Conference drove home the idea that justice and equality for all must be part of our daily union work.
Toronto (30 November 2010) On November 12 to 14, 2010, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) held its first biennial human rights conference in Markham with the theme "Get Up, Stand Up! For Your Rights!" From start to finish the conference drove home the need to fight for our rights as well as the idea that justice and equality for all must be part of our daily union work.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas spoke during opening ceremonies on the ways in which OPSEU has answered the call to justice with initiatives like the OPSEU Social Mapping Project and the revised Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy. He reflected on this particular moment in history and the challenge faced by the union movement brought on by the backlash evident in the extreme right-wing-attacks against US President Obama as well as the election in Toronto of Rob Ford.
“With a collective voice and with vision, OPSEU and labour have the power to turn around the disturbing discourse and attacks on core progress values. To succeed, OPSEU must continue its leadership role in the protection and promotion of human rights”, noted Thomas.
OPSEU First Vice/President Treasurer, Patty Rout, said that organized labour is the very definition of human rights and that progressive people everywhere can take much credit for the advancements made in bringing people together in a spirit of unity. She concluded by asserting: "Equality is the result of human organization. We are not born equal."
Derek Fudge, national director of policy development with the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) also spoke at the conference. He provided participants with an overview of the public hearings on the G20 mass arrests, which NUPGE and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) held in Toronto and Montreal on November 10-12. During those hearings many witnesses recounted shocking and appalling stories of human rights and civil liberties abuses that they experienced. “The testimony we heard from the 51 witnesses who appeared before our hearings can only be described as horrific”, noted Fudge. We demand that the federal government an independent public inquiry, not only to ensure accountability is provided to Canadians on these important issues, but also to ensure that Canadians never again face such a shameful disrespect of their human rights and civil liberties."
Throughout the conference, there was much discussion of the histories and stories of achievement, struggles, and resistance against injustice and inequality, both within OPSEU/NUPGE, and in the larger union movement. Participants learned practical tools for advancing equity work in their workplaces, their local and their region by developing educational materials, promoting more equitable collective agreement language, and through resources like our equity committees and caucuses. Participants were able to build networks with other equity activists to become effective, consistent allies in the fight for human rights and justice.
In the coming weeks, OPSEU/NUPGE will produce more detailed articles about the conference speakers and panels, conference resources, a video from the conference, and more details about the strategies produced at the conference.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 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