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TO BUILD LABOUR POWER IN THE 21st CENTURY

MORE THAN WORDS ON PAPER

by John Cartwright

Our Labour Council has taken the initiative to launch the “Action Agenda Ė Building Labour Power in the 21st Century.” The reason is both simple and complex. 

The simple reason is we wish to help stimulate a wide-ranging debate within the labour movement about our future, and how we can best represent the interests of working people in Canada. Thereís no better time to have that discussion than when we are going into a CLC Convention. The convention is our “parliament”, where each of us can use our knowledge and experience to make it a success. 

The complex answer is that labourís opponents are driving an agenda that threatens all the gains made by working people in the past, but we donít yet have a coherent plan to counter either their agenda or their power. South of the border, the U.S. economy is unravelling, with serious repercussions here. 

Corporate globalization has resulted in massive lay-offs in the manufacturing and resource sectors, and a huge increase in outsourcing. What we donít know is how to reverse it. We have managed to block some aspects of privatization despite relentless pressure. Business is continually re-inventing itself, yet we still operate with structures that were forged through struggles of the last century. How do we build the kind of power that moves beyond defensiveness Ė to actually shaping the future of Canada?

Union density matters.

For years, we have taken pride in the fact that the level of unionization in Canada has stayed far higher than in the U.S. or many other countries. But in the private sector, where over 80% of Canadians work, we are losing ground rapidly. It is not a simple feat to change internal culture to become “organizing unions”, but the longer we delay the harder it will be to turn things around. The American labour movement split over this issue, so there is a pressing need to figure it out. 

Yes, there are serious disagreements about key issues Ė politics, styles of bargaining and organizing, and responding to the rapidly changing demographics of the workforce and society. Those differences should be debated, so that together we can learn how to uphold our principles while dealing with the pressures of the real world. But neither those differences nor our strong personalities can be allowed to divide our movement. Leaders have to constantly make judgment calls, but everyone should recognize that providing millions of Canadians with a union voice at work is our primary responsibility. 

What will make the Action Agenda more than just words on paper?

That answer is framed by the slogan Vision + Strategy + Organizing = Power. As a movement, we have a common vision about the kind of society we want for all Canadians. Past convention papers have laid that out with exceptional clarity. But what is missing is the strategic ability to achieve it, or even to counter the worst elements of globalization and corporate greed. Twenty-five years ago the CLC led a collective “no concessions” policy. It was a bold move that allowed labour to hold its own in the face of intense employer pressure. But back then, most of our members worked in industries that enjoyed some form of protection. 

Today the ground has shifted entirely, so resistance will take on different forms, including looking at how unions in the global south have survived in the face of much worse conditions. And on the political front, we need to think through the essential relationship with labourís electoral partner Ė the NDP.

But our greatest challenge lies in the word organizing. Not enough workers are being organized to keep pace with the changing economy, or to maintain union density. Political campaigns seldom reach their true potential. It is hard work talking one-on-one to members, winning their support and inspiring them to take extraordinary actions. Breakthroughs donít come easily, and are usually the product of relentless, focused effort even when many other issues demand attention. 

To truly build power, we need to change how we operate. 

Dedicating the resources, refocusing staff priorities, engaging our members both at work and in their communities Ė these tough choices will have to be made if we want to win in 2008 and beyond. But the tougher decision centres around how to share power. As unions merge and grow, they have become less dependent on central labour bodies, and less inclined to build collective campaigns. Yet regardless of size, no single union by itself can change Canadian politics.

How could our unions, many of which see themselves as general workers unions, commit to a common agenda of building power? In different parts of the world, labour has been trying to create new structures to respond to their changing reality. The proposed CLC Structural Review Task Force will create an opportunity to look at this vital issue, but only if the discussion permeates every level of our movement will we find the best answers. 

Hereís one example of what could be different. Some years ago, the CLC relinquished its direct role in organizing unrepresented workers, leaving that task up to the affiliates. One of our Labour Council resolutions calls on the convention to set a goal of organizing one million workers in the next decade, and to establish a task force of organizing directors to consider how the labour movement can best accomplish that. We know there are two aspects of organizing where unions need to improve their capacity Ė reaching out to the “next workforce” (many of whom will be from worker of colour and aboriginal communities), and developing effective “corporate campaigns” to support organizing. 

Some affiliates have invaluable experience in the first area. Examples include the PSAC with first nations in the north, Steelworkers with the huge Tamil community in Toronto, and there are certainly more. Others have access to the significant body of knowledge developed in the U.S. about using corporate campaigns to leverage neutrality from employers during major organizing drives. What if we created an organizing department at the CLC whose role would be to help to share and implement the best practices around these two issues with affiliates who are undertaking significant sectoral or chain-wide organizing drives? Wouldnít that be a real value-added role for our central labour body? 

Itís time to develop a common definition of the word “mobilize”.

It means stretching ourselves to engage members in a direct, one-on-one dialogue about what they are willing to do to build union power. It means creating space for members who are not part of the traditional leadership stream to use their skills and knowledge, and be acknowledged for the role they play both in the workplace and the community. It means trying harder to do things that are different, because people take notice when something different is happening , whether itís lunchtime study sessions or house visits to activists. And it means building analysis and capacity while we do turnout for events and rallies.

On paper, the Action Agenda can seem like just another union document. What makes it different is the determination to drive a process of change. To challenge each and every one of us Ė local leaders, CLC officers, heads of unions Ė to think long and hard about how to do better. And, most essentially, to open a debate about how to implement the strategy and organizing components of building power. It may not be easy, but together we can discover how to provide the leadership that this tremendous movement deserves in the 21st century. 

John Cartwright is President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council


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(1) Comment

by Evelina Pan

I read, with interest, John Cartwright's piece on the Action Agenda to build labour power. He's absolutely correct when he says we have to become "organizing unions" in order to keep our movement going.

As a long-time labour council activist, I think that labour councils have a great role to play in this change.

Amy Dean, in her reflection on the rebirth of central labour councils in the U.S., talks about how revitalized central labour councils were envisioned to support organizing and coordinated political action, and to foster and lead regional movements for progressive change.

Labour councils can help be vehicles for organizing -- by being exciting places where information, ideas and strategies are developed and exchanged. We can be a one-stop-shop for labour and social justice change activities.

For the most part, those people who are interested enough, and who have enough time to spend on labour council activities, are those who care deeply about our communities and are willing to work hard to see them flourish.

