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.
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.
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.
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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Marine Le Pen has had to work hard to de-toxify her fair right party, including censoring her own father and the party's founder. Jean Marie Le Pen suggested only last month that "Monseigneur Ebola" could sort out Europe's immigration issue "in three months". He has regularly been convicted under France's race hate laws, and has called the Nazi gas chambers a “small detail” The party took a quarter of the vote in France, with its popular anti-immigration platform.
The neo-Nazi NPD has been campaigning on a platform of stopping immigration and been called racist and anti-semitic. They have fought under the banner of slogans like "Money for granny instead of Sinti and Roma" and "the boat is full", given interviews insisting Europe is "a continent of white people" and have marched with banners proclaiming the Nazi ideology of "National Socialism".
The Greek ultra nationalist party Golden Dawn has swapped its jackboots for suits in the run-up to the elections and been rewarded with its first seats in the European Parliament. Its main spokesman has a swastika tattoo, and a good number of the party's members are in prison for being part of a criminal organisation. Its slogans have been daubed on mosques, synagogues and cemeteries. In May 2012, Golden Dawn ran in Greek elections under the slogan "So we can rid this land of filth", set up 'Greek-only' food banks, and its spokesman has quoted from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in parliament, But the party insists it is neither criminal nor neo-Nazi. It is now the country's third most popular party.
Finland's anti-euro populist party has done less well than predicted, but still picked up two MEPs. Previously known as the 'True Finns' . Its MP James Hirvisaari was fined in 2011 for comments he made on his blog about Muslims, another declined an invite to the Independence Day ball because he did not want to see same-sex couples, but the party has repeatedly rejected accusations of racism and homophobia.
The Danish People's party won nearly 27% of the vote and has doubled its number of MEPs. The party's founder Pia Kjærsgaard holds the view that Denmark is not a country where immigration is natural or welcome. In response to criticise from Swden, she retorted: "If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge."
Dutch far-right 'Party for Freedom' leader Geert Wilders will be disappointed with the results, as pro-EU parties topped the Dutch poll. His party has been dogged with controversy. Known for his vociferous criticism of Islam, Wilders is known for saying "I don't hate Muslims, I hate Islam". He campaigns to end all Muslim immigration to the Netherlands and repatriate Muslims currently living there. "Islam is the Trojan Horse in Europe. If we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time," Wilders once told the Dutch parliament. This week, there was no difference in the rhetoric. "Do you want more or less Moroccans in this city and this country?" he shouted to a rally, to chants of "Less! Less!" "We'll arrange that," he said. The party retains four seats in the EU parliament.
The right-wing nationalist party Jobbik, one of the most obviously neo-Nazi parties in the European parliament, matched its 2009 EU election results, garnering 14.7% of the vote and three MEPs. Members have called for the country's Jewish inhabitants to sign a special register. "I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary," the party's deputy parliamentary leader, Márton Gyöngyösi said.
There were huge gains for the far-right Freedom Party, which gained around a fifth of the vote for its anti-immigration platform. It doubled the number of MEPs, from two to four and says it hopes to form an alliance with the Front National. “If there are immigrants, from Turkey, who complain there is a cross hanging in the classroom at school, then I say to them: ‘go back home’," was the slogan from leader Heinz-Christian Strache this week. The party is fiercely anti-Muslim immigration, and believes Austria should not accept any more migrants. Strache says he himself is not a racist because he "eats kebabs."
The far-right party gained 6% of the vote in Italy. "Africa hasn't produced great geniuses as anyone can see from a Mickey Mouse encyclopaedia," one of its ex MEPs said,
Leader of the BNP Nick Griffin lost his seat in the European parliament, the far-right party's only MEP after Andrew Brons quit the party. Out of breath and breathing heavily, Griffin said his reception at the town hall was "fairly typical". He appeared to concede defeat saying his party had "no chance" tonight, before adding: "We will be back." The BNP were the real "racist" party, he said, and those who had voted for Ukip had been mistaken.
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