By: Ryan Young
I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that fish harvesters in this province have a number of issues that they would like to see addressed by the FFAW. Many will tell you they have been fighting for years to get attention from their union. If social media and the open line shows are any indication, a very large portion of these harvesters feel ready for a change. With the upstart FISH-NL group working towards its first convention later this month, while gathering up members willing to sign their new union cards, it has been a very interesting couple of months to say the least.
We have heard from many harvesters and many members within the FFAW since this whole story began, but despite the continued pushback from the union against Ryan Cleary, leader of the FISH-NL movement, the union side has not really had much to say about the issues that are concerning the fishers. The strategy at the FFAW seems to be kill the head and hope that the body will fall. This is why they have spent so much time questioning Mr. Cleary’s motives when they should have been out meeting with harvesters and asking how they can do better to represent them. I was told by one long time fisherman who had no real interest in the union debate in the beginning, that his loyalties shifted to FISH-NL when he repeatedly heard the FFAW making personal attacks instead of addressing the issues that were being brought forth. I would be willing to bet that there are many harvesters that share this same view and it would be wise for the FFAW to be mindful of what they are saying.
To make matters even stranger, Canadian Labour Congress President, Hassan Youseff wrote Cleary a letter last week, accusing him of trying to “raid” the FFAW and making connections to Cleary’s political past. It was strange when Mr. Youseff was asked about this on a VOCM call in show, he said that he had no comment about Cleary’s past political involvement. If he had no comment, then why did he specifically reference it in the letter? It is no secret that Ryan Cleary is a polarizing figure. Most people either like him or they don’t, but I really don’t see the value in Youseff’s letter or his comments. Hassan Youseff’s job is to protect the best interest of his members. There is obviously a large contingent of harvesters that feel that the FFAW is not working in their interests and again, instead of addressing these concerns, the CLC President chose instead to throw personal mud and question Cleary’s motives and integrity. Is this the way a person in Mr. Youseff’s position should act? I don’t know, but I do know that it has strengthened the resolve of those on the FISH-NL side. The really tricky part about all of this is that if FISH-NL is successful they will likely be making an application to join the CLC. How are these workers supposed to feel represented by the CLC when they are feeling betrayed by them before their new union is even off the ground?
I have heard Mr. Cleary say several times that one of the things that he teaches his children is that in an argument, if you get personal, you lose. In this case I think that the analogy is very apt. By choosing to go after Cleary’s character with personal attacks instead of addressing the issues of the harvesters, the FFAW and CLC are not winning over many fans that make a living in a fishing boat. The only chance the FFAW had to keep their support strong was to show their members some real openness and transparency and to offer to discuss the issues and make some changes. Instead they have decided to take the low road by going after Cleary and I fully expect that this approach will ultimately be thing that pushes FISH-NL over the top.
At this point the FISH-NL movement has grown too large to be silenced by silencing one person. Even if the FFAW were having success in their campaign against Cleary, (which they are not!) it wouldn’t matter. Too many harvesters have gotten behind the idea that they don’t have to be screwed over by their union any longer and the momentum has grown large enough to keep the movement going even if Cleary were no longer in the picture. Some made a big deal the other day about Cleary saying that if the FFAW would agree to a complete third party audit that he would walk away from FISH-NL. Yes, on the surface it may sound bad, but Cleary knows that the union will never agree to such an audit so he knows that in the he will come out looking good while the union looks even more secretive and elitist. It’s a good move because even if by some stroke of divine intervention, the FFAW did agree to an independent audit, the fish harvesters would still be getting what they wanted all along which is real openness and transparency from their union.
It will be interesting to watch the lead up to the inaugural FISH-NL Convention on October 27th, and the card signing drive that is expected to run through to December. Will the union see the errors in their ways and try to make things right with harvesters, or will they continue down the road of personal attacks and continued deniability? Many feel that we are on the verge of a historic shift in representation for fish harvesters in this province, but for now all we can do is wait and watch. Stay tuned!