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(en) Canada, The Wobbly Dispatch - Union Sovereignty Belongs in Workers' Hands by Nick Driedger

Date Fri, 23 Dec 2005 21:19:05 +0200

In late October, Doug McCarron of the United Brotherhood of
Carpenters and Joiners of America threatened a hostile takeover of
the newly formed British Columbia Carpenters Union. The membership
of the union recently voted over 90% in favor of forming an
autonomous Canadian-based union. You can't argue with numbers like
that; the rank and file is clearly dissatisfied with the current
way of doing things and is looking for change. The answer they see
lies in Canadian sovereignty from American business unionism.
Such a breakaway is not without precedent; the Canadian Auto
Workers (CAW), one of the largest unions in Canada and a pillar
of the left-leaning NDP, are themselves the result of a split with
the American-based United Auto Workers (UAW) twenty years
ago. More recently, the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers
(CUS-W) in Ontario split from the International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers because of similar concerns and decided to
form their own autonomous Canadian union. This isn't all that
surprising ­ it only makes sense that workers who have little
power over their own organizations would want to break away
and form better ones.
Interestingly enough, many American workers feel the same
way about their own unions. Over the last few decades,
democratic reform movements have sprung up in business
unions in all sectors of the economy across the USA.
From the Teamsters to UFCW, greater union democracy has
been a rallying call for rank and file workers looking to go
beyond traditional unionism. Sometimes this disaffection boils
over into direct action, such as the wildcat strike involving 500
Carpenters in San Francisco back in 1999, who struck against
their employers and what they perceived to be sellout contract
by their own leaders. The 1970s were plagued by wildcat
strikes in the American automotive industry, many against what
numerous workers saw as a union leadership that was in bed
with the bosses.
Sometimes groups of ordinary union members, after years of
campaigning and organizing, have managed to get their allies
into office, but more often than not these well-intentioned
reformers are quickly neutralized. Such problems are not alien to
Canadian unions. For instance, in 2002 the Canadian
Autoworkers decided that their own rank and file "flying
squads" were becoming too militant and brought them all under
control of the less combative local presidents. Many Canadian
unions over time have become just as bad as the American
ones; let us not forget the critical role the British Columbia
Federation of Labour has played in averting a general strike over
the last two years. Like their American counterparts, many
Canadian unions have also lost much of their will to fight, rather
than encouraging workers to take action. However, as mass
demonstrations in British Columbia have proven, the vast
majority of workers have not lost their will to fight.
Nobody wants to feel like their issues aren't addressed because
they are part of a large union with most of its members in
another country, or even another part of the country. No
reasonable person wants to feel like they are just pawns in
some labour bureaucrat's political games. It is important to
realize that these two issues are related. The answer to these
concerns is rank and file autonomy; by default, this also means
Canadian autonomy, Albertan autonomy, and most importantly
it means worker autonomy. Workers in Canada want what
workers in America want ­ control over their own organizations.
A Canadian union is meaningless if it isn't any different than the
American union it broke away from. What is important is that
rank and file workers everywhere take center stage in fighting
the bosses to build a better world, rather than having big shots
stage-manage the struggle from somewhere other than the
workplace. Young unions like the BC Carpenters have a chance
to help workers everywhere by building not just Canadian
unions, but better unions.

* [Ed. Note: IWW - Industrial Workers of the World is antiauthoritarian
anticapitalist direct action syndicate.]
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