An intensifying battle between the Canadian Labour Congress and the country’s largest private sector union could be bad news for the labour movement, says Larry Savage, a professor of labour studies at Ontario’s Brock University.
Unifor, which represents about 10 per cent of the CLC’s 3.3-million membership, pulled out of the umbrella labour group Wednesday.
It complained the labour congress is failing to enforce rules to prevent U.S.-based unions from interfering in local elections in Canada and cited other grievances.
Savage said the split could weaken the labour movement and reduce its effectiveness in promoting pro-worker policies.
“While the labour movement is pursuing these campaigns for universal pharmacare, for $15 [minimum wage] and fairness, there’s a question about whether these internal divisions at the top are going to stymie some of the momentum that we’ve seen around labour politics in recent months,” he said.
Unions are more effective when they are speaking with one voice and using resources to fight “bad bosses and anti-union politicians” rather than fighting among themselves, Savage said.
The effects could be wide-ranging, he noted. Many labour councils and provincial labour federations require member unions to be part of the CLC, he said, and Unifor could be ousted from those groups.
“There’s still so many unanswered questions about how this will play itself out,” Savage said.
By leaving the CLC, Unifor is also now free to raid other unions in an effort to sign up more members and other congress members can raid Unifor, he noted.
Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff rejected Unifor’s allegations that the congress ignored its concerns about U.S.-based labour unions interfering in Canadian union elections.
Yussuff said Unifor must cease any “raiding” activities and urged the union to return to the congress.
“I would encourage Unifor to stop engaging in any raiding activities because that’s not a way to demonstrate their solidarity and their commitment to how we can help workers,” Yussuff said.
A release from Unifor and a letter from president Jerry Dias said much of the dispute stems from the CLC’s failure to enforce provisions in its constitution about the process for workers to move from one union to another.
Unifor was allegedly involved in a high-profile effort last year to win over workers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 in Toronto. The U.S.-based union placed the local under trusteeship.
The CLC hasn’t addressed interference in the process, Dias charged in the letter.
“The evidence is before us — very few members have ever changed unions through the justification process,” Dias writes. “Affiliates simply do not co-operate and frustrate the process.”
The CLC arbitrated the dispute to some bad reviews from unions in Canada, including Unifor.
But Yussuff said he’s heard allegations Unifor is trying to raid UNITE HERE Local 75, which represents hospitality workers in Toronto.
“It’s a breach of our solidarity, of our constitution,” said Yussuff. “To be involved in raiding and to not allow the process to be completed, I think is really not acceptable.”
UNITE HERE hasn’t brought a complaint to the CLC, he said.
Dias was unavailable for comment on the allegation.
The rift could have implications for Yussuff’s tenure as CLC head. The constitution says members of the CLC must be from a union that is part of the organization.
But Yussuff is a member of Unifor and could be pushed out now that his union has left the CLC.
“Clearly that’s something we’re going to have to deal with soon,” Yussuff said. “Those are the rules.” He said the congress will examine the situation “in the next little while.”
Unifor, created in 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers merged, supported Yussuff’s bid for congress president when he defeated incumbent Ken Georgetti in 2014.
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