2011 Canadian Labour Congress Convention….Just Saying….

May 25, 2011

I attended the 2011 Canadian Labour Congress Convention in Vancouver from May 9-13, 2011 on behalf of the West Kootenay Labour Council.

I would like to thank the WKLC for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference which was very informative and eye-opening and allowed me join over 2,000 other delegates from coast to coast to coast.

There were a number of themes that captured the 2011 CLC Convention. They included “Good Jobs. Better Lives.”, dealing with labour’s agenda for good jobs in a new economy; “Building On Our Success-Mobilizing for Our Future”; “Recapturing Our Space” which deals with how unions can again establish itself as a positive influence and difference maker in the quality of life for everyone, not just union workers; and, the use of social media to organize, engage, not only union members but society at large.

There were panel discussions on such topics as, “What Derailed the Post-War Social Contract”; “The Silent Majority: Starting the Conversation”; “The Solution is Political: Moving to Political Change”; and finally, “Using new media and social media to organize around ideas, community, and social change”.

The CLC’s four executive officers were re-elected unopposed for a three year term: CLC President Ken Georgetti; Executive Vice-Presidents Barbara Byers and Marie Clark Walker; and, Secretary-Treasurer Hassan Yussuff.

The Convention was dedicated to the memory of Sister Shirley Carr who served as President of the CLC from 1986 to 1992.

CLC President Ken Georgetti opened up the convention by welcoming delegates, and in his opening remarks told attendees “We have to make the winning argument that a strong labour movement whose members have good wages and benefits lifts everyone up, including non-union workers and all businesses. Because without unions, the standard of living will drop for everyone.”

Georgetti continued that there are powerful forces that oppose the union agenda of good jobs for all and more equality in society. “Too often unions are portrayed negatively, inaccurately and unfairly. Put simply, we’ve been framed. Framed by our opponents, by big business, in the media they own; and by right-wing governments.”

“We must examine our public image as unions and be willing to reconsider our strategies to address it….and through an improved public image and the use of accessible social media like Twitter, Facebook, texting and the internet, we are going to step completely our their distorted frame.” Georgetti added.

Jack Layton, leader of the federal NDP and of the Official Opposition, excited everyone with a rousing speech televised throughout Canada on CBC Newsworld, especially when he said that Canada now has the largest united opposition in thirty-one years. Layton pledged that the NDP caucus as the official opposition would fight for improved pensions, improved health care, putting forward practical solutions for working families to make ends meet.

Other speakers during the week included: Adrian Dix, BC Provincial NDP Leader; Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of Labour; Joey Hartman, President of the Vancouver and District Labour Council; Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver; Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, Internation Trade Union Confederation (ITUC); Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO; Academy Award winning director Charles Ferguson whose film ‘Inside Job’ won best documentary Oscar this year in exposing the financial and regulatory negligence that resulted in the biggest economic collapse in 80 years.

Resolutions were debated, with the Chair challenged a few times and there was also passion and conviction with much of the discussion.

Resolutions dealt with included constitution and structure dealing with raids by other unions; a pledge of solidarity to be added to the constitution; an amendment to the council and officers’oath of the constitution which deals with a pledge of solidarity and pledge not to recruit members from other union affiliates; amendment to the terms of reference for ombudsperson of the constitution.

Other resolutions that were approved dealt with: Fair taxes, retirement security for everyone, a child care campaign, public medicare and pharmacare, pay equity, foreign ownership protection for Canadian workers; migrant workers, national energy strategy, CETA,a green jobs strategy, two-tier wages and benefits; organizing and union awareness; ensuring fairness in Federal labour Standards, training for labour representatives on Workers’ Compensation Boards, conventions of the International Labour Organization, free collective bargaining; human rights and civil liberties and living wage campaign.

Also, the time for the CLC and Labour Councils to deal with the question of structure and restructuring was extended with a report to be tabled at the next CLC convention in Montreal, Quebec in 2014. As to how that would be incorporated into the CLC Action Plan was a point of debate among many of the delegates in attendance from Labour Councils, some of who felt like they were being made to do something they were not comfortable doing, for example that Labour Council in Quesnel. This was covered off in a composite resolution that covered CS-11; 13-14; 16 and 23 to 29 of the Resolutions Book and referred back to the Constitution and Structure Committee.

There were plenty of speakers who encouraged members to mobile and become active in the coming months.

Labour councils were encouraged to ensure that those elected in upcoming municipal elections make municipalities matter for working people.

Journalist Harron Siddiqui challenged labour to stand up to the Conservative agenda.

CAW President, Ken Lewenza stated that unions need to build confidence of members, “get jobs back. Private sector and public sector.” And challenged delegates to work together.

Labour needs to be better at telling its story, delegates were told. Pollster Allan Gregg told the convention that the labour movement must first be relevant with its membership and then mobilize beyond the shop floor. He advised delegates to embrace social media as a way to connect.

“Damned if the Harper government is going to balance the budget on patients, medicare and healthcare workers,” the President of the Ontario Nurses Union told the Convention Hall.

As one Sister exhorted “Let’s rise up, Not Shut Up!”

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