Presidents, Postal Strikes and Politics

Article excerpt

The election of Wayne Samuelson as president of the Ontario Federation of Labour does not signal a shift to the right or away from extra-parliamentary struggle. The OFL also overwhelmingly passed a resolution committing the OFL to organize a provincial general strike. His narrow victory over the CAW's Paul Forder more reflects the political balance in the Ontario labour movement, coupled with the Steelworkers' extraordinarily effective electoral machine.

Predictions are a fool's game, but my hunch is that, although he lacks Forder's oratorical skills, Samuelson will very likely emerge as an effective, inclusive leader, something labour desperately requires in the face of continued attacks from the Mike Harris government.

It will be interesting to see how history treats the presidency of Gord Wilson, who steered the OFL through the tumultuous years of the NDP social contract and the split symbolized by the formation of the self-described "pink group" of unions. The writing of union history is rarely an objective exercise. I don't know Wilson well but, like most elected union leaders, he appeared as a complicated, intelligent man struggling to push the movement. He certainly has been no saint, but his actions must be seen in the context of enormous internal divisions and a very pro-capitalist socioeconomic culture. There are three contributions I hope make it into the historical evaluations.

First was his decision in the mid-1980s to expand the OFL executive to include a position for the Left Caucus. At the OFL convention, Wilson made it clear that the seat was for the Left - not a specific union or group of unions, but the Left - so all perspectives could be heard at executive meetings. I think the OFL was one of the very few labour centrals in the world to structurally provide for Left wing representation in this way.

Second, his decision to break with virtually the entire movement leadership, and openly support and campaign for Jean-Claude Parrot when Parrot ran against the CLC slate for executive vice-president in 1992, took more than a little guts. …