This is a callout to local union leaders. There is a pattern of exclusion and barriers for new and young workers and it has everything to do with the maintenance of power, hierarchy and careerism within the labour movement.
We’re sick of being told that we’ll learn how things work “one day”. We’re sick of being told that we need to calm down. We’re sick of you telling us that we don’t care because we aren't at meetings. We’re sick of having to suck up just to get involved because we need your approval. If you actually want to build your local union and the labour movement into something that capitalism will reckon with, it’s time to make space for young people to be part of the struggle, right now.
Until you recognize this, your local union and the labour movement will continue to suffer. There will be more wildcats, there will be more internal disputes, there will be more petitions to recall your ass from office, and there will be more plotting behind your back. The labour movement doesn’t need this but unfortunately, it’s a by-product of exclusion and when it goes unnoticed or when we are outright repressed, everyone loses. It is a different, more political kind of ‘race to the bottom’.
Spend more time encouraging the young workers in your local to get involved and then dedicate resources to the ones who step up to the plate.
So many young workers are serious and passionate about the political dynamics in their workplace and want to get involved. Most don’t. Most feel like it is an exclusive club or worse, a second boss. It is crucial that local leadership recognize those interested, just like in an organizing campaign and devote the time and resources to encourage young workers participation.
Here are some of the things that your local can do to make sure that young workers are getting involved to reach the maximum level of worker power within your local:
Negotiate a paid orientation period for all new hires. This is a time slot for the union to speak to new hires about the union and it should be a full day or a minimum of four hours. If you already have it, make sure that you get someone 35 or under to run it. This is a crucial time to talk about some of the misconceptions people have about unions they may have got at home or from right wing news.
Send young workers to conventions so they can network and build confidence to execute the ideas that they already have. Never let that extra young worker credential go to waste, ever.
Involve Young Workers in your negotiating committees to ensure that you have solid representation from those who will be most impacted by two or three-tier agreements.
For larger locals, appoint a young worker to a full-time organizer position to get out on the street and start building your local.
Make sure your bylaws include the support of a young workers committee and show some enthusiasm and support for those who want to join.
Local Union leadership has a huge responsibility to listen to what their members are saying but also what they are not saying. Make sure there is space for people to get involved and you might be surprised who enters it. Building young worker power means that the ‘Old Boys Club’ has to give some of their power and if they aren’t careful, we’ll take it anyway.
On Labour Day, Cory Weir was interviewed on respected progressive radio talk show The Taylor Report.
Phil Taylor talked to Cory about how class collaboration leads to corruption, how young workers challenged Justin Trudeau’s anti-worker policies by turning their backs on him, and how activists from Cory’s local union, Unifor Local 222 in Oshawa, sponsored a resolution calling for Palestinian self-determination and support for BDS, and had it adopted by Unifor’s Canadian Council.
Cory was also able to talk about how the Unifor Solidarity Network is establishing itself as a place for Unifor activists to exchange and discuss critical ideas and proposals for putting Unifor and the labour movement back on the offensive. The Taylor Report airs every Friday from 5 pm to 6 pm (Eastern time) on community radio, CIUT 89.5 fm.
The indictments involving a Fiat Chrysler exec and a UAW official should confirm long-held suspicions that “team concept” and cooperation between union and company leads to bad contracts, and sapping the fighting spirit of the members. US federal charges have been laid against Al Iacobelli, former VP of Fiat Chrysler, and Monica Morgan, wife of former UAW VP General Holiefield. (Holiefield himself was not indicted because he died in 2015.) Charges may be laid against further company and union officials.
Despite Fiat Chrysler and UAW claims, this is not the result of a few corrupt individuals – it is the inevitable consequence of decades of a culture of class collaboration.
The problem is union leaders who start to identify more with corporate executives than with the workers, and who see union office as a path to self-enrichment.
This also raises questions about the 2016 negotiations between GM and Unifor, representing Canadian GM workers – since Iacobelli was a leading member of the GM management team. (GM had hired Iacobelli after he ‘left’ Fiat Chrysler).
“Fat, dumb and happy”
Iacobelli and Holiefield conspired over at least 6 years to both enrich themselves, and also, to pay off other top UAW reps, in what was described as an effort to keep the union reps “fat, dumb and happy”. The brazen theft involved diverting funds from the negotiated National Training Center (NTC) to pay for such things as a Ferrari Spider ($350,000) and 2 solid-gold Mont Blanc pens ($37,500 each) for Iacobelli, and paying off the mortgage on the house owned by Morgan and Holiefield ($262,219). But the most important lesson to learn is that the source of the corruption was the culture of labour-management cooperation, or “team-concept” that has spread like a cancer through the North American labour movement.
Jointly-administered slush fund.
