Young Workers Blog: Union advocacy is vital to helping workers thrive
Wesley Foster (left) is pictured with fellow YIP participant Rechev Browne (second from left), NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (second from right), and UFCW 1006A President Wayne Hanley in Ottawa.
As an airport worker, I often hear my colleagues say that “there is nothing working class people can do” to affect change when it comes to politics. It seems that many of the people I know think it is futile to engage politicians on issues affecting workers and their families. However, I find that when you take the time to explain how a particular law or issue can impact someone – whether it’s in their workplace or in their personal lives – people tend to pay attention and take an interest in what you are saying.
By participating in my union’s Young-Workers Internship Program (YIP), I was given the opportunity to directly engage elected officials in Ottawa on a range of issues that are important to working Canadians. The experience taught me numerous lessons.
First, I learned that – far from being inaccessible or “above” speaking to workers – politicians are people too, and most of them are willing to hear what you have to say. I also discovered that advocating for laws that benefit working people is best done as a group effort. Because our elected officials are so used to meeting with scores of corporate lobbyists, they need to hear from as many workers as possible to understand the other side. Thirdly, I learned that through well-organized and motivated campaigns, workers and their unions can successfully shape public policy, as we recently saw with the Ontario government’s labour law reforms and the federal government’s changes to the Canada Pension Plan. That’s the power of union advocacy.
I look at politics as a sail boat. It governs and guides us to where we are going. Now picture voters and community groups as the wind. The wind can either push the boat forward or make it difficult for the boat to go anywhere. Union members are not going to wait to see where we end up. We want to have a say on how we work, how safe our work environment is, and where we are going when it comes to labour laws and standards.
Being in Ottawa and engaging in political advocacy on Parliament Hill, I saw first-hand how rewarding it can be to push the boat forward. All UFCW members should be proud of the courageous work that our union and its members are performing to ensure that workers in this country finally have a say in politics. During our advocacy session, we had members from all over Canada telling media outlets and Members of Parliament that unions and union members matter. And I came to realize that politics is not out of reach for working people.
By engaging in political advocacy, workers and unions can make a difference in the lives of average Canadians. So let’s continue to organize, educate, and motivate each other to help improve our working conditions and living standards. Let’s be the wind that pushes our future forward.
Wesley Foster is a proud UFCW Canada Local 1006A member who works at Toronto Pearson International Airport. He recently completed UFCW’s Young-Workers Internship Program (YIP).