Saturday, February 14, 2009

Canadian Auto Show Rally/Demonstration - Sunday February 15th @ 11am, Toronto

Brothers and Sisters,

The worldwide financial crisis has led to a crisis in the auto industry. All of the auto companies are affected, but the Detroit three – who employ members of the Canadian Auto Workers – are in particular danger. The recent loan guarantees, passed by the US, Canadian and Ontario governments are meant to provide breathing space for them to survive. That is important to the US and Canadian economies.

But the loan guarantees also contain conditions. Some of them make demands on the companies. These remain "secret" for now. Others attack the rights of unionized autoworkers in both countries: they demand that unionized workers at the Detroit Three "match" the labour costs of the non-union transplants; they require that our union go into bargaining with the employers and give back concessions to meet that demand; they require that Canadian workers respond to the demands of the right-wing US senators from the US south, and the rump of the former Harris government of Ontario, who now occupy the power jobs in Harper's Federal Cabinet. The Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty has also come on board with the conditions.

Like our union's leadership, we realize the terrible situation we are in today. It would be extremely difficult to refuse to engage in concession bargaining, given the circumstances. Not only are we not mobilized (after too many previous rounds of concessions), but public opinion in general tends to be negative about the survival of the auto industry and the role of autoworkers in defending the rights of all working people.

In order to survive and come out of this crisis in a stronger position, we have to do what we can to influence the current situation. This means:

  • Building support among other working people for the defence of the wages, benefits and working conditions of unionized auto workers, under attack from right-wing governments in the US and Canada and the employers;
  • Explaining why the survival of the Detroit three is important for our overall economy, and to create conditions for building the kind of auto industry that working people need in this 21st century. This is not the same as being the spokespersons for GM, Ford and Chrysler. It does mean we know that their survival is important and need to explain it to others.
  • Showing that the wages, working and conditions of unionized workers in Canada have nothing to do with the crisis facing the employers and arguing that there is no justification to demand that Canadian (or American workers for that matter) should somehow "match" the non-unionized transplants. And, in the process emphasizing that the US and Canada are the only countries in the world that are demanding worker concessions as part of the auto help package.
  • Putting forward the need to challenge the right of the US government, the Harper Conservatives and the employers to demand concessions from Canadian workers as a condition for the survival of the employers;
  • Supporting efforts to minimize the concessions we will be forced to give up and calling for a plan to get the losses back in the future.
  • Building support for the union's efforts to create "Buy Canadian" procurement policies by governments.
  • Finally, support for plans to restructure the auto industry so that it can provide sustainable jobs and products in the future.

Like the busloads of American autoworkers who protested at the American Auto Show in Detroit, we are organizing our own demo for the Canadian Auto Show, in front of the Metro Convention Centre, Front Street, in Toronto, on Sunday February 15th, at 11:00 AM.

