Post by David Hogben
Solidarity is frequently talked about and sometimes taken for granted in the labour movement.
But when hundreds of labour activists came from across Canada to picket with locked out refinery workers in fierce winds on the frigid Saskatchewan prairie, its power was real, and appreciated.
That’s exactly what happened after about 730 Unifor Local 594 workers were locked out last December by the Federated Co-operatives Ltd.
“People I don’t even know came here, and it touched us all,” explained Crystal Brittner, wife of one of the locked out workers.
“I have never met these people before and I have come down and walked the picket line with them. I have talked to them,” Brittner said on a bitterly cold afternoon when she and another spouse Jennifer Shupe, handed out hand made thank you cards with wild seeds for the out-of-town pickets to take home and plant to remember the gratitude of their Unifor sisters and brothers.
“I said thanks for coming and not one said you are welcome. They said It’s my pleasure to be here, or it’s where I need to be,” said Brittner while explaining how difficult the lockout has been for her family, especially her children who did not fully understand the sacrifices they were making as a family.
“I don’t have words to explain how all of that made me feel and how much I appreciate having these people come and do that.”
Shupe said the cross-Canada show of unity meant a lot to the locked out workers and their families, especially as they dealt with the deep, difficult divisions in the community that the lockout brought.
“This has divided our families. It has divided our communities,” Shupe said.
“We just wanted to say thank you to everybody for everything you have done for us, for our spouses, and for our families, because it has been an incredibly hard time for us.”
Local 594 members knew they were in for a fight. Federated Co-operatives had built a scab village inside plant gates before the the contract expired. The provincial government turned a deaf ear to workers’ demands for a mediator. And, Regina police seemed more like a company security force than public police force. They towed locked out workers’ cars from the side of the highway, removed warming trailers and toilets while temperatures reached minus 30 Celsius. Police Chief Evan Bray called pickets “borderline terrorists”.
Union leaders — national President Jerry Dias, Local 594 president Kevin Bittman and Lance Holowachuk — were arrested on the picketline. More Local 594 were arrested as well.
The company, that was making about $3 million a day before the lockout, sought massive fines and jail terms through the courts in attempts to cow Local 594 members.
The Federated Co-op, Regina police and even the courts all seemed stacked against Local 594 members’ fight to retain their pension plans, and their jobs when Unifor put out the call for help.
Unifor members from all over Canada responded. Some 900 union activists grabbed their cold-weather gear, left their own jobs, their own homes and families and joined the picket lines on the frozen prairie on the outskirts of Regina.
Out-of-town pickets came from across Canada to walk eight to 12-hour shifts with their locked out sisters and brothers.
Luc St-Armand, a member of Unifor Local 29, skipped his son’s birthday and travelled all the way from Edmunston, New Brunswick where he worked at the Twin River Papers pulp mill to support the locked out refinery workers.
“It’s a big country. We are all brothers. We work to keep our pensions going. If they start doing that everywhere, we are going to loose the little bit of our pension that we have,” St-Armand said.
“It’s cold, but everyone is happy. We talk to all the members.
I am happy to be here and give them a hand.”
Rachel Duncan, an autoworker from Local 4451 in Stratford, Ontario, said she was there, because “Unifor is my union as well as their union. We have joined with the rest of our country and the rest of our membership to come out here and support them to show the rest of the world what our union is capable of so they don’t end up getting pushed around.”
Duncan said Regina was “cold,” but it was all worthwhile.
“The experience has been that of camaraderie. The people who have come out here have shown a lot of solidarity. If they are coming for you now, they are coming for us next.”
Bryan Jones, a pulp mill worker from Local 855 in Hinton, Alberta, spent more than 25 days on the line.
“This battle though it’s deeper for Local 594 members goes far deeper for the labour movement in Canada. If a bastard employer like FCL is allowed to run rampant over pensions, working conditions, membership and every little thing that they want to, they will set a precedent that is terrible for everyone in Canada,” Jones said.
After almost a month on the line, Jones was still enthusiastic about the experience.
