Friday, 27 August 2010

Power struggle at the Ontario Federation of Labour

There's been a showdown building at the OFL between recently elected president Sid Ryan and five of the affiliated unions that fund the labour federation and have all cut their dues payments forcing the OFL to layoff several of its staff. It also appears that there's a power struggle between Ryan and his two deputies, Marie Kelly and Terry Downey . All in all, this amounts to an attempted coup that would either force Ryan to resign or force him to all but resign by becoming President in name only and ceding all operational authority to Secretary-Treasurer Marie Kelly and the unions that are backing her. Kelly is supported by Wayne Fraser, Director of Steelworkers District 6 (ie the leader of the Canadian Steelworkers) despite an apparent conflict of interest as Fraser and Kelly are said to be in a long term romantic relationship.

The following letter detailing the crisis has been making the rounds:

What is going on at the OFL?

By now, you may have heard rumours about affiliates cutting their per capita to the OFL, and OFL staff being laid off. Unfortunately, those rumours are true! Five unions - OPSEU, ONA, SEIU, Firefighters and the Society of Energy Professionals all cut their per capita payments tot the OFL in half over the last few months.

Why? No one is saying. But a leaked e-mail from ONA President Linda Haslam-Stroud dated April 29, 2010 shows that the per capita cuts were planned and orchestrated by a handful of OFL Executive Board members, and that OFL Secretary-Treasurer Marie Kelly and Executive Vice President Terry Downey are part of the secret "OFL Group".

What motive could they possibly have for trying to financially cripple the OFL?

Flash back to spring 2009. A majority of union leaders have agreed to back Sid Ryan to run for President of the OFL at the November convention. Then some start to get nervous about whether Sid will be too outspoken or controversial. They decide they want to run Marie Kelly as President instead of Sid, but this time Sid has made it clear that he will run no matter what. Realizing the Marie can't beat Sid on the convention floor, they decide to shift tactics. They announce that they will support Sid for President after all and run Marie for Secretary-Treasurer. All three Officers are subsequently acclaimed at the November OFL convention.

Flash forward to January 2010. Sid takes over at the OFL and brings his EA from CUPE, Antoni Shelton, with him. The majority of OFL staff are enthusiastic about Sid's leadership and activist agenda for the OFL, and embrace Antoni as part of the team. But OFL Secretary-Treasurer Marie Kelly and Executive VP Terry Downey immediately object and e-mails start flying at the Executive Board. They want Antoni fired. At the very first Board meeting, less than 2 months after Sid has assumed office, Marie and Terry spend 5 hours berating Sid and airing every minor grievance they have against him. Without even looking at the budget, Marie, Terry, Marie's "close associate", Wayne Fraser, and a few of their friends on the Board argue that the OFL doesn't have the money to employ Antoni (this despite the fact that the OFL has been employing an extra Director on contract for the past two years, and he has now left to take a job elsewhere.)

The situation escalates over the next few months. The secret "OFL Group" is formed, with Marie Kelly and Terry Downey as participants, and they work to try to convince other Board members to join them. They agree on a plan to de-fund the OFL. This is in direct violation of the Officer's oath of office. The first of the five affiliates (OPSEU and ONA) cut their per capita in half. Two OFL Directors and one support staff are given lay-off notices. Two posted positions are left unfilled. The CAW announces it will re-affiliate 15,000 members to the OFL as of June 1. The other three affiliates in the secret group proceed to cut their per capita.

The situation comes to a head at the June Executive Board meeting. As Secretary-Treasurer, Marie Kelly brings in a budget that she tries to use to prove the financial crisis is the result of mismanagement by her predecessor and long-standing un-funded liabilities, in order to shift the blame away from the de-funding by the five unions. At around 7:00 pm, after half the Board members have left, the Board votes 12 to 11 to fire Antoni Shelton without cause and pass a budget that forces the lay off [of] two more Directors and one more support staff. Marie and Terry vote in favour of the firing of Antoni and the staff lay offs. Some Board members who are part of the secret group start talking about demanding concessions from the remaining staff in order to save jobs. The decision cuts the OFL staff by over half. When the lay offs are complete, only 4 of 9 department Directors will remain, along with an office manager and 4 admin/clerical staff. And 3 full-time officers!

