A former NDP MP says forming a new union for fishermen will be a big challenge, but Ryan Cleary told reporters on Monday that he thinks it is possible.

Cleary held a news conference in Petty Harbour to talk about what he called a "David versus Goliath challenge."

Harvesters have been pleading with him to start a union that represents fishermen only, Cleary said. They are currently part of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW), which also represents plant workers.

Cleary called that a "conflict of interest," and said it's hard for the union to be critical of government policies when it received "untold millions" from the federal government. He said harvesters are "ready to revolt."

Meetings to gauge interest in forming a new fish harvesters' union will be held in Corner Brook on Sept. 19 and Clarenville on Sept. 20.

Cleary said those upcoming meetings must be "blocked to the rafters … this is going to be war."

One of a group of harvesters at the news conference, Twillingate's Richard Gillett of Cold Water Cowboys, said he believes harvesters have lost confidence in the FFAW.

Gillett is working with Cleary to gauge interest in setting up the breakaway union, something he said is necessary.

"We need an organization that will take us into the 21st century, that will make us competitive on the world stage," he wrote in a news release handed out Monday.

Questioning Cleary's motive

The FFAW president, meanwhile, said the push for a new union is from a "vocal minority," and Keith Sullivan said they have to answer questions of their own.

"Just last year Mr. Cleary sat down with me looking for support in his campaign, and never talked about any concerns or complaints that he had with the FFAW at that time. I know he's certainly between jobs now so I mean I'd have to question his motivation."

Sullivan vehemently denied any conflict of interest.

"I don't think for a second that anyone would accuse the FFAW of not being vocal, no matter what the government has been, provincial or federal," he said.
 

With files from Terry Roberts