On the latest OPSEU/SEFPO Talk episode, President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sits down with James Clancy, Founder and President of the Canadian Labour Institute for Social and Economic Fairness (CLI) and former President of OPSEU/SEFPO (1985-1990).

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Thomas 00:01: Hi everybody, I’m Smokey Thomas, President of OPSEU/SEFPO. Welcome back to another addition of OPSEU/SEFPO Talk! Joining us today is James Clancy. For those of you who are new to our union, James was OPSEU/SEFPO President between 1985 and 1990. And he later went on to become President of the National Union of Public and General Employees, a job he held until 2016. So for those new to the union, we call that NUPGE and that’s who OPSEU affiliates to the Canadian Labour Congress through the national body called NUPGE. And then after leaving NUPGE, James jumped right into a new challenge, one that I find very exciting. He founded the Canadian Labour Institute for Social and Economic Fairness, which is what we are going to talk about today. So James, welcome to OPSEU/SEFPO Talk.

Clancy 00:53: Thanks very much Smokey.

Thomas 00:55: So just for people listening, what is CLI?

Clancy 00:59: CLI is a group of volunteers mostly, who’ve come together to talk about, you know, where do we need to go in this country, you know, given the changes that are taking place and have been taking place. You know, it started when I was President of NUPGE because we established three groups following the recession in 2009, 8, 9, 10. When the bottom dropped out and all these governments started to turn on us and started to talk about austerity, we needed austerity and there was cutbacks, privatization as so on. So we started to look at the question of income inequality and wealth inequality. You know, why was is or why is it still some people are doing fabulously well and others are really struggling to get by. So in 2009 when people were really feeling the squeeze and being squeezed, we started to look at this question of income inequality. What is it? Why does it happen? Why does it keep growing? And out of that we established three groups. One was the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights. The second was Canadians for Modern Industrial Strategy and the third group was the Public Service Foundation of Canada. And our argument was that if you want to tackle income inequality, you want to take on wealth inequality, you have to allow workers to join unions. You know it’s been established, we know that history teaches us that. The greater the unionization rate, it means that all boats rise in a community, in a country, in society. And the second thing was in Canada we’ve talked and have been talking for 30 years, 40 years about diversifying our economy and so on a so forth. But increasingly we’re making less, doing less, right. Successful economies makes stuff. So Canadians for Modern Industrial Strategy was an attempt to try and take a look at what we’re facing and say how we can develop an industrial strategy that respects the environment. In other words they’re not mutually inclusive, you can do both. And the third thing was Public Service Foundation of Canada and we began a group or started a group called Canadians for Tax Fairness. Because in the absence of tax fairness then we don’t have the monies to run the programs that we need to run. So as somebody, as you know, the campaigns that we’ve run over the years trying to hold on to services, trying to protect public services were always, every time we turn around its an austerity budget and they want to trim, cut, chop or privatize services. And so, it was out of that analysis when I retired from NUPGE that I wanted to continue that work on income inequality, wealth inequality and these groups that we’ve built and established over the years. So the CLI, the Canadian Labour Institute for Social and Economic Fairness is really dedicated to continuing that work. And so we got a website, of course we do a lot of research on labour issues, on public service issues on industrial strategy issues. But the key to it, increasingly, is the social media side of it. So we’ve got a really loyal following now, I think there’s probably about 50 or 60 thousand that are following us on a daily basis, right across the country. Half of that audience, over half of that audience is under 35 years of age. So it’s really, as an aside, I say it’s really encouraging to know that there are other young people or young people that are really starting to tune into this analysis and this work that we’re trying to accomplish.

And at the same time, I’ve always felt, Smokey, that labour doesn’t do enough to celebrate the thousands of activists that are out there working on stuff every day, every week, every year. And so, we really wanted to celebrate activists. Many whom, they would never be heard. No one would know of them. So across the country we’ve got volunteers that send us stories and we try and focus and celebrate people are actually taking action, doing something. Now, they’re not all unionist, many of them are community minded people we like to focus on. So the CLI is about building the research and then communicating it in a way where people can more readily understand it. Trying to make it more contemporary. You know, you can do all the research you want in the world but if it’s 50 or 60 pages sitting on the table and nobody reads 50 or 60 pages so the social media been a real tool for us. We’ve been able to communicate those stories, that research, these ideas that we have to a much broader audience.

Thomas 06:01: So what I find impressive is that, you know, half the followers are youth. That’s truly amazing and not all union, right.

Clancy 06:10: That’s right.

Thomas 06:11: You have a lot of non-union followers and at the end of the podcast we’ll explain how to connect up.

