The Labour Education Centre (LEC) in Toronto is passionate about how unions and communities should come together to respond to the current economic crisis and how it is affecting their communities and organizations. On June 8-10, Highlander and the LEC co-sponsored a conference in Toronto entitled “Connecting Struggles, Movement Building.” The organizers and facilitators for the event included an amazing group of Toronto area educators and organizers as well as Jojo Geronimo, a member of the LEC staff and the Highlander Board; Susan Williams, Coordinator of Highlander’s Education Team; Elandria Williams from Highlander’s Education Team; Deborah Rosenstein, a Labor Educator at the University of Minnesota; and Rosalyn Woodward Pelles, a member of the Highlander Board and Director of the Civil, Human & Women’s Rights Department of the AFL-CIO.

Participants at the Connecting Struggles, Movement Building Conference; June 2009.
Participants at the “Connecting Struggles, Movement Building” Conference;
June 2009.

The conference was an incredible three-day gathering of a diverse group of over 100 people including representatives from unions and central labour bodies, migrant workers centers, workers’ action centres for people without jobs, neighbourhood groups and social justice organizations, and progressive academics.

In the face of the current economic melt-down, very immediate organizing struggles energized the event: demands for training and adjustment services for laid off workers; campaigns for reform of Employment Insurance and for good jobs and fair wages; organizing for the rights of temporary and contingent workers and all migrant workers, like those in domestic and agricultural employment; and neighbourhood, housing and anti-poverty groups organizing to meet spiralling cost of living. The conference was organized around three popular education workshops:

Participants in each workshop were not only presented with inspiring content and practical tools, they were also challenged to “truly connect” with each other’s struggles and see how they are all interrelated. Stories, skits, singing, educational tools, tears, laughter, posters, and even supporting one group’s press conference on the second day, helped provide energy and space for sharing across very real differences that keep people from building strong alliances.

One evening during the event, the Labour Education Centre hosted a wonderful Highlander fundraiser, with music, art, and testimonials. Highlander has had contact with popular educators, researchers, labor organizers and others from Toronto for many years,, so this helped to renew some old ties and began to build new connections. Highlander folks were amazed and inspired to see a crowd of people who know of Highlander and wanted to support our work.. It was a wonderful testament to how the ideas of popular education can cross borders that often serve to keep people apart.

The conference marked the beginning of an 8-month process to support the local work of groups and encourage movement building. Support will be provided by a team drawn from practitioners, educators, and academic allies. In Fall 2009, participants will reconvene to continue their alliances by working not only on their own campaigns but also by supporting each other. In Winter Spring 2010, participants will consult with each other to share their findings/insights and to develop their own framework and action tools, using what they have learned and shared from each other and the support group. Finally, in March or April 2010, Highlander and LEC will co-sponsor a one day conference during which participants will share their experience of learning, sharing and doing. Experiences and models emerging from the program will then be compiled, published and shared during the rest of the year to continue the building of a movement for the long haul!

Pictures from the event are available here.