Report from National Convention – Yussuff Looks to Future with Optimism

June 18, 2016

Hassan Yussuff’s speech to COPE SEPB delegates started off, unsurprisingly, with politics. Referencing last year’s federal election, he praised COPE SEPB and other unions getting their members to the ballot box. “If it was not for the labour movement, we would still have Steven Harper as Prime Minister,” he said. While he said he would have liked to work with the NDP, Yussuff had words of cautious praise for the Liberals. “This government is consulting with us on issues that affect working people,” he said. “It’s a refreshing change.” The current government has repealed some anti-union legislation brought forward by the Conservatives, with more to come. “No government will ever take away our right to defend our members in the political arena,” Yussuff said, forcefully.

He then turned to the topic of asbestos. The toxic material is still used in certain types of manufacturing and remains in many buildings, despite the fact that it causes debilitating and fatal diseases. “Twenty to thirty years after touching it, it will kill you,” said Yussuff, who was exposed to asbestos as a worker in his youth. “We need a comprehensive ban on asbestos in every way…import and export,” he said.

Turning to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, Yussuff explained why he was urging caution. “It’s a far reaching agreement, with big implications,” he warned. Some 20,000 auto sector jobs would be at risk and there would be a devastating impact on Canada’s dairy industry. Yussuff said that there needs to be broad public hearings as most Canadians not aware of the details, and a parliamentary committee will be traveling and hopefully that will spark a public debate.

Continuing with the challenges of the future, Yussuff spoke about global warming. “Climate change is real,” he said. “It will have a devastating impact on us and future.” Yussuff said that the labour movement cannot sit on the sidelines and leave this challenge for others to figure out. He said the changes needed – to the way we work, commute and more – will be significant, making it all the more important that workers take their place at the table where the decisions about transitioning to a low-carbon economy are made.

One of the last topics Yussuff touched on was the need to expand the Canadian and Quebec Pension Plans. “This has been one of the longest campaigns in the history of the Congress,” he said. “Over eight years we’ve been involved in this fight we’ve raised the public profile, and this is our moment.” There will be a Finance minister’s meeting next week in Vancouver, where this issue will be on the table. Yussuff expressed his hope and optimism that change will be made. “Every generation has the obligation to fight for a better life for the next generation,” he said. “We can’t take this for granted and we have to do better.”