Hamilton The ACORN Canada biennial convention is many things to many people, especially ACORN members, but it is also a measuring stick of the increasing power and influence of the organization. There were more members in attendance. There were more cities represented. Even the fact that the convention was held in Hamilton where the organization has been resurgent in recent years.
Listening to some of the guest speakers was an excellent barometer. After fifteen years, ACORN has clearly become an essential part of the progressive agenda.
The first day included a rousing call to action by a newly elected city councilor in Hamilton, Narinder Nann, whose district includes several of the local ACORN groups. It is also ground zero for pressure on tenants from developers and evictions. Rent has soared to over $1100 per unit in recent years.
Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton District Labour Council was also rousing, and his speech could have been given by an ACORN leader. He talked about the privileges that came with his position and the fact that he had made a living wage as a teacher and had a pension when so many didn’t. He had a great line about the ridiculousness of candidates that talk saving the middle class, rather than acknowledging that we were working class people in a rich country and needed to do better for its people.
The head of the Canadian Labor Congress, Hassan Yussuff, spoke at length. Along with the other speakers, he recognized the fact that ACORN was a vital part of any coalition with progressive goals, he underlined that by raising up key parts of the labor program that were shared with ACORN. Affordable housing was one, but so were issues that in many countries organized labor would not have highlighted.
He spoke of the need to raise welfare benefits by 30%. He used his own mother as an example and the fact that she was almost 95, but her pension wasn’t enough to live on. He made a point of the issue for unemployed having the right to appeal their denial of benefits that had been taken away from them under other governments.
Listening to all of these speakers it was clear that they were not simply pandering to the ACORN crowd but had embraced our issues as their own. To hear the head of the national labor council talk about predatory and payday lending, long an issue that has been a standard bearer for ACORN’s work in Canada was a clear sign of the organization’s centrality in the progressive ranks.
It turned out that NDP, the New Democratic Party, the left amalgamation in Canada was having their national convention in Hamilton at the same time ACORN was there. Jagmeet Singh, the head of the NDP, came by to say hello as members were registering for the convention at McMaster University. Years ago, when he was a member of Parliament, he had introduced our bill on remittances.