OFL Embraces the Palestinian People
by Barry Weisleder - It was nearly a fashion make-over. Many top labour officials sported “End the Occupation – Free Palestine” buttons. Some even draped themselves with keffiyehs at the biennial convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, held November 20-24 at the Sheraton Center in Toronto.
The colourful display was a testament to the power of rallies and marches of millions around the world since the Zionist state stepped up its genocidal assault on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Likewise, the resolution adopted overwhelmingly by OFL delegates (numbering over 944 registered, representing some one million affiliated union members) was the product of decades of education and agitation by socialists and progressives. The latter popularized demands to End the Occupation, Lift the Siege of Gaza, Remove the “Separation” Wall, and implement Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Apartheid Israeli state.
The OFL, now on the record, demands that Ottawa call for an immediate Ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict, an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and the restoration of aid and emergency humanitarian support.
While a small clutch of pro-Zionists was able to secure an amendment that condemns the October 7 attack by Hamas in a bid to equate the actions of both sides, this move did not overshadow a profound gain: the OFL is now officially committed to “Organize member education about the long history of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, Canada’s complicity, and what trade unions can do to support a just and lasting peace.”
Naturally, labour activists must press the OFL to carry out that commitment. It is a mandate for action.
2023 is labelled as The Year of the Union in the commercial mass media. It is due to the multitude of strikes spanning grocery stores, shipping docks, auto factories, health clinics and classrooms. In some cases, strikes were preceded by union members voting to reject inferior tentative agreements, sending their negotiators back to the bargaining table while the ranks hit the bricks.
On a parallel track, public opinion is turning against the seeming indifference of capitalist governments to a calamitous shortage of affordable housing and a ballooning environmental/climate crisis. Due to the lack of adequate working class leadership, a large slice of palpable popular discontent is sliding towards right wing populism rather than to the feckless New Democratic Party leadership. Jagmeet Singh remains attached to the federal Liberal Party via a Supply and Confidence pact that entails spending billions more for war and pipelines than for public dental care and pharmaceuticals.
Labour officials made much noise about the OFL’s paper-weight campaigns to protect health care from privatization and to save greenbelt lands from avaricious speculators and land developers. But mass job action has been missing – in contrast to the Quebec Common Front which shows the way forward.
Also showing the way forward is the Workers’ Action Movement. A brochure distributed to hundreds of delegates explained that “WAM is a democratic organization that brings together people from unions and social justice movements who want to return unions to the task of creating a better society for all – not just for the currently unionized. In addition, we want our own unions to function fairly and democratically. Union officials should be paid no more than the workers they represent. Union raiding, and the stifling of dissent, should be things of the wretched past.”
A highlight of the OFL Convention was the WAM effort to break the slate of the labour bureaucracy seeking top executive posts. Julius Arscott, OPSEU Executive Board Member, was the Workers’ Action Movement candidate for Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labour. He obtained a very respectable 21 per cent of the 878 votes cast for that position. Without a WAM candidate in the fray, all three members of Team Ignite would have been acclaimed, implying something akin to unanimity behind labour’s current agenda. If, in the coming days, there are fewer concessions to the bosses, if there is a phase-out of two and three-tier wages and benefits, a restoration of defined benefit pensions, and a greater solidarity in action, it comes as a result of the growing base of class struggle militants.
A similar development can be seen in the labour-based NDP where 32.4 per cent of the 194 delegates at the Ontario NDP Provincial Council meeting voted in favour of reinstatement of MPP Sarah Jama to the NDP caucus at the Ontario Legislature. She was expelled from the NDP benches on October 23, the day that Doug Ford and his Tory majority voted to censure and silence Jama. Against enormous pressure by NDP MPPs and establishment officials, nearly one-third of the council defied Leader Marit Stiles who claimed that Jama was booted not due to her views on Palestine, but because she was “uncooperative.” A similar motion at the OFL to demand reinstatement of Jama was not debated as it lacked a two-thirds majority -- a new requirement for “emergency resolutions” to be considered. Disappointment was palpable – another sign that the struggle will continue. The OFL did vote to re-affirm its pledge to back NDP candidates in provincial and federal elections.
The growth of class struggle sentiment was evident at the OFL convention in the form of resolutions that confirmed the need to uphold the rights of LGBTQI people, migrant workers, and Indigenous peoples. Delegates also voted to stress the urgency of the struggle against racist, authoritarian and fascist movements, not just on paper, but in the streets.
On November 22, hundreds of unionists took to the streets around the host hotel at the lunch break to decry the actions of the Conservative provincial government. Unfortunately, this was a far cry from the much-needed general strike to Dump Thug Ford, which nearly occurred one year earlier.
Image: People participate in a pro-Palestinian rally on May 22, 2021 in the Queens borough of New York City [Stephanie Keith/ Getty Images] Source
WAM it to the bosses
“A common phrase we now hear is that, after the pandemic, we must ‘build back better.’ But many of the problems that we experience today are the result of the conditions working people faced for decades.”
— Julius Arscott,
The Workers’ Action Movement (WAM) strives to foster militant, democratic leadership to inspire union members to make a better world for the working class and humanity.
There is a big appetite for change in our labour movement today. This is the “Year of the Strike”. What’s often lacking is leadership.
1. WAM strives for unions that engage in the class struggle.
2. Unions should make organizing the unorganized a top priority, along with unity with social justice movements.
3. WAM supports international working class solidarity campaigns, including support for the Palestinian people, to end the Zionist Occupation and onslaught, to Lift the siege of Gaza, and to Stop NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine.
4. WAM calls for dramatic change in leadership. Bold union leaders would fight to Dump Thug Ford with a General Strike.
5. WAM stands for democracy in the OFL and all unions.
6. It is time for serious change. Only WAM offers that alternative, from the bottom up.
With militant, democratic, courageous leadership, nothing can stop the power of the working class.
Dare to Struggle. Dare to Win. WAM it to the Bosses!