Canadian Council kicks off Unifor’s 10-year anniversary celebrations

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A woman raising her fist in the air as others applaud on a stage.

Resilience. Strength. We’ve come so far, but the fight doesn’t end here.

The first day of Unifor’s Canadian Council, on Aug. 18 in Halifax, N.S., brought together nearly 1,000 delegates from across the country to celebrate 10 years of solidarity since the Canadian Autoworkers’ Union (CAW) and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) unions merged to form Unifor.

“This union was born in 2013 – as a bold act of hope and solidarity,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne. 

“It was born not to sit on the sidelines while others decided our future and our fate. It was born to bring about a new movement and a new world for workers.”

Unifor main stage at Canadian Council.

Payne, originally from Deer Lake, Nfld., felt right back at home in the Atlantic region, speaking about the victories and continuing battles Unifor has seen as she reflected on “a year of unstoppable boldness.”  

“Everyone sees what is happening in this world. Front-line workers are getting crumbs while the CEOs and the corporations are raking in record and historic profits. And enough is enough."

In a powerful moment, and calling now as “the time to fight for workers,” Payne updated delegates on the ongoing strikes at Windsor Salt and Autobus Longueuil and Metro grocery stores. 

"Every time I visit a Metro picket line, I see my mother. She worked for low wages in the service sector for nearly 50 years," said Payne, warning that if there is one group that needs to understand the health of Unifor’s strike fund it, is the grocery store barons.

She also outlined challenges happening in individual sectors, such as Meta blocking Canadian news, and Canadians requiring public high-speed rail.

Looking ahead, the national president also said organizing is the future and she isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves to find people who want to join Unifor.

This past year, the union’s organizing team has organized two of the largest bargaining units in Unifor history – TRQSS Inc., an auto parts plant in Windsor, Ont., and the Cakerie in London, Ont.

“The worker power we build today can only help with the struggles of tomorrow,” said Payne. 

Payne insisted it’s the union’s job to help governments imagine the jobs of the future, which cannot be outsourced.

“The future will be made with strong industrial policies and public investments – investments with strings attached. And those strings will be good, stable, union jobs,” she said. “Because that is what we are going to fight for. Boldly and relentlessly.”

Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Len Poirier reminded the room that a year ago, Hurricane Fiona devastated Nova Scotia and thanked members who opened their dormitories and turned them into makeshift long-term care homes and making donations for relief efforts after 16,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Len Poirier wearing a Unifor Pride shirt, speaking at a podium.

“Now, as we gather here, our members in Yellowknife (N.W.T.) are facing a potential catastrophe, as forest fires approach the city,” he said. 

“Our Local 2002 members at Jazz Aviation are working to evacuate residents, with members volunteering to handle the extra flight loads, leaving themselves and their families among the last to be evacuated in this danger zone.”

Unifor Local 2002 President and Aviation Council Chair Tammy Moore there are Air Canada Jazz and Canadian North aviation members in Yellowknife right now who are volunteering to stay behind to service evacuation flights to help residents and pets get to safety and also to carry food and supplies to Northern bases. Air Canada also sent a 737 plane up to Yellowknife with flight and ground crew to operate as an evacuation flight on Friday.

Today was the evacuation order deadline.

"It really is beyond belief what these people are going through up there," said Moore. "Our people don't know what's going to happen. They don't know if they're going to have a workplace. We've seen it in the past with fires in Fort McMurray. Our people will be on the last flights out."

A group of Aviation workers speak at the podium.

Moore introduced a member named Chad McNeil, a Canadian North ramp cargo coordinator in Yellowknife. 

"He can't go home. When he leaves here this week, we'll figure out where he will go. He said he wants to be with his members,” she said, as he teared up.

The council opened with an Indigenous welcome to Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People, with performances by the Northern Lights Drummers and Throat Singers, and Wabanaki Confederacy dancers and drummers, to rounds of standing ovation. Unifor leadership participated in a sage smudging ceremony overseen by Indigenous elder Gary Joseph.

Indigenous dancer in front of Canadian Council table.

The crowd watched a video that showed footage of the strikes and celebrations of the union over the past decade and later, stood in silence as names of Unifor members who died since 2013 were displayed on the screen in memorium.

Unifor Quebec Director Daniel Cloutier spoke to delegates about smashing glass ceilings, growing made-in-Canada manufacturing jobs, deep organizing and how Unifor members are building a better, greener future for all.

“It's important to maintain and support our organizing efforts in order to improve working conditions for Quebec workers and ensure Unifor's growth,” said Cloutier. 

Quebec Regional Director Daniel Cloutier

“We must continue to raise awareness of the benefits of unionization and encourage those who are not yet members to join our movement.”

He also spoke proudly about the forestry firefighters in Quebec, who joined Unifor this year.

“The ecological and economic transition will take place and will have an impact on our workplaces. Our main demand is simple: workers must be at the tables where these decisions are made,” said Cloutier. “The transition must work with us, not against us.”

Some 200 members at Unifor Women’s Caucus met over lunch during Canadian Council, discussing challenges women face in their workplaces and sisterhood-building initiatives, including reproductive justice, pay equity and Women’s Week courses.

A group of women holding circular yellow signs.

At the end of the day, the Young Workers’ Caucus also gathered and talked about unique challenges that affect workers under 35.

Delegates were encouraged to attend a 10-year anniversary kitchen party at Pavilion 23 at the waterfront Friday evening.

See more photos from Day 1 of Canadian Council here.