First Published: New Canada, Vol 5, No 2, August 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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TORONTO – The struggle for independent Canadian unions took a decisive step forward on June 8 and 9, as workers from Toronto, Hamilton and Guelph gathered here to found a new union, the Canadian Workers Union.
The CWU is an industrial union which will not only organize currently unorganized workers, but will also provide an independent Canadian union for workers now in U.S.-run “international” unions. Open to workers in factories, offices and places of work of all kinds, the CWU fills the pressing need for this kind of a union in the vital industrial heartland of southern Ontario.
The union was organized by members of the National Committee for Independent Canadian Unions, members of the Canadian Liberation Movement, and other workers. Prominent among the organizers were a large contingent of workers at the Canron Ltd. Eastern Structural Division in Rexdale, Ontario, near Toronto, who are currently mis-represented by the “International” Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers, a U.S.-run union.
The Canron workers are determined to gain certification as a CWU local before their next contract comes up, and the new union starts with a solid foundation in the structural steel industry, an industry of crucial importance in our economy.
Two members of the newly elected national executive of the new union are Canron workers. Gino de Santis, a machine operator, was elected first national chairman, and Tom Conlan, a helper at Canron, was elected Education Director.
The other two national officers are Elaine Browne, a clerk who is General Secretary, and Barry Lord, Vice-Chairman.
Building on the experience of other independent Canadian unions, such as the Canadian Union of Operating Engineers, the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, and others, the founding members of the CWU drafted a constitution that makes the new union one of the most democratic in Canada. The product of more than half a year’s work, the constitution had been drafted three times and extensively revised after discussions not only with the prospective members but also with experienced Canadian unionists who wanted to help the CWU get started.
The Founding Congress further revised the constitution, and finally approved a draft which includes the following features:
In his keynote address at the founding congress, Doug Carr, who was the founding president of the Canadian Union of Operating Engineers and is now Vice-Chairman of the National Committee for Independent Canadian Unions, called the meeting “an historic occasion”.
“This will be your union”, Brother Carr said, “and it will be a different kind of union from anything you have known before”.
“It’s going to be a hard, tough struggle”, he cautioned. “The ’international’ unions and the employers of this country are united against Canadian unionism.”
“But nothing can withstand the working class, who are organized”, he went on, “no matter how powerful the governments and big businesses are, if industrial unions are united and stick together, no power on earth can break them.”
News of the founding of the CWU has spread to the U.S. union bosses. A full two months before the Founding Congress, an official of the U.S.-run Rubberworkers Union in Kitchener was warning workers not to join the CWU.
A week after an article appeared in the Toronto Star announcing the founding of the CWU, a letter was printed in that paper, begging the CWU to stay away from the U.S.-run unions and “organize the unorganized.”
Doug Carr answered this letter in the Star by stating that the object of the CWU is “help any group of workers, organized or unorganized, who subscribe to the idea of Canadian unions for Canadian workers.”
“If this involves ’raiding’ an American union,” Carr asked, “so what? We are Canadians fighting in Canada to free Canadian workers from American domination, and is this terrible?”
The founding members, their families and friends celebrated the founding of the new union at a dance on Saturday, June 8. The band, Strange Brew, from Hamilton, featured a song written especially for the occasion by Peter Flosznik, entitled “Do Your Part to Build the Union:”
Flosznik also introduced the song to founding members at the banquet on Sunday, June 9, where a congratulatory telegram from the Canadian Liberation Movement was read, accompanied by a donation of $250 to the new union. Over $600 was raised from members present that afternoon, as the CWU’s first fund-raising drive got underway. The Founding Congress had been financed entirely by ticket sales and contributions of members and supporters.
John Meiorin, president of the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU), was invited as an observer to the Founding Congress, but was unable to come. Affiliation to the CCU is a point which may come up in the near future for the independent Canadian union, since the constitution requires that national affiliations be only with national bodies made up of Canadian unions. Such a decision to affiliate would have to be submitted to a referendum of the CWU membership.
The new union is well and truly founded. New Canada and the Canadian Liberation Movement salute it. The CWU is a great step forward for the Canadian working class, and for all Canadians fighting for independence.
* * *
Canada is the only country in the world whose union movement is controlled from a foreign country. The Canadian Workers Union seeks to break that stranglehold. We will be a Canadian union; our dues will stay in Canada; our officers will be Canadian; our Congresses will be held in Canada.
But we will be not only a Canadian union, but a rare kind of union – democratic, controlled by the rank-and-file.
There will be no “business unionism”. We will not be a business, but a fighting organisation, defending and asserting the rights of our members and the Canadian people as a whole.
We will be an industrial union, uniting all workers in all industries, to fight for the interests of the workers in each industry.
We will fight for better wages and working conditions for our members. We recognise that economic struggle is not enough, for often what is Won in the economic field can be lost by the stroke of a pen in the political arena. The economic struggle must be carried on together with the political struggle.
There is a provision in the constitution of the Canadian Workers Union for the members to support the political Party or organisation of their choice. The National Union will not dictate to its members what political Party or organisation to support. The workers themselves will find out in their day-to-day struggles who their political friends and enemies are.
There will be no high-salaried union “leaders”. Every paid official of the Union will receive no more in salary than the mean average wage of the rank-and-file members. The paid union officials will have to return to factory, shop, warehouse or office one year in every six in order to keep in touch with the workers they represent.
There will be no “check-off of dues. Dues will be collected by Union stewards on the shop floor. The members will thus be in constant close contact with their representatives, and the representatives with the members.
Finally, Canadian workers in the Canadian Workers Union will be able to change their constitution in Congress assembled – something that Canadians cannot now do as members of U.S.-based unions.
We are strong enough, intelligent enough and brave enough in Canada to govern our own affairs, to do our part in making a democratic, independent workers’ Canada. We shall cooperate as equals with our brother and sister workers in other nations and countries in the fight against our common enemies and in striving for our common goals.
The Canadian Workers Union. Proudly Canadian. Run by Workers. A real union.