By Stuart Ryan, Ottawa
The 27th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress, held May 5-9 in Montreal, was, to borrow a phrase from Hassan Husseini, a very “unconventional convention”. Some very significant firsts made this convention untypical.
For the first time in fifteen years, incumbent president Ken Georgetti was deserted by his other executive officers in their refusal to run on a slate with him. It was the first time a CLC president was forced to put together a slate of relatively less known newcomers, the first time an Executive Vice‑President, Marie Clarke Walker, circulated an open letter alleging abuse by the CLC President, and the first time that an incumbent CLC President was defeated.
It was the first time that an election debate occurred as part of the convention agenda, resulting from a motion to amend the agenda which was overwhelmingly endorsed by
These important events were initiated by a young experienced trade unionist, Hassan Husseini, who had the courage and vision to announce a challenge to Ken Georgetti for President and to launch, with his supporters, a “Take Back the CLC Movement”. Although he pulled out of the contest at the leadership debate the day before the election and threw his support behind Hassan Yussuff,Husseini’s platform clearly placed the issues, captured the undercurrents of discontent rippling through the labour movement, and set the stage for Yussuff’s candidacy and the defeat of Georgetti.
Husseini’s program “What We Stand For” was sub‑titled: “Make the CLC Work For Workers, Beyond Fairness: Developing an Independent Labour Vision, Build Grassroots Workers Activism”.  This program set the parameters for the Yussuff campaign and will remain a challenge for the post‑convention period and the new leadership.
Husseini’s support for Yussuff was based on commitments by the new President to mobilize the rank and file and to put equity at the heart of all of the CLC’s work.
It is clear in hindsight that Georgetti was caught off guard by the impact of Husseini’s candidacy and the palace revolt of his fellow executive officers. He was late in rather hastily assembling a slate consisting of Nathalie Stringer (CUPE) who stood for Secretary‑Treasurer, and Laurie Antonin (Teamsters) and Kelly Murphy (NUPGE), who ran for the Executive Vice President positions. They called their slate “Team Win,” and together they lost.
There were 4625 voting delegates for the presidential race, the biggest CLC Convention ever, at least for a day. Yussuff defeated Georgetti by only forty votes. Barb Byers was elected Secretary‑Treasurer, Marie Clarke Walker was re‑elected Executive Vice‑President, and long‑time CUPW Executive member Donald Lafleur was elected as Executive Vice‑President.
Only 2000 delegates voted for the latter three executive positions, an indication of how many were bussed in or recruited simply for the presidential vote by the unions supporting Yussuff or Georgetti.
The new Table Officers include three members of the previous CLC Executive, no longer under the thumb of Georgetti, and a new representative of one of the most militant unions in the country.
It will be very interesting, and possibly a source of future analyses to see if the convention initiates grater unity or greater rivalry. In any case it surely signals the potential for more fight‑back and more independent labour political action.
The forces in the “Take Back the CLC” movement are encouraged by the results, but are not resting on their laurels. At a May 9 Action Caucus meeting, they decided to throw support behind the Save Canada Post campaign, and to meet at the People’s Social Forum in August in Ottawa to strengthen their network and to continue to build an effective fight‑back movement within the labour movement.
May 16-31, 2014
People’s Voice, Canada.