For two days, local presidents from across the country were in Port Elgin for the second President’s Conference. As our union prepares to celebrate five years of Unifor, this was an opportunity to discuss ways to build engagement of members, strengthen our activism, and identify opportunities, challenges and future priorities to continue the union’s progressive vision.
Most of all, the conference provided an opportunity for the national leadership team to say thanks for all of the tireless work that presidents do each and every day to build the union.
During his opening speech, National President Jerry Dias extended his gratitude to local presidents, all members, the national executive board and staff for the tremendous amount of work done to create and establish Unifor.
“There is not a single government official, a member of the media or trade unionist in this country that doesn’t know our union and its’ work, and that is because of all of you”, said Dias. “I thank you for what you have done and what you are going to do keep pushing our union’s progressive agenda forward.”
In keeping with the founding principles of Unifor that led to the creation of a new union for changing times, the conference had presentations and sessions that focused on building our union and the labour movement, organizing, defending labour rights, making our progressive voice heard and of course staying tough at the bargaining table.
Political reports and updates on the work of the union were delivered by the leadership team including Bob Orr, National Secretary-Treasurer, the three Regional Directors, Joie Warnock, Naureen Rizvi and Lana Payne, and the Québec Director Renaud Gagné; along with staff from several departments in the national union.
Orr told presidents that the national union continues to act in an accountable and smart fiscal way. “We use members’ dues wisely to advance the important political work of the union while defending workers at the bargaining table, in grievances and on strike.”
Orr added that this year the union provided 30 per cent of funding from the Social Justice Fund to support projects that tackle the issue of violence against women, “Through our political campaigns and the Unifor Social Justice Fund, I am proud to say that our dues allow us to defend members, and workers in Canada and internationally. We make a difference worldwide.”
Along with offering a snapshot of regional work and successes, the Regional Directors commented on the past five years of Unifor and discussed the second phase of the Local Union Task Force that is underway, with a plan to build the union’s activism on a local and regional level.
While commenting on the she pride felt by the victories in the Western Region, Warnock also noted that the structures of Unifor, including the regional councils help to ensure both representation and that an equity lens is applied to all of the union’s work.
“Our union is tackling the most challenging issues of our time and we continue to deliver because doing nothing is not an option, it is not who we are. Now is the time to really flex our power to push back,” said Warnock.
After running a massive member-to-member provincial election campaign in Ontario, Rizvi spoke to presidents about the need to strengthen the activism of locals in their communities, which makes all the difference in building a strong union.
“Every day we can inspire change, sometimes it is small, but other times it’s enormous and we can’t forget that on the hard days.” Rizvi added an emphasis to encourage political engagement at all levels, “Campaigns matter so do our political actions, it is good for our soul.”
Payne wrapped up the first day of the conference by reinforcing a heartfelt appreciation to presidents for the tireless work done for the union. She also discussed the ongoing project of the union, the building of Unifor.
Payne reminded presidents that there is a need to be vigilant and defend the rights of all working people and said, “In today’s world, there is no room for complacency in anything we do. But I am filled by hope about the future because I know that when we organize, and mobilize together we build worker power.”
Throughout the conference, presidents vocalized an important message about the union’s work in the future by reiterating that Unifor must continue to build on our social union principles to defend and advance the rights of workers and social justice.
The Quebec Director started day two of the conference and offered a summary of how in five years Unifor has taken its rightful place to be stronger, more inclusive and to literally be everywhere to defend workers.
Gagné expressed his immense pride in the union and members who continuously answer the call to be political active. In the past year, members have held several rallies including one in Quebec that brought out five thousand members on the issue of trade and U.S. imposed tariffs. He reminded presidents, “Be proud of our work and what we have accomplished together. Each of you have made a difference, so hats off to all of you!”
The conference wrapped with an action that reflected the driving force of Unifor. Local presidents loaded onto buses and joined striking workers, members of Local 16-O, at Compass Minerals mine.
As presidents traveled an hour and half to Goderich it was clear that the solidarity and energy that brought together the union in August of 2013 was thriving and strong. The future of the union is bright and filled with a continued progressive vision of activism.