Now, we're looking for entries that touch on why unions matter to women or why unions matter to racial minorities.
Ottawa (22 Feb. 2016) — When we asked people to tell us why unions matter to families or to African Canadians, in honour of Family Day and Black History month, we weren’t expecting to hear about upper-class families sneering at the poor, or about racism in the early days of the trade union movement. But the most recent contest winners defied our expectations, and came out on top because of it.
Unions Matter winners show talent and commitment
Take the entry from Sara Tatelman and Anya Baker. Friends since university, the two perform together under the name Date Squares and sent us a short song called The Union Folk that points out that blood family aren’t always appreciative of the good unions do:
My father taught free market rules and held to his silver spoon
My mother was a hostess in a house of many rooms
But I raised my sign on a picket line and they kicked me out
My family now is the union proud and “The Red Flag” I will shout.
In real life, many of Baker’s family members belong to unions like the United Steelworkers and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. And Tatelman is an associate member of the Canadian division of the Communications Workers of America (and actively working to bring fair pay and some job security to freelancers, interns, and other precarious media workers).
Dealing with anti-union family members
And they both say that even if you’ve got a father who “taught free market rules and held to his silver spoon,” all might not be lost.
“There are few different ways a person could open a family member’s mind to different labour ideas. One is shown in the Canadian film The Trotsky, in which the protagonist urges the workers in his father’s factory to unionize and picket, causing family strife. Of course, that doesn’t end up working very well,” said Tatelman and Baker in an email. “Perhaps a more constructive way would be to build a strong relationship with that relative while demonstrating through words and actions the benefits that unions can have for both employer and employee.”
Essay doesn't sugarcoat history
Just as we didn’t expect entries about privileged family members, we also didn’t expect entries touching on the racism endemic in the early days of the union movement.
But that’s just what high school student Natalie Blecha did in her short historical essay about trade unions and racism in Canada. From the very first line, it’s clear she’s not one to sugarcoat things. “Canada was built on the back of colonialism, genocide, and slavery,” she wrote.
Nor did Blecha shy away from the fact that trade unions were often as guilty of racism as anybody else. “Black Canadians were not permitted to even join labour unions for almost 70 years after the first Canadian unions were established,” she writes.
Trade unions play important role in fighting injustice
Fortunately, we all know it didn’t stay that way. Because they’re democratic and progressive, trade unions quickly began working to fight the racism in the workplace and in society as a whole. The struggle is far from over, but Blecha sees plenty of reason for optimism. After all, if a union can overcome its own racism, why can’t a country?
“Racism is still widespread in Canada,” says Blecha. “And unions are still the most effective way for people of colour and their allies to come together and make their voices heard about the unacceptability of racism in the labour market and the workplace.”
Congratulations to Blecha, Tatelman and Baker for their excellent entries.
New theme for next month
Next month, we’ll be celebrating International Women’s Day (on March 8) and International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21), so we’re asking for entries on one of the two following themes:
- Why unions matter to women
- Why unions matter to racial minorities
Entries just have to touch on one of those two themes. And depending on the quality of the entries, the judges might award prizes for each theme, or just one prize for the best entry in either theme.
We’re looking forward to your responses! And here’s one tiny bit of advice: so far, the majority of the entries have been poems. We’ll continue to accept and consider poetry, but if you want your entry to stand out, think about crafting something other than a poem.
Please email your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org (link sends email).
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE