Movers and Shakers: Q&A with Hassan Yussuff

New president of the Canadian Labour Congress vows more militant approach

The Canadian Labour Congress made a strong statement when it named its new president in early May. Now representing national and international unions, provincial and territorial labour federations, more than 100 local labour councils and 3.3 million members, Hassan Yussuff promises to make the CLC more militant in response to government and business. Yussuff recently sat down with Canadian Labour Reporter to discuss the future of the CLC and its capacity to change the current labour landscape.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role as president of the CLC?

What I’m most looking forward to, obviously, is to reinforce the message that I made at the convention in regard to the challenges we’re facing and most importantly to deal with those challenges.

What do you mean when you say you plan to be more militant in the CLC’s approach to dealings with government and business?

Some governments and employer groups have been waging war on our movement and, fundamentally, we’re going to fight back. We’re not going to simply accept these attacks without some response. If governments simply want to roll back and attack the labour movement on some very basic and fundamental things that have been a part of our democracy — such as the right to free collective bargaining and the right to strike — we are going to respond. They need to know that if they continue to take that approach, it’s going to be met with more resistance and disruption of the economy. We’re not looking for a fight, but if they insist on continuing this war… there will be some strikes they have to contend with. It’s not my desire, we would like to find ways to work with employers and government, but if they continue, obviously, we’re going to have a problem.

How do you plan to make those changes within the CLC?

The congress has a very important role to play in supporting and assisting when there is a battle going on. The full force of the congress will come to support those affiliates that are in harm’s way. We have the capacity — we have 3.3 million members across in this country in a variety of sectors — and my job is to motivate them to act as a united front, to assist each other and support each other to ensure not one of us is mistreated or isolated by government or business.

Why is it important the CLC shift its focus?

There are things that we have worked for, over many decades, on behalf of our members in terms of free collective bargaining… and it’s a question of people taking advantage of the 2008 financial and economic crises and demanding rollback on rights that workers have achieved. It is, in my view, totally unacceptable and that kind of behaviour needs to be stopped. These things are fundamental to the values of our country and the attacks on these rights are fundamentally wrong. It is critical that the congress play a significant role in highlighting what these attacks have been all about and, more importantly, how they’re going to affect the lives of our members.

How will these changes affect workers?

I think it will be positive. If government and employers continue to attack the labour movement it’s not just our members who are going to suffer, it’s all Canadians. We’re an ally that wants to work with them to take on the challenges their community is facing. The laws that we are able to influence and improve also affect their lives, their children’s lives, their grandchildren’s lives. This is very fundamental to the kind of Canada we want. I’m hoping that with my leadership we can continue on that path and send a strong message.

Latest stories