An Open Letter to Dennis Gruending and the CLC Brass
“As has often been pointed out, the working class is not weak because it is divided; on the contrary, it is divided because it is weak.” – Anton Pannekoek
“CLC selling out students? Reminds me of an old story about the MFL…” – Brian Latour
(With apologies to the internet)
Hi, how are you? I think that you may know my mother, and I believe that I some point I heard from her that you go to the same Mennonite church.
I read your comment on the Recomposition blog (http://recomposition.info/2012/06/20/c-l-c-sells-out-students/) about the “commandeered memos” that you seem to think was or should have been “private correspondence” about the FTQ’s (and hence the CLC’s) position on engagement with the student struggle in Quebec, and thought that maybe I’d share my thoughts with you in an open letter. I also have some additional thoughts on the contents of these memos and their impact on our movement which I’d also like to share.
Let’s start with where we agree. First, while I think it is of utmost importance to be principled in our communications, it is also important to be as accurate as possible in our claims. You start by claiming that the subject blog post is “inaccurate”. Taking a closer look, I noticed that the entirety of your point about “potentially libelous” inaccuracies would seem to only apply to the content of one paragraph (the second one) in this blog post.
It is true that your “unsigned blogger” does appear to attribute to CLC President Ken Georgetti views that are not stated in his memo to CLC Council of May 28, and that the views contained in this paragraph of the blog post should be attributed to FTQ President Michel Arsenault. While I’m not sure that it’s what anyone more honest would actually call libelous, I concur with you that it is inaccurate. Now, it’s a blog, not a newspaper, so I’m not entirely sure, but I believe that the author would probably be more than happy to issue an erratum or edit or whatever. (So perhaps you can ease off with the threats of libel against the people who actually build the real labour movement and who ultimately pay your CLC salary, OK? Thanks.)
Ken Georgetti himself didn’t say in his memo that “‘radical elements’ are not to be supported in order to facilitate an agreement”, but then again he doesn’t need to. It’s already been said by his FTQ counterpart, whom he is bound by the CLC-FTQ protocol to support. As for the rest of this paragraph, I think that “him” could be changed to “them”, and “he” to “they”, and it’s pretty much all on-point.
So, in my view and perhaps yours, it follows that the CLC has perhaps caught a disproportionate amount of flak in the outrage that this disclosure of correspondence has rightfully had across the labour and student movements – in Canada and Quebec. To my eye (and perhaps to the overly-hasty eye of the “anonymous blogger”), it seems pretty clear that many of the comments and false representations of the FTQ President in the first instance are pretty outrageous and really should be called out first.
Michel Arsenault speaks of “rumours” that “labour leaders in English Canada” are “intending to come and support the social conflict currently prevailing in Quebec”. When I first read this, I must admit that I got pretty excited thinking that this was so, as I’ve heard nothing like this at all from any “labour leaders”, and I’m currently mobilizing to get some buses filled to go to Montreal. Here’s hoping that this controversy will help that process – as we proceed, local by local, worker to worker, to build things.
What does Ken Georgetti say? Well, he says that these “rumours” more specifically are that “some national affiliates plan to organize potential illegal actions in Quebec in violation of Bill 78, to support the student protests”. He further states that the CLC is in regular contact with the FTQ regarding “the appropriate level of support” for the students. He ends by saying that he hoped that the rumours that many hoped were true, were not.
What can you say to that other than Which Side Are You On?
Here is what Michel Arsenault had to say about the “volatile” situation in Quebec: “…more radical wings [of the student movement] are calling for social strike and we do not believe that this is THE strategy to be promoted at the moment”. He then goes on to state that “the student associations are exhausted and worried about what comes next” as a reason for the FTQ pushing for a settlement with the government. I agree with the author of the Recomposition blog post – this claim is nothing short of pathetic, and, I would add, incredibly patronizing. Let’s hear from the students and popular movements first, shall we?
Clearly, Arsenault is in favour of social peace and containment of struggle; as the very words he uses to describe the situation – “volatile”, “fueling the fires”, etc. – demonstrate. The current situation strikes fear into the heart of the union boss, where those of us everywhere who want a better world and prepared to fight for it take inspiration from it. There are their friends in the PQ who must get elected, of course. Therefore, unions and locals across the rest of Canada shouldn’t be working to “add fuel to the fire” and work with the “more radical wings” of the movement, because it’s not conducive to social peace and a settlement at-all-costs.
And what is it that these union locals, national unions, etc. in the rest of Canada are doing? They are as far as I can tell making donations to CLASSE’s legal defence fund. Is this an illegitimate, even illegal activity? Apparently so, based on how at least one affiliate head, OSSTF president Ken Coran, has interpreted Ken Georgetti’s memo. (I note in passing that this so-called “private correspondence” was sent to their own affiliates, by the way – I guess “private” means “need to know basis” or something.)
