By Gerald V. Paul
Hassan Yussuff, the first minority president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), is urging workers, employers and governments to unite and “join the race to the top.”
Guyana-born Yussuff reached out to the media as Black History Month ended and posed the questions “What kind of Canada to we want?”
He said there are two possible answers.
The first, he said, is continuing our current policy of running a short-term, short-sighted race to the bottom, competing with other countries on the basis of cheap products, low skills, low wages, and disposable jobs.
Yussuff, whose organization represents 3.3 million workers and includes many of the largest unions and trade organizations in the country, added that by creating a few economic winners and many losers, the existing system squeezes many families out of the middle class.
While other countries are investing strategically to strengthen their economies and become more competitive, the current Canadian federal government is mortgaging “our future by slashing spending in order to balance the books and meet a self-serving political deadline,” Yussuff said, noting he wants to bring a more aggressive approach back to the CLC and its membership.
“Our infrastructure is crumbling because governments will not invest enough, while younger generations must go hungry in retirement because of an unwillingness to expand the Canada Pension Plan. When governing is all about short-term austerity measures, then crucial issues like good jobs, environmental protection, aboriginal rights, youth employment and the needs of vulnerable people are simply inconveniences to be granted.”
In addition, he said, “employers in Canada continue to focus on the short term as well. They expect governments to subsidize the workplace training they should be providing.”
Yussuff said the second answer is to “join the race to the top”, competing with other countries on the basis of innovative products, high skills, fair wages and decent jobs.
This requires “thinking long-term and investing in advanced machinery, equipment and skills training, creating leading-edge technologies and industries and producing unique and value-added goods and services that competing countries cannot match.
“The resultant growth of jobs and shared prosperity will represent the kind of economy and Canada we want to build.”
Yussuff, who came to Canada out of a repressive Forbes Burnham regime in Guyana of dictatorship and rigged elections, said he fell in love with freedom, democracy and hard work.
He belonged to the Canadian Auto Workers Union and went on to serve as executive vice-president in 1999, becoming the first person of colour to serve at the executive level of the union. He also served as an observer in the 1994 South African election which elected Nelson Mandela as president.