Category: Union Democracy and Renewal

CUPE National, regulations concerning elections for national office

By admin, August 25, 2011 2:24 pm

Home / Convention / CUPE National Convention

Regulations concerning elections for national office


Dear Sisters and Brothers:

In accordance with clause 5 of the Chief Electoral Officer section of the Regulations, I serve as the principle administrative support to our Chief Electoral Officer Sister Nancy Riche.

Please find an electronic version of the above mentioned document, adopted by the NEB in 2003 then presented to and received by delegates at the 2003 National Convention.

I want to draw your attention to page two of the Regulations, particularly opportunities for candidates for National Office to have a brochure or letter mailed out to all chartered organizations.

You will note that the production of the brochure or letter is the responsibility of the candidates along with photocopying, translation and mailing costs. We don’t have a lot of experience with acting on these provisions as no candidates have availed themselves of this opportunity since the inception of the Regulations in 2003.

We expect this may change this year and therefore wanted to offer everyone the same information as a guide.

In terms of quantity, a total of 4,000 copies of a brochure or letter are required in order to send to all chartered organizations.

We would suggest that a single mailing be sent which would include pieces from all interested candidates along with a cover note from Sister Nancy Riche, our Chief Electoral Officer. This will serve to bring down the cost of the mailing to each candidate as the cost of the single mailing will be shared by the candidates who chose to participate in the mailing.

For further clarity, we propose that all pieces, in sufficient quantities, be at the National Office by September 27, 2011. The National Office will then mail the pieces in a single mailing on October 4, 2011.

All candidates who are opting to do such a mailing should advise me in advance, so that we can ensure all candidates are included in the mailing.

In solidarity,

Robert Hickes
Managing Director
Organizing and Regional Services Department

Download the full regulations as a PDF
(53 kB)

Labour Chasing Fool’s Gold: Austerity and class struggle

By admin, December 6, 2010 2:12 pm

by Ajamu Nangwaya – BASICS Issue #23 (Nov / Dec 2010)

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

– Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

The above quotation could have been referring to the affection for Keynesian economics by the bureaucrats in Ontario’s trade unions (organized labour).

Keynesianism is a fiscal policy approach that believes the state’s management of the overall injection of spending into the economy by government, businesses and consumers is critical to achieving full employment and economic prosperity.

The government is seen as the key player in encouraging the required level of “aggregate demand.” It does so through its own spending and power over taxation, interest rate and the money supply.

Marx also said that “the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

This quote captures the burden of organized labour’s post-war engagement with Keynesian economics and the way that it tries to resurrect it like old Lazarus, in the face of the current crisis in capitalism.

The brain trust at CUPE Ontario has been trumpeting an alternative economic response to the wage freeze proposal of the McGuinty Liberals.

I, for one, was looking for a transformative document that would be guided by a working-class informed position on political economy and the class struggle.

But what we got was the demand management trope that is the core of John Maynard Keynes’s approach to stabilizing the inherent boom and bust features of capitalism’s business cycle. Keynes’ book, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was written as a manual for maintaining the vibrancy of capitalism.

Why is it that so many labour leaders have this compulsive and inexplicable attachment to Keynesianism?

These used-to-be advocates of the working-class should remember that the post-war welfare state was a strategic bargain between organized labour, the state and the capitalist class in the West to weaken the appeal of socialism or radicalism to the working-class.

Another reason for the unholy alliance of these partners in crime was to support anti-communism at home and abroad as well as allegiance to imperialist policies in the Third World.
The state used its spending and taxation powers and control over the interest rate to manage aggregate demand in the economy. These policy tools facilitated the provision of social programmes as a means to make capitalist political economy legitimate.

However, by the mid-1970s, the capitalist class and the state were sufficiently confident that they had hegemony over the working-class and had contained the threat of socialism.
So they turned their backs on the welfare state deal with organized labour, and thus began the era of neoliberalism.

Looking back at the relentless attack of the elite on workers since the 1970s gives us an insight into the current proposed two-year wage-freeze attack on over 1 million public sector workers by the Ontario Liberals.

Many labour unions’ leaderships are hesitant to define the government’s proposed wage-freeze as part of the class struggle.

This political timidity was evident in CUPE Ontario’s presentation to Liberal government’s functionaries on August 30, 2010. It included colourful graphs and Keynesian arguments for investment in the public sector. CUPE Ontario offered Keynesian advice to a government that just recently borrowed from Keynes’ demand management playbook to prevent an economic collapse of the provincial economy.

It should have been clear to this labour organization that the Liberals didn’t need to be convinced that pumping money into the provincial economy during the Great Recession was a way to maintain an economic environment that was safe for business and maintain the legitimacy of the system in the eyes of the majority.

The preceding state of affairs strengthens our case that the quest to pick over $1.5 billion from the pockets of public sector workers is not about fighting the deficit.
It is about the class struggle and taking the fight to those “uppity” little workers who want a liveable wage.

Premier McGuinty and his group of neoliberal “bandits” must excuse us for not reading the scouting report, which specifies that only a dog-eat-dog economic nightmare befits today’s working-class.

Our bad, ‘Premier Dad’!

CUPE Ontario’s leadership was dismayed that in spite of taking advantage of the “unprecedented opportunity to share our ideas, in detail, with representatives of many government ministries…. discussions did not result in any substantive response from the government to our proposals about better ways to improve and protect public services.”

It may not have dawned on the brain trust of that labour organization that the Ontario Liberals were quite familiar with the required mix of government spending, taxation and interest rate and money supply manipulation to move the economy in the desired direction.

Evidence of how conventional CUPE Ontario’s alternative plan was may be gleaned from the manner in which its recommendation on the taxing certain levels of income dovetails with the anti-taxation message of the right.

In the presentation to the emergency meeting of its affiliated locals in August 2010, CUPE Ontario’s leadership pandered to the political right’s aversion to the taxation of income with the following statement: “High income earner taxes: new top bracket for $130K plus.”

Based on 2004 tax data, only 5 per cent of Canadians earned $89,000 and above so why is CUPE Ontario proposing such a high tax threshold? Could it be that labour leaders and some workers are now earning over $100,000 and are just interested in having others pay any tax increase?

It may not be clear to some labour organizations that a decent social wage through access to universal social programmes is very much dependent on taxation.
An anti-taxation mindset is not in the best interest of the working-class whose access to generous levels of unemployment benefits, public transportation, publicly-funded and operated childcare facilities, public education, a public pension plan and a whole host of public services is only possible when businesses and the general citizenry contribute to the tax base.

Our fight as workers and residents of Ontario against the wage-freeze, attacks on the special diet programme, rollback of spending on Metrolinx transportation programme and billions of dollars in tax cut to the business sector will not be won through Keynesian-inspired fancy power-point presentations to the Ontario Liberals.

It will be won through consistent economic and political education (from a working-class perspective) of public sectors workers and the broader working-class in this province.

It will be won through abandoning the bread-and-butter trade unionism that saw most of Ontario’s public sector unions obsessively focused on the proposed wage-freeze and not the array of policy proposals in the March 2010 budget that assaulted the economic interest of the working-class.

It will be won by working in principled alliances with social movement groups to mobilize and self-organize the working-class to challenge the government in the streets and all available political spaces.

Sucking up to the Ontario Liberals and trying to appear reasonable will not win the struggle for economic justice.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade union activist, member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and former vice-president of CUPE Ontario.

The Privileging of Whiteness in Today’s Union

By admin, October 26, 2010 11:08 am

Current Members of the National Executive Board

The National Executive Board makes decisions on behalf of CUPE members in between conventions. Its members are elected by CUPE members at CUPE’s biennial national conventions. This section contains summaries of the board’s meetings, and decisions taken.

Paul Moist, National President

Paul Moist, CUPE National President

Jun 22, 2009 03:32 PM Paul Moist was elected national president on October 29, 2003, at CUPE’s bi-annual national convention in Quebec City.

Claude Généreux, National Secretary-Treasurer

Claude Généreux, CUPE’s National Secretary-Treasurer

Oct 20, 2009 07:36 PM Claude Généreux first was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in the fall of 2001.

Daniel Légère

Daniel Légère, Regional Vice-President, New Brunswick

Jun 29, 2005 11:49 AM

General Vice-President
Daniel Légère has been a union activist ever since he was first hired as a correctional officer in St. Hilaire, N.B. in 1980. While still on probation, he became a shop steward and fought an unjustified reprimand. His involvement has taken many forms in CUPE and in the community ever since.

Lucie Levasseur

Lucie Levasseur, Regional Vice-President, Quebec

Nov 2, 2007 11:37 AM

General Vice-President
Lucie Levasseur comes to CUPE’s National Executive Board from Québec’s post-secondary education sector.

Fred Hahn


Dec 14, 2009 03:59 PM

General Vice-President, Ontario

Fred Hahn has been an active member of CUPE since 1991. A social worker raised in rural Ontario, Fred chose to use his degree from the University of Toronto advocating for children with intellectual disabilities with Community Living Toronto.

Tom Graham

Tom Graham, Regional Vice-President, Saskatchewan

Oct 1, 2008 12:54 PM

General Vice-President, Saskatchewan

Tom Graham first became involved in CUPE in 1979, when he was hired by the City of Saskatoon Sign and Paint shop. He was elected president of CUPE Saskatchewan in 1998.

Barry O’Neill

Barry O’Neill, General Vice-PresidentJan 16, 2004 10:46 AM

General Vice-President
Barry was elected to the national executive board in 1998, first as a regional vice president.

Wayne Lucas

Wayne Lucas, Regional Vice-President, Newfoundland and Labrador

Aug 24, 2009 03:24 PM

Regional Vice-President, Newfoundland and Labrador

Lucas has been a CUPE member for over 30 years, having started his career as a school board worker in 1978. He has served as the president of CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador for the past 19 years.

Danny Cavanagh

Danny Cavanagh, Regional Vice-President, Nova Scotia

Apr 29, 2005 03:22 PM

Regional Vice-President, Nova Scotia
Danny Cavanagh was first elected as president of CUPE Nova Scotia on April 27th, 2005 at the annual convention in Sydney. He is also president of his local, CUPE 734 the outside workers for the Town of Truro.

