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Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Today is International Human Rights Day. This is a day to both celebrate our successes and consider the work that remains to be done. This year, the United Nations declared that the day will be about the rights of all people — women, young people, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized — to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decision-making.
This is very much in keeping with CUPE Ontario’s campaigns and goals. The majority of CUPE members are women and our diverse membership includes many people in equality-seeking groups. Our membership also includes the people who provide services to vulnerable populations whose rights are most in need of defence. Human rights are at the core of our beliefs and our work.
Unions have long played a vital role in advancing human rights in the workplace and in broader society.
Through the solidarity of workers, we won many of the gains that benefit society as a whole today. Publicly, unions fought for racial, gender and sexual equality. We helped win court challenges and legislation such as Toby’s Law that bring us closer to equality for transgender people. We campaign to eradicate poverty and to provide basic needs and dignity for all people.
Through collective bargaining, we negotiated for parental leaves and built the voice and power of women in the workplace. We negotiate to improve accessibility and to include equity language in collective agreements. The list of accomplishments is as long as the list of injustices that remain.
Right now, our very ability to stand up for the rights of workers and of the vulnerable within our society is under attack.
In Ontario, the government has stripped school board workers of their democratic rights to free collective bargaining and impartial arbitration. Bill 115 is a shocking and undemocratic law that takes away our ability to advocate for human rights and equity in contracts, or even to bring all workers out of poverty. And it’s an attack that the Liberals and PCs want to extend to workers across the broader public sector. If we do not stand together, nearly one million Ontario workers, including virtually all CUPE members, will lose their rights.
At the same time, the Harper Conservatives are set to pass a law that would strip unions of their ability to engage in political action and lobbying. Just think of the advances to human rights that have been championed in Canada by unions. It is unacceptable for any government to attack workers by taking away their right to speak collectively through a union – just because the government of the day is afraid of criticism.
On this day, we encourage you to consider what you can do to advance human rights in your workplace, your community and around the world. One good place to start is by reading and sharing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/60UDHR/bookleten.pdf.
You can also learn more about CUPE Ontario’s campaign to defend workers’ rights by visiting cupe.on.ca. Like you, we want a fair, equal world in which all people can lead safe, healthy, happy lives.
We will continue to work towards that goal, and together we will build a better Ontario.
President, CUPE Ontario