Day Two Convention Diary From a Young Worker and New Delegate

November 26, 2014

Young worker and new delegate Michelle Wijesinghe submitted this entry to our members’ convention diary.  

When presented with the possibility of attending the 56th biennial BC Federation of Labour convention, I jumped on the opportunity and applied to be a youth delegate with my union, MoveUP. I instantly knew how valuable this type of experience would be to my understanding of the labour movement. However, I didn’t how much of an impact I could have on my community and workers in other unions until getting here. I can’t even contain my excitement for the rest of this convention!

Let me give you the rundown of day two of this already life-changing experience.

7:30 a.m. – I started my second day of convention attending a breakfast graciously hosted by United Way of the Lower Mainland, a non-profit organization dedicated to social change and bettering the lives of seniors, children and familes. I learned about the partnership between the UWLM and the Canadian Labour Congress that trained union members to help their colleagues deal with the everyday stresses of life in the workplace. This training happens through the union counseling program, offered at the CLC’s annual Winter School. This, along with a lovely breakfast with my MoveUP sisters and brothers, started my awesome day off right!

9 a.m. – Convention begins. Current BC Fed President Jim Sinclair started the day off telling delegates that inequality is the root of all evil. I’m really enjoying witnessing fellow union activists taking to the floor, debating and discussing issues of concern to all working British Columbians. The process of resolutions being carried or defeated took some getting used to, but I love every minute of it now that I’ve gotten the hang of it. What stood out for me was Resolution GE57, which yielded unanimous support from all speakers and delegates advocating for more education and funding for mental health. I am a big supporter of mental health awareness and I see the need for mental health initiatives and support at all levels of government—provincially, nationally and globally. It’s encouraging to that sentiment echoed here at the convention.

10 a.m. – Trish Hennessey, Director of the Ontario Canadian Centre for Policy Alternaties, delivered an eye-opening speech on how important it is for us as a movement to stand together in solidarity with each other, and with other social justice movements. After 104 years of the BC Fed standing up for workers, we still stand strong and are working to build strength from here!

10:30 a.m. – The BC Fed Executive Council and Treasurer reports were interesting as well. Several presidents of affiliate unions took to the floor to outline their biggest concerns in the workforce. Whether they were advocating for more public education, for more outreach by the labour movement, or bringing attention to the closing of two Langley transition houses for women and children I saw all these speakers had the following things in common: Passion. Conviction. A desire to empower others. It was truly an inspiration to my own passion, conviction and empowerment as I go forward with my activism in the labour movement!

My favourite part of the day, though, would have to be the lunch-time rally for a $15 minimum wage. Mayor Gregor Robertson stood up in support of the campaign. We heard from a worker who struggles to get by on the current minimum wage, Jim Sinclair, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, among others. The energy displayed by the crowd—despite being soaked by the pouring Vancouver rain—was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.

2 p.m. – Another inspirational speaker, President of the CLC, Hassan Yussuf, gave a fantastically detailed speech on the state of the Canadian labour movement and the challenges workers face. Hassan touched on important topics such as public health care, pensions, education,  anti-union bill C-377, child care, and double digit unemployment rates for young workers, to name only a few. All relevant and pressing issues, and they all hit home.

3 p.m. – Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs gave a poignant talk on the marginalization of the indigenous peoples in B.C., with which I deeply empathized. What stood out for me was his priorities in life—it’s so much more than shareholder interests, more than that second big screen TV or Range Rover. Life is about the legacy we leave for our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children. It was so powerful and so very true.

Being a first time delegate, this gathering of strong-minded labour activists is empowering, educating and activating to me as a young worker and a woman of colour. It gives me a path to use the strength I have to stand up for my rights, my colleagues’ rights and all workers’ rights. What’s standing out for me so far is that British Columbian workers can make change in our worksites and our province. We’re facing a hostile government that has caused a lot of damage but we can and will make change because we matter. I’ve heard the phrase “together, we are stronger” countless times in my life, but this phrase has never rung as true to me as it does today. I feel privileged to be a part of this movement, sitting in this convention with these incredible people who are stopping at nothing to stand up for the rights of B.C. workers. I hope to have the opportunity to do the same.

…and just think, it’s only the second day! Thank you to MoveUP for giving me the opportunity for the experience of a lifetime. I’m grateful and I can’t wait to see what comes next!