The role of UFCW Canada on the international labour stage is growing in importance, just as the importance of participation in international labour is growing itself.
The focus on the forces of globalization make the solidarity of working people throughout the world more urgent today than ever before. It’s no longer simply a case of strong, democratic unions being able to help workers in countries where labour freedoms aren’t as advanced – today, all workers need to stand together to ensure the survival of what we have worked so hard to achieve.
Early in September, I attended the first world congress of Union Network International, or UNI, in Berlin, Germany. Founded in 2000, UNI is a global union to which UFCW Canada is directly affiliated. UNI builds on the successes of the international bodies which merged to create it, and I’m happy to report that UNI is involved with some exciting initiatives to help workers everywhere to organize and work together – both in traditional ways, and also by harnessing the new technologies of the internet and instant communications.
At the same time, we discovered we have much to contribute. UFCW Canada Local 175 member Matt Davenport, active for several years now in UFCW Canada’s youth programs, delivered a report to the UNI youth committee on our outreach to young members and other young people. The response by the committee was overwhelming, even using the UFCW Canada CD by Paula “Bomba” Gonzalez to introduce its report to the general congress. Programs for youth activism developed by UFCW Canada are being adopted as models for programs being initiated by unions around the world.
Much of what has been achieved internationally is, of course, moderated by the events of September 11th, and the developments that will follow. A packinghouse workers’ conference that had been scheduled in mid-September by the IUF, to have been co-hosted by UFCW Canada in Toronto, was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled. (More on both international bodies, UNI and IUF, in Facts on File, below.)
Nonetheless, it is as important, if not more important, since September 11th for workers to stand together internationally as a force for positive change.
About 200 delegates attended a UFCW Canada women’s conference – Organizing Our Future – in Winnipeg in late September. At the same time, more than 50 members participated in the union’s first-ever youth conference – The Way Forward.
“This was the first time many of these UFCW Canada members had the chance to get together to address common issues in this way, and they were very successful,” says UFCW Canada Director Michael Fraser.
Brother Fraser spoke to both conferences, which included mainly workshops and panel discussions. The opening panel of the women’s conference featured a member involved in the successful organizing of a Bath & Body Works store, another member involved in the most recent campaign to bring a union to workers at the IBP meat-packing plant in Lakeside AB, and a presentation on the importance of handling violence and harassment in the workplace as health-and-safety issues.
In addition, a social evening bringing together both conferences offered an anti-sweatshop fashion show, with members and guests – including CLC Secretary-Treasurer Nancy Riche – modelling the garments.
Youth issues brought to the fore included explorations of how youth concerns are being addressed in collective bargaining as well as in the union’s structure, and tools young activists need to successfully organize and educate other youth.
More: Louisette Hinton, Debora De Angelis, UFCW Canada national office.
A dozen plant protection workers at H.J. Heinz in Leamington ON have joined their sisters and brothers in that workplace as members of UFCW Canada. They had previously been represented by a guards-only union, which had at one time been required under Ontario law, but in early September decided they would receive better representation and a greater voice in the workplace as members of UFCW Canada.
More: Winston Gordon, UFCW Canada national office
After 16 weeks on the picket line, UFCW Canada Local 832 members at Faroex agricultural products in Winnipeg and Gimli MB ratified a new contract on September 21. The 92 workers gained wage increases of at least 9% over the next 15 months, with the first increase retroactive to last December. There are improvements in shift assignments, leave provisions, job security, and the number of union stewards.
More: Don Keith, UFCW Canada Local 832, www.ufcw832.com
On September 10, 170 drivers at Capital Taxi in Ottawa, members of UFCW Canada Local 1993, ratified a first contract. The agreement successfully addresses important health-and-safety and work-procedure issues. Negotiations are underway with the same employer for 45 drivers in nearby Gloucester ON. Organizer Hamid Dadshany (on right, seen with UFCW Canada national representative Dan Goodman, left) says having a contract in place should make it easier to organize other drivers in the nation’s capital.
More: Paul Magee, UFCW Canada national office
The following changes to the UFCW Canada national staff have been announced since the last report:
A 30-year member of our union, Sister Butz joined the UFCW Canada national staff in 1999 after nine years as a rank-and-file vice-president of UFCW Canada Local 1518 from Canada Safeway in Victoria BC. Nora is chair of the UFCW Canadian Council Human Rights Committee.