Hassan Yussuff believes he's the man who can change the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).
The current Secretary-Treasurer of the CLC entered the race for President earlier this month, running against incumbent President Ken Georgetti and newcomer Hassan Husseini.
Yussuff's goal is to return the CLC to doing the kind of militant organizing that for years defined the organization and helped win many of the labour victories that have shaped how unions work in Canada.
"I believe the grassroots organizing and mobilizing and engagement that needs to happen is what is going to revive this movement…and commitment to say 'we can make a difference,'" Yussuff explained over the phone last Friday. "This is no small task. This is a long term project."
Yussuff is quick to draw a clear line between himself and Georgetti, a man he has worked with since 1999. He doesn't mince words when he describes the direction the CLC has taken during Georgetti's 15-year tenure as president.
"[Georgetti] has sat on his hands, and was not prepared to allow any mobilization to happen at the local level," he said.
In contrast, Yussuff is running his campaign on the promise that he will reinvigorate the labour movement by encouraging grassroots mobilization at the labour council level. He also wants to build a broad, coalition movement that will be well prepared to challenge the "austerity agenda" he believes is being promoted by the Harper Conservatives.
Yussuff's experience building coalitions goes back to his early days in the labour movement.
Born in Guyana, Yussuff immigrated to Canada where he worked as a heavy truck mechanic at the GM Truck Centre in Mississauga. There he became involved with the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) local 252, eventually working his way up into the executive of CAW as the national human rights director.
In 1999, he was the first person of colour elected to the CLC national executive when he became executive vice-president. In 2002, he was elected secretary-treasurer. In the 12 years since, he's worked to make connections throughout the global and local labour movement, including becoming the president of Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) in 2012, and working on CLC's Municipalities Matter campaign at a local level.
Yussuff believes his own experiences as a person of colour who has worked on anti-racism and human rights issues with both the former CAW and the CLC will help him build a more inclusive labour movement.
"We've got to look at how this movement is going to reach out to those communities that are so critical to the growth of the labour movement but also to the future," he said. "Women, people of colour, aboriginal and LGBT workers all need to be part of this struggle."
His years of experience working in labour have paid off in the endorsements he's been able to gather in the short time since announcing his campaign. Unifor's National Executive -- Yussuff's base union -- unanimously endorsed him, and he has also received endorsements from the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada Robyn Benson, and John Cartwright, President Toronto & York Labour Council, among others.
Yussuff held off on announcing his candidacy until he knew whether Georgetti would run for another term, and his limited campaigning time comes with disadvantages.
While Yussuff waited, another candidate -- Husseini -- declared his candidacy on March 20.
Husseini's campaign promises are not dissimilar to Yussuff's -- but Husseini has had the advantage of time. Since he declared in March, Husseini has put together a full campaign platform that includes change to the culture of the CLC within his first 100 days in office. He's also racked up endorsements which include locals from both Unifor and CUPE, as well as some local labour councils.
Yussuff welcomes the debate and challenges in the race, but believes his own years of experience will put him over the top.
In response to Husseini's calls for an all candidates debate, Yussuff says he will meet his fellow nominees to debate, "any place, with any candidate running for president of the Congress."
For now, Yussuff is focusing on spreading his message to as many workers as he can before the CLC convention the first week of May.
"I have been gaining support among public sector union, teachers union, private sector unions in this country and I think that is going to make a difference," he said. "Because we need to build a broad coalition of unions to ensure we can of course win the president of the Congress."