We Are Oshawa: Bringing back social movement unionism

photo 1By Tiffany Balducci, President of CUPE 960 and a We Are Oshawa member 

In the birthplace of the modern Canadian labour movement, We Are Oshawa is reconnecting with its namesake’s deep social unionist roots. We Are Oshawa is a grassroots, membership-based organization that seeks to make progressive issues a priority in Oshawa. The group was conceived by a tapestry of labour and social movement activists from diverse backgrounds.

For too many years the labour movement has been seen as abandoning the greater community and only protecting their own. We are now seeing a shift, with AFL-CIO and Unifor’s community chapters and campaigns like the Ontario Federation of Labour’s Common Front. We Are Oshawa is a similar coalition, we are a social movement that works to support community struggles that align with labour struggles. For example We Are Oshawa canvassed neighbourhoods that would be affected by the cessation of door-to-door mail delivery in a Save Canada Post Campaign. We then presented a deputation to Oshawa City Council to call on the Harper Government to maintain door-to-door mail delivery and protect good paying jobs in our community, which unanimously passed.

We Are Oshawa’s representatives come from all walks of life in Oshawa. The group is comprised of students, activists, union members from several different affiliates, and people who just want to make a difference in our community. We blend labour and community in every component of our group, working towards building capacity in a city that sometimes feels forgotten by the rest of Canada.

We Are Oshawa began over a year ago when labour and community groups across Ontario for the past year to fight for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $14. We Are Oshawa organized creative actions for the campaign such as handing out candy canes at the Oshawa Santa Claus Parade that were labeled: “Santa’s Helpers Need a Raise! Raise the minimum wage to $14 an Hour” and street theatre in front of the former MPP’s office.

We Are Oshawa also made a big splash during the recent provincial election, working in a variety of ways to push all parties to address issues such as poverty, education, and retirement security. We Are Oshawa partnered with students to host the People’s Debate and, when the 19 year PC incumbent Jerry Ouellette was a no-show, We Are Oshawa was there to hold him accountable. Through persistent advocacy, we were also able to secure the endorsement for a $14 minimum wage from Oshawa NDP MPP-elect.

In Oshawa, we see struggles of our community everyday. We Are Oshawa aims to build a coalition between the struggles of the working class and the greater community – we help them in their efforts and they help us. We are adjusting the narrative by not only fighting for ourselves but fighting for our community and building political capacity in our own backyard. We Are Oshawa will continue to work on the Raise the Rates and Save Canada Post campaigns. We are also looking to initiate a local campaign to support the efforts of a group called Rethink Child Care, a coalition of unions, community activists, and child care advocates.  Their goal is to make affordable child care an issue in the 2015 election. We are also planning on continuing to build our capacity and involving more community members by attending several events throughout Oshawa over the summer, hosting a social event, and organizing a progressive book club.

For too long, labour has been seen as only protecting their own and having a “members only” mentality. Unions need to reach out to their greater community now more than ever. In Oshawa, we’ve decided to break free from that stereotype and build a worthwhile coalition that aligns the battles of the working class with the greater community, which are values that the CAW worked hard to instil and build in Oshawa back in 1937. We are very excited about growing our base and invite everyone to check out our website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

 

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