By Helen Kennedy
New developments in the back rooms of the Ontario Federation of Labour may threaten to derail its leadership at the upcoming convention in November. The current President, Sid Ryan, has moved the Federation a giant step forward by mobilizing labour in strike solidarity and building a common front of labour and social justice allies across the province.
Ryan’s leadership has been a welcome relief to the complacency that was the norm under the previous leadership of Wayne Samuelson, whose claim to fame was to shut down the enormously successful mobilization against Premier Mike Harris.
Since Ryan was elected there has been more vigour from the Federation: big rallies against service cuts and attacks on collective bargaining; the high profile “kill a worker go to jail” health and safety campaign, the development of a community-labour “Common Front”, and major public reports exposing how inequality is growing, how Ontario is falling behind, and how the so-called “right to work” is a fraud.
The same affiliates who rang the death knell for building community labour solidarity across the province during the “Days of Action” are now plotting to run Bob Linton from the UFCW to shut down the much needed revitalization of the labour movement in the province.
The leaders of the back room deal are the District 6 of the United Steelworkers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the International Association of Machinists, the Elementary Teachers, and the Power Workers union. The leaders of ONA (Ontario Nurses Association) and OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) are also part of the anti-Ryan faction, but they remain unaffiliated to the OFL.
If these unions are successful, this would be the second time around. In 1997, the same affiliates under the nickname the “pink paper” unions took over the Federation, against a candidate backed by CUPE and the CAW.
That period does not bear a re-run. The Federation became almost invisible. While the decline in labour since 1997 is multi-faceted, the absence of the Federation played an important role.
Within the Federation, there are progressive affiliates like CUPE and the newly merged Unifor that support the action orientation of Ryan’s leadership. In addition, many members of those affiliates involved in the latest backroom dealing have been living the austerity agenda of concessions and attacks on collective bargaining rights. Their voices need to be heard in their unions and on the floor of the OFL convention.
We must also remember that the OFL leadership fight takes place in a province that is governed by a Liberal minority, on borrowed time. The stakes are high for the Tories whose central plank in the next election will be the wholesale destruction of the labour movement by killing the dues check-off. But there are also high stakes for the NDP, who may not want Sid Ryan and his militant leadership interfering in any way with their “electability.”
Ryan can be a polarizing figure. But there is no doubt that he is a determined fighter for working people – at a time when such leaders are not so easy to find. It’s not an exaggeration to say that with the choice between Ryan and Linton the labour movement will decide whether they want to fight back – or not.
Our task as progressive minded unionists is to build a fighting unity at the OFL. The working class in Ontario deserve no less.
(The above article is from the October 16-31, 2013, issue of People’s Voice, Canada’s leading communist 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, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)