Just days after his term ended as Canadian Labour Congress president, Hassan Yussuff announced—with indecent haste—that he’ll take a patronage seat in the unelected Senate courtesy of strikebreaker Justin Trudeau. This insult to the working class is the cherry on top of a career of betrayal and capitalist bootlicking. How did this sorry story of careerist treachery come to pass?
Joining the ‘House of Shame’
On June 22, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Yussuff would join Canada’s Senate. Yussuff, along with the mayor of Cornwall and the CEO of the St. John Port Authority, will join 93 other unelected decision-makers in the chamber known colloquially as Canada’s “House of Shame.”
The Senate was designed explicitly and with property requirements to protect the interests of the wealthy from the electorate. Defending the Senate, Canada’s first prime minister actually said: “We must protect the rights of minorities, and the rich are always fewer in number than the poor.” Some current and former senators include genocide apologist Lynn Beyak, drunk driver Patrick Brazeau, anti-LGBTQ senator David Wells, deranged conspiracy theorist Denise Batters and other ghouls.
When asked about the appointment, however, the former CLC president said he looked forward to the opportunity to “collaborate with others” in the interest of “good public policy.”
Where Yussuff came from
Yussuff began his union activity as a heavy truck mechanic in Mississauga and member of the Canadian Auto Workers. Eventually he became the union’s national human rights director, involved especially in its international campaigns.
In 1999 Yussuff, alongside former Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) president Jean-Claude Parrot, joined the CLC’s national executive. The 1999-2014 tenure of then-president Ken Georgetti was marked by a sense that the CLC was mostly a lobbying body, in the face of attacks by Liberals and Tories alike. Throughout, Yussuff served fairly quietly as a supportive secretary-treasurer. And in 2004, when 120,000 members of the federal civil service were ready to walk off the job after rotating strike action by Parks Canada workers, The Globe and Mail credited Yussuff with persuading the union to halt the strike.
In 2014, however, Georgetti faced the first contested presidential race in the history of the CLC. His most notable rival was from the left, PSAC member Hassan Husseini, on a “take back the CLC” program.
Eventually, Yussuff broke with the discredited right-wing Georgetti leadership and entered the race as well. Yussuff’s campaign website read: “There is a desire and a demand to return to the offensive for rights and progress for workers after decades of retreat and decline.” Yussuff further told Rabble.ca: “[Georgetti] has sat on his hands, and was not prepared to allow any mobilization to happen at the local level…I believe the grassroots organizing and mobilizing and engagement that needs to happen is what is going to revive this movement…and commitment to say ‘we can make a difference.’”
Husseini eventually withdrew as Yussuff quickly absorbed endorsements. According to Husseini, Yussuff signalled he favoured much of the left candidacy’s program. That included a promise to develop a “common strategy” to organize unorganized workers, to focus on “mobilizing rather than lobbying” and to build an anti-austerity movement.
However, after Yussuff narrowly defeated the incumbent by 40 votes, these pledges were largely scrapped.
In 2015, as we noted at the time, Yussuff aided the CLC’s pivot towards the Trudeau Liberals. Immediately after the 2015 election, a CLC statement, titled “CLC hopeful for progressive change under Liberal government”, did little more than repeat the 2015 Liberal platform.
On Nov. 10, 2015 Trudeau was the first prime minister in 50 years to address the CLC. While Trudeau made no meaningful commitments in any way to help workers, Yussuff still told media: “Everybody who left the room was delighted that he came, and there was a strong sense that he was sincere in the things that he was talking about.”
Later in 2016, Canada Post moved to lock out 50,000 postal workers in an effort to cut their pensions. Yussuff promised CUPW the CLC’s “full support” but, similarly, only after asking for Trudeau to “rein in” the Crown corporation. The CLC claimed: “This government was elected on a commitment to support good jobs and help Canadians afford retirement.”
Trudeau’s Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, made headlines in late 2016 for his advice to young, “unorganized” workers: Get used to the “job churn” of precarious employment. Yussuff still invited Trudeau to address the CLC’s Young Workers’ Summit soon after. On Oct. 25, 2016 angry youth organizers from the steelworkers and Yussuff’s own union protested Trudeau’s support for tuition fees, the oppression of Indigenous people and more. Yussuff reprimanded the protesters and demanded they be “respectful.”
In January 2017, the Liberal Party announced its forthcoming Halifax convention would be the effective start to its 2019 election campaign. Yussuff was there speaking on a panel called “Canada’s Workers and A Strong Middle Class”, echoing previous Liberal budgets.
The CLC’s condemnation , however, was remarkably tepid: “The Liberal government made it a priority to improve labour relations at Canada Post. Back-to-work legislation will seriously damage that effort.”
But the Liberals were entirely unapologetic. Employment Minister Patty Hadju justified the strikebreaking legislation by claiming Canada’s “reputation as a reliable market for commerce and trade is at risk.” Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux likewise said the profits of e-commerce retailers outweighed the rights of postal workers. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith also justified the attack on the workers’ rights because “communists” stood in solidarity with CUPW members.
