The Crisis in the ATU: Labour Shoots Itself in the Foot

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 1382 .... March 14, 2017

The Crisis in the ATU: Labour Shoots Itself in the Foot

Sam Gindin and Herman Rosenfeld

A sign of the tragic disarray of the Canadian labour movement is the extent to which its misadventures keep piling up. As the turmoil within the union representing the Ontario government's unionized employees (Ontario Public Service Employees Union -- OPSEU) hits the press, the chaos continues in Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). The 10,500 members in that local -- over a third of the ATU's Canadian membership -- operate and maintain Toronto's transit system, North America's third largest public transit system, behind only New York and Mexico City. As with OPSEU, the acrimonious story is not about a tough strike or a response to an anti-union... government. Rather, at a time when the union should be leading the charge to address popular frustrations with the failures in the city's transit system, the local is preoccupied with a messy internal battle.

Local 113 President Bob Kinnear had attempted to break away from its American-based parent and, in what was quickly apparent, to join Unifor, Canada's largest private sector union. For the time being he has clearly failed. The tale is mired in territorial conflicts over the members involved, legacies of personal nastiness among Canadian union leaders, whispers of conspiracy on the part of Unifor and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), of national flag waving and charges of U.S. imperialism, counter-denunciations of ‘nationalism’ and undermining international solidarity, opposing interpretations of democracy, a remarkable -- if challenged -- court decision, and miscellaneous elements impenetrable to either inside or outside observers.

Though we can't avoid delving into some of the sordid details of this development, we'll try to limit the noise of the various intrigues involved (for a blow-by-blow see: "ATU Trusteeship, Unifor Raid, CLC Crisis"). The two crucial but difficult tasks are to get to the basic principles at stake and -- above all -- to figure out where the members stand and how their voices might play a more direct role in resolving this sordid clash.

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