Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Constitutional Politics of Labour: From Confederation to the Quiet Revolution - Part Six

The Birth of the Confédération des syndicats nationeaux

In the post-war period, under the new leadership of President Gérard Picard and General Secretary Jean Marchand, the Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour (CCCL) adopted a more mainstream approach to labour relations. The Confederation created a strike fund and aggressively began organizing new members (particularly in construction and the metal trades).[1] In the early 1950s, still reeling from the bitter Asbestos strike, the CCCL broke ranks officially with Duplessis’ Union Nationale government and targeted four of the party’s incumbents for defeat in the 1956 provincial election. In the riding of St. Maurice, one of the CCCL’s lawyers, René Hamel (who went on to become Minister of Labour in the Lesage government) won election as a Liberal. In 1957, CCCL activist Michel Chartrand was elected leader of the CCF in Quebec. Chartrand and Picard went on to participate in the formation of the NDP’s Quebec wing in the early 1960s.[2]

In 1960, the CCCL formally changed its name to the CSN, thereby abandoning its Catholic roots and instead embracing a new form of progressive, secular, Quebec nationalism. Gérard Pelletier, the CSN’s Director of Public Relations, explained “if we want to indicate outwardly the changes that have taken place inside our movement, we must change its label.”[3] During the 1960s, the CSN managed to more than double its membership from 95,000 to 205,000.[4] Most of the CSN’s new recruits came from the rapidly expanding public sector, but several thousand more came from a massive raiding campaign of FTQ affiliates in the private sector. Much of the CSN’s new organizing success owed itself to an exclusively nationalist discourse. The CSN would routinely remind workers that the international unions affiliated to the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) and Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) were headquartered in the United States, and argued these unions neither understood nor cared about the unique needs or demands of francophone workers in Quebec.

CLC-FTQ relations in the sixties

The upstart progressive nationalism which existed in the CSN, also manifested itself, although to a lesser extent, in the FTQ. The Federation’s repeated, and often ignored, calls for greater autonomy from the CLC and together with more resources were reflective of a new sense of identity for Quebecers. The FTQ may have agreed with Jodoin’s position that separatism was not the answer to the conflict between French and English in Canada, but it did not share the CLC President’s conviction that French Canadians and English Canadians are “stronger together than… as separate groups.” By calling for greater autonomy for the FTQ, the Federation was implicitly arguing that French Canadian workers in Quebec would be better served by a structure which divided CLC services linguistically. The decentralist demands of the FTQ were spelled out in a briefing note entitled “Notes sur la situation actuelle au Québec des unions internationales et nationales”. The briefing note, authored by the FTQ’s executive committee, won widespread support within the FTQ and its affiliates in 1963. It provided an analysis of the political transformations taking place in Quebec and warned that unless the FTQ became a genuinely Québécois trade union central, it would surely be eclipsed by the nationalist CSN. The FTQ had reached the conclusion that any attempt to convince the CLC to provide better services to FTQ members was a dead end strategy. “Notes sur la Situation,” advocated instead for the FTQ to administer its own programs, in French, separately from the Congress.[5] In short, the FTQ had accepted the view that reforming the CLC was pointless. The release of the document marked a turning point in the relationship between the CLC and the FTQ. No longer would the Federation attempt to reform the CLC by trying to make the Congress more representative of Quebec, more bilingual, and more in tune with the specific needs of the Federation. Instead, the FTQ would concentrate on building the FTQ by simply assuming the role of the CLC in Quebec.

Assuming the role of the CLC in Quebec meant that the FTQ would also be taking responsibility for making its own unique views known on wider social and political issues, like the Fulton-Favreau formula which emerged as an important constitutional issue in the early 1960s. Fulton-Favreau was a proposal for an amending formula to the Constitution. Developed by Justice Ministers Davie Fulton and Guy Favreau in the early 1960s, the formula called for unanimous provincial consent for constitutional amendments affecting all provinces. Constitutional amendments affecting specific provinces would only require the consent of the provinces involved; and any amendment which did not concern provincial powers, would require support of two thirds of the provinces representing at least 50% of the population.
Previous attempts at reaching an amending formula had failed largely because they threatened Quebec’s interests by proposing qualified majorities for the purposes of constitutional reform. The principle of unanimous consent embodied in the Fulton-Favreau formula attempted to rectify this obstacle. However, the Quiet Revolution had raised the stakes considerably and Quebec was no longer willing to accept an amending formula which treated the emerging nation as one of ten equal provinces. In its “Déclaration à l’occasion du débat sur la formule Fulton-Favreau” in April 1965, the FTQ noted “nous aimerions bien que le Québec aille au bout de sa compétence en matière de planification économique et de sécurité sociale...”[6] After having initially supported the formula, Premier Jean Lesage, under pressure from Quebec nationalists, backed off. His government’s decision to withdraw its support for Fulton-Favreau effectively killed the formula. Quebec nationalists were thrilled by the result and support for sovereignty, although marginal, was increasing.