Fiat Chrysler contributed between $13 million and $31 million per year to the NTC, a joint company-union program that was supposed to provide education and training for union members. Corrupt practices were made easier because the fund was designed to serve as a slush fund, jointly administered by Iacobelli and Holiefield with no oversight. Funds were siphoned off directly to pay for air travel and lavish hotel suites including a four-night stay for Holiefield (at $3,100 per night) in the Beverly Hills Hotel in California. Credit cards were issued to senior UAW negotiators, as described in this Detroit Free Press account on July 27:
Starting in 2012, Iacobelli saw to it that Holiefield and other senior UAW officials obtained National Training Center credit cards. He directed Durden [a Fiat Chrysler Financial Analyst] to obtain the cards. The financial analyst obliged. And the union officials were encouraged to use them for personal expense. According to the indictment, Durden reported that he, Iacobelli and others at FCA “had created a liberal spending policy for the NTC-issued credit cards as part of their effort to keep the senior members of the UAW Chrysler Department ‘fat, dumb and happy.’ ” The cards were used liberally. The indictment alleges Holiefield made more than $200,000 in personal purchases on his credit card, including jewelry, furniture, designer clothing and other items. Iacobelli authorized the charges. Durden collected Holiefield’s credit card statements, instructing members of the NTC accounting staff “not to open, examine or review the NTC credit card statements.”
Phony children’s charity
Even more distasteful was the fact that Holiefield created a fake children’s charity, the “Leave the Lights on Foundation”. Iacobelli funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NTC through the foundation to Holiefield and Monica Morgan. Companies owned by Morgan received money from the foundation and from the NTC, including getting the contract to provide T-shirts, mugs and other items to the NTC without submitting a quote or a bid. Most of that money went to Morgan and Holiefield’s lavish personal expenses. In the words of Fiat Chrysler’s financial analyst Durden, the payments were “an investment in relationship building” with Holiefield.
Two-tier wages and brutal 10-hour shifts
What did Fiat Chrysler get in return for this investment? As reported by David Barkholz in the Automotive News June 9, 2015:
FCA negotiated the best contract of the Detroit 3. FCA’s overall labor costs since the four-year UAW contract was signed in the fall 2011 have nudged up less than 1 percent per year. Consequently, FCA enjoys nearly a $10 an hour labor cost advantage over Ford and GM.
In addition, Fiat Chrysler gained the union’s support in implementing a brutal Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) of regular 10-hour days with no overtime pay. The AWS is also known as the 3-2-120 schedule because three crews work two shifts for 120 hours a week. For example, at the Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit, the “A” crew works 10 hours a day on day shift from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The “B” crew works 10 hours on night shift 6 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday through Saturday. The “C” crew works 10 hours on the night shift Monday and Tuesday and 10 hours on the day shift Friday and Saturday.
Both Fiat Chrysler and the UAW now claim that the corruption was just the acts of individuals. They both say they “didn’t know”. But Holiefield and the other UAW reps at Fiat Chrysler were not acting on their own in capitulating to management demands. The concessions they made were part of the overall strategy of concession bargaining followed by the UAW leadership for many years. In 2007 the UAW had agreed to allow the auto companies to hire second tier workers at half the regular rate with inferior benefits and no pensions. Even before that, the UAW leadership had argued that workers had common interests with the corporations, and that they had to help keep the companies “healthy” and profitable by implementing “team concept”. The UAW had agreed to joint programs and joint funds back in the early 1980’s. Since management still made the decisions, this so-called “team concept” just meant the union became tied in to enforcing those decisions. It was just a capitulation to the corporations, who always strive to maximize their profits, pay workers the least they can get away with, and speed up the work until it is destroying the health of the workers. What is desperately needed are union leaders that understand that “the working class and the employing class have nothing in common” – and that their role is to fight for the working class.
CAW/Unifor leaders also cozy up to corporate execs
Instead of fighters, we have union officials who would rather rub shoulders with corporate executives and their political lapdogs than associate with the workers. This has been the case with the autoworkers in Canada as well. Former Canadian Auto Workers President, Buzz Hargrove swooned when he got a pat on the head from Magna head Frank Stronach – and gave him the infamous no-strike agreement in return. This was a pattern with Buzz – he liked to chum around with corporate execs, like ONEX head Gerry Schwartz. After Buzz was taken on a tour of Israel at Schwartz’s expense, he turned into an apologist for the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. Later, Buzz delighted in putting a union jacket on then Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin.
In 2013 the CAW merged with the CEP and formed Unifor. The current Unifor president, Jerry Dias is following the same political path as Hargrove. He is smitten with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and supports the Ontario Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne.
