Sunday, October 30, 2016

Patrick O'Flaherty: 'Cleary has touched a nerve'

HEADLINE: Ryan Cleary and other points of interest

The following column was published in the Oct. 27th edition of The Shoreline News.

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), is shocked and dismayed by Ryan Cleary’s effort to set up a new fishermen’s union. The CLC has “long been looking to eradicate behaviour such as what you are attempting,” Yussuff told Cleary. The proposed new union was a “raid” on the membership of the FFAW-Unifor, he said, and an attempt “to create a role for yourself as its leader.”

Cleary has touched a nerve, I’d say. He is certainly not the only critic to note the longstanding cosy relationship between the FFAW, which was set up a long time ago to protect the interests of fish harvesters, and the federal government, which controls and regulates the fishery. Just how much collaboration between the two bodies has gone on over the decades? And who has benefited from it? Would it not have been better for the fishermen and -women if the union had kept its distance from those calling the shots? I see nothing wrong with Cleary’s demand that the union allow an independent audit of its affairs to be conducted. 

Cleary, by trying to get a new union going, might well have been aiming at “creating a role for himself as leader.” If so, what’s wrong with that? It’s what Coaker and Smallwood did; why can’t he? But my understanding is that he was asked to take on that role by disaffected members of the FFAW. Anyone who has talked to fishermen and -women on the wharves knows how much smouldering discontent there is over the union’s performance in recent years.

That Cleary changed his political party from NDP to PCs prior to the last provincial election should not be used to smear or discredit him, although some local columnists, most of whom have no first-hand experience of politics, have done just that. The NDP is not a cult or religion; it’s a political group of more or less likeminded citizens trying to get their hands on power, as the other parties are. You can leave the NDP without disgracing yourself, and the PCs are surely an honourable alternative for someone wishing to switch. Winston Churchill changed parties, so did Bob Rae, so did three local MHAS of recent vintage; why can’t Cleary.

Patrick O'Flaherty is a noted Newfoundland and Labrador writer, historian and academic. His atest book is The Hardest Christmas Ever and other stories (Pottersfield Press). 

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