In this podcast, we talk with longtime Montreal Activist and Anarchist Jaggi Singh. Most of the visible resistance to the slapdash, last minute, authoritarian lock downs that provincial governments have imposed (after letting outbreaks turn into crises) have been from far-right conspiracy groups. This is changing. As workers realize that these new authoritarian measures are much less effective than we have been assured, people are beginning to get angry with the clear mishandling of this roller coaster crisis. The left has begun to organize to resist these measures and distinguish it’s position from the baffling, anti-science, xenophobic nonsense being screamed about by the right reactionaries.
In this podcast, we speak with former Head of Labour Organizing at Efling Union (Iceland) and current Organizing & Communications officer at the Industrial Workers of the World Max Baru. The conversation ranges from how communications systems structure organizations, to the difficulties of working with the “middle class”, the suppression of fast growing organic movements, whether it’s worth it to try to move giant existing institutions, the cost of political participation, how to support workers in their struggle, how workers movements can move forward… if unions will get behind workers.
In this podcast, we will discuss Police Brutality in Greece with Fellow Worker Yiannis. The introduction to this podcast was done by Fellow Worker D, the mixing/mastering/audio by Fellow Worker C and the Interviewer is Fellow Worker T.
August 1st was a beautiful day in the nation’s capital. In fact, it was so nice that the Ottawa-Outaouais IWW decided to get together, enjoy the last gasps of the summer, and take the fight to the boss on behalf of Fellow Worker Aalya Ahmad.
Foot traffic was slow outside of the office, but our members were still able to engage a decent number of people with our signs and flyers. We have provided a digital copy of the fliers and the contained text below.
There’s a lot going on here and I don’t have time to read everything. How do I make sense of it?
If you have questions we haven’t been able to answer here or need help to sift through the evidence, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t picket but how else can I help?
Send a letter or petition of support for Aalya, either as an individual or as a group to email@example.com. We will forward it to the CUPW National Executive Board and publicize it (with your permission).
Follow, promote and share our fight on your social media
Fight back against these issues on your own shop floor. Abuse of workers is never okay, even if it’s being done by a union. Remember that choosing to stay silent or ‘neutral’ in any given situation is choosing a side. In this case, it’s pretty clear which side workers should be on.
We thank the many postal workers across the country who have reached out, voiced their support, and condemned what is being done to Aalya in their name, with their union dues.
Why should I support Aalya Ahmad?
Aalya is an organizer known for her work on social justice, equity and labour issues. She was the national Coordinator of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s and Human Rights, a founder of the Radical Handmaids, and active in the Occupy movement, to name just a few. Aalya has a solid track record of helping to get big wins for union members, including CUPW members. She deserves the same justice she fights for for other workers.
What started all this?
Aalya was president of her staff union Local CUPE 1979 and on their negotiations team with CUPW, which was demanding huge concessions from staff, when a conflict with a co-worker arose, during which she was subjected to bullying and threatening gestures. Aalya had previously been bullied at CUPW and was trying to get anti-bullying training in the workplace when this happened. As a result, she suffered a serious mental health crisis. Management unfairly put all the blame on Aalya for the incident and its aftermath, and ignored her medical condition, driving her out of the workplace and forcing her eventually to resign after repeatedly harassing her when she was on disability leave.
What are the issues and why is the IWW involved?
It’s about the way Aalya is being treated by CUPW’s management team with the full knowledge and collusion of the CUPW National Executive Board. We believe CUPW’s internal politics are a factor in the many abuses she endured, including the withholding of tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and entitlements upon her constructive dismissal. The IWW originally got involved because of this wage theft. We estimate the Board’s spending on lawyers on these matters far exceeds what Aalya was originally owed.
Have you tried talking to CUPW?
Yes. repeatedly We first contacted them in the fall of 2018, demanding Aalya be made whole and requesting to meet with them. We have repeated this request both in writing and by holding small and peaceful information at their national office. So far. they’ve either ignored us or accused us of harassing them by picketing, which is a weird position fora union to take (especially a union like CUPW). This should never have come to the point where we had to set up pickets but we did so only after their repeated refusals to talk.
What does the IWW want?
CUPW management originally withheld almost S30,000 from Aalya while persecuting her for fighting for her rights by filing a human rights complaint against them for discrimination on the grounds of disability. Against medical advice, they forced her into small claims court over a much smaller amount that she was already paying back To prevent the boss from dragging things out for years at the expense of her mental health, Aalya agreed to forgo some of the money she was entitled to in order to get her human rights complaint heard. We believe CUPW management has been treating this situation like a personal vendetta or ‘lawfare’ financed by their members dues. We want representatives who haven’t been directly involved in this dispute to review the wage theft issue and work with us to remedy it.
Do you have proof to support these claims?
Yes, we have extensive documents from emails and letters between CUPW management and Aalya. to letters from her doctors to the data on her stolen wages You can find it all on our Facebook page @ottawaoutIWW and on the Ottawa IWW website at OttawaIWW.org.
I’ve heard a different story from other sources.
