Tag: Jerry Dias

The ATU Raiding Fiasco

Who's pulling the strings?
Jerry Dias and Bob Kinnear at a press conference, February 7, 2017.

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.

What happened?

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.

    Toronto Sun front page, February 4, 2017
  • 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.

Democracy?

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Trudeau’s Embrace by Unifor Leaders: a Step Backwards for Canadian Labour

Justin Trudeau with Jerry Dias at the Unifor Convention, Aug. 24, 2016 in Ottawa.

(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.

3) Syria

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.

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