Canadian Labour Congress sells out students!

Canadian Labour Congress sells out students!

Attached documents from the Provincial Labour Central of Quebec and the Canadian Labour Congress designed to wipe out any Canadian union assistance to the radicals in the Quebec student movement.

Recent correspondence from Ken Georgetti (President of the Canada Labour Congress) and Michel Arsenault of the FTQ (Provincial Labour Central of Quebec) and various officers in the broader Anglophone Labour Movement sends a clear message: labour jurisdiction trumps labour solidarity. Arsenault, and through his endorsement, Georgetti believe that this is the time to “facilitate a settlement instead of fueling fires”.

Aresenault wrote to Georgetti on May 28th, saying that the “radical wings” are not to be “promoted” in order to facilitate an agreement. It seem that to him, an agreement in itself is more important than a victory for the students and workers of Quebec. The message is clear, class peace at all costs. He says the students are tired and have been fighting a long time as a reason why they should not be supported. This is pathetic.

In response, Georgetti wrote to the CLC Canadian Council on May 28th, responding to “rumours” that some of the CLC “national affiliates plan to organize potential illegal actions in Quebec” in solidarity with the student strike. Georgetti points out that “matters in the province of Quebec are the jurisdiction of the FTQ” and so “it will be the decision of the FTQ to request external support actions of affiliates through the CLC.” Until then, CLC affiliates are supposed to avoid support actions. He closes his letter saying “I know that all affiliates and federations respect the jurisdiction of the FTQ in their province and hope that such rumours are simply rumours and not fact.”

Georgetti’s letter was a response to a letter from Michael Arsenault of the FTQ, writing to express concern “that labour leaders in English Canada intended to come and support the social conflict” in Quebec. Arsenault reminded Georgetti that Quebec is the FTQ’s jurisdiction, so the CLC should stay out. Aside from jurisdictional issues, Arsenault wrote that the FTQ has “been asking for compliance to Law 12 to avoid having to pay significant fines.” More importantly, “radical wings are calling for social strike and we do not believe that this is THE strategy to be promoted for the moment. We have to understand that, despite their apparent strength, the student associations are exhausted and worried about what comes next. We think, at the moment, the best approach is to facilitate a settlement instead of fueling the fires. It is in fact possible that the Government and student associations meet early in the week for a round of bargaining; we believe that it is necessary for foster the best atmosphere for this
operation to be successful.”

And here’s Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, an affiliate of the CLC, on June 8th: “We have received the following information from the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) regarding the Quebec student protests. At this time, we are recommending that there be no official support or donation be made
in the name of OSSTF/FEESO as per the memo from the CLC and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), which are attached.”

Let’s be clear, union leaders work for union members. They are not at the top of a chain of command and if the leadership want to use the unions as a tool to obstruct solidarity instead of facilitate it then the leadership should be ignored or discarded. The CLASSE did this through their mass assemblies and so can we.

We here at Recomposition encourage workers to continue to push their unions to donate to the CLASSE legal defence fund, to continue to support the struggle in Quebec in any way possible and to not wait for direction from above. You can use to donate to support the strike via CLASSE. Make your donation to You can also send a cheque by mail by writing to

Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante
2065 Parthenais Street, Suite 383
Montreal, QC H2K 3T1

Be sure to write “CLASSE Legal Committee” in the memo line.

Solidarity is not an empty slogan, it is an act of defiance against a world dominated by greed and narrow self-interest. We need to ask Georgetti, Arsenault, and the rest of the labour movement: Which side are you on?

For more information on the Quebec student struggles, see in French and in English. See also the article Snapshots of the Student Movement in Montreal.

Originally posted: June 20, 2012 at Recomposition

UPDATE: This post has been changed to include another way that people can donate to CLASSE and to reflect two corrections. “Radical elements” has been corrected to “radical wings,” and that quote has been attributed to Michel Arsenault.

