Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sid Ryan: New OFL President

THE LONGTIME PRESIDENT OF CUPE'S ONTARIO DIVISION has just won election as the next president of the Ontario Federation of Labour - the province's central labour body that brings together both private and public sector unions representing about 700,000 workers. It's mostly a pretty sleepy body, to be honest, but had the notable high point of the Days of Action movement back in the 1990s, in which it helped to mobilize the labour movement and many other allies for a series of one-day, one-city general strikes against the Harris Tories. Since the defeat of that movement, in no small part because of the timidity of the union leaderships who never believed they could win, didn't want to win, and did everything they could, by and large, to sabotage the movement, the OFL has disappeared from the view of those outside of union activist circles.
All that said, Sid Ryan is a worthy leader. Clearly on the left, I haven't agreed with all his stands but he was firmly anti-war and has taken a lot of heat for being pro-Palestinian and stood his ground. He played a mostly good role during the Days of Action movement. And he has often been a voice of militancy when others were more inclined towards retrenchment. He stands for unity, progressive politics and a vibrant movement. If I'd had a vote, I'd have voted for him.

Enhancing labour’s ability to reach out to unorganized workers and youth, to develop new alliances with community groups advocating for housing, public child care, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, and to ensure that the benefits of the new green economy are widely shared, must go hand-in-hand with strengthening unity within labour. As well as an opportunity, the chance to regain labour’s leadership role shaping social and economic policy, is an immense challenge – one that cannot be met if we are a divided labour movement.
But, I gotta say: that slogan? "Make Ontario Work"? I get what he's saying and all... but it sounds like a threat and not the good kind. I'm going to have nightmares of Sid coming to my house and dragging me out of my bed at six am to do hard manual labour.
I wish Sid the best and hope that he'll restore some of the old glory from the Days of Action - especially as we face Dalton McGuinty's Liberals going into deficit panic mode. I suspect it will take more than just a solid leader at the helm - it will require ordinary trade unionists rebuilding mobilizing networks to provide solidarity to each other and to push struggles as far as possible. With this endless recession kicking the asses of working people, we need someone who will inspire people to kick back a little bit. Now there's a better slogan: "Make Ontario Kick Some Ass". 


Doug said...

Ryan (as well as Hargrove) said he would his union out on strike in solidarity with the teachers in 1997. He didn't. That was, in my mind, an unforgiveable mistake. Even though he had been canned from the OFL executive at the 1995 convention through the "pink paper" private sector unions, the same anti-Ryan executive passed a motion for a general strike in the summer of 1997 against Harris's new across-the-board anti-labour bill. When this happened, Harris withdrew the bill and tailored it to target just the teachers. Ryan should have known that had CUPE gone out 'illegally' with the teachers, it would have forced Hargrove to ante up and then possibly have pulled even the pink-paper dominated OFL into action. It's worth also remembering that delegates voted, against the leadership's recommendations, for a province-wide general strike at both the 1995 and 1997 OFL conventions.

Yes, Ryan is at the top of the pile of labour leaders, but when it really counted - during the teachers strike - he failed miserably. I don't think it's that controversial to say that the Ontario labour movement (and the ONDP) has recovered.

redbedhead said...

Fair play. I was feeling very generous that day and thought I'd give Sid a bit of encouragement to do the right thing. But, it's true, if there's no pressure from the base, the best we'll get is a post-card campaign that nobody knows about.

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