Approximately one month ago, over one thousand rank-and-file members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 attended a general membership meeting of the union in order to voice indignation with their elected leadership. This indignation was the result of a crisis that has enveloped the union over the past several months. The members present at this meeting sent both a clear message of no confidence in the Executive Board (EB) and a desire for new elections. However, this demand for new elections has not been realized, as the right to recall of elected officers does not currently exist in the union local’s by-laws or within the ATU's General Constitution.
In response, a group of grassroots ATU workers gathered in the weeks after the general membership meeting (including the author of this article), and through discussion decided to craft an amendment to the by-laws in which the right to recall will be proposed at this weekend's upcoming general meeting (Sunday, April 23rd @ 10:00 am). This is the logical next step in the struggle for accountability and democracy within our local. Those of us involved with this effort look forward to it being brought to a vote, which should occur one month later at the May membership meeting. The time between the April and May meetings will allow for a period of discussion and consideration to occur among the membership.
At the time of the March membership meeting, there were some signs that the EB was responding to the pressure of the rank and file. Kevin Morton, the acting Secretary-Treasurer, for example, promised in an interview with the Globe and Mail that there would be an investigation into board members who may have supported Kinnear's disaffiliation attempt. The EB also released a seven-point plan in the aftermath of the meeting which was designed, in the board's own words, to "regain the trust" of the membership. Since then, however, we've seen more of the same dishonesty that was responsible for this leadership losing the members' trust in the first place.
For example, the executive board condemned a report released by Canadian Labour Congress investigator Barry Thorsteinson on the crisis as being biased. While it may be the case that the CLC’s hands are not entirely clean of the scandal within the ATU, the report makes strong allegations, with supporting evidence included, that other board members did at some point support Kinnear and his disaffiliation attempt. This is passed over in silence by the EB. Similarly, there has been no further mention of the investigation into board member's conduct since Morton made the promise over a month ago. This suggests that the EB members have closed ranks around themselves. Why? It was clear at the March general meeting that the membership weren't going to be satisfied with just a sacrificial lamb or two out of such an 'investigation' - they wanted the entire EB to be held accountable.
If there is one positive development to have come out of the crisis, it is that the rank-and-file of ATU Local 113 have awoken and are asserting themselves in the union. Over the years, the various leaders that have come and gone have done little to engage the members in the activity of the union, and a culture of passivity and bureaucratic control from above has developed as a result. Now, it could be said that a mood of dissatisfaction did already exist among the ranks prior to the current crisis, associated with the inability of the leadership to stand up and fight the employer and the government. Such a mood, however, had not yet developed to the point where the workers felt like they had to get up and do something about it. This has now changed.
Several groups of rank-and-file members have already been formed in response to these events with the purpose of organizing within the union for change. In the case of the group this author is involved with, we have organized specifically with the idea of rediscovering the traditions of militant, grassroots union democracy, which form the foundation upon which the labour movement has in the past been built. We believe that militancy and democracy in the union is the only way to build a strong union movement that can defeat concessions, outsourcing and restrictions on workers rights. We plan to hold regular monthly meetings going forward, and any rank-and-file Local 113 member who is interested is welcome to get involved.
As important as it is for the grassroots to get organized within the union going into the future, this by itself is no substitute for proper leadership. This is the most immediate problem that must be resolved at the present moment. It is especially pressing in light of the fact that the current contract Local 113 has with the TTC is set to expire in just about a year. As the company may press for serious concessions this time around, it is imperative that the members have an executive board in place that they can trust to lead the fight at the bargaining table, and on the picket lines, if necessary.
There is a pressing need for the right to recall to be asserted within the union. Recall is a traditional demand of the movement for rank-and-file democracy within the workers movement. It ensures that the leadership is accountable to the membership and that the views of the rank-and-file are driving the direction of the union as a whole. When workers feel they have control over their union, there will be a greater involvement in general members meetings and more rank-and-file activism. Greater participation in the union benefits and strengthens the membership as a whole.As the confidence of the members in the current EB has been shaken due to its recent conduct, so we should have the ability to select a new EB in whom we can place our confidence going forward. The membership should have the right to choose who stays and who goes, and those currently in office should have to justify themselves to the members if they wish to stay on.
It is with all the above in mind that the following by-law amendment will be moved this Sunday:
To be inserted as a new section (#7) - named 'Recall' - under Article V - Elections
Any member in good standing who has collected a signed petition of members in good standing (including full names and badge numbers) amounting to at least five percent (5%) or one hundred (100), whichever is greater, of those members represented by a particular Union Officer or multiple Officers, may motion at a General Meeting for the recall of said Officer(s) prior to the expiration of their term(s) in office. Such a motion plus petition must be submitted in writing and be read at two General Meetings of the Local Union before adoption. At the second reading, a vote shall be taken of those members in attendance represented by the named Officer(s), and that vote shall require a two-thirds majority in favour of recall in order for the motion to be adopted. If adopted, the aforementioned office(s) shall be deemed vacant, and the vacanc(ies) shall be filled in accordance with Section 2(d) of Article V of the By-Laws and Section 14.10 of the ATU Constitution and General Laws. As the named Officer(s) will be considered to have been 'recalled' at this point, as opposed to having 'resigned', said Officer(s) will remain eligible to run in the resulting election for the unexpired term of the same office. Only one recall motion per term will be allowed per Officer.