First Published: Globe and Mail November 5, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The ultra left in some trade unions is planting ideologies that could ultimately destroy the labor movement if they are allowed to spread, warns Dennis McDermott, president of the Canadian Labor Congress.
Behind the statement is the surprising call for Mr. McDermott’'s scalp at last month’s convention of the 251,000-member Canadian Union of Public Employees in Quebec.
The resolution, which demanded Mr. McDermott’'s resignation because he and other members of the CLC executive council refused to support the striking postal workers when they defied Parliament’s back-to-work legislation in October, 1978, still is reverberating through the labor movement.
It has created a vast gulf between the congress and CUPE, and has led to bad blood between the aggressive Mr. McDermott and soft-spoken Grace Hartman, president of CUPE.
To Mr. McDermott, who was elected two years ago as leader of the 2.3-millon-member CLC, the resolution is the work of an ultra-left group that played on the emotions of other CUPE delegates without opposition from the union’s leaders.
He sees a direct link between what happened at the convention and the contents of a yellow-covered booklet bearing the slogan, Manifesto for the Labor Movement. Dump McDermott. Dump the bourgeois policy in trade unions! The manifesto is from the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada In Struggle.
Normally, literature of that nature would be dismissed by the labor establishment as the work of what it describes as the lunatic left.
But after the battering he received at the CUPE convention, Mr. McDermott is dead serious about the threat he sees to the trade union movement from the ultra left.
The battle was refought only a week ago in a contest for the presidency of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, he says. The rhetoric of the booklet was used by the left in close but unsuccessful bid to defeat Nadine Hunt, a CUPE member and staunch supporter of the New Democratic Party who was backed by the CLC establishment.
The fight with the new and revolutionary left will develop time and again in other places unless union leaders stand up and challenge this theme, Mr McDermott warns.
The demand for Mr McDermott’s resignation came from CUPE’s second largest local, the Montreal municipal workers, and it so soured relations between the CLC and CUPE that carried to its ultimate end the feud could lead to CUPE’s withdrawal from the congress.
There already are mutterings along those lines within CUPE because of what Mrs. Hartman regards as an unfair personal attacks by Mr. McDermott against CUPE and its leaders.
However, she says, she would oppose a break with the Congress. She says she wants to put the incident behind her and get on with the job of organizing workers in nursing homes and fighting government cutbacks.
Mr. McDermott, however is not inclined to forgive or forget. It’s sheer hypocrisy, he says, when CUPE leaders feel it is fine to criticize him but unfair for him to respond in kind.
The Marxist-Leninists are accommodated in CUPE and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, he says, and they will take the CUPE convention decision as a green light to continue their campaign.
So he is declaring war on them. “Otherwise, they will destroy the labor movement and the country, if they have their way.”
Mr. McDermott minces no words about CUPE’s leadership. Of Mrs. Hartman, he says: “She has demonstrated time and again that she’s a light weight.”
Not the sort of language on usually hears from the leader of national labor body about the head of an affiliate, but then Mr. McDermott has never had a reputation for pulling punches.
He is fighting mad, he says, because the CUPE leaders didn’t explain at the convention that the decision to reject support for defiance of the back-to-work legislation was made by the full executive council with the exception of Mrs. Hartman, who was away on vacation.
Where was the CUPE leadership when the resolution to damm him came to the floor? he asks.
Mrs. Hartman says the resolutions committee voted non-concurrance in the motion calling for Mr. McDermott’s resignation because the CUPE convention was not the place for it, but the delegates overruled the committee.
She says the delegates have a right to their own views.
Mr. McDermott doesn’t understand the makeup and frustrations of the public sector employees, Mrs. Hartman says.
CUPE probably has the most diverse membership of any CLC affiliate, ranging from the traditional blue-collar workers who haul garbage to to university professors.
It’s not unusual that in so diverse a group there would be some from the far left just as there are in other unions, Mrs. Hartman says, but the resolution concerning Mr. McDermott was only one of several hundred. In no way did the ultra left control the convention.
Will there be a war now against the ideology of the left in CUPE? Perhaps, in Ontario at least.
On Saturday, at a conference of CUPE municipal locals in London, Ont, Lucy Nicholson, CUPE’s Ontario president and one of five national vice-presidenats, lashed out at the left wingers in her union.
She said that many at the CUPE convention were appalled by the “tactic of a visible and vocal minority of delegates.
“I’m concerned that these tactics are used to destroy rather than build as from within... We appear to allow this minority, to manipulate the great majority. Manipulate and use is, for their own devious means... They use tactics veiled in democratic action, but in reality they are dedicated opponents of the democratic process.” But she also said that “Dennis (McDermott) has made some dreadful statements about CUPE.”
The attack on the left by Mrs. Nicholson does not mollify Mr. McDermott, nor does Mrs. Hartman’s statement that she has no sympathy “or trade or truck with that group.”
He wants to know why they didn’t stand up to the attack against him.
Mrs. Hartman says that “Dennis should consider the action of the CUPE delegates as an indication that one union isn’t satisfied with his leadership. He should he asking what he’s done wrong and not get so excited.”
She says that “he doesn’t want to talk to us. He just wants to shoot from the hip.”
While Mrs. Hartman defends the right of delegates to their views. Mr. McDermott says he does not accept her “weak-kneed excuses and rationale of how the lunatics took over.”
To Mr. McDermott it’s a matter of leadership. As he sees it there is none in CUPE when it comes to making decisions that may offend some within the union.
He says the unions are back to the early 1940s when they had to fight the traditional Communist party, a political force regarded as conservative and bourgeois by the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada.
“If these people are on the march, we are going to have to put them to death,” Mr. McDermott says.
The next battle probably will be fought later this month at a convention of the Ontario Federation of Labor, but Mr. McDermott will be out of the country at a gathering of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Madrid.
Mr. McDermott says that a special meeting of the heads of the CLC affiliates will be held in December, and the fight against the left will be discussed.
* * *
What is the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada In Struggle that has so aroused Dennis McDermott, president of the Canadian Labor Congress?
First, it is dedicated to a proletarian party in Canada “that should not be mixed up with just any other workers’ Party.”
The organization has contempt not only for the traditional Communist Party of Canada, but also for “ the conciliatory attitudes, to put it mildly, or the leftwing sweet-talkers of the CP (Communist Party of Canada), the Trotskyists, the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and the Canadian Communist League.”
The Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada sees these groups as collaborators with the establishment which dress up their ultimate aim in radical rhetoric.
One of the biggest sins of these parties is that they “tell us we should continue to support the New Democratic Party, that we should give it some left-wing allies and force it to ’move left.’ ”
The labor bureaucrats also “lick the PQ’s (Parti Quebecois) boots” in Quebec, the organization belives.