As leaders in the trade union movement, we are constantly reflecting on how we can make the world a better place for workers. In Canada, we do this partly by ensuring we have a robust collective bargaining process, and bringing as many workers into our union as we can. We also do this by speaking out against issues that negatively impact our members and other workers, and partnering with social justice movements.
Our vision of solidarity can have influence here at home, but also around the world. We work around the globe with unions and social movements with shared values, and how we can best help varies from place to place. In Colombia, for example, where authorities can be complicit in human rights violations against trade unionists, the best strategy is to lend our voice in the form of letters or high-level meetings. In India, our partner organization needs resources to continue to work with marginalized workers, so we provide financial assistance. Both approaches are valid, because we listen to what our partners need. Sometimes, what our partners need is for us to bear witness to the struggles and triumphs of our fellow human beings.
I will have the privilege of going on a journey to do just that at a major event in July, accompanying the Stephen Lewis Foundation on a delegation to Swaziland and South Africa. I will bring the collective voice of our 70,000 members to speak in solidarity with the brave workers of the AIDS movement in Africa. The trade union movement played an important role in the fall of apartheid, and so our role in social struggles is recognized throughout the region.
We will have a busy schedule of meetings and events. Our delegation will arrive in Swaziland, where we will visit projects by Swaziland for Positive Living (SWAPOL). The organization was co-founded by a public union member, who herself was diagnosed with HIV, and continues to work tirelessly to better the lives of those infected. Siphiwe Hlophe has visited our union twice, and I am thrilled to be able to see her work firsthand. She and her amazing group of women are an inspiration to continue our fight here in Canada through partnerships with groups such as Positive Living BC.
We will also spend some time with the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA – Manzini). This project is born from a group of women who came together to provide support for women who were victims of gender–based violence. They have expanded their programming to look at building capacity in the police and judicial system to change the patterns of abuse. We can learn from their holistic approach to tackling a systemic problem.
I am also honoured to be representing the BCGEU in the Grandmothers' March in Durban, South Africa, during the International AIDS Conference, the first one held in Africa since 2000 (www.aids2016.org). We anticipate having over 1500 grandmothers, as well as members of the historic Black Sash movement from South Africa, marching to the steps of the centre where the conference is being held. Stephen Lewis will be speaking, along with other prominent AIDS activists and UN officials.
The Grandmothers' organization began as a front-line response to HIV/AIDS , but now works on prevention and advocacy, gender equality work, capacity building and much more. We can be proud of our longstanding support for this organization, which is changing the face of human rights in sub Saharan Africa.
This visit will help our delegation understand the struggles of people with HIV-AIDS worldwide, and reaffirm our commitment as a trade union to supporting the causes of all workers and the marginalized. Solidarity knows no borders!