Trish speaking out against rising tuition costs and crippling student debt. Photo Courtesy of Josh Berson
Over the last week, I had the pleasure of representing CUPE 2278 at the triennial Canadian Labour Congress Convention in Montreal. Historically, 2278 hasn’t usually sent a delegate to this convention, but with our ongoing efforts to lobby for tuition protection at any and all levels (which I did on day 1, see photo to left) and with rumours abounding about an electoral shakeup, it felt like if there was ever a key time to attend, this was it.
In the weeks preceding the CLC, a whirl of statements, letters, rumours, stump speeches, town hall phone calls from CUPE National, and a candidate visit from Hassan Husseini hinted at the drama to come, but I was in no way prepared for the three days of active shenanigans as labour chased its tail in Montreal. The insider wheeling and dealing, the backdoor deals between the leaders of affiliates about who could run for which positions and so on were astounding to witness and disheartening for one who believed blindly in the ideals of social democracy and solidarity within the union movement.
A smaller example of this outside of the presidential race was a well spoken, keen and bright young worker who was not given permission from his union to run for the Young Worker Vice President seat on the Canadian Council and was told he could only run as alternate due to inter-union politics. While I understand that there is a history of proposing slates which represent a balance of affiliated unions, public/private, male/female, East/West and so on, within equity and diversity caucuses, surely a situation in which anyone willing and eligible to run ought to be able to do so and the judgement of the caucus should be trusted to select the best candidate to represent their specific views and not simply serve as a puppet for their national affiliate.
The reliance on guided democracy and elections of acclamation limits the entre of new activists and new ideas. To this end, I believe Husseini and Yussuff’s challenge of incumbent Georgetti in the presidential race was not only long over due, but ought to happen each time the CLC convenes every three years. Uncontested elections do nothing to encourage democratic debate within our movement and offer no place for revitalization and change as we face an ever shifting landscape of political attacks on the things we hold as fundamentally important- the right to collective bargaining, fairness in the workplace and society and our ability to advocate for the “little guys,” be they unionized or not.
CLC ad, “Fairness Works”
All this said, where I believe the train jumped the track in this election was in the petty public squabbling between candidates and their teams of supporters. Letters circulated among affiliate unions attacking the character and motivations of candidates, tweets alleging personal insults, the ‘busing in’ of an additional 1700+ delegates to vote in the presidential race (most of whom left immediately after), campaign materials slipped beneath hotel room doors (whether or not a CLC delegate was known to be in the room), grandstanding at microphones, motions intended to waste time and stall convention business, public humiliation and shaming of union leaders after a seat was won without their support and so on… None of this behavior serves the needs and interests of the people we were sent to represent: the 3.3 million Canadians represented by CLC affiliated unions. That the election came down to a difference of 40 votes for the seat of President is indicative of the level of divisive politics and back door shenanigans rampant at this convention pitting affiliates against each other.
I call upon Canadian labour to take a moment and reflect upon what we experienced at the CLC last week. In chasing our own tail for a week, it’s a wonder we didn’t manage to bite it right off. This petty behavior seemingly confirms allegations of our disunity and confirms the opinion of those on the outside that we are out of touch with reality and our base. Now that we have a new executive for the CLC, I call for a period of focused healing and a move toward greater solidarity. It would be easy to let such a fractious election further divide the house of labour, but this is no time to be caught looking weak or lacking in solidarity of purpose. The Neo Liberal and Conservative machines are gunning for our rights, our jobs, and our vision of social democracy and we cannot let them win.
Marching through the streets of Montreal
Finally, I want to reflect on the positive experiences of convention. The march through Montreal against the austerity agenda was a resounding success. Labour was visible and loud and clear about standing in opposition to the Harper/Hudak thinking that is gaining a hold in Canada. The opportunity to meet other young workers and to network with other Teaching Assistant locals (including U of T, McMaster and York whom we rarely get to meet) was also extraordinary.
CUPE BC delegates to the 2014 CLC. Photo Courtesy of Josh Berson
I left the CLC with an overwhelming sense of solidarity and pride in being a member of CUPE BC in particular and am grateful for the mentoring and sage advice received from our President Mark Hancock, and our allies in the University Sector. With such a swirl of chaos around us, CUPE BC delegates seem to have kept out of the fray, and handled issues with decorum and tact as far as I was able to observe. This was also a great opportunity to spend some time with our the presidents of our sister UBC locals 116 and 2950. Colleen Garbe, Karen Ranalletta and I have become good friends and look forward to entering the next round of bargaining in an atmosphere of solidarity and mutual support.
-Trish Everett, President CUPE Local 2278
NOTE: These views reflect the personal experience of President, Trish Everett, and may not necessarily reflect the views of the members of local 2278.