The Canadian Auto Workers, one of the country's most prominent industrial unions, is defying efforts by the Canadian Labour Congress to bring it to heel.
The 2.3-million-member CLC says the CAW will be barred from participating in the day-to-day activities and services of the national labour organization as of July 1, unless it complies with the congress's demands to stop raiding the members of a rival union.
"There will be no change before July 1," CAW president Buzz Hargrove said in an interview yesterday, adding that this meant his 240,000-member union was being effectively turfed from the CLC.
Mr. Hargrove said that, in response, his and other like-minded unions and labour organizations could set up a rival national "house of labour." The CAW is also considering withholding the $1.6-million in annual dues it pays to the congress and dues that go to provincial labour federations.
CLC president Ken Georgetti said yesterday that contrary to Mr. Hargrove's assertion, the CAW is not being removed from the CLC. Rather, it is being sanctioned for continuing to raid the 30,000-member Service Employees International Union.
"The sanctions are a way to get an affiliate to try to get in line with the [CLC]constitution," Mr. Georgetti said. "Mr. Hargrove's actions against the SEIU have been judged by a neutral third party to be a violation of the constitution."
Mr. Georgetti said the impending denial of CLC services to the CAW and taking away its right to vote and set policy "is a progressive way to deny services the congress has, and participation in the congress, to the affiliate until they stop the action.
"It's not to serve to remove them from the congress but to deny them access. As soon as they agree to comply with the constitution, those rights will be restored -- and that means he [Mr. Hargrove]just has to stop signing up members of the Services Employees International Union."
The sanctions also include barring CAW members from holding positions on local labour councils.
Mr. Georgetti said the CLC constitution provides for ways that affiliates can leave the organization. But he said this is done by a third party so there can be no allegations of self-interest.
"What he has to do -- and what his executive has to do -- is to acknowledge that they have pledged an oath, that they have participated in the development of this constitution and that they have used this constitution to apply to them for their benefit," Mr. Georgetti said.
"They have to understand that when they get a decision they don't like, it's the same as when they get a decision they do like."
Mr. Georgetti said that the first dispute he had to resolve after becoming CLC president a year ago was a complaint of raiding by the CAW against another union. Stealing dues-paying members from another CLC affiliate is forbidden by the congress's constitution.
"And it was resolved to the satisfaction of the CAW," he said.
Mr. Hargrove is portraying the dispute as an issue of union democracy. He says the CAW believes unionized workers should have the right to join any union they want.
"If the price of remaining in the CLC is that we have to ignore the democratic wishes of organized working people," he said, "then we'll have to work outside the house of labour."
He has said the CAW never poached SEIU members who did not want to join CAW locals. He said the Washington-based SEIU went to court trying to keep the 5,000 workers from leaving, in spite of a 98-per-cent vote to move over to the CAW.