By Sam Hammond
The British Columbia Federation of Labour Convention from Nov. 29-Dec. 3 was the swan song of the annual conventions that have been traditional in BC.
The BC Fed changed its constitution to move to a convention every two years. This was done with the passing of a composite resolution that also added provisions for at least two regional conferences outside the lower mainland between conventions, and beginning in 2011 a provincial conference every two years focusing on strengthening and building the union movement. Also contained in the resolution was the proviso that the time, place and delegate entitlement for these activities be determined by the Executive Council.
There had been in the resolution books a resolution from CUPE that called for a Constitutional Convention every year. However, CUPE had pulled its 250 delegates from the meeting and their resolution never made it to the floor. The resolution on the two‑year conventions passed with an easy majority of those present. Although the procedure was quite legal, many delegates were surprised that such an important issue was decided in the absence of the CUPE delegates.
Jim Sinclair was re‑elected as President, but one change did come at the leadership level, when long‑time secretary‑treasurer Angela Schira declined to stand for re‑election. This avoided an election contest against Irene Lanzinger, former president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, which joined the BC Fed a few years ago. The BCTF’s reputation as one of the province’s more militant unions was bolstered by their two‑week strike in 2005, a struggle in which the teachers won broad public support and fought the Campbell Liberals to a draw over the issues of teaching and learning conditions. In her new position, Lanzinger is expected to strengthen the forces which advocate a more militant stance against the corporate‑government agenda.
The Executive Report was a blistering analysis of the corporate attack on the working class in BC, although not placed in exactly those words. It covered the ground thoroughly and made the important connections internationally and Canada wide ‑ the globalization of capital, the spread of recessions, etc. The report highlighted “hard times and hard bargaining”, the looming pension crisis, the attack on public education, apprenticeships, health care, social services, women, human rights and the “nightmare in the woods” violations of safety, labour code and human rights. The list is longer than can be dealt with here, but it is a damning indictment of the Liberal corporate agenda. It is a comprehensive, well researched and valuable document, warning that “things will get worse before they get better”.
The Political Action Report illustrated the conundrums and contradictions of political action as it is understood ‑ or not understood ‑ in the labour movement. Contained in the main delegate package with the resolutions and other reports, the Political Action Report was more comprehensive than the shortened version given on the floor. The floor model presented labour and its agenda as more of an NDP farm team than a broader and more potent social movement. The report was heavily slanted towards providing money and cadre to the NDP, while avoiding meticulously the political meltdown within the NDP, its lack of working class alternatives, and its continuous courtship of labour’s corporate enemies. There was no mention of the need for the kind of street level political action that so many of the militant youth and social activists demonstrated this past year, throughout the Olympics and around a myriad of issues. The HST initiative was dealt with obliquely, reflecting different approaches to this issue within the labour movement.
A couple of well reasoned speeches critical of the report were well received by the delegates. The other speeches were the usual knee jerk plaudits to social democracy.
A few days earlier, NUPGE announced its withdrawal from the CLC because of its discontent over several years of the CLC’s failure to effectively deal with the problem of raiding. This caused a major problem in the BC Fed convention. Although NUPGE declared its intent to remain in Provincial Federations and Labour Councils, Ken Georgetti has called in the letter of the constitution to declare them out federally, provincially and locally after a cooling off or last negotiating period ending December 31. The BCGEU delegates were seated at the convention because they are not officially out till Dec. 31, and there is still time to search for a solution. But CUPE‑BC did a very strange thing, removing their delegates from the convention in protest of BCGEU’s presence, leaving a huge block of empty seats right in the middle of the convention floor. This unfortunate development robbed the convention of one of the most important public unions in BC. However, the Hospital Employees Union, a CUPE affiliate, stayed on the floor.
This issue deserves a separate analysis in an upcoming issue. The CLC has made rulings on raiding, affiliations and dispute settlement over the years that are quite frankly all over the map. There is a dispute brewing in Ontario with the Elementary Teachers that could have serious repercussions for the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Ontario Labour Councils. The withdrawal of NUPGE will have serious political and economic vibrations in Labour from coast to coast. Suffice it to say at this time that the “business trade unionism” which creates these antagonisms between competing (raiding) unions is the exact opposite of the kind of unity and singleness of purpose that the entire working class deserves from Labour.
The Executive report correctly said “things will get worse before they get better”. The battle plan of capitalism is available from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and it is simple. We must go without so they can continue to plunder us and our habitat. The weakness of labour, with all due respect to the spirit of resistance that is rippling through the ranks, is the perception that things will get better, that this offensive of capital is one of the cyclical phenomena where the downturn will inevitably bottom out and start its way upward again. It is questionable that this was ever quite accurate except with blinders on, but it is definitely not the case in today’s world. The economic, constitutional and policing means underway are methods to control us and make our present conditions the beginning of a new world order; check out the Lisbon Agreement in Europe again. These are not in anticipation of a return to prosperity.
The BC Fed is a good working class organization, but the time we have to analyze what is needed for the protection of working people is constricting. The struggle is on, and our youth cannot wait out their lives while trade union leaders squabble over territory. The concept expressed in the Political Action Report, that working people will agree to pay more taxes if they get value, is a dangerous social democratic falsehood. People cannot pay more. The wealth of the country must be liberated and put at the disposal of social need. Any other approach will drive the people into the arms of the populist right wing and their anti‑tax disguise.