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Toronto Labour Council Unveils
Action Agenda For CLC

Canadian Dimension, May-June 2008 Geoff Bickerton

“Canada's labour movement needs to have a frank and detailed discussion about what it will take to build power in the 21st century.”

Indeed it does. That is the challenge laid down to the delegates of the 2008 Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) convention by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. Under the leadership of John Cartwright, one of the movement's most articulate and strategic leaders, the Council is proposing an eleven point program emphasizing organizing, stronger labour councils, green jobs, fighting privatization and campaigning for increased minimum wages.

The Labour Council's program, entitled “An Action Agenda to Build Labour Power in the 21st Century” can be found on the website www.labouraction.ca.

Don't expect the Toronto Labour Council program to generate the type of excitement that the candidacy of Carol Wall brought to the 2005 CLC Convention. Wall, a veteran activist, educator and organizer, ran a spirited campaign emphasizing the necessity of the Congress to provide strategic leadership on issues such as organizing and highlighting the need for the labour movement to develop a new type of relationship with community and coalition partners based on the principles of equality and mutual respect. Standing up against the leadership of almost every affiliate she won the hearts of the convention delegates and 37% of the vote.

The Labour Council program should be seen more as an opportunity for the left and activists to explore the structural and programmatic changes necessary to revitalize the labour movement. The plan is for the interactive website to become a hub of ideas where individuals can post papers and debate issues. Hopefully the process will also involve conferences and seminars where activists from various affiliates can meet, debate, strategize and organize.

Uncertain Role for CLC

It seems like every three years I write a column bemoaning the fact that the CLC is becoming eclipsed by the large affiliates. This year is surely no exception. On the key issues facing labour such as organizing, collective bargaining and polictical action it is the large multi sector unions in the private sector, such as CEP, CAW, USWA, and UFCW, and mega public sector unions such as PSAC, CUPE and NUPGE which make the decisions for the labour movement. Given the competitive, and sometimes antagonistic relationships that exist between many of these large unions it should come as no surprise that the movement is losing its cohesion and larger sense of purpose.

From the outside it is difficult to determine if it is the current Congress leadership that does not want to play a greater leadership role or if it is the large affiliates that stand in the way. Take the Wal-Mart organizing campaign as an example. Everyone agrees that organizing in the retail sector is essential if Canadian labour is to maintain union density at current levels. On May 7, 2005, just prior to the CLC Convention the Congress organized a Day of Action to support the UFCW in its campaign to organize Wal-Mart. Thousands of workers took part. Afterwards, at the convention, delegates unanimously passed a resolution that instructed the CLC leadership to follow up on the May 7, Wal-Mart day of action, by striking a committee of affiliates to plan further public education and actions to assist in raising public awareness and provide support to Wal-Mart workers. It didn't happen.

The issue of raiding and jurisdictional disputes continues to undermine the authority of the Congress. In 2005 Carol Wall spoke strongly from the floor demanding that the CLC take action to stop unions from using voluntary recognition agreements to undercut each other in bargaining and in organizing. Today the CAW stands accused of funding the Canadian Construction Workers Union (CCWU) which entered into a voluntary recognition agreement with Hallmark to block an organizing drive by the SEIU. It is possible that Canada's second largest public sector union may not even attend the CLC convention as a result of a dispute with the Teamsters Union.

In terms of political strategy, and even political allegiances, the labour movement is in a shambles. For its part the Congress has been unable to pull together any effective strategy during the past two elections and the prospects for any future coordinate political strategy appear very bleak as affiliates go their own way, some embracing Liberals, some maintaining support for the NDP while others adopt strategic voting.

These and other issues will be discussed at the CLC convention. Many progressive resolutions and policies will be adopted. Hopefully they will be implemented. My advice is to check out www.labouraction.ca.

Let's see if we can make something happen.

7:00pm, Tuesday May 13, 2008.
Centre for Social Justice, 489 College St, 3rd floor, Toronto.
An Action Agenda for the Canadian Labour Congress
A Discussion on the Coming Convention

That the labour movement is at impasse in Canada is no longer a controversial statement. Organizing difficulties, spreading concessions, wage pressures, and efforts at further privatization, all reflect the way neoliberalism has continued to assault working people. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has proposed an eleven point action program for the coming May convention of the CLC. They have called for wider discussion of the agenda as well as the situation facing the labour movement.
For more information visit: www.labouraction.ca