Clancy 06:19: Alright then.

Thomas 06:20: There’s a link on our website folks but we’ll highlight it at the end again. OPSEU we’ve done a lot of work with you over the years when you were at NUPGE getting it going and folks it is all volunteer. They run on less of a shoe string budget, it’s all volunteers. So in terms of non-unionized labour like reaching out, can you just maybe chat a bit about the success you’ve had there and where maybe you see that part of CLI going and reaching out to the average person who’s maybe not in a union.

Clancy 06:49: Ya as you know, as we all know, there literally thousands of people out there all the time who aren’t union members but are people that share our values. Sharing, caring, people like this that understand that and treasure those values. And so our, the idea is to try and link up with them, right. To bring them in to some of the issues that are important to us but at the same time share some of the issues that they’re concerned with or about with a broader audience. And so, you know, I’m convinced that the key for the labour movement as we looked ahead over the next 10, 15 or 20 years is we have to link, we have to make stronger connections in the community with community members that are not unionists. And I think that we can complement one another. So to me, any union that wants to be successful and really make a difference, I think as we really ahead, is got to really concentrate more energy in that area. Now OPSEU, as you know, has done that probably one of the finest in the country when you think back over the last 30 years about the campaigning and it’s sorta in the OPSEU DNA in my view. And, so they’re well positioned as we move forward. CLI wants to be there to complementing what unions are doing and indeed providing as much help as we can.

Thomas 08:25: So for folks listening OPSEU becoming a campaigning union really was under James’ leadership when he was president. That’s where working with James I kinda learned how to campaign there. He taught me a lot of stuff about community and you’re right James OPSEU were all, you know, the activists based staff in OPSEU were I think are extremely good and probably one of the best out there. So the folks you get to do some research are they like, what kind of people, you know, volunteer up and kinda do research?

Clancy 08:56: Some of them are retired that use to work for unions. Some of them are academics, some of them are university students. People that are working towards their degree and want to do a paper on a specific issue that’s of interest to us. And then there’s some people that are, they just write us and they say they’ve got an idea and they’d like to explore it and would we be interested? And so really people from all walks of life, all ages. I’m particularly interested in, of course, the younger people, right, because they come, let me give you an example, anything that we publish on housing draws a very strong response from our audience. Now recognize that our audience, half over half is under 35. So out of that, we’ve met people that have commented on stories we’ve written or memes or some of the social media we’re doing and we’ve followed up with them and they’ve done research or take the particular aspect of the housing crisis in this country and written about it for us.

Thomas 10:07: No I find the information, especially on social media I follow you on but the one I follow every day I get every day is on Facebook and folks if you really wanna check it out there’s a link on our website. Just go down the bottom you’ll see NUPGE CLI, you know, CLC you click on CLI, click on them all but CLI you’ll see some of the memes. They are hilarious but yet right to the point and they make their point in a very entertaining manner. So I’m with you James. My view of the future is, I think we’re in good shape. I think the youth of today are far more engaged then they were when I young. And I think that they got smarts and will take over but I know what your view of youth in the future is you and I will always through kids.

Clancy 10:53: Well everybody, that’s right, everybody complains about the youth, right. You know you hear that, oh wow they don’t want to work, oh they’re not this, they’re not that. But through my experience with CLI and meeting these people and corresponding with these people and following up and talking to some these people is that they’re really plugged in. They’re quit knowledgeable about what’s happening. You know, I think that they see, maybe it must be because of the technology in part but they have a much better understanding of how things work then I think we were able to experience when we were that age. Now having said that there’s also the enthusiasm and the zeal of a commitment that you when you come across somebody, it’s pretty liberating, you know, in the sense that it really give you hope that our best days are ahead of us, as a country.

Thomas 11:53: No I and I couldn’t agree more. You know, James in OPSEU we have a, I think you should be invited to speak in August to our Young Workers gathering. But that would be a story for another time perhaps but so folks I would really encourage you to check on our website and click on follow when you get on the CLI sites, click on follow. And I know from personal experience James and the crew are always happy to have feedback and ideas and your stories and, you know, you could see yourself in one of those stories someday. So and again so it’s on the website but James it’s been, I’ve really enjoyed this talk. I hope that our members, you know, follow up and have a look and I just say keep doing the good work you’re doing and for a very small group of volunteers, you do absolutely fascinating and amazing work. And I agree, the future looks a lot brighter in many ways but, you know, groups like this, the CLI that you’re a big part of what’s going to make that future brighter. So thanks for being with us today.

Clancy 13:05: Thanks very much for the opportunity Smokey.