Sandy Harding

Sandy Harding, Regional Vice-President, New Brunswick

Jun 10, 2008 03:17 PM

Regional Vice-President, New Brunswick

Milo Murray

Milo Murray, Regional Vice-President, Prince Edward Island

Nov 2, 2007 11:30 AM

Regional Vice-President, Prince Edward Island

Charles Fleury

Charles Fleury, Regional Vice-President, Québec

Nov 3, 2003 11:36 AM

Regional Vice-President, Québec

Charles Fleury is the Secretary-General of CUPE Local 1500, Employees of Hydro-Quebec, and has been regional vice-president since 2005. A Hydro-Quebec employee since 1982, he worked at James Bay until 1991, and is now a transmission installer in the Laurentians.

Nathalie Stringer

Nathalie Stringer, Regional Vice-President for Quebec

May 15, 2008 10:58 AM

Regional Vice-President for Quebec
Nathalie Stringer is president of CUPE’s Air Transat component, with bases in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Michael Hurley

Michael Hurley, Regional Vice-President, Ontario

Dec 18, 2001 11:40 AM

Regional Vice-President, Ontario

Candace Rennick

Candace Rennick, Regional Vice-President, Ontario

Jan 16, 2004 02:19 PM

Regional Vice-President, Ontario
Candace Rennick, a health care worker, is in her third term on the National Executive Board. She was first elected as regional vice-president (RVP) at 23, filling a vacancy for Ontario on the NEB.

Henri Giroux

Nov 20, 2009 02:12 PM

Regional Vice-President, Northern Ontario
Henri Giroux has been president of his local, an Cassellholme Home in North Bay, for 26 years. He has been president of the North Bay CUPE council for the past 10 years, and president of the North Bay and District Labour Council for the past 3 years.

Mike Davidson

See full size image

Nov 20, 2009 02:14 PM

Regional Vice-President, Manitoba
Mike Davidson has been a CUPE member for 30 years, starting out as a park worker at the city of Winnipeg in 1979. He is vice-president for CUPE Manitoba, and president of CUPE Local 500, representing 5000 workers at the City of Winnipeg.

Judy Henley

See full size image

Nov 20, 2009 02:16 PM

Regional Vice-President, Saskatchewan
Sister Judy Henley has been a CUPE member since 1982. She is a Health Care worker; through the years working in health care she held different positions. She is the Secretary-Treasurer of Local 4980 and is currently in her eighth year as Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Saskatchewan.

Dennis Mol

Dennis Mol became Regional Vice-President for Alberta when he was elected president of CUPE Alberta in March 2009.

Jun 11, 2009 08:28 AM

Regional Vice-President, Alberta
Dennis Mol became Regional Vice-President for Alberta when he was elected president of CUPE Alberta in March 2009.

Mark Hancock

Mark Hancock, Regional Vice-President, British Columbia

Aug 11, 2005 12:31 PM

Regional Vice-President, British Columbia
Mark Hancock was appointed August 2, 2005 to replace Colleen Jordan as the Regional Vice President for BC after Colleen Jordan stepped down.

Ken Robinson

BC Regional Vice-President Ken Robinson

Dec 17, 2008 03:17 PM

Regional Vice-President, British Columbia
Ken Robinson is a diet technician at Kelowna General Hospital and has been an HEU member for 20 years. He has held a number of positions on the union’s provincial executive in the past decade, most recently as first vice-president, and is the chairperson of the Kelowna Amalgamated local.

Affirmative Action Seats on the NEB

Yolanda McClean

Yolanda McClean, Diversity Vice-President

Nov 2, 2007 11:46 AM

Diversity Vice-President (Racialized Members)

Brian Barron

Brian Barron, Diversity Vice-President

Nov 2, 2007 11:48 AM

Diversity Vice-President (Aboriginal Members)

Brian Barron is Status First Nations CUPE member. He has been a City of Winnipeg employee for 29 years, working in the Public Works Department in field operations and as a foreman.

CUPE’s National Committees and

Working Groups

National Advisory Committee on Pensions


National Health Care Issues Committee

Health Care 1843

National Global Justice Committee

Global Justice1858

Persons with Disabilities National Working Group


National Young Workers Committee

Young Workers1890

National Child Care Working Group


National Environment Committee


National Health and Safety Committee

Health and safety1951

National Literacy Working Group

Literacy 1956

National Pink Triangle Committee

Pink Triangle1913

National Contracting Out and Privatization Co-ordinating Committee


National Women’s Committee


National Rainbow Committee


National Rainbow Committee


National Aboriginal Council


National Trustees

CUPE national trustees at work on May 12, 2010 in Ottawa. Left to right: Mark Goodwin (ON), Ronald Dagenais (QC), Colin Pawson (BC).

2009 – 2011 Appointments


Total # of Applicants = 476

Total # of members Appointed = 186 Total # of Re-appointments = 108 Total # of new Appointments = 78















Aboriginal Worker





Worker of Colour





Worker with Disability





Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual Worker





Youth Worker





National Political Action Committee

Political Action1925

Farm workers, “dis is not slavery/ just poverty / speaking to democracy”

By admin, October 15, 2010 2:14 am

Participants in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march, organized by Justicia for Migrant Workers

Participants take part in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march, organized by Justicia for Migrant Workers

By Ajamu Nangwaya

i am a H2 worka
pickin apple inna florida
i am a H2 worka
hopin dat tings will be betta
suh don’t tek mi fi granted and pass mi
like is only cane and apple yu si
don’t tek it fi joke and run mi
den sen to mi govament fi more a wi
dis is not slavery
just poverty
talking to democracy

- Excerpt from the poem H2 Worka by Mutabaruka

Mutabaruka, the renowned Jamaican dub poet, accurately captures the lament and pain of migrant farm workers who labour in Ontario and the rest of Canada. These offshore workers come from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines and other Third World areas.

Over the Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada, we enjoyed the bountiful harvest from the farms in this country and the United States in the company of friends and relatives. We probably shared stories of success, challenges and plans for the future.

But did we reflect on the people who made that food possible? No, I am not referring to those mythic and stoic farmers of Canadian legends. I am hinting at the migrant farm workers whose sweat, tears, lives and broken and injured bodies went into producing the cheap food that we all enjoy in the great North that is supposedly fair, strong and free.

I am also referring to the over 25,000 migrant workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program (SAWP) from Mexico and the Caribbean who spend up to eight months per year on farms across Canada. Migrant workers from Thailand, Philippines, Guatemala and Honduras are also finding themselves on these same farms and fields through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training (TFWP), which is even more exploitive. These off-shore workers contribute to the valuable, but exploited work that makes possible the $10 billion in annual income from the farm sector in Ontario.

When Mutabaruka rhymed: “don’t tek it fi joke and run mi / den sen to mi govament fi more a wi”, he is speaking about a sad and disgraceful reality in Canada. When migrant agricultural workers complain about their condition of work, they may be sent home at their own expense and without an appeal process to contest their expulsion.

Many Third World governments are in cahoots with this system of exploitation. They are dependent on the foreign exchange earned from these migrant workers and the SAWP and TFWP are sources of relief for the unemployment pressure at home. These governments have no interest in vigorously protecting their citizens because strong advocacy could force the Canadian state to go to other countries or regions with surplus labour.

The farmers in Canada know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the Caribbean, Mexico and Asia who are willing to do farm labour in Canada. Under plantation slavery in the Americas, the enslavers treated their horses and other materials much better than the enslaved Africans.

The plantation masters did so, because they had a cheap and ready source of labour in Africa. It is not an accident that Mutabaruka protested against seeing migrant workers as mere cane and apple. They are not seen as people, but creatures that help the profit margins of the farm’s operation.

It is not a stretch to see similarities between the systems of slavery and indentureship that were used against enslaved African and indentured South Asian labour in the Caribbean, respectively. The fear of poverty as a constant companion has replaced the whip. It is not the workers who mostly benefit from their backbreaking labour. They are transported across borders to toil in unsafe working conditions, with the connivance of legal authorities or governmental systems.

No wonder Mutabaruka had to admonish the farmers and governments that “dis is not slavery” and the workers are really poor working-class people “hopin dat tings will be betta.”

On the score of “talking to democracy” by resisting migrant workers, I was truly inspired and encouraged by the Justicia for Migrant Workers organized Pilgrimage to Freedom march on October 10th from Leamington (Tomato Capital of Canada), Ontario to city of Windsor, across from Detroit. This march was a 50-kilometre trek.

About 100 migrant workers and their allies carried out this historic march so as to highlight issues such as workers paying in mandatory schemes such as Unemployment Insurance from which they do not get any benefits, exposure to pesticides and farm equipment without adequate training, migrant workers working many years in Canada without the possibility of achieving permanent residency rights, workers being sent home after experiencing serious long-term illness on the job, or not having the right to form or join a union.

We may recall that on September 10, 2010, two Jamaican migrant farm workers, Ralston White, 36, and Paul Roach, 44 died from exposure to gas from an apple cider vat that they were fixing. As Canadians, we need to stand in solidarity with migrant workers and not let governments and private interests exploit them in the name of a cheap food policy and the financial bottom-line.

On the question of marching in solidarity with the migrant workers, it was politically embarrassing to see so few trade union members and trade union organizations as well as members of the various Marxist and anarchist “sects” from Southern Ontario. In my judgment, organized labour and these erstwhile revolutionaries do not like labour initiatives that they cannot colonize and control. I really hope that wasn’t the case in the Pilgrimage to Freedom march.