Last year at a General Motors photo op announcement in Oshawa, attended by Trudeau and Wynne, Jerry refused to sit with members of the union local (Unifor Local 222) because he wanted to be as close as possible to the GM executives and Trudeau (see picture). A few months later, at the Oshawa ratification meeting for the new GM contract, Jerry was being questioned by a member of Unifor Local 222 who was calmly asking a reasonable question. His response was “You’re a f-ing idiot”.
Is Al Jerry’s Pal?
Most disturbingly – listen to Jerry’s response to the charges of fraud against Al Iacobelli:
“Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union that negotiated with Iacobelli for Canadian autoworker contracts, said he always viewed him as a professional labor executive.
Could Jerry really have been totally unaware of the corrupt dealings between Iacobelli and UAW reps? He says he was “shocked” – Unifor members would like to know if he was also angry and working to prevent similar abuses here. There was widespread opposition to the 2016 contracts between Unifor and the auto companies. Many members were angry that new hires on the assembly line start at $15 per hour less than longer-term workers, and won’t get equal pay for more than 10 years. They also get an inferior pension. The ratification votes at all three companies were the lowest in the history of the Canadian union. Did Jerry’s demonstrated chumminess with corporate leaders and Liberal politicians influence what was negotiated? What was Iacobelli’s role in the GM negotiations? Despite the indictments, General Motors has so far refused to comment on Iacobelli’s employment status. When GM hired him in January 2016, they said he would be heading up the Canadian negotiations with Unifor. This week, sources told the Detroit News that Iacobelli had been suspended by GM after he was indicted, but it is unclear if he was suspended with pay.
UAW and Fiat Chrysler Cover-ups
After Iacobelli was indicted, Fiat Chrysler said they had fired him when they became aware of his fraud. But at the time Iacobelli left, they were happy to leave the impression that he had retired. Similarly, the UAW allowed Holiefield to serve out his term of office and retire with a pension in 2014, even though there had persistent complaints about Holiefield’s corruption for years. Even the indictment mentions that the then UAW President had cautioned Holiefield and Iacobelli over their financial dealings in 2011. Both the corporation and the union preferred to cover things up to preserve their public image.
Now that the indictments have come down, both the company and the union swear that the corruption had no influence on negotiations between the two. If you believe that, you must believe that Brian Mulroney had provided nothing in return for the three envelopes containing $300,000 in cash that Karlheinz Schreiber handed him in hotel rooms.
But the biggest thing that the UAW leadership and Fiat Chrysler want to cover up, is that their dedication to “labor-management cooperation” is to the benefit of the corporation and is against the interests of the union members. If the union had a culture of uncompromising struggle against the corporate elite, the union official that wanted to rub shoulders with executives and flaunt a lavish lifestyle would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
For 8 months Unifor President Jerry Dias has refused to act to stop the unnecessary exploitation of GM retirees’ health care trust by retired Unifor staffers.
In December of 2016 the Retired Workers Chapter and the GM Unit of Unifor Local 222 Oshawa moved a motion requesting that Dias replace the 5 retired staff members serving as trustees to the Health Care Trust (GM asr trust) with current staff. This has also been supported by the Unifor Local 199 Retired Workers Chapter, St. Catharines.
Why is it important to replace them? Once these staff members retired they started receiving exorbitant retainers and meeting fees from the Trust. These payments are currently $27,635 yearly plus $774 per meeting for each trustee. Assuming 4 meetings a year, this amounts to $30,731 annually, more than many of our members receive for their pension after a lifetime working in the plant. To add further insult, these payments are fully indexed to inflation, while our pensions have been frozen for 10 years.
The Health Care Trust was negotiated as part of the 2009 contract, and is supposed to provide health care benefits for GM and Fiat Chrysler retirees. When the trust was set up the trustees appointed by the union were not entitled to receive these payments because they were employees of the National Union. However, once they retired they then started to receive these payments from the Trust fund while also receiving extremely generous pensions and benefits from the National Union.
GM retirees have already taken a hit because the GM Health Care Trust was underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars when it was set up. As a result, our benefits have been cut by about 20% and our monthly contributions have been increasing by more than twice the rate of inflation. Retirees from Fiat Chrysler and Ford have not had their health care benefits cut. To have retired staff getting exorbitant retainers from our depleted funds is adding insult to injury.
Jerry Dias has never even bothered to respond personally to either the GM Unit or the Retired Workers Chapter of Local 222. Instead he has had his underlings reply with nothing more than a load of meaningless verbiage. They claimed that the retired trustees would be replaced in a timely manner – yet Sym Gill, who retired from his union position as Director of Pensions and Benefits in 2011, is still collecting his $30,000+ a year – 6 years later! Only one of the retired staff trustees has been replaced.
