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  • authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Sat, Apr 17, 2004

In the Canadian House of Labour, the Rats are Getting Fatter

The mere thought of a union leader running with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's wolf pack is revolting - the reality of it is even more revolting.

A March 30, 2004 Globe and Mail reported that IWA National President Dave Haggard may run as a Liberal candidate in the next federal election was pure vomit-inducing news. It's hard to explain the array of emotions that overcame this writer. The feelings of being deceived and the gargantuan disappointment quickly turned my feelings of anger into outright rage.

A couple of days later, Prime Minister Martin announced his BC Dream Team, sans (without) Haggard. But the word on the street is that future Dream Team additions are waiting in the wings and Haggard may be among them.

The rage is not going away. How could a union leader - someone who is supposedly for the people - so blatantly suck up to Paulie Martin corporate shill, whose federal administration is currently mired in the biggest corruption scandal in Canadian history.

But surely the signs were there all along. Most of us were just too busy abhorring the sell off of Hospital Employees Union members by the collaboration between the corporate shills in British Columbia's Liberal government and Haggard's IWA whose underhanded, deceitful, behind the back, double-dealing, member-stealing sweetheart dealing with multinational corporations - kept our eyes averted and our minds busy.

We should have been watching the big picture and most of us were not.

The fact that Haggard laughed when told of media reports that his appointment as a Liberal candidate would be announced tomorrow was not funny - even if the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by anyone with a sick sense of humor.

"I'm not denying. I'm not admitting. I'm shocked and amazed," Haggard said from Toronto, where he was attending merger talks with the United Steelworkers. Typical political tap dancing; keep the people guessing while, behind the scenes,attending to all the dirty details of his plans for self-promotion or self-preservation.

"Everyone seems to be deciding my future..." Haggard went on to say. That statement may turn out to be more prophetic than Haggard could ever imagine.

Wheeling and dealing in workers souls appears to be the business of the day for the IWA, so all union members need to be on Haggard alert. What's he up to?

All indications are that Brother Dave is looking out for No. 1. Taking care of his own ass and looking for a comfy place to park it now that his throne at IWA-Canada is getting a little too hot. That said, is the forth coming merger of IWA-Canada with the Steelworkers a liquidation sale before Haggard moves on to Paul Martin's privatization wolf pack or will Brother Dave be richly rewarded with a nice seat at the trough with the Canadian USWA for his efforts in facilitating the merger? Maybe Brother Dave plans to do both if he can swing it. Or maybe he's playing Martin and the Steelworkers off against each other to see who is more squeezable. Nothing like getting a good bidding war going over your own hide - especially if there's something about your hide that appeals to the other wolves.

It wouldn't be the first time in recent history that Haggard shook his bootie and bedazzled the leaders of various wolf packs. When the shit hit the fan about IWA-Canada and its corporate partners screwing of about 7000 HEU members and their families, the IWA put its own proud members on the auction block. Shock quickly turned to awe as the leaders of Canada's largest unions lined up to make nice with Brother Dave.

The lucky bidder just happened to be the Canadian branch of the Steelworkers Union - an outfit closely connected to CLC President Ken Georgetti who, coincidentally, would be getting rid of a massive headache if the IWA merged with a big respectable CLC-affiliated union.

The much anticipated merger of the IWA with the Steelworkers reeks to high heaven of a sell off of members and a sell out of members' interests. Pardon the cynicism but the whole thing looks like a tango with three partners - the IWA, the USWA and the CLC. Where are the members? They're not even in the dance hall. From what we can tell, the members exist in media releases only.

In a Canada News Wire release, the USWA announced that IWA-Canada chose the Steelworkers from among a number of national and international unions.

"We feel our memberships are very compatible in terms of our history and our shared values," said Steelworkers' National Director Lawrence McBrearty.

"We will do everything we can to accommodate IWA members and create a merger that works in the interests of everybody."

The national executive of the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada set the wheels in motion to merge with the United Steelworkers of America.

A resolution was passed at the IWA convention last September 2003 to "aggressively pursue a merger with a larger compatible union" and after talks with big shots at several unions, the IWA executive endorsed a merger with the Steelworkers.

