Leadership the Issue at CLC Convention
Bickerton, Geoff, Canadian Dimension
JUST ANOTHER DAY in the labour movement. On June 13, 2005, 212 garbage collection workers began a legal strike in Mississauga. The workers were confronted with scabs performing their work. The union, Teamsters Canada Local Union 419, refused to comment publicly on the reasons for the strike or the issues at stake. The Toronto Star reported on the frustration of the public having to deal with hot weather, smelly garbage, with no idea of the reasons behind the strike.
Four thousand kilometres to the west, the executive board of the United States' largest union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) gave its top leadership the authority to break away from the AFL-CIO. The decision was taken after executive boards of local unions representing 70 percent of SEIU's American membership adopted resolutions authorizing disaffiliation. In making its decision, the board cited a "fundamental and apparently irreconcilable disagreement" over how to rebuild the ailing American labor movement. At the time of writing this column no decision had been made about whether SEIU will actually leave.
On that same day, 2,000 Canadian labour activists met in Montreal to debate policies and elect leaders. The 2005 Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) convention was an opportunity to assess the state of the labour movement. From a policy perspective the convention reflected the progressive character of the Canadian labour movement. Major policy papers on public private partnerships and deep integration were adopted. Resolutions confirming labour's opposition to the anti terrorism act and missile defense were passed with overwhelming majorities.
But good policies are not a substitute for a strategic plan. And the CLC faces very serious difficulties as it attempts to carve out a role for itself in an era in which large, multi-sector unions increasingly compete with each other to organize new members.
While the problems facing Canadian labour may not be as profound as in the United States, the tensions between unions and the uncertainty over the role of labour centrals have many important parallels. It was more than a little ironic that two days after he was given the authority to lead his union out of the AFL-CIO, SEIU International President Andy Stern, visited the CLC convention to announce an international solidarity action being untaken by Montreal cleaners in support of cleaners in Indianapolis. Two days following Sterns visit, his former mentor, AFL-CIO President John Sweeny also paid a visit to the CLC convention. …