Rightward journey of the CAW

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M. Spector M. Spector's picture
Rightward journey of the CAW


M. Spector M. Spector's picture

I started reading the "rabble news" item about [url=http://www.rabble.ca/everyones_a_critic.shtml?x=71440]The rightward journey of the CAW (in six steps)[/url] by Lynn Williams, former International President of the United Steelworkers with some interest, because Williams himself is not particularly noted for his leftist credentials. (Among other things, he was one of the most vocal advocates for the expulsion of the Waffle from the NDP). It didn't take long for me to do a double-take:


Buzz Hargrove was raised in the movement in the traditions of Walter Reuther and Dennis McDermott, [b]leaders who understood the importance of building a free and democratic labour movement, at home and abroad, whatever struggle that required.[/b]

Walter Reuther?

Williams is seeking to establish that Hargrove has departed from the free and democratic ideals of the labour movement, which is undoubtedly true. But to characterize this as somehow out of keeping with the likes of McDermott and Reuther is bizarre. It also tells us something about where Williams himself is coming from. Hargrove is in fact acting entirely in keeping with the traditions of the labour bureaucracy, as epitomized by McDermott, Reuther, and Williams himself.

Labour historian Art Preis wrote an [url=http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/preis/1950/11/reuther.htm]e... article[/url] about Walter Reuther in 1950, in which one reads as follows:


With the union reins firmly in his hands, Reuther has unfolded his real program for the union. Its essential features are centralizing of power and curbing of internal democracy; crippling of militancy; collaborating with the corporations in imposing long-term contracts; restricting real wage gains while boosting speed-up and man-hour output. The auto workers are being put on a “war footing.”

Reuther has ruthlessly pursued his drive to extirpate opposition. At the 1949 convention, his executive board secured powers to bring to trial and expel local union members. A campaign of local trials and expulsions has been instituted, since the start of the Korean war, against those accused of not supporting the war. Reuther has endorsed contracts permitting company managements to fire alleged “subversives.”

“Company security” clauses – the right of managements to “discipline” participants in so-called “unauthorized” strikes – have been incorporated, in one form or another, in all major contracts. The shop-steward method of settling grievances has been supplanted by the “impartial umpire,” who on all important issues rules in favor of the company.

Sounds a lot like Hargrove to me.

And Hargrove and McDermott are cut from the same cloth:


Perhaps no other event in the history of the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) has evoked more of a reaction than the spectacle in December [2005] of CAW National President Buzz Hargrove gleefully giving then Prime Minister Paul Martin a CAW jacket to wear while Martin was campaigning for re-election. New Democratic Party (NDP) members and supporters were infuriated. The Liberals were ecstatic. [b]The Left outside of the NDP cringed seeing vindication of their worst opinions of Hargrove and his political history going back to the days of Dennis McDermott’s bitter fights against the left in the Canadian UAW.[/b] - [url=http://www.labournet.net/world/0605/caw1.html]Source[/url]

The latter article goes on to explain how the Hargrovian rightward movement was the culmination of a process that had been going on the CAW for years.

Lynn Williams's article is an exercise in hypocrisy - a belated attempt to distance himself from a process that he played no small part in.


I am surprised the editors of Rabble would publish a piece like this without any kind of disclaimer or disclosure about Lynn Williams and Steel that would explain some of the history behind their animosity towards Buzz and the CAW. I trust that in fairness we will get to read a response from Hargrove on rabble soon!

I think "Fake Left, Go Right - An insider’s take on Jack Layton’s game of chance" by James Laxer
[url=http://www.walrusmagazine.ca/articles/2006.05-politics-jack-layton-ndp-f... right/[/url]
gives a more accurate perspective on the CAW and electoral politics than Lynn Williams.

But for anyone interested in an enjoyable read through some significant chapters in Canadian labour history, I can recommend the book "Red Bait!: Struggles of a Mine Mill Local" by Al King and Kate Braid (Published by Kingbird). Check out the divisive role Steel has played on many occasions.

"Mine Mill: The history of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers in Canada since 1895" by Michael Salski (Published by Steel Rail) is also informative, though drier.

[ 19 May 2008: Message edited by: Biscotti ]

[ 19 May 2008: Message edited by: Biscotti ]

[ 19 May 2008: Message edited by: Biscotti ]

autoworker autoworker's picture

Why is Lynn Williams' article not available on rabble.ca?


Sounds like a piece of crap "Our union is better than their union" article. Mercifully, it appears to have committed suicide. Anyone who thinks there's an "ideological" difference between two unions like the USW and the CAW needs their head x-rayed for rocks. I know of no difference other than the fact that one is based in the U.S. The internal and external challenges facing the union movement are the same everywhere. Unions dissing each other is generally the height of hypocrisy.




Here you go: [url=http://rabble.ca/news/rightward-journey-caw-six-steps]The rightward journey of the CAW (in six steps)[/url]


It has been argued that when the UAW came to canada its rightward journey began with affiliation with the CCF rather than the CP.

George Victor

Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story shows us the UE in true form, organizing workers in their fight to win a sit-down action and gain benefits from a company that had shut down and laid them off without payout of contractual benefits. 

The UE was the one union that did not cave to political pressure against communist affiliation in the immediate post-war period, and at CGE plants in Ontario had to fight off the CIO-promoted IUE.  It is still a template for shop-floor-up democracy , as the action in that Chicago plant demonstrates.


George, I don't recognize the initials.  Which union is UE?



United Electrical. They merged with the CAW in the 1990s, as did various other left-wing or Canadian nationalist unions (like CAIMAW, Mine Mill, other CCU affiliates, etc.). Several of them (like UE and the United Fishermen, another ultimate CAW merger) had been kicked out of the "house of labour" (both the AFL-CIO and the CLC) for communist influence, were later readmitted (I'm thinking the 1980s?) before the mergers with CAW. Others (like CAIMAW) obviously never were in the CLC, having emerged as a nationalist split from U.S.-based unions (in CAIMAW's case, from the IAM) in the first place.

autoworker autoworker's picture

pogge wrote:

Here you go: [url=http://rabble.ca/news/rightward-journey-caw-six-steps]The rightward journey of the CAW (in six steps)[/url]



For a guy who tried to screw over the NDP every chance he gets, Buzz sure spends a lot of time thinking about the NDP.

Buzz Hargrove: The future of the NDP Laughing

But the basic idea of building bridges across party lines to promote ideas of common interest is valid, and is practised regularly in other multi-party democracies. Layton, Dion and Duceppe were on the right track.


It’s clear to me that the Western world, in the early years of the 21st century, has two types of economic systems: capitalism for the working class and socialism for the rich. It’s time to spread the socialist idea down the economic ladder, now that we have precedents like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and various bank bailouts around the world. Maybe there’s an NDP leader somewhere who can make it happen.



George Victor

Completely vacuous piece of sermonizing, without any idea of how to "spread the socialist idea down the economic ladder."   But I'm sure that his market investments are allowing him to live in capitalist style.