Thursday, 28 April 2011

What is a Trade Unionist? By M. A. (Tex) Hughes

Years ago, attended the retirement event for a long-time CUPE activist.  Paul Moist, CUPE's National President, spoke and included excerpts from the following.  He'd cited the author and I Googled ferociously trying to find a copy. No luck.  After a few emails were exchanged, Brother Moist provided me with a scan of the original document.  It was a single page, no idea what the publication was or when it was printed by CUPE Local 1326 (though it appears to have been some time ago) and the gender was primarily masculine.

To update it, I made it gender neutral, but the rest remains intact, as written, including the odd (to me) mixture of American and Canadian spellings.  Now, when someone asks you what a trade unionist is, you can send them here.  Be warned:  He sets the bar very, very high.  It is something for activists to strive for.

On the occasion of his retirement, after some thirty-eight years as a union member, union officer, representative of the National Union of Public Employees, and later the Canadian Union of Public Employees and a regional director, Brother M. A. (Tex) Hughes gave this reply when asked the simple question,

In my opinion, a Trade Unionist is a person who has dedicated his or her life to the task of fighting for the betterment of all workers.  To such a person, an injury to one is an injury to all.  A gain for one is a gain for all and justice for one leads to a better chance for all to receive justice.

Trade Unionists are prepared to fight for themselves, but to fight longer and harder for others.  They are willing to contribute time, effort and money to advance the cause of the labour movement, and to do so without counting the cost.

There are no 9 to 5 Trade Unionists.  Days off, weekends and evenings away from family is a price they are prepared to pay.

The question posed by President Kennedy could have been, "Ask not what your union can do for you.  Ask, rather, what you can do for your union."  A real Unionist does not have to be persuaded to stand for union office or to accept committee work or become a Shop Steward.  And they do not ask to be paid for performing such work.  They do not use their union position to advance their career.  They will refuse to accept a promotion or an appointment if it means selling out to management or compromising their trade union principles.

The Unionist knows that sacrifices must be made if they are to live up to those union principles.  They are ready to pay that price, even if it costs their job, their chances for promotion, their popularity, the goodwill of their bosses or the support of less dedicated fellow workers.

No Trade Unionist will ever cross a picket line under any circumstances.  A picket line is sacred, whether it is legal or illegal, whether it is set up by their union, another union, a non-union organization or even a rival organization.

No unionist will ever go back to work while anyone in their union is still on strike, even if half of the other members crawl back; they will stay out until the strike is called off by a majority vote of the members.  Not even if they voted against the strike in the first place, will they sell out their fellow members.  They may lose their car, their home, their livelihood, but they will not scab.

The real Unionist will not allow personalities to dictate their actions.  They may dislike certain members or officers but will not allow this to prevent their working with them for the good of the union or from fighting for them if they need help.  They will not criticize or condemn their union or its officers in public, but rather work from within to correct the situation.  They will never disclose information that should remain within the membership.

The Unionist knows that any union is only as strong as its members and that each member must work to keep the union strong.  They cannot sit back and let others do it for them.  The member who refuses to act, who expects the executive, the representative, the National, or other members to carry the load is no trade unionist.  Real Trade Unionists do all that is required of them, then look around to see what more they can do.

The Trade Unionist knows that the labour movement was born out of desperation and frustration, in times when workers had no rights whatsoever; when it was a punishable crime to even meet with another worker to discuss wages or working conditions.  They know that earlier Unionists gave their lives -- even here in Canada -- to gain some rights for the workers.

They know that every right they now enjoy, every protective article in their collective agreement, every piece of labour legislation was obtained for them by dedicated Unionists, through untold effort and great sacrifice.  They know that others before them made those sacrifices, were fired from their jobs, black-listed for life, beaten up by company goons, ridden down by armed troops, imprisoned, deported and even killed.  Everything they now take for granted was paid for by others.  Because they know, they can never forget the debt which can never be repaid.

Real Trade Unionists will never be satisfied that everything possible has been accomplished, but if, on their deathbed, they can say, "I leave this world a somewhat better place for my fellow workers and part of that improvement was due to my small contribution," they can die in contentment.  There are many more union members than there are Trade Unionists.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sometimes when you're Left, you're left - Honourary Life 2010 Speech

I love to write and deliver speeches.

