October 28, 2006
When I heard that the Canadian Auto Workers were holding their convention in my home town, I decided to attend. It was as interesting as I expected, but maybe not in the way I hoped. Here are some of the moments I observed.
It was hard to tell if this was a union convention or some weird kind of performance theatre. Buzz Hargrove was winding up his acceptance speech after another coronation ... I mean election, as President of his union when it felt like we had slipped through the mirror into Alice's topsy-turvy world. All of a sudden these words appeared on the big screens at the front of the Vancouver Convention Centre hall:
"I love you, will you marry me?"
Was Buzz proposing to all the 1000 delegates, staff and observers to engage in some sort of Sun Myung Moon ritual? No, he was using the Convention hall and delegates as a backdrop and props for an offer of marriage to his partner, Denise Small.
In fact, before this surprisingly self-centred action, Buzz had the union send out a press release to ensure his antics received the maximum publicity:
Attention News Editors:
Media Advisory - CAW President: Denise Will You Marry Me?VANCOUVER, Aug. 17 /CNW/
In what promises to be a surprising and tender moment at the 8th CAW Constitutional Convention in Vancouver this afternoon, tough, no-holds-barred union president Buzz Hargrove will propose to Denise Small in front of 1,000 delegates, guests and family members.
Hargrove, leader of the largest and highest profile private sector union in Canada, is known for his tough stands on social justice and bargaining issues.
Denise Small is a respected mediation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
Hargrove will propose to Small following elections scheduled at 1:30 this afternoon for the union's top leadership positions. Elections will take place at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Hall 'A,' First Floor.
For further information:
Jim Paré, Director of CAW Communications:
Partof Buzz's elaborate plan involved ensuring that Ms. Small was kept away from radio and TV that day so she wouldn't hear the media reports of his impending proposal.
The Election That Never Happened
The Caucus Race: "the Dodo suddenly called out 'The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, 'But who has won?'"The Convention was expected to witness an unprecedented event: a local leader was going to challenge Buzz Hargrove for the presidency of the union. Willie Lambert had announced his candidacy months before, and had garnered the support of his own local, and some other activists. CAW leaders boast about the democratic nature of the CAW (it is "the most democratic union in the world"; coincidentally also "the most militant", "the most progressive", and of course "the best union in the world").
Despite these boasts, it was not good enough for Hargrove to win an election against a relatively unknown opponent. Buzz's people spared no effort to ensure there was no election at all. Pressure was exerted on Willie's local union to try to get them to withdraw their support. When that met with limited success, considerable efforts were made to isolate and intimidate his supporters. Finally pressure was brought to bear on the person who was supposed to nominate him. When that person succumbed and said he would not nominate Willie, there were few options left.
The night before the scheduled election Willie announced he was withdrawing and supporting Buzz. This occurred at a meeting of the "Administration Caucus", one of the structures used to keep everybody in line. The administration caucus, chaired by Buzz, chooses candidates to nominate for office. Anyone who attends the caucus meeting is bound to support the caucus' nominees. Although union staffers do NOT have a vote at the convention, they ARE allowed to vote at the caucus. Obviously staffers have a lot of influence - they also have a lot of votes. Even though the CAW sent out over 1000 credentials to the local unions, only 634 delegates registered (many locals find it expensive to send their full complement of delegates). They were almost outnumbered at the Convention by the CAW staffers (143) National Executive Board (14) and various guests, special guests and observers (445).
The CAW’s View of Politics
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'"The CAW Convention was presented with a looking-glass view of politics, to match the upside-down philosophy of its president. The paper presented to the convention was titled "In the Eye of the Storm: The CAW and the Re-Making of Canadian Politics".
This paper justified Buzz's call to support the Liberal Party in the last federal election, and then withdrawing all support from the NDP when it expelled him for it. The paper even goes so far as to argue that "the Liberal leadership contest will be an important political event" and that it is "an opportunity for concerned Canadians to promote progressive issues". The policy paper argues that Buzz was only following the democratic decision of the CAW Council on the federal election. But take a look at the resolution that was actually passed by that Council meeting (and is still available on the CAW website):
"I recommend that the CAW endorse the sitting NDP Members of Parliament, and individual NDP candidates in potentially winnable ridings (to be determined following consultation with our local leaders and activists)..."(www.caw.ca/news/contactnewsletter/showissue.asp?name=article&IssueID=553&ArticleID=3820#3820"> www.caw.ca/news/contactnewsletter/showissue.asp?name=article&IssueID=553&ArticleID=3820#3820)
"I recommend that in other ridings, the CAW not endorse any specific candidates ..."
Buzz flagrantly violated this part of the resolution by personally endorsing such Liberal candidates as Belinda Stronach and Toyota manager Greig Mordue.
The CAW paper criticizes the NDP, claiming it "put its own short-term electoral interests ahead of the longer-run priority of fighting for progressive change"! Then, in mind-numbing hypocrisy, the paper ends by claiming that the long-term goal of the CAW is "replacing capitalism with socialism".
