Mobilize, Organize, Unionize
The Mobilize, Organize, Unionize education workshop took on creating inclusive spaces and new ways of organizing within the labour movement. Participants heard about building member engagement and activist base, then brainstormed ways of increasing engagement in their own communities.
Jose La Luz, a U.S. based trade unionist and organizer, said governments and corporations work to domesticate unions. “A domesticated union is worse than no union,” he said, because they provide the pretense that workers’ concerns are being addressed while more and more concessions are being demanded.
“Organize. Organize. Organize,” he said, adding that international solidarity is ever-more important. “We need to care when rights are eroded anywhere because this is a race to the bottom.”
He noted strong, inclusive movements growing across North America like the fight for a $15 minimum wage, which includes immigrants, low-wage workers and the movement which began in 2006 for immigrant workers to come out of the shadows and celebrate May Day.
Deena Ladd, co-founder and organizer at the Worker’s Action Centre challenged unions to move beyond traditional organizing and laid out four pillars for that work: base building, structural organization, alliance building, and campaign work with base-building at the core.
Precarious workers are often unemployed one week and working the next, but that doesn’t mean they should be excluded from organizing, she said.
“Just because you’re unemployed doesn’t meant you don’t give a shit about social justice and worker’s rights,” she said.
“We are trying new organizing techniques, we’re taking risks. We’re making mistakes, we are being critically reflective,” she added.
Many workers say they don’t feel comfortable in union spaces for a variety of reasons, said Toronto and York Region Labour Council organizer Jennifer Huang. She urged organizers to use face to face contact for organizing instead of depending on email and written communication.
“No amount of paid advertising and campaigning can replace the kind of conversation our members will have when they go back to their community spaces.”
Jean-Pierre Maweja, an organizer with the Agency Workers Association and the Immigrant Workers Centre in Quebec laid out the challenges of organizing temporary workers. Immigration and employment law leave workers without options, making it easy for agencies to take advantage of them.
“It’s a great deal for them that the recognition of [overseas] diplomas takes so long. It enables employment agencies to use low-cost labour. They get high quality workers but treat them as cheap labour and don’t respect labour law.”
To organize these workers, he said, his agency works to build trust.
“In order for unions to be more relevant we need to educate ourselves. It’s important to sit back and listen,” said newly elected CLC secretary treasurer Marie Clark Walker as she closed the session.