Monday, May 26 – Today was the first full session of the convention. There are close to 1700 delegates and fraternal delegates in attendance from 31 international unions, 14 national unions, 7 provincial unions, 12 provincial labour federations and 130 municipal labour councils.
The first two reports to the convention were from President Ken Georgetti in the morning and the Executive Council in the afternoon. The Council submitted a 26-page report to delegates. It reports on the activity of the Congress since the last convention three years ago, presenting a positive assessment.
Most contributions to the discussion came from leaders of national unions speaking in support of the report. One dissenting voice was sounded by delegate Willie Lambert from the Autoworkers union in Ontario. I had considerable sympathy for his point of view.
CLC president Ken Georgetti reported in his morning speech of the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in Canada over the past several years. Most people in the labour movement anticipate continued decline in the economic outlook for Canada. Lambert argued that workers in Canada and internationally are up against powerful corporate interests that will continue to degrade workers' jobs, salaries and democratic rights. The labour movement needs a more active and determined fightback, he argued, and a vision for a radically-improved society and world.
The first session of the convention to discuss resolutions was in the afternoon. Unions have submitted hundreds of resolutions to the convention. They are grouped into 14 categories such as international issues, women's rights, climate change, poverty and inequality, and many more. I will report on these categories as they are presented.
Two events at the convention affirmed the CLC's commitment to continue to struggle for women's equality. A noontime march and rally was held in the streets of downtown Toronto, and in the evening the second of the public forums of the convention was held, on women's equality. I was unable to attend the evening session because I attended an Indigneous rights rally (see below).
Several modest resolutions were presented and discussed in support of Indigenous rights, including in support of an apology by the Canadian government for the residential school policy. Emotional testimonies were delivered by several Indigenous delegates when speaking of the residential school system and their personal experience. Several speakers, including Rolf Gerstenberger, president of Steelworkers Local 1005 in Hamilton, pointed out that “apologies” by the Canadian government for the residential school policy or other past injustices are hardly adequate. He called for support in particular to the ongoing sovereignty struggle of the Mohawk people in southwest Ontario.
That evening, a rally launched a tent city on the lawn of the provincial legislature in Toronto to protest the criminalization of Indigenous rights protests and to affirm Indigenous sovereignty and rights. Some 1,000 people attended, including dozens of delegates from the CLC convention. One of the speakers to the rally was Ovide Mercredi, past president of the Assembly of First Nations. He is a forceful and articulate spokesperson for this movement.
This issue is a very serious one. There are three Iindigenous peoples in Ontario whose leaders are sitting in jail or fighting to stay out – the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) people in northern Ontario, and the Ardoch-Algonquin and Tyendinaga (Mohawk) people in eastern Ontario.
A resolution was presented calling for nationalization of the oil industry and was adopted. But this is not the revolution in policy that it may sound like. Most speakers to the resolution interpreted it as being a call for a privately-owned petroleum industry in which the prices of refined products would be regulated and more refining would take place in Canada before export to the United States. It would be a marvellous thing if the CLC were to launch a campaign for oil nationalization; I seriously doubt that this will happen in any short term.