Breaking Away: The Formation of the Canadian Auto Workers by Sam Gindin
The decision of the Canadian section of the United Auto Workers (UAW) to form its own Canadian union was rooted in the different responses of unionists in the Canada and the United States to an increasing belligerence on the part of the corporations. While this break from an 'international' union was not the first such action within the Canadian labour movement, it was perhaps the most dramatic and certainly the most significant.
A simple explanation for the contrasting reactions of UAW members in the two countries to the corporate attack focuses on the differences in their national environments, particularly the different economic conditions which they faced. This is not wrong but it is incomplete and it does not succeed in accounting for the fact that, after decades of dependency and in a context of intense economic uncertainty, the self-confidence emerged within the Canadian section to force this conflict to the point of a break with the American 'parent.' This event and its implications cannot be understood apart from the dynamics of struggle: that is, from the interaction between a favourable environment in Canada and ideology, leadership, structures for participation, and the specifics of recent struggles.
Differences in 'Objective' Conditions
There were differences in the environment the two sections of the union faced which did put much greater pressure on the Americans to accept concessions and which did leave the Canadians some space to contemplate opposition to the corporate agenda. But these 'environmental' factors were not simply external facts of life. To a considerable degree they reflected past decisions, past struggles, past successes and past failures of the labour movement in each country.
The high level of layoffs at the beginning of the 1980s left American autoworkers particularly demoralized. About one-third of the labour force (some 300,000 autoworkers) was out of work and the steady ascent of Japanese imports indicated that this was not just a cyclical downturn. Canadian workers were also reminded daily of the Japanese threat, and it was clear that Canada could not, ultimately, escape the uncertainty experienced in the United States. However, Canadian workers did not experience, to the same degree, the ill effects of closures and layoffs. In large part this was because Canada's favourable model mix and relatively newer plants left it less vulnerable to closures (both these points were related to the Auto Pact).
The exchange rate, while important, was not yet a major factor in the layoffs. It was, however, a critical one in the union's analysis of future corporate decisions, because it made the comparatively low Canadian labour costs even lower. Employers' social security and health plan contributions were more costly in the U.S. because of the greater reliance on a payroll tax and because of the absence of publicly funded medicare. This and the favourable exchange rate meant that almost three Canadian workers could be hired for the price of two American workers. The corporations might argue that labour costs were only one factor in their decisions, and threaten to make un favourable investment decisions should the union adopt an 'uncooperative' attitude - arguments that couldn't be taken lightly. But it was the corporations which had made labour costs the issue in North America; and, in Canada, the union knew that labour costs constituted a domestic advantage.
Moreover, the lower exchange rate meant a higher rate of inflation in Canada than south of the border. This reinforced resistance among the membership to the kind of wage restraint which would imply seriously falling real wages. It also gave Canadians an additional argument for the notion that Canadian wage bargaining should take a different route than it had taken in the United States. The target of this argument, it should be noted, was both the corporations and the UAW.
These arguments are well known. However, the importance of the relationship between wage levels in the auto industry and those of other industries is less well appreciated. Wages among the Big Three in the U.S. were about 40 percent above the average manufacturing wage. When non-wage benefits were added to the calculation, the differences were even more dramatic. In Canada, the differential was only about 20 percent and this approximated the average gap in other auto-producing countries. In the U.S. the large differentials meant that auto workers could make major concessions, yet still earn substantially more than what they might earn in other jobs.
This inequality amongst American workers was rooted in the much lower level of unionization in the United States. In Canada almost two workers in five were unionized, while in the U.S. unionization had slipped to less than half that level. Also Canada's relatively larger resource sector often played a leading role in wage trends; and the public sector, particularly in the decade after the intensive unionization of the mid-sixties, was able to make major gains in "catch-up." Such factors combined to limit the wage disparities between Canadian autoworkers and those outside the industry. In the U.S., the yawning income gap left autoworkers more isolated and less likely to receive sympathy within their own communities.
In fact, this reflected a broader isolation of the labour movement as a whole in American society which took on a critical political dimension during the ascendancy of the Reagan right. The political impact of American labour via its increasingly strained links to the Democratic Party was minimal. In Canada, by contrast, a social democratic party existed with strong links to the trade union movement. Just as Reagan came to office in the U.S., a short-lived Tory government in Canada was succeeded by a revitalized Trudeau government that had business nervous about its interventionist and nationalist policies. While the Trudeau government could hardly be considered sympathetic to Canadian workers' demands, the prevailing ideological climate was decisively less reactionary in Canada than in the United States.
A central factor in accounting for the different political climate in the two countries was the role that nationalism played, and this in turn reflected the distinct roles of Canada and the U.S. in the world. Canada's status was (and is) that of a dependent capitalist country while the U.S. was the ruling imperialist country facing challenges to its dominance. The American state was in the process of remobilizing its population to support a new Cold War in order to restore past glory. The height of the concessions period overlapped with the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet Union's move into Afghanistan, and the Japanese "invasion" in auto. Jingoist rhetoric about making America number one again, matched the call for sacrifices on the part of autoworkers in order to make GM number one again. Concessions were easier to sell as a patriotic measure which would restore the good-old-days of the fifties and sixties, when America's dominance was unchallenged and a growing standard of living seemed so automatic - and so uniquely 'American.'
In Canada, dependency left an opening for a rather different sort of nationalism. The push to make U.S. multinationals 'top dog' met with resistance. There was a political and ideological base in Canada, as well as an economic one, for demanding at least some restrictions on such corporations in order to guarantee benefits to Canada. Consider, for example, how the two governments responded to Chrysler's plea for loan guarantees. In the U.S., the government agreed to the scheme on condition that Chrysler get concessions from its workers. In Canada, Chrysler was pressured into guaranteeing a certain number of jobs for Canadians.
These contrasts between Canada and the U.S., were, as I stated earlier, not just 'external' to the labour movement in each country but an integral part of each movement's history. It was not separable from the American trade unions' acquiescence in the Cold War; from their inability to make solid links with the civil rights movement and other progressive forces; from their related failure to respond to the corporations' "Southern Strategy"; from their lack of interest in forming a social democratic party; from their failure to win medicare; and more generally, from their glib economism in good times, retreat from grassroots mobilization, and lack of any alternative political vision. In some cases, the UAW was freely part of these failures. In others it did try to counter them. But in all cases it paid the eventual penalty along with the rest of American labour.
