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Canadian unions break with Trudeau

Trade unionists have rejected promises of ‘access’ to the ruling Liberal Party government under their former president by wiping the slate clean and electing a new leadership with a fighting stance, writes TONY BURKE

THE three-million-strong Canadian Labour Congress (CLC — the umbrella body for Canada’s unions) took a landmark decision at its Congress last week, as 4,000 delegates attending the virtual meeting voted for a new leadership after unions formed the Team Unite coalition to oust the current leadership.

Unions in the CLC have been unhappy with the leadership of Hassan Yussuff, who they say had grown too close to Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party and had failed to deliver on policies that would benefit working people.

They accused Yussuff of backing the Liberal government’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau for a top position at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — a decision which outraged unions that were not consulted.

Knowing he would face defeat at Congress, Yussuff announced his retirement but told Canadian unions: “I’m never going to apologise for the advancement of the interests of working people.”

He said his relationship with the Liberal Party had “paid dividends,” and that “Trudeau’s Liberals have demonstrated an interest in the problems of working people that goes beyond ‘platitudes’.”

But Team Unite said that while the CLC may have gained access to the halls of power, that access didn’t translate into real influence over policy.

The Canadian national director of the United Steelworkers Ken Neumann said: “Having access does not equal action. You’ve got to fight to get change.

“Over the past seven years, the CLC has been rife with division and ineffectiveness.

“With Hassan Yussuff at the helm, Canada’s largest union body lost 20 per cent of its membership.

“Yussuff seemed more concerned with access to the Liberal Party than with fighting for workers.”

Neumann went on to say: “Prior to the pandemic, we worked closely with our allies to identify a team that could run on a platform aimed at uniting a broken labour movement.

“No Steelworkers were on the slate, but we supported candidates from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Alberta Federation of Labour.

“As the 2020 convention was postponed, the main opposition dropped out, recognising they were unlikely to beat Team Unite.

“We roundly defeated the fringe opposition with over 90 per cent of the vote for some positions. This is a far cry from the last several divisive conventions.”

Bea Bruske, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers, was elected as the new president of the CLC.

Bruske has represented tens of thousands of members in the healthcare, food production, retail, non-profit and security sectors.

Lily Chang, a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, was elected as the CLC secretary-treasurer.

Delegates also supported the election of Siobhan Vipond, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Larry Rousseau, a member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, to the positions of vice-president.

Rousseau was the only member of the previous leadership to stand in the election.

Neumann was upbeat about the results: “We will now work to reunite a fragmented labour movement in Canada. That’s the first step in ensuring Congress’s energy goes towards improving workers’ lives instead of gaining access to falsely progressive political parties.

It is also expected that the Canadian unions will now realign with the left-wing New Democratic Party.

Bruske is a strong supporter of the NDP, the “natural home” of the labour movement: “We were founding partners of that party, and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that that party works to our best advantage in terms of making sure that worker issues are constantly at the forefront.”

Tony Burke is Unite assistant general secretary, the TUC general council lead spokesperson on employment and union rights and chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom.

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