The members had nothing to do with any of this of course, but they didn't have to. It's just understood - by the leaders - that their leaders know what's best for them. When it comes to union mergers, it's just a given that a bigger union is a better union - whether members agree or not.

But is larger really better for the members? The standard rationale advanced by bureaucratic unions for merging locals is that it will create bigger locals and bigger, the theory goes, is better. Just like mergers between unions, advocates of local mergers believe that a larger local will be stronger, better able to take on management, more financially secure and more efficient in its use of resources. All of this presumably will make the local more effective on behalf of the members. The Steelworkers and IWA are advertising that benefit in the sale of members to the Steelworkers.

In his article Union Mergers Rarely Bring New Strength Or Promote Worker Loyalty and Solidarity, Harry Kelber makes the following assertions:

  • The loss of identity that mergers cause to the weaker of the two unions can be psychologically damaging. Take the case of the New York Typographical Union No. 6, a union whose proud history goes back to the 1850s. This is a union, known in labor circles as "the Big Six," that shut down New York City's daily newspapers for 114 days in 1962-63 in one of the great battles in labor history. It is now known as CWA Local 14156, with no indication that this is a union of printers.
  • As with corporations, a merger between two unions can cause trauma among employees of both organizations that can last for months, sometimes years. There is continuing tension about who is going to be laid off and how the restructured jobs will be divided between the two staffs.

What's in the USWA-IWA merger for IWA members is anybody's guess. What's in it for the Steelworkers is a little more obvious: 50,000 dues paying members. But in all this no one has really asked the question why the Steelworkers would even want the costly hassles and potentially endless political headaches that they will be acquiring along with the 50,000 members.

The likes of IWA Local 1-3567 President Sonny Ghag and his band of cut throat raiders are still roaming the range lusting after even more low wage health services workers. They don't seem in any mood to let up either, even in the face of the CLC's Level 2 sanctions.

Maybe the CLC thinks the merger will stop Ghag raiding and rampaging. Perhaps no one in the CLC glass house of labour really sees what Ghag has done as all that bad (hence the relatively painless Level 2 penalty)? Perhaps the Steelworkers think what Ghag and his clowns have done is good for the bottom line (if not all that great politically) and are prepared to let him continue for as long as is feasible. Maybe they think that once the merger is a done deal, they can control Sonny Ghag.

One would think that any union with an ounce of integrity would stay clear, well clear of the plundering and pillaging that got the IWA's wrist slapped by the CLC last month or at least insist that it end immediately.

Instead - what happened? Haggard put Sonny Ghag on the IWA-Steelworkers merger committee. What the hell is Sonny the rogue-rat (depending on who you talk to) doing on any committee? He is the very reason for the expedited fall of the IWA and he gets to sit up close at the trough?

In an April 7th, 2004 Bulletin #4 Merger-Negotiations, we were told that the IWA committee consists of the national president, first vice-president and secretary-treasurer along with six local union presidents (Joe Hanlon, 2693; Mike McCarter, 1000; Paul Hallen, 1-184; Darrel Wong, 2171; Bob Matters, 1-405; Sonny Ghag, 1-3567).

What the hell is going on here?

In the March 2004 edition of an IWA Allied Worker newsletter, Haggard had the audacity to brag about Local 1-3567's organizing new groups of private health care workers throughout the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Howe Sound and Pemberton regions, southern Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Of course, how these workers came to be IWA members - through "partnership agreements" with major private health services providers: Aramark, Compass Inc. and Sodexho - is not mentioned.

So Ghag gets a front row seat with all the little treats that are coming the IWA executives' way for leading their members to the merger. What's in it for him and the other executives?

The word on the street is that Dave Haggard, the IWA National President will receive a bonus pension based on the average of his best years in wages divided by 2 to give 1/2 the average. For example, if the National President's average salary is $90,000, he will receive 1/2 of that for a total of 45,000 USD a year pension (45,000 dollars U.S. is well over $70,000 CDN). If his age and years of service add up to more than 75 he will receive an additional 1/2% for each year of service.

