Alliston, Ont. – July 17, 2015 – In the words of UFCW Canada activists who participated in the recent Ontario-region Young Workers Internship Program (YIP), it was a social justice “journey that hasn’t ended, but has only just begun.” Here is the YIP participants report on their experience with UFCW Canada's groundbreaking program for youth:
Throughout the week, twenty young member-activists from across Ontario stood together as proof that young people still hold faith in the traditional bastion of social and political activism that is the Canadian labour movement.
The program, which took place in Alliston, Ontario, began by examining both international and local issues. We explored the effects of the global neoliberal offensive and the various tactics employed by social activists to oppose this offensive. As stewards, organizers, health and safety representatives, and rank and file members, we contributed a wide array of opinions and experiences as part of a spirited discussion on unionism, social justice, and politics.
"The diversity of the group was a solid reflection of UFCW's passionate young people," said Ilija, a steward with UFCW Canada Local 1000A. "A program like YIP adds to the momentum for social and political change in Canada."
Identity politics and critical media analysis dominated the second part of the session, which then transitioned into an examination of the mechanics behind trade unions.
A definite highlight was the simulated collective bargaining exercise, in which we divided ourselves into representatives for the union and management and participated in the process of drafting, negotiating, and ratifying a collective agreement. This helped to illuminate the link between the workplace and broader social justice issues, and also brought into focus the challenge of preserving and improving working conditions and benefits within the context of austerity and division in the labour market.
Richard, a UFCW Canada Local 333 member, said that when unions negotiate contracts, "we're negotiating not just for the future of ourselves and our peers, but also for the workers who will one day fill our shoes.”
The five-day journey also served to highlight the importance of solidarity and collective action, providing a foundation for participants to build on with our own initiatives. Indeed, our YIP group was united in our goal to take the next steps as activists.
"I am excited to get back to Hamilton and get active within my community,” said Jaime of UFCW Canada Locals 175 & 633. “I am also looking forward to gaining more knowledge and experience within UFCW Canada and using it to promote the globalization of solidarity.”
Heading home, it was clear that YIP participants left the program inspired, motivated and ready to fight for change going forward.