A great way for a community to be a better place, is to have more people be more secure in their work -- both in terms of job security, and in terms of earning a good, decent wage -- so they don't have to work several jobs. Being in a union helps resolve both of these concerns.

Obviously, labour council delegates are union members already, but we can also be community organizers -- helping on union organizing campaigns. We all have family and friends who know people who arenít in unions, but would like to be. Within a culture of union organizing, we can be among those who help others join unions.

Labour Councils can also strengthen the labour movement by being a voice for social justice. Because of our commitment to maintaining and improving our collective agreements, sometimes local unions have inadequate time to be involved in issues outside the workplace. However, those non-workplace issues can be just as important to the lives of working people as those arising at the workplace. To the extent that the labour movement is seen as a strong representative for all matters affecting the lives of working people, the labour movement is strengthened. This is an area where Labour Councils are well placed to carry out a leading role.

I believe the CLC and its affiliates should put more emphasis on the importance of Labour Councils. There are some things no other organization is so well placed to do. 

Evelina Pan, President, Thunder Bay & District Labour Council

 


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LABOUR'S ROADMAP FOR CHANGE

by Charlotte Yates, Director of Labour Studies

As food riots rage around the world in reaction to the climbing price of declining stores of food staples and growing numbers of political leaders question the returns of globalization to the worldís population, we are at a critical juncture of change. The once muffled criticisms of globalization are swelling into a deafening chorus insisting on our return to the ideals of security, equality, fairness, and collectivism. Yet at the very moment when change and redirection of the political-economy is possible, Canadian unions are suffering from battle fatigue, in danger of losing a golden opportunity to offer a roadmap for change for working Canadians.

The labour movement needs to turn past defeats into a new agenda and strategy for action, building on the existing abundance of opportunities for renewal and overcoming the barriers to change. This requires action by individual unions but also a new role for central labour federations. It requires an alternative vision of the future and a strategy for realizing that future through building labour power.

An Abundance of Opportunities

For years we have been told that unions are dinosaurs left over from the postwar age, ill equipped to deal with the new world of work and workers. Yet, with all its shortcomings, the labour movement has an abundance of resources and opportunities that make it a critical player in any coalition for change. To list these opportunities acts as a reminder to unions and union members of the raw materials they have at their disposal to use in the building of a new and better Canada.

Notwithstanding more than a decade of decline in union density, nearly a third of Canadian workers belong to unions. With more than 4 million members, the Canadian labour movement remains one of the most significant in the English-speaking world with enormous potential for mobilization and access to resources far beyond the wildest dreams of most other activist or non-profit groups. The face of union membership is also changing as women now outnumber men and a growing proportion of workers of colour join the ranks of unions. This change has occurred as teachers, cultural workers, health care professionals and pink-collar administrators join the mainstream labour movement. Although official leadership in the union movement does not reflect this diversity of union membership, this transformation of the face of Canadian labour is reflected in the shifting locus of labourís militancy.

Evidence of this can be seen in examples of strikes and labour-based protests over the last decade. In 2004, over 40,000 hospital and long-term care facility health care workers in British Columbia, most of whom were women of colour and members of the Hospital Employees Union (HEU), went on strike to protest government cutbacks and they mobilized thousands of other workers. A year later, 38,000 teachers in B.C., led by Jinny Sims an immigrant from India, engaged in a two-week illegal strike to demand improved wages as well as a series of improvements to the public education system. This echoed a similar illegal 10-day strike amongst teachers in Ontario in 1997 against proposed radical changes to public education. And in the summer of 2005, a strike at Tyson meatpacking plant in Brooks, Alberta saw new Canadians fight for their rights against an employer and provincial government intent on exploiting them at work that was dangerous, dirty and poorly paid. This militancy and the coming together of worklife issues with the defence of public goods point to a shift within the labour movement in who is leading working and middle class struggles, and how these struggles are framed. These struggles and laboursí resources point to the labour movementís continued capacity and importance in influencing public opinion and political choices.

What is Labourís Vision for the Future?

Unions and social democratic parties united in the postwar period around a vision of a productive society in which the rewards for economic growth were more equitably distributed and governments shared a collective responsibility to protect the weakest and ensure that everyone, including corporations, played by the rules. But today that vision is not so clear. Consequently, for many working people there appears no alternative to the daily grind of work and the gnawing fear of insecurity, for themselves and their children. Moreover many do not see unions as organizations that can help in their struggles, whether as workers or as allies in broader progressive struggles for change.

A lack of vision breeds a lack of hope; a lack of hope sucks up the air needed to blow the winds of change. It is for this reason that the labour movement needs to articulate a vision, a vision that is heard across the country and makes sense and gives hope to everyday people, whether they be migrant workers, farmers, steelworkers and autoworkers, retail workers or secretaries.

Such a vision needs to be built on certain principles of social justice and collective good. Elements of this vision include a commitment to security - of food, housing and income; a defence of the public sphere seen in the championing of community centres, public transportation, subsidized housing and socialized medicine and pensions; a commitment to clean air and water and to reversal of environmental damage; the protection of basic labour rights for all whether part-time or full-time, migrant or citizen, black or white; and a commitment to collective solutions and responsibility.

The importance of articulating an alternative to the present neo-liberal, corporate agenda cannot be underestimated. There are three reasons why an articulated alternative is critical to labour movement renewal and a new political future. First, although unions can sustain existing membership support through the negotiation of bread and butter gains in the workplace, such gains are inadequate for enticing unorganized workers to join or support unions. The history of labour shows that economism associated with an exclusive focus on bread and butter issues has limited capacity for rebuilding the power of labour.

Second, organized labourís weakness lies in low membership numbers as well as a more deeply embedded general hostility to unions. This hostility is only partly a consequence of neo-liberal policy and ideas, that emphasize individualism and competition and encourage attacks on collective, equity seeking institutions. 

Unions sometimes have themselves to blame for not appealing to a broad cross-section of working people. Under pressure to save jobs and protect incumbent union members from closures and restructuring, many unions resort to defending the status quo. At times this has led some groups such as racialized minorities and women to view of unions as institutions of privilege with little or no commitment to substantive change in the labour market or workplace. 

Finally, without developing any new alternative vision of the future, organized labour is in danger of either abandoning the politics of ideas in favour of a politics of pragmatism or hanging on to the remaining vestiges of social democracy, thus feeding into the view that unions are outdated and ill-suited for dealing with contemporary challenges and leading the way for change.

