Canadian Labour Congress Convention:
Labour Brass Ducks Crisis
by Barry Weisleder

        Apart from the substantial vote for Carol Wall, the anti-establishment candidate for President, there were few surprises at the 24th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress held in Montreal, Quebec, June 13-17, 2005.  The handlers of the triennial gathering, which attracted over 2000 delegates from dozens of affiliated unions, effectively dodged meaningful discussion of the main ills plaguing the labour movement and the working class.  The CLC leadership proved to be about as frank and introspective as a used car salesman with a lot full of lemons facing a short eviction notice.
        While Canada’s largest labour central has grown to nearly 3.2 million members, that is due to the affiliation of formerly independent health and education workers’ organizations.  Meanwhile, the overall rate of unionization of the work force has declined from 40 per cent in the mid-1980s to 30.4 per cent (18 per cent in the private sector) today.  Nearly a quarter of the work force is in typically non-union, low-paying, part-time or temporary jobs.

Concessions is the norm
        Today concessions bargaining is the norm in the face of employer aggressiveness.  In the de-regulated private sector (where, for example, the World Trade Organization (WTO) swept aside the U.S.-Canada Auto Pact rules that tied market access to investment levels), major industrial unions like the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) now lobby government to subsidize the auto giants in order to attract investment.  This perspective undermines workers’ independence from management, and weakens arguments against speed-up and wage/benefit concessions demanded in the interest of ‘global competitiveness’.
        Likewise, in telecommunications, in steel, in food and retail, similar pressures are bearing down on workers to agree to forced overtime, reduced pensions and a two-tier wage structure.  While Steelworkers’ Local 1005 at Stelco (Hamilton, Ontario) continues to resist a company pension default, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) agreed to major concessions to Canadian food retailer Loblaws.  During Air Canada’s recent bankruptcy crisis, instead of demanding re-nationalization of the flagship carrier and re-regulation of the industry, the CAW and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) gave major wage and work rule concessions, though they did manage to hang onto pensions.
        In the public sector, brutal efforts to eliminate the deficit (a deficit created by decades of corporate tax cuts) took a heavy toll on the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and on provincial and municipal public service union members.  As jobs shrink, so does bargaining power, causing wages to lag behind other sectors.  Relatively successful union resistence to full privatization has increasingly prompted provincial governments to opt for Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) where control and management of a hospital or public utility goes to the private sector. 
        While union rhetoric opposing cutbacks, concessions and privatization has been strong, union actions have been fragmented, sporadic, and when initiated from the bottom up, curtailed.

Fight back sabotaged
        An example of the latter is the struggle of low-paid, mostly female hospital workers in the west coast province of British Columbia who struck the right wing Liberal government of Gordon Campbell in April 2004 over major wage cuts and outsourcing of jobs.  The workers’ initiative attracted widespread support.  A province-wide sympathy strike appeared imminent.  But spreading job actions were shut down by the leadership of the Hospital Employees’ Union, a division of CUPE, under tremendous pressure from the BC Federation of Labour tops.
        This defeat for Labour, and victory for the neo-liberal agenda, has its analogy in Ontario where three years of sequential one-day general strikes (1995-98) in a dozen cities against the Mike Harris provincial Conservative regime were unceremoniously ended.  The squandered momentum and the resulting demoralization facilitated the re-election of Harris and company.
        Lack of adequate leadership from above, and the sell out of struggles launched from below, is compounded by a growing trend towards bureaucratic authoritarianism.
        HEU members were denied a vote on the deal that ended their promising fight back.  No vote of UFCW members affected by concessions at Loblaws was conducted.  Ontario workers were not consulted over the termination of the Days of Action.  Immigrant and visible minority hotel workers in downtown Toronto who complain of management racist harassment and unsafe working conditions are often ignored by their union, UNITE-HERE.  And some local unions that persist in standing up for members’ rights are subject to punitive purges and dictatorship from on high.  This happened to Toronto substitute teachers within the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, where the members’ attempt to restore job security and local autonomy continues.
         Labour’s retreat -- manifested most sharply in terms of concessions bargaining, the curtailment of union democracy and solidarity, and the shrinkage of union density – has resulted in stagnant wages, a declining standard of living, increased job insecurity, and growing union paralysis.
        The CLC Convention was an exercise in avoidance of these topics.  It was a spectacle of rhetorical posturing, self-congratulation and damage control.

