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 Labour’s 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 ‘just-in-time’ 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 Women’s 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 one’s 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 other’s 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 one’s 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 façade 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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