It is not enough to sing Solidarity Forever or shove revolutionary newspapers or publications in the face of members of the racialized, working-class. The missing in action stunt of these class warriors was worthy of a “Class Solidarity Raspberry Award”. It’s a very deserving and well earned citation given that we’re dealing with issues pertaining to the most exploited section of the working-class in Canada.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade union and community activist, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, and a member of Common Cause – an anarchist organization with branches across Ontario. To get further information or provide support to Justicia (Justice) for Migrant Workers, please visit

It’s the class struggle, stupid!; Organized labour’s confused response to the McGuinty Liberals’ attack on Ontario’s working-class

By admin, September 6, 2010 12:26 pm


Organized labour’s confused response to the McGuinty Liberals’ attack on Ontario’s working-class

By Ajamu Nangwaya and Alex Diceanu

Organized labour in Ontario will continue to put forth a weak and ineffective response to attacks from the ruling class as long as it continues to ignore the reality of class struggle. A perfect example is its current response to a proposed two-year wage-freeze that the Dalton McGuinty-led Ontario government plans on imposing on unionized public sector workers. The provincial Liberals would like to save $750 million per year from a wage-freeze, so as to help manage the $19.3 billion budget deficit. Readers need not be reminded that this deficit is the result of the risky financial speculations of the captains of finance, industry and commerce that created the Great Recession of 2008.

But it is the 710,000 unionized members of the working class and 350,000 non-unionized managers and other employees who draw pay cheques from the government[1] and the users of state-provided services (and private sector workers) who are being asked to bear the burden of paying for the actions of the corporate sector. At the same time as this attempt to take income from the pockets of government workers, the McGuinty Liberals’ have granted a $4.6 billion tax-cut to the business sector.

The leader of the Ontario New Democrats, Andrea Howarth, has signaled her support for public sector workers’ acceptance of a pay cut. She asserts, “I’m quite sure when they get to the bargaining table they will do their part like everyone else does … there is a collective bargaining process that has to be respected.”[2] Wow! Who said that the working-class needs enemies with “friends” like the New Democratic Party (NDP) and its leader Andrea Horwarth?

However, it is the tame and even puzzling reaction of some of Ontario’s major labour leaders that should be of concern to workers in the public sector. The government called labour leaders and employers from the broader public sector to “consultation” talks on the wage freeze on July 19, 2010. Coming out of the talks, this was what CUPE-Ontario president Fred Hahn had to say, “This is not like the early ’90s, this is not about sharing the pain. That’s all just not true”.[3] He was referring to former NDP premier Bob Rae’s unilateral opening of public sector workers’ contracts and the imposition of public sector wage-cuts accompanied by tax increases for the corporate sector. Was Brother Hahn implying that a wage-freeze would be tolerable, if accompanied by the cancelation of the $4.6 billion corporate tax-cut?

No credible union or union leader should contemplate a zero-wage increase over two years – even if the government rescinds the $4.6 billion tax-cut. There should not have been a tax-cut for the capitalist class. Restoring the tax should not be used as a bargaining chip to escape a wage-freeze on public sector workers.

Not to be outdone was the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. We will leave it to you to decipher the implicit message in the following statement by Smokey Thomas. “Just because he [Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan] wants something doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. It’s not a social contract. He can propose (a wage-freeze) but he has to bargain it. He can’t legislate it. He’ll lose.”[4] Is it just us or does that sound like a labour leader who is not really in a fighting spirit and just wants to make a deal?

A simple matter of misguided policy?

However, the critical issue for Ontario’s public sector workers is the extent to which many of our labour leaders seem to be completely unaware of the state and employers’ motives for disciplining labour through wage concessions. Ismael Hossein-zaded of Drake University made the following observation, which is quite applicable to the posturing of labour leaders in Ontario:


Viewing the savage class war of the ruling kleptocracy on the people’s living and working conditions simply as “bad” policy, and hoping to somehow—presumably through smart arguments and sage advice—replace it with the “good” Keynesian policy of deficit spending without a fight, without grassroots‟ involvement and/or pressure, stems from the rather naïve supposition that policy making is a simple matter of technical expertise or the benevolence of policy makers, that is, a matter of choice. The presumed choice is said to be between only two alternatives: between the stimulus or Keynesian deficit spending, on the one hand, and the Neoliberal austerity of cutting social spending, on the other.5

Based on some of the statements coming from labour leaders, they may not have gotten the memo that the attack on the working-class (through the slashing of social programme spending, attacks on private sector pensions and wage freezes) is not about good or bad economic policies. Hossein-Zedad must have been inspired to write his paper after reading the following Keynesian-inspired comment by Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan; “From a policy perspective, it makes no economic sense whatsoever. You’ve got a government saying we need to stimulate the economy. The best way of stimulating the economy is through public-sector workers who spend every single penny of their disposable income in their local communities,”[6] But it’s not about the economy, per se. It’s the class struggle, stupid!

Canada’s economic and political elite have clearly given up the ghost of Keynesian economics, which calls on government to either stimulate or restrict the demand for goods and services based on the state of the economy. In the case of the 2008 crisis in capitalism, these neoliberal players felt forced by the magnitude of the impending financial collapse to pump money into the economy. A not-too-insignificant fact was lost on many observers and commentators who gleefully cheered on the capitalist class’ “Road-to-Damascus” moment. The capitalist state in Canada and other imperialist countries will do everything within their power to maintain a business environment that facilitates the accumulation of capital or profit-making, as well as legitimize the system in the eyes of the people. That is all in a day’s work for the state…no surprise here for class conscious trade unionists and other activists!

Labour’s “Response”

We ought to note that the recent crisis in the economy caught organized labour off-guard and ill-prepared to mobilize the working-class against that monumental failure of capitalism. For decades, Western corporations and governments have been force-feeding the public a steady diet of tax-cuts. Lower taxes on businesses, high-income earners and the wealthy, the widespread slashing of social services and income support programmes, a massive reduction in state oversight and regulation of corporations and the enactment of anti-union policies and legislation have been the all rage since corproations and Western governments abandoned their class-collaborationist pact with organized labour in the 1970s. Yet at the very moment when capitalism experienced a crisis of confidence resulting from a set of policies that had been hailed as perfect ingredients for economic and social progress, organized labour was caught with its pants down. Its leaders didn’t have a class struggle alternative to Keynesian economics – an economic tendency that was never intended to be used as a tool to end wage slavery and the minority rule of bankers, industrialists and the managerial and political elite.

Presently, the labour movement is ideologically and operationally ill-prepared to effectively face down the two-year wage-freeze demand from the McGuinty Liberals. Unfortunately, labour’s leaders have, in the main, focused on narrow economic demands rather than seeking to politically develop union activists and their broader membership behind a class struggle labour movement platform. Union members have been politically deskilled and demobilized in favour of a social service model of trade unionism. These labour leaders have failed to use their unions’ courses, workshops, week-long schools, publications and other educational resources to educate members of the fact that they are a part of a distinct class with economic and political interests that are different from that of the rulers of capitalist society.

Even the most casual of observers understand that organized labour’s raison d’être is to champion the material concerns of the working-class. And yet, ideologically-speaking, most labour leaders in Canada have cast their lot in with capitalism – albeit a more Scandinavian version. This is why a coherent critique of capitalism is notably absent from most union-organized workshops and events. It should therefore not come as a surprise that many union members have swallowed the employers and politicians’ message that Canada is a largely middle-class country and that our collective aspiration should be to remain a member of this class. If the labour leaders, academics and the media say that the majority of Canadians are a part of the middle-class, it must be so. The development of a working-class consciousness becomes very difficult (but not impossible) in this kind of political environment.

The great majority of Canadians are members of the working-class. They sell their labour, exercise little to no control over how their work-life is organized, have no say over how the profit from their labour is distributed and are so alienated from work that the aphorism “Thank god it’s Friday” has its own acronym. One should never define middle-class status as one’s ability to purchase consumer trinkets, live in a mortgaged home or even own a summer cottage. Middle-class status ought to be defined by one’s exercise of power and control and/or the possession of high levels of human capital found among administrative/managerial elites in the private and public sectors, academic elites and independent professionals.

Labour’s Credibility Crisis

The narrow economic obsession of labour leaders was on plain display when Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan revealed the March 2010 Budget. When it became known that the McGuinty Liberals would be seeking a two-year wage-freeze from public sector workers, this news was all that consumed the attention of most labour leaders. Many labour functionaries scrambled around in search of external and internal legal opinions, requesting briefs from senior staff on the impact of a wage-freeze on bargaining in specific sectors and sending out correspondence to members assuring them to “just act as if nothing had happened”, because they’re “already covered by a collective agreement”. Many labour union offices’ and unionized workplaces’ anxiety was centred entirely on the desired wage-freeze by the McGuinty Liberals. Nothing else!

But today we hear labour leaders talking about keeping money in workers’ pockets to stimulate the economy and that their primary concern is maintaining public services at adequate levels. Why didn’t organized labour deploy its resources to educate and mobilize the public against the $4.6 billion corporate tax-cuts, slashing of $4 billion in transportation infrastructure spending from Metrolinx’s $9.3 billion budget7] and the scrapping of the special diet allowance that benefitted over 160,000 members of the working-class for the unprincely sum of $250 million per annum and a mere monthly average of $130 per person[8]? The provincial government anticipates that the two-year wage-freeze across the public sector will net a savings of $1.5 billion – yet the previous $8.6 billion effectively stolen from the working class failed to push organized labour into action.

The leaders of organized labour did not have the imagination to energize their members and the broader citizenry in alliance with other social movement organizations over the Budget. They could have exposed the class priorities of the McGuinty Liberals. The government’s main concerns clearly have nothing to do with those of us who are poor, live from pay cheque to pay cheque and do not patronize the golf courses where McGuinty and his friends hang out when they are not screwing the public. Listen up public sector labour leaders: the people will not be fooled by your claims to be advocating for the general interest. The broader working-class just have to simply see where you direct the labour movement’s resources and they will clue into the issues that are being prioritized. Take a look at the poor, working-class and/or racialized areas that are likely to be affected by the $4 billion cut to Metrolinx’s budget:


…the austerity moves could affect five planned projects: rapid transit lines for Finch Ave. W., Sheppard Ave. E. and the Scarborough RT, along with the Eglinton Ave. cross-town line and an expansion of York region’s Viva service.[9]

Are we to believe that a class-struggle and anti-oppression informed public education, organizing and mobilization campaign in defense of public services, the social wage and a livable wage would not have had some level of traction with the people of Ontario?

An alternative economic plan or a different labour movement?