In solidarity,

Workers For Union Renewal

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is democracy too important to leave to the members?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( T h e B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 124 .... July 14, 2008________________________________________________
Democracy: Too Important to Leave to the Members?
Sam Gindin
Earlier this summer, it looked like the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union was about to experience something truly unusual in its history -- a contested campaign for national president. The last contest for the union's top Canadian officer was in 1960, a quarter of a century before the formation of the CAW and a year when Tommy Douglas was Premier of Saskatchewan and John F Kennedy was running for President of the United States.
A transition in leadership was coming: CAW President Buzz Hargrove would turn 65, the agreed mandatory retirement age for union staff and officials, in March 2009. His handpicked successor was Ken Lewenza who, like Hargrove, came out of Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant. The succession also included anointing Peter Kennedy, the current Assistant to Secretary-Treasurer Jim O'Neil, to move up when O'Neil retired in August 2009. As Hargrove contemplated exactly when and how he would announce the timing of his retirement, two very credible candidates, both assistants to Hargrove, had declared their intent to run: Hemi Mitic against Lewenza and Carol Phillips against Kennedy.
The possibility of a break with tradition and an actual election did not come out of nowhere. During relatively good times, the absence of contested elections was commented on, but passively accepted. Now, with crises piling up in one sector in manufacturing after another in Canada (the state of the auto industry being the most publicized), a good number of CAW activists were increasingly frustrated and restless. It was in that context that rumors of an election began to circulate and the contesting candidates surfaced.
This was an opportunity that the union leadership should have jumped at. After years of growing demoralization inside the union, an election could have been a catalyst for union renewal, opening a space for membership participation in the crucial questions facing the union, and developing the candidates' own thinking. How could the union's dismal record in organizing new members be reversed? What changes in union priorities would an organizational drive imply and what commitments from the locals did it demand? The union's formal policy against concessions was contradicted by the reality on the ground. What was needed to return the union to its slogan that 'fighting back makes a difference'? International solidarity between unions is often discussed, but what could it concretely mean? The environment had emerged as a central issue that would transform everything about how we produce and live. Where did the candidates stand on the insecurities and opportunities this implies? The regional and sectoral composition of the CAW's membership base is today radically different than when the CAW was formed, but the union's structures have remained the same. What do the candidates have to say about how to take advantage of this potential, and what do the locals themselves want to put on the agenda in terms of structural change?
It was an opportunity as well to raise the issue of the CAW's relative separation from the rest of the labour movement (notably its continued absence from Ontario Federation of Labour), at the same time that the CAW drifted closer to the corporate and political elite (symbolized by the joint dinner with Canada's business and political elites in the middle of a CAW Bargaining Convention). Who are the union's friends and who are its enemies? Where do the candidates stand on union support for the Liberals? Can the union really expect to address the crisis in manufacturing jobs, the restructuring of private services, the commercialization of social services, or reverse free trade without rebuilding ties to the rest of the Canadian working class and mobilizing working class communities beyond its own?
A contested election might have reminded people why unions remain so important and brought more members into the active life of the union. That opportunity, in terms of the contest for the CAW presidency, was thrown aside. The union leadership seemed more concerned with ensuring executive control over the presidential succession and especially determined not to open debates it could not control and risk commitments that might hold future leaders accountable. In a phrase that may come to define his legacy, Hargrove expressed his impatience with an open electoral contest for the leadership of one of Canada's largest and most storied working class organizations in these terms: "We're not a political party, we're a union" (Globe and Mail, July 7, 2008).
Managing the Transition
Hargrove quickly moved to prevent such an open contest by calling a meeting of the National Executive Board (NEB) and of the appointed staff for July 8th to "put this thing to bed." The NEB's endorsement of Hargrove's choices could be taken for granted. Though formally elected by union delegates, the NEB had never, a few secondary issues aside, demonstrated any collective autonomy from the CAW President. Nor did anyone expect this might change now.
The staff, however, was another matter. The majority of the CAW staff are experienced and skilled former elected local officials, with a history as activists and leaders in their own right. Though they cannot vote in any official union body, they have traditionally had the right freely to cast votes within the union's 'administration caucus', a political body that ensures that all who attend it will support the administration at union convention, but which meets before conventions to decide what resolutions and candidates for office the administration will endorse.* The caucus system came out of the early right-left splits in the union in the 1940s. Such an organized opposition within the CAW had disappeared, but the administration caucus has continued as a form of control over what takes place at union conventions. Even as the CAW broke away from the UAW and its culture, it retained the essentials of the UAW's leadership-controlled caucus system.
Mitic's intention was to run within the caucus, which would have allowed staff members to vote for him there. He was thus intending to use one aspect of caucus tradition to challenge another, i.e. to open the possibility of a free caucus choice among the candidates (who all came from previous leadership team, even if Hargrove had pre-selected his favourites). But Hargrove brought the staff together not for a collective discussion among people with a wealth of experience as local leaders and activists, but as his employees. It was not their opinions he was interested in, but getting the staff in line well before they joined local activists possibly to challenge his candidate at the pre-Convention caucus meeting.
Because a rebellion was brewing, with the staff reflecting the wider dissension in the union, Hargrove was pushed into a further tactical step. On the morning of the scheduled meetings, the CAW President suddenly announced that he would retire by mid-September and a convention to choose his successor would be held before then. Virtually no union meetings are scheduled during the summer. Since workers would be at home or on vacation for much of July and August, any campaigning was essentially foreclosed.
Hargrove argued that the hurried timing was to avoid the 'divisiveness' of a ten-month campaign. Leaving aside that democracy functions because of differences, no explanation was given for why a shorter but more sensible period (such as one running to late-October) was also excluded. To some it looked as if the timing was not so much about union solidarity as with guaranteeing the victory of his candidate (the longer Hargrove stayed, the more of a liability he seemed to be to Lewenza's candidacy), and limiting any debate over the union's direction. Democracy was apparently too important to leave to the members.