“It’s great. I have met people from all over Canada right from one end to the other, from Newfoundland right to B.C., and it’s been awesome.”
John Harding, a retired autoworker from Mississauga, Ontario, said he could not stay home and enjoy retirement while FCL attacked Local 594 members’ pensions.
“I came here to support our brothers who are struggling to get a contract. If they do not get a contract other companies are going to follow the same suit,” Harding said.
“We are freezing here, but it’s worth it.”
Pressure from Local 594 and Unifor workers across Canada finally persuaded the Saskatchewan government to appoint special mediator Vince Ready to try and resolve the dispute.
Picture of David Hogben
Les femmes* ont toujours été, et ont toujours eu leur place dans le monde du travail. Les mouvements syndicaux et les révolutions ouvrières ont commencé à cause des femmes: les émeutes du pain, la Révolution française, la Révolution de février, les grèves dans les usines textiles. La Journée internationale des femmes travailleuses a pour but de mettre en lumière le travail des femmes et les droits du travail pour lesquels elles se sont battues et sont mortes. C'est une fête socialiste qui s'est répandue dans le monde entier à partir du début des années 1900, axée sur la discrimination en matière d'emploi, les disparités salariales entre hommes et femmes, et l'autonomisation financière et politique des femmes
En l'honneur de cela, je veux parler des formes de travail plus invisibles que l'on attend des femmes en silence. Le type de travail que la plupart d'entre nous ne reconnaissent même pas se produit, mais en raison des normes de genre et des pressions sociales, il revient généralement aux femmes. Il est donc naturel de ne pas avoir pensé ou remarqué ce comportement dans sa propre vie, quel que soit son sexe, et bien que cela soit plus évident dans les relations hétérosexuelles, cela existe dans toutes les relations sous une forme ou une autre.
L'un des types de travail invisible les plus insidieux est la « charge mentale » des tâches et de la gestion d'un foyer ou d'un bureau
Comme de plus en plus de familles ont besoin de deux revenus, les hommes cisgenres font plus pour les travaux ménagers et sont fiers de répartir les tâches de manière égale. Mais même si c'était vrai (ce qui n'est pas le cas selon les études), c'est toujours à la femme qu'il incombe généralement de gérer le travail qui doit être fait. Cela signifie qu'une femme doit demander à son partenaire de faire les tâches, doit lui demander d'être parent, ou demander à ses collègues masculins de faire leur travail, ce qui la met dans une position de servilité. Les femmes sont censées se souvenir des anniversaires, des préférences, jongler avec les calendriers et répondre aux besoins émotionnels de leur entourage.
Cela est lié au travail émotionnel et à la manière dont nous attendons des femmes, en particulier, qu'elles se comportent de manière agréable, compatissante et attentionnée.
En URSS, l'une des expériences sociales qu'ils ont menées a consisté à repenser l'immeuble d'habitation moderne. Ils ont décidé que, pour que les femmes soient égales, il fallait faire quelque chose pour le travail non rémunéré. Entre la cuisine, le ménage, la lessive et toutes les autres tâches qui incombent souvent aux femmes, les Soviétiques ont reconnu que l'égalité des genres était loin d'être acquise et que cela commençait à la maison.
Pour y arriver, ils ont retiré les cuisines des appartements individuels. À la place, ils ont créé une grande cuisine centralisée dans laquelle les résidents préparaient à tour de rôle les repas pour l'immeuble. Elles espéraient que cela permettrait non seulement de créer un sentiment de communauté, mais aussi de libérer le temps des femmes, en leur permettant de se consacrer à des passe-temps, de passer plus de temps avec leurs amis et leur famille, et de travailler en dehors de la maison et d'avoir un pouvoir économique.
J'aime le fait qu'ils étaient prêts à expérimenter des moyens de contribuer à une société plus équitable, mais je ne peux pas m'empêcher de me demander qui s'est chargé du travail invisible de gestion des espaces communs. Tant que nous ne pourrons pas nous attaquer aux attentes sous-jacentes à l'égard des femmes et à la manière dont on attend de nous que nous travaillions, trop de ces changements ne constituent que des apparats, déplaçant simplement le problème d'une pièce à l'autre.
