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CLC's Yussuff acted alone in controversial endorsement of Morneau for OECD role

by David Gray-Donald

CLC President Hassan Yussuff speaking at an OECD meeting in 2018. Photo: "OECD Forum 2018 - Session: Reskilling: How Difficult Is It?" by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Develop is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/
CLC President Hassan Yussuff speaking at an OECD meeting in 2018. Photo: "OECD Forum 2018 - Session: Reskilling: How Difficult Is It?" by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Develop is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

On October 30th, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), which represents 3.3 million workers through affiliated unions, released a joint statement with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce endorsing former Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau for the role of secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Many unions and union leaders quickly denounced the endorsement.  Morneau, who has pushed back-to-work legislation and attacked pensions, is widely seen as an enemy of workers. He left the government in disgrace following the WE scandal revelations, specifically when it came to light that he made an "error" and forgot to pay over $40,000 to the WE Charity for a family trip to Kenya while Finance Minister.

The OECD started in 1961 as an organization of rich European and North American countries, and has expanded slightly since then. The OECD puts forward market-based policies and works to get those adopted around the world, often including harsh austerity measures meant to encourage business at the expense of the working class.

The backlash

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers, who Morneau's government legislated back to work in 2018 through  legislation similar to some that was  ruled illegal by the Supreme Court of Canada in the past, released a statement days later on November 3rd. "In our view Mr. Morneau’s actions as Finance Minister demonstrated that he is exactly the wrong type of person to head any important international organization."

"Mr. Morneau supported denying postal workers our basic democratic and constitutional right to collective bargaining in November 2018. He also was the architect of Bill C-27, an attack on the pensions of workers in the Federal sector. This legislation was opposed by the entire labour movement and many organizations representing seniors and pensioners. In a letter to Mr. Morneau, the Canadian labour Congress described the legislation as 'an unconscionable betrayal of the legal rights and protections of plan members.'"

“CUPW also objects to the CLC partnering with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to make this joint statement. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has a long history of supporting reactionary anti-worker legislation and opposing progressive measures advocated by the labour movement and our true allies.”

CUPW National President Jan Simpson tells the Media Co-op by email that since the original statement, "CLC President, Hassan Yussuff has stated, to CUPW and to the CLC's Canadian Council, that he did not consult with the CLC Executive before making his statement, but he continues to stand by it."

"CLC Executive members Marie Clarke-Walker and Donald Lafleur, who is a postal worker and CUPW member, have both condemned Mr. Yussuff’s statement and his circumvention of the Executive."

Mark Hancock, President of the nation's largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), posted a rejection of the endorsement on social media, and wrote, "Neither CUPE nor I were consulted on this." He continued, "I have spoken with Brother Hassan Yussuff and registered my concern and disapproval of this endorsement."

The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) released a statement titled "CLC Morneau endorsement shows absolute contempt for workers, says UFCW Canada leader" on November 3rd. Several other unions and district labour councils released similar statements. Canada's largest private-sector union, Unifor, disaffiliated from the CLC in 2018 and has been friendly with the federal Liberals. It did not publish a statement either about Morneau's candidacy or the CLC endorsement. Yussuff was a Unifor member until Unifor disaffiliated.

The Media Co-op asked the CLC if they would rescind the endorsement. The CLC did not respond with comment.

CLC president chummy with Liberals

The day after the initial CLC statement, former Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president Sid Ryan took to Facebook to denounce the endorsement, and to draw attention to CLC President Hassan Yussuff's record.

"In May 2020, Yussuff was about to be forced into retirement under the rules of the CLC constitution but was granted a six month extension due to the Covid pandemic. In November the six month extension comes to an end and not a day too soon. I don't want to rehash his lack of leadership on key issues of importance to labour except to say he has spent his six years as CLC president turning the CLC into an appendage of the Liberal Party."

From the election of the Liberals in 2015, the CLC under Yussuff's direction has taken a mostly non-confrontational approach to the Trudeau government. In 2016, at the last minute, the CLC brought Trudeau to speak at the CLC's Young Worker's Summit. Rank and file attendees, seeing Trudeau as a hypocrite pretending to espouse progressive values, rose and turned their back on Trudeau in protest.

"As the initial agitators rose from their seats," some of these workers wrote later in Rank and File, "we were joined by other workers from across the convention floor who are tired of watching the government use political rhetoric to hide gross inaction. We do not believe the prime minister was there to have meaningful dialogue that will result to lasting progressive policy changes."

 President Yussuff chided these workers, trying to tell them their behaviour was inappropriate and the labour movement is a "respectful movement."

Yussuff has continually thanked the Liberals through the years for mainly symbolic actions. For example, in April, the CLC on Twitter thanked Trudeau for joining a video call." Thank you @CanadianPM for joining CLC's Canadian Council meeting today. We acknowledge your solidarity & efforts during these tough times." 

Yussuff's term at the CLC this month appears to be ending this month, and Morneau's candidacy for the OECD job is currently under review.


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