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Modern Labour Needs Leaders That Reject Right-Wing Rhetoric

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At a time when right-wingers all around the world are claiming to speak for the needs of the working class, it is vital that the true voice of working people and our changing workplaces be heard.

It is for that reason that I am supporting Hassan Yussuff's bid to be re-elected to a second term as president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

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Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. (Photo: Blair Gable)

Yussuff's election three years ago was historic. He is the first worker of colour to hold the post leading Canada's labour movement, and he was the first presidential candidate to defeat an incumbent. His election marked a desire for real change, and was recognition that labour's leadership must better reflect the people in the workplace.

Like many people in today's workplaces, Yussuff came to Canada in search of a better life. Born in Guyana, he began work as a heavy truck mechanic with General Motors, before becoming the Human Rights Director of the Canadian Auto Workers. Through both his personal and work experience, he knows the struggles that racialized workers in workplace face, and that insight to what marginalization and oppression feels like is needed today.

Yussuff has found a balance to truly speak and act for working people.

Since his election in 2014, we have seen some great victories for workers under Yussuff, and he continues to work tirelessly to bring the labour movement together with one united, powerful voice. With this principled leadership style, labour worked together to not only get rid of regressive federal labour laws, but a government that set back Canada in every way possible. Throughout the election campaign I saw him roll up his sleeves and get to work in communities across Canada to talk to workers and labour unions about why political engagement matters and how every vote counts if we are going to build a progressive agenda.

The thing that is admirable about Yussuff's work is that he truly understands that an injury to one worker is an injury to all of labour, regardless if that worker is in a union or not. In the past three years, we've seen improvements for migrant workers, a ban on asbestos and putting issues such as a minimum living wage, rights for precarious work and a universal child-care program on the national agenda. All of this was done with a fine balance to listen, learn and find ways to continuously push for change.

It's never easy being a union leader in your own workplace and making tough decisions, let alone being a strong leader with integrity at the head of Canada's labour movement, but Yussuff has found a balance to truly speak and act for working people.

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order directing federal agencies to recommend changes to a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to the United States, April 18, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

At the same time, I am sickened by the rise of right-wingers around the world claiming to speak for working people, but with agendas that will only help their rich and powerful friends. Donald Trump won the White House by exploiting the fears of working class Americans, then filled his cabinet with the same neoliberal politicians and Wall Street bankers who had so devastated the lives of working people over the last few decades.

In France, Marine Le Pen is trying to pull off the same bait and switch. Even here in Canada, we have contenders for the Conservative Party leadership trying to out-right-wing each other, while claiming that they really care for the needs of workers -- despite a party history of hurting working people.

They are quick to demonize racialized people and the oppressed.

All these right-wingers have another thing in common: they are quick to demonize racialized people and the oppressed -- Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, they aren't picky -- and blame them for society's woes. Don't look at the billions their friends have pocketed while your income stagnated or dropped, they tell us, blame the hard-working immigrant family down the street.

In the face of all that, we need leadership at the CLC that can unite working people of all backgrounds to advance a workers' agenda -- not a right-winger's agenda dressed up as something else.

marine le pen campaign
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of the Front National party holds a campaign rally, May 1, 2017 in Villepinte, France. (Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Over the next three years, we must find ways to bring labour unions in Canada together as a united force that can build a principled fight to push back against the right-wingers and the rising tide of hate in this country and around the world. The only way to truly build better lives for working people is by working together. Yussuff has a proven track record of making that happen.

Working together means strengthening the voice of labour and the CLC to speak on behalf of all workers. There remains much work to be done.

Now is the time for Canada's labour movement to get its act together. Kicking out Harper was only a beginning to rebuilding a progressive vision in this country. We must push back as a united voice against the politics of division, racism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia and sexism that right-wing populists stir up in their cynical quests for power and their neoliberal agendas. We must make sure the true voice of workers is heard on issues such as international trade and climate change.

We workers cannot let others speak for us. With Yussuff returned as president of the CLC, the modern face of labour can and will be heard.

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