Les solutions, comme toujours, commencent par nous. Regardez votre espace de travail et demandez qui accomplit des tâches invisibles. Qui nettoie les tasses de café à la fin de la journée? Qui nettoie le four à micro-ondes? Si vous travaillez ou vivez dans un lieu où travaillent plusieurs personnes, qui est chargé de veiller à ce que les factures ou les décomptes soient envoyés, reçus ou payés?
Qui doit demander aux autres de donner un coup de main?
Pour obtenir de plus amples informations sur la Journée internationale des femmes, veuillez consulter ce communiqué de presse d’Unifor avec la liste des événements locaux.
*Comme toujours, j'utilise le terme « femmes » pour inclure les femmes cisgenres et transgenres, mais dans le militantisme syndical en particulier, ces questions s'appliquent souvent aux personnes de tous les sexes qui subissent une oppression patriarcale. Cette situation est encore aggravée par la race, l'orientation sexuelle, le statut de migrant et l’incapacité.
Women* have always been, and always belonged, in the workforce. Labour movements and revolutions have started because of women -- bread riots, the French Revolution, the February Revolution, the Textile Mill strikes. International Working Women’s Day aims to shed a light on the work that women do, and the labour rights they’ve fought and died for. It is a socialist holiday that spread across the globe beginning in the early 1900s, focused on employment discrimination, wage disparities between men and women, and women’s financial and political empowerment.
In honour of that, I want to talk about the more invisible forms of work that women are silently expected to do. The type of work that most of us don’t even recognize is happening, but because of gender norms and social pressures, usually falls to women. Because of the prevelence of this, it’s natural to have not thought about or noticed this behaviour in your own life, no matter what gender you are, and while this is most apparent in heterosexual relationships, it exists in all relationships in some form.
One of the most insidious types of invisible labour is the ‘mental load’ of the chores and running a household or an office.
As more families require two incomes, cis men have been doing more in regards to housework, and pride themselves on splitting the chores evenly. But even if that’s true (which studies say it’s not), it still usually falls to the woman to manage the work that needs done. That means a woman has to ask for their partner to do chores, has to ask them to parent, or ask their male colleagues to do their job, which puts them in a subservient position. Women are the ones expected to remember birthdays, preferences, juggle the calendars and the emotional needs of those around her.
This ties in to emotional labour and how we expect women, especially, to behave in a pleasant, compassionate and nurturing manner.
In the USSR, one of the social experiments they ran was to rethink the modern apartment building. They decided that, for women to have equality, that something must be done about unpaid labour. Between cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and all the other things that often fell to women, the Soviets recognized that gender equality was a long way off and it started in the home.
To achieve this end, they took kitchens out of the individual apartments. In its place they made a large, centralized kitchen in which residents would take turns preparing meals for the building. They hoped that this would not only build a sense of community, but free up women’s time, allowing them the pursuit of hobbies, more time with friends and family, and allow them to work outside of the home and have economic power.
I love that they were willing to experiment on ways to help make a more equitable society, but I can’t help but wonder who it was that took on the invisible labour of managing the communal spaces. Until we can tackle the underlying expectations on women and how we’re expected to labour, too many of these changes are window dressings, simply moving the problem from one room to another.
The solutions, as always, start with us. Look at your workspace and ask who it is that’s doing invisible tasks. Who is cleaning up coffee cups at the end of the day? Who cleans out the microwave? If you work or live in a place with more than one person, who’s in charge of ensuring invoices or bills are sent, received or paid?
Who is it that has to ask others to help out?
For more on International Working Women’s Day, please check out this release from Unifor with a list of local events.
*As always, I use women to include both cis and trans women, but in labour activism especially, these issues often apply to people of all genders that experience patriarchal oppression. This is further compounded by race, sexual orientation, migrant status, and disability.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed February 20 as World Day of Social Justice to promote the efforts of the international community to eliminate poverty, achieve full employment and decent work, gender equality and access to social well being and justice.
