A Brief History of the
Canadian Machinists Conference

By David Varnes
Recording Secretary CMC 1980 – 1992

Freedom has always lifted the human spirit and democracy has always been freedom’s instrument in a unionized world. The Machinists Union knows the full meaning of the word democracy. It is not an easy word to embrace when change becomes necessary. But change was necessary and it came from the Canadian Members of the Machinists Union in the 1980s on the issue of the IAMAW Canadian Members’ desire to solely elect their IAM General Vice-President seated on the Grand Lodge Executive Council.

Like all major organizations, the Machinists Union is governed by its Constitution. The IAMAW Constitution is crafted by its Members attending in Delegation at a Grand Lodge Convention. Since 1888, and revised periodically thereafter, the Delegates formulated the operative rules and established the philosophy of these rules through its Committee on Law.

Since the inception of the Machinist Union, the rule for election to the Executive Council was that all Members everywhere could cast a Ballot on the candidate. The rationale was simple – Executive Council Members made decisions that effected the whole Union – so every Member in good standing should have a right to vote on these candidates.

The rationale went basically unchallenged until the 30th Grand Lodge Convention 1980 Cincinnati where a small group of Canadian Lodges tried to overturn this application of the rules, but they had little success with – or sympathy from – the assembled Delegates.

However, democracy’s seed had been planted. The existing rules for Executive Council election allowed the return of a General Vice-President in Canada who did not carry the majority support of Machinists in Canada. Machinists from Canadian Local Lodges were determined to change that.

As the movement gathered support, and new adherents, the objective became to change the Executive Council election rule from within. Thus was born the “Committee of Thirteen”.

The Committee of Thirteen was a very broad brush of activist Machinists in Canada who believed in change through democratic means. An intense and unrelenting assault on the Grand Lodge Convention Delegates Seattle 1984 was orchestrated by this Committee. The entire effort came down to GL Bylaw Amendment Proposition 6 (b) – election of the GVP Canada solely by Canadian Members. The Proposition went to a Roll Call Vote taking over four hours – again – orchestrated by the Canadian Members with help from several large State delegations from America. In the end the Proposition was not carried. But from that day on the Machinists Union Delegates knew the Canadians were serious and committed and that they would be back.

At the 31st Grand Lodge Convention Seattle, a Committee of 17 Members was struck. Initially the work of the “Committee of Seventeen” was to complete the work of the earlier “Committee of Thirteen” at the next Grand Lodge Convention. However, the “17 Committee”, having noted that there had been no Grand Lodge Convention held in Canada since 1901 Toronto, struck a sub-committee to secure a Canadian site for the Grand Lodge Convention 1992.

The Canadian Machinists Conference Committee (Committee of 17) addressed the Grand Lodge concerns that the Committee not become a radical group demanding change. Thus, the CMC Committee became recognized as a group of dedicated Canadian Machinists that were willing to work within the Machinists Union’s democratic structure to achieve their goals. The CMC Committee held meetings and reviewed sites for recommendation, and unanimously recommended Montreal for the site of the 1992 IAMAW Grand Lodge Convention. The Committee of 17 was later to dissolve itself when the Canadian Machinists Conference was formed.

The Canadian Machinist Conference Committee was comprised of Rhys I. Davies, Committee Chairman; Roger Mercure, Bilingual Co-chairman; David J. Varnes, Committee Secretary; Doug Black, Committee Treasurer and the following committee Members: Bob McMuldroch, Dave McVey, James Lawrence, Len Froggatt, Dave Ritchie, Jean-Pierre Marcellin, Angela Schira, Beverley Baxter, George Szabo, Sean Gillen, Bill Shipman, Richard Waite and Bob Nelles.

At the first meeting of the Canadian Machinists Conference Committee held in Toronto, Ontario on November 16, 1985, consensus had been obtained from the Committee Members that Montreal would be advanced as the site for the 1992 Grand Lodge Convention. Amazingly, shortly thereafter, four Committee Members and the Tourism Director Montreal met with the Executive Council to make a presentation for the GL Convention Canada 1992. To no one’s surprise, Montreal won.

The 99 delegates at the May 1987 Founding C.M.C. Convention determined that the main priority for the CMC at the 1988 Grand Lodge Convention, Atlanta would be The General Vice-President for Canada shall be nominated and elected by the Canadian membership.

The 1988 Grand Lodge Convention Atlanta was a celebration of 100 years of solid Trade Unionism from their Founding for the Machinists Union. It was also a time to embrace change.

Four years after Seattle 1984 their Canadian Sisters and Brothers had returned to Atlanta to make their case again. This time the Convention Delegates accepted that the philosophy for Executive Council election was outdated and that the rules had to be changed. Grand Lodge Delegates Atlanta 1988 amended the IAMAW Constitution to allow the election of the General Vice-President Canada solely by Canadian Members.

Know this – Democracy is no easy task and change never comes easy. If you want to change something you have to work for it. The Canadian Machinists Conference has a limited history but a lively one. We have earned our place in the IAM.

The Canadian Machinists Conference embraces all Machinists across Canada in a variety of industries and functions and speaks with one voice on national issues. It has taken us a long time to arrive at our destination. We are proud of our journey. We are a Machinists voice in Canada.

At a Glance:

September 1984 Founding Meeting Seattle
November 1985 CMC Committee meeting Toronto
October 1986 Special Meeting Montreal
February 1987 By-Laws Committee Toronto
May 1987 Founding Convention Winnipeg
November 1987 Convention (1) Victoria
April 1990 Convention (2) Halifax
September 1992 Convention (3) Montreal
April 1996 Convention (4) Toronto
November 1998 Convention (5) Calgary
September 2001 Convention (6) Winnipeg

 Date Posted: 29 Apr 2009 @ 12 16 AM
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2009 @ 12 18 AM
Posted By: admin

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