Unifor National President Jerry Dias addressed the UE convention on Sunday morning. “When I come here,” Dias said, “I feel like I’m at home” because “our unions have so much in common.”
Dias told delegates that Unifor, like UE, is a rank-and-file organization, and rank-and-file workers make up 19 of the 25 members of their national executive board. “We’re structured that way so that everybody understands that the union belongs to our members in the workplaces.”
Unifor was created six years ago out of the recognition that the labor movement is “a movement in peril,” and that workers need a labor movement that is bold and militant. “We don't win every battle that we take on,” Dias said, “but one thing we learned early in the game: you lose every one you're afraid to take on. And that's not us and that's not you and that's why I'm so honored to be here today.”
Discussing Unifor’s convention the previous week, Dias explained that “moving forward” requires “creating an organization that's prepared to play serious offense because we're sick and tired of playing defense.” In order to do that, Unifor has been supporting the leadership of young workers, women workers, and workers of color.
He told a story about being confronted by a man whose father and grandfather were labor activists, who claimed that by publicly fighting sexism and racism, Unifor had “alienated and betrayed the middle-class white men in this country.” Dias responded that “the labor movement of your grandfather and your father understood that the only way that working-class people moved the political agenda was by eliminating all forms of racism and sexism.”
Dias praised the “incredible leadership” of UE Locals 506 and 618 in taking on Wabtec’s corporate greed, and noted that Unifor had sent members to walk the picket line during the nine-day strike in Erie. “You understood, and the labor movement needs to understand, that in order for us to flourish and grow it can’t just be about us, we need to be community-based organizations, we need the general population to understand that a stronger labor movement is better for them as well.”
He also thanked UE for sending a delegation to the Kansas-based headquarters of D.J. Composite when that company locked out 30 Unifor members in Gander, Newfoundland. The Gander lockout was successfully resolved after Unifor brought 400 members to Gander (a remote town with only two jail cells) and erected a fence around the factory to prevent scabs from getting in.
Dias described two other struggles in which militant, mass action by Unifor members had won decent settlements in the face of intransigent and often disrespectful management, at a mine in Goderich and a health clinic in Thunder Bay (both in Ontario). He also described how, after a massive publicity campaign, Unifor had been able to secure an agreement to preserve jobs at the Oshawa plant that GM had slated for closure, transitioning to aftermarket production.
Turning to the upcoming national elections in Canada, Dias said that Unifor’s aggressive campaign to “Stop Scheer” (the leader of the anti-worker Conservative Party) was “changing the terms of the debate,” and that the Conservatives’ lead had shrunk from 11 percent to a statistical tie. (Canadian elections were held on October 21, and the Conservatives were defeated.)
He also discussed upcoming negotiations with “crown corporations” (public-sector enterprises) in Saskatchewan, pledging that Unifor members would violate any “back-to-work” legislation passed by the provincial government to interfere with the collective bargaining process. (After a 17-day strike in October, Unifor members reached a tentative agreement with the Saskatchewan crown corporations at the end of October.)