CLAC mulls leaving confederation

The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) will consider withdrawing from the world's largest trade union confederation and joining another organization, when the union gathers this week for two separate conferences in Vancouver and Burnaby.

"We will be discussing our membership in the International Trade Union Confederation (UTIC) at our annual convention this year," said CLAC executive director Dick Heinen.

"The World Organization of Workers' Congress is a response to our suspension from the ITUC. It's an international affiliation of labour unions that shares our values and we feel more comfortable dealing with."

CLAC is holding its national stewards conference and national union convention on Sept. 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver.

The event will also provide CLAC with an opportunity to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

In addition to this conference and convention in Vancouver, CLAC is also the Canadian host for the World Organization of Workers' (WOW) Congress being held concurrently at the Executive Inn in Burnaby.

At the request of the Canadian Labour Council (CLC), CLAC's membership in the ITUC was suspended in September 2011.

CLC President Ken Georgetti has accused CLAC of publishing policies and being involved in activities that undermine the conditions of workers in Canada and hinder the organizing activities of CLC affiliated unions.

In response, Heinen said the request by the CLC to suspend CLAC's membership in the ITUC was based on a number of false allegations.

"Georgetti orchestrated an anti-CLAC drive to have us expelled and he came up with a bunch of allegations at a kangaroo court, where a decision had already been made," he said.

"We have not had a reasonable hearing with the general council or the executive of the ITUC. They did not read our defence and they haven't acknowledged whether or not there is a process for reexamination of the decision. "

Heinen said the allegations being made by Georgetti are similar to what the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is saying on their website,

For example, the AFL claims CLAC is a company union, which accepts invitations by employers to enter into voluntary recognition agreements.

The result is the negotiation of collective agreements that are inferior compared to those obtained by traditional unions and undermines their organizing efforts.

According to Heinen, the truth is that CLAC probably has a higher percentage of certification than any union in the building trades.

"I think within the minds of the ideological trade unions to be a company union is a bad thing," he said.

"We think it is okay to co-operate with a company to grow the business,' he said.

"This is recognition of a legitimate partnership with employers, which is also the stated goal of the Alberta Building Trades."

Heinen said CLAC is an alternative to the adversarial relationship of traditional trade unions with employers.

For this reason, CLAC has a more co-operative approach to labour-management relations.

He said Georgetti is in a clear conflict of interest because he sits as vice-president on the ITUC's executive board.

The ITUC was formed in 2006 in a merger between the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions with the World Confederation of Labour (WCL).

As a member of the WCL, CLAC automatically became a member of the ITUC.

"We decided to join, even though we were hesitant with the ideology of the ITUC," said Heinen.

"We believe in a partnership approach and the ITUC is too militant. The group of unions that decided not to join the ITUC formed WOW."

CLAC is experiencing fierce competition from traditional trade unions as it expands in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"CLAC has been involved in the construction industry since the old days of the union and we have certainly had an important presence, especially with specific crafts in the 1960s and 1970s," said Heinen.

"We currently have about 50 per cent of our business in construction and we intend to grow that side."

Established on Feb. 20, 1952 by Dutch immigrants, CLAC is based on the European model of Christian labour unions, which stress the principles of social justice and charity as taught in the Bible.

WOW is the new name of the former World Federation of Clerical Workers (WFCW) founded in September 1921 in Luxemburg.

WOW was founded as a Social Christian trade union and finds inspiration in the spiritual belief that man and universe were created by God.

The ITUC is the world's largest labour union confederation representing 175 million workers in 155 countries.

Journal of Commerce, Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Byline: Richard Gilbert

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