On February 20, the World Day of Social Justice is observed around the globe. This year's theme is “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice”.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) maintains that decent work is key to achieving sustainable development and social justice.
Freelancers often feel the stress of capitalism in a unique manner. Freelance work is often preferred by people with disabilities, parents who need a flexible schedule, or people who experience discrimination in traditional workplaces. People in poverty often turn to freelance work as a way to make more money to supplement their underpaid jobs, or their obscenely low disability payments. The broad array of skills required in most freelancing environments are often undervalued, and without bargaining power or a co-working atmosphere, freelancers are prone to be taken advantage of. The Canadian Freelance Union is proud of our history in gathering rate information from our members to allow new freelancers a frame of reference of how to set their fees, as well as our many successful attempts at recouping monies owed to our members.
The CFU has a long history of promoting social justice and economic equality for our members. We will continue to be an advocate for the rights and standards that underpin decent work for Freelancers and support marginalized communities by helping to raise the standards for all workers.
Coastal GasLink/TC Energy is pushing through a 670-kilometer fracked gas pipeline that would carry fracked gas from Dawson Creek, B.C. to the coastal town of Kitimat, where LNG Canada’s processing plant would be located. LNG Canada is the single largest private investment in Canadian history.
Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and have not provided free, prior, and informed consent to Coastal Gaslink/ TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands.
The Wet’suwet’en through the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa court case had their sovereignty recognized and affirmed by Canadian law. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Wet’suwet’en people, as represented by their hereditary leaders, had not given up rights and title to their territory.
The Wet’suwet’en Nation has full jurisdiction under their law to control access to their territory.
The United Nations Committee to End Racial Discrimination has called on the resource projects in British Columbia to be halted until the free, prior and informed consent of all affected Indigenous groups was granted.
The Canadian Freelance Union is deeply concerned about reports that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police obstructed and detained journalists trying to cover police operations at Indigenous protest camps in British Columbia. It is important to remember that special considerations and protections must apply to journalists reporting on demonstrations, even when an injunction order is in place.
We are also troubled by the creation of an exclusion zone preventing journalists and legal observers from witnessing events that are vital for the public to know. Journalists provide openness and transparency about the situation, and having journalists who are informed of the historical, cultural and colonial frameworks that govern Indigenous land is essential to reconciliation. To refuse journalists this access is to conceal important details about the ongoing colonialism of Indigenous land from Canadians and First Nations.
We implore upon the Canadian Government to uphold its commitment to Indigenous peoples, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by meaningfully recognizing and respecting Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs authority to make decisions on projects that impact their people and way of life.
We stand in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en peoples and oppose Canada’s militarization of Indigenous lands, the criminalization of peaceful protests and censoring of media covering this issue.
A pension is the foundation of retirement. It’s what Canadians for generations have worked towards, yet in the last decade, pensions across the country have been eroded. Despite valiant fights by unions time and time again, employers have worked to cut back on pension plans. Conservative governments have told workers that they have to expect to work longer and receive less when they retire.
It is completely unacceptable that we are telling employees that, after working in a good, decent job for decades that their retirement should not be a stable one. That they don’t deserve comfort and care in their old age. Especially as Canadians are living longer and those that are retiring now may be required to care for their elderly parents or their grandchildren.
Workers are being squeezed from both sides. Young people are being saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt to get a job only to be offered subpar wages and few benefits.
This is not the society that Canadians want to be a part of, and it’s certainly not a society that our parents and grandparents fought and died for.
The Canadian Freelance Union stands in solidarity with our comrades in Unifor Local 594 as they fight for their retirement and the retirement of those that come after them. We strongly denounce the arrests of union activists who are picketing at the lockout at the Co-op Refinery in Regina, Saskatchewan, and call on all labour activists across Canada to speak out in support of the employees.
If you do not want to see seniors at the food banks, speak out. If you don’t think that our elderly should be kicked to the streets, speak out. If you believe that health care in old age is vital, speak out. A victory for one is a victory for us all, and a loss for one is a loss for us all. Employers across the country are watching these union breaking tactics to see what they can get away with.