A Dearth of Institutional Strategic Capacity

A vision of the future combined with their raw materials for power leaves the labour movement with one final barrier to overcome, namely the organizational dynamics of fragmentation that are eroding labourís capacity to take leadership and mobilize behind a collective agenda. Union power is rooted in the capacity to mobilize the activism and resources of its mass membership behind a collective plan of action. Reduced to its most simple form, if 4 million members agreed to one common political act, whether to vote for one political party or strike on one common day of action, labourís power would be revealed. Yet unions fight one another for members, for resources and over government favours.

In and of itself, organizational fragmentation need not be a fatal flaw in union efforts to rebuild. But the ways in which that has played out in Canada have encouraged destructive competition between unions and a lack of leadership, especially from central labour bodies. This weakness has been evident in organizing drives aimed at especially hard-to-organize employers, such as Walmart and McDonalds. After many failed attempts by individual unions to organize these employers in Canada, it has become widely accepted that taking on these corporate giants requires coordinated action amongst multiple unions. 

The lack of central organizational capacity to facilitate this reduces the likeliness of success in these and other campaigns. Unions need to find a way to build bridges across their organizations and members and pool resources. Central labour federations along with union democracy therefore have critical roles to play in enhancing labourís strategic capacity and the likelihood that labour will become a leader for change.

Start Small, Build Big

These are daunting challenges in the face of which no on would blame unions for becoming faint hearted. But to build momentum for change, unions should perhaps begin small and build big. Central labour federations could mediate bilateral codes of conduct between warring unions in an effort to establish the foundation for pooling resources and cooperative action in organizing and specific campaigns. Perhaps a central labour federation could establish a centre for labour rights amongst migrant workers, mobilizing the active support of human rights activists and lawyers.

Labour could initially choose a single campaign around which mobilize, coordinating strategy across the country and engaging in culturally creative and imaginative tactics whether in support of publicly funded childcare or card check neutrality. Change is urgent. Change is within reach, but only for those who have a dream and take those small steps from which mighty things can grow.

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THE REBIRTH OF CENTRAL LABOR COUNCILS

by Amy Dean and David B. Reynolds

is an important reflection on labour power from the U.S.

The 2005 AFL-CIO/Change to Win debate was notable not simply for what was discussed, but also what was not. It focused on how to build one crucial element of worker power: workplace organizing and the collective bargaining strength that comes with it. Absent, however, was discussion of a second necessary dimension: regional power built in the community. Yet, historically in the United States, and around the world, geographic power has been necessary to increase workplace power.

For example, the breakthrough battle of the 1930s–the General Motors sit-down strike–would have been lost had the infant industrial labor movement not been able to mobilize community support in the company town of Flint and establish enough political strength to elect a Michigan governor who pledged not to use the National Guard against striking workers. In a similar way, in 1941, the Ford Motor Company might have succeeded in using racial divisions to break union organizing had black-white unity not been built in the community and the workplace. In both cases, regional power reached beyond the immediate needs of turning out supportive local crowds and deactivating government repression. Strategically, place-based organizing established a forward-looking social vision of economic justice and democracy that made workplace battles not only the parochial concerns of isolated workers, but also fundamental struggles over Americaís future. Can organized labor recover today without articulating a similar twenty-first century social vision?

Successful strategies for building geographic power and social vision have crystallized over the past decade in communities across the country. These strategies are rooted in regional work that offers the building blocks necessary to contest for state and ultimately national governing power. Because it is rooted locally, such power building must include the transformation of organized laborís regional bodies such as central labor councils and area and state labor federations.

UNION CITIES AND THE FORCES THAT PRODUCE REGIONAL POWER BUILDING

Historically, regional cross-union labor bodies have played crucial roles in building worker power. However, when the Sweeney administration came to power in 1995, it inherited the atrophy of such bodies that dates back over half a century. By establishing the Central Labor Council Advisory Committee and Union Cities, the new leadership raised the prospect that cross-union labor bodies could again play a key role in labor movement revitalization.

The eight-point Union Cities agenda envisioned revitalized central labor councils that not only supported organizing and coordinated political action, but also fostered and led regional movements for progressive change.

On the surface, Union Cities did not live up to its full promise. Of the over 160 councils that officially signed onto it, most did not undergo the kind of fundamental transformation required to establish them as regional movement- leading organizations. Although it pointed in the right direction, Union Cities suffered several limitations. The AFL-CIO did not engage enough of the large national affiliates in supporting the agenda. It also did not address the lack of resources that prevented all volunteer or small-staffed councils from organizing or sustaining innovative programs.

There was also tension within the AFL-CIO between a vision of councils capable of developing and leading strong regional movements and councils that served mostly as transmission belts for nationally conceived programs.

At the same time, the AFL-CIOís ramped-up political work focused on ad hoc single-election structures rather than building up permanent state and local organizations. This choice reflected a lack of capacity among most central labor councils, and these ad hoc investments left no increased capacity after each election.

At a deeper level, however, Union Cities did aid real innovations by a core group of central labor councils that established a clear model for how such bodies can lead regional movements for progressive change. It legitimated efforts by labor council innovators and put them in contact with national union leaders. The advisory committee and field mobilization staff brought together current and prospective council activists to engage in peer-to-peer learning. 

By the late 1990s, a clear model had crystallized in California. Power-building work that began in Los Angeles and San Jose spread quickly to San Diego and the East Bay area, and later to other locations across the state. Several factors help explain why such widespread innovation occurred in this state. Californiaís economic and political structures are relatively younger and often fueled by people who come from elsewhere. This fluidity makes it relatively easy for people to move into and out of institutional life and for institutional innovations to develop. The institutional tensions between labor and community groups in many parts of California donít go back as far as in other parts of the country, and “bad blood” fades faster as people come and go. Far from most national union and AFL-CIO headquarters, many unions in California have often been forced – or given the opportunity – to rely on mutual assistance among other local unions and innovate basic strategies.

California has also been at the forefront of regional business thinking within the new economy. Much ink has been spilled over the supposed decline of national economic policy in the face of corporate globalization. However, it is much less recognized that globalization has increased the importance of regional economies as key sites for public and private decision making. “Footloose” corporations do not randomly roam the world, but move from region to region. The urban planning field is beginning to recognize the importance of “clustering” to firm investment strategies and the competitive advantages of locating near related firms, suppliers, and support services. Factors such as workforce development, transportation and infrastructure, and an attractive quality of life for workers are all questions of regional public policy that concern business groups. Indeed, in many parts of the country, various forms of industry and employer oriented civic bodies actively promote regional thinking in the face of often extreme municipal fragmentation.