Local 222 has submitted a resolution to the Unifor Canadian Council Meeting being held August 18-20, 2017, demanding Dias act in accordance with the wishes of the active and retired members. He needs to be constantly reminded the monies in the trust do not belong to the Union; they belong to current and future GM retirees. I ask all delegates to stand with the retirees and support this resolution.
The show is 28 minutes long, and features an interview with Cory Weir and Mike Mutimer from Local 222. The show highlights the issues that have led to growing discontentment amongst rank-and-file Unifor members. Cory and Mike also talk about the basic goals of Solinet – to fight for changes to Unifor so that there is rank-and-file democracy, working class politics and bargaining for solidarity.
Please listen and share.
Here are some quotes from the interview:
“What the labour movement needs to do is to stop playing defence and start going on the offence, because history has shown that’s how you invigorate rank and file workers, that’s how you invigorate your community.”
“If you are a member of Unifor and you think that things could be better and that our push back could be stronger and that we deserve better as workers instead of taking these concessionary agreements. Maybe you feel disenfranchised by our political direction, our support for some of these corporate parties, donations to Conservatives from some people in our leadership. If that stuff draws a little anger from you – we’d love to hear from you.”
Jerry Dias’ attempt to raid the TTC workers (ATU Local 113) earlier this year was a spectacular flop. What has it meant for our union, and the broader Canadian labour movement?
Dias argued that he was acting on behalf of “union democracy” and “workers right to choose” their union. Dias also appealed to Canadian nationalism. The counter argument is that the attempted raid was, in fact, cooked up behind the backs of the members of Local 113, and was all about an attempt to raid a section of another union that is a member in good standing of the Canadian Labour Congress, and thus damages the unity of the union movement. The spectacular failure of the raid has greatly damaged the reputation of Unifor, and made it harder to organize non-union workplaces.
On February 7, 2017, Jerry Dias held a press conference along with Bob Kinnear, President of ATU Local 113 which represents the workers at the Toronto Transit Commission. He portrayed himself as a defender of union democracy, and attacked the International leadership of the ATU for putting Local 113 in trusteeship and removing Kinnear as president. He repeated Kinnear’s claim that Local 113 members were sending $6,000 a day in dues to the US and “getting nothing in return”. Dias vowed to provide financial and legal support to Kinnear.
What Dias did not reveal, was that he had cooked up the whole affair with Kinnear before the trusteeship was imposed.
Here is the timeline:
February 1 – Kinnear sends a letter to CLC President Hassan Yussuff invoking Article 4 of the CLC Constitution – a process whereby union members can change unions if their problems cannot be resolved.
February 2 – Yussuff contacts ATU Canada President Paul Thorp to inform him of Kinnear’s letter.
February 2 – tellingly, an email from a law firm is sent to ATU Local 113 with direction that it be given to Kinnear. The letter provides advice on how to deal with a trusteeship. The email is cc’d to Scott Doherty, assistant to Dias, and to Anthony Dale, a lawyer employed by Unifor.
February 3, the ATU imposes a trusteeship on Local 113. They stated the trusteeship was necessary because of “Brother Kinnear’s flagrant disregard of the Local’s bylaws and the decision making processes set forth therein. Thus, it was necessary to restore democratic procedures, ensure continuity of representation, and protect their financial interests.”
February 3 – Hassan Yussuff notifies the ATU that he is suspending the ATU’s protection from raiding under Article 4. There seem to be no grounds for doing so under the CLC Constitution, and Yussuff is in a blatant conflict of interest – he is a longtime Unifor staffer.
February 4 – the media campaign in support of Kinnear begins with the Toronto Sun front page blaring “Yankee Invasion”.
Evidence of Raiding
The lawyer’s email is the proof that the plot had been underway for some time. More evidence appeared later. The website rankandfile.ca obtained a recording of a phone conversation between two ATU Local 113 executive board members that took place on January 31, 2017 – before Kinnear’s letter was sent to Yussuff. In the call board member Tony Barbosa explains to John DiNino what he has learned about the plot and how it will play out. He knows that Kinnear’s plan is to provoke the ATU to trustee the local. Most shockingly, he knows that the CLC will then remove anti-raiding protection from the ATU to facilitate a raid by Unifor. The full recording is available at rankandfile.ca “Who’s the big white shark”, but here is the key revelation:
It is also revealing that Barbosa reveals the extent to which Unifor’s plans are being made with the likely knowledge and support of key Liberal Party leaders – Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne are both mentioned. In fact, Dias was brazen at the February 7 Press conference in appealing to Local 113 members to join a union “that has a relationship with the mayor, with the City Councillors, with the Provincial government, with the Federal government.”
