Solidarity in a world without Borders: Guiding principles for the CAW - Social Justice Fund
The CAW has a long and proud tradition of involvement in social, economic and political issues beyond the boundaries of Canada and beyond the immediate interests of our members, but in support of human, economic, trade union and political rights. The social unionism that always characterized our union within Canada has been equally at play in our work elsewhere. Three of the most notable struggles with which we became identified were the United Farmworkers in California and the struggle of South African trade unions in the era before apartheid was finally defeated and democracy and trade union rights in several Latin American countries. The underlying principle was the clear one of solidarity: whatever our condition and circumstances, all workers share common problems and goals, and if we could help working people elsewhere achieve some of the victories we have already won, that would be a victory for international workers' solidarity. In a real sense, this is the labour response to globalization--an understanding of the links that bind people around the world as a counter-balance to ever-increasing corporate dominance.
To enable us to expand these kind of activities, in Big Three bargaining in 1990, we won an agreement whereby the Big 3 auto companies, and later on other companies, fund on a per capita basis, a CAW-Social Justice Fund. This Fund to be used mainly to provide emergency humanitarian relief, development support in third world countries as well as training and education mainly with trade unions. (Fifteen percent, however, is dedicated to domestic needs, and we have been aiding food banks, women's shelters, and other important social issues in Canada). The most recent round of Big 3 bargaining saw this amount increase considerably, which makes this an opportune moment to review our past projects and establish guidelines for the future to help determine how we distribute these funds. We can't begin to meet all the requests we receive however worthy, let alone launch the kinds of initiatives we would like. We need criteria to help us choose.
The principles behind our Fund are clear: first we should focus on providing support where others won't. In negotiating our SJF we did not set out to establish just another non governmental organization. We identified an unmet need in social justice work and a way to meet it. We concentrate on helping working people, on aiding free, independent, democratic trade unions, and on supporting progressive causes that challenge social injustice.
Most foreign aid money from the north to the south does not target these areas. It is left to a relatively small number of organizations like the CAW-SJF to fill the vast gap that's left. What's important to understand is that if we don't provide funds, then groups of working people and those fighting for human, economic, trade union and political rights are unlikely to get funding anywhere else.
A priority of CAW is to have the work of the SJF be known and regarded with pride by CAW members and we will involve CAW leadership and activists in the work of the SJF at every possible opportunity.
Through education and worker exchanges we'll confront the system that tries to divide workers as if we were groups of competitors instead of men and women struggling to feed and house our families and live in dignity.
This is not just a North to South exchange of resources and solidarity. We have much to learn and be inspired by in the struggles of our sisters and brothers in other countries for a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Within those overriding principles, it's possible to divide our work into three basic categories:
1. Emergency and humanitarian need
2. Development projects
3. Trade union education and training.
There are emergency situations that threaten the lives of working families around the world, including our trade union sisters and brothers that our SJF is uniquely poised to respond to.
One area that distinguishes the priorities of our SJF is the analysis we bring to our humanitarian responses. While it is nearly impossible to keep up to the latest catastrophe or disaster, from the earthquakes in Turkey to the floods in Bangladesh to the tornadoes in Honduras (and the many that never get reported at all) they all share two characteristics. They have all been made more severe by the environmental crisis. And in every case, the most serious victims are the poor, those who can only afford to live in unsafe areas in inadequate shelters and who then have access only to minimal health facilities. Behind virtually every so-called natural disaster that we hear about, greed has made the disaster worse and the poor suffer far more than the better off. Although this analysis rarely appears in the media, our response to these tragedies is based on social and trade union solidarity, not charity, the understanding that power, race and class are at the heart of the matter. With the overriding principle of our SJF being our focus on the needs of people we will prioritize work that addresses the cause of the crisis as well as immediate human need.
In terms of development projects our focus is on mostly small-scale microeconomic projects. But here too there are principles that can help us identify which ones to assist. Development workers over the years have learned three key rules.
