My Write Up
I attended the CLC’s Constitutional Convention held May 8th – May 12th, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario.
The morning of Sunday May 7th, 2017 started off with a young workers strategy session. It was great to meeting other young workers in this session and hear from the various speakers about current issues affecting young workers. We heard from Peyton Veitch, the National Treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Students, on how post secondary education is required for over 70% of new jobs being created. He sited statistics like how the average student debt is now around $28,000 and how over time, public funding for post secondary education in Canada has drastically decreased putting more of the burden on students with higher tuition fees. He also talked about the social and collective benefit to a free education and saying that right now, over 18 countries have some form of free education in place. We also heard from Alia Karim with the Fight for $15 and Fairness. She spoke in detail about how $15/hr is not a living wage, but it’s a good start. She went on to explain that this movement exists due to systemic precarious work and about the need for decent work and stronger laws that will better protect workers in this changing labour market. We heard from Joshua Mandryk with the Canadian Interns Association about unpaid internships. It was startling to learn that there is an approximate 100,000 unpaid internships per year in Canada. It was also interesting to hear how these unpaid internships disproportionately affect women, young workers, and new Canadians. We then heard from Simon Richard about resisting two-tier structures and how two-tiers structures create intergenerational inequity among workers. Lastly, we heard from DJ Pohl from NUPGE regarding OH&S and the Alive After 5 program that the BC Federation of Labour has initiated to educate young workers. It’s extremely sad to think that in 2017, over 1000 people in Canada will be killed on the job and 1000’s more will be injured. Of those 1000’s injured, approximately 1/3 will be young workers. Every workplace accident is preventable and more must be done so that every worker can expect to arrive home alive after a day of work. After we heard from these speakers, we broke off into groups to brainstorm and share some best practices around the issue that we had chose. Lastly, the workshop wrapped up with some practice around convention resolutions so that we could make sure young workers voices would be heard at the microphone on various resolutions and policy papers throughout the upcoming convention.
One of my favorite guest speakers was on Monday May 8th, 2017 when we heard from Mary Walsh, a Canadian Actress, Comedian and Social Activist. She used humor and personal stories to talk about mental health. I found it really eye-opening to hear her take on how prisons around the world are becoming the asylums of the 21st century since the largest population of individuals with mental health issues are in our prisons. This needs to change. She spoke about how she is involved with Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign. She spoke about how Canada spends the least amount of money out of any G8 country on research on mental health. She also went on to reveal that only 1 in 6 children who seek help for mental health actually get help. I thought that was a really tragic statistic. After we heard from Mary Walsh, the CLC launched their Mental Health Online Resource Centre found at mentalhealth.canadianlabour.ca. That same afternoon, we also heard from Guy Rider from the International Labour Organization (ILO). He spoke about how having a decent job is a passport to a decent life and how that passport is being denied to too many young people today. The fact is that if you are under 25, you are three times more likely to be unemployed. He also spoke eloquently on how a fair future needs to be sustainable, green, and needs to account for a just transition. He wrapped up by saying that fairness will not be gifted; it will be won. In the evening, I attended the Young Workers Forum moderated by Bilan Arte. This forum had a panel of three young workers and they spoke to the challenges and successes they faced in organizing and mobilizing their workplaces. The three workplaces the panelist represented were VICE media, Bell TV, and Goodlife Fitness.
Tuesday kicked off with a moving Remember Westray Tribute. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Westray disaster. It was a sobering reminder that there is much work yet to be done on the OH&S front so that every member of the workforce can expect to return home safely to their families at the end of the work day. Over the lunch hour, we had our Young Workers’s election caucus where we elected Dan Browne to be our Young Workers VP for the CLC. We had two great candidates to choose from, but in the end, Dan pulled through and I think he will do a fantastic job representing young workers. That afternoon, we heard from Cindy Blackstock, from the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She spoke passionately about the systemic discrimination of first nations children in Canada. I had heard her speak previously and remembered that I was really moved by what she had to say then, and this time was no different. She said discrimination “is when your government believes you’re not worth the money”. She went on to say that while we should be relieved that the doors of the residential schools are shut, the legacy of discrimination still lives on. She gave a powerful address that much more work needs to be done to address the discrimination that is alive and well in our nation. I couldn’t agree more.