Papering over the contradictions
        CLC President Ken Georgetti in 2004 committed the faux pas of speaking his mind when he said that unions should stop opposing the so-called free trade agreements because they are ‘here to stay’.  CAW President Buzz Hargrove, among others, attacked the statement (though not the inaction that preceded it), so Georgetti quickly reversed himself.
        The CLC tried to paper-over the contradiction by issuing a forest of declarations and resolutions affirming the need to oppose North American economic integration, attacks on civil liberties, threats to the public health care system, P3s, and so on.  One approved resolution makes the transparently weak commitment to “Work for the ultimate abolition of neo-liberal free trade agreements (including NAFTA and the WTO)...”  And that’s as good as it gets. 
        Equally revealing is the CLC document “A Labour Agenda for Industrial and Economic Development”.  Its dedication to a ‘mixed economy’ in which the private sector is not only dominant, but said to be deserving of public subsidies, infrastructure upgrades and other supports, shows an abject loyalty to the very economic framework that seeks to transfer even more wealth from workers and the poor to the corporate elite.
         Conspicuous by its absence is any concrete commitment to action to reverse Labour’s losses, much less a timetable to do it.  Even the “Action Plan” adopted on the fifth and last day of the Convention contained no specific action proposal.  It is full of saw dust phrases like “take all necessary steps”, “work with labour councils to encourage”, “lobby and fight for” and “build support for”.  One sentence really takes the cake.  After more than a year of discussions and presentations at local labour councils, and a day of coordinated cross-country storefront information pickets, the CLC says it should “Develop a strategy to assist in organizing Wal-Mart.”  Did we really need a multi-million dollar CLC Convention to ratify that thought?

Election: outlet for frustration
         Delegates’ frustration with a Labour Congress out of sync with reality was apparent in the election for CLC President.  Two term president Ken Georgetti, touted as an effective back room lobbyist and a long time proponent of labour-management investment funds, was challenged by Carol Wall, a PSAC negotiator and the first Black feminist to run for the job. 
        Wall’s platform called for new vision, energy, passion, inclusiveness and accountability – commendable attributes, if programmatically vague.  Her most critical point was that “the current campaign to organize Wal-Mart should not fall to UFCW alone....the CLC must go further than one-day rallies.”  But her grassroots charm, and her gutsy challenge to the “old boys’ club” that runs the CLC was enough to attract wide support.  (Some delegates were repelled by the high pressure tactics of the top brass to marshal support for the official slate.  Wall was even prevented from addressing the CAW delegates’ caucus at the CLC). 
        On a shoe-string budget, with the backing of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and an array of local union activists, Carol Wall received a remarkable 37 per cent of the valid ballots cast on the morning of June 16.  It is interesting to note that 1740 votes were cast.  Thirteen were spoiled.  Curiously, another 300 registered delegates did not show up for the vote.  Would voter participation and the election result have been different had there been less bureaucratic bullying, and had more delegates voted as they wished, rather than as they were told?
        The remainder of the establishment slate was acclaimed.  So, for a second three-term it will be the same crew of former radicals:  Hassan Yussuff (CAW) as CLC Secretary-Treasurer, Barb Byers (Saskatchewan Government Employees’ Union) as Executive Vice-President, and Marie Clarke Walker (CUPE) as Executive V.P.  As Carol Wall acidly observed, “Many activists come to the labour movement to do good, and some just end up doing well.”

Benign Tolerance
        With its control of the operation never in doubt, the CLC bureaucracy could afford to experiment with a little flexibility.  Convention chairpersons showed uncharacteristic tolerance and accommodation in responding to delegates’ suggestions and criticisms.  Sometimes resolutions were amended on the spot, by a mere nod from the reporting committee, rather than requiring the normal complicated and time consuming referrals.  This the brass could easily do because few of the criticisms from the floor were anything other than technical or picayune. 
        A kind of CLC glasnost was evident in the composite resolutions, which tended to be all-encompassing and somewhat radical in tone.  Again, it was not a problem for the leadership because of the paucity of time for floor debate, and the absence of any concrete action plan or timetable for implementing anything adopted.
        This was also the pattern in the realm of CLC international affairs policy, where some interesting new positions surfaced.  (See accompanying box.)

