To union feminists, this International Women’s Day, I salute you

March 8, 2023

My friends,

You have led the charge, for decades, to improve women’s rights and gender equality at work. Years of tireless advocacy, over generations, has tipped the scales through every lobby, campaign, conversation and rally to get that much closer to achieving the feminist and equitable world those who stood before us dreamed of.

Now, don’t get me wrong, because our work to advance gender rights in the workplace is definitely far from over. There is still so much to do to eradicate sexism and the patriarchy from our workplaces and that won’t happen overnight.

We certainly could spend our time this International Women’s Day taking stock of the challenges that persist, and we will, but I don’t want us to stop there either.

This year, I want to celebrate.

Because when I look around at our movement of fierce union women, there is no denying that we are change makers.

As gender justice champions, you are constantly pushing the envelope, bringing your identities as Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, as 2SLBTQI+ women, and as women with disabilities to continue to fortify and build an equitable agenda for our labour movement.

I cannot help but beam with pride at the enormous gains we’ve made over the years. Victories that inch us closer every day to the feminist and equitable workplaces that unions have championed for generations.

In the last five years alone, we’ve won federal pay equity legislation, we’re on the path toward a national child care system, we’ve won paid domestic violence leave for almost all workers across the country and most recently, we successfully pushed our federal government to ratify a new international labour standard on violence and harassment at work.

And that’s not all.

When we have each other’s back—we accomplish phenomenal things.

I think of Laura Walton from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, who stood up to fight for the 55,000 education workers in Ontario who walked off the job last fall and whose successful strike action led to major wins for education workers across the province with vast improvements to wages and working conditions.

I am also reminded everyday of those who broke glass ceilings: Grace Hartman was the first woman to lead a national union in North America, Shirley Carr was the first woman elected at the head of the Canadian Labour Congress, Jan Simpson is the first Black woman to be elected president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Irene Lanzinger, the first woman elected to the presidency of the B.C. Federation of Labour and Patty Coates became the first woman to lead the Ontario Federation of Labour.

And most recently, Magali Picard broke another glass ceiling. For the first time in its history, la Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, elected a woman and the first Indigenous person as their president.

These are just a few examples of the courageous, firecracker feminists that make up our movement. Each and every one of us stands on the shoulders of union women giants like them, and those that came before them.

We are part of a proud and unyielding history of working women who have blazed the trail for equity and inclusion, and whose efforts led to paid parental and maternity leave, the right to be paid for the value of our work, the right to a world of work free from violence and harassment, groundbreaking gains that workers of all genders from coast to coast to coast enjoy today.

Together, we have fundamentally transformed the landscape for gender justice at work in Canada.

We are stronger than ever, and our work is just getting started.

Solidarity!

Bea

Bea Bruske is president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow her on Twitter @PresidentCLC

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