Perhaps Buzz believed he was advancing this socialist agenda when he used effusive praise to introduce his guest at the Convention banquet - Liberal Denis Coderre! (Coderre was the only politician of any party to be recognized at the Convention.)
Buzz Visits Israel and Gets Converted
The Alice Through the Looking Glass quality of Israeli disinformation over the combined siege and invasion of Gaza -- and its widespread and credulous repetition by the Western media -- is successfully distracting attention from Israel's real goals in this one-sided war of attrition.More insight into the workings of Buzz's mind came when an "emergency resolution" on the Middle East was presented to the Convention. The resolution was weak and confused, but clearly showed an unwillingness to criticize Israel for its actions in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. The first two resolves of the resolution were:
The current destruction of Gaza's civilian and administrative infrastructure is reminiscent of the Israeli army's cruel rampages through the streets of West Bank cities in the repeated invasions of 2002 and 2003, and the Jewish settlers' malicious attacks on Palestinian farmers trying to collect their olive harvests."
Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 6 July 2006.
- "It is resolved that this Convention calls for:
- An end to shelling of Israeli cities by Hamas militants.
- An end to the shelling of Israeli cities by Hezbollah militants."
The resolution was so objectionable and out of synch with the majority of CAW delegates and staff that the unthinkable happened - there was opposition. I heard several people attack the resolution for ignoring that the roots of the current conflict are a result of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Two CAW staff reps also criticized the resolution - one was cut off by Buzz in the middle of his remarks (due to a 5 minute limit that is selectively enforced). He didn't back down though, and when Buzz said he could only speak further after everyone else spoke, he waited and then concluded his speech. There were also impassioned criticisms of the resolution from Quebec delegates, including one who is of Haitian descent.
When the debate ended, Buzz abused his position as President and Chair of the Convention by speaking himself on the resolution. (Actually Buzz did this on every single resolution.) This time he wound himself up into an incredible rant. He was practically shouting when he tried to counter speakers who had raised the question of Israel's wall. "I used to oppose the wall myself, until I read that it has cut the number of deaths by suicide bombers by 90%" he thundered. He then tried to undercut speakers who had pointed out that Hamas was the democratically elected government of the Palestinians. "So what if Hamas is elected", he said, "I don't care - they are terrorists!" This astonishing statement was met with a chorus of boos - the Convention was booing Hargrove! He was not going to back down, however and went on and on demanding loyalty and support for the resolution. He went on so long that one staff rep stood up and called him for going past the 5 minute limit (which Buzz ignored).
Finally, Buzz called the vote on the resolution (he doesn't allow anyone to speak after he does, so no one could respond to his outrageous comments). When he asked for votes in support of the resolution it looked like about 10% of the delegates raised their hands. Then he called for those opposed, and only about half as many people voted. More than three quarters of the delegates didn't vote at all. They hated the resolution, but didn't want to publicly identify themselves as disloyal. Hargrove announced the result as "carried overwhelmingly". There were some groans and a few more boos, and the issue was over.
Buzz neglected to mention during his rant that his view of the Middle East has been influenced heavily by his personal association with Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman. I think the debate would have gotten REALLY interesting, if Buzz had told the delegates that he was a guest of Schwartz/Reisman in Israel in May of this year:
"WHENEVER REISMAN and Schwartz travel to Israel, they bring along with them an impressive coterie of Jewish and non-Jewish friends. Reisman says it enriches her own perspective to hear other people's perspectives about Israel; she also hopes guests will walk away with a better sense of Israel's vulnerability, the democratic and moral principles it upholds - and its opportunities.The quote is from an extensive article in the Jerusalem Post (May 18, 2006):
They are joined now along with Ronen by an eclectic cast of about 20 stars - that includes Hollywood actor and Canadian-born comedian Dan Aykroyd and his wife Donna Dixon, Canadian Auto Workers' president Buzz Hargrove and his wife Denise Small and Jonathan Deitcher, a senior executive of RBC Dominion Securities.
Michael Budman, co-founder of the Canadian athletic clothing retailer Roots (who outfitted the 2006 USA Winter Olympic team and the Canadian Maccabiah basketball team) and his architect wife Diane Bald are with them. As is Rob Prichard, president and chief executive officer of Torstar, Canada's leading national daily newspaper, who has been in Israel with them on more than one occasion."
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The article details the couple's carefully constructed plan:
"As the other half of Canada's power couple - her husband, Gerry Schwartz, is chairman of Toronto-based buyout powerhouse Onex Corp. - Reisman is carefully and deliberately building a network of friends and political and business interests that could help secure Israel's future."It was less than a month after returning from this trip that Buzz decided to publicly attack Sid Ryan for the position taken by CUPE's Ontario Council in calling for a boycott of Israel for its apartheid-like policies. He showed no respect at all for the 896 CUPE delegates who voted unanimously for the resolution. And he didn't have the intellectual honesty to mention that his trip to Israel with Schwartz and Reisman was influencing him to take a pro-Israel public position, in opposition to previous resolutions adopted by CAW Council and past Conventions.
The author is a veteran trade union observer in British Columbia.