By Liz MacKenzie
When 18-year-old Hassan Husseini stepped onto Canadian soil and into the arms of his five older brothers, he left behind his mother, two sisters and a Lebanon in the grips of a vicious civil war and Israeli occupation. However young Hassan did not leave behind his determination to fight for social justice, a dangerous path he chose as a student activist with the youth wing of Lebanese Communist Party in his war-torn country.
In Canada, his political activism did not wane. At the University of Ottawa and later at Carleton University, he quickly became active in Palestine solidarity, left-wing politics and eventually the labour movement as a member in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). In the 1990s Husseini served as leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) and ran for federal and provincial office. He holds an MA in legal studies (labour law) and is finishing his PhD in Political Science (International Relations/Middle Eastern studies). A proud socialist, he is not intimidated by being the underdog or holding minority views.
His work in the labour movement spans from the early 1990s to today. As a negotiator he represents Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members during contract negotiations under all jurisdictions. As a labour and international solidarity activist he has occupied a number of union roles including President of CUPE Local 4600 (Carleton University) and President of the Ottawa CUPE District Council. He also held a number of staff positions at PSAC and the Canadian Labour Congress.
Community is important to Hassan. Despite travelling across the country as a full-time labour negotiator with PSAC, he continues to organize locally with community groups defending social justice. During the convoy occupation, he was worked with Community Solidarity Ottawa (CSO) helping organize a number of anti-convoy events.
CSO supported the work of the Ottawa People’s Commission, which held hearings and recently released its report What We Heard. It documents the testimony of people affected by the occupation and presents critical views of the “wholesale failure … to recognized the human rights of those living and working in downtown communities.” The report is published on the OPC website.
Family life is important too: he is close to his grown children and his brothers’ families. Hassan and his partner live near Macdonald Gardens Park and in his rare spare moments he winds down with gardening and reading.
Stark Changes in Labour Negotiations
There is no doubt that the labour movement changed during COVID. Grassroots energy waned as in-person networking, training and organizing declined. However, negotiations continued non-stop during the pandemic. Hassan finds positions becoming more entrenched. Despite the skyrocketing cost of living, employers are increasingly unwilling to offer fair wages that keep up with inflation, and workers are rightly angry and more willing to take action–including strikes–to achieve their just demands.
As in-person organizing opens up, members are becoming re-energized. Many battles are looming: the fight to protect migrant workers and to stop further privatization and contracting out. Health care and education are particularly vulnerable with massive profits in privatizing these sectors at the expense of universal access.
Our good neighbour Hassan Husseini continues to follow his principles and decline offers to climb the political ladder: wealth has never been a goal. He finds his satisfaction in helping workers fight for better conditions and fairer wages, and working at the community level to defend working people and human rights. Thanks Hassan!