CAW: Celebrating 25 Years of Progress

August 27, 2010, 2:13 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza outlined the rich story of struggle, progress and determination on behalf of working people that mark the first 25 years of the union's history during his keynote speech to CAW/TCA Joint Council. 

"Where would people be without the CAW - where would our nation be without the CAW?" Lewenza asked during his speech in Montreal August 27. The union is celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Joint Council.

Lewenza looked back at the rank and file activism, leadership, the victories, campaigns, mergers with other unions, the growing diversity of the membership, organizing in almost every economic sector and in every province since the CAW split from the UAW in 1985.

The union was formed at a difficult time shortly before free trade with the United States would create so many additional challenges for workers. But Lewenza said the CAW took the issue on head on, as well as so many other issues, such as tax cuts for the rich, privatization, and deregulation.

But more than simply opposing the right wing agenda of big business and their government backers, the union fought for a set of important values including progress, respect, peace, dignity, equality and hope, he said

At the same time Lewenza looked ahead, making predictions regarding the continuing growth and development of the CAW in the next 25 years.

The forces of globalization and neo-Liberalism will continue to challenge workers in the years ahead, but the CAW will continue to fight back as it further builds a dynamic, democratic and progressive union.

"We are determined to strengthen our union," Lewenza said. "Our culture has unified us and motivated us."

In the context of that culture, the CAW will become more diverse over the next 25 years he predicted with more workers of colour, more women, younger workers, older workers, more workers from the office, technical and professional sectors.

It will also become more and more sophisticated in how it gets its message out using new technologies and new tools that connect with the members and will be at the cutting edge of involvement and influence in electoral politics. He stressed the importance of CAW locals building their Union in Politics Committees in mobilizing members.

Lewenza stressed that international solidarity will become increasingly important as CAW members take courage and inspiration from the struggles and sacrifices of workers from other countries. CAW members will support and learn from those workers around the globe, he predicted.

The union will face financial challenges in the coming years as it deals with the impact of a declining membership resulting from manufacturing job loss and the international financial meltdown of a few years ago.

But based on its well-defined culture of militancy, creativity and equality the CAW will continue to fight back on behalf of workers over the next 25 years, Lewenza said.

He reflected on a quote from the late Victor Reuther, a UAW founder and strong friend of the CAW, who discussed the nature of trade unionism.

"It's not easy being a trade unionist and social activist.but there is indeed joy in dedicating yourself to fighting for members here and abroad," Lewenza said.

"Let's go and build the next quarter century of our union's history," Lewenza concluded.

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