by Derek Blackadder

The big Canadian story so far this year is the decision by Unifor, the country’s largest private sector union, to leave the Canadian Labour Congress or CLC, the national labour centre.  The decision has sent shockwaves through all unions and it threatens not just national programmes but co-ordination between unions at the regional and local levels.

Splits in national labour movements are far from unknown.  In some countries longstanding ideological differences have meant that multiple national labour bodies are the norm as with Poland or India.  In the USA and South Africa splits over fundamental political or programmatic positions are more recent.  Other than a few years in the 1990s  when the building trades unions formed the Canadian Federation of Labour, the Canadian movement has been united since 1956 when two rival centres merged.

Unifor is the product of a series of mergers between unions dating back decades.  Most of the predecessor unions were the result of splits from an American parent union.  In the private sector most unions were and many still are sections of unions based in the USA.  The largest of Unifor’s predecessor unions, the Canadian Autoworkers or CAW, was formed when Canadian workers resisted the concessions that had been agreed-to by the UAW in bargaining with the large American car makers on both sides of the border.  Nationalism and a commitment to the creation of Canadian unions runs deep in Unifor culture.

Moves by Unifor to assist leaders of large local unions in taking their members out of US-based unions created considerable conflict within the leadership of the CLC.  Unifor sees its actions as supporting the right of workers to freely choose their union.  Opponents point to the CLC’s existing process by which unhappy workers can move from one union to another and attribute Unifor’s frustration to its inability to make gains in membership using that process.

Union activists are deeply worried that fighting over already organized workers will waste resources and serves as a distraction from the movement’s real task: organizing the unorganized.

On 16 January Unifor’s executive made the decision to leave the CLC, promising not to damage solidarity at the local level where unions co-ordinate national mass campaigns.  Several of these are under way at the moment and were, until recently, considered great successes, including one in support of coffee shop workers (see HERE for more).

Unifor explains its reasons for leaving the CLC HERE.

Within hours of the announcement Unifor, in concert with hotel union dissidents, began raiding workers who are currently members of UNITE-HERE, a US-based union.  At this point the Unifor campaign is having considerable success.

Leadership reaction to the split varies by union.  They range from attacks on Unifor to appeals for unification talks.  Activists across the country are expressing concern about Unifor’s motives and goals.  Cross-union caucuses and local Labour Councils (where activists from different unions co-ordinate local activities) are working to ensure effective solidarity despite the split.  See HERE for an example of the rank-and-file reaction and HERE for the reaction of the President of the Toronto Labour Council, the country’s largest.

The Canadian sections of what in North America are called international unions are turning inward and focusing on preparing their members for an approach by Unifor, on defending from a loss in membership.  Canada-only unions, referred-to as national unions, appear to be largely unconcerned about direct confrontations with Unifor.  Local Labour Councils and provincial Federations of Labour are working to minimize the impact, sometimes not knowing if the Unifor members elected to lead them are still eligible to do so.

LabourStart Canada will continue to follow this story as it develops and you can too by visiting the LabourStart Canadian news page or by following our Twitter feeds in both of Canada’s official languages: @LabourStartCanE for stories in English and @LabourStartCanF for stories in French.

This special report is reposted from LabourStart.  Look for the LabourStart table at the upcoming Labor Notes Conference in Chicago.

SEIU: Do the Right Thing!

8cc74a6e-c506-4f92-b38c-5028c93b97fd-1SEIU is about to endorse the candidate who doesn’t support $15 an hour

According to recent news accounts, the SEIU International Executive Board (IEB) is about to endorse Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

SEIU’s biggest national campaign is the Fight for $15 and a union. Across the country, we are organizing workers to strike and demand a $15 minimum wage. Leaders and organizers will lose credibility if SEIU endorses a candidate in the Democratic Primaries who does not support a $15 minimum wage.

Members need to tell SEIU President Mary Kay Henry that an endorsement for Clinton at this time will divide and weaken our union. Call SEIU at 202-730-7000 and ask for Mary Kay Henry’s office or email her at  SEIU also has a “concerns and complaints” line for members at 202-730-7684. Make your voice heard now! Continue reading

Mexican Union (SME) Files NAFTA Labor Complaint

November 14, 2011

Official Seal of the Government of the United ...

On October 27 the Mexican Electrical Workers Union, joined by  more than eighty partners in the U.S. and Canada including USLEAP, submitted a labor complaint to the Canadian government charging Mexico with violating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The complaint focuses on the firing of 44,000 electrical workers in 2009 and the subsequent harassment and intimidation of union members who are fighting for their rights.  A similar complaint will soon be filed with the U.S. government, making it the first labor NAFTA labor complaint submitted under the Obama Administration.

In 2009, the government of President Felipe Calderón sent in soldiers to close the Central Light and Power Company of Mexico, liquidating the state-owned operation and effectively disbanding the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), one of the most important independent and democratic unions in Mexico. More than 44,0000 workers lost their jobs and another 20,000 retirees lost union benefits. The Calderón Administration then replaced the state-owned company with a non-union company and subsequently refused to accept legal recognition of SME’s leadership elected this summer as the union refused to die, occupying the main square in Mexico City until some of their demands were met in mid-September 2011. Continue reading

Greater Toronto Workers Assembly

by Paul Garver

On the occasion of Labour Day, which is also celebrated today in Canada, I have reports on a second exemplary organizing effort in Canada from which American union activists might draw lessons.

The Greater Toronto Workers Assembly (GTWA), which has been emerging into existence step-by-step over the last year, has begun to establish itself as a genuine political movement in Canada’s largest city. Its goal is to “establish a network of activists that is anti-capitalist, democratic, non-sectarian, and dedicated to
building, through coordinated campaign work and political education, a broad multi-racial working class movement that is militant and effective.”
Continue reading

UFCW Canada Fights for Migrant Workers’ Rights

by Paul Garver

On the occasion of Labor Day, which is celebrated today both in the USA and in Canada, I have reports on two exemplary organizing efforts in Canada from which American union activists might learn.
The Canadian branch of the United Food & Commericial Workers Union (UFCW Canada) has committed itself to a sustained effort to improve conditions for migrant agricultural workers in Canada. Every year Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program imports tens of thousands of agricultural laborers from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South Asia. UFCW Canada national president Wayne Hanley describes the TFW as “the federal government’s Exploitation Express that delivers migrant workers to Canada as a vulnerable and disposable work force. The collusion between the farm lobby and the governments is not only appalling, but an assault on the fights and safety of precarious workers who are fired and shipped out if they voice any concerns.”
Continue reading

Attack on Public Sector in North America will Deepen the Economic Crisis in 2010

paul-garver-edited by Paul Garver

Talking Union has not paid nearly enough attention to the growing impact of the economic crisis on the public sector and on public sector employees. Many of our readers belong to public sector unions, while all of us have already been hurt in one way or another by increasingly savage cuts in education, health, welfare and other public programs. Over the next year combatting these negative impacts must become a focus for union and political organizing, in particular at the state, local and provincial (Canada) levels.

To encourage a wider discussion, we are excerpting below three recent articles from the USA and Canada. We encourage readers to send us their ideas about organizing to defend the public sector and reports on their local activities.
Continue reading