The images of Buzz Hargrove embracing then-Prime Minister Paul Martin, and draping him in his very own CAW jacket, sent chills down the spines of many workers. They had not forgotten that Mr. Martin was the same man that had brokered several free trade deals that had been detrimental to Canadian industry, and the auto sector in particular. They had not forgotten the sacrifices they were forced to make under a decade of Liberal governments.

It is no secret that both the Conservatives and the Liberals represent the interests of the capitalists; in going over to the side of the Liberals, Hargrove has betrayed the working class and gone over to the side of the bosses. Workers are sick of constantly giving up ground to the business elite.

Trotsky long ago pointed out that antagonisms between the upper and lower strata of the trade unions, as in society in general, become ever more pronounced and polarized in a period of economic crisis. The manufacturing sector in Canada, and in most industrialized nations, is being swept away by a combination of a growing raw materials market and immense outsourcing of increasingly higher skilled jobs. As workers are squeezed in a vice, the pressure forces the underlying divisions to the surface. Those imbedded deep in the labour bureaucracy will begin splitting from the rank and file and siding with the bosses. To them, it is better to fight for the scraps from the rich man’s plate rather than to struggle for something better.

Willie Lambert is running on an anti-collaborationist platform. Reflecting the mass of workers who are tired of sacrificing their hard-fought gains, Lambert has promised to revive the labour movement with the traditions that are its birthright. He strongly opposed the CAW’s separation with the NDP, the party that has an organic link to the working class in Canada. He is also calling for an end of electoral defeatism and “lesser evil politics,” believing that workers have every right to fight for what they want and need, rather than having to barter with the rich.

Militancy, unity, and the struggle for a better future – these are the watchwords of the unionized worker. Buzz Hargrove may have forgotten this, but the rank-and-file have not, they can not. The labour movement was forged by the blood and sweat of the shop floor, and that is where it will rise again.

Below, we publish part of a transcript of Julian’s interview with Willie Lambert.

Julian Benson: From what I understand, you’ve even had accusations that you shouldn’t be running because you’re not an auto worker – is this true?

Willie Lambert: What Buzz Hargrove said from the beginning is that my job is secure, I don’t have the threats against me; I don’t go through the same threats the auto workers do. This was an immediate opinion that he voiced, he’s the president. I’ve encountered a lot of the same kind of internal prejudice in my union. Not everybody (the majority of the people that I’ve talked to realize that we have equality in our union and that we believe in diversity), but there’s a few that think, “what do you know about working in an auto plant, you’re a bus driver.”

JB: Well I took a look at the membership numbers on the CAW website. It’s true you’ve got about 50,000 auto workers, but you’ve also got about 200,000 other sector workers, too.

WL: Well, that’s right. The demographic makeup now is huge as far a general workers’ union that we’ve become. I didn’t want to prey upon the origins of our union, nor would I ever think to. We come out of the auto sector, we’re a strong industrial union, and that’s lent itself to various other sectors we’ve gone into. The philosophy of the union, let’s say at the bargaining table, has lent itself to a good degree to those other workers in the other sectors. So our solutions that we find for representation have to be respectful and embracing for our members in auto, but we can’t just ignore the fact that we’ve evolved, diversified, grown, and that there are workers in other sectors that we must also embrace.

JB: You’ve had some trouble recently, threats even to shut down your local, when they endorsed your candidacy. Tell me about that.

WL: Well, the president of my local around mid-June was told, “Your local is done.” There was a real hard-hitting statement I came out with, called “Re-establishing unity in the labour movement,” picking apart some of the real foul aspects, recent aspects, of the Hargrove administration and how we should do things differently. But once that hit, Brother Mitic, who is Buzz Hargrove’s upper assistant, called down to the president of my local and said, “Look, you’re done,” and threatening him. And at that point, the president of my local buckled and said to Mitic that he wanted to reverse the support for me and my campaign and transfer that support to Brother Hargrove and if he would do that, how would that be perceived. And Mitic said that that would be a step in the right direction. I called Mitic to get his side of it, and he denies any threats were made. But the executive of my local is just scared out of their socks by the idea that the national union, with its authority, would take our local, which is a 700 of 800 member local, and push us into local 707 which is the large Ford local in Oakville. And it would essentially be the big fish swallowing the small fish. And their worry is that that would happen.

JB: So it was pretty clear that it was, “vote for Hargrove or you’re no longer going to be a local.”