Regionalization offers tremendous opportunities for labor and its allies, but the regional agendas of even the most enlightened business groups suffer major blind spots on questions of equity and social justice. In Silicon Valley, for example, regional power-building research unveiled a sinister underbelly of the areaís “prosperous” new economy in the form of exploding low-wage service industry jobs, a high cost of living, and high rates of contingent and unstable employment. Similar research by power-building efforts elsewhere has revealed a similar “hourglass” economy. Business-oriented regional policy typically fails to address wage levels and job security. At the same time, concerns for “affordable housing” and regional transportation focus on white-collar workers rather than connecting isolated and often heavily minority workers to family-supporting jobs and accommodations.

Typically, mainstream regional agendas go unchallenged as progressive groups do not have the capacity to generate alternative regional programs.

In Silicon Valley, the founding of the nonprofit Working Partnerships USA in 1995 by the labor council proved a crucial step in seizing these regional opportunities. Regional political economies involve enough technical matters that a significant investment of resources is required to understand and identify key levers of public authority and to propose policy reforms. Ongoing research and media work by Working Partnerships helped draw attention to social justice issues, reframe public debates, and educate policy makers. The organization also played a crucial role in developing the coalition campaigns that won such reforms as living wage ordinances, a childrenís health initiative covering 70,000 uninsured children, community benefits agreements, public transit funding, and affordable housing. Through these campaigns, Working Partnerships and the South Bay Labor Council built long-term relationships among key labor and community partners. They also established the pioneering Civic Leadership Institute (described below) to build a diverse cadre of grassroots leaders with a shared regional vision. The policy work established the local labor movement as representative of the broad interests of the regionís working population. It also asserted the voice of labor and its allies at the table of official regional economic development decisions. All of this work was backed by a revitalized and effective labor electoral program led by the labor council.

KEY ELEMENTS OF A REGIONAL STRATEGY FOR POWER.

That regional power-building strategies were not solely a California phenomenon is clear from the spread of these methods to such diverse contexts as western and southern growth cities (Denver and Atlanta), the Rust Belt (Buffalo, Cleveland, and Milwaukee), and East Coast knowledge economies (Boston and New Haven). While individual initiatives differ in particulars, all power-building efforts attempt to put in place three essential elements:

1. Enduring Coalition.

Coalitions between labor and community groups have become increasingly common, but most tend not to last beyond the specific issue around which they were formed. By contrast, building a local movement for power requires the cultivation of long-term alliances among core labor and community players. While such power-building relationships may be expressed through cooperation around specific campaigns, the overall alliance is built around an ongoing mutual interest in shifting the regionís political economy. Some common power-building partners for labor have included immigrant rights groups, civil rights organizations, environmentalists, low-income groups such as ACORN, and social-justice-oriented faith networks. Labor council leaders must also build alliances within a regionís labor movement–bringing together the Left and Right–to establish the deep institutional buyin needed to maintain power building over time.

Strong coalition building spawned the Civic Leadership Institute tool, which first developed in San Jose. Today, the national nonprofit Building Partnerships supports regional groups in using these six- to eight-week labor community leadership development programs to build leadership cadres that share a progressive vision for regional economic and political change.

Business-oriented regional policy typically fails to address wage levels and job security.

2. Policy Work.

To build real regional power, progressives must translate their shared values of equity, fair play, sustainability, and justice into concrete public policy. In doing so, they move public debate onto issues–like job security, affordable housing, health care, wages, education, and transportation– that can unify workers and community allies. Regional power-building policy work has included, for example, living wage campaigns, community benefits agreements with developers that secure labor and community standards and resources for major projects, affordable housing reforms, regional health care initiatives, and interventions in regional transportation planning.

Understanding the public levers that influence private business decisions and turning that knowledge into realistic policy campaigns requires specialized capacity. Thus, launching progressive foundationĖfunded “think and act” tanks is a common power-building step. These institutions often play a direct role in coalition building and campaign development, in addition to their role in research and policy development.

3. Aggressive Political Action.

Realizing a sustained regional reform agenda entails a capacity to develop progressive champions, elect them into office, and then hold politicians accountable. Establishing greater electoral unity within the house of labor and requiring that candidates seeking endorsement do more than simply fill out a questionnaire are two typical first steps. The first two elements of regional power building help lay the groundwork for achieving aggressive political action by framing laborís political possibilities beyond simply instrumental deal making to the prospect of wholesale long-term political change. However, even with the prospect of enacting far greater reforms and establishing greater governing power, building electoral unity within the house of labor still requires concerted work by labor council and similar leaders. When achieved, greater labor movement unity carries into alliances with community groups. Together, labor and community can build sustained neighborhood and workplace activist infrastructures to turn out neighbors and co-workers for elections, referendums, strike support, worker organizing, or community campaigns. Because of the two other power-building elements, aggressive political action becomes more than simply electing good people, but also establishing a real capacity to govern. As urban scholars have long documented, business interests govern most regions not simply because they help elect allied politicians, but because between elections they are able to frame public debates, research and develop public policy, build alliances, back up their elected allies, and punish those officials that prove unsupportive.

Atlanta provides a recent case that illustrates how the three power-building elements come together. When Charlie Flemming took over the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council in 2000, he benefited from previous exposure to regional power-building work elsewhere through Central Labor Council Advisory Board meetings and networking with AFL-CIO staff. By founding the nonprofit Georgia Stand-Up, he promised to deepen grassroots participation in labor-community work that began under his predecessor, Stuart Acuff; maintain these alliances between campaigns; and provide research and organizing capacity to hold elected officials accountable to an articulated policy agenda. Direct contact with other efforts helped translate power-building details to an Atlanta context. Meanwhile, a labor council retreat helped Flemming build consensus among affiliates. In the fall of 2005, less than a year after hiring its first two staff members, Georgia Stand-Up and the labor council faced an opportunity to position labor and its allies as a voice for community-oriented development by intervening in a city council vote over Atlantaís multibillion-dollar BeltLine Project. They succeeded in winning an amendment that opened the door to push community benefits agreements at each stage of the massive transit, park, housing, and economic development project that will circle the city. Research by Georgia Stand-Up has helped labor and community activists understand this and other developments, while the new Policy Institute for Civic Leadership builds a diverse leadership cadre united around a progressive vision of the metropolitan areaís future. The coalition and policy work provide a context to ramp up laborís electoral program, including a new focus on suburban communities.