Dias and Kinnear Plot Fail
Eventually the attempted raid fell apart – mainly because of the evident lack of support from rank and file ATU members and leaders. Out of 17 executive board members, 13 rejected Kinnear’s efforts and sided with the ATU. So did more than 95% of elected stewards. Finally, Kinnear threw in the towel and retired. Questions remain, however, including the claims raised by Dias.
It is hard to take seriously Dias’ claim that he was acting in support of union member’s right to choose and democracy. Dias has shown little respect for democracy in his own organization – check out the ratification votes in the 2016 auto contracts, which were the lowest in the union’s history, without the slightest self-reflection about why. If Jerry Dias really believes that we should “let the members choose”, why has Unifor spent the last 6 months or more trying to prevent inshore fishers in Newfoundland from having a vote on leaving Unifor? If Dias is the promoter of democracy, why were 5 locals in BC kicked out of Unifor without even a hearing (which is supposed to be guaranteed by the Unifor Constitution)? As far as the ATU Local 113 issue – there is zero evidence that Jerry Dias cared about the rank and file TTC workers. He backed Kinnear, thinking he would be able to scoop up over 10,000 members and their dues. Kinnear and Dias forgot to ask those workers what they wanted.
$6,000 a Day in Dues
Which brings us to the question of dues. You should always be suspicious of an anti-union or right-wing agenda when someone starts yelling about dues or taxes. Jerry is on thin ice when he invites ATU members to object to the portion of their dues that go to their International office. Unifor dues are significantly higher than ATU dues – more than double, in fact. If ATU Local 113 were to join Unifor, approximately $13,650 a day in dues would go to the Unifor National Office (apart from the portion that would stay with the Local union). In other words, Unifor would stand to gain close to $5 million per year.
Raiding versus Organizing
One of the problems with raiding is that it causes division in the labour movement, while doing nothing to help organize the 70% of workers who are not currently union members. Unfortunately, this sort of crass attempt to grab members of another union has too long a history in Unifor’s predecessor union, the CAW. A horrible example was in 2007, when Buzz Hargrove pledged $5 million of CAW money to support Tony Dionisio and his phantom “Canadian Construction Workers Union” in a futile attempt to raid LIUNA Local 183. Dionisio had been a LIUNA leader who was removed because, according to LIUNA, “three years of independent investigations and hearings, including numerous decisions of Ontario courts and the Labour Relations Board proved beyond any doubt, that Dionisio and his ruling circle in Local 183 were guilty of numerous unethical practices that severely violated Canadian trade union values. They exploited undocumented workers. Benefits and pension credits were stolen. Union members and staff were covertly spied on. Collective agreements were forged. Millions of dollars were misallocated.” Dionisio ended up with a unit of 8 workers, and a string of decisions that his operation was not a legitimate union. Was this a worthwhile use of millions of dollars of dues from CAW members?
The founding of Unifor in 2013 seemed an opportunity for a new direction – $10 million a year was pledged for organizing unorganized workers. The past four years have been disappointing – despite a staff of 16 national reps, a director and 7 full-time community-based organizers, the Unifor organizing department has underperformed. Only a few thousand new workers have been brought into the union. The total number organized in 2016 was 3,030. Perhaps that is why the 11,000 members of ATU Local 113 were such an attractive target.
The attempted raid of Toronto transit workers has been nothing less than a train wreck. It has damaged the reputation of Unifor, which will only make it harder for us to appeal to the unorganized workers that we need to attract. It has divided the labour movement in Canada, and worsened relations with a number of unions. And it has not promoted democracy in the union movement, especially within Unifor. Which Unifor members approved this awful strategy? How much of our money was spent on Bob Kinnear’s legal bills? On February 23 Kinnear published a full-page ad in the Toronto Star (at a cost of $50,000 at least) and two other publications – who paid for that, and who authorized it? The Unifor membership never authorized this destructive waste of our funds. We do need more democracy – we need it in Unifor. We need the right for our members to review such wrong-headed actions as the attempted raid on ATU Local 113, and the right to reject them.
Today’s labour movement faces many challenges. We take on multinational corporations who have consolidated their power and global influence during an era of ruthless neoliberal expansion. The threat of capital flight- corporations shifting production to countries with lower costs- has strong-armed many unions into swallowing bitter concessions in hopes of maintaining production levels and staving off job loss. Hard fought gains of generations past are routinely sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism. We celebrate these contracts as victories, but we ought to call them what they really are; the wholesale sellout of an entire generation of workers by people who are unwilling to stand and fight for basic union principles. If we need proof that our strategy is failing, we need look no farther than the decline in living standards of our members relative to the generation that preceded them. Global corporations have escalated their tactics and we have failed to respond accordingly. This concessionary bargaining has fractured our union and left new and old workers alike feeling disenfranchised from the only force capable of winning justice for workers- the collective strength of our union.
