UFCW Canada and community allies send progressive message at Metropolis conference

More than two dozen UFCW Canada activists from across the country attended the recent 12th National Metropolis Conference in Montreal. Held March 18-21, the conference annually brings together about 1,200 government bureaucrats, academics, settlement workers, and activists from across Canada and around the world to discuss and debate issues of immigration, migration, culture, and diversity. The theme of this year’s conference was Immigration and Diversity: Crossroads of Cultures, Engine of Economic Development.

In the buildup to the conference, the UFCW Canada caucus – which included National Office staff as well as members of Locals 1518, 401, 1000A, 500R, 501, and 503 – met with lawyers, academics, and community allies such as the Immigrant Workers Centre and PINAY, a Filipina Women’s Organization in Quebec, to discuss a joint strategy to ensure that a progressive, social justice-based voice was heard clearly at the conference.

Andrea Galvez, Louise Lefebvre; Devin Yeager; Stan Raper“The Metropolis Conference has historically been a place for the federal departments of the HRSDC and CIC to pat themselves on the back while being blind to the inhumanity of the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program. Meeting with community advocates was an essential first step that allowed us to strategically and vigorously respond when the government and some academics held the TFW program up as a model for the world at the conference,” says Naveen Mehta, UFCW Canada’s director of Human Rights, Equity & Diversity. “We were able to remain one of the key progressive voices at the conference. This was a continual and obvious sore spot for those trying to sell the TFW program as something to be revered.”

In addition to demonstrating with community groups upon the arrival of federal Immigration minister Jason Kenney, the UFCW Canada/IWC information table was a popular destination for delegates due to its interactive multimedia displays and hard-hitting documents and literature. UFCW Canada activists distributed hundreds of pages of eye-opening literature about our two decades of struggle on behalf of migrant workers, as well as academic research documenting the dark side of the TFW program.

Making formal presentations on the ongoing struggles of farm workers – both those who come to Canada under the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, or SAWP, as well as other “invited” farm workers under the auspices of the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program – were UFCW Canada national representatives Stan Raper and Andrea Galvez. Stan is the national coordinator of the union’s agriculture workers program and provided an overview of UFCW Canada activities across Canada. Andrea is the Quebec coordinator for the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) support centres run by UFCW Canada, as well as the AWA’s national secretary-treasurer. She focused her presentation on the assistance provided by the AWA in helping migrant workers obtain access to health care while in Canada.

“The reaction by so many of the social justice delegates at the conference was outstanding,” says Devin Yeager, a UFCW Canada national representative from the Western Provinces. “People were literally coming up to us not just at our booth but in the hallways and on the elevators, and saying things like ‘Thanks for being here and giving a realistic perspective on what is happening on the ground.’ ”

Naveen concludes the weekend conference was a success for UFCW Canada and its immigrant and migrant communities work. “Given that this is only the second year UFCW Canada has attended, the ties we were able to build at Metropolis and dialogues we were able to start will make our work on behalf of migrant and immigrant workers easier because other agencies who deliver support will already know about our direction and motivations.”

The 13th National Metropolis Conference will be held next year in Vancouver.

DIRECTIONS • Vol. X No. 12 • March 29, 2010