FTQ-Protocol-2012-05-28-EN.pdf39.6 KB
FTQ-Students-2012-05-28-EN-1.pdf72.55 KB
167-quebec student protests.pdf78.86 KB

Posted By

Jun 20 2012 07:19



Juan Conatz
Jun 20 2012 15:10

I wish we got our hands on stuff like this when I was in WI. I know discussions were happening in the unions at least up to the state level on the general strike talk. Exposing various union piecards speaking against it might have been a big deal.

Dennis Gruending
Jun 20 2012 21:07

Your unsigned blog post of June 20th (CLC sells out students!) is inaccurate and quite possibly libelous regarding Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti. You post as attachments a letter to Mr. Georgetti from Michel Arsenault, President of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), and a subsequent Memo from Mr. Georgetti to members of the CLC’s Canadian Council. Both the letter and the Memo refer to the student actions in Quebec. The fact that this was private correspondence and you posted it obviously seems not to bother you. But you might at least have managed to get your quotes straight. You quote Mr. Georgetti as saying that “radical elements” are not to be supported in order to facilitate an agreement between students and the Quebec government. Mr. Georgetti's Memo said nothing of the kind. You attribute to Mr. Georgetti and Mr. Arsenault a “belief” that this is the time to facilitate a settlement in the dispute instead of fueling fires. Again Mr. Georgetti’s note said nothing of the sort, so how would you know what he thinks? You go on to criticize both Mr. Georgetti and Mr. Arsenault for agreeing that there is a protocol between the CLC and the FTQ that respects the FTQ’s jurisdiction in labour matters in Quebec. That is true, it is entirely defensible and it does not amount to what you so subtly describe as a “sellout”. Perhaps you do not understand that in the labour movement, as in the Canadian federation, Quebec exercises a much-respected autonomy in many matters. The FTQ-CLC protocol was designed and negotiated by elected labour leaders and not by self appointed pundits who post to blogs. Please have the decency to remove from your blog a posting that cannot even quote accurately from a commandeered memo. (Dennis Gruending, CLC Communications)

Jun 20 2012 21:28

As a start, why don't the CLC donate a large sum of money to the legal defence fund in Quebec. Maybe then we'd take your claims more seriously. And good luck getting this thing off the internet; the blog post has been widely shared on social networks. Good luck with stopping the internet.

The FTQ-CLC protocol was designed and negotiated by elected labour leaders and not by self appointed pundits who post to blogs.

When you have mandated and recallable delegates you can start talking about democracy.

Bill Tieleman
Jun 20 2012 22:43

As someone who recently spent a week in Montreal and joined to support what turned out to be an "illegal" demonstration, I am surprised at the tone of this post and that on Recomposition.

Michel Arsenault's letter should be read by all in full - not the excerpts alone.

He says that the FTQ "appreciates this surge of solidarity," notes that the FTQ is challenging Bill 78 in conjunction with student groups and invites those union leaders outside Quebec to contact him to "really participate in this battle"!

I hardly see how you can describe this as attempting to shut down solidarity. Arsenault asks, and Ken Georgetti agrees, simply that unions outside Quebec work through the FTQ, as has always been done.

While in Montreal I saw newspaper ads in Le Devoir from the FTQ and other unions supporting the student/community protests and unions were very visible in marches. The Charest Liberals are the problem - not the labour movement.

For my own account of the protests, see my blog at:

Juan Conatz
Jun 20 2012 22:57

Figured I'd crosspost comments from the original article

From Recomposition

Arsenault refers to “Law 12.” For people outside Quebec who aren’t familiar with this, this is also know as “Law 78,” which has been protested a lot. The law dramatically restricts the freedom of people in Quebec in a direct attack on the student movement. More information here:

From karlos

how similar to the student struggle at anglophone universities in quebec — careerist union bosses stifle the movement.

From Max Bang

The CLC was formed to crush solidarity. I’m not surprised that in a time of increased polarization this is how they behave.

What do these asshats have to do to show people who’s side they are on? It’s time for a new labour movement folks.

From sharon

If unions and workers across Canada cannot understand what this ruling government is all about, then read Bill C-38 and weep.

“We need to ask Georgetti, Arsenault, and the rest of the labour movement: Which side are you on?”


