In May, CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador hosted our union’s first regional Global Justice Conference. Building Global Solidarity: ‘Come from Away, Here to Stay’ focused on the need for international solidarity and migrant rights. The conference was held on the weekend leading into the CUPE NL provincial division convention and had the most registered delegates of any conference ever conducted by the division.
CUPE members at the conference started close to home, assessing what they are experiencing in their workplaces and in bargaining. We made connections between our struggles and the struggles of peoples around the globe. We have a lot in common when it comes to our fights for safe working conditions, good pay and benefits, dignity and respect.
The conference highlighted the ongoing challenge of population decline in our province, and how refugees, migration, and immigration can be a solution. Participants explored why people would leave their home country, and the challenges they would face in a new home. Our role as trade unionists supporting migrants here and around the world was a common thread.
We learned about the discrimination and exploitation that migrants experience globally and in Canada. We also looked at how Canadian immigration programs can contradict the provisions of our collective agreements and create tensions in the workplace. We can work for change by supporting social movements in other countries so migrant workers are not forced to leave their homes in search of work. We can also create alliances in the workplace to confront the policies and strategies that are dividing us.
We heard directly from a panel of people on the front lines of the challenges that immigrants and refugees face. Panelist Hector Corrales Diaz left Mexico nearly a year ago and is now a permanent resident working in Corner Brook. He told us how the community was very warm and accepting. However, services such as access to language training requires additional resources. He challenged CUPE members to find ways to support migrants in our communities and workplaces. The call for better support for newcomers was echoed by panelists Jonathan House from the Association of New Canadians, and Christine Short of Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus who teaches English as a second language.
The panel discussion followed a screening of Borderless. This documentary reveals the lives of undocumented migrant workers here in Canada. It was a painful learning experience for most of the delegates. An unregulated market exists in Canada, in our own back yards, where undocumented migrant workers are being exploited. They work long hours in dangerous jobs with no health and safety protection for extremely low pay and no benefits. The practice is especially rampant in the construction industry.
Delegates were also inspired to hear from Director Kyungkyu Yang of the Korean Federation of Public Services and Transport Workers’ Unions (KPTU). Director Yang stressed the importance of CUPE’s international solidarity during their public sector general strike in 2017 when CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury travelled to South Korea to join the picket lines. Director Yang says building stronger connections between workers gives us power. “I believe that international solidarity must develop beyond exchange among union leaderships to involve workers’ concrete collective action and direct exchange,” he told delegates.
The conference highlighted that we have more in common with workers from other countries than we do with the elite from our own country. We are all fighting back against unemployment, poverty, privatization, and union busting, International solidarity actions aim to raise “the floor” for all workers, ensuring there are no vulnerable workers anywhere for corporations to exploit.
Keir Hiscock is the chairperson of CUPE NL’s Global Justice Committee, and a member of the CUPE National Global Justice Committee. He is the First Vice-President of CUPE 1615, representing Memorial University administrative, technical, instructional and tech support staff.