I do not want to unduly flatter the Canadian labour movement. As Panitch and Swartz note, the impression that Canadian unions stand tall is not unrelated to the fact that comparisons are usually made to an American labour movement on its knees. Nevertheless, the achievements of the Canadian labour movement over the years compare favourably with those of labour movements in other countries beyond the U.S. and should not be ignored.
Canadians in an International Union: Dependency - Unity
When the UAW was formed in Canada in the second half of the thirties, the organizational work was done by Canadians. The American UAW, at that time, simply didn't have the resources to be of much assistance: there was no strike fund, no staffers to send for any length of time, and no reasonable basis for promising solidarity support in case of a strike. Yet even then, the heroic stories of the sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan were critical to inspiring Canadians. In the fifties and sixties, as the UAW consolidated its structure and its collective bargaining power, the Americans were, to the Canadians, both a model and an indispensable source of aid. American wage levels provided a benchmark for Canadian aspirations; and they had the technical resources and the size necessary to make further progress.
With the 1965 signing of the Auto Pact, the industry was formally integrated along North American lines. While it was, of course, already highly integrated and U.S. dominated, the Auto Pact further rationalized production. As Canadian production approached American levels of efficiency, the Canadians began to push for wage-parity (the same nominal pay for the same work, independent of currency). The Americans supported them out of solidarity and in order to avoid being undercut.
Wage-parity at GM, Ford, and Chrysler was soon extended to include identical increases in the cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for all Canadians and U.S. autoworkers - even when inflation rates between the two countries differed. This new COLA was based on the creation of an artificial 'North American' inflation rate, arrived at by adding 90 percent of the U.S. rate and 10 percent of the Canadian. At Chrysler, wage-parity went a step further: in 1968 workers in Canada and the U.S. established one common International Agreement. GM and Ford workers in each country continued to have separate agreements, though, in practice, the outcomes were not all that different.
By the end of the sixties, the industry was totally integrated on continental lines, the union was at the height of its powers, and the wages of an assembler or a trim operator in Oshawa or Windsor were directly tied to those of their counterparts in the United States. This integration was further consolidated in the early seventies by two actions taken by the UAW's Canadian leadership which served to weaken Canadian autonomy. One occurred within the New Democratic Party, the other at Douglas Aircraft.
At that time, the Waffle, a left-nationalist group critical of the role of 'international' unions, emerged within the NDP. The Waffle emphasized that the internationals were more than just a defensive cross-border economic vehicle; they expressed and institutionalized Canada's dependence on the United States. They were a conduit for American ideas, styles, and practices. They confined the expectations and reach of Canadian unions, they fragmented Canadian labour into far too many different unions, and they hampered the Canadian labour movement's potential to play a leading role in developing broader progressive alliances. Because the Canadian sections of internationals were particularly strong within the NDP, these limits were also manifested within the party.
The Waffle's losing confrontation with the Party establishment was not precipitated by any explicit debate about ideology. Rather, it was triggered by the Waffle's direct attempt to both develop a base of opposition within the internationals (particularly the UAW), and to challenge the internationals' influence within the NDP. In this clash, the UAW leadership, along with other trade union leaders, played a prominent role.
Shortly after, Canadian workers at Douglas went on strike after rejecting a contract whose limits were set b the American government's wage guidelines. When the strike caused layoffs in the U.S., the American leadership - which in any case did not want a different settlement in Canada - sought to bring it to an end. The Canadian Director carried out that objective - enthusiastically. The circumstances which might have led to a different response were still, apparently, eons away.
The defeat of the Douglas militants as well as the defeat of the Waffle activists in the NDP, certainly seemed to put the lid on the fight against international unionism. Ironically, however, the very factors that led to the creations of the Auto Pact, and the successes it helped achieve for Canadian autoworkers, laid the base for a challenge to the rationale for international unions. While the Canadian UAW leadership succeeded in stifling the first stirrings of a renewed nationalism, sympathy amount the membership for a different collective bargaining pattern from that of the American UAW had surfaced.
Steps Towards Autonomy
Competition from external sources (at that time, West Germany) provided the impetus to establish the Auto Pact and thereby increase the efficiency of the North American industry. Eventually the process would lead to concessionary bargaining. But as well this 'rationalization,' when it was combined with just-in-time production and even greater specialization in the early eighties, left the corporations more vulnerable, in the short term, to work interruptions. The further integration of the industry, while a liability in one sense, gave Canadian workers a lever that they could use in the crunch.
Once the decades-old dream of wage parity with the Americans was achieved, the former focus on U.S. wage levels was replaced by a greater concern with wage levels inside Canada. Within Canada, wage militancy was generally on the increase through the mid-seventies, particularly in the rapidly-growing unionized public sector. However much Canadian auto workers were integrated in the continental economy, they were still part of a different social formation and not isolated from an environment in which traditional wage differentials were been challenged.
The boom of the post-war decades gave way to the international economic crisis, and the limits of an over-reliance on collective bargaining became increasingly clear. As the ability of the International to deliver the economic goods became a thing of the past, and jobs increasingly became a major issue for the future, the power to influence national policies became more important than participation in the International. This implied greater domestic ties and alliances.
Alongside these developments, structural changes evolved in the early seventies under Dennis McDermott's directorship. McDermott's earlier attacks on the Waffle and the Douglas leadership were not about an aversion to nationalist tendencies; indeed, McDermott had nationalist leanings. Rather, the issue was about control of the Party and, especially, of his own union.
The Waffle and the resistance at Douglas could be defeated, but it could not be ignored. That the stirrings represented by these and other related events would not go away was acknowledged at the CLC's Convention in 1974 with the introduction of new guidelines to increase Canadian autonomy within the 'internationals.' Parallel to this, McDermott argued at the UAW Executive Board that progressive reform towards greater Canadian autonomy, by undercutting criticisms from inside and outside the union, did not represent a threat to the International but, rather, its reinforcement. McDermott's handling of the situation at Douglas had given him the credibility to make this case before the American leadership.
Over a short period, the following initiatives took place: the head office was moved out of Windsor, with its geographic and cultural proximity to Detroit, and brought to Toronto and the national media; Canada, which previously had to content itself with a few pages in the American UAW newspaper, began to produce its own national magazine; a research department was established; and Canada would have its own representation at meetings of the International Metalworkers' Federation rather than being included as part of the American delegation. These reforms did mollify Canadians and did generate a measure of autonomy, but they were carefully controlled and did not challenge the concept of American-based unionism either in spirit or practice.