And then in response to the CLC communications officer(and former NDP member of parliament)

From James Vicen

Dennis, opening with ‘potential’ accusations of libel … those are some pretty big punches. Where are these punches when our retirement security is being attacked? Shouldn’t these be aimed at anti-labour forces instead of some of the most engaged folks in the labour movement? You can’t even mobilize to fight Harper, but the most engaged in the labour movement are a target? Let us know how the ‘tea and crumpet’ mobilization meetings work out. wow. The CLC is so disconnected from reality.

From Angus

Go away, Dennis, and take your veiled threats with you.
Juan Conatz
Jun 21 2012 04:29

This comment is worth paying close attention to. cool

Mr. Gruending,

I write to register my dismay with your recent comments around the publication of an article questioning your organization’s practices regarding solidarity and social struggle in Quebec. After reading the article which criticized Ken Georgetti and Michael Arsenault, you publicly commented that the article was possibly libelous, which I can only understand to mean that you are implying the threat of legal action.

Mr. Gruending, this kind of behaviour does nothing to address a real problem. Canadian unions have been subject to greater scrutiny from the left in recent years and often for good reason. The respect for jurisdiction over solidarity and the pursuit of negotiation over extending struggle are all too common. Many on the left have deemed this problem significant and believe that a change of direction in the labour movement is needed.

Many on the left have committed to work towards rectifying these problems. Your recent comment undermines this work. It is unacceptable to publicly discuss use of legal action as a response to your critics. Doing so only ensures that criticism will persist and be more polarized. The working classes, social movements, and political left want a full and honest discussion of union accountability and practices of solidarity. I invite you to debate your critics, but I remind you that attempts to silence them will encounter strong resistance.

For further reading, I recommend this 2008 letter by Georgetti and Arsenault:

Yours sincerely,

Une étudiante anonyme (de la part de tous ceux qui ont vu votre lettre)

Juan Conatz
Jun 21 2012 22:21

More comments from the original post at Recomposition
From Diane Kalen-Sukra

Dennis’ “how dare you question us” response reveals how unaccustomed the union bureaucracy is to ANY real accountability.

After 20 years in the labour movement, and over a decade of it as a union executive and staffer, I can sadly say this is not an isolated incident, but part of the active role our union bureaucracies play in the steady march backwards charted for us by the 1%.

More: Occupy your Union Bureaucracy: An insider’s call [The Real News Network]:

Juan Conatz
Jun 21 2012 22:22

From John Hollingsworth

An Open Letter to Dennis Gruending and the CLC Brass

“As has often been pointed out, the working class is not weak because it is divided; on the contrary, it is divided because it is weak.” – Anton Pannekoek

“CLC selling out students? Reminds me of an old story about the MFL…” – Brian Latour

(With apologies to the internet)

Dear Dennis,

Hi, how are you? I think that you may know my mother, and I believe that I some point I heard from her that you go to the same Mennonite church.

I read your comment on the Recomposition blog ( about the “commandeered memos” that you seem to think was or should have been “private correspondence” about the FTQ’s (and hence the CLC’s) position on engagement with the student struggle in Quebec, and thought that maybe I’d share my thoughts with you in an open letter. I also have some additional thoughts on the contents of these memos and their impact on our movement which I’d also like to share.

Let’s start with where we agree. First, while I think it is utmost importance to be principled in our communications, it is also important to be as accurate as possible in our claims. You start by claiming that the subject blog post is “inaccurate”. Taking a closer look, I noticed that the entirety of your point about “potentially libelous” inaccuracies would seem to only apply to the content of one paragraph (the second one) in this blog post.

It is true that your “unsigned blogger” does appear to attribute to CLC President Ken Georgetti views that are not stated in his memo to CLC Council of May 28, and that the views contained in this paragraph of the blog post should be attributed to FTQ President Michel Arsenault. While I’m not sure that it’s what anyone more honest would actually call libelous, I concur with you that it is inaccurate. Now, it’s a blog, not a newspaper, so I’m not entirely sure, but I believe that the author would probably be more than happy to issue an erratum or edit or whatever. (So perhaps you can ease off with the threats of libel against the people who actually build the real labour movement and who ultimately pay your CLC salary, OK? Thanks.)

