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Sixty-five CUPE members and staff from 17 locals participated in this year’s Human Rights Conference hosted by CUPE Manitoba on December 8-9. This year’s theme was “Advancing Human Rights in the Workplace and the Community.”

Held in advance of International Human Rights Day on December 10, the conference was kicked off by a keynote address from University of Winnipeg President and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy. Dr. Axworthy spoke to delegates about his time as foreign affairs minister and the frustration he felt during the conflicts in Rwanda and the Balkans as the old international sovereignty laws prevented Canada from intervening and saving human lives.

These conflicts led to the development of a human security focus as opposed to the old national security focus that allowed political leaders to hide behind the state when committing crimes against humanity. Today, those who commit crimes against humanity are tried in an international court, as the sovereign rights of people are superior to the sovereign rights of governments.

Axworthy concluded by urging CUPE to continue its commitment to fight for human rights. “Unions represent the rights of people, so all the more reason for labour to be a part of the global movement to protect human rights.”

Delegates participated in four workshops during the two-day conference including: Strategies for Achieving Workable Accommodations; Aboriginal Water Issues; Creating Racial Justice; and Transgender Issues.

A panel discussion on changing demographics took place on Friday morning. It included presentations from CUPE Equality Representative, Maureen Morrison; Manitoba Labour and Immigration Credentials Assessor, Shannon McKay; City of Winnipeg Workplace Consultant, Simon Gillingham; and CUPE’s Senior Officer for Aboriginal Issues, Don Moran.

It is critical that we as a union, and the labour movement in general, pay attention to the changing demographics, in order to make sure that we are truly inclusive and representative of our members,” proclaimed Morrison.