Atlanta illustrates how regional power building brings to life the potential for establishing coalitions and political leadership within the labor council institution. It also shows how research, policy, and additional coalition capacity have to be established anew using foundation resources. The three power-building elements must combine to form a greater whole. Ultimately, regional work seeks to articulate a social vision of communities built around equity, sustainability, fairness, and social justice. At the same time, it sets into practical motion a regional movement dedicated to securing such a future while also setting the stage for aggressive union organizing and eventual national and state-oriented political work.

DEBATE OVER THE ROLE OF CENTRAL LABOR COUNCILS.

Among the diverse power-building experiences lays a crucial question: is a labor council or similar cross-union organization necessary for building power? Critics of labor councilled power building justifiably point to the lackluster track record of transformation in such bodies. Ever since the late nineteenth century when the new AFL decided to subordinate central labor bodies to national unions, councils have struggled to find resources and authority. Voluntary affiliation allows locals to pull out when they disagree with council decisions– thus encouraging council leaders to pursue the lowest common denominator. Because it addressed neither resource issues nor leadership development, Union Cities did not produce a systematic transformation in a large number of central labor bodies.

Power-building work in San Jose, Denver, Atlanta, and San Diego provides examples driven by labor councils. The recent coalition, policy, and electoral efforts by the new leadership of the North Carolina AFL-CIO point to similar roles that state federations might play in low-union-density states. By contrast, the nonprofit Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and its spin-offs–such as the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) and the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE)–began without, or prior to, central labor council transformation and leadership.

This experience suggests an effective model in which a small number of organizing unions link up with foundation money to found a nonprofit organization capable of organizing concerted interventions in the regionís economic development. Such work feeds back into policy leverage and community support for worker organizing. This “coalition-of-the-organizers” model offers the attraction of not having to rely on the potentially protracted and complex struggles for labor council transformation. The Partnership for Working Families has gotten some financial support from Change to Win to help organize similar models in new communities.

While frustrations with the progress of labor council transformation are understandable, building power without labor council transformation risks fulfilling only the first two of three necessary steps. Without political muscle and electoral transformation provided by aggressive political action, power-building efforts are ultimately limited in their ability to intervene in economic development debates. While LAANE developed independently of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, its successful policy and community benefits campaigns benefited from growing labor and progressive electoral influence led by the federation and its path-breaking labor- Latino political alliances. By comparison, with little labor council transformation (until recently), EBASEís coalition and policy work has been handicapped relative to LAANE by the lack of concerted electoral action. Aggressive political action involves not only electing new people, but also holding officeholders accountable, and having the capacity to shift the terms of political debate during and after elections. While much can be done in the short term without such changes, in the long run they are necessary to build lasting and real governing power. They also further feed into support and leverage for worker organizing. Mounting systematic and aggressive political action requires some cross-movement body that can build greater electoral unity within the ranks of labor, pool and target laborís electoral resources, and build electoral alliances and capacity among community allies.

Without political muscle and electoral transformation, powerbuilding efforts are ultimately limited in their ability to intervene in economic development debates.

Despite the limitations of Union Cities, real transformation has happened beyond the core of “usual suspects” activist councils. In California, such transformed councils include San Diego, San Francisco, and the small volunteer driven council in Santa Rosa. Denver, Cleveland, Boston, and the North Carolina AFL-CIO offer examples of power-building work from previously very traditional bodies. The Leadership Institute and peer-to-peer networking of the AFL-CIO Office of State and Local Affiliates supports a growing constituency of council and federation leaders looking for change. In researching New Alliance in New York State, Jeff Grabelsky found that pooling resources into new area labor federations had established sufficiently staffed bodies capable of developing and implementing new programs such as revamping laborís electoral operations, intervening in regional economic development bodies, and passing living wage and other legislation. The fact that, through Solidarity Charters, a significant portion of Change to Win locals remain active in their state and local AFL-CIO bodies reflects a continued value for regionally coordinated work.

The question is not simply one of greater resources, but also drastically raising organized laborís expectations of what can be done at the regional level and in turn holding regional labor bodies accountable for these expectations. In California, the achievements of the pioneering regional power-building projects has led to standards and benchmarks for all regional labor bodies in the state and intervention when such bodies do not meet these expectations. For decades, lackluster regional labor bodies reflected the little that was asked of them. The time has come to break with this tradition. In short, while promoters of regional work cannot simply wait for transformation of a regionís cross-union labor bodies, they must include some long-term strategy to connect with such bodies or work with figures who wish to encourage transformation.

MOVING GEOGRAPHICALLY-BASED LABOR FROM THE MARGINS TO THE CENTER.

Regional power building has spread due to support from national sources. The AFLCIOís Office of State and Local Affiliates runs the Leadership Institute and helps drive New Alliance. It also provides grants to the Building Regional Power Research Network that allows researchers to document work being done in regions across the nation. Progressive foundations funded the nonprofit “think and act” tanks that are critical to regional work, as well as two national support organizations: Building Partnerships (civic leadership institutes and blueprint projects) and the Partnership for Working Families (“think and act” tanks and economic development campaigns). The funds going to this support work, however, are tiny compared to what organized labor spends each election cycle or the resources that specific unions allocate to industrial organizing. This funding discrepancy reflects the failure of American labor to adequately debate the role, strategies, and resource needs of geographic power-building strategies. The AFLCIO/ Change-to-Win debate focused mainly on organizing. Weak discussions of political action never confronted the central dilemma: that labor must operate in a two-party system in which one party is overtly hostile to labor and the other is dominated by corporate funding.

The New Rightís transformation of the Republican Party suggests that organized labor must have a similarly long-term, coalition-building, bottom-up plan for transforming the Democratic Party. While the New Right relied on corporate money and media influence, laborís strategy must build on grassroots strength and an honest agenda that appeals to most working Americans. Unfortunately, the American labor movement continues to focus on political operations election by election. Unions spend small fortunes, but leave little infrastructure behind between elections; they focus largely on national contests and ignore questions of a more profound transformation in American politics. Establishing regional power-building programs in twenty-five to thirty major urban areas would arguably build the capacity needed to mount serious progressive challenges for state and ultimately national power.

The debate over organizing strategies never engaged the possible connections to this placebased work. The potential ties reach beyond simply the instrumental ability of power building to develop community and political connections that support worker organizing. There is also the question of what building worker power means. The ultimate goal of increasing union density is to allow workers to better their wages, benefits, working conditions, and the lives of their families. As union benefits spill over to nonunion workers, greater workplace power helps establish a new social contract in America. Yet, workplace organizing and collective bargaining alone has never been able to address all of the issues confronting workers. Labor needs place-based power as well.

