VANCOUVER—For two busy days on a sun-drenched campus at the University of British Columbia, labour activists from around the world enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime networking opportunity they won’t soon forget.
The Labour Peace Forum (June 25 & 26), organized by the Vancouver and District Labour Council as part of World Peace Forum 2006 (June 22-28) offered international union activists a chance to share histories, identify common goals and develop strategies for a collective position on the issues of war and peace and the impact of war on working families.
The event, sponsored in part by CUPE National, CUPE BC, and various CUPE locals, has set a major precedent for union activism in this country.
“Unlike similar ‘big picture’ issues such as globalization and sustainability, the Canadian labour movement has not developed a solid analysis of war and remains on the periphery of the peace movement,” VDLC president Bill Saunders wrote on the Forum website. “We simply do not regard it as a high priority item in the daily struggle to defend our members’ economic and political interests.” Thanks to a bold program agenda that encouraged debate on such topics as the economics of war, the military industrial complex and how to organize for world peace, that may soon change.
During a time when unions, including CUPE, have been bashed by the mainstream media for getting involved in international issues, the forum confirmed for many delegates how the simple act of building bridges and forming links across borders and time zones can prove the crucial difference in securing human rights, improving wages and working conditions, or organizing the unorganized.
During a time when right-wing commentators declare that union activism is on the decline, the Monday sessions in particular offered reassuring evidence to the contrary.
Delegates who filled UBC’s student union building ballroom were visibly moved during a screening of Jonathan Levin’s documentary “Meeting Face to Face: The Iraq-U.S. Labor Solidarity Tour,” which follows six senior Iraqi labour leaders on a 25-city tour through the United States in June of last year.
And Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Centre offered much food for thought during a working lunch address and power point presentation on organizing undocumented workers in the U.S. Delegates applauded the sight of half a million people attending an immigrant rights rally in Los Angeles on May 1.
“But what does it mean that the largest ever May Day rally was organized not by the labour movement but by immigrant workers?” he asked the crowd, before challenging each table of delegates to come up with ideas on what their union could do to increase support for immigrant workers.
A table of CUPE members suggested translating union documents into more languages and insisting on clear language policy, pushing for employers to enact equity hiring policies; and providing more union activities such as CUPE BC’s “Include Me” campaign that promotes inclusion both in society and the workplace.
During an evening session on Peace and Sustainability, CUPE Research representative Blair Redlin was part of a panel discussion called “Beyond Peak Oil: A Proposal to Avoid Increased Violence, Ecological Degradation and Social Inequity.” Redlin’s talk focussed on the social and economic impacts of competition for fundamental, life-sustaining resources like water, and how union activists can become part of the solution in advocating for alternatives to privatization.