Report from David Bush, CLC convention delegate and RankandFile.ca editor
If the first full day of the convention was a boon for the progressives at the CLC, Day 2 was a reminder of the numerous entrenched challenges they face in making the CLC a relevant and progressive force.
The day started off with a delegates-only presentation and debate over the CLC’s “Fairness Works” campaign. All delegates were told not to tweet or report on the hard polling data presented to the convention. I can say that the polling numbers were generally grim. Only a third of all of union members are strong supporters of their union, while a fifth of union members in the country hate their union. The remaining union members are, to varying degrees, ambivalent about their own union. This means if right-to-work legislation were to pass, only about a third of union members would be motivated to pay dues regularly.
Debating “Fairness Works”
The debate on the floor was whether CLC should endorse TAXI’s, the advertisement agency, plan of more “Fairness Works” ads with a special levy. Hassan Husseini and some of his supporters tried to argue a qualified “No” position, saying the ads were good but more than just ads were needed. This position was not popular on the floor and Husseini and his campaign admitted a mistake in saying they should have framed it as a qualified “Yes.”
Hassan Yussuff argued for the levy, but argued we need more grassroots mobilization. Georgetti and his supporters have hung their hats on the polling data-driven Fairness Works Campaign and were going all out to offer up unqualified support for it. According to the supporters and the advertisment firm the ads are working: undecided viewers have a more favourable opinion of unions after seeing the ad. However, anyone who has ever been involved in an organizing drive knows that this type of support is extremely soft. Put in the context of a wider negative media portrayal of unions and the difficulty unions have in fighting concessions, organizing new workers, and making substantive gains, this overly vague union image makeover offered up by “fairness works” is fleeting at best.
In all honesty the debate on the floor spun quickly away from reality. Delegates and affiliate locals who genuinely like the ads, which are very catchy, confused them for a strategy that could beat the right-wing anti-labour agenda. Supporters framed the problem facing the union movement as one of image rather than power: if only we could reach the portion of the public that could be swayed to our issues, “the switchers”, we would be saved. The Fairness Works Campaign is a general campaign aimed at rebranding rather than trying to win specific demands. The past victories of labour and progressive movements such as maternity leave, CPP, EI/UI, universal healthcare and wage increases were trotted out as examples of why we need to advertise that fairness works.
If the union movement in this country wants to counter the right-wing we need to build power, not sell a brand image
The only problem is that none of these gains were the product of advertising, branding or messaging. They were the result of hard fought campaigns and organizing and it seems like a fair chunk of the union leadership and delegates have forgotten this. If the union movement in this country wants to counter the right-wing we need to build power, not sell a brand image. The right is out organizing us, not out advertising us (though to be fair the corporate media system will always paint unions as a problem and no amount of money we spend on image ads will solve this). The levy passed with overwhelming support and the chance for an honest concrete debate over the “Fairness Works” strategy was passed over for a flight of advertising fancy.
Baristas Rise Up and Organizing
After a long afternoon of progressive resolutions on childcare, migrant workers and health care being passed overwhelmingly with little debate, the evening panel of young workers was a real pick-me-up. It was so refreshing to go to a panel that actually talked about real organizing with real workers. Two worker activists with the Baristas Rise Up campaign talked about the on-the-ground organizing tactics and strategies that they have been using to organize Halifax coffee shops. They talked openly and honestly about the challenges and lessons that they have learned.
It made me wonder why the CLC convention doesn’t make much more space for discussing tactics and strategies of current or recent campaigns by affiliate locals. This is a great way to move beyond the empty rhetoric and posturing that too often pervades floor discussions on policy issues.
Day 3 starts off with the all candidates debate at 8am and then onto more resolutions, it should be interesting.