The first place we must look if we are interested in changing the future for workers is our past. We have a proud tradition of militant resistance in the unions that came to make up Unifor. From the historic UAW Ford strike that brought us the Rand Formula in Canada to the push back from CEP surrounding a decimated paper and pulp industry, we know that things can only change when we put ourselves on the line and boldly defy corporate and governmental interests. Nothing is handed to workers on a silver platter- everything we have was fought for tooth and nail by multiple generations who believed in true solidarity and took brave chances for the betterment of our future. No good favour with the powers that be has ever gained true justice for workers and the history of not only the Canadian labour movement, but also the global labour movement can attest to this fact.
The workers who bled and died in the streets to advance the working class are forsaken when we give anything less than our all in the stand for our union principles. When the Toronto Typographical Union struck in 1872, unions were illegal and their leaders were imprisoned on conspiracy charges. It took 10,000 people in the streets to free them and eventually forced the hand of the government to create the Trade Union Act which laid the foundation of today’s union movement. I ask you this: do our current national leaders have the same courage and resolve? The answer is a resounding “No”, and I welcome any of them to argue otherwise in public debate. The record of concessions to employers and traitorous donations from our president Jerry Dias to anti-immigrant and anti-worker Conservative politician Kellie Leitch speak for themselves. The lack of public criticism for this from other leaders on the National Executive Board is an absolute affront to everything our union should stand for and speaks to the lack of true democracy in the upper echelons of our union. By not calling out this cut-and-dry sellout of our membership, they have effectively become complicit in it. In an effort to maintain labour peace, they have forgotten that an economic war is fought against workers every contract, and that without sticking steadfast to our union principles we are fighting a losing battle against the greed of executives and shareholders.
Make no mistake- our labour is what turns the world of industry and only through global resistance to the status quo can we ever dream of winning real justice for workers. Only by realizing our potential strength and flexing it can we ever get ahead. Right now, we’re not even holding our ground.
With an in-depth class analysis and will to fight uncompromisingly for workers, Solinet was created to advance these discussions and reignite real workers power. There is growing support across the union for these ideas. We have three main objectives that serve as our guiding principles. I will briefly discuss the importance of each one and welcome any and all constructive criticisms. This is a space for no-holds-barred discussion about our collective future. No single one of us have all of the answers but we owe it to ourselves and future generations to apply a critical lens to our current situation as workers.
Real debate, membership engagement, a culture of activism and militancy, not self-advancement and self-enrichment.
Without real meaningful debate we are left impotent in front of the challenges we face. In our union much of what we actually experience is best described as controlled democracy. Critical perspectives are punished through barriers such as exclusion and alienation. Workers are stripped of appointments by leadership because they challenge the ideas of our accepted doctrine- a failing doctrine- and through this system that awards obedience over substance, many of our greatest minds are squandered in obscurity. Until rank and file workers rise up to challenge this corrupt practice, there can be no meaningful victory for workers; only polished excuses for why we couldn’t do better for our members.
Working class politics
Unifor policies and political engagement that advance the interests of our members as part of the working class. No support for parties that act for the corporate class.
When we discuss the dire need for true working class politics, we need look no farther than the embarrassing relationship our union has with the corrupt, anti-worker, federal Liberal government. When we invited Justin Trudeau to our National Convention we gave the Liberals an undeserved platform to obscure their anti-union policy and pro-corporate propaganda in front of many of our most influential members. Many of our leaders posed for “selfies” with a corporate shill of a Prime Minister who refuses to enact anti-scab legislation, who promotes free trade deals, who champions increased military spending and pipelines.
The strategy of course, is to stay on the good side of the government in power in order to get some favours. But when we look at the history of the labour movement it becomes exceedingly clear that we get nothing by begging for crumbs, when we should be demanding bread. Really, we should be preparing to take over the bakery. Everything we have has come about when we have found ways to unleash the strength of the working class. Given that the blood, sweat, and tears of our work controls all of industry, the simple fact remains: we don’t need pro-corporate politicians. Anything less than absolute rejection of these anti-worker parties is a slap in the face of every life lost in the fight for real justice for workers.
Bargaining for solidarity
Bargaining strategies that build unity among our members by reducing inequalities in wages, benefits and pensions, not increasing them.
When we look at the sacrifices that have been made on the backs of new workers, it becomes increasingly obvious that we are not bargaining for solidarity; we are bargaining for survival. Our strategy gets us from A to B while corporations are bargaining from A to Z. Until we draw a firm line in the sand and refuse to abandon core union principles such as equal pay for equal work, we simply cannot expect to have a strong union. We must reject the use of new workers as cannon fodder in tough negotiations and remember our proud history of struggle. Until that day is brought about by rank and file workers and genuine leadership, our movement will stumble and fail.