Layton is in the house
        Only about two hours per day was allocated for debate.  This amounted to less than10 hours out of more than 27 hours of convention time.  But there was plenty of time for awards, tributes, videos, reports from CLC officials, and of course, guest speakers.
        One of these was Jack Layton, federal Leader of the New Democratic Party, to which many of the unions present are affiliated.  Layton made an able defence of his amendment to the federal Liberal minority government budget which incorporated $4.6 Billion in increased social spending.  Wisely, he checked his ‘national unity’ demagogy at the door of the Montreal Palais.

Duceppe rocks the Canucks
         Another guest speaker was Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Quebecois -- the first non-NDP federal politician to address a CLC convention in a long time, if ever.  Duceppe should be credited for pulling no punches in his promotion of Quebec sovereignty, which he deftly linked to the Bloc’s pro-worker policies.  Indeed, his message had a higher quotient of class content than Layton’s.  Duceppe stated that constitutional squabbles will end only when there are two separate countries, Quebec and Canada, which could then unite in common combat against the global corporate agenda. 
        Duceppe, a Maoist and union organizer long before he became leader of the capitalist BQ, didn’t have to dig very deep to declare “Let’s use globalization to set a new agenda, instead of leaving the capitalists in control.”  His call for Employment Insurance reform, for defence of pensions and for federal anti-scab legislation had the Quebec delegates on their feet, and most of the English Canadians clapping along – except for a cranky bunch, less than fifty in number, who stood outside the hall and sang an off key version of O Canada.

Sweeney’s war
        John Sweeney, President of the American Federation of Labour/Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL/CIO) came to display his brave face.  On the eve of a catastrophic split in his 15 million member organization (which represents less than 12% of the U.S. work force, and only about 8% of private sector employees), Sweeney bellowed that he is “none the worse for wear”.  He predicted that the AFL/CIO would survive, come what may. 
        While he spoke of his internal war, he said not a word about the US war and occupation against Iraq, nor of the many other targets of Pentagon terrorism worldwide.  He said “working families are under attack as never before”, and that a dispute about whether to spend half the central dues money on organizing, rather than on ‘political action’, is no basis for a split by the unions encompassing over 35% of the AFL/CIO. 
        Because both factions of that intra-bureaucratic war want to continue to fund and support, to a greater or lesser degree, one of the twin parties of imperialist rule, the U.S. Democratic Party, and continue to support protectionism and big business dictatorship, Sweeney is right.  The imminent breach is politically unjustified.  The question is, did Sweeney see the future of American Labour in the faded achievements of the more politically labour-independent CLC?  Or did CLC delegates get a glimpse of their wretched future represented in the complacent pro-capitalist mantras of the chief US labour faker John Sweeney?
        Another keynote speaker, Maude Barlow of the nationalist Council of Canadians, warned delegates to fear North American integration because the religious right is about to seize control of the U.S. Congress.  Stephen Lewis, a former Ontario NDP leader and currently special United Nations’ envoy to Africa, made an impassioned appeal for debt cancellation, fair trade and more foreign aid.  But to the extent that no guest speaker at the Convention put the blame squarely on capitalism for global poverty, disease and injustice, the over-riding message was one of charity, rather than empowerment of the working class, to create a better world.