Aalya was the target of a smear campaign designed to muddy the waters. The National Executive Board sent a statement about her to all CUPW representatives and staff nationwide, twisting the facts to make it look like she acted inappropriately. Her former CUPE Local 1979 objected to allegations in the statement. Prior to CUPW’s convention and elections, the smear campaign got really vicious. Collins’ predecessor and advisor posted Aalya’s RateMyProfessor page (an anonymous website often used for racist and sexist attacks on university workers) and disparaged her good work at CUPW to thousands of members. The smears are false but the smear campaigners rely on the fact that most folks won’t read through a massive pile of letters and emails to see the truth for themselves. They have also influenced members and staff to claim that Aalya is attacking them by simply trying to defend her rights as a worker and exercising her right to freedom of expression. This is a serious slur against someone who has dedicated her life to the labour movement.
Why is the IWW picketing when Aalya was a member of a staff union at CUPW?
The staff union (CUPE Local 1979) represented Aalya on some of the issues described here and we supported them in doing so. However, she is no longer working at CUPW and the wage theft issues are not resolved from our point of view. Aalya is also a member of the IWW Ottawa-Outaouais is General Membership Branch. Her other CUPE Local 4600 (representing teaching assistants and part-time professors at Carleton University) has written a letter to the CUPW National Executive Board in support of Aalya and its members have joined our pickets. That’s what solidarity looks like.
Don’t you support postal workers?
Yes we do and so does Aalya. Last winter the IWW everywhere walked CUPW’s picket lines and our members were even arrested in support of postal workers. In spite of how she has been treated, Aalya actively demonstrated her solidarity with CUPW members. Many postal workers are upset about how she has been treated. Our issue is exclusively with the paid representatives on the National Executive Board.
We have been asked if the IWW plans to picket CUPW Convention this week and we have heard that members’ money has been spent on booking extra security and hotel space to keep us out. We remind all CUPW Convention delegates and members that we continue to be strong allies of postal workers. We have no intention of interfering in any way with CUPW’s convention.
The attempt by CUPW’s national officers to demonize the Industrial Workers of the World is not only absurd, it’s tragic. Your legendary union is currently being led by people complaining about being bullied by picket lines that are set up on behalf of a bullied worker they refuse to settle with. Those who are playing victim continue to use their vastly superior resources (your dues) to destroy this worker’s reputation with blatant lies while continuing to attack her mental health and silence anybody who speaks up for her.
We believe that these actions will ultimately hurt the rank-and-file CUPW members whose picket lines we have walked, and, in fact, all union members who look to CUPW for leadership. However, it is not the place of the IWW to decide whom you elect. Regardless of who you elect, they will continue to face our ongoing demand for meaningful justice for our member, Aalya Ahmad.
We are no longer very interested in meeting with the CUPW representatives who have been previously responsible for the ongoing witch-hunt and wage theft against our member. We would like to meet with CUPW representatives who are actually committed to resolving the issues, not indulging in a vendetta subsidized by their members’ dues.
We also encourage CUPW to conduct a truly independent investigation, led by neutral rank and file members, into how your Human Resources Committee has conducted themselves in this matter (including how much money has been spent). But ultimately it is CUPW members that need to hold their leadership accountable.
Also, the IWW recently received a notice of libel from a lawyer representing CUPW’s National Executive Board. This notice makes reference to a statement produced by the Women’s Caucus of CUPE 4600 that we shared on our Facebook page. The claim is that we are somehow defaming CUPW by reproducing another union group’s report on an incident involving CUPW board members’ interactions with participants in our information picket.
Our members were walking the picket and witnessed what happened to the Women’s Caucus member. Based on our members’ own recollections and the recollections of CUPE members, the account is accurate. True accounts are not libel. The CUPE 4600 Women’s Caucus has not received a threat of libel. Why are we being targeted?
The notice claims that we have made numerous defamatory statements but does not specify any. We have no idea how to respond to such vague accusations. If we or other allies of FW Ahmad have made any errors, we would correct them, but without having any idea what they feel these errors are specifically, it is quite literally impossible for us to respond in a meaningful way.
The notice attempts to target our union members individually. Going after individual (and typically low-waged, precarious and contract) union members for participating in a union campaign is extremely low. Our members are volunteering their time and dues to help an injured worker. Given the evidence presented to us, we believe the employer acted in breach of their responsibilities and the rights of our member.
The notice also accuses us of targeting the only two women executives of the National Executive Board. We strongly disagree with this disgusting characterization. We hold the entire board accountable for their actions taken against our member, our supporters and our branch. In our communications, we have named board members directly involved in the case at hand with the goal of clearly laying out the facts and circumstances of the case. This does not absolve other board members of their responsibility for holding their colleagues accountable, nor does it specifically target the members of the NEB who are women. The abusive behaviour detailed in our publications has nothing to do with the gender of the board members. People of all genders and identities are capable of abuse, and it is our collective responsibility as union members to point any abuse out and stop it.
FW Ahmad has previously received two similar threats to sue her for libel, neither of which were followed up on, as they were without merit. We expect the same result and feel that our actions have been based on the truth and are consistent with the principle of fair commentary and the right to express ourselves on this matter.
The bosses at CUPW hit a new low by dragging another union that represents some of their staff into this fight. COPE 225 was persuaded to side with the boss and amplify their lies. It’s a shame that COPE 225 didn’t do its due diligence and investigate the situation thoroughly as we did (for months.)
Although COPE 225 sent their letter to the NEB confidentially, somehow rank and file postal workers had it and were sharing it on Facebook the next day. Great job respecting confidentiality there, NEB!
We are not going to share the COPE letter, not only because they requested confidentiality, but because it contains egregious lies that we want their executive to investigate and retract before any more harm is done to our member. If you wish to see the COPE 225 letter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.