that elected Hassan Yussuff. You can read its coverage here.
One of the editors of the website, David Bush, wrote an assessment of the CLC convention and the election of Hassan Yussuff, titling his article, ‘New leader, same challenges’.
Bush noted there is only one new face in the CLC executive, that of Donald Lafleur of the postal workers union. He went on, “[Hassan Yussuff] is a welcome change of rhetoric from the top. However, it is wrong to think that this rhetorical shift will somehow create great change in the labour movement. It was an important victory to get rid of Georgetti [the defeated CLC president incumbent], whose conservative tendencies have reinforced the right-wing in the labour movement. But to describe the officer elections at the CLC as ‘change’ does not reflect the facts. The election amounted to a reshuffling of positions.”
“We have a new President of the CLC and that is good, but the work we have to do remains the same.”
Among the issues facing the union movement and the new CLC leadership today are:
- Defeating the plan by Canada Post to eliminate door to door postal delivery. That plan is deeply antisocial and it will also slash the jobs of some 8,000 postal workers.
- Fighting for improvements to the Canada Pension Plan. That’s a fight that has been long demanded by workers and pensioners but which the CLC and its political party, the NDP, have refused to lead.
- Reversing the drastic cuts to unemployment insurance that have accumulated for several decades now.
- Organizing the workers in private industry, the big majority of whom have no union representation. That can only be done if the union movement aggressively supports the kind of pro-worker social programs outlined above and if it fights for such measures as big improvements to the minimum wage and social welfare.
- Developing an economic and political program to stave off the worst of the accelerating climate change disaster. The unions should fight for an alternative, socialist economy. That would not only protect and enhance the environment, it would also create far more jobs that what the dead end, capitalist and fossil-fuel economy promises.