Where Acronyms Meet: UWFA Goes to the MFL Convention
By Mark Golden, UWFA External Relations Officer
UWFA and its members support other workers in various ways, whether by joining their picket lines (most recently, in front of the Rice Building during the strike at Brandon University) or by contributing to the CAUT Defence Fund (which provides strike pay). But our involvement is not confined to crises. UWFA is a member of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA), which lobbies COPSE and senior levels of government; in fact, our own Jim Clark (Psychology) serves as MOFA president. UWFA also sends representatives to the monthly meetings of the Winnipeg Labour Council and the triennial Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) conventions. Nolan Reilly (History) and Byron Sheldrick attended the 2006 convention on our behalf and Nolan returned to this year’s meeting at Brandon in early October to present (to a standing ovation) the kit he and his wife Sharon developed for teaching the Winnipeg General Strike in secondary school classrooms. I was our official delegate.
Three things stood out:
1. The convention was in large part a love-in for the NDP, with leadership candidates much in evidence, Minister of Labour Nancy Allan getting a platform for a long list of her government’s achievements, and Gary Doer a rousing send-off during the final afternoon. Meanwhile, many resolutions called on the MFL to prod the provincial government to act on various fronts, thereby demonstrating how much the NDP has left undone or done poorly over the last ten years. This was a clear contradiction and I was not the only delegate to notice.
2. Many of the resolutions themselves were motherhood matters for a labour convention: the minimum wage, anti-scab legislation, workplace safety and health. The only one to spark debate concerned post-secondary education. The Manitoba Government Employees Union local 153 called on the MFL to lobby for the extension of the tuition freeze. This was one of the very few resolutions to reach the floor with a committee recommendation not to approve it, and the delegates duly voted it down by about 2 to 1. This is a real squeaker by MFL standards, the equivalent of the Florida presidential count in 2000. As a result of the vote, MFL policy (developed in consultation with faculty unions, among others) remains what it was: mainly to encourage increases in core funding for post-secondary institutions and students. Who could object? But a more interesting question is why, in an organization which does not foster debate (resolutions are not made available before the meeting, for example), this issue in particular was allowed to attract discussion and disagreement.
3. Given how seldom the MFL meets in convention, its executive plays a particularly prominent role. Larger affiliates (such as UMFA) have their own vice-presidents (or two). But UWFA is small and so is combined with other small affiliates. Our V-P had been Alex Forrest of the Fire Fighters Association, a University of Winnipeg grad and a vigorous and media-savvy spokesman for his members, but not perhaps the best representative for our academic group (with its particular interests pertaining to academic freedom, research, privacy, etc.) Another candidate stepped forward from the Sheet Metal Workers and was elected by a vote of 6 to 3. We’ll see whether Larry Boyko does a good job of speaking for or even to the diverse group he now represents. But at least UWFA can claim to have had some influence on the Manitoba labour movement, for good or ill.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour represents Canadian Labour Congress affiliated labour unions in Manitoba. It was chartered in 1956 and is the province’s central labour body. More information on the MFL is available at www.mfl.mb.ca.