The working class
Can kiss my ass
I’ve got the
Senate seat at last
By Doug Nesbitt
Within days of stepping down as Canadian Labour Congress president, Hassan Yussuff was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Rankandfile.ca readers will not be surprised or shocked. Yussuff’s love-in with the Liberals has been no secret.
Last year Yussuff endorsed Bill Morneau, Trudeau’s disgraced Bay Street Finance Minister, in his bid for secretary general of the OECD, an international body committed to corporate free trade. Many CLC affiliate unions (CUPW, Steel, UFCW, CUPE, etc) were up in arms because Yussuff made his CLC endorsement without consultation.
A few years ago, Yussuff oversaw the first CLC Young Workers Conference. The surprise guest was Justin Trudeau. Many young workers turned their backs on the forked tongue Prime Minister. They were right to do so. In addition to showing his contempt for workers with precarious employment, Trudeau continues the 70-year tradition of Liberal governments ramming through strikebreaking “back-to-work” legislation, including against postal workers in 2018 and most recently Montreal’s port workers this past April.
More recently, Yussuff co-authored an opinion piece with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce defending the deliberately misnamed Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program. Yussuff and his business lobby partners misrepresented CEWS as a jobs-saving initiative, but this scheme is a payroll subsidy rather than a wage subsidy for workers. There is in fact no job guarantees attached to the CEWS program.
Most damning in Yussuff’s defense of CEWS was his failure to say anything about the program being used by union-busting companies:
- Workers at CESSCO in Edmonton have been locked out since June 2020 while the company has received CEWS “wage subsidies” for hiring scabs.
- Stella’s Café in Winnipeg received CEWS while it closed down one of its most popular stores in November 2020 to break a union recently formed by young workers in the wake of sexual assaults by management.
- In Bracebridge, Ontario, CEWS is being collected by multinational Fenner Dunlop which has locked out its workers since February 2021. The company is demanding concessions, including stripping paid sick days.
- During the 2019-2020 lockout of Co-op Refinery workers in Regina, the parent company Federated Co-operatives Limited and several contractors hired during the lockout were collecting CEWS. FCL claims it is not using the CEWS for scabs.
Yussuff is not alone among senior union leaders in supporting the corrupt CEWS program which continues to finance scab wages, executive bonuses, and shareholder dividends.
Unifor’s National President Jerry Dias and the Canadian directors of UFCW, Paul Meneima and United Steelworkers, Ken Neumann were signatories to the infamous March 27 2020 letter to Trudeau demanding a 75% “wage” subsidy for business. The letter was spearheaded by Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal NDP, and also included the signature of Dan Kelly, CEO of the anti-union propaganda outfit, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
The CEWS program was implemented shortly afterward and since then, over $100 billion in so-called “wage subsidies” have flowed into corporate coffers with virtually no regulations or job guarantees or access restrictions such as cash reserves or profits.
There are even cases of companies experiencing the smallest decline in revenues (not profits!), and thus qualifying for much larger government handouts. For example, according to an investigative series in the Globe & Mail, the software company Lightspeed POS lost $100,000 in revenues and then received $7.26 million in payroll subsidies.
This legalized corporate theft and publicly-financed union-busting has not deterred the enthusiastic support for CEWS on the part of Yussuff or many other senior union leaders. There are too few examples like that of Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, who publicly resigned from the Provincial Economic Recovery Team because of its anti-worker agenda.
To their credit, Unifor has since called upon the federal Liberals to close the “scab loophole”, but a strongly-worded letter is as far as labour has pushed on this front. Unifor, it is worth recalling, exited the CLC in January 2018 under a storm of controversy after raiding the Toronto transit workers union ATU Local 113. As CLC president and a member of Unifor, Yussuff originally allowed the Unifor raid on Local 113 until a backlash of CLC affiliates forced him to back down. Then Yussuff and his team tried to cover their tracks with a shoddy report on the whole shameful affair.
After Unifor left CLC, Yussuff was generously handed a PSAC membership so he could stay on as CLC President. Meanwhile, thousands of solid Unifor activists lost all standing in CLC labour councils.
The self-serving personal advancement of union leaders is nothing new. When the other side has all the gold, there will inevitably be people switching sides when it suits them. Scabs tell themselves they are stealing jobs for the right reasons, just as Yussuff must be telling himself he can make a difference in the unelected Senate. There is a long history of top-level union leaders graduating to elite political careers and serving corporate-allied governments.
The Senate is a fitting place for Yussuff. It was deliberately designed by the Fathers of Confederation to kneecap popular democracy if it ever expressed itself through the House of Commons. This was a central goal of George Brown, a key architect of Confederation, founder of the Liberal Party, and the Globe newspaper owner who would use the police to arrest all the leaders of the 1872 Toronto Printers’ Strike.
When it comes to electing union leaders, we should learn some valuable lessons from Yussuff’s presidential election victory in 2014. While putting on a progressive face, Yussuff cut a deal with a principled candidate Hassan Husseini, to remove the lousy CLC President Ken Georgetti. Husseini’s campaign had a solid program of reinvesting in real organizing, developing an independent labour agenda, and focusing on building up rank-and-file power to confront the austerity agenda. However, Husseini’s inspired campaign, “Take Back CLC”, required more organization and time to build a durable base.
The political corruption of union leaders like Yussuff predominates because of a lack of solid rank-and-file organization at all levels of the union movement. In the absence of organized opposition built through campaigns against employer and government assaults, 11th-hour convention challenges to corrupt conservative union leaders by principled trade unionists will continue to fail. Until this changes, it will be very easy for phonies like Yussuff to strike a progressive posture for leadership elections and then immediately abandon their promises.