I Am With You, Sisters!

Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada addressed delegates on the last day of the International/National Women’s Conference in Toronto, Ontario.

“I have had the privilege to be here over the last several days and hear the women of our great union – on both sides of the border – set out your plans and your ideas for how you will continue the struggle for women’s equality,” said Neumann.

“I want to say that I hear you. I support you and I am with you, sisters!”

Neumann credited the women of the United Steelworkers for the gains and progress USW has made on behalf of women workers.

“I am proud of all we have done and will do. I also recognize that men have a role – as supporters and as allies,” said Neumann.

Neumann highlighted the need to do more to end violence and harassment against women. Delegates applauded Neumann when he said that one of the ways the USW is answering the call to action is by joining the call for a National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

Neumann recognized the success of Women of Steel negotiating domestic violence leave into USW collective agreements.

Today, governments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario have passed laws providing all workers with domestic violence leave.

“But it began at the bargaining table,” Neumann noted. “This is a victory of women in the labour movement.”

Neumann cited the USW’s Be More Than a Bystander program that is training male Steelworkers to speak out against harassment.

“Ending violence and harassment is key, but it is not the full solution. Women’s equality is about the presence of respect and opportunity, not just the absence of violence and harassment,” he said. “That is part of what unions deliver and why the work of our union is so important.”

Neumann recounted his personal experiences visiting Bangladesh on the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed more than 1,138 garment workers, mainly women, injuring 2,500 others.

Visibly moved, with his voice breaking, Neumann told of how he was with the families who had lost loved ones at their first opportunity to visit the rubble of Rana Plaza.

“The families were standing in front, clutching photos of their loved ones. And what they were looking for was closure. Because after the collapse, the building was imploded. They were looking for DNA so they could have some kind of closure, but they didn’t get that,” said Neumann.

“Sisters, you are part of our union’s solidarity,” Neumann told the delegates. “We are stronger together.”

“For three days, this stage and this room has been full of smart, capable Women of Steel who are making our union and the world a better place. We need to see more women in union leadership. Our union will not be a success if we don’t,” said Neumann.

Neumann thanked the sisters for bringing dedication and energy to the conference and thanked delegates for all they will do in answering the call to action.

“Sisters, you have proven again that there is nothing stronger than a Woman of Steel!"

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