On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Cory Weir and Mike Mutimer. They are rank-and-file auto workers in Oshawa, Ontario, and they are among the founding members of the Unifor Solidarity Network, a new network of rank-and-file workers within Canada’s largest private sector union.
Unifor formed in 2013 with the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The union’s more than 300,000 members therefore work in a wide range of different sectors and in communities across the country.
Weir and Mutimer are not just members but are actively involved in Unifor and in the broader labour movement. Weir is on the young workers’committee in his local and on Unifor’s Durham Regional Environment Council, and he is the young worker rep on the Durham Region Labour Council. And Mutimer is a member of the education standing committee of Unifor Local 222 and executive member-at-large of the Durham Region Labour Council.
Over their years of involvement, Weir and Mutimer have had lots of opportunities to have informal conversations with other rank-and-file union members, whether that’s on the shop floor where they work, at meetings within their local, at meetings of Unifor-based or broader labour movement bodies beyond their local, at conventions, or on social media. And in the course of all of that, they’ve seen a growing discontent among Unifor members. For some people, that discontent has focused on the decision by Unifor to accept tiered wages in their auto contracts — meaning new hires make significantly less and have much less access to benefits than long-time workers. For others, their concern has been the choices that Unifor has made in recent years about how to relate to elections. And for still others, it’s more about what they see as the top-down culture within Unifor that discourages critical participation and debate. And the list goes on.
In response, Weir, Mutimer, and a number of other Unifor members decided that what they needed to do was create some kind of space in which rank-and-file members of Unifor could engage in debate and discussion outside of the formal structures of the union. To that end, they founded the Unifor Solidarity Network. At the moment, it exists mainly as a website — solinet.ca. They’re looking to publish pieces by Unifor members from across the country and from all different sectors talking about the issues in their workplaces and their locals, and contributing a wide range of perspectives on the big questions facing Unifor and the labour movement as a whole.
The network is deliberately horizontal in its structure and open to a wide range of ideas. The founding members committed the network to a few general principles — rank-and-file democracy, working-class politics, and bargaining positions that will enhance solidarity — but they interpret those deliberately broadly, and they welcome contributions to the site that disagree, debate, and discuss. They hope that over time this will foster a culture of political engagement and active involvement among a broadening layer of rank-and-file workers. In the longer term, they hope that the Unifor Solidarity Network can eventually become a way for rank-and-file members across different sectors and locals to discuss issues, support each other, and advance positions within the broader union that can improve workers’ ability to take effective action in the face of the very real challenges confronting workers and unions in this age of neoliberalism and of the rise of the alt-right.
Weir and Mutimer speak about the issues facing Unifor and the labour movement today, and about what they hope the Unifor Solidarity Network can accomplish.
[PLEASE NOTE: Most episodes of Talking Radical Radio are published both here and on Rabble.ca. To my surprise, Rabble declined to publish this week’s episode, so you will only be able to find it here.]
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.
The image modified for use in this post was taken by Rob Brucker and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.