What Is Left Leadership All about, Anyway?
Bickerton, Geoff, Canadian Dimension
This column is about Nancy Riche, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Recently I attended an event that made me question why I have never examined the role this remarkable woman has played in the Canadian labour movement. The event was the official launch of the CLC Campaign for Workplace Gay Awareness. It made we think of the very many times I have seen Nancy Riche in action since the first time I met her on a bus to join a picket line of social-service workers in 1984.
Lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about the role of leadership in the labour movement and the role that the Left plays in the evaluation of that leadership. Anyone who has read this column knows that I have a healthy respect for most of the labour leaders and activists in this country. Most of them work enormously hard, sacrificing their health and private and family lives for the greater good of the working-class movement. Too often they are the subject of cheap and uninformed criticism from people who have never made the sacrifices and taken the chances that labour leaders take daily.
The best leaders are not necessarily those who get all of the media attention. I think the best leaders are those who work to raise the profile of others, who create space for others to put progressive struggles on the agenda. The best leaders are those who work to broaden and deepen the range of struggles that organized labour undertakes. The best leaders are those who understand that the measure of the labour movement is not to be found looking at the rate of return of labour sponsored investment funds but rather by looking at the number and diversity of our activists and the amount of support that the institutions within the movement are providing to these activists.
The labour leaders who are most building our movement are those who are prepared to take the political risks to ensure the full participation of those who have traditionally been marginalized and excluded, not only in society, but also in the labour movement.
That means women. That means gays and lesbians. That means people of colour, Aboriginal people and the disabled. …