In some quarters of the trade union sector, there are talks of presenting an alternative plan to the slash-and-burn neoliberal policies of the provincial government. But, the presentation of Keynesian economic proposals by labour leaders is useless in a climate where the ruling class doesn’t feel threatened by a politically mobilized population, especially without “compelling grassroots pressure on policy makers”.[10] We implied earlier that labour unions have a credibility gap with the broader public if they now assert a desire to “broaden the debate, educate community members and local politicians with a view to engaging in actions that protect public services and build strong communities” as outlined by one union. What would be the purpose of the alternative plans of these labour leaders? The status quo of the 1930s to the 1960s that gave rise to the welfare state is not a transformative option.

There is no such thing as a “contextless” context. Where is the necessary political environment that would force the state to make concessions to the working-class out of fear that they maybe inclined to embrace revolutionary options? When some labour leaders are loosely talking about coming up with an alternative (Keynesian economic plan?) stimulus proposal, they would do well to understand the political implications of the following statement:


Keynesian economists seem to be unmindful of this fundamental relationship between economics and politics. Instead, they view economic policies as the outcome of the battle of ideas, not of class forces or interests. And herein lies one of the principal weaknesses of their argument: viewing the Keynesian/New Deal/Social Democratic reforms of the 1930s through the 1960s as the product of Keynes’ or F.D.R.’s genius, or the goodness of their hearts; not of the compelling pressure exerted by the revolutionary movements of that period on the national policy makers to “implement reform in order to prevent revolution,” as F.D.R. famously put it. This explains why economic policy makers of today are not listening to Keynesian arguments—powerful and elegant as they are—because there would be no Keynesian, New Deal, or Social-Democratic economics without revolutionary pressure from the people.[11]

However, when labour leaders shy away from speaking openly about class-struggle and the nature of our economic system, we have a serious problem. It means that they are not in a position to facilitate a class-struggle, democracy-from-below and self-organizing form of trade unionism.

In order fight this attack on the working-class of Ontario, the labour movements’ rank-and-file activists, progressive leaders and principled labour socialists must engage in shop-floor education, organizing and mobilizing that is centred on a class-struggle, anti-racist and anti-oppression campaign. This approach to labour activism must be done in alliance with progressive or radical social movement organizations among women, racialized peoples, indigenous peoples, youth, students, LGBT community, climate/environmental justice, independent and revolutionary labour organizations, anti-authoritarian formations, and radical intellectuals. It must be an alliance based on mutual respect, sharing of approaches to emancipation and resources and a commitment to the value that the oppressed are the architect of and the driving force behind the movement for their emancipation. It is essential that organized labour open up and transform its leadership and decision-making structures to accommodate the full inclusion of its membership, in all their diversity.

In most of our unions and locals, this means starting from the beginning and we can use this current crisis to take those first steps. There is a lot of frustration among union members and community activists over the inaction of labour’s leadership in the face of this attack – and a desire to do something about it. That frustration and desire can be channeled into building cross-union “fight back committees” that bring together trade union and community activists in a city or town, such as members of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly have already begun to do in that city. The “fight back committees” can give us a capacity to act independently from organized labour’s leadership. And probably our first acts should be to organize general assemblies in our locals and town hall meetings in our communities to promote a working-class view of the economic crisis and to mobilize our fellow workers and neighbours around militant, grassroots resistance to the McGuinty government and all the forces promoting a new round of austerity for the working-class.

Nothing less than a self-organizing, class-struggle approach to trade unionism will put labour in a position to fight in the here-and-now, while building the road we must travel on our way to the classless and stateless society of the future.

Alex Diceanu is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906 and a graduate student at McMaster University. Ajamu Nangwaya is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Locals 3907 and 3902 and a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Both authors are members of the Ontario anarchist organization, Common Cause.

[1] Walkom, T. (2010, March 26). Liberals aim at easy targets. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–walkom…
[2] Brennan, R. J. & Talaga, T. (2010, March 26) Hudak cut wages deeper. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–hudak-cut-wages-deeper
[3] Benzie, R. (2010, July 20). Dwight Duncan’s wage-freeze pitch gets frosty reception. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–dwight-duncan-s-wage-freeze-pitch-gets-frosty-reception
[4] Benzie, July 20
[5] Hossein-zaded, I. (2010, July 23-25). Holes in the Keynesian Arguments against Neoliberal Austerity Policy—Not “Bad” Policy, But Class Policy. Retrieved from
[6] Benzie, July 20.
[7] Hume, C. (2010, March 29). Transit still not a priority. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–transit-still-not-a-…
[8] The Canadian Press. (2010 April 1). Ontario asked to restore special diet allowance. Retrieved from
9] Goddard, J., Rider, D. & Kalinoski, (2010, March 26). Miller outraged as budget sideswiped GTA transit. Toronto Star. Retrieved from–miller-outraged-as-budget-sideswipes-gta-transit
[10] Hossein-zaded, I, Holes in the Keynesian arguments against neoliberal austerity policy.
[11] ibid

Labour needs to step up on employment equity

By admin, August 26, 2010 4:02 pm

Posted by Editor on Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 in

Ajamu Nangwaya


There are two issues that are not really grounded in the current public discussion on the Conservative government’s proposed review of employment equity in the national civil service. The two matters are the question of race and structural racism and the role of labour unions and the collective bargaining process.

I hope that there will be no delusion that race and the privileging of Whiteness are at the heart of the federal Conservatives’ attack on employment equity. Minister Jason Kenney singled out “race and ethnicity” as the basis for his support of the re-examination of employment equity.

It is quite instructive that he would have taken this position given the fact that racialized workers are the only ones among the designated groups that are underrepresented in the federal public service. Isn’t this review a move to keep racialized workers at the back of the bus and place them in the unenviable position of looking up from the bottom of the well?

Statistics Canada has projected that racialized people will make up between 29 per cent and 32 per cent of the national population by 2031. The entrenching of discriminatory barriers in the labour market flies in the face of the increasing presence of racialized workers in the labour force.

The labour movement needs to step up and become a vocal, principled and willing advocate for employment equity throughout the workplaces of this country. Labour cannot claim that it is the voice of the working class, but demonstrate through action that it will not boldly and fearlessly work at eliminating racist and other employment barriers in the labour market.

Organized labour must do two things. It must ensure that its own workforce is representative of the society in which it operates. Labour unions should be ashamed of the job that they are doing in removing barriers for racialized workers within its staff.

Trade unions must negotiate full-fledged employment equity plans into the collective agreement with targets and timelines on hiring, training and development, promotion and retention rates. It is quite clear that a vague, progressive-sounding clause on employment equity is just a way for unions and the employers to not do anything once the contract has been signed. An employment equity plan in the legal document (employment contract) provides a mechanism to hold the union and the employer accountable. There should also be language on the commitment of resources and accountability measures with respect to the managers to ensure the success of the program.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade unionist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto.

One Day Longer? The Vale-Inco Strike Comes to a Close

By admin, July 23, 2010 2:21 pm
Socialist Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 395
July 23, 2010

One Day Longer?

The Vale-Inco Strike Comes to a Close

Scott Neigh

On July 7 and 8, 2010, striking members of United Steel Workers Local 6500 in Sudbury, Ontario, voted 75% in favour of a contract that ended a bitter strike against transnational mining giant Vale Inco. The 3300 strikers had been on the picket lines for almost one year (along with members of Local 6200 in Port Colborne, Ontario, who voted in favour by a similar margin).

Despite the immense effort and sacrifices made by workers over the course of the year-long ordeal, the settlement marks a defeat for a local with a reputation for strength in a town with a history of solidarity. It is a hard moment for those who are returning to work – who endured so much and still lost significant ground – but as the world faces the renewed neoliberal assault promised by leaders at the recent G20 summit in Toronto, it is important to ask critical questions that might strengthen all of our struggles in the difficult times ahead.

The Strike

Though it was rarely framed this way during the dispute, this strike was all about neoliberalism. The components of that agenda that are about reorganizing work, tying people’s lives ever more tightly to the market, and taking gains away from ordinary people to the benefit of elites were reflected in the company’s demands.

Steelworkers at the July 26 anti-G20 rally, Queen’s Park, Toronto.

As has so often been the case with neoliberal demands the world over, ordinary people could have chosen to acquiesce, but instead they chose to fight. Yet as has also happened in many places around the world, elites responded to this resistance by inflicting suffering on the bodies of those who resisted. For thousands of working-class families in Sudbury, this meant a year of doing without in significant ways. Some workers lost their homes. Other workers saw their relationships crumble.

It was also clear that the company intended to mount a serious attack on the union. In the earliest days of the strike, a former executive of Inco (as the company was known before being bought by Brazilian transnational Vale in 2006) was quoted anonymously in the Globe and Mail as saying, “They just want to break the union. They want to completely hit the reset button on the entire labour situation and the agreements that have been put in place in the past.” There were occasions later in the strike where articles in the Canadian business press included in their headlines references to Vale trying to break the union, indicating that the business class in Canada did not take seriously the protestations by Vale spokespeople in those same articles that they were doing no such thing.

The company made skillful use of court injunctions in concert with the sophisticated surveillance, harassment, and legal capabilities of strikebreaking firm AFI to limit the possibility for effective, militant picketing. This was the first time since union recognition in the 1940s that a mining company in Sudbury has attempted to use scab labour to restart production during a strike. Though production remained significantly impaired throughout the strike, speculation was that within another two or three months, Vale would have been able to come close to full production using scabs.

The Deal

Nobody on the union side is happy with the contents of the settlement. It represents, according to one community activist I talked to, “a significant defeat.” It contains some improvements over the offer made before the strike in a number of areas, but only very modest ones, and in the overall context of the company winning the substance of all of its major demands.

Though there is a small wage increase over the five-year life of the deal, the nickel price level at which the nickel bonus kicks in has been raised substantially and for the first time there will be a cap on the percentage of a worker’s income that can come from the bonus. One rank-and-file worker that I talked to calculated that the new rules around the nickel bonus could lead to him losing as much as $30,000 per year compared to the height of the boom earlier this decade. The company was also successful in imposing new restrictions on seniority rights, greater freedom to contract out some kinds of work to non-union contractors, and a streamlined grievance procedure that will be less fair to workers. As well, all new hires will now be placed on a defined contribution pension plan, rather than the defined benefit plan in which current workers and retirees are enrolled. Some union activists see this as one step in a larger plan by the company to get all of its current and former employees on the defined contribution scheme.

