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Day One of the

Canadian Labour Congress Convention

Toronto, Ontario

By Roger Annis, delegate of IAM Local 11

Sunday, May 25 – The first day of the CLC convention began today with a number of pre-convention events. This is a report on three of those events.

Machinists Union Caucus

The International Association of Machinists (IAM) held a caucus meeting for all its delegates. The meeting was focused on proposed changes to the constitution and structure of the CLC in order to address several key problems that have arisen, including disputes between unions when some, such as the CAW, engage in destructive raiding practices against other unions, and creating better representation of affiliated unions on the Executive Council of the Congress.

Along with other unions, the IAM is supporting a call for a more activist and fighting labour movement. They are distributing a printed appeal entitled, “Yes We Can: Action for a Change.”

Three guest speakers from farmer organizations in western Canada were invited to speak to the caucus meeting about their campaign to prevent the attempt by the federal government to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board, which is the equivalent of a collective bargaining agent for grain farmers in Canada.

“An Action Agenda to Build Labour Power
in the 21st Century”

A 90-minute pre-convention meeting attended by some 200 delegates was held to discuss the issues and challenges facing the labour movement in Canada, centered on a published “Action Agenda: To Build Labour Power in the 21st Century.” The meeting was jointly chaired by Carolyn Egan of Steelworkers Area Council and Evalina Pan of the Thunder Bay (Ontario) Labour Council.

The Action Agenda is published at www.labouraction.ca. It consists of a series of radical principles to guide trade union action in the coming period and a call for the CLC to adopt such a program. One of the demands of the program is a call to end the war in Afghanistan and for working together with the Canadian Peace Alliance toward that goal.

The meeting began with four short presentations on recent campaigns and issues. Presenters included Denis Lemelin, national president of CUPW; Noradine Bulay of the “Hotel Workers Rising” campaign of Local 75 of UNITE-HERE; Susan Lambert, vice-president of the BC Teachers Federation (who recounted the history and achievements of the 2005 teachers strike in BC); and Julie White, Research Director of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union.

Julie White talked about her union's support for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The union represents 35,000 workers in oil refineries and other energy industries, so a major issue faced by the union is the job losses that would result if major polluting industries are shut down or radically re-engineered. She made brief reference to the Alberta Tar Sands environmental calamity but did not indicate what position, if any, the union has taken on those projects. She called for an end to oil and gas exports to the United States and said energy prices should be kept low in order to benefit the competitiveness of industries in Canada.

The two co-chairs followed with comments on how a struggle against destructive climate change can also be a struggle for jobs and an economy based on principles of social justice and environmental respect.

Presentations were followed by one hour of very informed contributions from participants at the meeting, focused on how to apply the principles enunciated in the Action Agenda.

Organizers of this meeting are convening another such meeting on Tuesday evening.

Human Rights Forum

The first evening forum of the convention took place this evening on the topic of human rights. This was a very well attended forum with some 300 delegates and rights activists in attendance. I could describe it as a celebration of those fighting and organizing for rights; a most inspiring gathering.

The evening opened with music from Indigenous (Native Indian) singers followed by a young South Asian woman singing five of her own compositions, all touching on social justice.

Hassan Yussuff, chairperson of the CLC human rights department gave a summary of the evolution of human rights in Canada in the past several years. He noted, among others, the abandonment of the Canadian government of Indigenous rights at the United Nations and increasing attacks on democratic rights in the name of “the war on terrorism,” including discrimination against aerospace workers manufacturing military products.

The evening ended with several informed and inspiring guest speakers. One of them was Ovide Mercredi, former Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He spoke on the recent jailings in Ontario of leaders of three Indigenous communities who are opposing incursions onto their lands by mining and forestry companies, including those know as the “KI Six.” He urged participants to attend a large and important rally in Toronto tomorrow to protest these arrests.

Hassan Yussuff thanked Mercredi for his talk and explained decisive actions that the CLC has taken to support the causes of the arrested leaders, including supporting the rally.

A closing note

Typical of the wonderful people attending this convention is a municipal worker from Ontario who had just returned from a solidarity delegation to Cuba. Twenty five union members went on delegation. It was initiated by the Kingston, Ontario labour council. He was deeply impressed by the achievements of Cuban society in education, health care, culture that he observed during the ten days he was there.