And how long will Haggard hang around with the USWA after the merger deal is done? That's a whole other question. Will he be given an important position so he can continue to belly up to the trough if he doesn't become a Member of Parliament or maybe he can come back to the trough at some point in the future if he decides that the MP'ing trade really isn't for him? Watch for Dave to max out his opportunities at the Steelworkers trough.

How are all you members liking it so far? It's hard to tell how any of this is supposed to benefit you. It's hard to tell what - if anything - the USWA is going to do for you. If you're thinking that this whole thing sounds a lot like a bunch of powerful guys helping a bunch of powerful guys, you might just be on to something. That's exactly what's happening.

Some predictions:

The coziness that has developed among the big kahunas at the CLC makes it imperative that there be peace in the valley. We suspect that the merger talks are being expedited to keep the CLC from having to raise the penalty sanction to 2.5 or something really painful like that and that CLC Pres Ken Georgetti will wait as long as he can before ever considering kicking the IWA out of the CLC. It's doubtful that Georgetti will ever do anything like that to the IWA (although he wasted no time booting the CAW out a few years ago) considering what he's done so far. Once the merger is done, he won't have to worry about the IWA anymore because officially, the IWA will no longer exist. The IWA will be the Steelworkers and anyone who criticizes the Steelworkers will be promptly put in their place.

Dave Haggard is playing all the angles. He'll use his considerable leverage with the USWA to boost his earning power and make a nest for himself for his golden years. The very thought that he's being courted by the Prime Minister to run for the federal Liberals gives him a certain veneer of respectability. And he'll be respectable as all hell if he wins a seat in Parliament. Union leaders will be waiting in line for a bit of his time.

Sonny Ghag will continue on a President of Local 1-3567. Chances are good he'll keep right on doing those sweetheart deals too. The Steelworkers will say, "Hey, he's organizing for us now. Those are our members and we're going to get better contracts for them in six years time or...whenever we can. Keep your noses out of our business."

CUPE - the only CLC-affiliated union that has openly opposed the IWA's sweetheart dealing - is unlikely to get off its ass and apply some real pressure on the CLC (like taking its 500,000 members out of the CLC altogether). Its leader, Paul Moist, is a real team player who wants badly to get along with all the other fine men at the CLC. Since his appointment as leader in the fall of last year, Paul has found himself between a rock and a hard place - stuck between CUPE members who are clamouring for something meaningful to be done about the IWA's sweetheart deals and the big kahunas at the CLC who would like the whole messy business swept quietly under the CLC's bulging carpet. Paul has spent his time tip-toeing through the political landmines trying to appease his angry members without getting any labour kahunas noses out of joint. The word on the street is that since October 2003, CUPE has been withholding its per capita payments to the CLC, but President Moist doesn't want that to be widely known because they don't want to look like they're "grandstanding". Watch for President Moist to continue dancing around the fence while he holds his breath waiting for the merger to happen. At that point, he'll heave a big sigh of relief and, dutifully towing the party line, wait for the USWA to work its magic for all those health services workers who are doing work that CUPE-HEU members used to do.

This is how things work in the secret world of powerful guys. No wonder I'm disgusted.

Shortly after news of his possible candidacy for the Liberals was announced, Dave Haggard was pressed by the media to shed some light on his intentions. He responded coyly, "I mean good God, I haven't ruled out getting run over by a gravel truck in the next half hour," he said. "I mean, life is life and I have made no commitments and no decisions based on anything." Maybe that's the problem with the fine gentlemen who claim to be the leaders of working people. They're not committed to their members and make decisions based on nothing much - apart from their own selfish interests.

What do all the members involved in the forthcoming marriage of convenience have to say? What do they want? Which union do they want? What kind of union do they want? How do they feel about being hawked like so many things? That is what should really count. If there really is nothing in it for the members, why should any one of them vote for this merger?

Perhaps the best thing that could happen for the IWA members is to recall Haggard and his national executives and put the brakes on the wedding before it's too late.

Sell out or sell off? You decide.

Selling The Farm has set up a chat room specifically to allow IWA members to speak candidly about their concerns about the IWA and Steelworkers merger. All IWA and Steelworker members are welcome. If you're interested in your future and want to discuss it with other like-minded members, contact the administrator@sellingthefarm.com.

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