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President's Column Fall 2016

A Message From the President

A Union isn’t easy, and it isn’t supposed to be. If a Union was easy, then most workers would be Unionized and the modern Union movement would be much older than its current 200 years. But that isn’t the case.

No, a Union is hard work. It involves gathering together hundreds and thousands of individuals who are willing to work together for the same goals. These individuals come from different backgrounds, have different expectations, personalities, and life plans. And to top it off, most will have a different interpre­tation of what the final goals are and how they should look.

Because of all these variables, a Union can be challenging. As Union leaders, we often talk about solidarity, which is essential when we face down fish processors or hotel owners or big corporations or the federal and provincial government.

But solidarity within the Union is a different issue altogether. Solidarity within the Union can be much harder to achieve. And this is because a Union gives a stronger voice to thousands of individuals who would not have a strong voice were it not for the Union.

Some people might think that a Union is about the joint sacrifice of its members; that everyone must move to the same lowest common denominator. Those who oppose Unions would like to see us divided. But we must remember that the best outcome for our members is achieved through collective action, not by those solely motivated by individual interests. A Union is about joint opportunity, about achieving together what would be impossible to achieve alone.

There is power in the Union when we work together to create and defend good jobs.

Newfoundland and Labrador has been a fishing province and a poor province for much of its history and those two facts are not unrelated. For centuries, fish harvesters lived under the thumb of merchants/processers, forced into an endless cycle of poverty and dependence while the merchant/processer got rich. And then the Union was formed in the late 1960s and that cycle started to end. Now we view harvesting work as good middle/upper-middle class work. Harvesting jobs are to be preserved and cher­ished, not sacrificed to new technology or industry.

There is power in the Union when we fight to save a fishery that drives the economies of coastal communities.

The two most valuable fisheries that this province has ever known – crab and shrimp – are the result of the work of the Union. Without the effort, organization, and voice of the Union, the crab fishery in NL would look much different today and the inshore northern shrimp fishery may not exist. Billions of dollars of wealth have been added to this province because of the work the Union did on these two fisheries.

There is power in the Union when harvesters and plant workers unite.

If FFAW leadership and members, both harvesters and plant workers, had not organized a fight back against the Raw Material Shares in crab, hundreds of millions of dollars would have been removed from harvesters and the fabric of our province permanently changed. The error in judgement by government at the time would have transferred power and wealth from harvesters to processors.

I understand that some might look at these accomplishments, scoff at them, and announce that he or she could have done better. Well, the bottom line is that the individual harvester could not accomplish these things, not for him or herself and not for a group. Some processing companies would never care about an individual harvester without the Union’s presence to provide a harvester with leverage. It is only when we act together that we achieve equality.

In Article II of the FFAW Constitution, it states that one of the objects and purposes of the Union is to improve wages and fish prices. As the President of this Union, there are few greater responsibilities.

For fish harvesters, how do we improve wages and fish prices? On a basic level, we negotiate prices every year through dedicated committees made up of fish harvesters. However, this is just one part of a much larger process.

The FFAW has continually pushed to ensure harvesters get a fair share of the market, important conditions for sale and workers compensation for our members. The minimum price facilitates the upward trend in wharf prices; without a minimum price, harvesters would be negotiating (likely downwards) against each other.

Fish prices mean nothing without access to quota, for which we fight very hard. Our recent successful campaigns on LIFO, Gulf halibut, and the 115,000mt of northern cod speak to our commitment to ensure our harvesters have quota.

Our work for better wages, working conditions, benefits, and safety in a fish plant does not under­mine our work to secure quota and high prices for harvesters. The two are completely unrelated.

The benefits of having a larger unified voice is invaluable. Many processing companies would revel in a more fragmented industry.

In today’s society, big corporations attempt to use their power to weaken worker rights. Unions are crucial to countering this agenda and ensuring that both Union members and our communities benefit from the wealth produced by the resources on our doorstep. We cannot lose sight of this.

Harvesters and plant workers fighting side by side has a proven track record.

We may not always agree on tactics, but we will always make space for discussion and debate.

Working together gets results for our members. Let’s focus our efforts on achieving our collective goals. As members of our proud Union, you deserve nothing less.