Why do Social Democrats do what they do?

December 04, 2015

OFL LEADERSHIP SHIFTS RIGHT By Liz Rowley, People's Voice, Dec 2015




By Liz Rowley, Toronto
    Delegates at the Ontario Federation of Labour Convention voted unanimously on Nov. 27 to adopt an Action Plan advocated and motivated by President Sid Ryan, chairing his last convention. Ryan was pushed out by a coalition of the “freight-payers” (unions which pay the largest per capitas and are the biggest funders of the OFL), whose right-wing leaders have campaigned for his ouster since his 2009 election on a platform of mass independent labour political action against austerity. Ryan’s crime? He delivered, making the OFL and its social and community allies in the Common Front a force to be reckoned with by reactionary governments and employers alike.

    New OFL President Chris Buckley, along with running mate Patty Coates (Secretary-Treasurer) were acclaimed. The third member of their “FedForward” slate, Ahmad Gaied, won the Executive Vice-President position in a three way race that included Mark Brown from CUPW. Brown received a quarter of the votes on a day when the convention was almost twice its normal size, salted with one-day delegates bussed in by the FedForward “freightpayers”. Minus the one-day delegates, Brown’s vote was viewed as a reliable measure of opposition to the new leadership’s rightward shift, and to the disinformation and slander campaign that preceded the convention.

    Sadly for delegates, they had no choice in the matter. The incoming leadership was settled in October when Ryan was effectively forced out after Unifor President Jerry Dias announced his union was backing Chris Buckley, a Unifor National Rep and former President of CAW 222 (GM Oshawa). Nancy Hutchison and Irwin Nanda were also told that they would face challenges and were encouraged to not run again.

    Unifor’s defection was critical, as Ryan’s leadership had been supported by the CAW and CUPE - the two largest unions in Canada - as well Labour Councils, the equity caucuses, and the left in the affiliates throughout his three terms. It was Ryan who brought the CAW back into the OFL after their long absence and return to the CLC. Why did Unifor walk away from Ryan?

    In the 2011 and 2013 conventions, Ryan had been sharply attacked by the leadership of ETFO, Steel, UFCW, and other critics of his stand on issues like BDS and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, his criticisms of the NDP and Liberals (both of which had the support of some unions), his determination to bring labour into the streets to fight austerity, and to link labour with the people’s movements through the Ontario Common Front (a coalition of more than 90 people’s organizations with branches centred on Labour Council) which was created on his watch.

    At the 2013 convention, delegates rejected right-wing attacks that focused on accusations of mismanagement of the OFL’s finances and harassment, and instead supported the mass mobilizations and progressive direction charted under Ryan’s leadership. The OFL’s rejuvenation as a force in Ontario stood in sharp contrast to the previous leadership’s inaction (beyond unwavering support for the NDP). For twelve years, the OFL had been a sleeping giant. On Ryan’s watch, it had awakened and was in motion.

    Financial constraints were a real factor, and the OFL did lay off staff as a result. But the main cause was not spending, but slashed income - the direct result of a dues strike by OPSEU ($3 million), and other large affiliates ($2 million more) who objected to the campaigns, and to the Common Front seen by some as little more than a free lunch for ‘activists’.

    The 2013 convention debated a constitutional amendment to create an unelected special committee with control over finances that would act like a senate to an elected Executive. The amendment was defeated, despite efforts to whip convention delegates. It was a trial run for 2015.

    In early 2014, as the OFL tried to convene affiliates to organize to defeat the Hudak Tories in the upcoming provincial election, CLC President Hassan Yussuff was inveigled to speak to a secret counter-meeting of ‘freight-payers’ who were attempting to by-pass and supercede the OFL meeting. Exposure forced cancellation of the gathering, while the OFL proceeded to organize the mass mobilization of affiliates, labourcouncils and social and community allies that defeated the Tory campaign for right to work legislation, and to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.

    Undeterred, the freight-payers continued their campaign, beating the drums on the financial crisis. They claimed the dues strike was the fault of the ‘divisive’ Ryan, who had to go for unity to prevail. Rumors abounded that other large affiliates, including Steel and UFCW, would also join the dues strike, and that the OFL building would be sold, if Ryan continued as president. Leaks to the media made the OFL’sproblems front page news and began to shape public opinion and workers’ opinions about the crisis and who was responsible. The die was cast.

    Hassan Yussuff appointed Unifor National Rep Chris Buckley to examine the OFL’s books, and report back. The OFL gave Buckley free and full access to books and accounts, as well as to Officers, personnel, Committee and Board members and affiliates. In the middle of the examination, Buckley abruptly resigned his job and announced he was running for OFL President.