What’s Left at the CLC?
        A major reason the union brass had such a smooth ride at the CLC Convention was the quiescence and submissiveness of much of the traditional Left.
        The 25 year old Action Caucus, sponsored by the CUPW and encompassing supporters of the Communist Party and the International Socialists, turned itself into a leafleting committee for the Carol Wall campaign.  It initiated no attempts on the convention floor to inject clear anti-capitalist analysis into debates, neither to put teeth into resolutions nor into the CLC’s so-called Action Plan.  A number of Action Caucus leaders seemed satisfied going to the Pro microphones to congratulate CLC resolution writers.  Some even strutted their stuff in a “Union Label Fashion Show”.
        A different approach, with only modest success, was exemplified by the Ontario-based Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition, which operated as a Caucus at the CLC Convention.  Workers’ Solidarity held two evening forums, daily lunch-time meetings, and engaged in massive info distributions.  Its ongoing aim is to unite labour and social movement militants to resist labour concessions and social cutbacks, support struggles for union democracy, turn the unions into fighting organizations, advance the interests of working people, and oppose corporate profit and power.
        Over 80 delegates and observers attended a Workers’ Solidarity forum, “Resisting War, Occupation and Imperialism” on June 14 (see box on International Solidarity at CLC).  A WS forum on the evening of June 13, “Stop Concessions, Restore Union Democracy”, attracted 38 participants.  It featured Bruce Allen, vice-president of CAW Local 199 and St. Catharines labour council executive member; Gretchen Dulmage, delegate from the Hospital Employees’ Union, CUPE 6010, and a spokesperson for the B.C. Fight Back Solidarity Caucus; Gordon Lefebvre, a long time union activist and executive member of the Union des Forces Progressistes in Quebec; plus a brief appearance by Carol Wall.  This writer spoke on behalf of the Toronto Substitute Teachers’ Action Caucus in OSSTF, and outlined the origins of the Workers’ Solidarity coalition.  Discussions at both forums were lively and informative, but had only a faint echo on the convention floor.
        However, unlike the official CLC-sponsored evening forums on Human Rights, Women, Youth and International Affairs, the Workers’ Solidarity events created a space for critical analysis of global capitalism and the state of the Labour movement, and projected a fighting perspective for action on concrete issues.  A gratifying aspect of the meetings was the convergence of new forces, including anti-poverty activists from south-eastern Ontario, over a dozen members of the Venezuelan community of Montreal, and union militants from as far as BC and Atlantic Canada.  Those interested in more information or to join Workers’ Solidarity should contact:

SA gets around
         Another positive sign of the interest in radical ideas at the Convention is the fact that delegates and observers purchased over 175 copies of Socialist Action newspaper.  A number of SA booklets and one subscription to the paper were sold too. 
        Most delegates gladly accepted literature in abundance from Workers’ Solidarity, from Haiti and Venezuela solidarity campaigners, and from different leftist groups, in an atmosphere that was generally marked by openness and courtesy.

What’s next?
        When Quebec university and college students completed their successful struggle against the Charest provincial government last Spring, they said they were passing the torch to Quebec public sector workers.  So far, Quebec child care workers have taken the challenge and are engaging the authorities in a tough battle for decent wages and benefits.
        In Ontario, Hydro One employees, members of the Society of Energy Professionals, have been on strike since June 1, fighting management’s demands for a two-tier wage and benefit schedule which would discriminate against its younger members.
        Exemplary struggles such as these need to be generalized in accordance with a strategy that works for working people.  It is a clear mark of the gross failure of the CLC and its major affiliates to address the need for, much less to implement, such a strategy.
        And it is a daunting challenge to formations like Workers’ Solidarity, now linked to the BC Fight Back Caucus, to stir the ranks of labour to demand an alternative to the concessions bargaining and undemocratic unionism that still prevails.  But try we must.
        To prepare for the Ontario Federation of Labour Convention 2005, slated for November 21-25 at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre, union and community activists will meet in the weeks ahead, while continuing the necessary ongoing work of grass roots organizing, educating and agitating.

              Advances for International Solidarity at the CLC

         Despite generally lacklustre proceedings which avoided dealing with critical internal and external issues, the CLC nonetheless took a number of important steps forward in the realm of international affairs.
        The policies adopted by the delegates, and the separate statements issued by the CLC, reflect the pressure exerted by world events and by local solidarity movements.  The new CLC positions create opportunities for activists to educate and to involve union members in social justice struggles around the world.
        Support for global working class solidarity was also shown by the participation of CLC delegates and observers in a Montreal street protest against Canadian government intervention in Haiti, and in an evening public forum on international issues organized by the southern Ontario-based Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition at the Montreal Palais des Congres.