The morning of the NEB meeting, Hargrove met with key board members from Quebec whose position was critical and who had pledged their support to Mitic. Coming out of that meeting they surprisingly switched their support to Lewenza. That loss was amplified because it potentially weakened the resolve of others both at the Board and on staff. Moreover, Hargrove presented Mitic with a catch-22: if he participated in the Board decision, he would have to abide by their vote (which was a foregone conclusion); if he refused, he would be understood to have left the administration caucus. Since Mitic was committed to running within the caucus and because he saw his support unraveling, he stepped down and joined NEB member Earle McCurdy from Newfoundland in calling for a review of 'the process'.
Hargrove had won. At the staff meeting that followed, Hargrove made it clear that the staff, which could not vote at the convention itself, had a vote in the administration caucus -- but only in line with what the NEB (i.e. the President) recommended. This meant not only that the approximately 150 staff had no say in the choice of CAW President, but that local delegates who participated in the caucus effectively faced an out-going President with multiple votes in his pocket. Though he had laid down the law that the staff had no right to vote independently, and though there was, in any case, no longer any alternative candidate for President, Hargrove insisted on a show of hands to endorse the NEB's recommendation. The point of the vote was, of course, purely formal and symbolic: it merely allowed it to be claimed that a consensus had been reached, so that those who didn't know what was really going on might think all this indicated the depth of the union's democratic process.
Carol Phillips remains in the race for Secretary-Treasurer in August 2009, having declared that she will run outside the administration caucus. Phillips is a talented, progressive and respected candidate and though the demographic changes in the CAW might suggest that a woman should be supported for one of the top two positions, Phillips is running on her merits and not as an 'affirmative action' candidate. The CAW structures guarantee that this will be an uphill battle. The new President will have some ten months to establish his authority and consolidate support for his caucus running mate, Kennedy. The staff will only be allowed to work for Kennedy. And though the Convention vote will be by secret ballot, a good many delegates will be hesitant to leave the administration caucus even if they want to support Phillips, and having participated in the caucus they are likely to abide by caucus discipline. A critical test for her candidacy -- one posed by the early defeat of Mitic -- will therefore be whether any locals rebel against this.
Union Democracy
The question of union democracy involves more than voting for leaders: it is about empowering the members to collectively effect change. It's therefore about both process and the kind of union that is being built. That is why the depth of union democracy and the degree of struggle often seem so closely linked.
When unions are fighting the status quo, a degree of democracy is virtually inevitable because it is essential. At those moments, workers receive information and analysis that counters what they get elsewhere. Educationals come alive. Workers develop their ability to articulate their cause and strategize. The capacity to organize in the workplace and community is deepened. The confidence that emerges from active participation spills over into other dimensions of workers' lives and sometimes raises larger questions about democracy in society. These can be powerful and revealing: if we're a democracy, why do corporations and financiers have so much power over our lives?
In contrast, when unions are only adapting to the status quo, democracy suffers because, from the leadership's perspective, democracy may represent a problem rather than an asset. If the leadership is arguing for concessions, it is repeating the arguments of the corporations, not giving workers an independent perspective. If bargaining is reduced to making deals with companies, the members become a nuisance. Educationals on past struggles become counterproductive. Collective Agreements are rushed through without a real chance for consideration. Workers who vote against concessions are told to vote again 'until they get it right'. Actions that go against union principles cannot be justified, so they must simply be rammed through without reasoned debate. In this context, prospects of an election raising questions about how the union functions, as well as leadership accountability, are seen as a threat, not an opportunity.
As convoluted as the events around the CAW 'almost-election' were, it did highlight what has long been true but shrugged off: there is something broken in the union's internal democratic process. It is telling that, a day after the NEB and staff meetings and before the administration caucus had met, never mind before the Convention itself, Ken Lewenza was already referred to as the new CAW President, thus foregoing even the formality of union democracy.
The much-needed debate inside the CAW should not be limited to how to fix the administration caucus. The problems go much deeper and involve issues central to all unions. What unions face today is rooted in the way North American unions organized themselves in much better economic times than for workers than the present. Not having understood that period to be an interlude, a break before the pressures of capitalism renewed attacks on the working class, unions did not prepare for what lay ahead. Workers are now suffering for that lack of understanding and preparation. While corporations have become more radical and aggressive, the labour movement has become more cautious and defensive. The most important question for the labour movement is to come to grips with those past failures and the need to become as radical as the other side. If we don't develop a vision that fundamentally questions the anti-social logic of capitalism, and build the collective capacities that can challenge corporate power, things won't just stay the same: they are likely get worse.
The real issue of Lewenza's leadership is not, as some commentators have emphasized, his relative lack of experience outside auto and southern Ontario. This may be a concern, but Lewenza is bright and energetic enough to learn how to move from being a local auto president to leading the largest private sector union in the country. Rather, the issue is whether Lewenza, as the candidate for continuity in the CAW leadership, will address the accumulated set of problems and challenges that the union confronts. To do so, the union will need to make adjustments in its current strategies and structures, and address internal democracy to mobilize the input of its staff, elected local leaders, and activists.
It would be a tragedy for all of Canadian labour if, in the face of the intimidating challenges confronting the CAW, the next CAW President circled the wagons, silenced dissenters, and just continued on without reassessing the union's direction and current limits. Any creative leadership has to allow for innovations, and encourage departures from past practices. Whether this happens will not, of course, depend on Lewenza alone. Democracy always has to be fought for and local leaders and activists have a responsibility -- now, perhaps more than at any time in recent CAW memory -- to insist that they and their members have an impact on the outcome.
Sam Gindin is the Packer Visiting Professor in Social Justice at York University.
* For a more detailed discussion of the CAW administration caucus, see Jim Reid, 'The Death of the Administration Caucus?' at
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( T h e B u l l e t))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The Bullet is produced by the Socialist Project. Readers are encouraged to distribute widely. Comments, criticisms and suggestions are welcome. Write to