The morning of Wednesday May 10th, 2017, we witnessed a moving tribute to all the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. I’d been fortunate enough to see this performance once previously at the CLC Rise Up Conference, but it was just as powerful to watch a second time around. It is truly an emotional experience which honours the missing and murdered Indigenous women of our country. We then heard from the Honorable Premier Rachel Notley, the Premier of Alberta. I found myself admiring and supporting a lot of the work she has done to date since she has come into office, but I can’t support her dependency on building new pipelines. Other than that though, I enjoyed when she said that the difference between her and her opponents is that “they cut and fire; we build and hire”. This is especially telling when you compare the Alberta government’s 2017 budget and the Saskatchewan government’s 2017 budget; it’s night and day as to how the two governments plan to address their respective deficits. That afternoon, we heard from a panel of speakers on green jobs for a fair future. I think the speakers on this panel were very informative and had some good points to make such as how unions must take the lead on just transition. One of the panel speakers, Sharan Burrow, from the ITUC quite candidly stated “we need Just Transition because there are no jobs on a dead planet”.
Thursday May 11th, 2017 was an exciting and action packed day. The morning started off with an all women panel presentation on organizing for a fair future. This panel was moderated by Leah Vosko. This panel spoke about organizing in an age of precarious work. Stephanie Nakitsas from the Urban Worker Project spoke about how over 50% of all new jobs created in the last year were precarious. This is a startling statistic and speaks to the stark reality that workers today are facing. She also spoke about how she is fighting to acquire rights for contract workers who often times are not protected by worker legislation and fall through the cracks. She encouraged the delegation to go to urbanworker.ca to join the movement. The panelists also discussed how many young workers see the labour movement as protecting the more experienced or older workers benefits and wages due to things such as accepting two-tier contracts. However, by accepting things like two-tier contracts, unions are doing so at the expense of young workers and new workers. The panelists agreed that unions need to listen to young workers and new people coming into the labour movement. Young workers may feel as though there’s room within the labour movement for them, but that it is cosmetic and lip service only or tokenism. We as a labour movement, have to get away from the idea that as long as young workers don’t disturb the status quo, then unions are happy to have young workers. We are teaching young workers to follow the mold, but we shouldn’t be doing that. Unions have to change their way of thinking and doing and need to do so from the bottom up, not the opposite. After this panel, we moved into debating the policy paper on Organizing for a Fair Future. At lunch, we took to the streets with our flags to fight for a #fairfuture. We marched down to the financial district of downtown Toronto where we held a rally fighting for things like decent work, a $15 minimum wage, and the right to join a union. We also rallied to challenge racism, islamophobia, and xenophobia while championing equity, social justice, and a green economy. It was a huge show of solidarity and I had a blast! In the afternoon, it was time for the election of the Canadian Labour Congress Executive. The newly elected officers were President Hassan Yussuff, Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker, and the Executive Vice-Presidents Donald Lafleur and Larry Rousseau. We also heard a touching tribute to Barb Byers, the outgoing Secretary-Treasurer. I have met Barb and had the privilege of hearing her speak at many labour schools and educational events and she will be dearly missed by the entire labour movement.
I left the CLC Convention with a firm understanding that there is a lot of work ahead for the labour movement in the areas of equity, fairness, green jobs, and organizing, but if we work together, we can achieve anything. Together, we are stronger.
CLC Convention 2017
The week got started with a proverbial “bang” when we got to the Young Workers Strategy Session on Sunday. They wasted no time getting right to business and starting the conversation regarding why we’re all there. This allowed us to get to know some of the other Young Workers that were attending the Convention and start a dialect as to what we’re all facing in our current unions and work places. We were able to utilize each other’s strengths and work on our weaknesses in a collective group. Being introduced to so many passionate young people who really grasp the changing landscape was refreshing. The session included presentations on the “Fight for $15”, some talks on two-tiered contracts, internships and many more. Something that really stood out for me was the talk on “Fight for $15” I will admit I have been one of the jaded who didn’t realize how incredibly low our minimum wage is and how difficult (if not impossible) it is to live on $10.72 – which is Saskatchewan’s current minimum wage. We talked about ways we personally and as a group could support the cause and give it some momentum. This session concluded with us doing a “practice run” of speaking at the mic and speaking towards resolutions, we first brainstormed in small groups and then chose a speaker. For some unknown reason I was chosen to speak on our “teams” behalf, although there was only about 60ish people in the room it was NERVE WRECKING, but by the end of my 3 minute spiel – I felt ready to take on the world. Or at least the convention floor. Disclaimer, I never actually spoke at a Convention Floor mic even though I considered it multiple times; my nerves took over and I stayed seated.
The rest of Convention went by in a fast and whirlwind manor. It seemed like so many issues were being brought to the floor and addressed- sometimes even multiple at a time. Rather than do a day-by-day summary I will highlight what I personally found the most influential (in no particular order).