The reality is there was no financial mis-management at the OFL. The present financial crisis has been manufactures. The intent is to undermine Sid Ryan as President, either force him out or set the stage for Marie Kelly to run against him in 2011, and to extract concessions from the OFL staff whose collective agreements are currently expired, and downsize the organization.

This does nothing to strengthen the labour movement. This does nothing to help our members in the workplace. This does nothing to help us oppose concessions from employers and the government. This will only serve to silence the voice of organized labour in this province.

What can you do to support the workers at the OFL and the duly-elected President from this attack?

Help get the word out. Distribute this [letter] to all your contacts in the labour movement. The secret "OFL Group" wants to keep all of this under wraps. They threaten anyone who tries to speak out.

Find out where your union leadership stands. Ask the president of your union how he/she (or their designate) voted at the June OFL Board meeting.

If you are a member of one of the five unions who cut their per capita, ask the members of your Executive Board if they knew and approved of their union's role in de-funding the OFL.

If you belong to one of the small affiliates, ask your leadership if they knew that the VP Representing Small Affiliates, Rod Sheppard, is part of this secret "OFL Group" that is working to destroy the OFL and voted to lay off OFL staff.

Help put pressure on the 5 unions to restore their funding. If you belong to one of the other unions, pressure your leadership to speak to the leaders of the five unions who have cut their per capita in half to stop this nonsense and work to build our labour movement, not destroy it!
This letter is from a long-time trade union activist who asked that their name not be used for fear of reprisals.
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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Islamophobia: The New Anti-Semitism

A fascinating article by Daniel Luban in Tablet magazine. Luban argues that Islamophobia as it is developing in North American and Europe has strong parallels to traditional anti-Semitism and examines the furor over the "9-11 mosque" as the latest and most fervent example of this. Here's an excerpt:
many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.

While the political operatives behind the anti-mosque campaign speak the language of nativism and American exceptionalism, their ideology is itself something of a European import. Most of the tropes of the American “anti-jihadists,” as they call themselves, are taken from European models: a “creeping” imposition of sharia, Muslim allegiance to the ummah rather than to the nation-state, the coming demographic crisis as Muslims outbreed their Judeo-Christian counterparts. In recent years the call-to-arms about the impending Islamicization of Europe has become a well-worn genre, ranging from more sophisticated treatments like Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe to cruder polemics like Mark Steyn’s America Alone and Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia.

It would be a mistake to seek too precise a correspondence between the new Islamophobia and the old anti-Semitism, which differ in some key respects. Jews have never threatened to become a numerical majority, or even a sizable minority, in any European country, so anxiety about Jewish power naturally gravitated toward the myth of the shadowy elite manipulating the majority from behind the scenes. By contrast, anti-Muslim anxiety has focused on the supposed demographic threat posed by Muslims, in which the dusky hordes overwhelm the West by sheer weight of numbers. (“The sons of Allah breed like rats,” as the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci put it.) It may be that in many ways this Islamophobia shares more of the tropes of traditional anti-Catholicism than classic anti-Semitism.