Less than one year later, however, the CLC opted for an “issue-based” campaign in the 2019 election, which was pro-Liberal in all but name. Yussuff wrote ahead of the election, while postal workers still had no contract: “Not only are we facing an uncertain future, but the strides working people have made in the last four years are also in jeopardy.”
Splits and divisions
Yussuff’s tenure was also marked by splits and divisions within the CLC. These weakened the movement as a whole. Yussuff suspended Article 4 of the CLC constitution to enable a Unifor raid of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. The massive backlash by the rest of the labour movement, plus the failure of the raid, led the largest private-sector union in Canada to pull out of the CLC. This split presented a problem for our Senatorial careerist. With Unifor leaving, the CLC president was no longer the member of a union belonging to the CLC! Yussuff managed to do a backroom deal to gain himself a PSAC membership card to bureaucratically remain president, while thousands of other workers had their democratic rights in the federation abrogated. This wasted enormous time and energy when Canada’s union leaders should have been organizing workers to defend their rights.
The pandemic crutch
After March 2020,Yussuff became even more committed to maintaining social peace, in the face of the pandemic.
In an April 2020 article titled “Inside the negotiation of Canada’s supersized coronavirus bailout”, the Globe detailed how Yussuff initiated contact with Canada’s big business lobby—to offer “joint advice” to the Liberals.
According to the Globe, that joint advice led directly to the Liberals’ massively unequal bailout plan. That plan availed over $700 billion in handouts to business, while unemployed workers are restricted to $500 per week. But there’s no record of Yussuff protesting.
“The PM found it quite remarkable that we were offering to give him joint advice on the things that are necessary for the government to do,” Yussuff told the Globe.
While Yussuff and big business were giving the prime minister “joint advice”, workers were bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Nearly two million were condemned to unemployment at the peak. Infections spiked again and again among low-income people and precarious workers. And in province after province massively overworked nurses and PSWs were rewarded with wage freezes.
Later, Yussuff co-authored an opinion piece with the head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce defending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) handout. The op-ed ignored overwhelming evidence that the money is going to dividends, bonuses, share buybacks and strikebreaking. In fact, they actually argued in the face of overwhelming evidence: “The primary beneficiary of the CEWS is the employee.”
In July 2020, Finance Minister Morneau was turfed in part for his role in the WE Charity scandal. His proposal would see the government work with employers, including the charity he has a family connection with, to hire unemployed students for below minimum wage.
In October, Yussuff endorsed Morneau’s failed bid to become Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Despite Morneau’s laundry list of sins, Yussuff said he is “honoured and pleased to endorse” the disgraced ex-minister.
Yussuff’s endorsement was widely denounced by union leaders across Canada. But perhaps his capitulation to the establishment is better described by the establishment itself.
In 2014, the Globe described Yussuff favouring an “aggressive approach” to improving wages and conditions for CLC members.
In 2021, the Globe described the end of Yussuff’s time as CLC leader with the headline: “Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff set to retire after years of government deal-making”.
On June 20, 2021 the Toronto Star noted: “It is hard to think of a CLC leader who has had a more cordial relationship with a federal government…It is an open question whether Yussuff’s departure will lead to a recalibrating of the congress’s political relationships.”
Unfortunately, despite giving the appearance of turning away from pro-Liberal “strategic voting”, the new CLC leadership of “Team Unite”—headed by former UFCW National Council director Bea Bruske—hasn’t signaled it is significantly to Yussuff’s left on other questions.
For example, in the lead up to the convention, Team Unite described the most recent Trudeau budget as a “step in the right direction” for workers. This same budget planned to dismantle the Canada Recovery Benefit, to end extended Employment Insurance eligibility to 420 hours, and only offered paltry investments in housing—combined with another wave of business bailouts.
This uninspiring statement follows months of equally uninspiring demands for “temporary” benefit extensions by Team Unite. These have been repeated since last March and they do not differ significantly from those demanded by Yussuff before them.
Workers need more than “temporary” benefits and EI extensions to weather this present crisis.
To win that, the CLC needs a leadership that is willing to sacrifice “respectful” relationships with big business and with Liberal politicians in the defence of working class lives. We need a revolution in organized labour to kick out the careerist parasites like Yussuff. We need unions organized on the basis of socialist class struggle where all representatives are elected, recallable, and receive the same wage they would get on the shop floor.
Senator Yussuff has now switched from being a labour lieutenant of capital to a naked representative of the ruling class in the house of feudal patronage. This Judas has collected his 30 pieces of silver for services rendered. We can expect his weak opposition to Liberal back-to-work legislation to be translated into a positive vote the next time his masters demand it. The key task for the movement is to use this example to explain the end result of a policy of “moderation” and lobbying. This class traitor has walked himself out, but there are many more that need to be shown the boot before labour can go on the offensive.