PSAC Participant Reports from MFL Young Workers Assembly

The Manitoba Federation of Labour held its Young Members Assembly in Winnipeg February 8-10. PSAC has received the following reports from attendees Leandra Williams and Nathan Berry. PSAC would like to thank these young members for their reports and their involvement in building the labour movement in Manitoba.

Here are their reports:

Leandra Williams:

As a first time attendee at a Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) event, I found that this Youth Conference drew a lot of interest from young workers from across different factions.  It was very interesting getting to discuss different topics with young workers from various professions, and hearing about their experiences through their work history.   Some of the attendees included electricians, construction site workers, nurses, assembly line workers, and office workers.  Because of the wide spread of professions, their experiences and priorities varied among the attendees, which made for some interesting conversation and debate.

Although young workers face many of the same challenges that other employees encounter, the point of having this conference was to engage members across different unions and professions, and how to reach members by connecting through our struggles, and become more understanding and accepting people.

There were some interesting presentations from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) regarding how we can engage young workers in our workplaces and how to get young worker issues on the political agenda.  There were also presentations regarding the issues of unsafe work and The Fight for $15 (the fight for minimum wage to be $15), which were very eye-opening topics.

Overall, I felt that the main takeaway for this conference was the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals and share information regarding how they got involved with the union, why they are choosing to be active allies, and strategies of how to get other young workers excited and involved with their local unions.  It was a very eye-opening experience and I would encourage others to become involved with local initiatives, even if this simply means striking up a conversation with someone new.


Nathan Berry:

The presenters included Kevin Rebeck, President of the Manitoba Federation of Labour; Basia Sokal, President of the Winnipeg Labour Council; and Wab Kinew, Manitoba NDP leader and MLA of the Fort Rouge area of Winnipeg. The presentations of each shared a theme of unions as a driver for significant community development.

Kevin spoke about life as a worker in Winnipeg before unions, specifically citing issues of exploitation and job security, as well as the improvement in quality-of-life that came from the empowerment of unions.  Additionally, Kevin talked about the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and explained how the workers of Manitoba were influential in the advancement of labour unions across Canada.

Basia talked about labour unions as agents of social justice and significant parties in social advancement. She focused on the idea that unions are activist organizations that work to benefit all Canadians, not just the workers that the union(s) represent.

Wab spoke about how the forming of a trade union in the area where he grew up helped to improve relations between the First Nations people of Southwest Ontario and the people of Kenora by creating a common ground. He emphasized that this was done in a time and place where segregation was still being practiced. Also, he spoke about the need for continued union activity to further improve the quality-of-life of workers, using pensions as an example (Wab stated that pensions stand on a thin line between a social benefit and a tax and that we need to fight to ensure the funds paid into pensions are not taken by the government). I also had the opportunity to ask Wab how the NDP would handle the Phoenix issue if they were elected provincially and/or federally and he stated that the NDP would develop “care packages” to pay affected employees (in other words, the NDP would try to bypass the Phoenix Pay System in times of need).

All three presenters were informative and interesting. To be honest though, the presentations done at the conference would’ve been much more suited to employees who are not involved with their unions, rather than the workers that attended whom are already actively involved with their unions. I believe the three presentations would have been able to motivate at least some workers into becoming more active with their respective unions.

After the presentations, attendees were given refreshments and encouraged to speak with one another. I was able to speak with healthcare workers (specifically, workers in care homes) as well as employees from Bell-MTS. It was interesting to hear the issues that other unions were dealing with, be it the problems experienced by healthcare workers caused by the drastically reduced support for Manitoba health or the poor relationship that MTS has with their now parent-company Bell, resulting in frustrating work conditions.