A. It is better to teach someone how to farm than to give them some food: that way, they will have a new skill and can soon become less dependent on outside support. This includes such areas as health as well, where helping people establish their own clean water and proper sanitation will lead directly to better health.
B. Microeconomic projects work best from bottom to top: wherever possible we should work at the grassroots level with local people determining their own needs rather than have projects imposed from the top.
C. Involving women as central participants is indispensable to successful development, as has been proved repeatedly in country after country.
Following these three lessons would be appropriate criteria for the kind of work the CAW-SJF believes in.
Finally, training and education follow logically from what's already been said. Capacity-building of all kinds is needed throughout poor countries, but the kind of skills we as social unionists are able to pass on are rarely what's considered by other NGO's. Training and educating trade unionists in the same way we do with our own members, educating workers about unions and workers rights, training women in leadership skills, providing information about health and safety, educating workers of both sexes about solidarity and the unacceptability of sexual harassment and race or ethnic prejudice--all these are needs desperately waiting to be fulfilled but where potential donors are few.
Support is needed to ensure that human and trade union rights are defended against repressive regimes or when disaster strikes in workplaces or communities. The SJF will give priority to those proposals that stress the collective action of workers and their families to build democratic institutions in order to achieve more freedom.
Alternative economic systems that prioritize the rights of workers and their families instead of those of corporations and the rich are critical to achieving social justice. We will work with those organizations that are explicit in their critique of the effects of Structural Adjustment Plans.
While we use these as broad categories these are not always clear cut divisions and at times will overlap. For example, our multifaceted project in Mozambique around landmine clearance addressed a critical emergency in that country, it also trained unemployed workers to build prostheses and survivors of explosions to use them, which in turn makes them all more able to participate fully in their communities. At the same time, each new acre cleared allows small farmers and farm workers to return to the land to feed themselves and their families. Few other agencies involved in landmine clearance are engaged in as many aspects of the crisis, even though they are all interconnected, because few began as the SJF did, with a focus on the needs of working people.
In addition to these three basic categories we also need to set clear regional priorities to guide us but not to restrict us.
This hemisphere will remain a focus for our work because of the natural alliances that our proximity and shared struggles provide. A majority of the social justice work that we participate in already involves our sisters and brothers in the Americas. We will continue to reinforce those links.
In the broader world, we will build on our work in Southern Africa and expand that to include more of the continent with a renewed effort in Francophone Africa. Many aid organizations have either de prioritized their work in Africa or see the continent as worthy of support only when famine or other disasters strike. Our commitment is for the longer term in order to build our solidarity with peoples struggling to overcome the exploitation of their colonial pasts and the present day burden of their indebtedness to the IMF and World Bank. It is development not built in dependency that always drives our SJF work.
While this geographic focus will guide the projects we undertake through the SJF there will be other work taken on by the CAW in the role of the broader union. Work in the Asia Pacific region and the Asian Continent on issues that effect our members; work with the various Global Union Federations that we are affiliated to - in that regard our solidarity knows no borders.
Up to fifteen percent of the monies collected through the CAW Social Justice fund go towards domestic projects here in Canada. This is in addition to the very generous contributions CAW local unions and their members make to Canadian charities such as the United way.
We have established a tradition of supporting work in Women's Shelters, Food Banks and Refugee programs and will continue to prioritize that work as long as government programs leave serious gaps in our social safety net.
We will also prioritize those community organizations that are often not the recipients of corporate charitable fund raising. In this way we can truly fill a need that may not be filled without our SJF. Examples of this from the past few years have included homelessness and youth-at-risk projects.
Domestically, we will also choose partners with a view to linking their activities to the community work of our local unions. This way we can help nurture tangible links that can go on to forge real partnerships between groups who share the same neighbourhoods.
The broad criteria and rules we've outlined here will not cover all eventualities, and some flexibility is required in our procedures. But as a way of selecting worthy causes for our limited resources within the principles of the CAW-SJF, they will provide a helpful guide.