Why is the Canadian Labour Congress lobbying for a wealthy capitalist and former Liberal cabinet minister to head an international organization of rich countries?
The CLC recently released a joint statement with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce endorsing Bill Morneau, the former Liberal finance minister’s bid to lead the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a forum of 36 wealthy countries. Spurred by the current head of the CLC, the endorsement also highlights the labour federation’s sad alignment with the government and corporate Canada on the world stage.
CLC head Hassan Yussuf followed last week’s statement up with a video from Parliament Hill promoting Morneau.
A growing number of CLC affiliates and others within the union movement have criticized the endorsement. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Steelworkers and others have put out statements or tweets criticizing Yussuf/CLC. Their criticism has focused on the Liberals’ anti-labour measures domestically and the former Bay Street CEO’s bid to rip up pensions. None appear to have criticized the Liberals pro-rich people position towards some useful OECD initiatives. The Liberals have shown little interest in the OECD’s work to curtail ‘transfer pricing’ and other forms of corporate tax avoidance that drains huge sums from the Global South. They don’t, for instance, appear to have engaged with the OECD’s Inclusive Framework “new practice notes” for countries dealing with tax avoidance/evasion in the mining industry.
Yussuf became the head of the CLC with the backing of the country’s largest private sector union Unifor, which is aligned with the Liberals and no longer part of the CLC. A month before last year’s federal election Unifor invited foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to address their convention. The Freeland invitation demonstrated the union’s indifference to her staunchly pro-corporate and pro-US policies that have been bad for workers around the world, as I detailed in “Unifor aligns with Liberal foreign policy instead of international solidarity”.
But, the CLC/Yussuf endorsement of Morneau shouldn’t be explained as simply the action of a lame duck, Liberal inclined, CLC president seeking a Senate appointment. It also reflects the CLC’s long-standing alignment with Canadian foreign policy.
The CLC has worked with various establishment foreign policy organizations such as Cooperation Canada, Parliamentary Centre for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and Canadian International Council. While generally on the liberal end of the international affairs discussion, these groups often depend heavily on Ottawa.
The CLC itself has received substantial international aid since its creation in 1956. The CLC’s international affairs department expanded substantially due to government funding. By 1983 six out of nine CLC international affairs positions were funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and in the early 1990s CIDA covered two thirds of all CLC international staff and project costs. When the Harper government cut CIDA funding to the CLC they had to lay off most of the staff in their international department.
Federal funding has greatly shaped Congress international operations. A CIDA-commissioned evaluation of the CLC’s International Affairs Department in 1988 noted, “the current core program is as much a response to the availability of CIDA funding and to CIDA funding categories as it is to the CLC’s perception of the needs of trade unions in developing countries.” The Congress all but admitted as much on a number of occasions. In 2012 CLC International Program Administrator Monique Charron highlighted how the labour federation shaped its policies to acquire government funding: “Alignment with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)’s pro-poor growth strategy has been an enormous challenge for the LIDP [Labour International Development Program] of late, in particular as the program attempts to position itself for future CIDA funding.”
Along with ties to the aid agency, union officialdom has collaborated with External Affairs. In a 1982 article on “Canadian Trade Unions and Palestine” Mordecai Briemberg referred to “the intimate linkages and interchanges between IAD [International Affairs Department] and External Affairs.” In the post-World War II years, explains John Price, labour leaders “developed close ties with the Canadian government and to some extent became an appendage of state foreign policy. … [Union leaders] Millard, Conroy and Mosher were all willing to collaborate with the Canadian government in the same fashion that the AFL [American Federation of Labour] was collaborating with the CIA and U.S. State Department.” When first CLC President Claude Jodoin and international affairs director Kalmen Kaplansky met new external minister Sidney Smith in 1957 they called for the “establishment of personal contact between our International Affairs Department and heads of division in [the] External Affairs department.”
(I detail many of these “contacts” over the years in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada as well as anti-worker CLC positions such as backing for NATO, support for the Bay of Pigs invasion, endorsement of Canada’s role in the UN’s destruction of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, a bid to prevent pro-Sandinista union representatives from coming to Canada, projects that isolated anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, etc.)
A 1980 CLC executive council report noted that the deputy director of the international affairs department, Bruce Gillies, was “on secondment to the CLC from the Department of External Affairs of Canada.” The CLC Director of International Affairs at the time, John Harker, worked previously as Executive Director of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, which represents Canada’s diplomats. After a decade at the CLC, Harker would oversee a number of foreign affairs-initiated projects. CLC Development Education Animator and Project Officer for Asia in the 1980s, Alan Amey previously worked at CIDA. An External Affairs employee based at the Canadian Embassy in Santiago, Chile, in the mid 1970s, Rick Jackson, later became a CLC Development Education Officer and Project Officer for Latin America.
Other labour leaders were appointed to government posts after leaving the CLC. After a decade as international affairs director Kaplansky was appointed head of the Canadian branch of the ILO and the Congress’ international director in the early 1970s, Romeo Maione, was made head of CIDA’s NGO section. For his part, CLC president during the mid-1980s Dennis McDermott was appointed ambassador to Ireland.
The CLC/Yussuf’s endorsement of Morneau to lead the OECD is odious. But, it’s not the first time the CLC has aligned with the government and corporate Canada on international affairs. Perhaps it is time for CLC members to demand foreign policy positions that support the interests of workers around the world, rather than simply align with the Canadian government.