December 10 is International Human Rights Day, created in 1950 to draw attention worldwide to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a common and minimum standard for every person and nation to recognize and uphold.

This year, the United Nations theme is “Human Rights 365.” It is the idea that we should celebrate and mobilize for human rights not just today, but every day of the year.

Our union has been a leader in the fight for rights for more than 50 years. It is something we continue to do every day. Human rights are workers’ rights, and workers’ rights are human rights. The two are inseparable, and the labour movement has played a critical role in the civil rights movement in Ontario and around the world.

We make it a priority to advance rights every day. By bargaining strong language in our collective agreements and through political action, we have played a key role in decisions that ended wage discrimination, entrenched same-sex spousal benefits, improved employment equity, and created pay equity and anti-discrimination laws. It is a tradition we are proud of, and one our members vote to continue and strengthen at each Convention.

We continue to make important steps forward. Together through collective bargaining, we have greatly reduced the wage gap between women and men in the public sector. But we still have work to do, and closing that gap will require not only strong bargaining, but legislative and societal changes including a public child care system.

Human rights are essential to a fair and just society. The Liberal government in Ontario makes many statements about rights, but without policies supporting economic fairness and equality, such statements ring hollow.

For years we have seen billions of dollars handed to profitable corporations through tax cuts. Those cuts have been used as the justification to gut vital public services – the very services that support individuals and communities struggling for equality. Tax cuts in Canada have disproportionately benefited a few wealthy individuals, while making life more difficult for most, particularly for women, racialized and aboriginal workers, persons with disabilities and young workers.

While we have accomplished much, there is also much to do. For example, access to public health care and clean drinking water are essential rights, and ones that a shocking number of First Nations communities do not have in our province today. That must change.

CUPE Ontario members can be proud of the work our union has done to build solidarity and support for human rights struggles in our union, in our communities and around the world.

We will continue to make human rights a priority 365 days a year. Together, we will make universal human rights and equality a reality. One way you can help is to make sure that your local is well represented at the CUPE Ontario Women’s Conference in March, an important event for the continuation of our equality work in the New Year.