When it comes to central labour bodies like the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress, I tend to be a bit of a cynic. We often hear lots of talk and see little action. I can also be cynical about my own organization at times although I'm also very proud of the good work that goes on every day and the dedication of so many of our local leaders, top leaders and staff. I'll admit that I have a bit of an attitude problem at times.
However, there's a not so unwritten rule in the labour movement that we don't air dirty laundry in public. After all, what would our members and the general public think if they knew about the backroom machinations, maneouvering and reasons for the dearth of action which have contributed to labour's decline in recent years? And why give any ammunition to our enemies when we know they will use it to bolster their arguments that we ought to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I rarely blog about issues where I can't say what I really think. I don't want to be dishonest or, on the other hand, sound like a communication department news release. So I'm going to be as positive as I can because I would like to report on this important Convention (to which I have to go in a couple of minutes) and I do have positive expectations for the future.
So here's what I really think on the positive front.
I hold out great hope that the new leadership (Sid Ryan, Marie Kelly and incumbent Terry Downey) will be able to breathe new life into the Fed and get us back on the map and into the game. Sid and Marie are two excellent communicators. Terry is a hard worker.
I am heartened that the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) will probably be returning to the Fed as announced in a fiery speech by CAW President Ken Lewenza. Quite a dramatic change from the 2007 Convention where Buzz and CAW-bashing was the order of the day (because of the Magna deal).
I am guardedly optimistic that all the talk about labour unity (and against raiding) will translate into a concrete action program that will address the big picture issues like free collective bargaining, pensions and organizing while improving the Fed's capacity to react to on the ground emergencies such as strikes, lockouts and other attacks by employers. As it's been pointed out numerous times, an attack on one is an attack on all. One of the first tests of the new leadership will be to forge concrete unity at the OFL board.
I am glad to see that environmental issues have been woven into two of the three major policy papers. Many back burner issues are more in the forefront including food security, clean water, green jobs, energy, chemicals and others.
My expectation (caution to self) is that the Fed will begin to lead by example when it comes to climate change and the environment. As I pointed out at the mike yesterday, in many ways, trade unionists are the first environmentalists if we consider working conditions in factories, mines, warehouses, offices, outdoors, etc. as "the environment at work". The gains made by the union movement for the right to know about unsafe chemicals and the right to refuse to work in those conditions are two of our movement's greatest achievements.
Having said all of that, the fed leadership is only as strong as the affiliates and the membership (I know that sounds cliche). We need to continue to build on our successes, learn from our failures, find new approaches and narrow the gap between workers and those who are leading our movement. We can do this through education, hard work and determination within our own organizations and in league with each other and our coalition partners.
This has been more of an editorial than a blow by blow of the highlights at Convention - and there have been some very moving moments. I'll wrap this up with some of those highlights on the weekend.
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