Time for City of Toronto employees to dump CUPE

“I long considered (retiring President Ann) Dembinski to be an obstacle to a Communist Party takeover of the Local, and with her leaving it seems that, barring any interference, they should be able to gain complete control with little difficulty. They certainly have the momentum, and I have long considered Local 79 to already be a Communist Party “asset” in some respects.

“One possible solution, if there is a legal window of opportunity for it, is to give the membership the opportunity to vote on which union they wish to be represented by in the upcoming bargaining talks – the Canadian Union of Public Employees, or some other union.”

It was recently reported in the Toronto news media that Ann Dembinski, President of CUPE Local 79, has announced that she will not be running for re-election but will instead be retiring to spend more time with her family.

Tim Maguire is currently First Vice-President of the Local, and David Kidd is the Second Vice-President. Maguire chairs the Executive Board meetings and fills in for the President in her absence, and Kidd is Chief Steward of the Local, chairing the Stewards meetings and heading the Grievance Committee.

When I had dealings with him prior to my forced retirement in 2000, Kidd was a Communist Party member, and had served the Party in an executive capacity. He was involved with the “Bread Not Circuses” coalition, and helped cost Toronto the 1996 Olympics by “camping out” in the lobby of a Tokyo hotel with Jan Borowy. Kidd and Borowy were both members of the Bread Not Circuses steering committee.

I observed Kidd and Maguire working together as a team for several years, handing out leaflets, campaigning for re-election, and co-ordinating their political activities.

I long considered Dembinski to be an obstacle to a Communist Party takeover of the Local, and with her leaving it seems that, barring any interference, they should be able to gain complete control with little difficulty. They certainly have the momentum, and I have long considered Local 79 to already be a Communist Party “asset” in some respects. And, the Local’s “mail-in ballot” system has come under attack on several occasions in the past, with questions being asked as to why more ballots are printed than the Local has members.

The term “social unionism” refers to those who believe that union members are responsible for the well-being of all workers everywhere, and such unionists spend substantial amounts of dues money in support of “social justice” throughout the world.

“Business unionism” refers to the practice of a union spending its dues revenue almost exclusively on its own members, looking after bargaining, and enforcing the collective agreement through the grievance procedure.

In the column “Financing the Revolution” carried by Our Toronto Free Press (now Canada Free Press) in April 1998, I said: “The amount of time, materials, money and facilities made available out of the pockets of union members is absolutely astonishing. Activists are booked off from their regular jobs for days and even weeks at a time. Telephone banks are provided and staffed in rented premises. Money is available for ads and commercials against the government. Money for buses, placards, accommodations, vehicle rental, you name it. All out of the pockets of union members, who have never, ever, been asked which party they support, let alone whether or not they even want their dues spent on politics.”

This is “social unionism” in practice. Because of such activities, the Local 79 grievance system became so overloaded that it was taking up to five years to receive an arbitration award from first filing a grievance. The members became reluctant to file grievances, and the most effective defence workers have against unfair and arbitrary management practices was greatly weakened.

I fear a complete takeover of the Local by Communist Party operatives in the upcoming Local 79 elections, and the best way to avoid that, in my opinion, is for a full slate of “business” unionists to step forward to tackle the radicals, “progressives” and academic Marxists on a straightforward platform of putting the workplace interests of the membership ahead of any other consideration.

Communists and their allies will not hesitate to use the Local as an instrument of political and economic warfare against Mayor Ford, and against Tim Hudak if the Progressive Conservatives win the provincial election. I believe that they would not hesitate to put the Local out on strike to those ends, without any regard for the hardship that would cause the members.

In 1996 Sid Ryan, then-CUPE Ontario President, was instrumental in several union-organized “Days of Protest” against the Provincial government of Mike Harris, trying to close down a series of small towns first in order to gain experience, and then attempting to close down Toronto itself, the seat of the Provincial government.

