“I have always come to my activism through a place of knowing and loving myself.”
Candy Palmater’s opening address at the first Unifor Atlantic Women’s Conference set the stage for a weekend of self development and union-building for the more than 130 delegates.
The conference was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on unceded Mi'kmaq territory September 20-22.
Women from across the region gathered under the themes of taking back power and building political action, but a string of storytelling linked the delegates’ own experiences to the panels and presentations.
“We know that our stories have power. And we all have stories to tell,” said Lisa Kelly, Unifor Women’s Director, “We get deterred by feeling like we need to be an expert, but the stories that are being told- those are the ones that impact us and that we will remember.”
Participants identified systemic barriers and violence that prevents women from taking power and being treated equally, as well as systems of oppression that further divide women based on race, class, ability, or religion.
The overwhelming majority of participants were at their first union conference, thanks to a new structure that replaces every second annual women’s conference with a regional conference. Atlantic Canada was the first region to host.
Lana Payne, Unifor’s newly-elected Secretary-Treasurer greeted the room full of Unifor women on Saturday evening.
“Welcome to the Unifor sisterhood. It’s a movement filled with trade union women who know our power comes not only from the strength of our union, but from our bonds as women,” said Payne, highlighting the collective nature of Canada’s feminist trade union activism.
“Trade union women fought the battles with the knowledge that it wasn’t about them. It’s for the next generation to benefit,” she continued.
As participants learned how to find their voice and organize within committees and local unions, the goal of political change was ever-present.
Unifor led the campaign for paid domestic violence leave in Canada. This work began at the bargaining table, but was brought to provincial and federal politicians to demand and win paid leave for survivors of intimate partner violence.
Gains like this one were presented in stark contrast to the ongoing struggle to end the genocide of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and for government implementation of the recommendations of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The conference took place just four weeks from October 21, when Canadians will head to the polls.
“This election is so important for so many reasons. But especially for women,” said Linda MacNeil, Unifor Atlantic Director. “We’ve learned this weekend to not sit back and let someone else speak for us, so I’m looking forward to campaigning with so many women in this election!”
The next Unifor women’s conference will be a national conference in at the Unifor Education Centre in Port Elgin in 2020. To engage with the work of the Women’s Department today, visit www.unifor.org/women, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.