CUPE Ontario is pleased to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024 on March 8 and honour the achievements, experience, and activism of the women in our union.

This year’s theme, “No one is free until we are all free,” is an echo of the words of Black American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, and the theme resonates with us as trade unionists in its call to justice and solidarity.

It’s with enormous pride that we note that our union is largely a women’s union, with women making up two-thirds of our membership; in sectors like child care, hospitals, and long-term care, their numbers often exceeds 90 percent.

We are indebted to the experience and work of women in CUPE and the myriad ways they have ensured representation for all women in our union, including Indigenous women, Black and racialized women, women who are differently abled, young women, immigrant women, and women from 2SLGBTQI+ communities.

These members carry out their work in the face of enormous opposition and against huge odds: women’s jobs are disproportionately threatened by privatization, cuts and government austerity budgets. Yet women continue to lead in local after striking CUPE local, from the library workers of CUPE 905 in Bradford-West Gwillimbury, to the child care workers of CUPE 5551, who were part of the successful fightback against the closure of a main Francophone child care centre in Toronto.

And of course all low-waged women workers in the public sector were targeted by the Conservatives’ wage restraint legislation, Bill 124. The law has since been repealed after twice being judged unconstitutional, but its impact on women’s wages and working conditions has done untold damage. The fight to gain back stolen wages has only just begun and we can say with certainty that CUPE women workers will be in the forefront of that fight.

International Women’s Day was born out of the socialist and labour movements of the early twentieth century, when women fought for voting rights, better working conditions, higher wages and recognition of their work and contributions. The UN proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1977, but as CUPE Ontario Women’s Committee chair Marilena Fox notes in the special IWD edition of CUPE Cast, “The labour movement for women is an ongoing struggle… We are still fighting for a world and workplaces free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.”

To help make those goals a reality, CUPE Ontario will soon welcome a second group of women to its Women in Leadership Development (WILD) program. This highly popular initiative ensures that Black, racialized and Indigenous women are equipped and ready to take on vital and prominent roles in our union. CUPE Ontario Women’s committee is also developing a province-wide women’s advocate program to strengthen mechanisms for those needing support around gender bias, sexual harassment and violence.

In the days and years ahead, our union and our communities will continue to benefit from women’s leadership. We are proud of the many struggles and successes of women workers as they are reflected in the experiences of CUPE’s women members and in the declaration, “No one is free until we are all free.”