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From the Toronto Star

Tony Van Alphen's got the meeting here...


The Meeting

The media are reporting on the meeting. I haven't gotten the gist of the reports yet, but the fact it's out there means we have a chance to frame things, or at least offer our point of view about what this means, how we feel, and what we as a group feel ought to be done.

I believe we ought to make some sort of statement and distribute it ASAP.

Any thoughts?

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Death of the Administration Caucus?

The following article is a contribution to the process of democratic debate about the way CAW members select our top leaders. The writer is a respected CAW activist and local leader as well as a participant in the WUR. We urge readers to discuss and debate the issues raised in this article.
— Herman.

The Death of the Administration Caucus?
by Jim Reid

The move by Bro. Hargrove to hand pick his successor is not without precedent in the CAW, UAW or in many other unions. In most cases a succession plan is put in place long before the departing leader steps down. The successor is usually someone who has worked closely with the outgoing leader over the years and shares many of the same ideas and views and has demonstrated a competency for leadership.

While critics may argue that in a truly democratic organization the outgoing leader should have no more right to choose who follows him (I use “him” because in the CAW/UAW there has never been a “her” president or candidate). In an ideologically pure world uncontaminated by politics, egos or personal ambition such a concept might bear fruit. In the CAW and predecessor UAW there is a history and culture of strong and sometimes forceful personalities in the office of President. There has also always been a cultural or organizational acceptance of the outgoing President selecting his successor. One of the most difficult tasks any leader faces is managing the ambitions of those who wish to succeed him.