It is for these reasons that Solinet exists, and it is from the many new perspectives that it will continue to grow. We reject self-advancement and self-enrichment. We stand for genuine working class power and hope that you join us as equals in the fight for working class justice. Until that day comes, we are here to stay with an unapologetic analysis of our union’s direction.
In April, Bombardier senior executives took greed and arrogance to new heights, when they announced they were giving themselves a 50% pay increase.
People were outraged, especially in Quebec, where a survey showed 93% agreed the increases should be cancelled.
It is not hard to understand the anger. In 2016 the Quebec Liberal government had handed Bombardier about $1.3 billion – no strings attached. Then, this year, Justin Trudeau handed over federal loans totalling $372 million. Bombardier took all this public money and then announced that they would be eliminating 14,500 workers worldwide.
The five top executives were slated to rake in $43 million Canadian for 2016, up from a paltry $29 million in 2015. Leading the way is CEO Alain Bellemare with a salary of $9.5 million, up over $3 million.
Quebec Solidaire, a socialist party, collected thousands of signatures on a petition calling on the provincial government to renegotiate its deal with Bombardier. The Liberals rejected this out of hand, as well as defeating a motion by the Parti Quebecois asking the Bombardier executives to forego the pay raise. The federal Liberals also defended Bombardier. Justin Trudeau said the federal money was needed to ensure “good long-term jobs” – he must mean good jobs for his friends the execs.
Unifor represents many Bombardier workers – but our leaders were not in the forefront of the protesters. Our leadership was doubly compromised – they had supported Bombardier’s demands for public money, and they desperately want to avoid embarrassing the Trudeau government that they have been in bed with.
Unifor should go beyond attacking the greed of the Bombardier executives, and raise the demand for nationalization. Public ownership is the best way to ensure that public investment ensures good jobs and positive social objectives.
We should also be shaming the long list of corporate CEOs that have been enriching themselves, while they impose “austerity” on workers. Here is one more example:
Jochen Tilk – CEO, PotashCorp
Tilk took a 34% pay increase to $5.2 million last year, then shut down a New Brunswick mine, axing 400 jobs, and laying off 140 workers from another mine in Saskatchewan.
(This article originally appeared in Counterpunch)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received four standing ovations during his short address to the Unifor Convention in Ottawa August 24. Why would Canada’s largest private-sector union give such a warm reception to the leader of the corporate-owned Liberal Party of Canada? Unifor was created 3 years ago through the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers (CEP), although the CAW was the dominant partner.
Jerry Dias, Unifor National President, began his introduction of Trudeau with a denunciation of the previous Stephen Harper government “that I honestly believe did not like Canadians”. Dias said he was “enthused” to welcome Trudeau because when he met with him, Trudeau “talked about the importance of the labour movement … if we wanted a strong economy”. Dias asked the delegates “The first week after being sworn in – did he go meet with the business community? Did he go meet with the chambers of commerce, the banks, the oil companies? No no – he came right to the CLC headquarters right here in Ottawa and met with Hassan, myself and the other labour leaders.” Hassan Yussuff is the head of the Canadian Labour Congress, and was on the Unifor staff for many years. Yussuff spoke later in the Convention and heaped more praise on Trudeau: “Everything that the new government has done since they’ve been elected is to undo the ten years of damage that that bastard [Harper] did to this country… It is nice to have a government in this Ottawa that they’re not attacking workers anymore”. It is odd that Canada’s business leaders have not noticed that the Prime Minister is favouring labour over them.
Unifor is practicing “lesser evil’ politics to an extreme that is unusual for the Canadian labour movement. In fact, the Canadian Labour Congress was a founding partner in the creation of the New Democratic Party in 1961. The Canadian labour movement has historically championed the NDP as a party of labour, an alternative to the pro-capitalist Liberal and Conservative parties. The founding leader of the NDP, Tommy Douglas, is well known for his dramatization of the story of Mouseland, whose moral is that the mice must see through the charade of choosing between black cats and white cats to be their rulers. “Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea… He said to the other mice. ‘Look fellows why do we keep electing a government made up of cats, why don’t we elect a government made up of mice?’ Oh, they said, he’s a Bolshevik. So they put him in jail.” Well Tommy, these Unifor/CLC ‘mice’ have decided they are better off being ruled by the white cats after all. And so we were treated to the unsettling sight of Jerry Dias staring deeply into the eyes of Justin Trudeau.
