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Unions in the Broader Community

CLC Rep Tony Tracy on union work in the non-unionized and international context

by Steve Caines

Unions in the Broader Community

Tony Tracy got his first unionized job at 17. He grew up in the New Brunswick forestry town of Nackawic, and started work in the town’s pulp and paper mill as part of the unionized workforce.

Tracy has been part of the fight for social justice and the broader labour movement ever since, even at times when he didn't hold a unionized job. He involved himself in student activism while in university, and was part of a student-labour coalition on social issues during that time. Later, Tracy was employed as a community legal worker on tenants' rights and anti-poverty issues. Eventually he went on to become National Organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), assisting unorganized workers in a number of provinces with overcoming the obstacles of forming unions in their workplaces. Now he’s the Atlantic Regional Representative for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

“All of the issues I care about have been things the labour union movement has embraced,” says Tracy, while on his way to a Cape Breton District Labour Council meeting in Sydney. “Even in times of my life when I’ve not been in a union, I’ve always worked closely with union members and labour leaders on campaigns, and in coalitions to fight for equity and justice, including anti-poverty issues, immigrant and refugee rights campaigns, and in working overall for a better and fairer society.”

Tracy will be attending State of Our Unions II in Halifax on April 10 to discuss the union movement. He’ll be talking about lesser-known activities of Canadian labour unions: union advocacy work in the broader community for non-unionized employees, and the work of Canadian labour groups abroad.

“I think people are familiar with what unions do in representing workers, through collective bargaining, filing grievances, and so on. But there is another role that we do as unionists, and it’s important to talk about this as well,” says Tracy.

“Unions fought for the rights to maternity leave, as an example. This wasn’t something the government just gave us. The right of women and men to take time off after having a child came from a strike by postal workers in the 1970s. They struck for that right, and the postal workers fought for that right for all Canadians.”

Unions also continue to lobby for better retirement benefits for everyone, not just members of existing unions, notes Tracy.

“We’re very concerned for those that don’t have a union and don’t have a proper retirement income. We have a campaign to double Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) benefits, and have been fighting Harper on the issue of extending the age of when people can go on Old Age Security (OAS). The OAS and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) should pay more than they do today, so no senior is forced to retire in poverty. Labour unions are leading the fight for all Canadians to retire in dignity.”

The labour movement is also involved in a lot of work internationally, in solidarity with labour, human rights and social justice partners in other countries, he says. "The CLC has an international department… representatives travel throughout the world, particularly in Latin America, Asia and Africa. We do work in Africa in partnership with unions there on the AIDS crisis, for example, and help provide funding and resources, as well as lobby our own government and the G8 to do what they should be doing on the AIDS crisis and on maternal health”.

Tracy notes another example of the labour movement's international work in Haiti. Just last month, a new labour federation headquarters in Haiti was built and opened after the old one was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake.

“CUPE and PSAC, two of the 54 affiliate unions of the CLC, assisted with the reconstruction of the building and had representatives present at the inauguration of the new headquarters of Haiti's trade union movement” he said.

Tracy hopes to see a high turnout for State of Our Unions II. “At the last event we had a packed house, and hopefully it will be the same again. We’d like to see people that are both union members and those who have never had an experience in a unionized workplace. Personally I’d like to see young workers and youth, who might not have an understanding of the different things unions are involved in but who want to learn more”.

"State of Our Unions II", will be held on Tuesday, April 10th, 6:30-8:30pm at Just Us! Cafe on Spring Garden Road.

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Topics: Labour
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