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The Waffle and the Labour Movement

BY GILBERT LEVINE


The 20th Anniversary of the Waffle

The Waffle and the Labour Movement GILBERT LEVINE

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many trade unionists signed the original Waffle Manifesto in 1969. Of the 96 original signers, only six, all of them men, were trade unionists. Just one, Paddy Neale, then secretary of the Vancouver Labour Council, held elective office, the others, Giles Endicott, Tony Carew, Ed Finn, Don Taylor and myself being researchers. With the exception of Don Taylor, all the signers came from Canadian unions. This rather narrow base made the Waffle's work in the labour movement difficult. Despite this, the Waffle, and its various off-shoots succeeded in exerting a profound and positive impact on Canadian trade unionism. The Waffle position on the labour movement was clearly set out in the Manifesto. Revitalization and extension of the labour movement were seen as central to the creation of an independent socialist Canada. The Manifesto asserted that, "[t]he struggle for worker participation in industrial decision making and against management 'rights' is a move toward economic and social democracy." In addition to this general political philosophy the Waffle had a specific labour policy which asserted, in part, Our goal is a powerful labour movement, based on the principles of unity, militancy, democracy and independence. Such a movement is indispensible for basic social change in Canada. The working class, first made conscious of itself, and then acting

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on its own behalf, holds the key to the independent and socialist future of Canada. The organized workers must lead the way.

And specifically addressing the issue of independence, the Ontario Waffle stated: the Canadian working class needs a Canadian trade union movement that is completely independent and free from domination by American unions. The issue of transformation of trade unions in Canada into completely independent Canadian unions is at the top of the union agenda and must be resolved.

During the period that the Waffle remained within the NDP, an NDP-Waffle Labour Committee was established. This committee met several times a year, attracting 40 to 50 people at each meeting. In addition to strategic discussions, it organized strike support, was active around Ontario Federation of Labour Conventions, published a newsletter and carried out an educational program. The headings of a publication entitled Socialist Program for Canadian Trade Unionists reveal the main thrusts of unionists within the Waffle: • militant economic struggles • workers control • combat unemployment • rank and file control of the unions • Canadian control of the labour movement • public ownership of resource industries • organize the unorganized • organize immigrant workers • women's rights in the labour movement The Labour Committee continued after the Waffle was expelled from the NDP, publishing pamphlets aimed at specific groups of workers (hospital workers, teachers) as well as more general ones such as A Fully Independent and Militant Union Movement in Canada. It didn't take long for the Waffle to affect the broader labour movement. In particular, its call for an independent, militant Canadian labour movement in 1969 was taken up by a small group of about 30 trade unionists who formed themselves into the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Reform Caucus. The members of this group were an odd lot. 186


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They consisted mainly of younger union staffers and technicians such as Ed Finn, who was editor of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway and Transport newspaper, Boris Mather of the Communications Workers, Jim Norton, a researcher with the Steelworkers, Fred Pomeroy, a Communications Union staffer, and John Fryer who was then General Secretary of the B.C. Government Employees Union. Very few of them had any direct connection to the Waffle, and no one, except myself, was publicly active and identified with it. This group met for a number of months preceding the 1970 CLC Convention and developed a document for that Convention which was labelled 'The Program for Reform'. Relative to the Waffle's program, this document had limited goals, being confined more to internal problems of efficiency and democracy in collective bargaining, social unionism, and union structures. The turbulence on the campuses and of politics in general during the 1960s did not extend to CLC Conventions, which were usually quiet and calm affairs. There was little effective opposition to a generally complacent leadership. The 'Red' delegates, who in earlier times provided an effective opposition to the CLC leadership, had either been kicked out or had been tamed. The 1970 Convention promised to be no different, yet when the Reform Caucus distributed its program and its members began speaking out against the bland policies of the Congress, the substantial press corps really took notice. Of course, the press loves controversy, and the actions of the Caucus were blown up out of proportion to its numbers. All the newspapers and TV stations highlighted the fight put up by the Reform Caucus: the Toronto Star had an editorial on its success; CTV's W5 covered it. This attention plus the enthusiasm of Caucus members meant that we were able to make some impact on the Convention. Initially, the Reform Caucus was successful in having the CLC adopt a policy which would have it move beyond its limited goals of improving the economic status of its members to goals which reflected greater concern with the betterment of society as a whole. A second success of the 187

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Reform Caucus was to push the CLC to endorse the principle of industrial democracy, i.e, to extend collective bargaining to include all matters which affect a workers' industrial life, such as technological change, production plans, future industrial development policies, the curtailment of operations, the methods and processes of operation, and pollution controls. For the CLC and its unions, which had historically questioned industrial democracy and worker's control, this was a step forward. However, it was the issue of Canadianizing the labour movement - a key element of the Waffle Manifesto and the Reform Caucus - that had the greatest impact on that 1970 CLC Convention. It is important to recall that the CLC was unique among labour associations in the world at that time in that it was the only labour central whose main constituent bodies had their leadership and headquarters in another country. It was pure trade union colonialism. In 1969 over two thirds of the members in CLC unions belonged to socalled International Unions, i.e. American unions. Although the situation varied somewhat from union to union, for many international unions this imposed a variety of limitations: there was no Canadian office or Canadian spokesperson to speak on behalf of the Canadian membership; Canadian members' dues were being siphoned off to the US headquarters while distinctly Canadian research and education programs were starved for funds; changes in collective agreements required prior approval from the American head office in some instances; American union constitutions could prohibit political activities by the union in Canada; Canadian sections of international unions wanting to strengthen themselves through mergers were prevented from doing so by International headquarters. To call for Canadianization of the labour movement, or even for more autonomy or independence was tantamount to 'treason', provoking an outpouring of wrath from the leadership of the CLC and the Internationals. At about this time, I spoke at a Carleton University conference on Canadian independence and was taped by an RCMP (or CLC) stooge who gave a transcript to the CLC. They promptly put pressure on the president of Canadian Union of Public 188


