Klein has a vision for Unifor

Naomi Klein, bestselling author and activist, has
taken an interest in Unifor. As reported in an article
on rabble.ca, at Unifor’s founding convention this weekend Klein laid out her
hopes for Unifor and the labour movement more generally.

Klein sees potential for the labour movement and the
green revolution to merge and she urged Unifor members to lead the charge in
realizing this merger. In Klein’s view, the economic troubles of recent years
and the consequent austerity measures instituted by governments around the
globe aren’t working for people or for the planet.

Far from slipping into despondency over these rather
depressing realities, Klein sees opportunities. If, she reasons, organized
labour can position itself as a voice for these concerns, offering a different
economic model that would provide answers to the attacks on working people and
the planet, then unions could “…stop worrying about your continued relevance.”

Klein has long been a vocal opponent of the current
system, whereby workers are dispossessed for the enrichment of the few. In her
book, The Shock Doctrine, she
asserted that certain right-wing interests are wont to exploit crises in order
to impose policies that favour corporate interests and leave workers in the
lurch. We’ve all seen this doctrine at play: here in Ontario, for example, the
Liberal government has been using the economic crisis to justify cuts and the
suspension of collective bargaining. 

Klein notes that a number of mass mobilizations have
already formed in response to policies seeking to justify their existence on
the basis of crisis. Occupy Wall Street is a case in point. Such mobilizations,
however, have so far failed to achieve any substantial gains. They flare up,
peter out and dissolve. In Klein’s estimation, this is where organized labour
could play a vital role. She argues that movements like Occupy Wall Street are
wanting of durability, and organized labour can offer that durability to the
movement. Klein wants organized labour to act as an anchor for these movements,
being a sort of home base for the movements so they won’t fade out so easily:
“We need you to be our fixed address, our base, so that next time we are
impossible to evict.”

Important to any labour movement involvement would
be a focus on building alliances with indigenous communities, community groups
and social movements. More than that, though, the labour movement must
articulate a strong vision and direction of its own as a counterforce to the
oppressive pro-corporate policies of government. It’s not enough to resist
policies and maintain the status quo. Organized labour must present
alternatives that are better than anything business or government are

Klein seems to believe that the green movement, at
least in part, can form part of this new vision. She trumpets the possibilities
that addressing climate change could bring, from a renewal of the public sphere
to energy efficient housing, all of which would necessitate significant
investment in infrastructure. Taken together, she argues, all of this would
generate massive amounts of new jobs.

She suggests that the next time a corporation is
planning to close a manufacturing plant that produces fossil-fuel machinery,
the workers should resist by occupying the factory. Not only does she suggest
workers occupy the factory, but also that they turn it into an environmentally
friendly worker co-op. Klein advises: “Go beyond negotiating a last, sad
severance. Demand the resources – from companies and governments – to start
building the new economy right now.”[1]

Klein is presenting a bold plan to organized labour.
For it to work, union members must have a clear vision of what it would mean to
create a worker co-op. There are examples of such factories in places as varied
as Argentina and Chicago. While there is every reason to believe that anything
done in Argentina or Chicago could also be done here, members must be informed
of what worked in those places and how the results could be replicated here. As
one way of doing this, Unifor could consider hosting educational conferences
where workers and union leaders are provided detailed information regarding
these worker co-ops.

Whether or not Ms. Klein’s prescriptions are right
for the labour movement is a question beyond the scope of a simple blog post.
But much to Unifor’s credit, the organization appears to be open to using their
sheer size to try something new, listening to voices not entirely within the
usual labour dialogue. With its focus on a renewal of the labour movement, Unifor
may just achieve a new function for unions and bring social unionism to this
country in a way that we’ve never seen before.


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