    At the same time last summer, Yussuff abruptly convened a meeting of “the freight-payers”, as he called them. The meeting deliberately excluded the elected OFL officers, the smaller affiliates, and the LabourCouncil and equity Vice-Presidents. The subject was the leadership of the OFL and the need for ‘unity’, i.e. unity that would bring OPSEU and ONA back into the OFL, conditional on the departure of Sid Ryan.

    As the walls started closing in, a sensational story about secret hidden cameras in the OFL building was leaked to the media, painting Ryan as morally and fiscally unfit to lead. Ryan responded that this was a security system put in place by a previous leadership, only installed in public places like stairwells and the main lobby. This defrayed some of the damage.

    When Unifor jumped ship, President Jerry Dias told CBC radio that while Ryan was a great guy, he still had to go. Ryan responded that Unifor had cut a deal; abandoning their support for Ryan would let them put one of their own in the OFL President’s chair.

    With Ryan’s announcement that he would not run, there was no progressive slate at the convention, and no time to put one together. Only Mark Brown from CUPW and Nancy Griffith-Bonaparte from PSAC contested the Executive VP position.

    The FedForward slate’s political action plan, according to its election flyer, is about  “Building Political Influence – Political action training programs for grassroots members, and OFL lobby day days at Queen’s Park with the labour councils, labour leaders, and rank and file participation.”  That’s quite a shift from the mass mobilizations of the last six years.

    In general, the new leadership is a reflection of the NDP’s shift to the right, and of that party’s strongly-held view that labour’s role should be to support the NDP with money and workers during elections. Independent labour political action is not welcome, even when it’s led by left NDPers like Sid Ryan. Criticism of NDP policies, which Ryan also expressed after the 2014 provincial election, is also unwelcome, even criticisms widely held in the trade union movement. In fact, NDP leader Andrea Horwath did not attend the OFL convention, a clear sign of the strained relations.

    The left will have to get much better organized and more influential at future conventions to turn this around. Its main task going forward is to hold the new leadership to account, to make sure it implements the main points of the Action Plan. Details of the amended Plan will soon be available on the OFL website.
The Action Plan and the Left Caucus

    Delegates did the obvious, focusing on OFL policy, the strong Action Plan, building the Common Front, and moving the fight from the defensive to the offensive against the employers and right-wing governments.

    The Action Caucus mobilized in a joint caucus with Take Back Labour, a new caucus born at the CLC convention, around Hassan Husseini’s campaign for CLC President. The joint caucus worked hard to highlight key issues including the fight to stop ratification of the TPP by the Ontario government, the struggle to rescind Bill C-51, the privatization of Hydro One, and other urgent issues.

    The joint caucus also led the fight from the floor against a Constitutional amendment to create a new, unelected Executive Committee with responsibilities for the budget and expenditures, comprised of the four largest private sector unions, the four largest public sector unions, plus one each from the building trades unions, the Labour Councils, and the equity VPs.

    Passage of the amendment was apparently a key part of the deal to bring back OPSEU and the other unions involved in the dues strike.

    The amendment was a slight variation on the 2013 version, aimed to dampen criticism of its undemocratic nature. After a short debate that was quickly cut off by persistent calls for the question, the amendment passed by just two votes over the required two-thirds majority. The OFL is now closer to the US model, where transparency, accountability and membership control are far removed from the delegates and concentrated in the hands of unelected committees and individuals.

    An angry Hassan Husseini told delegates that the amendment would not have carried in a secret ballot. CUPW President Mike Palecek later told People’s Voice that the fight next time will be to make every position on the newly created committee directly elected by the convention.

    The convention heard from many invited speakers and guests, including Dennis Edney, the lawyer for Omar Khadr, who received a standing ovation and $53,000 from the OFL towards his expenses in the Khadrcase. Edney painted a frightening picture of Canada’s role in the US war machine, in Afghanistan and in the US torture centres and black sites around the world.

    A session on police racism was animated, as delegates got a firsthand description of policing in Black neighbourhoods, where “carding” puts Black youth into the system where their names come up as “known to police” whenever an employer requests a police check on a new employee or job applicant. Black journalist Desmond Cole moderated the panel discussion.

    Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, also addressed the Convention, with an expose of the growing momentum of healthcare and hospital privatization in the province. She called on the labour and people’s movements to redouble their struggle to save Medicare in Canada.

    In his final remarks to the Convention, President Buckley spoke about the Common Front strikes in Quebec and his intention to send greetings of solidarity from the OFL. Mass protests were held in Quebec the next day, heading towards a general strike.            

(The above article is from the December 1-31, 2015, issue of People's VoiceCanada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, VancouverBCV5L 3J1.)

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