Beyond the deal itself, the back-to-work protocol has enraged many workers, not the least because it was not made available to them until almost the end of the voting on the deal. The terms include a six week period at the start of the contract in which the union has conceded immense power to the company to restructure the workforce. During this period, most union work can be done by non-union people and the company has great latitude to reassign and transfer workers. Most shockingly, the union has agreed to what one union activist, in only a slight exaggeration, has described as “no grievance procedure whatsoever” for those six weeks.

The company has also persisted in its attempts to weaken mobilizations by the union in future disputes by attacking its ability to protect members who have been active in strike activities. Though the back-to-work protocol called on both sides to drop all legal measures related to the strike, the company appears still to be proceeding with criminal charges against three individual workers and contempt proceedings for alleged violations of the picketing injunction against a number of others, claiming that the protocol only referred to legal actions against the union and its officials. Also, for what appears to be the first time involving a major union in recent Ontario history, nine workers who were fired during the course of the strike were not rehired as part of the deal. While the union has succeeded, with considerable effort, in getting the labour board to hear the cases of these workers and intends to pursue a constitutional case based on freedom of association, the refusal to rehire sets a dangerous precedent for other unions.

Raising Questions

Raising critical questions at such a difficult moment is a risky venture, particularly when they are being raised by someone like myself who is not one of those most directly impacted by the struggle. Yet it is also a moment in which learning from recent victories and defeats is crucial. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney recently predicted a global “age of austerity,” which was confirmed by the elite consensus announced at the G20 meetings in Toronto in June. Workers, communities, indigenous nations, women, queers, people living in poverty, the environment – all will soon be facing reinvigorated neoliberal assault.

Since the acceptance of Vale’s offer I have interviewed a number of (mostly activist) members of Local 6500 as well as community activists who worked in support of the strike – all of the former and some of the latter requested anonymity as a condition of the interviews. I have added this to the observations and informal conversations I had over the course of the strike. The picture that has emerged is of a struggle that was waged with traditional assumptions and tools in an environment and against an enemy that had changed in significant ways. One of the union activists told me, “We went into a gunfight carrying a pencil and they had laser beams.”

At the very least, the loss of this strike at Vale Inco can teach us not to trust old assumptions about resistance in the current environment. And it may also point not just union and community spaces in Sudbury but also those across North America toward some of the questions that we must ask as we brace for what is to come.


The dominant tactical orientation of Local 6500 seemed largely drawn from the mainstream traditions of industrial unions, particularly those with a more “business union” orientation, to borrow a label that one long-time community activist applied to the local. The kinds of preparations made by the leadership and their relationship to the other tactics that emerged over the course of the strike imply an assumption of the primacy of picket-line militancy and of a much more marginal role for other kinds of mobilizations.

There are a number of reasons why circumstances today mean that such tactics, which may have worked in decades past, could no longer seal the deal in Sudbury. For one thing, though Inco has long been a corporation with global reach (and a history of atrocious practices in the global South), Vale is simply a much larger company with much deeper pockets. Though the strike did impair production significantly and did cost the company money, the operations in Sudbury (and elsewhere in Canada) are such a small part of the company’s empire that the level of harm that one group of workers can inflict by withdrawing their labour remains quite limited.

As well, the evolution of labour law in Ontario creates conditions that favour companies. While much local attention focused on the lack of legislation preventing the use of scabs – something that was in force in the province briefly in the early 1990s, and has proven effective in other provinces as well – it is far from the only problem. The combination of injunctions restricting picketing with firms like AFI, which specialize in strikebreaking and the harassment of workers, make the possibility of truly effective picketing even more remote.

Unions, including North America’s remaining industrial strongholds, need to recognize that while picket lines are important, they are no longer the one and only site for struggle. As one union activist I talked to put it, “You won’t win a strike on the picket line, but you sure can lose a strike on the picket line.”

The question becomes how to respond to this reality. What tactics will work? What changes in organizational form, practices, and culture would support more effective tactics? Some of the questions in the following sections point toward some possible avenues for discussion by workers and other activists as we move forward.

Ordinary Members

Over the year that the Steel Workers were on the lines, at least two overlapping but distinct networks of rank-and-file activists emerged, as well as networks among the wives and partners of strikers. One of the worker-based networks was catalyzed as a result of some spaces and resources that came from the international level of the union and the other was a more spontaneous local formation.

These networks experimented with a range of tactics. They drew public attention to scabs. They protested at the hotels where AFI strikebreakers were staying. They successfully campaigned to get the city council to call on the province to pass anti-scab legislation. They rallied repeatedly against provincial and federal politicians, both from the city and farther afield. They mounted fast, short blockades of specific work sites at unexpected intervals. They participated in the G20 labour march. They protested businesses that were crossing the picket lines. Some wives and partners of strikers took on increasingly militant roles, both in some of these actions and in a few autonomously organized actions, as they were not vulnerable to the same threat of consequences as workers.

Discussions about what was effective and what was not still need to happen among the activists in question as the strike is debriefed, but what is clear is that ordinary members applying their energy, knowledge, skills, and willingness to take risks in creative, autonomous ways offered a greatly expanded scope for struggle compared to picket lines alone. There was a great hunger to try new things and to find approaches that might shift public opinion, political positions, and consequences for the company.

There are plenty of indications that much more could be done to make the most of this kind of struggle, whatever specifics workers decide are appropriate in a given instance. It was Gary Kinsman, a long-time activist and a scholar who has worked extensively on the history of Canadian social movements, including some work on Sudbury’s labour movement, who described the local historically as a “business union” and also as “top-down” in its organization. One consequence of this is an internal culture that has not always fostered participatory governance or spaces and resources devoted to facilitating social movement-like mobilization of rank-and-file workers, though there have been moments of exception to this.

From the people I talked to, there seems to have been little attention to building this kind of capacity either in general in recent years or specifically in the lead-up to the strike. The international-sponsored training that lead to the formation of one of the networks happened shortly after the beginning of the strike, but from its content appeared to have been designed for use six months to a year before a strike was expected to occur.

During the strike itself, though the union had the information to mount all of the picket lines it needed from the beginning, it did not produce a coordinated means for mobilizing all of its members for other sorts of actions until several months into the strike. As well, at no point does there appear to have been anyone assigned to coordinate the strike-related activities originating from different spaces within the union. Information flow to and among members was another problem that activists identified. Despite the approval and even resources provided by the local leadership for rank-and-file activities at various points, activists I talked to identified a strong and consistent disconnection of the leadership from the activities organized by the rank-and-file networks.

What can be done to build on the experiences of ordinary members who became active in this strike? What can be done to create spaces and resources during non-strike periods that can build an ever-growing base of members with skills, political knowledge, and confidence to engage in the kinds of actions beyond the picket lines that can help unions win? What is the best role for leadership in doing this? What is the best role for rank-and-file networks? For the families of members?

International Links

Another key element in struggles against global companies (or other global institutions) is making links among those who face the same enemy in different places. North American unions are still in the early stages of figuring out how to do that effectively. The international level of the Steel Workers is, by all accounts, deeply involved in trying to make such linkages, and appeared to be doing a lot of that kind of work in relation to this strike. However, the knowledge among both community and union activists I spoke to in Sudbury was often vague on the details of this work. My sense is that a lot of good things were happening, but that, even when a few members of the local were directly involved, most members had little opportunity to learn about what was happening internationally or to get a practical sense of being involved in a global struggle in alliance with sisters and brothers half a world away.

It is also unclear what kind of barriers to effective solidarity might have been created by the choice at the beginning of the strike to politically frame it in strongly nationalist terms – as Canadian workers and a Canadian community fighting a Brazilian enemy. Official statements after the initial period seemed to pull back somewhat from the blatant nationalism of the earliest period, but never completely, and it continued to exert a powerful influence over at least a segment of the membership. This is, of course, deeply connected to the troubling tendency of much of the broader left in North America to respond to neoliberalism in nationalist ways.

How can substantive global links be forged among workers? How should international work be integrated into local struggles? What barriers do nationalist politics present for such work, as well as to developing deeper understandings of what neoliberalism is and how it works?

Local Alliances

In the current strike, there were a number of barriers to effective mobilizations in the broader community in support of the strike. The following section examines those related to the community itself. However, a key one was, as far as many of us in the community could tell, that the union was not terribly interested or able to cultivate such support. In the early months, there were a number of instances of social justice groups (and quite a few more of individual activists) calling the union to ask what they could do, and never hearing back. Individual demonstrations of support were certainly encouraged, whether that was donating money or taking coffee to a picket line or putting a supportive sign in your window, but building relationships of alliance with activists and social justice groups in the community did not seem to be a high priority.

Again, this has some basis in history. Local 6500 does not have a strong record of building relationships of solidarity with social justice and community groups outside of the labour movement. For many community activists in Sudbury, this was epitomized by the decision of Local 6500 during the Days of Action campaign which swept across Ontario in the late 1990s in opposition to the right-wing provincial government of Premier Mike Harris to use its dominance at the Sudbury and District Labour Council to prevent that body from sponsoring the Sudbury Days of Action.

Given the importance of action beyond the picket line for winning against the neoliberal agenda, how should unions relate to social justice groups in the community? What does reciprocal solidarity look like?

Beyond the Union

While the lack of attention to facilitating community alliances by the local was a significant factor, there was much less there to facilitate than in decades past. As one long-time community activist who requested anonymity sadly told me, this strike “debunked the myth that Sudbury is a union town.”

According to Kinsman, “There was a lot of support for the strike, but a lot of it remained incredibly passive and inactive.” This may explain why all of the union activists I talked to were moderately positive about the level of support they received in the community, while the community activists were uniformly negative.

