Solidarity at International Women's Day Luncheon

March 8 is International Women’s Day: a day to celebrate how much women have accomplished and to remind us that there is still much work to be done to achieve gender equality.

Women's Committee members with MPP Catherine Fife
MPP Catherine Fife with WRLC Women's Committee members

Saturday, March 5, 2016 marked the 3rd annual Women’s Day Luncheon sponsored by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Women’s Committee of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council. Held at the Unifor Union Hall in Kitchener, this luncheon was attended by over 200 women. Keynote speakers were Jean Walters of Unifor and Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife. All proceeds from the luncheon were donated to Anselma House, Haven House, and Mary’s Place in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Solidarity Forever!

As at many events where labour unionists gather, the IWD luncheon was closed with a rousing rendition of “Solidarity Forever” - but with the special addition of a Woman’s touch.

Unifor activist Jean Walters
Unifor activist Jean Walters

Written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915, it is perhaps the most famous union anthem. It is sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Old Republic”. When he wrote the lyrics to “Solidarity Forever,” Chapman was a writer and cartoonist for Solidarity, the official Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) publication in the eastern United States. Although written specifically for the IWW, other union movements such as the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) have adopted the song as well.

Since the 1970’s, women have added verses to “Solidarity Forever” to reflect their concerns as union members. One popular set of stanzas is:

We’re the women of the union and we sure know how to fight.
We’ll fight for women’s issues and we’ll fight for women’s rights.
A woman’s work is never done from morning until night.
Women make the union strong!

It is we who was dishes, scrub the floors and clean the dirt,
Feed the kids and send them off to school – and then we go to work,
Where we work for half men’s wages for a boss who likes to flirt.
But the union makes us strong!

A variation from Canada, which is appropriate for WLU today, goes as follows:

We’re the woman of the union in the forefront of the fight,
We fight for women’s issues, we fight for women’s rights.
We’re prepared to fight for freedom, we’re prepared to stand our ground,
Women make the union strong!

Through our sisters and our brothers, we can make our union strong.
For respect and equal value, we have without too long.
We no longer have to tolerate injustices and wrongs,
For the union makes us strong!

When racism in all of us finally out and gone,
Then the union movement will be twice as powerful and strong.
For equality for everyone will move the cause along,
For the union makes us strong!

Sheila Crowther is a member of the Wilfrid Laurier University Staff Association, which is unionized with OSSTF District 35, and affiliate of our Labour Council.

You can view many more photos from our event on our Facebook page.

Labour Council activist Scott Desjardins recorded and edited this excellent video of the event:

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