In a sense, this was the "pre-history" of the split. The struggles of the ensuing decade created a readiness to challenge the International, and the confidence to seriously contemplate forming a new Canadian union. The pivotal struggles of the late seventies and early eighties included the strike at Pratt and Whitney, the resistance to wage-controls, the direct action in response to plant closures, and, of course, the fight against concessions. This history truly made the split possible.
As the mid-point of the seventies approached, the Canadian Region was mobilizing financial support for a bitter strike over union security at Pratt and Whitney in Montreal (then United Aircraft). Suddenly, without any consultation in Canada, the Secretary-Treasurer of the International, Emil Mazey, held back strike pay on the basis of irregularities in the distribution of strike monies. When McDermott challenged Mazey, and the Canadian Council endorsed his condemnation of the Secretary-Treasurer, the first real crisis between the two sections of the union occurred.
McDermott's response to Pratt and Whitney may have involved a desire to avoid the bitterness that had accompanied the resolution of the Douglas Aircraft strike. Moreover, in contrast to the situation at Douglas where extensive consultation had occurred, Mazey's action at Pratt and Whitney was unilateral. Given the strength of nationalist sentiment, McDermott had to respond forcefully in order to retain the credibility of his leadership.
Mazey was at that time at the center of other conflicts within the Executive Board. This meant that McDermott would not be isolated in a confrontation with him in Detroit, and that the danger of the conflict escalating into a separation from the International was slight.
But the main reason for McDermott's decisive support for the Pratt and Whitney strike, in contrast to his reaction at Douglas, was his understanding of events in Quebec. Separatism was on the rise and support for the PQ was building. The attitude in Quebec to a strike for union security and union survival against an arrogant foreign multinational seemed more akin to a third world struggle for independence than a conventional labour-management confrontation. At the same time, the QFL, the provincial labour central to which the internationals were generally affiliated, was in on-going competition for union membership with the other labour central in Quebec, the CNTU. Thus, the political and the economic credibility of internationals in Quebec was at stake in this strike. The immediate and unequivocal support of the Canadian Director established the credibility of the Canadian office within Quebec and assured that, in the future, Quebec would be on the Canadian side in any fight with the Americans. The International did subsequently back down. While the question of a possible split never became more than a whisper in private conversations, the issue did enter and live in the minds of many activists, even ifthe events to take it beyond this stage were still far off.
As the international economic crisis of the mid-seventies unfolded, the Canadian government introduced legislated controls on wages to keep Canadian levels in line with competitive trends in the U.S. This attack on the labour movement used the same rhetoric and rationales associated with "concessionary bargaining." This meant that, in Canada, the fight against concessions actually began before it became an issue in the U.S. auto industry. The Americans had faced a similar situation under Nixon in the early seventies, but labour leaders like the UAW's Woodcock had legitimated the process by participating in it. In Canada, the labour movement refused to sit on the government's Anti-Inflation Board (AIB).
The Canadian section of the UAW (with endorsement from the UAW central) consistently fought the AIB over the next three years, particularly in those shops outside the auto majors. This meant actively educating the activists and membership about the impact of wage controls on their standard of living and on their organizational strength. Even where there were defeats, worker resistance was costly to employers; this made others hesitant about enforcing the controls. Above all, this resistance demonstrated that there was one organization workers could count on to defend their interest: their union. The arguments developed and disseminated in this campaign and the credibility won by the union were directly relevant to the future campaign against concessions.
At the end of the seventies and into the eighties plant closures multiplied. At the Council meeting in the summer of 1980, delegate after delegate stood up to recount cases of individual and community tragedy. The collective frustration called out for some kind of union response. The response of Bob White, who had replaced McDermott as the Canadian Director in 1978, was to urge direct action. With this endorsement of direct action, local leaders began to think about and plan their responses to closure in advance. Within days workers in Oshawa took over the Houdaille plant, replacing the company sign with a new home-made sign reading "UAW Industries." Takeovers at Windsor Bumper and Beach Foundry soon followed. These locally-led and centrally-supported plant takeovers did, in most cases, realize significant severance and pension gains for workers; and such desperate and dramatic actions did lead to modest legislative changes. But they generally failed in their main goal - saving jobs. Nevertheless, these confrontations gave workers the opportunity to express their anger at employers and government rather than allowing frustration to focus on the union's ability or inability to save jobs. Direct action highlighted what was happening to workers as a result of closure. In many cases, there was public sympathy and recognition that workers were fighting not just for themselves but on behalf of the community. This sense of fighting back even in difficult times, and this awareness that workers need not be totally isolated in their struggles, were important to the emerging response to concessions.
The fight against concessions did not begin at Chrysler and General Motors; it began at numerous small and mid-size enterprises. Employers here were quick to seize on the openings suggested in early 1980 by events at Chrysler in the United States. In 1981, the Canadian Council debated concessions: why they were disastrous for working people; why they would not bring job security to workers; how they would divert attention from real alternatives; how they would fragment workers; why accepting them would be to agree that unions had bargained 'too well' in the past and should, therefore be weakened; and why, in general, acquiescence to their logic would eventually destroy the lifeblood of unions. A resolution was passed to oppose concession bargaining and to mobilize an anti-concessions campaign, including a special fund for those forced on strike as part of this campaign.
Bombarded by propaganda from employers, politicians and the press, many workers remained uncertain about fighting concessions. The local leadership was confronted with skeptical questions: Weren't concessions necessary for the survival of the companies? Wouldn't companies move elsewhere ifworkers didn't give in? In turn, the local leadership responded by demanding material and ammunition from the central office. As a result of the union's determination to take on the fight, educational material, which might previously have been ignored, became essential reading; and regional meetings with activists, which would otherwise have been only more time away from the plant, became forums for developing the assurance to go back and win over reluctant members for the confrontations to come.
In these as in other campaigns within Canada, to leadership contact with the membership depended primarily on the union's large core of activists: the shop stewards, the local executive, the bargaining committees. It was only with the committed support of these activists, who met and represented workers on a daily basis, that the necessary links could be forged. Work with activists occurred primarily at the Council level, at special regional meetings and through regular meetings with appointed staff. The geographic and numeric concentration of the Canadian membership in relatively large units and strong amalgamated locals (in contrast to widely dispersed individual units) equipped the union with a mechanism for carrying out Council decisions.
