The Canadian Labour Congress has chosen a new president for the first time in 15 years, in a move that suggests a deeper shift within the organization that represents most of Canada’s unions.
Hassan Yussuff, who served as secretary-treasurer of the CLC since 2002, defeated incumbent president Ken Georgetti in a close vote held Thursday at the organization’s annual convention in Montreal.
Mr. Yussuff becomes the first minority president of the labour congress, defeating Mr. Georgetti by a slim margin. Mr. Yussuff received 2,318 votes, which was 40 votes ahead of Mr. Georgetti’s 2,278.
The CLC represents 3.3 million workers and includes many of the largest unions and trade organizations in the country. Mr. Georgetti held the president’s job since 1999 and won the endorsement of several large groups, including the Telecommunications Workers Union, which publicly backed his bid for re-election last month.
However, Mr. Yussuff is said to have amassed support among a number of unions that were unhappy with the congress in recent years, and wanted the organization to employ new approaches to guiding the labour movement.
Born in Guyana, Mr. Yussuff came to Canada to work as a heavy truck mechanic and joined the labour movement through membership in the Canadian Auto Workers. He joined the CLC as executive vice-president in 1999, becoming the first person of colour to serve at the executive level of the organization. He also served as an observer in the 1994 South African elections, which saw Nelson Mandela named president.
Mr. Georgetti, who is from Trail, B.C., was the longest-serving president. The CLC grew by 750,000 members, or almost 30 per cent, during his presidency. But that growth came at a time when Canadian economists and academics have debated whether the power of unions has been eroded in Canada, due to shifting industries and changing legislation.
Conversations within the labour movement have questioned whether new approaches are needed, and Mr. Yussuff has said he wanted to bring a more aggressive approach back to the CLC and its membership.
“There is a wind of change blowing in Canada’s trade union movement,” Mr. Yussuff said in a statement on his campaign website. “There is a desire and a demand to return to the offensive for rights and progress for workers after decades of retreat and decline.”
While the race was close, the victory was helped considerably when challenger Hassan Husseini ended his campaign this month and threw his support behind Mr. Yussuff. That move gave him enough votes to unseat the incumbent.
Mr. Yussuff has been a vocal critic of the federal government’s approach to labour negotiations and its interventions in several public sector disputes, which he argues has unilaterally stripped rights from workers in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia. He has also been vocal about conditions in the private sector, particularly as pensions come under fire.
“The reality for private sector unions is that the manufacturing base has been weakened, pensions are under severe attack, and union density has declined,” Mr. Yussuff said on his website.
“An entire generation is being offered lower wages, fewer benefits, and a less stable future than their parents before them.”