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Organizing in Your Local Community: Voice in Conversation with Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Ontario Regional Director Erin Harrison

What are labour councils and what do they do in their communities?

EH: Labour councils bring together local union members in a given geographic area to discuss working class issues and how, working together in solidarity, they can tackle the challenges facing their communities. As of today, the CLC charters 40 labour councils in Ontario.

Every labour council is democratic (much the same as local unions), making decisions and taking direction through both their executive boards and members. The councils meet once a month.

Over and above advocating on behalf of workers in their communities, labour councils also form partnerships with non-profit organizations such as the United Way, community shelters, food banks, and others.

Labour councils represent workers’ interests with local government, municipal councils, boards and commissions on a daily basis. By bringing together local unions they are able to perform activities including (but not limited to) combating austerity, providing strike support, organizing community campaigns, hosting local educationals, organizing local events (such as the Day of Mourning, Labour Day etc.) and raising funds for local community not-for-profit organizations.

How relevant are labour councils to community organizing today, given that they were started more than 60 years ago?

EH: Labour councils are the grassroots of the labour movement as a whole. They have not only adapted with the ever-changing times, but also help the labour movement keep an ear to the ground.

The CLC recognizes the important work labour councils do in advocating for working class people in their communities. Great examples of recent labour council activism include combating anti-union legislation (such as Bills C-377 and C-525 introduced by the Harper government), rallying against austerity measures such as attacks on unions and reductions in public services, lobbying local government on the need to expand the Canada Pension Plan, getting “living wage” policies passed through their local municipalities and assisting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Canada.

How did you get involved in the labour movement?

EH: Funny enough, my activism was rooted in my own labour council (Durham Region) where I was a delegate on behalf of my home union (then CAW, now Unifor, Local 222).

Shortly after being elected a delegate to the labour council, I was elected the first (ever) Youth Member-At-Large on the labour council’s Executive Board. It remains a position to this day.

The labour council nourished my activism and yearning to learn more about the labour movement. It gave me opportunities to work as an organizer on member-to-member political campaigns and sent me to various conventions on the labour council’s behalf.

Through these opportunities and with my home union’s support, I grew as an activist and as a strong member of my community. Today I’m honoured to be the youngest female director at the CLC, and I attribute many of the skills I have to do the job to my labour council activism.

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