The debates and discussions all week at the convention were lively, informed and inspirational. We heard stories about the incredible work being done for members and their communities across the country, and ideas for pushing back against the rise of the right in Canada and abroad.
We elected our national leadership team, I am honoured to return for my third and final term as president and am so proud of the historic election of Lana Payne as Secretary-Treasurer, the first woman in that p osition. Renaud Gagné and Naureen Rizvi were returned as Quebec Director and Ontario Regional Directors respectively, and we have new Regional Directors with Linda MacNeil in the Atlantic and Gavin Gavin McGarrigle in the West.
We all had wide-ranging debates about politics, the challenges facing first nations communities, gender inequity, the need to bring more workers into the union, while setting our priorities for the bargaining table, and more.
One after another, the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls came to the microphone throughout our recent Constitutional Convention. They told truly heart-breaking stories about how the devastation of MMIWG had touched their families.
They wiped their tears as I wiped mine. As hard as those stories are to hear, I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to gather the strength to come to the microphone and tell such personal and difficult stories.
The courage needed to tell their stories, and the compassion shown by those delegates who stood at the microphone with them in support, inspires me and everyone in our Unifor family to do more.
They told their stories in honour of those who have been lost, and in solidarity with their communities to make sure these crimes end – and Unifor stands with them.
If there was one thing that tied it all together, however, it was the need to push back against the right-wing populism that is behind Conservative governments being elected across Canada.
Since Unifor’s founding six years ago, we have been committed to playing a very active role in the political arena. We have to. The laws our governments pass have a huge impact on the lives of our members. To properly represent our members, then, we need to be involved in politics.
Pushing back involves bargaining, too. With Conservative governments coming to power determined to reverse hard-fought gains in workers’ rights, we need an aggressive bargaining strategy like the one we adopted at the Convention. Anything that Conservatives take away in the legislatures, we will win back at the bargaining table.
To do that, we need more workers in the union so they can have a collective agreement protecting their rights – which is why Unifor adopted a new strategic organizing plan to bring more workers into the union.
I was so happy to hear about the Calgary hotel workers who voted to join Unifor just weeks after Jason Kenney made it more difficult to organize in Alberta. He tried to take their voice away, but they took it back. Unifor’s strategic plan for organizing did that.
Make no mistake, as well, the rise of the right is a real and growing threat to gender equity in this country, and the only way to protect women’s rights is to push back everywhere we can - which is why Unifor raised $150,000 for women’s shelters in Quebec during the Convention.
Progress on Indigenous issues is also threatened by the rise of the right. Work on issues such as MMIWG and getting clean drinking water in First Nations communities has been too slow, and we can’t allow the rise of the right to make matters worse.
Unifor is already a major sponsor of the Drag the Red program in Winnipeg, where volunteers search the Red River looking for the bodies of Indigenous women and girls who have been killed, or for any clues as to why they disappeared.
We have also been meeting with the grand chiefs of both Quebec and Canada and will soon launch the Unifor water project to get clean, safe drinking water into indigenous communities across Quebec and Canada.
Why us? Because we can, and because we all must do whatever we can to build a better and more just society. Unifor is ready.