Addressing delegates to the 1964 CLC convention, President Claude Jodoin expressed his views on Canada’s Constitutional Question: “It is time for us who believe in a strong and in a united Canada to speak out. It is typical of some destructive minorities that they talk with loud voices. We must not let ourselves be fooled by this. It is time to put these narrow-minded pursuers of selfish objectives in their place.”[7] Jodoin’s comments were directed at the new separatist movement emerging in Quebec. Before being elected to the presidency of the CLC, Jodoin was President of the Montreal Trades and Labour Council, Director of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), and President of the TLC.[8] Jodoin’s background as director of the ILGWU likely contributed to his views on Quebec as they relate to trade union structures. Although a Quebecer himself, the ILGWU, for whom he worked, was fiercely opposed to Quebec nationalism and separatism. Unlike the USWA and CUPE, who both attempted to meet the aspirations of their respective Quebec memberships on the levels of “communication, coordination, and representation”, the ILGWU represented the exact opposite view by “favoring a very strongly unified union movement encompassing all of Canada.”[9] In his 1977 study of “Linguistic Tensions in Canadian and Belgian Labor Unions” Albert Verdoodt argued that:

"In the ILGWU, bilingualism is reserved for the level of communication. For coordination with the international headquarters (New York), all correspondence is in English. Within Quebec, meetings are generally bilingual, where necessary. Even here, however, coordination is in English due to the fact that management is most often English-speaking...Perhaps one reason for the somewhat passive attitude of the ILGWU... on matters relating to Quebec and the Quebec francophone can be attributed to their considerable membership from other linguistic groups (e.g. Italian, Greek, and Yiddish)..."[10]

Whether it was the view of the ILGWU that influenced Jodoin, or vice versa, there is no question that Jodoin’s particular views on constitutional questions were also reflected in his views on CLC-FTQ relations.

Under Jodoin’s leadership, the CLC was hostile to any suggestion that powers or responsibilities be devolved to the FTQ, and the Congress successfully resisted calls for greater autonomy for several years. However, the rise of the CSN in the early to mid 1960s forced a significant change in the way the CLC interacted with the FTQ. In the early 1960s, the FTQ was in crisis in terms of membership retention. Its major rival, the CSN, was expanding at an impressive rate; organizing vigorously in the public sector and aggressively raiding FTQ locals in the private sector. Between 1963 and 1964, the CSN picked up thousands of FTQ members. The CSN, led by Jean Marchand at this point, shared close ties to the Lesage government and effectively tapped into the rising tide of Quebec nationalism which emerged in the 1960s. The irony, of course, is that Marchand along with Pierre Trudeau and the CSN’s Gérard Pelletier all ran and won seats as Liberals in the 1965 federal election – their mission was to defeat the rising tide of Quebec nationalism in Canadian politics.

The CLC and the FTQ reacted to the CSN’s raiding strategy by mounting a resource-heavy counter-offensive which was finally able to contain the rival trade union central by 1966. In many ways, the CSN’s aggressive raiding strategy in the private sector legitimized the FTQ’s call for greater autonomy by exposing the Federation as weak and vulnerable. While much has been made of the FTQ’s growing nationalist character in the 1960s, it was actually the increased strength of the CSN that finally forced the CLC to capitulate and permanently concede additional powers to its Quebec section. In 1963, the FTQ had convinced the Congress to temporarily shift jurisdiction over the areas of union education and organizing to the FTQ.[11] However, this decision did not reflect the CLC’s attitude toward CLC-FTQ relations during Jodoin’s tenure as President. The Congress only agreed to this temporary transfer of power in the context of the FTQ’s war with the CSN.

For the latter half of the 1960s the FTQ pressed the Congress for more autonomy as a way of defending itself from the nationalist CSN, but the CLC resisted each time. At its 1965 convention, FTQ delegates passed a resolution asking the CLC to officially recognize that Canada is composed of two founding nations, and pressure the federal government to recognize this principle.[12] At the 1966 CLC convention, future FTQ president Fernand Daoust argued that “the bi-national aspect [of Canada] must be transposed into relations between the QFL and the CLC so that we may see to it that the QFL is not a federation just like the others, that it has particular status within the labour structure of our country.”[13] The CLC once again rejected the FTQ’s calls for reform. However, the Congress did agree to form a special committee to investigate its constitution and structures. The FTQ called on the committee to ensure that all CLC publications and services be offered bilingually; that the CLC be forced to consult the FTQ before nominating delegates to international labour organizations; that the FTQ be granted control over labour councils and CLC regional offices in Quebec; and that the Federation be given the appropriate financial resources to undertake these latter initiative.[14]

