On October 30, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) issued a joint statement with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in support of Bill Morneau’s candidacy for the position of OECD Secretary-General.
Among other things, it says:
The Trade Union Advisory Committee, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Labour Congress have the pleasure to declare our support for Bill Morneau’s candidacy for the role of OECD Secretary-General. Mr. Morneau is a former G7 & G20 Finance Minister, who brings an acute understanding of the economic challenges facing industrialized countries. His tenure in government, paired with his leadership in the private and not-for-profit sector, positions him to manage the OECD secretariat and provide important leadership on economic policy issues.
In a letter addressed to the members of the CLC Executive Council, President Hassan Yussuff admits having taken this initiative alone and assumes full responsibility for not having consulted the executive beforehand. In his view, it is crucial that workers and the labour movement in OECD member countries be led by a secretary-general who understands and accepts the essential role that trade unions and collective bargaining play in promoting equitable and sustainable economic growth. He claims that, of all the candidates for this position at the OECD, former Finance Minister Bill Morneau is best able to advocate for fair and inclusive economies through open dialogue with the trade union movement.
This is an unprecedented gesture according to many people involved in the Canadian labour movement. CLC Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker posted a message on her Facebook page expressing her anger. She wrote that there was no consultation with officers, no discussion with the CLC’s appropriate decision making bodies, and, in her opinion, no need to venture into this realm.
Indeed, Morneau is no friend to working people in this country. During his time as finance minister, he was the architect of Bill C-27, a direct attack on defined benefit pension plans. He also supported numerous anti-union legislation and, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocated to cut spending on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, a vital lifeline for workers during the crisis. Morneau was also slow to act on remedying the botched Phoenix pay system which afflicted thousands of federal employees, leaving many underpaid (or with no pay at all) for many months.
The global economy can only succeed if workers' rights are protected.— Bill Morneau (@Bill_Morneau) November 2, 2020
Thank you @hassan_yussuff and @CanadianLabour for your support of my candidacy to become SG of the @OECD. pic.twitter.com/WwlYFJKIjh
In the last couple of weeks, many CLC member unions have issued press releases denouncing the support by the CLC President, including the United Steelworkers, CUPW, CUPE and UFCW. In Québec, the FTQ was not consulted on the endorsement, and the organization has not released a statement at the time of writing.
In its November 3 press release, CUPW points out that Morneau supported denying postal workers the basic democratic and constitutional right to collective bargaining in 2018. They also condemn Morneau’s role in designing Bill C-27, a piece of legislation which would have allowed employers under federal jurisdiction to convert defined-benefit pension plans to target-benefit plans—essentially meaning dumping safe pension plans for risky ones. CUPW also objected to the CLC partnering with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to make this joint statement. The organization has a long history of supporting reactionary anti-worker legislation and opposing progressive measures advocated by the labour movement and its allies.
For the United Steelworkers, this was a shocking action by the CLC, an organization which is supposed to defend and strengthen the rights of workers. In its statement, the USW criticize the CLC and its leadership for roundly failing workers in its co-sponsored endorsement of Morneau without the input of any CLC affiliate. They conclude by calling for “leadership change at the Canadian Labour Congress that prioritizes the needs and concerns of working people over its own self-promotion.”
In the same vein, UFCW Canada President Paul Meinema similarly condemned Yussuff for issuing his endorsement of Morneau jointly with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and without any input from the affiliated members of the CLC. “Let me be clear: UFCW Canada was in no way consulted on this endorsement or statement,” he said. “This underhanded action shows a lack of respect for our members and for all Canadian workers, and to partner on an endorsement with the Chamber of Commerce is unacceptable.” For Meinema, this is just the latest evidence of the need for new leadership at the CLC, and the reason why UFCW Canada is endorsing a coalition called “Team Unite” for election at the organization’s upcoming convention.
Unifor’s disaffiliation from the CLC in 2018 has modified the balance of power and will weaken the support enjoyed by some members of the executive. The behaviour of Hassan Yussuff will add to the difficulties of the current team, as can be seen with the election campaign announced by several affiliated unions. More broadly, however, it risks discrediting the CLC itself in a period of a mounting neoliberal offensive, in which the trade union movement is struggling to make gains.
Translated and edited with additional content by Andrea Levy and Harrison Samphir.
André Frappier is a regular contributor to CD and a member of the magazine’s coordinating committee. He also serves on the editorial board of the online weekly Presse-toi à gauche and has been a member of the FTQ Montréal Labour Council for many years.