Ken Georgetti himself didn’t say in his memo that “‘radical elements’ are not to be supported in order to facilitate an agreement”, but then again he doesn’t need to. It’s already been said by his FTQ counterpart, whom he is bound by the CLC-FTQ protocol to support. As for the rest of this paragraph, I think that “him” could be changed to “them”, and “he” to “they”, and it’s pretty much all on-point.

So, in my view and perhaps yours, it follows that the CLC has perhaps caught a disproportionate amount of flak in the outrage that this disclosure of correspondence has rightfully had across the labour and student movements – in Canada and Quebec. To my eye (and perhaps to the overly-hasty eye of the “anonymous blogger”), it seems pretty clear that many of the comments and false representations of the FTQ President in the first instance are pretty outrageous and really should be called out first.

Michel Arsenault speaks of “rumours” that “labour leaders in English Canada” are “intending to come and support the social conflict currently prevailing in Quebec”. When I first read this, I must admit that I got pretty excited thinking that this was so, as I’ve heard nothing like this at all from any “labour leaders”, and I’m currently mobilizing to get some buses filled to go to Montreal. Here’s hoping that this controversy will help that process – as we proceed, local by local, worker to worker, to build things.

What does Ken Georgetti say? Well, he says that these “rumours” more specifically are that “some national affiliates plan to organize potential illegal actions in Quebec in violation of Bill 78, to support the student protests”. He further states that the CLC is in regular contact with the FTQ regarding “the appropriate level of support” for the students. He ends by saying that he hoped that the rumours that many hoped were true, were not.

What can you say to that other than Which Side Are You On?

Here is what Michel Arsenault had to say about the “volatile” situation in Quebec: “…more radical wings [of the student movement] are calling for social strike and we do not believe that this is THE strategy to be promoted at the moment”. He then goes on to state that “the student associations are exhausted and worried about what comes next” as a reason for the FTQ pushing for a settlement with the government. I agree with the author of the Recomposition blog post – this claim is nothing short of pathetic, and, I would add, incredibly patronizing. Let’s hear from the students and popular movements first, shall we?

Clearly, Arsenault is in favour of social peace and containment of struggle; as the very words he uses to describe the situation – “volatile”, “fueling the fires”, etc. – demonstrate. The current situation strikes fear into the heart of the union boss, where those of us everywhere who want a better world and prepared to fight for it take inspiration from it. There are their friends in the PQ who must get elected, of course. Therefore, unions and locals across the rest of Canada shouldn’t be working to “add fuel to the fire” and work with the “more radical wings” of the movement, because it’s not conducive to social peace and a settlement at-all-costs.

And what is it that these union locals, national unions, etc. in the rest of Canada are doing? They are as far as I can tell making donations to CLASSE’s legal defence fund. Is this an illegitimate, even illegal activity? Apparently so, based on how at least one affiliate head, OSSTF president Ken Coran, has interpreted Ken Georgetti’s memo. (I note in passing that this so-called “private correspondence” was sent to their own affiliates, by the way – I guess “private” means “need to know basis” or something.)

Ken Georgetti’s loyal OSSTF lieutenant issued the following marching orders to OSSTF affiliates:

“At this time, we are recommending that there be no official support or donation be (sic) made in the name of OSSTF/FEESO [regarding the Quebec student protests] as per the memo from the CLC and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), which are attached.”

All I can say is that I think that as much as Ken Georgetti should be shamed, so must loyal lapdogs like Ken Coran. Thankfully, other affiliates, including CUPW and (NU)CAUT, have made donations to CLASSE’s legal defence fund or called for the same from their locals. My own local, which among other groups represents clerical workers at the CLC, sent a donation which was unanimously approved at our past meeting. Even local labour councils – generally under the tightest grip of the CLC – have pledged funds in support. Last night, in spite of being aware of these memos, the Ottawa DLC broke ranks with the CLC and voted to send money. This is in my experience unprecedented, and an extremely encouraging development.

