How You Impact Others – The fight is not just for us, but for all workers.

June 2, 2023

YFL President Teresa Acheson recently had the honor of addressing the delegates of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Their federation is our partner in the north, representing the workers of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. As requested by the delegates, here is the message she shared so you can also share the message of our northern labour movement far and wide.

What is the power of a union and the union movement? 

Why do we gather as Affiliate unions and federations under the Canada Labour Congress? I am relatively new to this collective, but it only makes sense…we are always stronger together. 

When the federal PSAC members were out on the picket line, they made history.  This is now the largest general strike to happen in Canada.  When those 155,000 thousand members walked the picket line, they did at great cost to themselves, but the world was watching. 

I heard a story from someone who’s partner was part of the federal PSAC workers union, when I mentioned “the strike” she said, “oh yeah, he decided to just stay out of it and work from home.”  A bit in disbelief, I said to her, “But don’t you know, that is what they are striking for…the right to work from home?!” –We have work to do to educate our own members about their worker rights.  These rights are not ‘granted’ by the employer.  They are battled for on the picket line by unions. 

I heard another story from two individuals: working in excluded government roles and military, and they were mildly supportive of the strike, saying “good for them, because we will eventually get that benefit too”. 

But I had another story from a worker, in a different sector from a smaller union.  When talking about the picket lines, she says to me with a sigh of relief, “just seeing them take a stand to strike, has given me hope.  Finally, there’s enough workers standing up to say, ‘this is not right’”.  And this worker was right.

It is not right to pay workers less than inflation.

It is not right to play favorites about “who gets to work from home”.

It is not right to try and take away severance, pensions, or parental leave.

It is not right to disrespect the service providers and skilled workers who keep our communities going.

The PSAC members on strike inspired hope in other workplaces for workers.  Especially the smaller unions who don’t feel they hold enough power. 

Consider how you impact others and be proud of that. Proud of the union movement and that you are part of a union —the fight is not just for us, but for all workers.  In the recent PSAC North convention, the delegate voted to add an additional $250,000 to their budget to aggressively lobby for anti-scab legislation because we know the fight for 13 Iqaluit Housing Authority workers is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Do not underestimate the stand that you took and the impact you have on the future, not only for yourselves but also for others. 

Never regret the choice you made to walk a picket line or not-to-cross a picket line.  You understand and show what solidarity (with and for others) really means. 

Do not hold bitterness against those who will also benefit from your efforts.  Educate, inform, and someday they may realize the importance of solidarity.  Learning the easy way or the hard way. 

Historically, there have been some gruesome and epic battles for workers rights.  Even in our region, only decades ago, labour activists received death threats and have been arrested and put in jail.  I have been privileged that I have not seen that in my time.  I have only seen a few strikes and most from a distance.  Our members do not really know the power of a picket line and why solidarity with striking workers is so important.  Even today, the stories of horrific worker abuse in other countries (some without legal unions) humbles me. 

At CLC National convention, we heard from labour representatives from Hong Kong and Haiti.  In Hong Kong, it is no longer legal to have a union.  Their labour leaders are in jail.  One escaped to England and is trying to advocate for their release.  Haiti is a broken country with fallen government, filled with corruption and controlled by various gorilla groups.  Their unions have no laws to guide them or protect them. 

Unions make history.  In the North, our unions:

  • Unionize the public sector, help workers negotiate collective agreements, advocate for improved working conditions,
  • Create space for stronger voices.  Indigenous openings and land acknowledgements are now part of ceremony in organized gatherings and governments.
  • Minimum wage increases, fair compensation for workers, campaigns on the high cost of living
  • Creation of Nunavut Employees Union: to represent workers in the new territory of Nunavut.
  • Advocacy for Inuit Employment and Training

We need to honour our past, our northern history.  But we also need to work just as hard to defend our future, including our northern climate to ensure we get solutions that will work for our northern environments.  We need to defend workers rights and our unionized members, and we need to organize the workers that don’t yet have union representation in the North. 

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