Nix Plan Colombia
        In a document titled “Unions Make a Difference Around the World” Committee Report, CLC officials presented a compilation of resolutions on international issues.  A substitute resolution on Colombia, covering eight other resolutions submitted by different unions, was debated and adopted by vote.  It states that the CLC will “call upon the federal government to oppose the US sponsored “Plan Colombia”; work with its affiliates to strengthen our solidarity work with the Colombian trade union movement by coordinating activities such as exchanges and trade union delegations in order to maintain up-dated information regarding anti-union violence and attempts to annihilate the Colombian trade union movement; work closely with affiliates, the Global Union Federations, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Amnesty International to try to bring a halt to assassinations and the systemic intimidation of trade unionists in Colombia; demand that the Canadian government require Canadian investors in Colombia to respect all international standards on human and labour rights and environmental protection, as well as the rights of indigenous people to protect their communities and maintain their traditions; demand the Canadian government commits resources to Colombian civil society to assist in building a lasting peace and in strengthening social, economic and cultural rights for the Colombian people; support the One Democratic Coalition in Colombia to defend human rights and democratic freedoms, negotiation of a peace accord and the struggle against privatization and Free Trade; and coordinate a day of action in Canada against specific targets such as Colombian consulates and the Embassy in Canada and Canadian companies operating in zones of conflict in Colombia.

Bolivia in revolt
        In addition to demanding increased government funding for treatment of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and stating vigorous opposition to “any Canadian involvement in the (US-based) Ballistic Missile Defence System”, the CLC issued policy positions on Bolivia, and on the case of anti-Cuba terrorist Posada Carriles.
        The CLC Executive Council statement on Bolivia indicates that “Recent events in Bolivia have led to several government changes due to their extreme commitment to the western corporate agenda.  Working women and men in Bolivia have played a leading role in the successful revolts which are shifting power from an elite to an indigenous majority of the population.  The popular movements of Bolivia are demanding that interim president Eduardo Rodriguez immediately nationalize key natural resources and call for immediate parliamentary and presidential elections.
        In view of the above developments, the Canadian Labour Congress will issue an immediate statement in support of the workers and the people of Bolivia, will support linkages with Bolivian labour organizations and incorporate the Bolivian experiences into the struggle against neoliberalism, including opposition to trade agreements and privatization.”

Extradite Posada Carriles
        On June 16, CLC President Ken Georgetti issued an open letter to Pierre Pettigrew, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, which reads in part:
        “It is universally acknowledged that Posada Carriles has, over many years masterminded a series of terrorist acts, including the bombing of a civilian airliner, causing the death of all 73 passengers, and many other innocent people.
        “...Posada Carriles escaped from Venezuela while awaiting trial on charges of masterminding the airliner bombing, and the Venezuelan government has demanded his extradition.
        “...the delegates gathered here today, therefore, urge you to:
- publicly denounce the US administration for providing protection to Posada Carriles;
- call on the US to immediately take the necessary steps to extradite Posada Carriles as requested by the government of Venezuela; and
- use every diplomatic means possible to bring international pressure on the US administration to comply with the above.”

Venezuela, we are with You
        Very positive resolutions on Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti, while not debated and voted upon at the Convention due to insufficient time allocated, nonetheless were presented in the Committee Report on international affairs with a recommendation of “concurrence”.  That means CLC officials have agreed on their contents, and the resolutions will go to CLC Executive Council in the Fall where they will most likely be adopted.
        The recommended policy on Venezuela is as follows:
        “The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) will:
- continue to monitor events in Venezuela in collaboration with other progressive labour movements in the Americas paying special attention to attempts to destabilize the country by the United States;
- give its full support to the Venezuelan progressive trade unions and social movements concerned about strengthening democratic governance and the full respect of internationally recognized trade union rights and freedoms; and
- continue to facilitate exchanges between Venezuela unions and Canadian unions and activists.”
        During the CLC Convention supporters of the ‘Venezuela, We are with You’ Coalitions, from Montreal and Toronto, worked together to distribute over a thousand pieces of literature, in English and French.  They sold solidarity buttons and DVDs, and collected dozens of signatures of unionists from across the country on a petition, which states:
        “We, the undersigned, demand an end to all economic, political, and military intervention by the United States and its allies against the people and government of Venezuela.  We call on the government of Canada to oppose US and allied foreign intervention which undermines Venezuela’s sovereignty.  We demand that Canada facilitate increased solidarity, improve bilateral relations, and positively recognize the efforts of the Venezuelan people for their self-determination.  We support the efforts of the government led by Hugo Chavez to expand democracy and public services, to improve access to health care, education and land for poor farmers, and to raise general employment, living standards and income levels for the majority of Venezuelans.”