Currently, as President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, he has been involved in occupying the offices of PC leader Tim Hudak, and several other politicians’ offices have been occupied also.

And, the CUPE-supported Ontario Coalition Against Poverty trashed then-Ontario Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s office in Whitby in 2001.

Ryan was quoted during the Days of Protest as saying “The safety of kids is at issue…the transportation system is going to be shut down…many schools may have to close that day.” Daycare centres were targeted for disruption, forcing parents to stay at home. Businesses supporting the Harris government were targeted for harassment by organized labour. “Protesters” arrived in buses from all over Canada, and even the States, to provide muscle and the illusion of numbers for this unwanted and destructive undertaking.

Local 79 booked off two people for six weeks each to visit Local 79 workplaces to encourage the members to go out, and one of them was David Kidd. And, the October, 1996 issue of the Communist Party organ “People’s Voice” devoted six pages to the Days of Action.

Most Local 79 members took advantage of their employer’s offer to take a day’s vacation to avoid the hassle, and I personally broke though the picket line at the front entrance to Metro Hall with a much-appreciated physical assist from inside.

Returning to the present, I suspect that President Dembinski realizes this is not the right time to scrap it up with Mayor Rob Ford. She’s about due to retire anyway, and quite possibly doesn’t want to finish her long and distinguished union career as “fall-guy” for the inevitable disaster if the “progressive” elements in the Local manage to force a strike against her wishes.

That is just my speculation. But, whatever the reason, her leaving does open up the possibility of a complete takeover by the far left, and her announcement does not allow much time for an opposition to coalesce and organize.

But, it is not written in stone that the City of Toronto inside workers have to belong to CUPE.

One possible solution, if there is a legal window of opportunity for it, is to give the membership the opportunity to vote on which union they wish to be represented by in the upcoming bargaining talks – the Canadian Union of Public Employees, or some other union.

In that regard, I would strongly suggest the members of CUPE Local 79 consider switching over to Teamsters Canada. In the U.S. the Teamsters have represented the City of New York’s employees since 1952, plus several other municipalities including Denver, and Jacksonville, Oregon. The Teamsters Public Service Division serves almost 240,000 public employees across the United States. They also have an airline division, as does CUPE.

I approached Teamsters Canada in the late 1990’s in that regard, holding several meetings with one of their business representatives. Essentially speaking, they wanted me to gain control of the Local 79 Executive Board before they would then ‘come to the rescue’ at my request. I told them that I was unable to achieve that, but if a representation vote were to be held, I could very likely swing it in their favour. The Teamsters decided that they were reluctant to be accused of “membership raiding” and the heat they would have to take for it.

Perhaps now, ten-plus years later, if enough Local 79 members make representation to the Teamsters then they might receive a more positive response.

Also, there has been bad blood between CUPE and the Canadian Auto Workers over just such political issues. Then-CAW leader Buzz Hargrove stopped his union’s financial support for OCAP in an apparent split with Sid Ryan over the trashing of Jim Flaherty’s office. Hargrove was deeply concerned about OCAP’s predilection towards violent demonstrations and other illegal activities. The CAW is known to look after business first, before getting involved in politics.

It is worth noting that in my neck of the woods, Durham Regional Transit workers are represented by the Canadian Auto Workers, together with Oshawa’s City-Wide taxi, St. Mary’s Cement in Bowmanville, and several other regional employers in addition to General Motors. So are the staff at the medical clinic I go to. Thus, the Auto Workers may also be worth approaching on the representation issue.

In my opinion, it is essential for the City of Toronto’s inside employees to escape the shackles of “social unionism” and to find responsible representation from a “business union” that will put the interests of the membership first and foremost, and stop pouring the membership’s dues money into the bottomless pit of political agitation.

Something to think about.

And if anyone in Local 79 actually wants to do something along these lines, I will be happy to try and help. See my “contact” category.

Jeff Goodall.

The Teamsters Canada website can be visited here.

The CAW website can be visited here.

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