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Employees to have me fired for calling for a Canadian labour movement. But our call struck a responsive chord with rank and file delegates at that 1970 CLC Convention. The CLC leadership was forced to adopt part of the Reform Caucus Program, namely, that Canadian union leaders must be elected by the Canadian membership, that these officers could speak for the union in Canada. As well the international unions were required to lift their constitutional restrictions on political activities in Canada. These moves towards Canadianization were extended in 1974 with the addition of a condition that when an international union is affiliated to a world secretariat, the Canadian section should affiliate separately. In subsequent years, the minimum code of requirements for international unions operating in Canada was further augmented. Although, the job is far from complete, the Canadianization issues raised by the Waffle and the Reform Caucus have had some effect, partly because of the constant prodding and needling by the Confederation of Canadian Unions over the past twenty years. Since 1970, many large international unions within the CLC have severed their American connections. One of the first to do so was the tiny Communications Workers of Canada which split from its US parent in 1972 and went on to organize much of Bell Canada. Its current president is Fred Pomeroy, one of the members of the Reform Caucus. Other unions which have done the same include: in 1974 the Canadian Paperworkers Union, the Brewery Workers, the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks; in 1980 the Energy and Chemical Workers; in 1986 the Canadian Auto Workers, the International Woodworkers of America; and in 1987 Newfoundland路 Fishermen. As well, a number of local unions have left their internationals and have either joined national unions, the Confederation of Canadian Unions, or have become independent unions. As a result of these changes, the composition of the labour movement in Canada has been transformed, so that today two thirds of the CLC membership belong to Canadian unions. Twenty years ago it was inconceivable that a majority of the CLC Executive would be made up of leaders 189


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of Canadian unions. To have a CLC President such as Shirley Carr from a Canadian union would have been impossible. And those international unions still in the CLC, with few exceptions, have far more autonomy over their affairs than they had twenty years ago. Today an American union headquarters would directly interfere with the autonomy of a Canadian local at its own peril. And the transformation will continue. I predict that some time in the next decade, the United Steelworkers of America will become a Canadian union. The retirement of its 'Canadian' international president, Lynn Williams, will hasten that process. As other American unions take stands, against the interest of its Canadian members - for example, supporting protectionist policies - there will be more breakaways. It would, of course, be wrong to assume that all of the increase in Canadianization and the relative decline of American unions in Canada has been the result of an ideological shift. Other factors have been at play. There has been a rise in public sector employment, where Canadian unions are strong, and a relative decline in employment in manufacturing, where international unions are strong. Also Canadian unions have been more effective than the internationals in their efforts to organize the unorganized. CUPE for example with close to 400,000 members is three times its 1969 size. All of the new unions of professionals, such as teachers and nurses unions, are Canadian. We can be justly proud of the work that we initiated twenty years ago in the Waffle. Part of our legacy is a more autonomous and a more independent labour movement. There are other parts of that legacy which also merit mention. Wafflers, and those who were influenced by Wafflers, have contributed significantly to the development of a more militant style of unionism. Twenty years ago, I believe I was the only full-time union staffer who was an active Waffler. Today if a Waffle meeting were called there would be many full-time staffers who would identify with the Waffle's philosophy. They, and many elected officials who were also influenced by the Waffle, have been among the leaders, for

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example, of the fight against employers' demands for concessions. The Waffle developed a form and style of communitywide support for workers' struggles. For example, in the Texpack, Artistic, and Dare strikes, and the Dunlop plant closure, the Waffle helped garner support for the strikers from a significant section of the community at large. Today, many unions, and particularly public sector unions, use this technique of gaining public support for campaigns against cutbacks and privatization as well as traditional strike support. The legacy of this reaching out beyond the labour movement is reflected in the current, albeit reluctant, willingness of the CLC and other unions to work with progressive coalitions such as the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Pro-Canada Network. The Waffle was one of the first groups to make the subordinate status of women a real issue for the labour movement. It called for the transformation of union structures so that women would be treated as equals in a common struggle. The Waffle demanded equal treatment for women in terms of wages, job classifications and job opportunities. As well it called for proper representation of women in positions of leadership and at conventions. While much remains to be done on these, and other aspects of women's subordination, the Waffle deserves real credit for initially raising the issue. Canadian unions no longer look to the United States for leadership in political and social issues. There has developed instead a more pan Canadian viewpoint. With independence or greater autonomy, Canadian unions are far better equipped, at least structurally, to challenge the government's conservative agenda. As a result of the Canadianization of the labour movement, Canadian unionists have been able to take a more independent position in international affairs. Probably the most shameful aspect of American trade unionism is its role in international affairs. The AFL-CIO is often to the right of the State Department, working hand in hand with the CIA to undermine progressive unionism internationally. In Canada, the CLC role in international affairs still leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, its 191


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record is far better than its US counterpart and is improving. The CLC supports the Canadian Peace Alliance, has been critical of US intervention around the world, and more recently has taken solid positions on the conflict in the Middle East. Wafflers and their ideas had, and continue to have, a big impact on the Canadian labour movement. In spite of the very short life of the Waffle, we can all feel proud that our efforts have resulted in a better labour movement and a better Canada.

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The Waffleand theLabour Movement  

BY GILBERT LEVINE

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