bc federation of labour

BC Federation of Labour Women’s Rights Forum

Linda McQuaig, Veronica Strong-Boag and Me

by Jarrah Hodge

On Monday night I was honoured to be part of a panel at the BC Federation of Labour’s women’s rights forum during their biennial convention. The panel included Kelly Megyesi, Women’s Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada; UBC Historian Veronica Strong-Boag; and journalist/author Linda McQuaig. The topic was how women have fared economically under our current federal and provincial governments, as well as what the decline in union density means for women.

In addition to being on stage with these amazing women in front of a packed room, earlier in the day during the Women’s Rights Committee report (part of regular convention business), I’d seen so many women come forward to the microphone to share heartfelt and often heartbreaking personal stories on how they, their families, and friends have been affected by BC Liberal policies in particular. I was so moved by their honesty and courage so I went into the panel feeling excited and of course a bit nervous.

I took some notes on the panel, and I’ve also posted the text of the speech I delivered if you wanted to read that entire part.

So we started off with Veronica Strong-Boag, who gave some historical perspective to the situation we’re in today, using some of her own information and others’ research from a site called Women Suffrage and Beyond.

Strong-Boag said that she wanted to address the despair she often sees among feminist activist by telling stories of past women who have reached across boundaries and across difference to form coalitions:

“There are histories of resistance and partnerships and coalitions which I think are needed, in very dark days, to inspire us.”

She highlighted several remarkable Canadian women who have forged those histories, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a black woman born free in the United States who came to Canada to support the underground railroad. She also highlighted Agnes Maule Machar, a Christian socialist who wrote novels like “Roland Graeme: Knight” that tackled pressing social and political issues of the 1890s. Pauline Johnson, Flora Macdonald denison, and labour leader Grace Hartman also made Strong-Boag’s list of women reaching across boundaries. Finally, Strong-Boag cited Judy Rebick as an example of a contemporary feminist working “in this strong tradition of collaboration.”

Next, Kelly Megyesi talked about how federal government cuts are hurting women, drawing on her own experience working at an unemployment office. Megyesi pointed out that more than half of the federal government workers are women, mostly working in admin. With huge layoffs already starting, Megyesi said: “Women are losing good jobs, women are losing pensions and benefits.”

“They have decided to relocate thousands of other jobs – jobs they promised wouldn’t be affected.”

Sadly, Megyesi is one of the workers who’s been hit by that move, told that she could relocate or lose her job, even though most of her work is virtual. She said she doesn’t buy for a minute that the relocations will really save money. Megyesi made the difficult choice to refuse:

“It would have meant breaking up my family and leaving my elderly mother without any support.”

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

Recognize Immigrant Credentials

I just got home from spending three days at the BC Federation of Labour’s union renewal conference, which focused on strategies for fighting racism in our unions and workplaces and growing a more diverse labour movement. To see how the conference went, check out the liveblog/Tumblr here.

On the first day, Canadian Labour Congress Anti-Racism and Human Rights Director Karl Flecker gave a presentation about Canada’s changing labour force and why acknowledging our history and embracing anti-racism is essential for the future of our movement. To give some examples of the unique issues immigrants to Canada face, Flecker showed the following video produced by TRIEC (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council):

I think this ad is a concise and effective way of making the point about the injustice many foreign-trained professionals face upon coming to Canada. The irony is that many time Canada evaluates the same immigrants and admits them at least partially based on the fact that they have needed professional skills, but when they get here we put up all possible road blocks to them practicing the profession they’re trained in.

Watching the ad again on YouTube I came across the other 2 ads in the same campaign by TRIEC and thought I’d share them here.

The point is not to malign service jobs, but to point out the racism in the system that marginalizes new immigrants, especially immigrants of colour, and refuses to allow them employment commensurate with their experience.



Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Politics, Racism Leave a comment