Laurie McGauley is another long-time activist in the community, with many years of experience in the feminist movement and other social justice spaces. She said that in January, seven months into the strike, there was still “absolutely no community-lead support initiatives going on. Which is unusual for Sudbury in a big strike like this… It just blew my mind.” So she and a few other people called together old contacts and allies, including many with roots in the women’s movement, and put together a group called CANARYS, short for Community Activists Need Answers Regarding Your Safety. For the balance of the strike they held weekly meetings and regular events and protests, often highly theatrical ones, focusing on opposition to scab labour and the danger that under-trained workers posed to the community given the nature of the facilities they were operating. While community response to the group showed a hunger for ways to be more actively in support, no other centres of activity emerged in the community outside of the labour movement.

Even within the labour movement, the response was less vigorous than it could have been. While traditional forms of strike solidarity, like declarations of support and financial donations, began to arrive from other unions from Sudbury and from across the country soon after the strike began – indeed, many unions were very generous over the course of the year – it was also many months into the strike before a support committee focused on mobilizing people was formed at the local labour council.

The community activists I talked to offered a number of theories as to why the level of activism in support of the strike was so low in the broader community. Certainly the disinterest or inability of the union to engage with activism in the community was one. Another was the changes in the shape of the local economy – once upon a time, the mining workforce involved tens of thousands of people, but the local was only 3300 strong at the start of the strike, so the impact on the community was much less.

McGauley also talked about the loss of a culture of activism in the city, which as recently as ten years ago was very vibrant. She noted that the incredible influence of the company, including its generous funding of many local recreational, cultural, and environmental initiatives, meant that many people were hesitant about coming out publicly against Vale. Other community activists pointed toward the material and cultural impacts of neoliberalism. The former means that more people are having to put more time into making ends meet and so have less time for activism, and the latter tends to push a more atomized and individualistic view of the world that has little space for solidarity, social justice, or social change.

This seems to be consistent with the experience of many other communities across Canada. While there are signs in Canada’s largest cities of the beginnings of a modest uptick in social movement activity, at least in specific sectors, this does not seem to have reached much beyond Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

What must be done to recompose sites of struggle in Sudbury and across the continent? What can we do to reconstitute a culture of activism? What questions do we need to be asking and what conversations do we need to be having to begin preparing for the renewed push for neoliberalism promised by the G20?

Looking Forward

It is difficult to ask questions arising from a defeat without encouraging pessimism. Some community activists are worried that this defeat for Local 6500 – an organization with a reputation for strength greater than any sort of people’s organization that most of us in North America can dream of belonging to – might discourage others in Sudbury and others in the larger labour movement from actively resisting when neoliberalism comes knocking. This is certainly possible. But it does not have to be.

At the most basic level, the company wanted to break the union, break the workers, and it failed. The union lost, but it remains a powerful tool that the workers can use to fight another day.

Another consequence of this struggle was that it created activists. One union militant that I talked to estimated that there was a core of between 200 and 300 activists who were consistently involved throughout the strike. Some of these will not stay involved, of course, but many will. They will become a nucleus of struggle against the company and, potentially, of struggles against neoliberalism more broadly in the Sudbury community for decades to come. In this way, the strike has left Sudbury stronger.

The strike also presented glimpses of possibility, little moments of anticipation of what might be. One such moment was a mass direct action near the end of the strike. After talks broke down yet again, a segment of the rank-and-file networks put up blockades at the main entrances to two company facilities with several hundred participants that lasted for multiple days. Many members who had not before been active in the strike outside of picket duty saw this as a chance to do something powerful, and they joined in. The company and the police insisted the action was in violation of the picketing injunction, yet the angry strikers, their families, and supporters from the community remained, even with the threat of police intervention. Yet, when senior union leadership intervened to end the action, there was great anger from many of the rank-and-file workers who were participating, and significant demoralization and demobilization afterward. But it was also a taste of the power of ordinary people, of what resistance in a Sudbury of reinvigorated movements might look like.

What if this kind of tactic was begun not in the late days of the strike but early on? What if there was a longstanding culture of activism within the local to draw on, and vibrant, already-existing rank-and-file networks? What if there were strong links to a highly mobilized community? In such circumstances, it is easy to imagine not 300 people but 3000 people willing to be present even in the face of police disapproval, which would have changed the balance of forces significantly. And what if that was coupled to strong bonds with workers overseas? Coordinated action against Vale at multiple sites around the world becomes imaginable.

It is impossible to know in any definitive way what could have turned a defeat into a victory. However, in thinking about the future, it is important to keep in mind that the speculations in the previous paragraph are not just imaginable, but possible. In fact, not only is the capacity to engage in actions like that possible, it may even be necessary as the “age of austerity” descends. The only way to get there is to begin asking questions like those arising from the Vale Inco strike – questions about how to create participatory organizations; about how to build a movement by creating spaces and using resources such that all of us can grow in confidence, knowledge, and skills, to better act autonomously and creatively; about how to recreate an activist culture in smaller centres across the continent; about how to build real alliances around the world and across different sectors and social locations close to home. Wherever we are, we must begin talking about such things, so that we can move forward together. •

Scott Neigh is a writer, activist, and parent who lives in Sudbury, Ontario. For more of his writing, visit An earlier version of this article appeared on

Canada’s New Dissenting Academy

By admin, June 6, 2010 8:33 pm
Socialist  Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist  Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 359
May 25, 2010

Canada’s New Dissenting Academy

Matthew Brett

As the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences prepares for its annual Congress this May in Montreal, now is the time to create a new dissenting academy. A radical, anti-capitalist reorientation of academia – created for the explicit purpose of addressing urgent issues that stand before us – is necessary.

Theodore Roszak wrote in a collection of essays titled The Dissenting Academy (1967) that the university is rarely “anything better than the handmaiden of official society: the social club of ruling elites, the training school of whatever functionaries the status quo required.”

In the same collection of essays, Marshall Windmiller wrote a remarkable piece on political scientists in the U.S. and their direct involvement in the CIA and the war in Vietnam. Noam Chomsky’s infamous The Responsibility of Intellectuals closed the essay collection.

All authors agreed that the line between universities, the corporate world and government has blurred to irrelevancy. Social scientists were likewise active in planning some of the worst atrocities in recent history, and dissent within the academic community was shunned. The parallels with today are compelling.

Corporatization and the University

Concordia University will be hosting the 2010 Humanities and Social Science Congress this May, so parallels with the 1960s can be drawn with Concordia. However, most universities in Canada share similar characteristics, and this critique should be applied in equal measure to all post-secondary institutions.

Concordia President Judith Woodsworth recently returned from a mission to India with Quebec Premier Jean Charest and a number of business leaders. There can be no doubt that some of the 130 trade delegation members that joined the trade mission are part of Canada’s massive mining and finance sectors that trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange and are busy exploiting India’s natural resources while gross human rights violations take place. This is representative of the intertwining of universities and Canadian imperialism.

Woodsworth is a strong university president, and a breath of fresh air after the untimely and costly departure of the unpopular Claude Lajeunesse, but it is a shame that the president can praise India’s “flourishing economy, [and] rise of the middle class” without documenting the mass state violence and suppression of the rural poor taking place at this very moment in the name of “development.”

India’s “flourishing economy” also comes with a state military apparatus that is busy “burning villages, raping women, [and] burning food crops,” according to Arhundati Roy, whose recently-published Field Notes on Democracy is a must read.

Just this Tuesday, May 18, Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty was in India stating that trade between the two countries has increased 70 per cent since 2007.

It is in this vein that all Canadian university trade missions to developing economies, such as China, should be regarded. It would not be at all surprising to see Canadian institutions go on a mission to Colombia once the Canadian free trade agreement is ratified this year in Ottawa!

Research interests also align very closely with prevailing government policy. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade recently offered 10 fellowships of $5,000 each to graduate researchers who submit a paper on “Canada’s Role in the Circumpolar World.”

Research must focus on “the Arctic Council as a mechanism to advance Canada’s foreign policy objectives.” Just one month prior to this call for submissions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was taking part in Operation Nanook, a military exercise demonstrating Canada’s “unyielding resolve” to protect the north from those nasty Norwegians. State leaders never stop for a moment to reflect on the madness of militarizing/colonizing the indigenous north precisely to exploit the very resources – namely fossil fuels – that helped cause the melting of these ice sheets in the first place.

Universities for the Status-Quo

University’s communications, journalism, business, engineering, geography and urban planning departments all sustain the status-quo with remarkable efficiency. Students can take advanced courses in derivatives, a primary driver of the financial crisis, but the business school pats itself on the back for adding a course or two on business ethics or “sustainable development.” Lecture halls are named after banks, breweries and investors. Moreover, political science graduate programs across Canada are most often designed explicitly to train the new mandarins of Ottawa, with the largest growth in studies related to the security and international apparatuses of the state, rather than educating students as citizens for democracy and the building of social movements.

Yet there are urgent issues that require critical attention. The World Bank predicts an increase of 200,000 to 400,000 infant deaths as a result of the financial crisis, and bloody wars continue in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (thanks Obama) and Israel-Palestine, with women and children as the primary victims. Iran finds itself at a critical juncture. Global chronic malnutrition has reached historic levels, affecting one sixth of all humanity, according to a recent UN report.

The deteriorating environment is also a grave concern for the world’s leading scientists and humanity at large, and the global economy needs a radical rethink. There will be another financial crisis unless we make deep and fundamental changes to governance and finance. This must necessarily be a political and revolutionary project.

Yet intellectual responses to these crises have yet to coalesce around a broad national and international dissident movement, so the question begs itself: along what lines will this new dissenting academy be drawn? Geographer David Harvey offered a compelling framework during his 2010 World Social Forum speech, “Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition.”

“The current knowledge structure,” Harvey said, “is clearly dysfunctional and equally clearly illegitimate. The only hope is that a new generation of perceptive students (in the broad sense of all those who seek to know the world) will clearly see it so and insist upon changing it.”

The time seems more than right to insist upon changing not only the illegitimate structure of our education system but also the illegitimate cultural, economic and governmental structures that perpetuate this perilous trajectory.