Because the CLC would not voluntarily devolve powers, the FTQ decided to bypass the Congress and begin acting like its own proper trade union central. In April 1966, the FTQ joined with the CSN and the Union catholique des cultivateurs (UCC) to present a joint submission to the Quebec Legislative Assembly joint committee on the Constitution. The Quebec labour movement argued that the constitutional problem could be resolved by adapting the federal system to the current reality of Quebec. The group of Quebec labour organizations proposed a form of “flexible federalism” which would grant exclusive provincial jurisdiction over education and culture, shared federal-provincial jurisdiction over radio and television, and federal consultation with the provinces over immigration, monetary and fiscal policies, together with equal representation of francophones in federal institutions.[15] Between 1960 and 1967, the FTQ stepped up its own independent activity as a pressure group by presenting, or co-presenting with the CSN, no less than twenty submissions to government standing committees or commissions looking at pressing political issues.[16] In March 1968, the FTQ overstepped its jurisdictional authority by signing an agreement with the CSN committing both organizations to stop raiding one another. When the Congress pointed out to the leaders of the FTQ that the Federation had violated the CLC Constitution, the FTQ decided to make political hay out of the dispute by asking delegates to the 1968 CLC convention to retroactively approve the negotiations and the agreement with the CSN. In order to avoid a potentially embarrassing convention fight, the leadership of the CLC brokered a deal with Laberge, and instead delegates were presented with a resolution which would include the CLC in non-raiding talks with the CSN. The resolution was adopted unanimously.[17] At the same convention, the FTQ proposed the decentralization of CLC services to the FTQ. However, when the FTQ leadership went off to plan a strategy for achieving their demands, CLC President Claude Jodoin gained the support of the convention to rule the FTQ’s resolutions out of order. Jodoin explained that the FTQ’s calls for greater power and autonomy were objectionable because they had only been approved by the Federation’s executive without having been approved by its affiliates. FTQ vice-president Jean Gérin-Lajoie complained that the Federations’ affiliates were simply “a milking cow for the CLC” because although they paid into the CLC, they could not access most of the CLC’s unilingual services.[18] A controversy over the lack of simultaneous translation devices gave the FTQ’s Fernand Daoust a further opportunity to chastize the CLC leadership by suggesting that “appeals to national unity are all very fine but let us see our principles applied in the labour movement itself.”[19]

After the FTQ’s attempt to achieve special status was rebuffed, the Federation adopted a new strategy to press for decentralization. Rather than ask for special status for the FTQ, the Federation would instead attempt to win widespread support for the idea of decentralizing CLC services to all provincial federations of labour. The FTQ’s strategic maneuver failed miserably. After complaining that CLC President Donald MacDonald had railroaded the decentralization resolution by improperly managing the debate, FTQ President Louis Laberge led a large contingent of Quebec delegates out of the convention hall in protest.[20] The next day, Quebec delegates were back in force to support Gérard Rancourt, the FTQ’s approved candidate for the position of CLC executive vice-president. Rancourt, who had forcefully defended the FTQ’s calls for decentralization, was forced to fend off a challenge from Roméo Mathieu, a Quebecer who enjoyed the official support of the CLC council.[21] After the FTQ’s calls for decentralization were rejected by the convention, it was widely assumed that Rancourt would go down to defeat. However, Rancourt’s upset victory gave the Federation renewed energy and drive. In a 1968 submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Employment[22], the FTQ cautioned Members of Parliament that they may “have been deceived by an impression that the Quebec Federation of Labour is only a branch of the CLC, and more its Quebec spokesman than spokesman for Quebec workers… we are well and truly the autonomous spokesman for Quebec workers as we submit this brief to you.”[23]

[1] CSN (1987), 162.
[2] CSN (1987), 183.
[3] Pelletier, as cited in Labour Gazette vol 60 (1960), 1265.
[4] CSN (1987), 199.
[5] Émile Boudreau et Léo Roback, L'Histoire de la FTQ, des tout débuts jusqu'en 1965, (Montréal: FTQ, 1988), 346-347.
[6] FTQ, Déclaration à l’occasion du débat sur la formule, (15 avril, 1965).
[7] CLC, Proceedings, Constitutional Convention 1964, 2.
[8] CSN (1987), 160.
[9] Albert Verdoodt, Linguistic Tensions in Canadian and Belgian Labour Unions, (Québec: Centre International de recherche sur le bilinguisme, 1977), 13.
[10] Verdoodt (1977), 14.
[11] Boudreau et Roback (1988), 348.
[12] FTQ, Politique de la FTQ 1960-1967, 96.
[13] CLC, Proceedings, Constitutional Convention, 1966, 88.
[14] Boudreau et Roback (1988), 350-351.
[15] Jacques Rouillard, Histoire de la CSN, 1921-1981, (Montréal: Boréal express, 1981), 233.
[16] Gérin-Lajoie (1982), 173.
[17] CLC, Proceedings, Constitutional Convention, 1966, 34-35.
[18] Toronto Daily Star, (April 23, 1966).
[19] Toronto Daily Star, (April 29, 1966).
[20] Toronto Daily Star, (May 9, 1968).
[21] Toronto Daily Star, (May 10, 1968).
[22] The Committee was looking at a proposal by Manpower Minister Jean Marchand to break up national bargaining units to better reflect the country’s linguistic duality. Marchand’s proposal enjoyed the support of the CSN, but was being contested by the CLC. Both Marchand and the CSN framed the debate in terms of minority rights for francophone workers. This enraged that FTQ which felt the need to intervene in the debate as the largest trade union central in Quebec. The Fedeartion argued that the CSN, with the help of its former President, Jean Marchand, was simply trying to bolster the union central’s membership under false pretenses.
[23] FTQ ,Brief on Bill C-186 to the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Employment, (1968), 3.