What are the implications of the Jerry/Justin bromance for Unifor, for the Canadian Labour movement and for the prospects of progressive political change in Canada? Here are six ways that turning the Unifor Convention into a Justin Trudeau photo op has been a step backwards:
1) Canadian Union of Postal Workers
The Unifor Convention was an opportunity to put the struggle of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers front and centre. But that might have been embarrassing to Trudeau who has been in power almost a year and has done nothing to curb the rabid-dog management at Canada Post.
The CUPW waged a courageous battle against Canada Post and this week achieved a remarkable victory – forcing Canada Post to maintain defined-benefit pensions for the next generation of workers. The issue was still in doubt during the Unifor Convention, and is critically important to many Unifor members who are under pressure from employers to eliminate defined-benefit pensions, or who have already been forced to do so for newer workers. Defined-benefit pensions have been cut in half for new hires at Ford and Chrysler for the last four years, and have been eliminated at CAMI Automotive (which is owned by GM) and replaced with riskier defined contribution pensions. Some 500 workers at GM Oshawa hired over the last ten years are classified as temporary (Supplementary Workforce Employees, or SWEs) and get no pensions at all.
The Convention could have had a feature speaker from the CUPW to highlight their struggle, and build solidarity for a labour movement battle for decent pensions for all workers. Instead, the heroic battle by postal workers barely got a mention.
2) The Trans-Pacific Partnership and CETA (European Trade Pact)
The TPP is a “trade” agreement designed to benefit corporate interests, weaken the ability of governments to put limits on corporate domination, and to support and expand the US sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite the fact that Unifor has been waging a public campaign against ratification of the TPP, the Unifor leaders couldn’t bring themselves to directly challenge Trudeau on the issue during his visit.
In fact, the Trudeau government’s position on international trade deals is basically identical to that of former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper – support whatever the US asks it to do. In 2013, when Harper announced a trade and investment pact with the European Union (CETA), Trudeau congratulated him and promised that his Liberals would support the deal in principle. According to Linda McQuaig, “CETA will undermine Canadian democracy, handing foreign corporations a powerful lever for pressuring our governments to, for instance, abandon environmental, health or financial regulations, while leaving Canadian taxpayers potentially on the hook to pay billions of dollars in compensation to some of the wealthiest interests on earth.” Trudeau is scheduled to sign CETA in October in Brussels. Yet instead of focusing attacks on the Trudeau government for continuing to promote these deals, Unifor leaders were praising him for being different from Harper.
Advocating that workers should support Trudeau and his government, makes it impossible to promote an independent working-class view of world affairs. At the Unifor Convention delegates showed strong support for Syrian refugees, including families that are being supported by Unifor. But nobody at the Convention pointed out that the Canadian government has helped to create those very refugees by providing military and financial support to the US so-called “Global Coalition”. True solidarity with the victims of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the millions of refugees from the fighting would mean opposing Canadian government support for the US illegal efforts at regime change.
4) Saudi Monarchs and Israel
Treating Trudeau like a celebrity also makes it virtually impossible to critically examine other areas where his government has followed in the footsteps of Stephen Harper in supporting right-wing, undemocratic governments that are creating instability and war. Trudeau has continued to support the regime in Saudi Arabia and provide them with billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry which is being used to kill civilians in Yemen. And of course, Trudeau continues to be a staunch defender of Israel, with his party voting en masse for a Conservative motion to “condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement”. BDS is an attempt to use peaceful tactics to pressure Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, and accord equal rights to Palestinians in Israel.
5) Labour Party or ‘Strategic Voting’?
The most serious problem with supporting the Liberal Party is that it undermines independent labour politics. Labour leaders concluded more than a century ago that capitalist parties would never act on behalf of workers. The working class needs its own party. As long as the labour movement was aligned with the NDP this idea was alive, whatever the shortcomings of the NDP. But when labour leaders argue that it doesn’t matter who gets in as long as the biggest evil is defeated, we stop building a party that will really represent workers.
The CAW began promoting “strategic voting” in Canada some 20 years ago, and this has been toxic to labour politics. Now Trudeau can be invited to be the star guest of the Unifor Convention, and there is no discussion of the class interests that the Bay Street Liberals represent.
6) Lack of Democracy in the Union
In order to have a successful showcase for the Liberal Prime Minister, the Convention was stage-managed to limit dissenting voices. The Convention was turned into a spectator event. The time filled with videos and guest speakers, and the delegates became an audience.
As a result many resolutions were pushed to the end, and many of them were not discussed at all because time ran out. That means the remaining resolutions were referred to the National Executive Board, which suits those leaders who don’t want the delegates to make the decisions.
Another indication of the sham democracy of the Unifor Convention was the selection of the top officers. Every position was acclaimed. There were no opposition candidates or opposition program. Despite talk of diversity, the top two positions in the union, National President and National Secretary Treasurer, were occupied again by two older white males.