Seeds of Dissent

There are seeds of dissent at Concordia as at other university campuses, but not nearly enough for a sustained movement. This winter’s well attended Study in Action Conference should serve as a springboard for a broader dissident movement, and there are clear signs of organizing within the Association pour une Solidarité Syndical Étudiante and Free Education Montreal.

A Concordia graduate union meeting last week drew over 130 students, and there is clearly a swelling of dissent within the academy following notice of tuition hikes, 30 per cent pay cuts to teaching assistants and a condensing of payment schemes that will adversely affect low income students.

Fortunately, hundreds of Concordia students have developed a highly-functional network of dissent. But like at other campuses, Canada’s student movement needs some unifying purpose, a galvanizing point, increased organizational coherence, and connection to the wider struggles against the deepening of neoliberalism from the financial crisis.

At Concordia, to use as an illustrative example of what could be paralleled at other campuses, the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia (QPIRG Concordia), the Red School, the Community University Research Exchange (CURE), Free Education Montreal – are all key student organizations that are slowly coming together.

That said, the main representative organizations of students – the Concordia Student Union and the Arts and Science Federation of Association and most student organizations – have been painfully silent on the upcoming tuition hikes.

In Quebec, a movement toward a student strike should also be on the table, and this can only be achieved by deepening the organizational linkages of student activists and connecting to wider political struggles.

An anti-capitalist student movement must also necessarily be international in scope. Canadian internationalists must develop strong links not only between provinces but between states and continents. Campus occupations in Puerto Rico and California must receive direct material and social support from a Canada-wide student movement.

More broadly, teach-ins like the “Anti-capitalist Teach-in Against the G8/G20” being held in Montreal must become regular affairs. New educational systems must flourish, along with educational cooperatives and a well organized communications strategy to facilitate this process. Student-run organizations must come together to form a unified movement with pan-Canadian and international links. This is merely a sketch of what must emerge in the face of local and global injustice and the evident way that the financial crisis is now playing out in public sector austerity and further attacks on public institutions. As the Congress of academic associations meets this month, such discussions must be put on the agenda of faculty as much as students. As Canadian programs spending promises to reach lows not seen since World War II, these anti-capitalist and indeed revolutionary ideas do have a window of opportunity to take material form. •

Matthew Brett is a master’s student in political science at Concordia University and a regular columnist with The Link, Concordia’s student newspaper. He also coordinates a reading group of Marx’s Capital based on David Harvey’s online lectures. Those wishing to contact members of Montreal’s student movement are encouraged to contact Matthew. E-mail him at

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The Public Sector: Searching for a Focus

By admin, May 16, 2010 2:24 pm
Socialist  Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist  Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 354
May 15, 2010

The Public Sector:
Searching for a Focus

Sam Gindin and Michael Hurley

As capitalism begins to emerge from the ‘Great Financial Crisis,’ there is good reason for working people to refrain from celebration. Though the roots of the crisis were in the private sector, it’s clear that the bill will be primarily paid via the public sector – which is to say that the costs will be placed on the working class as both providers and recipients of social services. Moreover, although economic and political elites experienced a significant decline in credibility as a result of the crisis, popular movements – a few exceptions aside – remain on the defensive and are generally ill-prepared to respond. Most dangerously, as our weaknesses are exposed, and as pressures from business grow to ‘deal with the deficit,’ the government will likely harden its position and modest restraints will turn into more severe cutbacks.

And so at a time when people will need more public programs and supports, they will get less. In Ontario, the recent $200-million cut to the ‘special diet program,’ to help people on social assistance buy fresh fruits and vegetables and other medically necessary dietary supplements, is one especially disgraceful example of this, after spending billions bailing out auto companies and supporting the financial sector. And at a moment when unions in the private sector are reeling from the job losses resulting from restructuring and globalization, it is their public sector counterparts – now at the center of any hope for reviving the labour movement – that are under the gun.

The Challenge to Unions

The 2010 Ontario Budget of the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty – following a pattern set in Budgets at the Federal level and in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia and now being generalized across the country – tries to trap and marginalize public sector workers in two particular ways. First, the government framed the issue to isolate these workers. It cynically set itself up as the defender of services, while suggesting that higher labour costs would be paid for through cutting services: if workers demand improved compensation, this would only prove that they didn’t care about the public. The very name given to the legislation makes this intent clear enough: the ‘Public Sector Compensation Restraint and Protection of Public Services Act.’

Second, the Ontario government has attempted to create a wage freeze environment, that is, to orient workers and their unions to assume that wage and benefit gains are impossible. It has not done this by directly introducing legislation to open existing collective agreements or to directly ban bargaining gains. Instead, it imposed a two-year compensation freeze on non-unionized employees alongside stipulating that its ‘transfer partners’ (the various agencies and departments involved in bargaining with unions) would not be funded for any net compensation increases in any open or renewal collective agreements. Those employers would, of course, use that limit on funding to ‘reluctantly’ offer unionized workers only zero compensation packages.

For all the politics behind the focus on controlling wages without the Liberal government directly doing the dirty work, the approach they’ve taken is very likely linked to a 2007 Supreme Court decision. That ruling declared a law unconstitutional if “provisions of the legislation enacted by the government interfere with their [i.e. unions'] right to a process of collective bargaining with the employer.” The Supreme Court, however, closed its eyes to the substance of bargaining: “It is the collective bargaining process that is constitutionally protected, not the content of the actual provisions of the collective agreements.” This seems to endorse the hypocrisy of the Ontario government saying they have left bargaining intact, while supporting specific employers who argue they are bargaining in good faith even if the end result is pre-determined. [Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia, SCR 391, June 8, 2007.]

In 2010, approximately 850 agreements covering 134,000 public sector workers open for negotiation in Ontario. Among the first agreements up are many covering small social service agencies, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and numerous university collective agreements of CUPE. Last year’s strikes at York University and city workers in Windsor and Toronto (all represented by CUPE) were difficult. In the new environment, strikes will be all the more tough-going. An April 2010 OPSEU settlement of 0% and 0% for 1,200 Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) employees with the right to strike may be suggestive of where OPSEU will be heading in sectors with the right to strike, including social services. At the municipal level (where employers can raise revenue through taxation) and in essential services workers (where unions have access to interest arbitration), the settlement outcomes may be different.

Wage freeze regimes, like the Ontario government is attempting to impose, block workers from sharing in the output gains from productivity increases. As well, they prevent addressing the incredible shift in income distribution in favour of the richest groups in society since the early 1980s. How might unions effectively respond without becoming public scapegoats?

Bargaining Wages: Limits on ‘Business-as-Usual’

The response from public sector union leaders – divided by politics, ideology, and bargaining territory but united in their caution – has been muted. Ontario Revenue Minister John Wilkinson has indicated that some kind of implicit accord has been reached with the union leadership already. Seven years of “unprecedented labour peace” between the Ontario government and public sector workers, he suggested, will see workers and their unions co-operate rather than fight with the government on the wage freezes. “I’ve been really surprised and kind of heartened … by the fact that people who are paid by the taxpayers, have all kind of indicated they understand,” he said.

It may be tempting to recommend that unions who are too weak to resist wage cuts look to ‘trading-off’ wages for jobs. But if there is any lesson from the past, it is that when workers look to trade wages for jobs they generally end up with lower wages and fewer jobs. The reason for this is quite straightforward: it is one thing to fight for jobs and another to think they can be won out of weakness. If cutting public sector jobs is a government priority, they won’t reverse themselves unless public sector unions and allies are strong enough to force them to.

In the past, the public sector union response might have been obvious: we won’t let them erode our individual and collective democratic rights – at least we won’t let it happen without a bitter fight. In today’s context, the problem is that confronting individual employers one-by-one leaves public sector unions too fragmented to break the clampdown on wages and doesn’t address the lack of community support – without which politicians and employers are left more confident in their hard line while union members tend to become more demoralized

A serious response would require a very significant mobilization – at a minimum creating new structures for bringing unions together. Unless this is done, militant rhetoric about defying the wage freeze is only posturing. It also risks leaving public sector union members more isolated, and therefore more vulnerable in the future, than before. But it also requires bringing the users of public services – the rest of the working class – to our side. And that may mean going beyond general support for social issues; it may necessitate bringing that commitment into collective bargaining.

Adjusting Union Strategy: Expanding Collective Bargaining

In the 1930s – the last time the working class went through comparable economic chaos – workers radically and creatively adjusted their strategy by developing sectoral-based industrial unions. A comparable strategic adjustment for unions today would lie in transforming the confrontation from one between the workers and the individual employer, to one between public sector workers and the province by consolidating bargaining strength and moving into a strike position together.

Although specific groups of workers may well have very legitimate wage and benefit claims and may win the occasional battle, the strategic issue today is not in fact wages. If jobs go, wages are secondary but if public sector workers lead a fight to protect and extend services, this not only addresses jobs but builds the community support for taking on future wage improvements.

The strategic shift for public sector unions might be posed as follows: the government, by removing wages and benefit improvements from negotiations, is trying to dramatically narrow collective bargaining. What if the unions responded by expanding collective bargaining? What if public sector unions refused to settle collective agreements unless the settlements address the level, quality and administration of the services being provided?

Unions have often taken positions on these issues, and a number of unions or locals have already moved toward greater community links. The Ontario Health Coalition and CUPE, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), OPSEU, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) have over many years been holding forums and mobilizing at the community level against healthcare cutbacks. The CUPE Toronto Hydro local has revived its previously successful campaign against privatization and is now extending that campaign to engage communities on the potential environmental leadership role of a publically owned electrical utility. The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) has been holding forums on transit services. CUPE workers in the Toronto education sector have been mobilizing at the community level against school closures. At the level of central labour bodies, the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, working with groups outside the official trade union movement like the Workers’ Action Center, held a successful series of community forums to win increases in the minimum wage. But going a step further and demonstrating the commitment of unions to improved public services by placing these issues on the bargaining table would represent a radical break in a number of ways.

First, the labour movement would have a focus – something it is sorely lacking now. Rather than each bargaining unit going through the motions of collective bargaining and further fragmenting workers with the message that there was nothing that could be done (or that it could have been worse), there would be a new basis of potential unity and possibilities. All unions would place the broader demands on the table.

