On Friday, Oct. 30, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) endorsed ex-finance minister Bill Morneau for the role of Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). CLC President Hassan Yussuff announced this as a joint endorsement with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business lobby group. This endorsement has caused shockwaves throughout the labour movement. However, cozying up to liberal capitalist politicians has become the norm for the CLC leadership and is simply the result of a long period of class collaborationist politics. This needs to end.
No friend of the workers
Following the announcement, a series of denunciations came pouring in from prominent labour leaders and some of the largest trade unions in the country. Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) President Mark Hancock, representing 700,000 members, rejected the endorsement. He outlined Morneau’s role in gutting pensions for workers with Bill C-27. As finance minister Morneau introduced the bill, which converted defined benefit pension plans into target benefit plans, which shift the risks of stock market losses onto the workers. At the same time, Morneau’s family business, Morneau Shepell, managed pension plans and therefore stood to earn millions of dollars from implementation of the bill.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), representing 50,000 members, denounced the endorsement as Morneau and the Liberal Party were directly responsible for breaking the 2018 CUPW strike with back-to-work legislation.
“Mr. Morneau supported denying postal workers our basic democratic and constitutional right to collective bargaining in November 2018,” CUPW said on its website. “He also was the architect of Bill C-27, an attack on the pensions of workers in the Federal sector. This legislation was opposed by the entire labour movement and many organizations representing seniors and pensioners.” The statement went on to highlight the hypocrisy of the CLC’s endorsement, given their position in 2016: “In a letter to Mr. Morneau, the Canadian labour Congress described the legislation [Bill C-27] as ‘an unconscionable betrayal of the legal rights and protections of plan members.’”
More denunciations have rolled in from across the labour movement. The United Steelworkers (USW) declared that the CLC and its leadership “has roundly failed workers in its co-sponsored endorsement of Morneau”, and that “[t]he USW, its Canadian leaders and members are outraged by this irresponsible and ridiculous action by CLC President Hassan Yussuff.” The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said the endorsement “shows absolute contempt for workers, unions and labour councils.” These denonciations also point out the utter betrayal of making such an endorsement jointly with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the mouthpiece of Canada’s wealthy elite.
Morneau’s own statements have made it clear that his entire outlook is anti-worker. In The Real Retirement, a book he co-authored in 2013, Morneau stated that “accepting reduced compensation goes against the grain of the labour movement, but it is in the best interests of employees to be open to the idea.” In 2016, he put forward the perspective that workers should get used to the “job churn”, and that short-term employment and precarious work must be the accepted norm.
While admonishing workers to accept lower pay and worse conditions, Morneau used his position in government to stuff his own pockets. Naturally, he changed tax rules to benefit private corporations and wealthy families. But in an even more blatant move, it was revealed in 2017 that he had failed to put his assets in a blind trust upon becoming minister, meaning that he could profit off of his own policy decisions. And profit he did: that same year he sold millions of dollars of stock in Morneau Shepell just before introducing tax changes that caused the stock to drop. One would think that such actions would carry some kind of repercussions. However, Morneau acted legally—that is, through the skillful use of loopholes. Not even the WE Charity scandal, which saw government grants and cash showered on the organization that directly profited both the Trudeau and Morneau families, could be said to have impacted his career. And now, as Morneau moves on to even more prestigious pursuits, the CLC provides him with their moral backing!
Right up to the end of his time in government, Morneau was pushing for attacks on the working class. He advocated cutting spending on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which would force workers back on the job in the midst of a pandemic. A seasoned Bay Street capitalist and multi-millionaire, Morneau used his position in government to attack workers and keep profits flowing towards himself and his corporate buddies.
Despite this laundry list of sins, Hassan Yussuff, the president of the CLC, said that he is “honoured and pleased to endorse” Morneau. Not only has the CLC endorsed the Liberal Party, but by endorsing Morneau, they are endorsing the most openly reactionary wing of the party..
For a militant socialist leadership!
But this endorsement of Morneau, is not at all surprising considering how the CLC leadership have acted in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have not provided leadership for workers. Instead they have acted as mouthpieces for the Liberal government as it doles out billions of dollars in corporate loans while workers suffer.
The CLC convention and leadership elections take place in 2021. Already, a coalition calling itself “Team Unite” has been created to replace the bureaucracy of Yussuff. But there is no clear indication of what would fundamentally differentiate this coalition of labour leaders from Yussuff’s class collaborationism. Vague appeals to “building a united labour movement” are not enough, as workers need leadership that fights back against the bosses today and does the necessary work to prepare for militant actions tomorrow.
To make a clean break from class collaboration, there needs to be a radically different approach towards policy creation at the CLC leadership level. The actions of Hassan Yussuff are an obvious betrayal. But this is only a symptom of a right-wing tendency which has permeated the upper echelons of trade unions for decades.
By endorsing Bill Morneau, and doing so with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Yussuff has revealed the decay in Canada’s labour movement. Labour leaders must clearly explain that there are two fundamental classes in society: the working class who work for a living and the capitalist class who exploit that labour. This understanding of class antagonism must provide the starting point for militant tactics, and for the democratic involvement of rank-and-file workers in the movement, both unionized and non-unionized.
All of the unions that have come out to criticize the class betrayal of Yussuff must follow through by rejecting class collaboration themselves. This is true in every aspect of the labour movement, from negotiating collective agreements to fighting back-to-work legislation.
While the Liberals are spending freely now (though more freely on corporate bailouts than on relief for workers), the time will come when the taps stop flowing. As Morneau’s successor Chrystia Freeland recently tweeted: “Our fiscally expansive approach to fighting the coronavirus cannot and will not be infinite.” Then the ruling class will attack, and any notion of “unity” between the workers and the bosses in the face of crisis will evaporate. There is no middle ground in this scenario. Canadian workers must be prepared to fight. A campaign must be built leading up to the next CLC convention that promotes militant labour leaders and adopts a socialist platform.