Together, In Solidarity
Entering the Palais des congrès de Montréal on Thursday, it was clear the big event of the day would be the election of a new Canadian Labour Congress President. Crowds of excited delegates were there supporting each candidate – long-time President Ken Georgetti and current Secretary-Treasurer Hassan Yussuff.
In order to ensure fair voting, the process took much of the morning. But as the balloting committee left the room to count the votes, there was another reason for delegates to get excited: the day’s keynote speaker, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.
Mulcair took the stage and got big cheers from the room when he unbuttoned his jacket to reveal a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey. But the tone quickly turned serious as Mulcair began to talk about the challenges facing unions and working people in Canada today.
Talking about large corporations and the government, Mulcair said: “Workers are treated as an impediment to profits; one that must be overcome and defeated.”
As an example, he pointed to attacks on public sector pensions and the Conservative government’s move to increase the retirement age so people cannot qualify for Old Age Security until they are 67.
If the NDP is elected in 2015, Mulcair said, “The first thing we’ll do is bring [retirement] age back to 65.”
He also pointed to the exploitation of migrant workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker program, and the situation at Canada Post: “The crass, bad faith from the Conservatives continue today. This government is not able to deliver gains…they can’t even deliver the mail anymore…We’ll be the only OECD country that doesn’t have home delivery of mail anymore.”
“You hear the theme here? It’s about bringing standards down across the country,” he said, “They’ve told Canadians that they have to accept less, that our children have to accept less. They’ve told us that there is no alternative but there is a better way, and we know what it is.”
Mulcair talked about the growing inequality in our society and the fact that future generations appear to be falling further behind. He wanted delegates to know this problem can also be linked to previous Liberal governments, not just Conservative ones.
“[The Liberals] are a worn-out party that’s paralyzed by its internal divisions…Every time that the Liberal party breaks a promise, every time that Canadians get fed up with scandals and corruption, the Liberal party does the same thing: they start looking for their next savior, hoping Canadians will forget what their last savior did. Each time it ends in the same way: broken promises, abandoned Canadians,” Mulcair said.
Mulcair said he doesn’t buy the Liberal’s stated commitment to good, middle-class jobs.
“Being a social democrat means creating opportunity and reducing inequality…We say, create those jobs in Canada…We’re closer than ever to forming a government that puts the public interest ahead of well-connected interests. We can build a Canada that works, together,” he said.
Mulcair closed by talking about how the CLC and NDP can work together on our common goals: “Each generation has the duty to bequeath to the next generation a country that is better and a world that is better. I know the CLC takes this duty very seriously…this is a mission that the NDP also takes to heart”
“For far too long Canadians have been told they have to choose between Conservative corruption and Liberal corruption, that they have to accept less…with your support we can do it and we will do it. This is our moment to build the Canada of our dreams, not just for today but for generations to come. Now let’s go get that done, together!”
Buoyed by the energy of Mulcair’s speech, the thousands of delegates in attendance took to the streets of Montreal’s financial sector for a rally, joined by local public sector workers. Speakers at the rally spoke strongly against the Harper Conservatives’ attacks on working families and communities, including attacks on public services like Canada Post home delivery.
Another important part of the day was a chance to hear about strikes and lockouts happening in our country. Leaders and workers spoke about the strength of the workers in standing up for their rights at places like the Richmond IKEA (http://www.ikeahurtsfamilies.com/) and Crown Holdings in Toronto (http://www.takebacksnomore.ca/).
This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the labour dispute at IKEA in Richmond. A representative from the workers’ union asked us in the room to help increase the pressure:
“This company made $50 billion in revenues last year, $5 billion in profits. We need the support here of the CLC and all its affiliates. We need the message out there not to shop at IKEA, not just in British Columbia, not just in Canada, but around the world.”
The results of the presidential election were announced after lunch: in an extremely close vote, Hassan Yussuff was named the new president of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Ken Georgetti went to the microphone and asked for the delegates to vote to make the vote unanimous, and the delegates voted to support this moves, which means everyone in the room pledges to unite in solidarity behind the new president.
Hassan Yussuff shook hands with Georgetti and thanked him before beginning his acceptance speech.
He started by sending a message to Stephen Harper about the energy in the room:
“If you seek to undermine, coerce, or strip our collective rights…we will respond like you have never seen in this country,” he said.
He also gave notice to Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, committing to meet urgently with the head of the Ontario Federation of Labour to oppose Hudak’s plans to dismantle union rights in Ontario.
Yussuff spoke passionately about the meaning of this CLC convention:
“At this convention we’ve celebrated the diversity of our members…we have heard the voices of the largest group of young workers ever at a CLC convention.”
He asked that everyone in the room take the commitment they showed in the election and throughout the convention and turn it outward, taking it back into our workplaces and communities.
On a personal note, he thanked convention for electing him: “I came to this country as a young immigrant…This shows how much our movement has grown when you can elect a person of colour who came to this country as a young immigrant.”
In closing, he set out a vision for the coming year leading up to and past the 2015 federal election: “Together, in solidarity, we’ll organize, mobilize and build workers’ power across the country.”
Other elections were held through the day: current CLC Executive Vice-President Barb Byers was elected as Secretary-Treasurer. Donald Lafleur from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers was elected as a new Executive Vice-President and Marie Clarke Walker was re-elected. For more information about all those who ran, see our Facebook photo album with quotes from the all candidates’ debate.