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Final day of the

Canadian Labour Congress Convention

Toronto, Ontario

By Roger Annis, delegate of IAM Local 11

Friday May 30, 2008 – Participation at the convention is down by approximately one half on this final day of the convention.

Vancouver's safe injection site

The day opened with a resolution to support the continued operation of the Insight safe-injection drug site in Vancouver, the only one in the country. The resolution took on added urgency because Minister of Health Tony Clement announced yesterday that the federal government would appeal a British Columbia court decision earlier this week that said users of the site warranted protection from Canada's drug laws under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees “Life, liberty and security of the person.” The decision gave the government one year to redraft Canada's drug laws so as to provide legal protection to Insight and other such centers that may open.

Delegates expressed a lot of anger against the government decision and several told very moving and emotional personal stories of why services as Insight for drug addicts are so important.

More international resolutions

Two international resolutions were debated and approved in support of human rights in Burma and Colombia. Debate included comments on the political situation in Colombia from a number of delegates who have recently traveled there. Unfortunately, few convention delegates would have heard from the trade union leader from Colombia who was an invited guest to the convention, Luis Hernan Correa Miranda, First Vice-President of the Unitary Workers Central (CUT).

I was fortunate to attend a small gathering of international guests where Miranda spoke. He offered opinion on the civil war and the role of the FARC that I found very informative.

Palestine at the CLC convention

Manawell Abdul Al, member of the executive of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), was in Toronto during the CLC convention as a guest of Labour for Palestine. He is a keynote speaker at the L4P conference to begin this evening. He spoke with Paul Chery of the CTH of Haiti at a parallel international solidarity forum two days ago.

Manawell is a member of the executive committee of the PGFTU. Unfortunately, he was not offered a guest delegate status at the CLC, though a request was made. Manawell is a strong supporter of the PGFTU position on boycott of Israeli apartheid. The CLC has refused to address the 2005 call by Palestinian workers, trade unions and grassroots organizations for boycott of Israeli apartheid. Two CLC affiliates have supported this call – the Ontario division of CUPE, and more recently the national convention of the Canadian Union of Postal workers.

CLC Action Plan

A one-hour session of the convention was devoted to a discussion of a four-page “CLC Action Plan Convention 2008.” The convention voted to make this session a “working committee,” meaning a session in which the Executive Council solicits and receives commentary on the plan and incorporate it into a final version. The document was a very brief summary of resolutions adopted at the convention.

This was the session of the convention where the most number of delegates spoke. Most speakers argued that the action plan should be strengthened to make it a more militant and activist plan. One delegate from CUPE, Rafeef Ziavah, called on the convention to support the appeal of Palestinian unions for a boycott of the Israeli apartheid regime.

Can workers/unions win political power in Canada?

I did not have the opportunity to speak in the discussion on the action plan. Line-ups at the microphones were too long by the time I tried. Had I been quicker on my feet I would have said three things:

One, the party's program and action orientation is timid. The party fails to challenge the control by corporations over the government and society. It does not consistently stand for trade union and working class rights.

Two, the absence of a meaningful political alliance with the Quebec labour movement condemns the NDP to minority status in the federal Parliament. While it's not excluded that the NDP could become the future labour party of Quebecois working people, this seems highly unlikely. Most Quebecois workers do not support the NDP because it has failed to recognize their historical status as a nation and it does not have policy that follows from that reality.

In Quebec, the trade union movement supports the Bloc quebecois that, while supporting the occasional issue of trade union rights such as anti-scab legislation, is in no way a labour party such as the NDP or left progressive party such as Quebec solidaire.

The new Quebec solidaire party offers some hope and prospect for the development of a progressive labour party. It recently won some 10% of the vote in a provincial by-election in the Hull/Gatineau region. But the party does not contest federal elections.

Two additional complications for the NDP today are its timid program on the environmental crisis that barely distinguishes it from the Green Party, and its refusal to champion the growing struggles for political sovereignty by the Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Convention adjournment

The convention adjourned at 11:45 am, earlier than planned because so many delegates had left that the required quorum (delegate attendance) was lost.