Second, public sector unions would be leading the fight to preserve social services. Rather than letting the government and business isolate public sector workers as a cost that limits funds for public services, we’d be positioned to expose and clarify where the real problems lie. And by moving from progressive rhetoric to committed social action, there would be a basis to build the alliances that are fundamental to effecting change.

Third, the relationship between unions and their members would be changed. For such a perspective to succeed, unions would first have to win their own members over. This means a real emphasis on internal education; the widest discussion with members on tactics and risks; and developing confident organizers to engage the community. The intense mobilization implied by this would, in other words, mean bringing union members into a new kind of class politics and a more substantive union democracy.

Fourth, union structures would have to be transformed. Alongside any commitment to transform the content of union educational and democratic spaces, there would also have to be a reorganization of the technical supports that unions provide. Research and education departments would, for example, have to place relatively greater emphasis on the content of budgets and how expanded demands might be paid for; on the impact of the commercialization of public sector management on not just the level but the quality of services; and on alternative forms of management and delivery more sensitive to community needs.

Fifth, tactical creativity would be encouraged. As important as it is to prepare better policies and plans for the public sector, this will not be enough. There is an overwhelming need for public sector unions to develop new creative workplace tactics. These need to be coordinated so that union and progressive issues are put on the agenda in a way that the governments cannot ignore, while also contributing to building more support for union and socialist positions amongst other working people.

One such example is the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) offering to continue to deliver pension and social assistance checks even if they go on strike. That action blocked the government from using the elderly and the poor as pawns against the union and highlighted the class dimensions of the strike – CUPW was fighting the employer and a postal system biased to corporations, not the general public.

Another example occurred when the government tightened unemployment insurance rules to cut more people off. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represented the workers administrating the program, prepared pamphlets for unemployed workers on how to answer the questions so they would not unfairly lose their needed income. The union was using its knowledge and skills to show class solidarity and prevented its members from being pitted against other workers.

We need to learn about other such actions or invent new ones and build them into an overall united labour strategy – such as a week of actions across unions or weekly actions spread over time. Some possibilities inspired by the CUPW and PSAC actions might include:

  • Transit workers declaring periodic free transit days when they don’t collect fares in order to highlight transit as a basic element of universal access to our city.
  • Teachers and workers in the education sector fighting school closures by having a city-wide teach-in – during regular class hours and in lieu of a normal strike – to discuss schools as public spaces and alternatives uses for the facilities.
  • Hospital workers coming in on a given day for a work-in to highlight staff shortages, and long-term care workers doing the same to demand 3.5 hours of care standards for long term care residents.
  • Social workers organizing a teach-in with welfare recipients to discuss why they are put into positions of mutual frustration and what might be done about providing betters services and as part of this, more rewarding jobs).

What Next Steps for Public Sector Unions?

A starting point to get this on the agenda is to begin talking about it in workplaces, locals, unions, at labour councils, and at the OFL and CLC. Public sector unions and leaders need to ask ourselves whether we have a direction that is in fact taking us anywhere and if not, what – given the recent failures in protecting public sector services and workers – new alternatives might be.

Putting our local executives in motion could follow, with an emphasis on using (or reviving) union structures to spread the discussion among the wider membership, develop networks across locals, get this on the agenda of the larger labour movement, reflect on how to more successfully reach the public, and strategize over how to disrupt the goods and services public sector workers produce in a way that advances our collective cause.

These committees would need support. Some of this could be done internally. In other cases, public forums could be held across locals and unions to teach ourselves more about the public sector. This might include workshops on how far the cutbacks have gone elsewhere (so we see what may be coming); on how workers have resisted in other countries (to be inspired and get ideas); on the details of the Ontario and City budgets (so we can analyze and discuss them properly); on larger questions about the potentials and limits of financing public services in a capitalist society.

At the same time, the various groups affected by cutbacks and ignored needs could organize to further the links among themselves as well as develop contacts with the labour committees. More ambitiously, at some point neighbourhood committees might be organized to discuss community services, infrastructure, transportation, the expectations of a democratized public sector, and many other issues.

All this should not be restricted to public sector workers and community groups. Private sector workers have an interest not just in regards to union solidarity and not even just because social services are becoming more important as the door is closing to collective bargaining gains. It is also a question of private sector jobs and future security. If – as seems increasingly the case – the private sector provides little hope in the short term for decent working class jobs, then the intervention of a more credible and democratic public sector becomes all the more important.

Why, for example, could not all the plant closures in the auto industry be taken under the wing of a government agency committed to converting the valuable tools, equipment, and worker skills into socially useful production? The environmental challenge adds another dimension to such possibilities, since it means that everything – factories and machines, offices and equipment, homes and appliances, transportation and the entire infrastructure – will have to be adapted or converted through this century. An attack on the public sector that goes unchallenged closes off any such possibilities and leaves all of us ever more dependent on the private sector and its ‘solutions.’

Union Renewal Requires New Alliances

The greatest current danger is that all of us as workers and unionists keep lowering our expectations of what kind of society is possible – and then lowering them some more. There is a desperate need to rethink where we are at and to transform what is a looming disaster into a capacity for renewal. There is a need to develop a new response. It will be risky and difficult, but there is no longer any denying that it is essential.

One way or the other, this will involve workers seeing themselves as not ‘just workers’ but agents with the potential capacities to shape society and affect their lives. In particular, workers are part of a broader class that goes beyond public versus private unions, organized versus unorganized, employed versus unemployed and includes the poor. It is this relationship that lays the basis for effective alliances, and what it now concretely poses is rethinking how workers approach collective bargaining, especially at this moment and in the public sector.

One such example, among the several of new community-union alliances to forge a new working class politics, is the Toronto Workers’ Assembly. This needs to evolve into a space where activists can talk about such challenges and come to some agreement on developing concrete responses. •

Sam Gindin is the Visiting Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University, Toronto.

Michael Hurley is President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and Vice-President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Ontario.

If readers have other examples of innovative public sector bargaining tactics, deployed or just ideas, or want to participate in discussions in the Toronto or Ottawa areas, please contact us at

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Elect Ajamu for CUPE Ontario’s President at May 2010 Convention

By admin, May 16, 2010 1:37 pm

Greetings Sisters and Brothers:

I am offering for the position of CUPE Ontario President at the upcoming (May 26-29, 2010) convention in the City of Windsor. Please share this message with CUPE sisters and brothers in your network who will be attending the convention or are members in Ontario.

The attached document will indicate that I was not recently struck by the idea of union renewal as a I travelled along the proverbial “road to Damascus”. I have openly and passionately promoted member participation, equity for all, working-class trade unionism and accountability of the Union’s leadership since joining CUPE in 2005.

This presidential campaign will be informed by an integrated class and anti-oppression analysis and perspective. Below are some of the themes that will inform the platform that will be presented to the convention’s delegates:

SOCIAL unionism means accountable leadership, democratic union structures, equity for all, class solidarity, and programs exposing the injustices of capitalism.

ORGANIZING means providing CUPE members with any resources, knowledge and expertise required. Leaders are not born; they are forged by experience and education.

LABOUR education in CUPE means providing trade unionists with the knowledge and skills to understand the current economic system as one that benefits the elites and not the working-class!

INDEPENDENCE of all working-class political organizations must be the shared goal of CUPE and the labour movement. The fox and the chicken cannot be members of the same political party.

DEFENCE of universal public services, to extend economic and social rights and benefits to all, must be undertaken on all fronts.

ADOPTION and implementation of equity and human rights policies in CUPE to meet  the needs of all equity-seekers, build class solidarity, and weaken the “divide and conquer strategy” of the elites.

REINFORCE, educate, mobilize and organize CUPE’s members and the non-unionized working-class to fight back in the war on unemployment benefits, welfare benefits, public healthcare, post secondary education and other public services.

INTERNATIONAL solidarity means loyalty is not with the economic and political elites in Canada but with members of the working-class throughout the world. The elite’s loyalty is to global capital. Our loyalty should be to the global working class!

TODAY’s capitalist crisis has motivated politicians to use billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money to subsidize the greed of private corporations while together they shamelessly attacked our wages and benefits. No to Corporate Welfare. Break Up anything “Too Big to Fail”.

YOUNG workers and other equity-seekers, in their diversity, are critical to the renewal, growth and vibrancy of the labour movement. CUPE must provide young workers, Aboriginal members and other equity-seekers with leadership opportunities to become agents of change in the Union and the wider labour movement.

The message of union renewal will be flowing through this convention. We have the opportunity to break with business-as-usual trade unionism.  I am in full agreement with Rosanne Cash’s statement, “The key to change…is to let go of fear”.

In solidarity

Ajamu Nangwaya

I’ll be damned if I want most folks out there to do unto me what they do unto themselves.
Toni Cade Bambara

On the State of the Union Today
Concentrated unchecked power inevitably leads to situations where the members’ voices are silenced by the use of autocratic constitutional provisions and the strict application of parliamentary procedure.  The union’s power is diminished and it is reduced at this point to an organization cleansed of member activity, run by-and-for the officers and their anointed staff. It’s no easy task to mobilize rank-and-file members to take part in contract actions, organizing, or political activities when the extent of their involvement in the union is limited to paying the bills via dues check off.  This failure is magnified when the members receive little support, few resources, and are offered no leadership to resist the bosses attacks in the workplace. “Rank and File Activism: A Viable Alternative” – John Hovis and Chris Townsend

On the Culture of Silence in Organizations & Society
Through fear tactics, psychological warfare, oppression and violence many people have been forced physically and mentally, [to not exercise] their right to voice their opinions or their desires to fight against the oppression that they experience. The people are forced to believe, and later come to identify with, the idea that the oppressor has supreme power and is working in the favor of the people. As a result a culture of quiet, non resistant, passive if you will, people are born. This Culture of Silence is longstanding and continues because the people continue to allow the destruction and the oppression to occur, not because they want to, but because fighting against the oppressor seems futile. Those that do fight are eradicated and made examples of in the attempt to silence future attempts at reform. – Author unknown – internet posting

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