CAW President Urges Union Members to get Involved in Mobilization, Organizing Efforts

December 7, 2012, 4:20 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza gave a wide ranging address to CAW Council Friday morning, calling on delegates to enter the new union next fall with renewed determination and commitment towards grassroots organizing.

"I see great opportunities with this new union, but they will not be automatic," said Lewenza. He said that one of the most crucial parts of the new union project will be doing outreach among unorganized workers. He encouraged local unions to send full delegations to the founding convention - to be held  next Labour Day weekend.

Lewenza reflected on the history of the union and the efforts of local unions to mobilize in many different sectors across the country. Part of his presentation also included a video about founding CAW President Bob White, highlighting a number of successes, challenges and broad social principles highlighted and stressed by White over the years. 

Lewenza said that the new union must be a strong force in community mobilizing and in politics, particularly in light of the ongoing attack by right wing politicians - like Tim Hudak in Ontario, Brad Wall in Saskatchewan and Christy Clark in B.C. Lewenza called such politicians anti-worker, anti-children, anti-women and only acting in the interest of the corporate sector.  Hudak and Wall in particular are attempting to remove the Rand Formula, which would grossly undercut the work of unions.

"When you crush the labour movement, the corporate community makes profits at record levels - but on the backs of citizens," said Lewenza. "It is the labour movement that takes workers out of poverty."

Lewenza said that the economy has been structured to keep workers feeling ever more insecure -with high levels of unemployment, particularly among young workers who have been living through chronically high joblessness for the last three years.  "Our kids cannot get jobs today that are not precarious in nature. The economy is not broken, it's designed to create insecurity and to leave out 99 per cent of working people." 

Lewenza said that providing good pensions, like an expanded Canada Pension Plan, is an excellent way to ease senior workers into retirement and open up jobs for younger workers.

Collective Bargaining 

Lewenza addressed the considerable challenges in bargaining over the past year and going into 2013. The recent set of auto negotiations were a major focus for the union this summer and fall. Lewenza said that the union was faced with the issue that not one of the three Detroit auto companies wanted to lead in negotiations. The union then made the decision to strike all three companies if necessary, a move that set negotiations rolling at Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

Lewenza also pledged that the union would continue its auto policy campaign.

He also referenced the recent Aerospace Review, which made a number of key recommendations around industry-specific policies and development strategies and the need for government support for building up the aerospace sector.

Lewenza committed to working closely with the auto parts sector of the union to secure work and resist downward pressure. He recognized key rounds of negotiations at auto parts companies such as Bentler, Wescast, Lear Whitby and CPK (formerly Guelph Products).

Lewenza also commended the bargaining successes in the shipyards in Nova Scotia and at McMaster University. He also lauded the work of the southern Ontario hospitals who conducted joint bargaining for the first time, increasing clout and capacity.

He raised concerns about the ongoing negotiations at Coast Mountain Bus in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia.  Lewenza suggested that the lack of government support for transit is causing significant problems in urban centres for transit users and at the bargaining table. One of the outstanding issues is the purchase of buses made in China, as opposed to the current Canadian-CAW made buses.

Anti-Democratic Tendencies

Lewenza saved his most scathing comments for Private Members Bill C-377, which is being sold by the Conservative Party as an initiative to increase union transparency. "It isn't about union transparency and accountability, instead the goal is to build cynicism among union members and get rid of the Rand Formula."  Lewenza called the bill deeply hypocritical because the same lens is not being turned on any other entity such as business associations or the right wing Fraser Institute - only the labour movement.

Lewenza said that many of the world's problems are based on class with huge numbers of people being excluded from gainful employment and access to democratic structures and institutions.  He urged delegates to get involved in organizing and mobilizing around issues in their communities.

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