The Canadian trade union movement unravels

How will Unifor splitting from the CLC help workers defend their rights? | WORKERS’ FORUM

In an incredibly destructive move, the largest private-sector union in the country, Unifor, has decided to split from the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). Such a move can only help the Liberal government’s anti-social neo-liberal agenda by creating diversionary issues. Those issues become yet more obstacles hindering workers from uniting against the attacks on their rights and developing a movement to resolve the crisis in their favour. In this regard, how does the Unifor decision unite workers to take stands that favour them as concerns the anti-worker bills on pensions and other matters the Liberal government is presently pushing through Parliament?

Amongst other things, Unifor’s President has just been in the U.S. speaking to Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Ross is directly known to steelworkers as the incredibly rich American who engineered the destruction of Canadian steelmaking. We hope that Unifor’s complaints of “American unions” interfering in Canadian elections does not have in mind Unifor’s main rival, the United Steel Workers better known as USW or “Les Metallos.” USW is an international union, not American per se. Whatever the Unifor President means, the fact remains that the federal Liberal government is also promoting security legislation that targets foreign interference in elections. Electoral reform making foreign cyber attacks during elections a main issue, de facto seeks to deprive Canadians of their right to speak and to organize themselves politically. All this chatter of “foreign interference in elections” both in the U.S. and Canada is done in the name of protecting national security and democracy without challenging the status quo and electoral process that actually disempowers the people and blocks them from exercising their democratic right to elect and be elected.

So too for years, first the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and now its successor Unifor, have sought to cover up their own striving for hegemony in the trade union movement by saying all they are doing is defending democracy. However, similar to the Liberals in power in Ottawa and elsewhere, they never engage workers in discussing what democracy means to them and how they think it can be defended and renewed. Unifor has long been vying for control of the CLC’s agenda by having it submit to Liberal power politics, not those of the NDP championed by its main rival. Rank and file workers in the forefront of struggle against the anti-social offensive have been held hostage to this sectarian warfare.

A serious problem is that this sectarian warfare for power in the CLC in no way renovates the trade unions, national or international, to make them more effective and capable of coping with the neo-liberal anti-social offensive. The offensive of the ruling elite has savaged social programs, driven down the standard of living of most working people and smashed the social contract. Workers’ unions are now routinely blocked with legislation, court injunctions and the global power of monopolies from even negotiating wages, working conditions and pensions in good faith. A dictate or “final offer” is thrown at them and they are told to take it voluntarily or face penalties including jail, job loss, etc..

In most cases, the sectarian warfare has left trade unions weakened as they are supposed to line up behind one side or the other. This is a time the trade unions need to mobilize their members and fellow workers across the country to unite in action to defend their rights and the rights of all, not engage in this kind of diversionary sectarian warfare.

Unifor seems to have taken up the Liberals’ bankrupt propaganda that the problem with elections in Canada for government is foreign interference, and now we are to believe this is also the case for elections for union leadership. This ignores the workers’ experience on many fronts. It does however highlight that what the workers need is to mobilize the working people to fight for their own empowerment and build their own organizations independently of the influence of the ruling imperialist elite and their thinking which is always self-serving. Regarding government power, the current electoral system of representation to establish the legitimacy of a mandate for governments is broken. The reasons for this need to be discussed and analyzed by the workers if they are to provide a remedy, which they must because the ruling class clearly cannot.

To split the CLC does not provide a nation-building alternative to a CLC clearly mired in its own refusal to renovate itself to meet the requirements of the times. What remedies are either the CLC or Unifor offering to the problem of governments or trade unions which no longer represent what Canadians want? Unifor may be a “national union” but what are its politics? To declare that the problem is “interference by American unions” begs the question of what both “national” and “international” unions are doing in practice to uphold the rights of workers under the current conditions and to mobilize them in their millions to defend those rights.

Unifor seems to be blaming others to divert attention from its own positions in support of the Liberals whose narrow interests are not served by uniting working people to defend the rights of all regardless of their union affiliation. The truth of the matter is in the reality that Unifor and others including the CLC and USW have been incapable of uniting the workers’ movement in a genuine nation-building project. If they were capable of this, Canadian workers would not be in such a retreat in the face of the anti-social offensive of the ruling elite.

In the face of great difficulties, workers engaged in struggles across the country are taking their own initiatives to defend themselves and are doing what they can to unite everyone to affirm their rights and speak out in defence of what belongs to them by right. This latest move by Unifor does not favour the efforts of workers to unite in action to defend their rights. It looks like yet another act of neo-liberal wrecking to dishearten, not renew, the working class movement.

Workers have no reason either to be disheartened or elated by Unifor’s move. It is what it is, over which workers have little control at this time. They can respond to this sectarian wrecking by sticking to their own agenda, which they themselves establish, an agenda that responds to their needs as they see them from the vantage point of their own front of struggle. In this way they can defend their movement for their rights and the rights of all, and ensure their struggles are not diverted and smashed.

See full statement by Unifor and CLC, and the report by Canadian Press.

Workers’ Forum, January 18, 2018

1 Comment

Filed under Working Class

One response to “The Canadian trade union movement unravels

  1. That’s a very bad move that will seriously weaken and damage the labour movement for years to come. UK TU membership was 13 million approx. when Thatcher came in ’79. After the Anti-Trade Union Laws/Tory and New Labour, membership is 6 million now. I meet with and Morning Star reader. Brutal.


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