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Turmoil in Nova Scotia labour movement after Unifor breaks with Canadian Labour Congress

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The split between Unifor and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) raises questions about Unifor representation at the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and the five local Labour Councils in the province.

There are many reasons why this split occurred, and accusations of union raiding and catering to American-based unions are freely exchanged between the two sides.There are also complaints by Unifor members who were taken by surprise by the move and feel left out of the discussion.

The focus of this story however is the confusion, turmoil and sometimes even anger that the breakup has caused within the Nova Scotia labour movement. And there’s plenty of that.

Nova Scotia Federation of Labour Executive Council, before the split. Photo Facebook

Nan McFadgen is CUPE’s Regional Vice-President for Nova Scotia. She is also a vice-president at large at the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour executive. Unifor is now no longer represented at that table, she says. “My understanding is that the directive from the CLC is if you are Unifor you are supposed to be no longer involved.”

“Not only did we lose five Unifor members on the Executive Council, we lost 8,000 members. It’s a sad thing. Unifor has many activists whose voices are no longer at the table, and I don’t know any situation where that’s a good thing,” says McFadgen.

As well, Unifor members have resigned from the at the South Shore District Labour Council meetings Unifor members will no longer be allowed to participate in votes, although they remain welcome to attend meetings, McFadgen tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.

And it appears that in Halifax Unifor members have switched membership from the Canadian Freelancers Union to another union, at least that is what McFadgen suggests.

We asked Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council president Suzanne MacNeil to comment on the situation, but she declined to do so, although she did confirm that she is now a member of the SEIU.

When we approached Danny Cavanagh yesterday, the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour said he was unable to speak because he was in Ottawa. It was Cavanagh who suggested we speak with MacNeil instead.

Why all these changes at the provincial and local level while Unifor in its announcement of the breakup stated that participation in federations of labour and labour councils would continue?

That’s easier said than done, says David Bush, a labour activist and reporter for the national labour news website RankandFile.ca.

“Of course Unifor will let them remain affiliated at that level, but you know full well looking at the constitution that this will be the result, says Bush, who believes the Unifor decision to disaffiliate was undemocratic.

“The (Unifor) National Executive voted to split from the CLC, but nobody was told about this, there was no discussion. This isn’t even remotely in the spirit of democracy where people are informed of these debates, get to participate in these debates, and are informed of the consequences of these kinds of actions,” says Bush.

“It’s definitely disruptive, says Bush, pondering the fallout of the split. “It distracts people from things like the fight for $15 and the Tim Hortons stuff, all kinds of collaborative efforts. It’s pulling the debate down a level from where it should be.”

McFadgen agrees.

“CUPE is quietly encouraging Unifor rethink its position,” says McFadgen. “I think on the go forward unions are going to struggle, because the CLC is fractured. But we’ll make it through, we have before.”

“We are at the beginning of this process, nobody knows how long it will last,” says Bush.

“It is important that people at the base work together, and create another voice in the debate, one that says we want to create unity at the local level, we’ll keep working together and we’ll get away from union silos, and put the interest of workers ahead of that of the union leadership.” 


3 PM, Correction: The South Shore District Labour Council has no Unifor members on its executive. Unifor members can still attend meetings but will not be allowed to vote. 

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  1. Many marginalized people gravitated towards Federations of Labour to increase our voice and footprint in the movement.As it stood I personally felt that our committees definitely reaped the rewards of such connections and I watched as our activism flourished together.Often times we must step out of our local level atmosphere to meet with like minded individuals and the Fed gave us that opportunity and what we had gained is now lost

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