For example, without a concerted effort to establish universal public health care, union bargaining faces a losing battle to protect members from the spiraling costs from for-profit insurance. Absent new national trade policies and regional strategies to enmesh employers in valuable local relationships, collective bargaining can do little to prevent the continued movement of jobs overseas. Without public policy that raises work standards and job stability in contingent work, large sections of the working population will continue to be difficult to organize.

With nearly half of all union members in the public sector, the labor movement needs strategies for not only winning bargaining rights for government employees, but also for countering right-wing efforts to defund and privatize the public sector by rebuilding public trust in government. As the American Southís antiunion political and cultural climate lures corporate investment, the labor movement cannot simply rely on workplace organizing; it must contest for influence at community and political levels.

Put another way, union density has declined in America not simply due to a lack of strategic organizing by unions, but also because of a neoliberal shift in corporate strategy and politics that broke the postwar social contract. Just as with the rise of the New Deal era, a new social contract requires a complex rethinking about the roles of government, business, labor, and citizen activism that will not originate in Washington, but in many experiments and agendas first pursued at the local and state levels.

Organized labor must have a long-term, coalition building, bottom-up plan for transforming the Democratic Party.

The separate debates over organizing and geographic power must become a single discussion. Strategies to organize at scale and build regional power must together move from the margins to the center of American organized labor. Ultimately, reviving organized laborís fortunes requires generating a new era of social change in America. Yet social change does not happen without social vision. Only by integrating strategies for regional power can the labor movement generate the kind of living social vision necessary to mobilize working people to fight for a better future.

Reprinted with permission from New Labor Forum.

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UNION POWER AND VISION

by Chris Schenk

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the many challenges and problems facing the world we live in today. Such challenges confront many of us on a daily basis. They point to the dire need for a better workplace and a better world.

Change seems impossible. A multitude of huge problems appear to overwhelm any possible solutions. Yet there also exist a number of factors that assist change. At their most fundamental these factors are not monetary or technical resources, institutions or even progressive labour legislation, as important as these are. Rather, the basis of the labour movementís power is its ability to involve, mobilize and give voice to the concerns, interests, fears and hopes of millions of working people. For those of us without big money or holding high positions of political power, it is large numbers of people acting collectively Ė in solidarity Ė for their own needs and aspirations, that can make a difference. This collectivety is the base of our political power and if activated, educated and developed, has the potential strength to lead the process of social change.

It is for this reason Ė the building of solidarity, of power Ė that it is important for unions to build a new organizational culture: one focused on more inclusive and participatory democracy, on membership involvement and  empowerment, on traditions of struggle for change in the workplace and society at large.

In addition to increased membership engagement other factors facilitating progressive change include: effective union leadership; strategic planning; proper resource allocation; improved communication with members and the broader community; equality of gender and sexual orientation and successes at the bargaining table and in union/community campaigns. The latter will serve to both improve workerís quality of life, income security and to inspire and further activate union members and community allies.

It is also important to redouble union efforts to critically educate ourselves so that all our members are aware of the issues involved. Developing a critical perspective on events in our workplaces and the world around us is vitally important to revitalizing our unions and promote change. At the same time we need to offer alternatives. The problems we see need positive solutions if we are to build and attract allies to our cause.

Our specific reforms need to be wrapped in a broad alternative vision of a better world. A world dominated by social equality not the massive inequality we see today, of social justice not injustice, of the prosperity of all not the poverty of millions, of production for the social needs of everyone rather than the profits of an already rich minority and a world without the rampant environmental degradation we find around us. Such a vision can inspire hope for the future and breathe new action in labourís ranks.

Although these factors are not always optimal in the Canadian union movement, they are far from absent. To the extent they exist they can be built on and constitute factors facilitating union growth and renewal, increased power and influence for progressive social change. Although the percentage of unionized workers has declined over recent years, unionized workers have not experienced the dramatic drop in numbers of some jurisdictions. Indeed, the actual number of union members across Canada has continued to grow. Today there are over four million union members constituting a tremendous collectivity of resources, experience and talent.

The last decade or so has seen many battles just to hold on to gains made previously and fight off concessions. There is naturally some “battle fatigue” from these struggles. But there is also some lessons learned and a new determination gained from experience. The future holds new possibilities.

Given the challenges and difficulties in our world, building union power for change in the twenty first century is not only necessary, it is achievable.

Chris Schenk was Research Director of the Ontario Federation of Labour (1991-2007) and co-editor (with Pradeep Kumar) of Paths to Union Renewal.

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WHERE IS U.S. LABOR HEADED?

by Bill Fletcher, Jr. from July 2005

In thinking through the future of the US trade union movement we should be asking ourselves certain very important questions. These questions include, but are not limited to:

  • What is our analysis of the current domestic and international situation in general, but specifically, the situation facing workers?

  • What changes in the economy and in the process of work have taken place that affect workers, but also affect our abilities to organize, mobilize and be effective?

  • How do we understand the evolution of the US political state?  What does this mean for workers and their unions?

  • What do we mean when we speak of power for workers?

  • What other social movements–whether progressive or reactionary–are rising or declining?

  • How have US unions practiced trade unionism over the last 50 years? In what manner were there changes–if any at all–in this practice after Sweeney took over in 1995?

  • What has worked and what has not in the last ten years?  Do we have any idea as to why?

  • What do we need from a federation of unions? Specifically,

  • How should it make decisions?

  • Who should be included?

  • What is its role in electoral politics and legislation?

  • What is its role in organizing?

  • What is its role in member education & mobilization?

  • How do we change power relations in the USA?  What does this mean at the national and local level?

  • What is the nature of international working class solidarity in the 21st century?

  • What are the organizational and structural implications of all of this for the union movement?

These questions are not being asked.  It is interesting, however, that many of us outside of the top layers of the union bureaucracy, or outside of the union movement entirely, are posing these questions. It feels like hollering into a dark cave. All we get back is an echo.

While the leaders involved in this debate seem to feel that what they are saying is particularly profound, the arguments of both sides have failed to ignite a sense of excitement at the base.  Rather the response seems to be more of disengagement, curiosity, fear, and sometimes anger.

