First Published: In Struggle! No. 180, November 13, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Editor’s note: This text is being sent to many unions across Canada in the form of an open letter. Its aim is to examine the situation in the labour movement following McDermott’s latest attacks against the delegates who passed a resolution calling for his resignation at CUPE’s last convention.
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The unity and the strength of the entire labour movement is in danger. We must act now.
Most of you are probably already aware of the attacks of the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Dennis McDermott, against one of its biggest members, the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
At the CUPE convention last October, over 1,006 delegates passed a motion condemning the anti-labour actions of the CLC leadership, and in particular their refusal to support the postal workers’ struggle. The motion reaffirmed CUPE’s support for the postal workers and demanded that the CLC take up its only legitimate role – demanding and defending the rights and interests of Canadian workers and supporting the struggles of affiliated unions. The motion also called for McDermott’s resignation and demanded that the CLC never again come out publicly against a pressure tactic used by one of its affiliates. Finally, the motion called for the resignation of any other CLC officer who went against the resolution in the future.
This position was a bombshell at CLC headquarters. Shortly afterwards, McDermott lashed out at CUPE and its leadership. Then he claimed that the convention had been manipulated from one end to other by a communist group, the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada IN STRUGGLE! which had distributed a manifesto called Dump McDermott! Dump the bourgeois policy in trade unions! at the convention.
Next, the CLC chieftan announced a special meeting for December for leaders of CLC-affiliated unions to discuss how to fight the left. In the same breath, he pointed out: “If these people are on the march, we are going to have to put them to death.”
What, in fact, took place at the CUPE convention?
The resolution, which received nearly unanimous support even though the resolutions committee had recommended that it be rejected, was moved by the union of municipal blue collar workers in Montreal. And, as the CUPE president pointed out, it was but one of many resolutions proposed by locals that criticized the CLC actions...
As for the manifesto of the Marxist-Leninist Organization (the “little yellow book”), 306 copies were distributed outside of the convention. Many delegates did indeed show an interest in the manifesto. Why? Because it corresponded to their own view of McDermott’s betrayal, because it told the truth about the anti-labour actions of the CLC leadership, because it dared to say openly what is good and what is bad for the labour movement’s struogle.
To speak of manipulation in such a context is out and out dishonesty. It shows only contempt for the delegates at the CUPE convention and for their ability to make clear decisions on problems concerning them. McDermott is mad becaus his positions and his leadership were rejected by the delegates. He’s also exasperated because his position on the labour movement’s complete and unconditional support to the NDP is being increasingly questioned. A growing number of workers across the country are rejecting the “ballot-box solution” for the NDP or any other bourgeois party as the ultimate solution to their problems. The CUPE delegates proved this concretely when they rejected the resolution committee’s recommendation that they pledge financial and organizational support to the NPD.
All that brings up the following questions: What is the real reason behind all these attacks against the CUPE convention? What is the aim of this frame-up against a communist organization, a frame-up so reminiscent of the witch hunts of the forties? What does the CLC really have in mind when it speaks of organizing a special meeting to discuss the fight against the left? When McDermott speaks of the “left”, is he speaking only of IN STRUGGLE!, only of communists?
We think that what is at the bottom of the affair is that McDermott and his buddies have decided to break the current of opposition that has been getting more active in the labour movement in Canada and in the CLC. This current of opposition is made up of unions, workers, and political organizations who reject the policies of capitulation and betrayal that still dominate the labour movement, and the CLC in particular. This current of opposition to the present direction of the labour movement sees struggle and unity of the entire labour movement as the only way to fight repressive laws which are raining down on both public and private sector unions, as the only way to fight against the anti-labour policies of all the governments in power at the federal, provincial. and local levels. Struggle and unity are the only effective ways to fight systematic policies of cutbacks in Unemployment Insurance and in social services and all the other policies designed only to serve private enterprise and Capital.
We must not be suckered by this manoeuvre. The CLC does not want only, or even principally, to smash communist groups and organizations. Its real goal is to “put to death” (to use McDermott’s words) the opposition to his policies within the labour movement. McDermott’s attacks, under the cover of the fight against the “left”, against communists, is in fact an attack against all workers and unions who dare stand up, who dare to fight for their rights and their demands. In the forties, the leaders of the CCL took special measures against unions that they thought to be too militant.Among these unions, there were some where communists did in fact play an active role: In certain cases, unions had even been set up by communists to defend the workers’ rights and demands.
In the meetings leading up to the national convention, the leadership of the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) had manoeuvred to ensure that some unions would be simply expelled, while others would be put under trusteeship. They had also made sure that none of the representatives of the opposition could be a delegate or even present at the convention. This was designed to make the convention easier to manipulate (which is precisely what happened). That is how gangsters like Hal Banks and the union bosses were able to impose their dictatorship over the labour movement and weaken it.
It might very well happen again this year. The result could be a serious split in the labour movement between the public and private sectors engineered by the expulsion of CUPE and CUPW and perhaps others from the CLC. Another possible scenario is that the CLC leadership will agree to keep these unions in if their leaderships promise to “clean out” the “undesirable elements” from their ranks. That is what lies behind McDermott’s attacks. No union or worker who cares about the future of the labour movement can remain passive and let this kind of thing go unchallenged. It is all the more imperative to do something because this is all happening at a time when the labour movement is being viciously attacked from all sides. Now more than ever is a time when we need to maximize our unity and our fighting strength.
What can be done against McDermott’s attack that aims to smash unions and combative workers, and the danger of a split in the labour movement? The main thing is to work to unite workers, especially to build strong links between the public and private sectors. Such unity will not be built just through words and declarations. Specific actions speak much louder. That means giving one another mutual support in the fight for basic demands and fundamental rights like the right to strike. The right to strike is constantly under the gun in both the public and private sectors.
Unity will not be built as long as we keep our mouths shut when people like McDermott open theirs to launch attacks on other workers; unity will not grow if it is considered automatically illegitimate for a majority of convention delegates to criticize some union leaders for actions that go against the interests of the workers movement; unity will not be accomplished if we allow in the labour movement those traitors who hide behind a smokescreen of anti-communism in order to prevent unity and who are trying to subject the labour movement to the control of governments with anti-working class policies. One might fairly ask what it is that has got McDermott so worked up about Marxist-Leninists, about communists. Could it be that we are calling upon the working class to take up the struggle to put an end to capitalist exploitation? Could it be that we openly condemn all those who support the bosses within the labour movement? It is people like McDermott who are trying to destroy the workers movement, not us!
Specifically, here is what most needs to be done right now:
First, McDermott’s attacks on CUPE and its leadership must be condemned clearly and openly in public statements and by voting resolutions in union meetings.
Second, McDermott and the CLC leadership must be called up on the carpet to publicly explain the actions they have taken since the last CLC convention on the postal workers struggle, tripartism, defence of the right to strike, unemployment, etc. etc.
Third, we must do whatever is necessary to avoid another “witch-hunt” like the one in the forties. The special meeting of the CLC called for in December must not be permitted to get away with launching a campaign that aims at nothing less than smashing all those unions and workers who want to fight the bosses and their State.
We have already made our point of view known on this whole affair in various ways, including the publication of this open letter. We are ready to debate with Mr. McDermott publicly at any time in any place on the issue of the attacks he has made against us. We fully intend to step up the distribution of the Manifesto because it tells the truth. It is up to the workers of this country to be the judge of the validity of its contents.
Finally, we will continue to open the pages of our weekly newspaper to all those individuals or organizations who want to state their views on McDermott’s most recent attack on the workers movement.
For the unity of off the workers of Canada
The Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada IN STRUGGLE!