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Reprezentin’: finding courage in action at the Canadian Labour Congress
By  CMG  •  Posted on  June 1, 2008

It was my first time at a CLC convention. I was really impressed at the number of people in the room and the functionality of it. There is a certain energy that comes with 1,800 people fighting for the same cause. And we delegates from the CMG were treated really well– we were a small group and the Steelworkers took us into their fold.

I didn’t go into it thinking I would run for a position at the CLC. I was inspired first by the human rights event that took place on the first evening. Then, the next night there was a rally for the KI 6, the First Nations people arrested in Northern Ontario for trying to protect their land from mining. When I got there, they were playing a message from Robert Lovelace, the first nations activist and university professor who is in jail for fighting against uranium mining on traditional lands in Sharbot Lake, near Kingston Ontario.

“Without action, courage has no place to live,” Lovelace said.

I also think it can be said that without courage, there can be no action.

The next day, I heard there was a position of vice president on the CLC executive board to represent Aboriginal workers and I felt this is where I could be in action and make a difference. So I chose to run, not knowing absolutely anything about the process.

As soon as I voiced my idea to (CMG delegates) Lise Lareau, Scott Edmonds and Harry Mesh, they sprang into action to run a campaign. They helped me prepare a brochure about what I stand for and who supported my candidacy; they suggested we speak to the Steelworkers to get their support and to make sure they weren’t putting up a candidate.

It turns out there was a candidate for the seat from the Steelworkers by the name of Darren Patrick, but they didn’t mind at all that I was running for the position, too. I also knew that someone from CUPE was running, but didn’t know who. There were actually two positions available: vice president and alternate.

That evening there was a leaders’ forum in the Aboriginal Caucus, which is made up of the Aboriginal delegates to the CLC convention. There were about 15 of us in the room. I spoke first, Patrick spoke second and Joanne Webb, the candidate from CUPE spoke last. I was incredibly impressed with Patrick and Joanne. They have a lot of experience and commitment.

After we spoke, the caucus held a sharing circle. Everyone stood up, formed a circle and held hands. Each person was able to say whatever they wanted to say. We were then told that the election would be decided the next day by consensus among the candidates.

However, at the beginning of the next day’s meeting, CLC officials told us the vice-president and alternate positions would have to be selected through a vote of the caucus members. After some discussion in the caucus it was decided that the three candidates would talk about it amongst themselves and if we couldn’t reach consensus there would be a vote.

The caucus members exited the room, leaving us three candidates alone to talk and come to consensus. After a brief discussion we chose Darren as the vice president and Joanne as the alternate.

I really felt privileged that we were the only caucus allowed to choose a leader by consensus. I was committed to that outcome and there was no way I was going to have that slip away. I’m very happy with the choice we made and I think everyone in the caucus was, too. As well, there is a commitment from the CLC to change to voting process for the Aboriginal vice-president to reflect our culture, which is to choose a leader by consensus.

I gave Darren and Joanne my full support and said that I would do everything in my power to help them be successful in their new roles. We made a contact list of the caucus members and we are all in touch, sharing our accomplishments within our unions.

And there was another commitment: to bring more of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters to the CLC in three years to develop Aboriginal union leadership. I believe the Aboriginal community will be a huge force in the labour movement in the years to come as the youngest and fastest-growing population group. And the union offers us stability and decent wages. I want them to know that the union will back them, just like any other worker.

Pam Petrin is a vice president on the Guild’s location executive in Edmonton and a producer at CBC.

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