New union leader wants to take labour movement on offensive

The president of the new Unifor super-union says he wants to take the labour movement on the offensive.

New union represents 300,000 Canadian workers

Jerry Dias, head of Canada's newest and largest private-sector union, says government and employers have eroded labour rights 4:29

The president of the new Unifor super-union says he wants to take the labour movement on the offensive.

Jerry Dias says he hopes to use his position as president of Canada's newest — and largest — private sector union to turn the tide for Canada's labour movement.

The Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada have merged to form Unifor, which has 300,000 members in 20 sectors.

"It's the smartest way for us to survive," said Dias. "The smaller unions today don't have the infrastructure and they don't have the resources to really have an impact."

Dias was elected president Saturday with about 87 per cent support at the union's founding convention in Toronto. In his acceptance speech, Dias said it's time for labour to "start setting the agenda."

He seemed to be especially focused on labour's relations with the Harper government.

The new union's first battle with Ottawa may involve the telecommunications industry.

Dias is strongly opposed to Verizon's possible entry into the Canadian market, saying it would put many communication workers' jobs at risk.

During his speech, Dias also accused governments of eroding rights and warns that they now face a "formidable foe."

In an interview with CBC News, he said that he doesn't see unions taking a step back because he is encouraged by the Canadian youth and believes strongly that they will take the reins and usher in change. 

"Young people have done everything right. They're better educated than we were and they go to college, they go to university, they've got that education and they've upgraded their skills. The jobs that they're trying to do just aren't there anymore," said Dias.

In the first 24 hours of his presidency Dias has identified his biggest challenge as making sure the working class knows "they have a voice."

"They need to know that they'll have a home and that there will be people fighting on their behalf," Dias said.

With files from The Canadian Press