BURNABY—A new version of the “Creating Social Justice” course provided by CUPE’s Equality department is receiving accolades from the local members it targets.
First presented at the Union’s week-long school in June, where it was co-facilitated by B.C. Equality Representative Conni Kilfoil and CUPE National Diversity Vice-President (Workers of Colour) Yolanda McClean, the new training includes an “anti-oppression” component that heightens awareness of the many forms of societal prejudice that can creep into the workplace. Participants learn to recognize how privilege can blind union members to the negative impact of certain actions or behaviours on others, and how to anticipate and prevent such impacts.
Alistair Maduray and Bogdan Demidas, who attended the course at Kelowna’s UBC campus, strongly recommend it. The two CUPE 23 members have unique insight into the subject of oppression, having both immigrated to Canada in 1991 from countries under totalitarian rule (Maduray from apartheid-era South Africa, Demidas from Soviet bloc Poland).
“The course opened up a lot of people’s eyes, in terms of how perceptions play such a big part in how we think about each other. We oppress each other every day without even realizing it,” said Maduray, a labourer for the City of Burnaby’s Recycling department.
“We think we live in a great country here in Canada, and it is. But we have to be more self-critical about how we are not treating people equally, even in this country,” said Demidas, a pool janitor for Burnaby Parks and Recreation.
The two CUPE 23 members were impressed by how the course challenges those who take part. One exercise began with participants standing in a straight line before being asked a series of questions about their degree of personal privilege. With each ‘yes’ answer earning a step forward and each ‘no’ a step back, some participants stood far ahead of the others by the end of the exercise.
“People started to be more open, to think more about how they get information,” said Demidas.
Maduray noted that one union sister who began the course skeptical of oppression issues had completely turned around by the end the week.
“She was ready to go back to her employer and insist on changes in the workplace to recognize people’s rights,” he said. “If someone like this, who was so opposed to change in the beginning, could get it, then that’s amazing.”
The CUPE 23 members, who have both taken numerous courses through CUPE’s Union Education programmes, said they would be willing to draw from their own experiences in their countries of origin to assist in future anti-oppression training.
“With our backgrounds, we could be a huge source of information. People born here don’t have those comparisons [to oppressive state regimes] but we do, and are willing to share that,” said Demidas.
“Our union is moving towards a more diverse work force and membership, so we’ll need to train more people to understand the issues, and courses like this do that,” said Maduray.
“For the sake of social justice, we should be able to create an environment where we can facilitate small changes, starting at home. Change does not always have to be huge. It can be small, and that was Conni’s message: You may not change the system, but you can change people’s minds.”