When the resolution regarding Privatization hit the floor I expected all the Saskatchewan delegates to be on the mics and explaining the current happenings in Saskatchewan and how wholeheartedly we are against it. I was surprised that we only had one brother stand up- which did result in a standing ovation, but never less I thought there would be more. This could be due to the sheer volume of people wanting to speak on this topic. However, this was eye opening to how many other provinces and unions are currently dealing with the governments looking to privatize public services- and therefore cut down jobs. Support for this resolution passed unanimously and showed that the CLC as a whole had our backs. Our president Hassan Yussuff also addressed that he would support us in Saskatchewan in our fight against the selling of our Crowns under Bill40.
As much as I did enjoy the resolutions and the debate on the floor, the speakers that attended really blew me away.. like come on, Angela Davis?! If you don’t know who that is, you should have Google up and be prepared to be amazed. This lady means business and she’s been making waves since the 60’s. She’s a political activist, academic and author to just name a few of her accomplishments. She spoke with the same conviction and passion that she has been for the last few decades. Angela practices what she preaches and does not mince on the truth. The presentation was open to the public and they came out in spades, she had attendees from the Black Lives Matter Toronto chapter in the crowd as well as many other organizations from Toronto and surrounding area that all came out to specifically see her. The hall was almost full and the energy was electric- I almost wish I had brough a recording device so I could give you some direct quotes, but alas I was WAY too caught up in the moment to do that; nevermind take any notes.
Mary Walsh attended the Convention and gave us a talk, bridging the gap between comedy and serious issues. This lady had me absolutely howling with some of the statements she was making- and you know what? They were all completely true. She spoke to us specifically about Mental Health and her first hand experiences with it. As much as she made us laugh, she also made us cry. Depicting a story of a young boy who always went above and beyond for others, but in the end never showed anyone what he was going through. This was the perfect “kick off” to a talk on Mental Health and the CLC’s launch of their Mental Health Online Resource Centre. We committed as a group totally over 3,000 to support the continued battle against the stigma surrounding mental health.
Throughout the week there were candidates campaigning for their spots as either the VP for the CLC or for the Secretary Treasurer (as unfortunately the amazing Barb Buyers was “graduating”) These candidates were all dynamic and enthusiastic individuals and I fully believe that any of them would have been a great addition and representative for the CLC. Hassan Yussuff ran unchallenged to be re-elected as President, and we were all happy to see him continue on with his position which he has undeniably committed the last few years of his life to. As with any election there will always be winners, and there will always be losers. The delegates elected Marie Clark Walker as Secretary Treasurer, and Donald Lefleur and Larry Rousseau as Vice President Elects. Congratulations to all of the above, I’m excited to see what the next 3 years and am honored to have had a chance to be included in this election!
There was something that stuck out to me that wasn’t about speakers, wasn’t about resolutions, wasn’t about elections but it left me in absolute shambles. I’m talking about the interactive Refugee display where you were immersed via virtual reality technology into the world of what refugees go through. I slipped the goggles on and could immediately feel myself tearing up and on the verge of a full out ugly cry. You witness a father being torn away from his screaming daughter on war town streets, you see people lying in the streets, you see explosions ripping apart communities. It may seem like something out of an Hollywood action movie but for too many people it is their reality. This shook me to the very core and took me awhile to immerse myself back into the Convention- and I didn’t even have to witness it in the flesh. The reality of it is this is happening around the world every day, and we need to use our privilege to help any and every way we can.
Although the majority of the week was spent in the Convention Hall and listening to amazing guest speakers and debates- we got to have a little fun too. We attended the Steam Whistle Brewery for a Union Marketing event they were putting on. On top of some delicious appies and beverages we also were provided a tour of the Brewery, this place has some serious history behind it and gave us a little glimpse into how their specific brand of Pilsner was made. Following this we attended the 60th Annual CLC Dance to tear up the dance floor. I’d have to say the highlight of this was watching Hassan get out on the floor with the rest of us and bust a move- tons of fun!
Last- but certainly not least we have to address the AMAZING street party we threw in order to draw attention to our cause. We had thousands of people gather in the middle of the financial district in downtown Toronto with music pumping, flags waving and tons of dancing. There’s no way that we could have been ignored with the up beat chants and massive amount of attendees. I will never forget the marching to the intersection where we had our party. We walked in solidarity and chanted the entire way. The people leading the chants were beyond awesome at what they were doing, they were original, loud and they drove the point home! “Show me what democracy looks like“– “This is what democracy looks like!” or I think my favorite “Get up, get down- Toronto is a Union town! Get up, get down- Toronto is a Union town!”... Like I said, simple; but effective.
I could honestly write a small book about my experience at the CLC Convention, but I don’t what to do that- and I highly doubt you’d want to read it! Seeing so many people with similar mindsets that were working towards one cause a #FairFuture was something I will never forget and will continue to strive for.