Ken Georgetti’s loyal OSSTF lieutenant issued the following marching orders to OSSTF affiliates:
“At this time, we are recommending that there be no official support or donation be (sic) made in the name of OSSTF/FEESO [regarding the Quebec student protests] as per the memo from the CLC and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), which are attached.”
All I can say is that I think that as much as Ken Georgetti should be shamed, so must loyal lapdogs like Ken Coran. Thankfully, other affiliates, including CUPW and (NU)CAUT, have made donations to CLASSE’s legal defence fund or called for the same from their locals. My own local, which among other groups represents clerical workers at the CLC, sent a donation which was unanimously approved at our past meeting. Even local labour councils – generally under the tightest grip of the CLC – have pledged funds in support. Last night, in spite of being aware of these memos, the Ottawa DLC broke ranks with the CLC and voted to send money. This is in my experience unprecedented, and an extremely encouraging development.
You see, like most rank-and-file union activists who put their principles as opposed to union/political career ambitions first, I support workers and students and popular struggles – not organizations that work against them, to contain them, to gatekeep and to otherwise cynically use them for their own purposes. I don’t need Michel Arsenault’s permission to organize with my comrades in the student and popular movements in Quebec, many of whom I’ve worked together with for well over a decade. And it’s neither his nor Ken “Davos” Georgetti’s business who my union local, or for that matter my local DLC, mobilizes support for.
I can only wonder, if there still was a labour movement in the USA, whether if Michel Arsenault sent an appeal for American unions similarly energized by the student struggle in his corner of North America not to meddle in his labour affairs of state, if a similar directive would be issued by their affiliates? Or is this vacuous appeal, invoking the structure of Canadian asymmetrical federalism as a model for the labour movement, really just a Made-in-Canada variant of the same old statist, top-down, command-and-control theme?
In any event, with friends like these, who needs governments?
Labour movement centrals often have social and political partners, similarly organized on a respectable, top-down basis. They are oriented to elections, lobbying politicians, international junkets and what are called “campaigns” (i.e. make-work projects involving lots of swag and glossy paper signifying nothing). The CLC has the CFS and the NDP; the FTQ has the FEUC, FEUQ and the PQ.
CLASSE (the “large coalition” of ASSÉ, the more radical and grassroots student union that emerged out of the mobilizations against the FTAA in Quebec City 2001) is a different kind of student union. Any association can affiliate with it, so long as they make a collective decision at a representative general assembly and provide a small ($1 per member) donation to CLASSE. Unlike our top-down structures in the official labour movement, CLASSE runs on directly democratic basis, continuously mobilizes, and conducts regular votes on whether or not they will be on strike at general assemblies, often at the departmental or faculty level. They have organized based on a common demand (against the tuition increases, with free tuition as part of the longer-term struggle), and they have grown to include approximately 170,000 students within this structure; that is, a very large majority of Quebec students are now regrouped into CLASSE.
I’ve been somewhat involved in supporting the grassroots student movement, which is to say CLASSE, the largest and yet the most marginalized student union. They have been marginalized by the Charest government, who’ve maintained that, in spite of overwhelming and growing numbers of students directly involved, are not a legitimate party to negotiations, and they have also been – and as we’ve seen, continue to be – marginalized by the FTQ. Now the CLC wants us to do the same.
Excuse me, but fuck that! I think that I know what side you are on, Dennis Gruending – and which side you and your boss clearly are not on. You support the current system. You and/or your boss have condemned militant protestors and those willing to engage in civil disobedience in the past, while giving the actual enemy and their forces of repression a free ride in order to blame/condemn “anarchists” (see http://www.canadianlabour.ca/national/news/statement-ken-georgetti-president-canadian-labour-congress-vandalism-surrounding-toron). (You know, we’re not all Nestor Mahkno, brother, some of us anarchists even have Mennonite backgrounds – not to mention the fact that not all anarchists are comrades who use Black Bloc tactics and vice-versa.) I’m not expecting the CLC to come out and applaud targeted property destruction, but in light of the unprecedented and disproportionate clampdown by the security state that was going on as you wrote that piece, all I can say is shame on you. Now your boss is doing it again to those who might dare to defy an unconstitutional, draconian law by not presenting a march route to the cops before they assemble for les casseroles.
I think that you, your boss and the rest of the collaborationist, comfy labour bosses and their minions need to re-read another paragraph in that blog post and take it to heart – failing that, it is imperative that the rest of us understand that what’s needed is not a change of direction or new leadership, but a new structures altogether through which we can join together and support each others’ struggles. Here it is:
“Let’s be clear, union leaders work for union members. They are not at the top of a chain of command and if the leadership want to use the unions as a tool to obstruct solidarity instead of facilitate it then the leadership should be ignored or discarded. The CLASSE did this through their mass assemblies and so can we.”
Fail to heed those words at your own peril. And in the meantime get the hell out of our way.
No solidarity with the piecards,
John Hollingsworth (member of COPE Local 225 and delegate to the ODLC, speaking for myself)