Sixty-seven years ago, the world’s governments passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, enshrining the idea that every person in the world has certain fundamental rights. As a union, we celebrate this on December 10 – International Human Rights Day – because the labour movement continues to play a vital role in advancing human rights.

We have built democratic structures in our unions that help us stand strongly united against employers and governments that would take away our rights as workers. In CUPE Ontario, we have added new seats at our executive board table to ensure a diversity of voices are being heard. We stand up for the rights of our members and our communities through collective bargaining, through campaigns, through legal action and through action in the streets to advance rights for working class people. It’s what a progressive union does.

In Canada, we can celebrate the tremendous advances in human rights we have achieved in recent decades and our rich history as a safe haven for people fleeing oppression under forces that have stripped them of their fundamental rights.

In times of global crisis, we must do all we can to provide safety and restore rights to the oppressed. Unfortunately, in times of global crisis, we also see a rise in xenophobia and racism.

Our union plays a key role in combatting those forces, which poison our communities and divide working class people. As the first refugees from Syria begin to arrive in Ontario, we must remember that these are working class people just like CUPE members who have had their basic human rights taken away. As Canadians, as workers, as labour unionists, we must stand up for the rights of newcomers because it is fundamental to who we are, and because the fight for human rights links us all – an injury to one is an injury to all.

We like to think of Canada as a safe haven and take pride in the waves of people who have fled oppression and found a new home here – be it Jewish people fleeing Nazi Germany or the Vietnamese boat people or the dozens more groups who have come to help build our communities. History, however, has not been so kind in reality. Time and again, Canada has been slow to open its doors. Time and again, newcomers have been met with a mixture of welcome from some and resistance and racism from others.

But history shows us each arrival of newcomers has helped strengthen and build our country. In remembering that, we must do what is necessary to help this latest group from Syria to settle and thrive as new Canadians.

As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we have a moral obligation to help, and CUPE members will play a vital role.

To succeed, these new Canadians must have a clear path to full rights, access to education, health care and employment, and help with housing, language training and social services while they adjust.

CUPE members provide those services. We are some of the first people refugees meet through agencies that aid in resettlement. We are language instructors in schools and in communities. We maintain social housing. We provide social assistance.

Our members play a critical role in helping refugees thrive in Canada and, by doing so, make a huge contribution to Canada by being the kind, welcoming and successful country we all believe it should be.

On International Human Rights Day, we encourage you all to use social media to help dispel myths about refugees, to declare your support for a progressive Canada, and to thank all CUPE Ontario members, who will rise to the challenges presented as we become home for 25,000 more Canadians.