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Beth Deollaga at the CUPE human rights conference

Following three and a half days of passionate and insightful discussions on CUPE’s role in advancing human rights in Canada and around the world, the 2nd National Human Rights Conference wrapped up in Winnipeg.

The conference’s last day saw a final panel exploring successful union and community campaigns led by marginalized workers to build collective power.

Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labour Centre, spoke about the growth of the immigrant workers movement in the United States, and what lessons it offers the entire labour movement.

Ronald Boisrond, CUPE National Representative, shared his experiences as an equality activist in his municipal local and his neighbourhood of Montreal North. Brother Boisrond is the author and screenwriter of the documentary La couleur du temps (2008) that explores the difficult relations between police and racialized youth in Montreal North.

Ronald Boisrond, Kent Wong, Erica Violet Lee, Beth Dollaga and Sylvia Soufi

Idle No More activist Erica Violet Lee shared her experiences as an Indigenous woman in Canada. She spoke about how protesting  a racist mascot at her high school helped shape her work in grassroots mobilization.

Beth Deollaga, CUPE 15 - Vancouver Municipal, Education and Community Workers, spoke about the mobilization of migrant workers in B.C. facing abuse under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers program.

Conference summary report

Conference co-hosts Yolanda McClean and Brian Barron, re-capped the conference with a summary report of what participants had talked about in plenary sessions and workshops.

CUPE National Diversity Vice-Presidents Brain Barron and Yolanda McClean

“In every workshop and panel discussion we have heard that CUPE members have a responsibility and the power to bring about change,” said Barron as part of the conference summary “We need this change to move forward as a union, in our workplaces and in our communities. Every step we make towards equality, we move closer to a powerful labour movement.”

Four themes - characterized as ‘gifts’ in the summary - arose during the conference on what CUPE must do to move towards real equality; the need for raising awareness; the need for creating common ground for all members, mobilizing, and organizing in locals and communities; and with these moves, CUPE can build power to create change.

“These are some of the gifts we’ve shared at this conference,” added Yolanda McClean, diversity vice-president for CUPE. “Now it is our responsibility to take these gifts forward and share it with others - our families, our locals, and our communities.”

Final words and thanks

Charles Fleury closing remarks at the CUPE Human Rights Conference

The conference was closed by Charles Fleury, national secretary-treasurer of CUPE, by thanking participants for all their contributions over the three days, and asked them to take everything they learned back to their locals and communities.

“The more we understand each other – the stronger we are. Our differences do not make us weaker sisters and brothers.  Our differences make us stronger,” said Fleury. “We will now go back to our communities and locals, and each time when we read our CUPE Equality Statement at our union events, let’s remember the commitment that we made this weekend.  Let us recommit ourselves to standing up, to make a difference, every day, in all we do.”