Few will admit to that, but I'm a fan of truth, so there it is. How can one not love the opportunity to engage and educate a captive audience?

This speech was delivered to the 2010 Honourary Life Membership of CUPE Local 500 at the annual dinner held on Friday, October 29.  I struggled to write it, to acknowledge that sometimes, despite our best efforts, the end result of years of hard work is more of the same.

Our local had worked very hard for 4 years with affiliated groups and the community in order to change the balance of power of our civic government in the October 27 election.  When the dust settled, the numbers remained essentially unchanged. It was a daunting task to address this setback to a roomful of labour activists, but I couldn't let it be the elephant in the room.

After the dinner, people asked for copies.  That never happened to me before and it's a lovely feeling to be validated.

I hope you enjoy this as much as they did.

Truthfully, I didn't want to be here tonight.  Wednesday night's results hurt -- deeply and personally.  It was a rejection of our most cherished beliefs and principles and it's hard to celebrate years of service and dedication when it feels like that hard work has had little or no impact on the fabric of our city today.

Throughout my life, I've often been accused of being a starry-eyed optimist for believing there are better angels in all of us who see the value of investing in a city for its citizens, rather than selling it off to benefit a select few.

Wednesday night was a solid punch to the stomach and it hurt.

Essentially, it seemed that fear of a left-wing invasion secured a right-wing majority.

It's frustrating.  It's heartbreaking.  It's enough to make you want to kick the dirt from your shoes and walk away.

It's a rejection of the sacrifices of the people who shut this city down 91 years ago in a general strike because they knew what so many have forgotten:  That policies and practices which seek to serve the many will create a stronger city than those which serve the few.

Unfounded, unreasonable fear has always been our enemy.

In Saskatchewan, in 1962, the province's doctors went on a 3-week strike to protest Canada's first government health insurance plan, fearing government control of their livelihood.

Most citizens supported the doctors, fearing loss of access to medical care and believing in the concerns of the 'experts' -- those doctors.

Brother Tommy Douglas, who had faithfully served the people of Saskatchewan for 18 years, had stepped down as Premier to run federally as the first NDP leader.

Two weeks before the start date of the provincial health care plan, he was defeated.  Two years later, the CCF-NDP, which Brother Tommy had lead through 4 consecutive governments, was utterly rejected by the voters.

That had to hurt.  Must have been frustrating, especially since within 10 years, every province had a publicly funded health insurance plan.

How did he find the strength to endure?

In the face of relentless opposition that is gaining strength and credibility and threatens the social fabric of our lives, how do WE find the strength to endure?

Because every labour activist wants to leave this world a better place than we found it.

We endure because the labour movement was born out of the desperation and frustration of people with no rights at all -- when seeking the most basic rights could lead to imprisonment, black-listing, beatings, deportation and even death.

We endure because the rights we enjoy today were not given to us -- we had to fight for each and every one of them; and since they were not freely and easily given, we fight to maintain them.

It's what we do.

At last year's Honourary Life dinner, I spoke of our city being at a crossroads.  On Wednesday, we were placed firmly on a path chosen largely out of fear and ignorance, by no one in this room.

Our fight continues.

Next year is our provincial election, and we now have a pretty good idea of what that could look like if we don't keep fighting.

We are also fighting on-going battles for our pensions and our water -- and attacks to our health care take on a new dimension when you realise that the existing federal-provincial health care agreement - which was negotiated under the Liberals during a time of federal surpluses - will expire in 2014.

Our dream of a better life for all, our fidelity to our values and our faith in better angels must endure.

We must meet their fear with our strength.

Tonight, we honour those who began the fight and sacrificed so much for us.  We honour you, who continued their struggle and we honour the continuing efforts of those who join your ranks this night.

We honour the fighters and gather together in celebration and remembrance, drawing strength from one another before setting out to battle once more, knowing that if we rise each time we fall, we cannot be defeated.