You see, like most rank-and-file union activists who put their principles as opposed to union/political career ambitions first, I support workers and students and popular struggles – not organizations that work against them, to contain them, to gatekeep and to otherwise cynically use them for their own purposes. I don’t need Michel Arsenault’s permission to organize with my comrades in the student and popular movements in Quebec, many of whom I’ve worked together with for well over a decade. And it’s neither his nor Ken “Davos” Georgetti’s business who my union local, or for that matter my local DLC, mobilizes support for.

I can only wonder, if there still was a labour movement in the USA, whether if Michel Arsenault sent an appeal for American unions similarly energized by the student struggle in his corner of North America not to meddle in his labour affairs of state, if a similar directive would be issued by their affiliates? Or is this vacuous appeal, invoking the structure of Canadian asymmetrical federalism as a model for the labour movement, really just a Made-in-Canada variant of the same old statist, top-down, command-and-control theme?

In any event, with friends like these, who needs governments?

Labour movement centrals often have social and political partners, similarly organized on a respectable, top-down basis. They are oriented to elections, lobbying politicians, international junkets and what are called “campaigns” (i.e. make-work projects involving lots of swag and glossy paper signifying nothing). The CLC has the CFS and the NDP; the FTQ has the FEUC, FEUQ and the PQ.

CLASSE (the “large coalition” of ASSÉ, the more radical and grassroots student union that emerged out of the mobilizations against the FTAA in Quebec City 2001) is a different kind of student union. Any association can affiliate with it, so long as they make a collective decision at a representative general assembly and provide a small ($1 per member) donation to CLASSE. Unlike our top-down structures in the official labour movement, CLASSE runs on directly democratic basis, continuously mobilizes, and conducts regular votes on whether or not they will be on strike at general assemblies, often at the departmental or faculty level. They have organized based on a common demand (against the tuition increases, with free tuition as part of the longer-term struggle), and they have grown to include approximately 170,000 students within this structure; that is, a very large majority of Quebec students are now regrouped into CLASSE.

I’ve been somewhat involved in supporting the grassroots student movement, which is to say CLASSE, the largest and yet the most marginalized student union. They have been marginalized by the Charest government, who’ve maintained that, in spite of overwhelming and growing numbers of students directly involved, are not a legitimate party to negotiations, and they have also been – and as we’ve seen, continue to be – marginalized by the FTQ. Now the CLC wants us to do the same.

Excuse me, but fuck that! I think that I know what side you are on, Dennis Gruending – and which side you and your boss clearly are not on. You support the current system. You and/or your boss have condemned militant protestors and those willing to engage in civil disobedience in the past, while giving the actual enemy and their forces of repression a free ride in order to blame/condemn “anarchists” (see (You know, we’re not all Nestor Mahkno, brother, some of us anarchists even have Mennonite backgrounds – not to mention the fact that not all anarchists are comrades who use Black Bloc tactics and vice-versa.) I’m not expecting the CLC to come out and applaud targeted property destruction, but in light of the unprecedented and disproportionate clampdown by the security state that was going on as you wrote that piece, all I can say is shame on you. Now your boss is doing it again to those who might dare to defy an unconstitutional, draconian law by not presenting a march route to the cops before they assemble for les casseroles.

I think that you, your boss and the rest of the collaborationist, comfy labour bosses and their minions need to re-read another paragraph in that blog post and take it to heart – failing that, it is imperative that the rest of us understand that what’s needed is not a change of direction or new leadership, but a new structure altogether through which we can join together and support each others’ struggles. Here it is:

“Let’s be clear, union leaders work for union members. They are not at the top of a chain of command and if the leadership want to use the unions as a tool to obstruct solidarity instead of facilitate it then the leadership should be ignored or discarded. The CLASSE did this through their mass assemblies and so can we.”

Fail to heed those words at your own peril. And in the meantime get the hell out of our way.

No solidarity with the piecards,
John Hollingsworth (member of COPE Local 225 and delegate to the ODLC, speaking for myself)

Juan Conatz
Jun 22 2012 03:19

From Bob Lyons

Dear Dennis:

Surprising where the road of life takes you. Who would have thought that you would end up as a flak catcher for a piece of work like Georgetti.