The Canadian Freelance Union calls on Co-op Refinery to get back to the bargaining table, and for our members to speak out in solidarity. If you are able, please join the picket line and help our brothers and sisters and comrades stay strong.
Is your non-profit or union advocating for social justice? Considering building a new website? You may be tempted to issue an RFP. Here’s why that is a bad idea and what to do instead.Read more
September 25, 2019
Response to concerns about Unifor's election campaign
The Canadian Freelance Union executive expresses its concern about a letter signed by 40 journalists, some members of the Globe and Mail unit of Unifor Local 87M, subsequently signed by other Unifor members. The letter condemns Unifor National and specifically Jerry Dias for conducting a political campaign that targets Andrew Scheer, during the current federal election.
As fellow members of Unifor, though with far less job stability than the members of Unifor Local 87M, we are concerned that our brothers and sisters seemingly identify more with their employer than with the organization that fights their employer on their behalves.
They are concerned that the union’s political work threatens the public trust in their work. As media workers, we absolutely understand the need for media workers to do their job in a fair, honest and accurate manner. Just like when the Globe and Mail explicitly endorses the Conservative Party during an election, the work of their national leadership in no way should be understood as a reflection of journalists’ personal motivations or interests.
In fact, most Canadians would never think that it does. Canadians respect journalists because of quality reporting. They rarely even know that journalists hold membership in a union, let alone which union. Unifor has never claimed to speak on behalf of individual journalists whose jobs it is to impartially report the news.
The letter also argues that their credibility is jeopardized when they interview politicians who feel targeted by their union’s leadership. If this happens, this amounts to an outrageous attack on a free press.
No politician should refuse an interview with a journalist because of the work of their union, just like no politician should refuse an interview with a newspaper because the bosses endorsed a competing party. But rather than call out this phenomenon, these 40+ journalists condemned the political work of an organization whose literal job is to stand up for better working and living conditions for their members.
What’s worse, these journalists have made it impossible to now believe that they can cover Unifor or labour relations without these biases influencing their work.
Members of our own executive are routinely attacked by the far right for our affiliation with Unifor, and we imagine that some of the journalists on this list have seen similar attacks. In our case, every single time, they come from the far-right. Almost always, we can trace the attack back to groups like the Rebel Media. These are not average people who are worried about the impartiality of a free press. They want journalists to fall in line with the conservative political lines of the bosses. We regret that so many have taken the bait.
Unifor is a political organization. It’s through their political action that we have the clout to fight for better contracts. To condemn their political work during an election campaign isn’t a show of neutrality, it’s a show of deep partisanry that is unbecoming of any journalist.
The industry is in a moment of crisis and the solution to this crisis will not be through publicly denouncing the union while management lays off journalists, closes bureaus and slashes budgets. No amount of sucking up to management will save the industry. We need to be clear-eyed about what the pressures are that the industry is facing. The far-right attack on the press by interested parties like the Rebel Media, which the Globe management has recently welcomed with open arms, is a far bigger threat than perceived notions of credibility from motivated far-right activists.
When a member of the Canadian Freelance Union has trouble getting paid, one of our points of leverage is the high-profile that our union has. If someone refuses to pay one of our members, we can demonstrate that Unifor will have our back in pressuring the contractor to pay up. Even though we have concerns about certain aspects of the current national election campaign, we understand that the high profile of our union helps our members assert their rights. And even as our members assert their rights, we understand that when we are working as journalists, we conduct that work with the principles of journalism that are expected of us all.
In solidarity in work and survival,
Canadian Freelance Union executive
Never in history have our rights been given to us. Our rights have been demanded. They have been fought for. People have died for them. In our country, far more people have died for the right to a union than to vote. The history of the labour struggle has never been one that has been won without struggle.Read more
May Day is celebrated as International Worker’s Day around the world. In many Canadian cities, May 1st is an opportunity to come together with other workers, union members and grassroots organizations to celebrate the history of the labour movement and to fight against continued attacks on workers’ rights.Read more