Yet as vital as institutional structures like the Council are, they remain a backdrop to the critical factor: the readiness to undertake struggles to defend or advance workers' interests. It is these struggles that give life and relevance to philosophical positions, economic arguments and education programs, and which ensure that working class structures like the Council do not degenerate into forums for idle posturing. In the context of the culture of struggle, institutions like the Council can be truly influential. This helps explain why the UAW in Canada has often been able to deliver' its membership not only in its own struggles but also in support of broader struggles initiated by provincial labour federations and the CLC.
Establishing Independence in Collective Bargaining
Between the 1979 and 1984 round of negotiations, there was a steady stream of tactical decisions to be made, and a brief review of those decisions is useful in coming to grips with the development of the split. In the 1979 negotiations the union, in recognition of Chrysler's financial difficulties, agreed to postpone part of the gains made at GM and Ford, even though these would traditionally have been automatic' at Chrysler. While Chrysler workers would catch up to those at GM and Ford before the end of the agreement, this was a foot-in-the-door for concessions. There was concern and some muttering in Canada, but the stakes were not yet high enough to seriously generate a different response, and the Chrysler concession was being described as a temporary move in light of a very unique situation.
By early 1980, the lobby of the UAW and Chrysler for loan guarantees from the U.S. government had been successful - but guarantees came with the proviso that Chrysler's workers, including the Canadians, make major concessions. White's immediate response was that Canadian workers would not be told what to do by American legislators. This was not a direct attack on concessions nor was it particularly nationalist; it was a straightforward, simple response. The circus of concessions returned to Chrysler in early 1981, but this time decisions were to be worked out between the company and the union without external impositions from the U.S. government. Because the Canadian Chrysler workers, unlike GM and Ford workers, were then in an International Agreement, decisions were based on the combined vote of Canadian and American workers rather than on separate ballots. The vote for further concessions passed with a comfortable margin.
The leadership in Canada, however, did something rare: it refused to recommend either a vote for or against the tentative agreement. In part this was because it felt trapped - the U.S. vote would obviously swamp the Canadian vote - but primarily because it was not yet ready to take on the issue. In Canada the vote was just over 50 percent for acceptance, although the workers in the large, powerful Windsor plant (Local 444) voted by a slim margin to reject. Canadian frustration over both the concessions, and the process that led to their adoption, brought about the end of the International Agreement at Chrysler. More significantly, disillusionment with the direction the Americans had taken quickly accelerated from this point forward. This was evident at the spring 1981 Council where future concessions were strongly condemned.
It became apparent in the spring of 1982 that concessions at Chrysler could no longer be regarded as exceptional, when the American UAW agreed to early renegotiation of their collective agreements at GM, Ford, and American Motors, COLA payments were postponed, the Paid Personal Holidays (PPH) were ended, and future wage increases were surrendered. The Canadians, in line with their opposition to voluntary concessions, refused to accept this. The refusal itself was not difficult: there was an agreement in place and the corporations could do nothing about the refusal until the agreement ended in the fall. But this was the first act of real defiance - directed at both the corporations and the parent union. It was considered likely that the Canadians would feel their combined wrath as early as the coming September.
When GM was chosen as the Canadian strike target in the fall of 1982, industry layoffs and downtime were at peak levels. The union was prepared to fight, as it had done in negotiations outside the Majors, ifthe concessions demanded were high. An agreement was reached without a strike in which the union gave up its PPH days - a very important loss because the eventual purpose of the program was the achievement of a four-day work week. Nevertheless, the union felt it had survived with its principles intact because it did not pay for refusing the early opening of contract talks, and because it did win extra money over and above that awarded in the U.S. to compensate for higher inflation. The extra money, the rejection of the profit-sharing formula negotiated in the U.S., and the switch to a separate Canadian COLA later in the contract, began to erode rigid adherence to the notion of wage-parity.
A few months later the union was back in negotiations at Chrysler. The Americans had rejected Chrysler's offer (which included no new money over and above COLA) but felt that a strike at that time might sink the corporation. Canadian workers showed no such hesitancy. The very argument that made the Americans fear a strike - that Chrysler could not withstand a long strike - was read as evidence, by Canadians, that they could win. After six weeks off the job, they did win - $1.15 per hour.
The experience demonstrated that Canadians could win a difficult strike on their own; that they could depend on their own knowledge of, and intuition about the industry. The warnings from the UAW and from virtually every analyst that the Canadian action would destroy the corporation were wrong. Chrysler not only survived but made record profits the following year. And the symbolism of Iacocca trying to sneak into Canada to find a solution showed that ifyou had the power (which the Canadians obviously did), the corporations would bargain with you; the Solidarity House monopoly was over. In the story of how Canadian workers developed the confidence to risk independence, the Chrysler strike earned an especially prominent place.
The climax of these events came with the negotiations and strike at GM in the fall of 1984. The Americans were willing to give up built-in wage increases for lump-sum payments and profit-sharing. The Canadians rejected this and were determined to restore the past principle of an annual increase built into their wage. Taking on GM, over a matter of principle and in uncertain times, would have been unnerving even for the union as a whole at its peak. To do it alone was something not even seriously contemplated a few (short) years ago. The role of Bob White's leadership was vital here. Without a strong leadership articulating workers' concerns, legitimating their demands, and developing tactics, the pressures on workers, and the limited resources available to them can all too often lead to demoralization and crippling divisions. The very fact that unions must have a strong measure of central authority to be effective provides the leadership with a measure of autonomy. The lack of any serious opposition within the Canadian section of the union reinforced White's autonomy and his use of this autonomy played a critical role in the split.
This time the Canadian workers were ready to take on the issue and win. Union confidence was peaking. The industry was in an upturn and monetary expectations were high. Canadian facilities were critical to operations in both countries. Past victories in Canada had set the pattern for a different outcome than was emerging in the United States. Even the company was sending signals that it was ready to recognize Canada as a separate country for negotiating purposes.
Interference from the UAW American executive, however, threatened to change things dramatically. They insisted that what happened in Canada would be matched in the United States or (in a perverse warning of militancy) there would be havoc in the American plants. This raised the stakes for GM: a settlement acceptable to GM in Canada lost its "acceptability" ifit were to have a negative affect on GM's plans for their American operations. ifGM turned to such longer-term tactical considerations, "normal" collective bargaining considerations would go out the window. Nevertheless, the Canadians persevered and were able to put economic pressure on GM's operations, enough to force the company into a settlement that included a face-saving formula for the union's American leadership; the longer-term repercussions were postponed for a later day.
