We wish we didn’t have to write this, but as the President of our union says, we shouldn’t shy away from tough conversations.
On January 16, 2018, Unifor’s National Executive Board unilaterally decided to disaffiliate our union from the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), only telling Unifor members about it after the CLC had been notified. This pivotal decision to leave the CLC took many by surprise, including Unifor members.
DEMOCRACY FOR UNIFOR MEMBERS
While many would agree that the labour movement, including the CLC, is in need of a major shakeup and reform, disaffiliating from the CLC is divisive and makes us part of the problem. Instead of being part of the solution, Unifor members, leadership and activists are relegated to standing outside the house of labour, adding new challenges for workers who want to organize together for a better future.
Union democracy is key to building a militant, diverse and engaged labour movement. However, while our national leadership at Unifor claims to be fighting for the democratic rights of workers in other unions it is ignoring the democratic rights of Unifor members.
This decision was and is a violation of our democratic rights enshrined in the Unifor Constitution, which is very specific in requiring membership approval to leave the CLC. There was no membership vote. There wasn’t even a consultation of members. There was and is no mandate for Unifor to leave the CLC.
Whether one supports the decision to disaffiliate from the CLC or not, Unifor’s national leadership overstepped its Constitutional authority.
IS THIS ABOUT DEMOCRACY OR RAIDING?
The reason given for our union’s disaffiliation is that the CLC’s Constitution is broken when dealing with workers who wish to change unions and that Unifor is acting in the best interest of those workers who are “trapped” in “undemocratic” American unions. In subsequent interviews and communications, our President Jerry Dias has spared no time in reaffirming this in the most nationalist terms.
The facts on the ground provide a different narrative to the one advanced by Unifor’s President and National Executive Board. It is no coincidence that the move to disaffiliate from the CLC was announced just hours before the start of a raid against UNITE HERE Local 75 by our own union.
And yes, it is a raid. Unifor has been actively campaigning and organizing to encourage members of another union to switch to Unifor. If that’s not raiding, what is?
While President Dias claims that Article 4 of the CLC Constitution can’t deal with requests by workers to change unions, no request was ever made to the CLC by members wanting to leave UNITE HERE local 75.
While Article 4 is imperfect, there is ample evidence to show that the CLC has resolved 45 disputes through the process outlined in the Article. Make no mistake, our union has disaffiliated from the CLC not to fix the central labour body but rather to have a free hand to raid other unions.
We realize this may be hard for some Unifor members to hear, especially from other members of Unifor. But these actions are doing more damage to our union, as well as to the broader labour movement, than our speaking openly about them ever could.
GROWING OPPOSITION WITHIN UNIFOR
And while we are specifically challenging CLC disaffiliation, the decision to leave the CLC is part of a pattern within Unifor of undemocratic and intimidating behaviour that has created an atmosphere where members are afraid to speak out.
Many locals in recent years have received letters from our national President telling us in not so many words that we need to either toe the line or our locals will get kicked out of Unifor. Some locals in BC that did assert some local autonomy were indeed arbitrarily removed from our union.
But this decision to leave the CLC, which creates division in the labour movement, is leading more and more members and locals to overcome the fear of retribution and draw a line in the sand.
This crisis is indeed about democracy, but the root of the problem is the lack of democracy within Unifor.
This is why over 100 Unifor members from over 40 locals have already signed on to the We Are Unifor democracy declaration and the numbers continue to grow.
There is a growing chorus of Unifor voices calling on our national leadership to suspend its decision to disaffiliate from the CLC until the membership has an opportunity to vote on it, as required by our Constitution.
At least four locals (88, 222, 567, and 2025) have also filed formal appeals of the decision through a tool available in the Unifor Constitution called a Request for Review of Decision.
DEMOCRACY IS NOT DIVISIVE
We would rather not be having this discussion in public. We would have rather had this debate at a convention along with a democratic vote on it. Unfortunately our President and NEB unilaterally pulled our union out of the house of labour, bypassing the membership. Our leadership then brought the debate into the public spotlight.
We have little choice left but to join the debate where our leadership decided to have it – in public. The alternative was to remain silent. And the stakes for the labour movement are far too high for silence to be an option.
We want a more democratic union. We want a Unifor where political debate is encouraged and where members can voice their opinions without fear of intimidation and retribution. We want a stronger union that can be a home for non-unionized workers who are under attack from bully bosses like Tim Hortons. But we don’t want that to be at the expense of other workers or their unions.
We are not a one-person union. We are Unifor, and every member should have a voice in major decisions that impact our union and the entire labour movement.