Nobody who has observed Georgetti’s career as labour fakir and labour lieutenant of the bourgeoisie, the agent of imperialism in the working class movement, will be a bit surprised at his latest sell out.

The facts are Dennis, that Georgetti has made a career out of selling out struggles. Ask the teachers, public servants and wood workers of British Columbia, of the great soldidarity shown by Georgetti as he sold them down the river, one by one.

If this is libel, by the way, please bring it on. I couldn’t wait to have a court room filled with union activists waiting to testify how this hunk of dog dirt sold them out, time after time after time.

Dennis, I know you are only following orders, writting your little missive here. But you should consider very carefully the political context we find ourself in. The attacks launched all across Europe, the United States and Canada by the ruling class, the 1%, those whom Tommy Douglas likened to black and white cats out to eat us mice, need a labour movement leadership with the guts to stand up to fight. The last thing we need are porkchoppers like Georgetti, trying to suck up to the boss at every twist and turn of the road.
So, the sooner the sorry state of what passes for a trade union leadership is examined by every activist in every corner of every social movement, the sooner we will be able to clean out the litter box which passes for the CLC executive.


Bob Lyons
Regina, SK

Jun 22 2012 03:42

You all see this statement from CUPE Ontario?

Juan Conatz
Jun 22 2012 07:27

From Cindy McCallum Miller

Sadly with the working class under attack, the formal labour movement looks more like the 1% than the 99% and as a lifelong trade union activist, that breaks my heart. But not my spirit.

Our local just sent our small financial contribution to the students legal fund and a cheque from my partner and I was included. Labour bureaucrats are suffocating the sparks of resistance so I applaud those leaders who stand with the students and militants fighting for real democracy. Time for Mr. Georgetti (he’s not my brother) and his ilk to stand aside and let a real movement emerge that embraces direct democracy and supports courageous actions.

Juan Conatz
Jun 26 2012 12:32
Juan Conatz
Jun 26 2012 12:35

From Dave Bleakney

I was astounded to learn that there is a view that correpsondence affecting the Canadian working class should somehow be kept a secret. That is revealling on a number of levels but quite simply reveals the state of union “democracy” where struggles are to be stage managed into oblivion and silence. It is worth noting though, that when it comes to solidarity, many students in Quebec and Canada stood on our lines and supported us when we needed them. Workers both inside and outside of Quebec see the importance of struggle against neoliberalism and see challenging it and repression as meaningful objectives for working people. I wonder whether it is also inappropriate to support any struggle outside english Canada regarding international solidarity? Does this mean we also do not interfere in Colombia, Palestine and wherever people are oppressed due to neoliberalism and international capital. I hope anyone that supports freedom and fairness will continue to support Quebec students in any humble way they can. Whether they know it or not they are fighting for all of us and made this struggle more than just one about tuition. Allowing this struggle to be merely reduced to a provincial question of tuition does us all an injustice.

Students have their own voice and are not compliant children to be managed. It is very uncomfortable to think that we can allow any progressive group anywhere to be isolated and unsupported. Shall we all be silent on the matter of solidarity? If anything these students show us that one can fight, organize and challenge neoliberal orthodoxy and repression rather than empty requests and appeals to power. It would be great if we stuck to the goal of winning and what could be as opposed to one of compliance and silence. The Quebec students have inspired people all over the world and indicate to us that surrender and empty requests don’t cut it. Rather than condemn them or remain silent we have quite a lot to learn from them. And if anything should be thought of as “illegal” it would be the rotten system we live in that condemns billions of people to miseryand repression so a few can live off the fat. Maybe someday the CLC will come to question that.

Juan Conatz
Jun 26 2012 12:36

From John Hollingsworth

Have people seen this story (in one form or another)?

Given the relationship between the FTQ and PQ, where, like that between the CLC and the NDP, the tail wags the dog…

Aug 21 2015 15:16

For folks wondering who this clown is:

Also worth noting he is no longer with the CLC and looks like he left around the time a new, less right wing, slate took over the CLC. That was also one of the first regime changes in the CLC's history that was only partially stage managed.