The Canadians won the strike against both the company and their own parent union in October of 1984. Until this time, the focus of the Canadian mobilization was limited to the direct issue at hand: concessions. The split and nationalist sentiments were a consequence of defending workers, not goals in themselves. Similarly, when nationalism was used, it was as a tactic designed to isolate the American companies rather than to motivate workers. Or it was extended as a justification for the difference in attitudes towards the bargaining process: Canada was a different country so there were tolerable reasons why it might wish to do things differently.
In fact, the Canadian leadership was concerned that narrow nationalism was a real danger to the Canadian union. It could become an excuse for inaction, with Canadian workers using their American counterparts as scapegoats. One repeated message was that Canadians had to take responsibility for the decisions on concessions: no one was going to do it for them, nor could anyone else be blamed for what they did or did not do. This kind of 'nationalism' meshed with the material needs of Canadian workers, their democratic right to determine their own responses, and their maturity-confidence in taking responsibility for such actions. In the swirl of decisions, actions, and emotions that became the split itself, 'nationalism' had arrived as more than a marginal force and became wrapped up in, and largely indistinguishable from, pride in what Canadian workers were able to do.
After the 1984 GM strike, it was clear that the frustrations with the American parent would soon bubble over; it seemed that the only remaining questions were about the timing of a confrontation at the Executive Board, whether the Canadians would go 'all the way' (or simply be kicked out), and the actual mechanics of carrying out the split.
You Don't Need a Union to Go Backwards
The Canadians' determination to carry out their own collective bargaining program did not automatically mean the break-up of the International union. Why couldn't the two sides find an accommodation that allowed for different collective bargaining outcomes in the two countries?
The U.S. leadership could, theoretically, have accepted such a move as not only legitimate (Canada=a separate country and true internationalism demands respect for national autonomy), but also as one which would serve the interests of American workers (lower Canadian costs are undermining American jobs; Canadians should therefore be encouraged to get more to offset this competitive advantage). Had the Canadians been kept inside the UAW, there would at least have remained, from the perspective of the American leadership, an additional mechanism for effecting some pressure on, ifnot control over, the Canadians. Finally, ifthe concessions had been viewed as a temporary defeat for the American workers, the Canadian direction could have been endorsed as the standard to which the Americans would someday return.
It is this last point that gets to the heart of the matter. For what was really happening in the United States was not, in fact, merely a temporary collective bargaining setback. Temporary defeats for workers are, after all nothing new. The significance of the American developments was that the union leadership was itself accepting a strategic change in the direction of collective bargaining and of their own role within it. The UAW had, for some years before concessions began, become bureaucratized and often remote from the membership; the heady economic times of this period had hidden this fact. When the world changed and the corporations announced that they, in turn, were going to change the traditional trajectory of collective bargaining, the UAW no longer possessed the ability to mobilize a response. Instead the union became even more bureaucratic, displaying more paranoia over criticism, tightening control, and limiting debate. Concessions, at first interpreted as temporary setbacks, were now being dressed up and sold to the membership as 'victories' and 'innovative breakthroughs.' The union was coming perilously close to sounding and acting like an industrial relations arm of the corporations.
Had American workers simply accepted this new change, Canadians intransigence might have remained only a matter of discomfort at the UAW's headquarters. But many among the American rank and file, although generally fragmented and leaderless, remained unconvinced that this was the route to follow. The combination of significant skepticism on the part of American workers about the new direction, and the embarrassing, high-profile Canadian rejection of it made it extremely difficult for the American leadership to accommodate the Canadians within the same union. The direction chosen by the American leadership undermined the basis for international solidarity. For Canadians, remaining within the International meant, at a minimum, toning down the criticism of concession bargaining; and when concession bargaining began at the end of the seventies and the early eighties the Canadian leadership did in fact try to limit any statements or actions which might have implied criticism of the U.S. direction. But this could not last. There was no way to articulate the issues, or carry on the fight that would not be interpreted as a criticism of the American leadership.
As the split became inevitable, the Canadian concern was to make the transition smoothly and to get enough financial resources from Detroit to support a strike fund and cover the start-up costs for the new union. The first step was to call for an airing of the Canadians' complaints at the March meeting of the International Executive Board (some four months away); Owen Bieber countered that the debate would take place immediately that December.
The Council was brought together to discuss there developments. White came with a resolution to assert the rights of Canadians to pursue their own collective bargaining program (i.e. the program adopted by locally-elected delegates at the Canadian Collective Bargaining Conference). Should the Board reject the resolution, as was expected, no choice would remain but to establish a separate union. Such rejection would consolidate the support of those who were still cautious. The impressive debate at the Council was, of course, about the split itself. The Council endorsed White's resolution, the UAW Executive Board rejected it, and White returned to the Council for the inevitable next step. Now the issue turned to the tactics and the question of formalizing the decision: should it be made at the Council or should the split remain a Council recommendation until it was ratified in a national referendum of the entire membership?
The union was worried about a referendum, but the concern was not over the sympathies of the workers. The fear was that a referendum would offer those opposed to a stronger Canadian union - the UAW leadership (and other AFL-CIO leaders), the corporations, and the Canadian state - the time and opportunity to cultivate insecurities among workers and manipulate those insecurities to ensure that the new union, and the ideas it represented, emerged stillborn.
The International, anxious to get rid of the 'Canadian Problem' and realizing that it had no base of support within Canada, was ready to negotiate a financial agreement with the Canadian leadership. A referendum, however, would be an invitation for the American leadership to withhold money for the Canadian strike fund. ifthis led to hesitancy on the part of some Canadian workers, the International could further intervene to nurture opposition to the Canadian leadership (e.g. by firing staff selectively, by reconsidering support for local union mortgages, by withholding strike pay in on-going strikes, and by collaborating with the companies).
As for the companies, they had already issued some tentative warnings about the impact of the split on their investment decisions and were only restrained by the unity within Canada; any indication of significant opposition could mean more dramatic threats, or 'announcements' selectively chosen to strengthen this opposition. Similarly, elements of the Canadian state, although reluctant to speak out and be identified with 'American union bosses,' would not find it difficult to interfere ifa base of Canadian support could be established. In fact, since the Canadian contracts were between the companies and the International, the actions of the union in Canada might be construed as the basis for decertification; the new Canadian union would, thus, be forced to re-organize all of its members.
