Ken Georgetti has been President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) for 15 years. After that tenure, no one would begrudge him his retirement. So why is he running for another three year term at the CLC convention next week?
Because he still has work to do. "We've got a job to finish," Georgetti said over the phone Monday morning. He wants to keep pressing forward with the CLC's Fairness Works campaign and get the congress ready for the federal and provincial elections that are on the horizon.
For the first time since 2005, the presidency is not uncontested. This year, he has two competitors in this election -- Hassan Husseini, a Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) negotiator, and Hassan Yussuff, who has worked with Georgetti as the Secretary-Treasurer of the CLC since 2002.
In an interview with rabble.ca, Yussuff -- who has racked up an endorsement list that rivals Georgetti's in number -- said that he thinks the current President has "sat on his hands, and was not prepared to allow any mobilization to happen at the local level." While Husseini has not been so blunt, his campaign is based on the promise of "taking back the CLC" and he has said that he believes change is needed at the top levels of the organization.
Georgetti, however, says that his track record on key issues speaks for itself. "[Look at] the work we have done on Bill C-377, the work we've done on Municipalities Matter and the work we've done on the last three federal elections," he said.
Georgetti's achievements in his long career in the labour movement include working to pass the "Westray Act," which holds corporate executives criminally responsible when workers die due to employer negligence and the establishment and success of Municipalities Matter, a campaign focused on ensuring labour-friendly candidates are elected in municipal and school board elections. According to the CLC, about 70 per cent of the candidates they endorsed in the 2010 municipal elections in Ontario were elected.
He also believes his approach to grassroots engagement and mobilization has been successful. Georgetti ensures that the CLC provides the programs and training for the affiliates that they in turn can pass on to the workers.
"In my experience as the CLC President, in order to reach the grassroots you need the affiliates to buy in to that and it's the affiliates that reach their members, not the CLC," he explained. "We help the affiliates with the programming, but if you want to reach the grassroots you have to do it through the affiliates."
Fairness Works, a media campaign aimed at improving the public image of unions, is just one example of his strategy in action. "It's been going fantastic," Georgetti said, noting the CLC has trained approximately 2,000 organizers to work on the campaign. He thinks the campaign is doing its part to sway public opinion in the favour of unions.
Work is also being done to ensure that the CLC is creating an inclusive environment. A youth political action forum is being planned for later in the year and Georgetti is eager to ensure that younger faces are being represented in the top tiers of the CLC. "I believe that congress has to look like the membership we're trying to attract," he explained. "We have to work as hard as we can to diversify this movement."
Even with the election just over a week away, Georgetti is still looking forward to the next task that the CLC will have on it's agenda -- working to defeat the Harper Conservative government in the 2015 federal election.
"We're going to put a massive amount of effort into that, making sure that some of our issues…become vote determining issues," he said. "And that people look at the political parties and vote for parties that will support what's good for us."
It's a fight he's been in for 15 years -- and he's not ready to give up yet.
Editor's note: This piece was filed Monday April 28.
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