WL: Well, that’s the threat. Mitic is saying, “No, I never did.” But our executive perceives it exactly that way. So there we have the motivation of our local executive and our president to do a reversal under those imminent threats of disillusion. That’s the motive, that’s the reason. Now, the President sends out this letter that says, “Now we’re supporting Hargrove.” But he doesn’t have the authority to do that without the proper process; the executive has to vote on it and then it has to go back to the membership and they have to vote on it. He’s newly elected and he didn’t understand all the processes of proper moving of motions and stuff like that. I said I don’t condone this but I instructed him as to how we’re supposed to go about it. So, the next day, he sets up an emergency executive meeting at 6:30 in the morning – we never have meetings in the morning and we never have meetings at 6:30 in the morning. This emergency meeting is to sit down and talk about the life threat against local 1256, the support they’ve lent to me, how that’s created untold pressures and threats against the local from the Hargrove administration, and how maybe it’s now better to back Hargrove. I was not called for that meeting, I should’ve been at it, but I wasn’t called for it, I didn’t know about it. The majority of the executive, except for two (from what I’ve been told), voted for the re-consideration and to back Hargrove at that point. So, we had a membership meeting and at that meeting, overwhelmingly, the membership defeated the recommendation coming from the executive that the local reconsider support for the campaign we’ve launched. Now, we’ve had two meetings where we had the recommendation of the executive that we support my campaign and now we’ve had another meeting to re-consider that and the overwhelming majority of the membership voted against the re-consideration; in other words, to continue to support what I’m doing. And that was a wonderful opportunity to have a second look if you want, and I’m really happy with the results, obviously.

JB: It certainly shows the divisions in labour between the rank-and-file and the bureaucracy. It’s almost like the Hargrove bureaucracy, and I hate to borrow this term from the Conservatives, has a culture of entitlement. It’s their union and how dare some rank-and-file try and take it away from them. Do you think that’s accurate?

WL: Well, that’s very hard hitting what you said, but it’s closest to the actual truth, yes. You know, I don’t like using “culture of entitlement” either, but I know what you mean. There’s this perch that’s set aloft somehow from the rank-and-file. And there’s this line of succession that goes on. And I believe that a union is an association of workers that enjoy equality – that must enjoy equality. Therefore, the opportunity must be allowed for someone to challenge for the upper reaches of that union if that is the determination of that member. I think it’s a real difficulty, structurally, that our union has in not seeing this occur, in not seeing this happen. Because we’re under such siege, such as the threat from trans-national capital and the corporate agenda, and because you start challenging at this particular time, some people get very nervous and think that the floor is falling in. But the fact of the matter is that the Hargrove administration is moving significantly toward concessions. It’s moving toward an accommodationist approach to the employers. It has defeated politics as its mode of operation – you know, “lesser of evil” or that you can never get what you want now. So, defeated politics, defeated engagement, as it regards collective bargaining. I think the Hargrove administration is delivering the kind of unwanted conditions that so many of us are fearful of or overwhelmed by. He’s delivering it to the employers. We need to give ourselves a second look as to what we’re doing and how we got to where we are, and we have to say, “What do we do about the present circumstance.” That’s why I’m running; that’s the primary reason. I can’t say there aren’t other reasons, but that’s the first and most primary reason.

JB: You’d think at a time when corporations are making attacks on the unions, on the workers, it’d be even less fashionable to have a conciliatory stance. But Buzz Hargrove seems to have gone the opposite route.

WL: Well, we aren’t coming from a period where we don’t have the legitimacy we have now. In a prior period, long before you or I were born, the labour movement was born. And in that process, there was a huge struggle to get for us legitimate recognition for our unions. The period we’re in now is a period where we have that recognition, but now it’s being taken away. We’ve grown used to having our rights, and why wouldn’t we grow used to that? There’s nothing wrong with the fact that we have, but with every right there are times where you’ve got to fight to maintain them. And are we up for that fight today? Well, so far I think we’re less inclined to do the kinds of things that our predecessors, that built the labour movement, did. We have to look at that, and look at how can we assess our history and our past, realizing how we got where we are. We need to realize that the only way we’re going to sustain ourselves and to advance is to rekindle and reactivate the strength of our union, the strength of the labour movement, the strength of the progressive left in Canada, entirely in order to fight back. You can’t have these meetings with a few selected individuals form the business community, top flight meetings with politicians to try and micromanage the situation, as happened with Paul Martin prior to the last election. That is a recipe for continual erosion and we have to have a better answer then that.

JB: Mr. Lambert, I know you’re a busy man so I won’t take up too much more of your time. And thank you so much for talking to me today.

WL: Hey, no problem. I appreciate the opportunity. I had hoped when we launched this [campaign], that we would be able to get the substantive debate started, at the very least that. And, to have people at least evaluate what we’re dong, and maybe what we should do otherwise. If we succeed in that, that’ll be a victory in itself.

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