The union rejected a referendum as both unnecessary and dangerous and made the decision to form a separate Canadian union at the Council meeting in December, 1984. Each local was to have membership meetings to ratify the Council decision, and any local rejecting this action could remain within the International. (One local, representing less than 1 percent of the Canadian membership, chose to remain linked to Detroit. ) The referendum was avoided, but the sentiment of the membership was unambiguously clear.
In spite of some apprehensions, the ease of the transition to the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and the unambiguous judgement that it had, in the process, become a much stronger union, quickly changed the question from "Why did they do it?" to "Why did it take so long?" The measure of the union's new strength was that it did not have to withdraw into a shell to 'establish some breathing room,' 'rebuild,' 'consolidate.' Its activism at all levels increased with barely a missed beat; the split did not drain the union, it energized it. The excitement and rhetoric of the breakaway raised membership expectations. Detroit's valuable services were more than adequately replaced. The union did not require American financial subsidies (as had been argued prior to the split) but had in fact surplus funds. And the aftermath of the split saw the union participate in a remarkably broad range of activities.
The goal of the Canadian UAW, to continue in much the same way as before, was very modest and even conservative. It was the context, not the goals of the union, that identified the union's positions as 'radical,' and it was this context that led the union towards its dramatic decisions. These decisions provoked not only structural changes, but changes in the consciousness of Canadian workers. The dynamic of this event released capacities that no-one suspected were there, with a corresponding blossoming of confidence. And it decisively focused greater attention on the building of the movement within Canada (as opposed to within the Internationals).
While the anti-concessions objective of the Canadian UAW was, of itself, a modest goal, it was another strong reminder that collective bargaining remains at the heart of unionism. As other dimensions of collective action such as broad-based alliances and political action grow in importance, the issue should not become a shift in emphasis away from collective bargaining but an expansion into these other domains. Unless the union is fighting (and fighting effectively) in collective bargaining, it will not establish the authority or credibility to act in other spheres. The fight against concessions was, therefore, a fight for the continued health of the trade union movement.
The story of this fight against concessions obviously includes struggles beyond the Canadian autoworkers (and not only because the union was, at this time, primarily a regional union based in Ontario and Quebec). But ifthe autoworkers, with their reputation for militancy, for being at the leading edge of collective bargaining developments, had fallen into line with their American parent, concessions would not only have been legitimated in Canada but an aura of fatalism would have enveloped them. The Canadian autoworkers were faced with either becoming the vehicle for spreading concessions into Canada or risking the uncertainty of establishing their own Canadian union. Their choice was critical to maintaining the vitality of the Canadian labour movement.
To carry out such struggles to defend Canadian workers, structural changes in the trade union movement were necessary. The need for such changes predates the split in the UAW and was, indeed, modestly underway before the Canadian autoworkers made their move. The formation of the CAW did not mean sudden overnight changes in the Canadian labour movement. But the formation of the new Canadian union did set off a controversy that squarely placed the issue of structural change on the labour movement's agenda. International unions had been challenged before, but with the formation of the CAW they were now permanently on the defensive. And when the creation of the CAW opened the door for an actual option, particularly in the form of a potential home for the Newfoundland Fishermen, the subsequent dispute acted as a catalyst for a more explicit debate about structural changes within the Canadian labour movement, and the roots of these pressures in the demand for more effective and more responsive (i.e. democratic) unionism.
Some have lamented the divisions that erupted. But change includes both overcoming recalcitrant bureaucracies and honest conflict over direction. ifthere=one thing the recent history of the CAW has shown, it=that conflict, controversy, and structural change do not need to be drains on a fixed level of energy. Controversy and conflict are, in fact, often the mothers of revitalization, new strength and capacities. The divisions that occurred will prove to have been necessary and constructive clashes on the road to a more substantive 'unity.'
Within the Canadian UAW, the mobilization for structural change produced an inevitably positive impetus towards strengthening internal union democracy. There is, of course, nothing inherently more democratic about Canadian unionism, but the very reasons for the changes, and the process itself, led to the enhancement of democracy. And I use the word "impetus" to emphasize that, while internal democracy was revolutionized, the process certainly generated new possibilities and new pressures for advancing democracy.
The first democratic advance was the obvious one of shifting the locus of decision-making to Canada so that the different priorities of the Canadians, which were otherwise limited by financial, administrative, and nationalist barriers, could in fact be aggressively pursued. The second was the formation of a twelve-person National Executive Board that, in contrast to the UAW's Executive Board (all officers are full-time), limited the number of full-timers to only three: the President, Secretary-Treasurer, and Quebec Director.
This new Executive Board, representing a cross-section of the union and with officers who have an independent local base, retains a daily link to the membership. This not only provides the President's Office with more accurate readings on developments at the base, but also introduces a new element of checks and balances into the union. Some of the staff's former influence has been shifted towards the Executive Board (e.g. the national departments now regularly report to the Executive Board; caucus slaves for major office are now determined at the Board level rather than at the staff level). And, without exaggerating its actual strength, the Board is able to both influence and act as a potential check on the activities of full-time officers, including President.
More important than all of this, however, has been the impact of the events leading up to the split on the attitudes, expectations, and confidence of the Canadian membership. These intangibles strengthened union democracy by consolidating a culture of struggle, a commitment to building an organization that truly represents working people, and an ideology of being at the forefront of progressive change. While the traditional core of centralized union structures remain, and the new developments do not preclude a drift towards bureaucratization, negative tendencies are clearly limited by the union's current vitality.
This "culture of struggle" is being institutionalized in diverse ways, some at quite early stages, others quite developed: in films (e.g. a history of the union); in music (the union launched an album that included both traditional labour songs and songs specifically written about the recent events); in art (the new educational center has permanent exhibits and will host temporary exhibits celebrating solidarity and internationalism); in the unique level of resources now dedicated to both education and communicating with the membership (the new education center, the expansion of materials and pamphlets, the growth in the core of locally-based educators, the strengthening and expansion of local union papers); in the mood, style, and content at the Canadian Council, Conventions, and other union meetings; and, of course, in the on-going struggles themselves in collective bargaining and - as with free trade - politically.
How much has actually changed for the Canadian labour movement as a result of the successful formation of the CAW? The gains obviously remain fragile. The Canadian labour movement continues to be uneven in its development across regions, across sectors, and even within particular unions. Its central leadership, the CLC, exhibits more bombast than substance and=hardly inspiring. And the hostility of the political-economic environment persists. While international unions may no longer act as a direct vehicle for bringing the weaknesses of American unionism into Canada, the free trade agreement, ifpassed, will comfortably make up for this 'loss' and intensify the pressures on Canadian workers to accept American conditions.
