The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is the largest labour body in Canada. It brings together dozens of national and international unions, provincial and territorial federations of labour like the Alberta Federation of Labour, and community-based labour councils like Calgary District Labour Council to represent 3.3 million workers for more than 50 years. Every three years CLC holds a national conference where its national policies are discussed and adopted. CUPE is a long-time member of the CLC and CUPE 3911 sends representatives to participate in the national conferences.
In a shocking move, the leadership of Unifor, the largest private-sector union in the country, has unilaterally decided to split from the CLC. Unifor President Jerry Dias announced the move on January 17. CUPE President Mark Hancock publicly condemned the Unifor move and called for workers’ unity. It is clear that the departure of 300,000 Unifor workers from the CLC is a disruptive move that can only hinder workers from uniting against the attacks on their rights and developing a movement to resolve the current crisis in their favour. For example, how does Unifor running away help unite workers against the anti-worker bill on pensions that the federal government is presently pushing through Parliament? It does not in any way.
Unifor's excuse for splitting is that "American unions" are interfering in Canadian elections for union leadership. But, so-called American unions are international unions, not American per se. They include both Canadian and American workers. Unifor is wrapping itself in the Canadian flag to justify its move out of the CLC but this will fool no one. That is because it is well-known that for years, first the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and now its successor Unifor, have been striving for hegemony in the trade union movement under the cover that all they are doing is defending “workers’ democracy.” Unifor has long been vying for control of the CLC by having it submit to Liberal politics while most other unions support another party. Rank and file workers have been held hostage to this destructive sectarian warfare.
The sectarian warfare for power in the CLC in no way renovates the trade unions, national or international, to make them more effective and capable of coping with the neo-liberal anti-social offensive. Those in power have slashed social programs, driven down the standard of living of most working people and smashed the social contract. Workers' unions are routinely blocked with legislation, court injunctions and the global power of monopolies from negotiating wages, working conditions and pensions in good faith. “Free” collective bargaining has become a travesty. A dictate or "final offer" is shoved at the workers and they are told to take it voluntarily or face penalties including jail, job loss, etc. Certain governments are illegally trying to influence public sector settlements in favour of the employer.
Unifor may be a “national union” but what is it doing to defend the rights of workers and the rights of all? What are both "national" and "international" unions doing in practice to uphold the rights of workers under the current conditions and to mobilize them in their millions to defend those rights? That is the real issue, not what flag is being waved. In any case, this fight between sections of the trade union movement has left trade unions weakened as now they are supposed to line up behind one side or the other. This is a time the trade unions need to mobilize their members and fellow workers across the country to unite in action to defend their rights and the rights of all, not engage in diversionary sectarian warfare.
Unifor seems to be blaming others to divert attention from its own positions in support of the Liberals, a party which is in no way pro-worker. In any case, Unifor’s latest move does not favour the efforts of workers to unite in action to defend their rights. It is more likely to dishearten, not renew, the working class movement. But workers have no reason either to be disheartened or elated by Unifor's move. Instead, they need to stick to their own agenda, which they themselves establish, an agenda that responds to their needs as they see them from the vantage point of their own front of struggle. In this way, they can defend their movement for their rights and the rights of all, and ensure their very important struggles are advanced rather than diverted and smashed.