So, what then is the problem? Why has this debate evolved in such a mediocre manner?  I suggest to you that it has to do, fundamentally, with the ideological premises of US trade unionism, going back at least as far as Samuel Gompers. We have, in the USA, a movement that believes that the most that it can ever be is a junior partner to capital.  That is what is fascinating about the current so-called debate.  Even the more “militant” of the oppositionists conceptualize a special relationship with the enlightened wing of capital rather than any serious vision of working class power.

While some people may say that this is utopian, I would counter by suggesting that it is essential and completely relevant to our current conditions. Most of todayís union movements in the global North were shaped by the development of the so-called welfare state. They were shaped largely by the politics of the Cold War, in one manner or another, and in a situation where segments of capital believed that they needed to create an arrangement–a so-called social contract–with the organized section of the working class.  In the USA, I must say, that the leaders of organized labor cannot accept that this environment...this context...no longer exists.

Let me give you an example of the lack of an accurate analysis of the current situation.  A very prominent and progressive union leader made the statement that US organized labor needed to be more bi-partisan, politically speaking. My question is simple: what does that mean in 2005?  While I can absolutely understand and agree with the view that there should not be dependency on the Democratic Party, in the CURRENT situation, what does it mean to be bi-partisan when there is a Republican Party out to cut the throats of the working class generally and unions specifically?  Is this simply a throw-away point, or could this leader honestly believe that there is an environment that would promote bi-partisanship.

Gompersí views came to mean that the working class could not speak in its own name.  Rather than class politics, unions adopted “special interests” politics. The task of the union was to defend the interests of its members. This narrow view of trade unionism has affected everything, ranging from inter-union cooperation to the building of alliances with community-based organizations.

This has become all the more clear in the current debate where there is no hint of a unionism linked to social transformation, but rather there exists a unionism focused almost exclusively on collective bargaining power.

Let us be clear:  at a point when trade unions are under attack by both capital and the US state, and when we are losing collective bargaining power, not to mention, the actual right to collectively bargain, rearticulating the need for collective bargaining power is important...but it is in no way revolutionary, and it is certainly not enough to address the current crisis faced by the working class.

Both sides, however, are trapped in this ideological quandary.  Neither side recognizes the relationship between neo-liberal globalization and US foreign policy.  International trade agreements are treated in isolation from US threats to the sovereignty of nations.  The so-called war against terrorism is never directly addressed, despite its impact both on civil liberties and democracy in the USA, as well as military globalization internationally.

In the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001, the AFL-CIO believed that President Bush would grasp the moment and make peace with the US working class. They believed that Bush would mutate into Franklin Roosevelt and treat the new situation as something akin to a World War II environment. This did not happen. Not only did it not happen, but the leadership of the AFL-CIO was completely paralyzed in the face of the onslaught launched on the US working class.

So, what will happen?  If there is a split or fragmentation, in this environment I suspect that there will be calls, and some actions, towards new organizing campaigns. I suspect that central labor councils will very much be hurt by the split, some hurt mortally. The acrimony will more than likely continue for quite some time.

If there is a compromise, everything will depend on the terms of the compromise.  IF there is a commitment to pursuing an internal debate about the real issues, we could see some significant changes brought about in the US union movement.  If, however, the compromise is more akin to a cease-fire, then it will only be a temporary respite.

What, however, needs to be done?  Well, unfortunately, none of the top protagonists have actually asked me this question, but since I am among friends, I will offer a few thoughts.

  • Letís have the debate that needs to happen, using questions such as the ones that I proposed earlier.  Let us use those questions and a movement-wide debate–rather than simply a debate among the leaders–to identify the actual unities and differences within the movement.

  • Let us experiment with different forms of organization in approaching the organizing of the 21st century workforce.

  • And, here is my priority:  let us engage in a discussion that focuses on the question of working class power in the USA.  I am not speaking about bargaining power alone.  I am talking about the creation of an agenda–and a means of actualizing that agenda–that is worker-centric.  That agenda needs to be linked to a strategy that understands that unionization, as important as it is, is simply not sufficient to transform a society.  Progressive trade unionism must be linked to a progressive political practice.  Thus, we must supersede Gompers and his famous statement that ...we have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests...  By “we” Gompers meant the unions, and not the working class, but leaving that aside, the working class must have STRATEGIC friends, and must recognize its STRATEGIC enemies.  It is precisely for this reason that current discussions about so-called bi-partisanship ring so hollow.

I wish that I could ask you, Canadian trade unionists, to shake some sense into the heads of US trade unionists.  Unfortunately, this is not the case, since, much like a substance abuser, one has to hit bottom and realize, on oneís own, that something must change.

For the US trade union movement, the intoxicating Ďsubstanceí has been the US Empire.  It has served as the narcotic of choice that has confused us and seduced us, and ultimately, paralyzed us.  This substance of choice has so confused us, that we misread structural discussions for discussions of strategy.  And, we try to craft a vision for the future, without any accountability, let alone understanding, of the past.

Here is my final point.  In a recent blog exchange, a colleague chastised me for not recognizing that the SEIU, et. al., proposals are the best solution for the US trade union movement because they will make it easier for our movement to organize.  My colleague missed the point:  the resurgence and re-formation of organized labor is about more than increased will to organize–as important as that may be.  It is about inspiring hundreds of thousands, if not millions to a cause.  In the 1930s that cause was symbolized by the uniting of the effort toward organizing the unorganized with the battle for democracy.  I actually think that the cause is much the same, only it is a 21st century variant that looks at organizing the unorganized linked to the battle for consistent democracy with a vision of power for workers in society.

Technical changes in the existing trade union movement, even with the best of intentions toward increasing organizing and political action, will only result in a shinier version of an archaic machine.  I hope that our leaders can see through the haze created by both Gompers-ism and US Empire to realize this to be the truth.

Abridged version of a presentation to the CAW Council, July 2005


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COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

by David Rapaport

I first want to thank John Cartwright for initiating this discussion. It is important to take stock of our actions and the ideas that guide those actions. It is fitting that this discussion begins outside the formal hierarchies of the house of labour where realities like jurisdiction and personality can and do cloud these types of discussion. Being right and finding fault do not shed much light on our predicaments. In fact, they make matters worse.

Collective bargaining has been an important and powerful tool for the working class in Canada since the middle of the last century. It has brought millions of working Canadians into better economic and cultural spaces where we find more possibilities in our lives and in the world. Working class Canadians are more literate, healthier, better fed and clothed than in any other period. We are getting a larger share of the GDP pie. For all that, we can thank collective bargaining. 