The point is that the fundamental basis for the permanent insecurity of Canada's working people remains: Canada's economic integration into the United States and the gleeful acceptance of this integration on the part of 'Canadian' business. Canadian workers will continue to be vulnerable to the on-going restructuring of international business, the competitive implications of a rising dollar, and the loss of strength inherent in rising unemployment.
At another level, it is clear that the scope of the battles being undertaken also remain limited. Within the Canadian autoworkers, the long deliberations on the content of a constitution for the new union never spilled over into a serious questioning of the rights of working people in another constitution - the Canadian constitution. The emphasis on union democracy never led into a serious questioning of how democratic Canadian society really is. The discovery of what Canadian workers could achieve didn't inspire any serious questioning of why workers couldn't alter their subordinate status under capitalism.
The Canadian labour movement remains defensive; that is, it remains a movement trying to carve out some material benefits, a degree of security, a measure of legitimacy within capitalism rather than a movement for transforming capitalism. The significance of the split was not that it changed this fact, but that - at a time when even the defensive capacities of the labour movement were in danger of evisceration - it reasserted Canadian unionism's vitality as an institution fighting on behalf of working people.
The significance of the split, in other words, lay in the modest-sounding but crucially-important determination of the Canadian autoworkers to continue the struggles of working people. The split of the Canadian autoworkers from the UAW, and the exciting spin-offs that emerged from its dynamics rather than from some master plan, represented a proud and inspiring step in the continued building of a Canadian working class.
- ifwe look at real wages (i.e. wages after adjustment for inflation) they were not in fact rising that much faster in Canada - for autoworkers or other Canadian workers - because of higher inflation. In convential industrial relations terms, this may seem to negate the impression of the relative success of the Canadian trade union movement. But such a perspective ignores the significance of how the workers obtained the wages they had, and therefore misses the true significance of what was happening. Monetary wages in the U.S. act as a loose guideline or limit for Canadian wages. To surpass monetary wages in the U.S. required militancy on the part of Canadian labour, and this struggle for better wages, in contrast to surrendering to the ideology of concessions, meant that the Canadian labour movement remained healthier than its American counterpart.
The indicators of this health included (in addition to modestly better real wages): its record in organizing new workers; its ability to play a leadership role in political issues of fundamental importance to working people; the fact that, generally, the Canadians emerged better off in terms of working conditions; and the recent successes in pension indexation which signalled a shift away from responding to corporate demands and the reassertion of workers' demands.
- While Hollywood was producing Rambo and the American hero of the day was Lee Iacocca - a businessman leading the fight for concessions - the publicly-owned National Film Board of Canada was producing a film to be shown on prime-time TV portraying Bob White as a Canadian hero standing up to the Americans - a labour leader fighting against concessions. And the film was well received by audiences of relatively diverse class backgrounds.
- Even the disastrous U.S. exchange rate was not a purely external factor. The negative impact of the U.S. exchange rate on competitive labour costs with Japan dwarfed even the worst concessions the corporations were contemplating; eventually the U.S. dollar did fall, but only after the damage of concessions had been done. Had American labour forced the issue by putting up a serious fight against concessions, the pressures on U.S. workers would not have ended, but it might have been alleviated by an earlier correction in their currency (as did happen in Canada).
- Leo Panitch and Donald Swartz, The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms, (Toronto, 1988).
- The explanation given for the end to the strike was the non-democratic actions of the local leadership. But the main point here is that the Canadian leadership showed no enthusiasm for this strike from the begining and certainly had no conflict in responding to the concerns of the American leadership.
- During the formation of the UAW, regional Councils had been established throughout the union, but outside of Canada, they did not endure. The Canadian Council consists of approximately 300 delegates elected at the local level. The Council elects its own executive, meets quarterly, and collects its own (modest) revenue. The Director has to come to the Council with a prepared report, outlining his activities in the previous quarter and raising broad issues which set the stage for a discussion of the union's future direction. The Council thus keeps the leadership in a state of nervous readiness. This was especially true in the earlier years, when the Left - primarily, but not exclusively, Communist - was a force. In Canada, unlike the U.S., the Left survived the Cold War (albeit battered) and the Council provided a vehicle for its Caucus to both meet regularly and to fight for its positions - including the cause of Canadian autonomy. Even through the sixties and early seventies, when the Left was marginalized or incorporated into the union, a few capable spokepersons could dramatically affect the tone and direction of the meetings. This impact on the range and style of discourse at the Council, this influence on issues, policies, and how the union saw itself, was the Left's contribution to what eventually developed into a "culture of struggle" within this section of the UAW.
It should be noted that the existence of a Council structure was not just a difference between the Canadian and U.S. sections of the UAW; a similar contrast exists between the Canadian UAW and many other Canadian unions lending an important institutional basis to the leading position of the union in the Canadian labour movement. For more on the role of the Canadian Council see Charlotte Yates, From Plant to Politics: The Canadian UAW 1936-1984, Ph.D. dissertation, Carleton University, 1988.
- Earlier, McDermott had been one of the few prominent Canadians to immediately speak out against the War Measures Act. The Canadian Council happened to be meeting just after Trudeau announced this removal of civil liberties and McDermott led the debate to pass a resolution condemning the Act.
- In contrast, forums for debate were being closed within the United States.
- One of the issues the union faced on both sides of the border was what to do about staff salaries. In the U.S., membership frustrations with concessions and a union that didn't appear to be fighting for the workers made this a hot issue and the union responded by forcing the staff to make comparable concessions. Because the staff is in the same association on both sides of the border, there was then an attempt to spread this solution to Canada.
- I have said very little about the role of education. There are two reasons for this. First, because the historic commitment to education was strong on both sides of the border. Second, because I believe that developments in education reflected, rather than fed, the direction of the union in the two countries. The Canadians did lead when, in the late seventies, they developed a Paid Educational Leave program (PEL). The intent of this program was unambiguously forward-looking - its objective was to develop the future cadre of the union. The focus of the course was to develop activists who were committed to militant, independent unionism. The Americans didn't follow this breakthrough until years later, and when they finally did, the program was oriented more to training in job skills and included joint sessions with management.
