Join us on October 15 to discuss health and safety in COVID-19.
Working people have always been taught to doubt their knowledge especially about their health and safety at work. Workers’s knowledge is based on experience and practice.
Knowledge activism is an inheritance from the movement of the 1970s. As workers achieved the right to know, the right to participate and the right to refuse, we learned to trust our knowledge. By the 1980s, we had learned that knowledge was not enough. Just confronting the employer with our knowledge does not always change things for the better. We learned to investigate and get help from sources who respected our knowledge and we could trust, from union HS&E depts, from organizations that included worker representatives like OHCOW, WH&SC, CCOHS, and from independent university researchers. We learned to develop strategies to engage the employer and government and to challenge them when needed.
They cannot solve the problem without our knowledge and we need strategy along with expertise and research that understands us to help get the solutions we need. For this you need knowledge activism.
This second part of our 2-part series will bring health and safety activists together to explore, find, and harness our inner knowledge activist self for the COVID-19 battle we are embroiled in. We will share struggles, learn from each other, and develop strategies to protect worker health and safety during the pandemic.
In Part 2 on October 15, we will delve deeper into challenges and opportunities in different sectors and develop strategies across unions by sector.
- About knowledge activism—the Context—Andy King
- Health and safety struggles in COVID-19: challenges and actions—group discussions
- Bringing together our strategies—multi-union panel and group discussion
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is the biggest health and safety challenge in recent years. Even the most experienced health and safety activists are left spinning up against a swiftly changing environment. Knowledge and science are hotly contested. Information changes daily, even hourly. What was good advice two months ago is now the opposite. And the pandemic spans not only health and safety, but also infection control issues. It involves public health authorities and governments in municipalities, provinces, Canada, and around the world. Fighting for safe and healthy workplaces in this fast-moving and competing environment is complex and difficult.
Yet health and safety activists in all unions are more active than ever. And the need to engage with each other within and across unions and share strategies to win is paramount. Pushing for workplace health and safety measures during a pandemic can literally save lives.
Success in health and safety is no accident. It never has been. Safe and healthy workplaces do not happen through the decrees of employers, regulators, and legal systems. They don’t happen because people are kind and want to protect workers. Progress occurs only through the struggles and actions that workers and activists take and too long after worker death, injury and disease. The road is hard and long. It helps if we see our role as more than the stewards of the legislated minimums of attending meetings and having eternal dialogue. Labour does not accept minimum wage or minimum employment standards nor should we accept minimum standards to protect our workplace health and safety. Success happens most when we are knowledge activists.
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