|April 24, 2006
Buzz Hargrove facing challenge for top CAW position
|CAW National President Buzz Hargrove is facing a challenge, for the first time, as leader of Canada's largest private sector union.
Willie Lambert, a bus driver from Oakville, Ontario and longtime local labour leader, will run against Hargrove for the Union’s
presidency at the CAW’s tri-annual constitutional convention which will be held August 15 to 18, 2006 in Vancouver.
Hargrove was first elected as the union's national president by acclamation in 1992, and has been re-elected by acclamation every
three years ever since. Therefore, Lambert's contest which triggers a presidential election during the August CAW Convention will be
somewhat of a unique experience for delegates.
"I'm up to the challenge. I love what I do and I'm not offended by somebody running at all,'' Hargrove told The Canadian Press after
Lambert confirmed his candidacy to lead the union. "I am, quite frankly, genuinely surprised that over the years I haven't had any
Lambert, who is 44, has a website up and running to promote his election campaign. On it, he expresses his displeasure with
Hargrove in his decision to support the Liberal Party and former Prime Minister Paul Martin during the last federal election campaign.
However, Hargrove’s decision to adopt and support “strategic voting” came from a resolution unanimously agreed on by the Union’s
National Executive Board and overwhelmingly passed by members and delegates to the Union’s quarterly held parliament, CAW
Council. The strategic voting that the CAW urged its overall membership to support was to elect as many New Democratic Party
(NDP) candidates in key ridings where the NDP stood a strong chance of being elected. In those weaker ridings, CAW members
were urged to support Liberal candidates. Hargrove himself has been a card-carrying member of the NDP for 41 years.
Hargrove and the CAW supported the Liberals because of their automotive policies, which Hargrove maintained help attract new
investments at the Big Three Automakers' plants in Ontario. But the move angered his long-time NDP allies, who in February voted
for Hargrove's expulsion from the Ontario wing of the party.
In a March 10, 2006 letter to the CAW's national leadership, Lambert criticized Hargrove's support for the Liberals as a shift away from
the union's working-class roots. "We have advocated support for a political party who's first and foremost constituent is the business
community,'' Lambert wrote to CAW national representative Paul Forder. “As Hargrove was lavishing miss-directed affection' on the
former prime minister, the federal Liberals were hatching almost a secret round' of negotiations on a trade pact with South Korea that
could harm Canadian automotive producers, Lambert said.
Delegates to the April CAW Council (April 21 - 23) voted in favour to support the CAW NEB’s resolution to withdraw any and all support
of the NDP.
Hargrove has criticized Lambert for "consistently'' opposing the CAW’s long-time fight to get government financial support for the
automotive industry. "That's the only thing that he spoke against at almost every Council meeting,'' Hargrove said. Hargrove added
that Lambert has “never been able to muster any support in the union on that issue.” "He doesn't come from the auto industry - he
works in the public sector.... So he doesn't have the same threat to his job as the auto workers.''
Lambert is no stranger to election campaigns, albeit he has often come up on the losing end. He ran three times for the NDP
federally in 1993, 1997 and 2000 - and provincially in 1995. On the home page of his website is a picture of him with federal NDP
leader Jack Layton.
He also ran twice for president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, including a narrow 1999 loss to Wayne Samuelson. He has
served for 10 years as president of the Oakville and District Labour Council.
"Being rather stubborn, I have consistently refused to believe much of what I have been told that a rank and file trade unionist cannot
effectively challenge executive leadership at the top of our union and labour bodies beyond,'' Lambert writes on his web site. "We
have the democratic right to do so even if custom has long been otherwise.''
The CAW, which broke-away from the U.S. based United Auto Workers (UAW) in 1985, has had only two National Presidents – Bob
White (1985 to 1992) who was the Canadian Director of the UAW when the CAW was formed and later went on to become President
of the Canadian Labour Congress, and Buzz Hargrove (1992 to present), who replaced White. Hargrove is Canada’s most
recognized, well known and respected labour leader.