- The reaction in the U.S. ranged from calls to throw the Canadians out because of their lack of solidarity to predicting the end of White's chance for the Presidency of the UAW. Fraser and other power brokers had been seriously considering White as the next leader of the union in spite of his (young) age and in spite of his having have been Canadian Director for only three years.
- With the American agreement following in the wake of the Canadian, but without a strike, it could be said that the Canadian workers were also primarily responsible for the $.75 per hour the American workers obtained.
- White has many of the attributes of other leaders: clever and bright, articulate, a quick learner, astute in sizing up both people and situations, a workaholic who revels in responsibility and tough decisions. His two Administrative Assistants at the time, Bob Nickerson and Buzz Hargrove could each have been the top leader of almost any other labour organization in the country. They were invaluable in keeping the union together. Their trouble-shooting and administrative work gave White important insights into where the membership were at; they always aggressively interacted with White in key tactical decisions - sometimes reversing White's inclinations, often reinforcing his confidence to set out in a specific direction. White also respected the working media and was ready to risk opening himself (and the union) to it. But the media's role was not inflated. The media remained a temporary "window" - it did not dominate White's perspectives and strategy. The main considerations were not how the outside world looked at the union but the internal dynamics of the union. It is in this dimension that one finds White's specific attributes for the struggle at hand: his understanding of the role of unions under capitalism, and his trust that, given the proper leadership, the members were ready to take on the issues.
- The positioning for the future was already starting, and not only at the level of rhetoric. In dealing with the question of how the union balances the corporation's real power to shift jobs, and the demands of the membership for real wage gains, White drew a line between "principle" and "more" (which was directly captured in the NFB Film Final Offer). The union would fight for the principle of real wage gains and would risk the consequences. But it would demonstrate its responsibility by not continuing the strike once the principle was established; even ifworkers had the (unique) opportunity to squeeze a few more pennies out of the corporation, a strike would not be continued ifno other issue was at stake.
- In large part, this reluctance reflected the inertia of past expectations; to a lesser degree it was a response to the growing articulation, by a small minority, of what concession bargaining would do to unions as an institution. Because there was no split in the leadership and no effective vehicle for sustained opposition to concessions, any rank and file rejection of concessions was quickly reduced to a "postponement." Such "inconveniences" merely set the stage for new tactics on the part of both the corporations and the union leadership to reverse this "temporary defeat." (At GM, for example, workers originally rejected opening their agreement and then, after intense - and manipulative - pressure, accepted a new agreement by only 52 percent.)
- Some have argued that events might have turned out differently had the UAW been led by someone more capable and more sophisticated than Owen Bieber. Perhaps. But this view ignores and obscures developments that predate Bieber. After all, an early indication of the UAW's response to the changing world came under the "capable" leadership of Leonard Woodcock during the first energy crisis, with his active consideration of using the strike fund to advertise and sell cars on behalf of the corporations. And it was the very "sophisticated" member of the Old Guard, Doug Fraser, and not Bieber, who laid the groundwork and paved the way for concessions.
- Immediately prior to the Council meeting. White took the issue to the staff of the union. It was no secret that members of the staff were opposed to the emerging split (some on principle, others because their paycheques were signed in Detroit). In the course of the long debate that ensued, the surprising resolve and commitment of the staff reinforced White's own resolve. Although White continued with his two-stage tactic, the resolution was strengthened to broaden the scope of Canadian autonomy.
- The past rejection of a referendum - style of democracy was not an opposition to direct democracy, but more a matter of how direct democracy and representative democracy best fit in the union's search for balancing participation and effectiveness. Although not used nationally, the referendum did have a place in the union's many-layered view of democracy: it was used at the local - at union meetings, strike meetings, and ratification meetings - where membership directly decided the primary issues affecting them.
- One elected union official in Oshawa, in fact requested the Ontario Labour Board to consider such a decision. The strongest call for a referendum came from Oshawa. This was dealt with by twice setting up membership meetings in Oshawa to debate and ratify the split. A significant section of the Oshawa leadership wanted these meetings limited to whether or not a union-wide referendum should be held - rather than to having the meeting become Oshawa's "referendum" on the split itself, but they failed and the split was overwhelmingly endorsed, with no leadership person from the platform opposing it.
- The local's decision to stay in the International was a close one. The local leadership's opposition to the new union was based on its antagonism to past interference from Toronto when the local was prepared to make concessions. In the subsequent elections, this opposition to the split was a major factor, and the incumbent leadership was defeated.
- This same question may now be asked of other Internationals: "Why is it taking so long?" The Canadian Steelworkers, for example, seemed to face conditions that were more propitious for a split than those facing the autoworkers. Negotiations in the steel industry were dominated by Canadian rather than U.S. multinationals (so the rationale for international unionism based on common employers wasn't valid); the Canadian steelworkers were the largest industrial union in Canada (giving them the base for going it alone); and the two largest locals within Canadian Steel had been taken over by a Left-nationalist leadership.
But the very independence of Canadian bargaining meant that the kind of tensions that developed within auto bargaining, where the employers were the same, were less likely to develop. Furthermore, the Steel union subsidized a much larger Canadian staff than did auto. This acted as both an incentive to stay with the Americans, and was itself a base for fighting any maverick local union leader or even Regional Director. The limit on Regional Directors was rooted in the fact that they played a secondary role in collective bargaining (unlike the UAW) and so lacked the credibility and authority to act ifconfronted with the opposition of the U.S. leadership. And, of course, with the bond to the International represented by having a Canadian (Lynn Williams) as a top officer of the International, establishing the forceful authority of a Canadian Director who might be opposed to the International=all the more difficult and essential.
Having said all this, it should be noted that Steel may not have acted yet, but may still act relatively soon. From a historical perspective, the question may not be why Steel didn't make the move but why it followed, rather than led, the autoworkers.
- These priorities extended across organizing, education, collective bargaining, and social action. To cite just a few examples: the merger with the Newfoundland Fishermen could not have occurred within the International because the UAW would not have risked antagonizing another International (the UFCW) and the Fishermen themselves would not have been interested in moving out of one "International" into another; the UAW would simply have not approved the major expenditures for the new Canadian education center; pension indexation, which was absolutely not on the agenda in the U.S. would have been fought, by the International itself, as a demand by its Canadian members; the fight against free trade could not have been led by an International union - not because of the role of the International itself, but because of the liability of having to constantly defend American branch-plant unions while articulating more general independence from the United States.