On a side note, I had the singular honour of being the Chair of the Honourary Life Committee for two years.  It was in that capacity that I took the opportunity to speechify.  As of last Fall, I became persona non grata in my Local, so any official speechifying is on indefinite hold.  This blog is now my podium.  I address the masses.  Less captive, but more democratic.

Welcome - The 5 Dubyas

Who:  Sallie Caufield
What:  Opinions and some junk
When:  Whenever I have to scratch an itch
Where:  Winnipeg
1.  The Title:  I'm a member of CUPE.  So, why isn't the title "CUPE Doll"? There are enough CUPE blogs out there for affiliated locals; this ain't one of them.  I am a member, but my opinions do not necessarily toe the party line.  I believe in solidarity, but I am old school with an idealised notion of what that means.  My definition of unionism, solidarity and all those lovely labour movement buzz words tends to the old-fashioned,original grassroots trade unionism variety.

Somewhere out there, a "CUPE Doll" already exists.  She doesn't have a blog, but she may one day.  Unfortunately, when I searched for a blogger address, "qpdoll" was taken.  So, I defaulted.  Sorry, CUPE Doll, whoever you are.

Since I am a fan of Latin,QP has remarkable potential.  

For the "Q":  "Quid" (this); "Quasi" (as if, just as); "Quod" (but, now, because, whereas).

For "P": "Puto" (to clear, consider, think, believe, suppose, judge); "Presto" (perform, display, fulfill, offer, present); "Perdo" (ruin, waste); "Pendo" (value, consider, judge, esteem); "Proficio" (assist, help, aid).

So, at any point in time, the QP may stand for Quid Perdo or Quod Pendo or Quasi Puto or any other combination.  Labels are open to interpretation and change in nearly every context, including this one.

2.  The Blog:  Years ago, I attended a series of weekend workshops on Women in the Union.  Basically, where the heck were they all?  Women make up a huge percentage of CUPE, but are under-represented at higher levels.  CUPE National created a task force to investigate and make recommendations.

I didn't feel it applied to me.  I didn't feel marginalised or excluded and counted myself lucky to be surrounded by labour brothers who seemed immune to such nonsense.  They supported and encouraged my efforts and I shunned the notion that this could ever change.  "Old Boys Club"?  Pffft!

I was wrong, of course.  Interpersonal dynamics in a political environment can change on a dime; blocs form and close ranks without warning.  That is the nature of the beast. 

Men lead differently from women.  They process and react to threats differently, too.  There are exceptions, of course, but they are far more rare than I'd imagined.

In any political situation, women are often encouraged to "act like a man", but when we do, we may find ourselves suddenly outcast.  Men may say they like a strong woman or want you to act as they do, but a step too far into their world may constitute an unintended threat; or you may have given a strong, honest, differing opinion when it wasn't what tHEy wanted to hear; or perhaps you expected fair and equitable treatment across the board at precisely the wrong moment.

Whatever the case, suddenly the phrase "she brought it on herself" is applied to questions about your sudden disappearance from the Table and you may as well tie a bell around your neck to warn others to stay away, because they will do all they can to keep you and yours out of active participation despite your years of service to the cause.

Yes, it's wrong and it is counter to all the union movement stands for, but like any system of beliefs, those who pay lip service outnumber those who do not.  This is not unique to human experience, alas.

But I DO believe.

When abuses by priests started coming to light, I didn't stop being a Catholic -- my faith wasn't in the priests or even the Church itself, but in the Catholic interpretation of God. (Generally speaking, of course.  My mother and I have many lively discussions about my being too tolerant, but that's another post.  Perhaps.)

Just as my faith in God was not altered by the actions of representatives, my faith in the labour movement has not been altered.  The speed bumps may have slowed me down, but I'm still moving forward.

Before I was cast out, I did not blog.  When you are an active participant in a group, consensus is necessary.  I held my tongue more often than I am proud of in order to present a unified front for the good of the membership. I allowed the continuation of practices I did not agree with in the interests of maintaining a strong leadership to serve the greatest needs.

Unfettered now, I can state my beliefs and opinions openly.  When you are voted off the island, they no longer control you.

This is my island.  I have the talking stick, tho' I am willing to share.

Discover hope, all ye who enter here.