When leadership transition happens smoothly there is little dissension and even less opposition. When it is managed poorly or in a heavy handed or capricious manner it has the potential to damage both the incoming leader and the organization.

The election of our top officers is made by the free and democratic will of the Constitutional Delegates at the Constitutional Convention that will be held in August 2009 in Quebec City. Historically part of that process has involved what in both the UAW and the CAW is known as the Administration Caucus. Over the years the Administrative Caucus has elected the overwhelming number of Officers and NEB members. The President of the Union is the Chair of the Caucus and most often proposes to the National Executive Board who he supports for any vacancies, either on the NEB, CLC, or Officers of the National Union prior to the Administrative Caucus meeting. The NEB has almost uniformly accepted the proposals of the President.

So while this process has all the appearances of what some in our union cynically refer to as “guided democracy” it has always provided potential candidates for office the choice of either coming to Administration Caucus and putting their name forward and abiding by the decision of the Caucus or alternatively, not coming to Caucus and being nominated and running from the floor of the Constitutional Convention.

While this system is far from perfect it has been an integral part of the history and culture of our union. Where this system started coming off the track was two years ago when long time activist Bro. Willie Lambert decided to make an unprecedented challenge Bro. Hargrove for the Presidency of the union. To watch the reaction of some of the National Union administration and staff, you would have thought that war had been declared on Placer Court. Instead of waiting for Administrative Caucus to take place prior to the Constitutional Convention and unanimously endorse the candidacy and Presidency of Brother Hargrove they called regional meetings across the country and instructed the Local Unions to put their workplace leadership and Local Officers out on lost time to hear from Brother Hargrove and hold a binding vote to endorse his candidacy for re-election. Next they went to the various Councils of CAW Council (IPS, Health Care, Skilled Trades, GM, Ford and Daimler Chrysler) and held binding votes to affirm support for the candidacy of Brother Hargrove. Finally, the machine rolled into the Administrative Caucus in Vancouver and unanimously endorsed Bro. Hargrove.

At the IPS Council I was the only delegate out of the nearly 150 in the room who voted against endorsing Bro. Hargrove and Bro. O'Neil (who ran unopposed). The reason I voted against the recommendation was not that I didn't support Bro. Hargrove but that I felt the issue of candidacies and endorsements are more appropriately handled at the Administrative Caucus. The mistake I made was not getting to a mike prior to the vote and challenging the validity of the vote. In the weekend that followed I had many delegates approach me and congratulate me for my vote. I had to explain repeatedly that it was not about supporting Bro. Hargrove but about respecting the process. I asked a number of delegates and Staff at the time what would happen in three years if there were two highly credible candidates stepping forward for the Presidency. Would this same process of locking the various Councils and regional groups into supporting the presidentially anointed one happen again? Why do we have an Administration Caucus? Would both candidates be offered the opportunity to address the different Councils of our union? And if not, why not?

To be clear I am not endorsing either candidate for President of our union. For me this is about respecting the right of both candidates to campaign up to the time the Administration Caucus is held. Brother Hargrove and the NEB can make their preferences known and I respect that those preferences will carry some weight for the candidate fortunate enough to garner their support. However, if we are to continue talking the talk of being a democratic union we have to start walking the walk. To this end I am proposing the following:

  1. The vote to endorse the candidacy of any candidate be conducted by secret ballot at the NEB and Staff meeting.

  2. The vote of the NEB or Staff shall not be binding to the extent that prevents either candidate from campaigning up to and including the Administration Caucus held prior to the Constitutional Convention.

  3. There will be no repercussions to any member or Staff for their support or non support of either candidate.

  4. If any Council of the union endorses either candidate such vote will not be binding on any delegate of that Council / or in the alternative if a vote of any Council is considered binding both candidates will have an equal opportunity to make a presentation to said Council.

While these proposals may not go far enough for some in our union who share legitimate concerns about union democracy they are in my opinion a progressive step that will foster genuine support of the rank and file and reflect positively on both Brother Hargrove and our great union.

In Solidarity

Jim Reid

(The writer is the 1st Vice President of Local 27. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the position or opinions of Local 27 or its Executive Board.)