Free the Cuba 5 
        The recommended resolution on Cuba states that “The Canadian Labour Congres (CLC) will:
- express its solidarity with Cuban workers, encourage worker-to-worker exchanges, demand an end to the US embargo, and demand an end to US efforts to destabilize and sabotage Cuba’s socialist gains and national sovereignty;
- continue to cooperate with the Cuban trade union movement and encourage affiliates to do likewise; and
- condemn the imprisonment of Cubans Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, and Antonio Guerrero in Florida and call for their immediate release from prison.
        (Actually, the five Cuban anti-terrorist political prisoners are separately imprisoned in jails across the United States, making it extremely difficult for them to receive family visits or to communicate with one another.)

Haiti solidarity
        The resolution on Haiti, also recommended for adoption, reads in part:
“The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) will call upon the Canadian government to:
- strongly support the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s call for an investigation into President Aristide’s removal;
- do everything in its power to support the restoration of democracy and constitutional rule in Haiti;
- cease support for and participation in the so-called “stabilization force” currently deployed;
- condemn the indifference of Haitian authorities in the face of mounting human rights violations;
- call for the release of all political prisoners in Haitian jails;
- oppose the re-establishment of the Haitian army;
- review the role of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to ensure that it is appropriate for a society based on the rule of law and democratic principles and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) so that assistance provided to Haiti be used for humanitarian purposes; and
- call for a review by the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development to examine the human rights situation in Haiti.”
        The above-mentioned street protest against the role of the Canadian state in Haiti took place on June 16.  Over one hundred CLC delegates and observers gathered outside the Palais des Congres at noon.  They were addressed by Carol Wall, the anti-establishment candidate for CLC President who drew 37% of the votes just moments earlier, then they walked to the site of the inter-governmental ‘conference of shame’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, chanting “Haiti for the Haitians; Canada, US out now!”.  A well equipped sound truck led the parade and blasted popular Haitian songs of dance and rebellion, along with chants and short speeches, en route and then across the street from the hotel entrance for over an hour. 
        On Friday afternoon about 40 members of the Montreal Haitian community returned, along with a handful of unionists, to protest the conference where Canada and its allies in the United Nations’ sanctioned police and military occupation forces are acting as a prop for a repressive regime that fires on protesters and fills its jails with political prisoners. 
        Late on Friday afternoon, during a news conference inside the hotel, Haiti solidarity activist Yves Engler doused the hands of Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew with red paint, to symbolize the blood on the Canadian government’s hands for backing the coup that removed the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and unleashed the killings which have largely targeted his Lavallas movement. 
        After Engler was arrested, and Pettigrew had cleaned his hands and suit, the politicians, including Haiti’s puppet Internal Affairs Minister Herard Abraham, announced $30 million in Canadian aid supposedly to help prepare Haiti for elections in October.  In answer to questions, Pettigrew called news wire reports of repression and shootings of demonstrators in Haiti as unsubstantiated and “propaganda”. 
        Although charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and assault police were dropped, Engler, who was released the next day, still faces a breach of the peace charge.  Widespread coverage of the incident, supplemented by letters to editors, has raised public awareness of Canada’s role in Haiti and of dissenting views on it.

International concerns converge at Workers’ Solidarity forum
        Yves Engler was one of five speakers who addressed a public forum titled “Resisting War, Occupation and Imperialism” on June 14, at the site of the CLC Convention, under the auspices of the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition. 
        Over eighty delegates and community activists gathered to hear Meissoon Azzaria, an Iraq solidarity activist, Freda Guttman, a member of Jews Against the Occupation (of Palestine), Mike DesRoches of Block the Empire, along with spokespersons from the Free the Cuban 5 Committee and the Montreal-based Coalition-Venezuela, We are with You.
        More than forty participants from across the country signed up to join Workers’ Solidarity; several took petitions and literature about Palestine, Venezuela, the Cuba 5, Haiti and other campaigns to circulate in their own areas.