But if the tropes do not always line up, there is some notable continuity in the players involved. One of the most striking stories of recent years has been the realignment of segments of the European far right behind a form of militant support for Israel. Much of the traditional neofascist right remains both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic, but savvier far-right leaders have realized that by dropping the anti-Semitic elements of their platforms and doubling down on Islamophobia, they can tap into a new base of support from pro-Israel hawks across the Atlantic. Both the British National Party and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium have gone this route, although it remains questionable whether the move away from anti-Semitism is more than skin-deep. (The Vlaams Belang’s predecessor party, for instance, was disbanded after a controversy concerning Holocaust-denying statements made by one of its top officials.) Equally striking has been the rise of Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician whose Islamophobia, virulent enough to draw the condemnation of even the ADL, has made him a darling of “anti-jihadists” in the United States.
 The entire essay is available here. The Atlantic Monthly's Jeffrey Goldberg makes a similar point in his response to Reverend Franklin Graham's claim that "president [Obama]'s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim". Goldberg retorts, "This kind of rhetoric has a strange historical antecedent in Jewish history. In the 1400s, in Spain, a movement arose that questioned the sincerity of those Jews who had previously converted to Catholicism," and adds that "Anti-Muslim sentiment in America today has many of the hallmarks of the anti-Semitism of yesteryear."

Tablet is a "daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture" and carries articles from across the political spectrum (for instance here's a piece against the one-state solution) as well as non-political pieces.It's refreshing to see that at a time when Jewish publications and the Jewish community is under increasing pressure to submit to groupthink, Tablet is willing to publish dissenting pieces. I doubt Luban's piece or anything like it would be published by the Canadian Jewish News, for instance.
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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Shepherd's Grandaughter - new update

Back in March and again in April and June, I reported on efforts by Brian Henry, the B'nai Brith and Trustee Sheila Ward to have the Toronto District School Board ban the acclaimed children's book' The Shepherd's Granddaughter because it tells the story of a Palestinian girl who suffers at the hands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Officials of the TDSB reviewed the book and in April ruled that:
the Shepherd's Granddaughter does not cross the line into literature promoting hate or animosity towards others. On the other hand, it has the potential to engage our Grade 7 and 8 students (a critical age for the development of social consciousness about human society) in understanding the complex issues of their world. The Shepherd's Granddaughter contains several themes for creative discussions in our classrooms, such as multigenerational families and relationships, aging; experiencing loss; influences of religion and faith; gender roles, and gender stereotypes, effects of family separation through emigration, the value of education… As well, this book can certainly be used to explore issues of bias and prejudice, and that students can learn from such exploration… Having said that, we acknowledge that guidance from the teachers and teacher librarians is important in producing the desired outcomes described above.
 That decision was appealed and an 11 member committee reviewed the book and advised TDSB Director Chris Spence that the book met the Board's criteria for approval.

Spence issued his decision last week and informed the complainant, Brian Henry, that after reviewing the committee's report and reading the book himself (something Trustee Ward failed to do before vowing to "move heaven and earth" to ban the book) he agrees with the committee that the book “has the potential to engage our Grade 7 and 8 students . . . in understanding the complex issues of their world.”

You'd think that would be the end of it but school trustee James Pasternak is urging Henry to appeal to trustees to overturn Spence's decision claiming that the book "has no place in our schools." Pasternak asserts that "we'll have enough votes to overturn the decision."

This should be an election issue. Contact the school trustees at the email addresses below and tell them what you think. You can find out who your trustee is here or you can write all the trustees using the email addresses below:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
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"Bubble Girl" charges dropped

You may recall the story from the G20 about Courtney Winkels (above, left) who was warned by police after blowing bubbles in Parkdale. A report by the Real News on the bubble incident and her arrest posted on YouTube went viral with over 250,000 hits. (Courtney was actually arrested after her bag was searched and the police found a first aid kit she was carrying as part of her duties as a street medic. She was arrested, charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and held in the Eastern Avenue detention centre for several days before being released).

Her charges were dropped by the Crown yesterday, along with charges against approximately 100 of the 303 arrestees who appeared in court Monday. This means of the 1,090 picked up during the G20 summit, 80% have seen their charges withdrawn or "diverted". (See Krystalline Kraus' report for here for more on what happened for the other arrestees at the 2201 Finch court house.)

Meanwhile, Officer Bubbles has achieved his own level of infamy and is the unwilling star of a series of Flash cartoons posted on YouTube. Series available here.

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