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Organizing for a #FairFuture

A panel of labour organizers and activists took the stage to speak to delegates about the challenge of “Organizing for a #FairFuture.”

The goal of the panel was to consider current conditions and practices, progressive policies, and forward-looking strategies around organizing that provide an awareness-raising approach that advances the interests of workers.

The first speaker, Stephanie Nakistas, is with the Urban Worker Project, an initiative created to address the changing nature of work. Although workers may be doing very different jobs at different rates of pay, they have more in common that you might expect, she said.

“The biggest issue for people is that they don’t have access to benefits that people should have in a working relationship.”

Misclassification of employees is also common across the work world. This is a turning point and an opportunity for unions, she said. Whenever work has gone through a huge transformation, unions have been there at the forefront to fight back for good jobs and to protect workers in new ways.

Jennifer Huang provided an overview of how the Toronto and York Region Labour Council has been working to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to unionization. She emphasized that well over 50 % of workers in Toronto speak a first language other than English or French, and described a pilot project reaching out to Chinese workers with a podcast in Mandarin.

“Many of these workers are really ashamed of being exploited. They don’t tell their friends and families,” she said. “This organizing project tells workers that they are not alone and helps build a collective consciousness.”

Université de Montréal’s Mélanie Laroche, a professor and union activist, said she was glad to see the CLC talking about organizing new members. She talked about deep changes to labour relations, saying she and her colleagues see labour relations as “out of control.” Historically it may have worked, but recently it has not been working well, with employers pushing for as many concessions as possible.

She talked about a study she had done that found young workers were having trouble relating to unions.

“Get to know me. That was the main reproach that I heard from young people,” she said. “They say we don’t see our shop stewards, we don’t see our union reps, we don’t see people. The activities are super formatted, you have to go to a microphone, you have to propose an amendment, you have to follow the rules of order. We are sick of this. We don’t like this. We want to be able to talk the way we want, to say if we like something or are unhappy.”

Her own experience, she said, had taught her how hard it was to organize, to get quorum for meetings for example, so she said she was glad we were talking about organizing new members.

All the panelists agreed that organizing and building union density is key to responding to numerous challenges undermining decent work, fair wages, and a fair and just society.

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