Collective bargaining refers to more than a very specific industrial relations scheme. It also refers to social bargaining; which takes place in the court of public opinion, in parliaments, in government programs; the social wage. We bargain with our adversaries in many venues. 

With good reason, we all fear the shrinking of the collective bargaining space in our economic world. Union density is down. The continued absence of the card-check system in Ontario makes organizing workers more difficult. Its absence is one of many reminders that neo-liberalism survives Ė as it was taken away by Mike Harris in 1995 Ė very early in his first mandate. In Ontario, we have been unsuccessful in restoring card-check. 

In fact, there has been little discernible movement on the part of labour to restore card-check. That is a sign of a malaise. Is it a malaise of indifference, smugness, complacency or simple avoidance of the big issues that continually confront us? 

Threats to collective bargaining take on other forms. The acquisition of the right to strike was a huge victory for public sector workers. Yet, that right continues to contract with the vast number of essential service workers and the almost knee jerk reaction to legislate striking workers back to work. We saw this in April with the two-day TTC strike in Toronto, particularly in its aftermath when labour friendly Toronto councillors were publicly talking about declaring public transit an essential service. 

Once again, parliamentary friends of labour were prepared to abridge our collective bargaining rights in the face of pressure from elsewhere. This puts the spotlight on our political alliances and our political program. We should, at minimum, expect politicians whom we support to respect our collective bargaining rights, in all of its forms. 

Fighting for collective bargaining is in itself a political struggle. It requires convincing the rank and file of the political dimension of collective bargaining, where workers exercise democratic rights at work and in their unions and where workers have a tool to level employer dominated relationship. The struggle for collective bargaining is an on-going struggle. 

Collective bargaining has been an effective tool for the working class in the past century. It will remain our tool for as long as possible. We have not moved into a new age where unions are redundant and unnecessary as we sometimes hear. If anything, the new Ďlean and meaní political and economic environment has reaffirmed our need for collective bargaining. 

We have seen downgrades in the arena of social bargaining. Until recently, the state has produced and enhanced social programs and social infrastructure that benefit working people. Recently, they have been subject to defunding, elimination and privatization. The recent Blue Ribbon panel in Toronto produced a report that strikes many of us as a prescription for privatization. This draws attention to another aspect of the spectre of neo-liberalism; the diminishing capacity of the social sector to sustain core functions that are available to all sectors of the working class, not just those covered by collective bargaining. 

The assault on workers rights and conditions will continue no matter what we do. Yet, there is very much that we can do and that we have done on the labour side to stand up to those assaults. There are never guarantees of victory. But there is the guarantee of commanding respect from the membership and our allies. When on strike, we learn that although our adversaries despise us they do respect us, as a group of workers who defend themselves. The world respects people who defend themselves. 

This discussion allows us to talk among ourselves; to reinforce the idea that responses to our many challenges should be strategic responses. Our unions and our collective agreements are tools that we use defend ourselves; to enhance our rights and material conditions. No more, no less.


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ACTIONS AND ADVOCACY, NOW MORE THAN EVER!

by T. Crew

As we go into this convention, we are acutely aware that the political, economic and social landscape that our labour movement has operated in has been stretched and reshaped by the forces of corporate globalization. The massive erosion of manufacturing jobs particularly in Central Canada, the obscene inequality gap between the rich and the poor, the anti-Labour government agenda and the surge of temporary employment are but a few indicators of the restructuring of our economy. The CLC document on Labourís Agenda for Good Jobs speaks to the phenomenon, However, the document falls short of a strategy to connect the dots between the global and national monetary picture and the realities of members who have been restructured out and are now working part time in Walmart or other service jobs. The challenges of union organizing in the context of borderless workplaces and Ďjust-in-timeí labour cannot be underscored. Nowhere is the urgency of the crisis palpable.

While it is critical to establish a Commission on structural review on the central labour bodies in Canada, and report back with recommendations at the next convention in 2011, it is an inadequate response to address the challenges that confronts our movement on a daily basis. During this three-year period of internal reflection and soul searching on the future of our labour movement, it will be useful to have parallel transformative advocacy strategies to keep mobilizing.  How can we use the review as an opportunity of organizing?  How can we develop some innovative pilot projects possibly at the regional or local level on sectoral organizing and draw lessons and living recommendations for the review process?  There is a strong need for an action component for this process that can offer concrete examples of alternative organizing and inspire others to follow.

In the organizing and union growth paper,  How can we deepen and foster a labour community alliance that is integrated and without the artificial divide between labour and community?  More importantly, how can we address the disturbing trend that with the blurring or disappearance of jurisdictional boundaries, affiliates are more into empire building than movement building. It goes to the core of how we do politics, how we organize and how we see the importance of a strong central labour body, be it at the national, regional or local level.  The tensions and challenges for the labour movement to act and speak as one are poisoning our solidarity as a whole.

On the paper n the Growing Gap and Womenís economic equality, the question is how we walk the talk and acknowledge the notion that equality does not mean treating everyone the same. The reduction of poverty and inequality for marginalized groups needs to be addressed in a more thoughtful and substantive manner if we purport to consider them as the target group of union organizing. The realities of  “Immigrant workers, workers of colour, persons with disabilities and Aboriginal Canadians” should not be reduced to a string of words to be carted out in documents for the convenience to be seen as being inclusive.

To me, advocacy is a provocative concept that defines oneís stance as a trade unionist, a community activist.  It represents an affirmation of the core principle of our movement where “an injury to one is an injury to all!”  It also speaks to the depth of a commitment to unite and fight back because we are each otherís keeper. To advocate is a transformative action.  It represents taking individual responsibility and collective actions in order to advance an agenda, and to make an alternative possible. The power of advocacy is a clenched fist, the courage and conviction to act on oneís belief.

Weekends, overtime pay, workers compensation, pensions and UI did not come by the good work of political lobbying but by the commitment of our labour leaders to mobilize and the courage of workers standing in solidarity. It seems within the movement now we have lost the nerve to take principled stance and stage massive protests. In short, we have lost the “fire in our bellies”, in exchange for the more familiar terrain, the comfort and lure of elected positions.  In the overriding pursuit of keeping everyone under the same big tent, we have lowered to our expectation and reached to our lowest common denominator in exchange of the faÁade of a united movement. We have lost the edge!

The critical role of advocacy cannot be underscored. The theme of this convention is Unions now more than ever!  I applaud this rallying cry, and at the same time, it is imperative that we push it one step further: Actions and Advocacy now more than ever!


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