Transcript of Rank and File Radio – Prairie Edition audio of Basia Sokal’s resignation
at the Winnipeg Labour Council, Tuesday, March 19, 2019.
(asides, audience reactions, some repetition, and speech fillers omitted).
“I just wanted to talk about my report verbally. Normally, what I do is I report on what’s been going on in the last month, but I realized that I haven’t actually had an opportunity to talk about some of the things that have been going on over the term that I’ve been here for. And, I just wanted to tell everybody how I started here and how I ended up in this position and why I’m here.
And so, as you may know, I come from CUPW, that’s my home union and I’m a postal worker here…
But I was approached by several Brothers to run for this position… and I was actually on holidays in Hawaii when I got called and … at the time I wasn’t thinking about anything except for being on holidays because I had just finished a really gruelling term with CUPW; we had just gone through negotiations, a really, really tough round of bargaining. We have one of the most awful employers; I guess any ATU Brothers and Sisters are here, I know you guys go through some of the very similar things that we do. And I was just in holiday mode, I just wanted to enjoy time with my partner after basically working 18-hour shifts and I got tapped to run for this position by Brothers, as I mentioned.
And I thought it was odd because I wasn’t on the executive here and I was just a delegate, which is fine, I didn’t see a problem with that. But I wasn’t in the mindset to run for this position so I was very surprised that I was tapped for this position while I was on holidays and right before the term began.
So, over the last few years, it’s been an interesting ride; we’ve lost executive members, we’ve lost Unifor, which is huge, and I’m really thrilled that we do have those members that still come and join us because that’s what makes labour stronger… despite a decision of a few folks, you still continue to participate and I really value that and I think that’s very important.
But, over the last 2 years and especially within the last 12 months, within municipal cycles and all the campaigns that we’ve been running at the Council, it’s not been that easy. It’s not been that easy, especially because I’m a woman.
And we celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th and we talk about all the gains that women have made over the last 100 years, especially, we just had Danny coming talking about how the scene is quite similar to what it was 100 years ago and we just had Mark come and talk to us about how we need to be united and we need to prevail because these governments with their austerity-driven agenda, they’re coming after us.
And, so I think about that often in this position as a woman and especially in the month of March where we celebrate International Women’s Day. And I’ve actually started talking to a lot of Sisters in the movement, some who are here today and some who are not here, and some who are able to speak up and others who are not. And I wanted to be that voice for those women because, being in a progressive movement, in the last 12 months alone, I have seen and heard, and been experiencing some of the worst things that you could ever imagine, that anybody would experience in the labour movement.
And it breaks my heart that I feel the need to tell you this. But we need to do better, we need to do so much better because as a woman in this role, I feel that I was basically tapped so that I could be told what to do, because it would look good to have a female president at the head, it would look great if we have a woman in a position. And I know that that’s what happens on executives everywhere. And I don’t agree with that, I don’t think that we should be asking women to run for politics or executives anywhere if we don’t believe that they have some value to give and to participate in this movement.
I think that what’s happening federally at the Liberal level and we are so concerned about the treatment of the women in the Liberal party. Yet, I look at our own party, I look at labour, and I wonder. And I want to share with you some of the things that have been said to me, directly to my face, over the last 12 months. Because I think the only way to address some of the concerns and some of the things that have been happening (muffled)
Some people might call it dirty laundry and we’re told that all the time. And for the longest time I believed that it was dirty laundry and that I shouldn’t talk about this. But the only reason we call it dirty laundry is because the systems that are in place to continue to hold us down and to oppress us are meant to keep us silent and the only way we’ll move forward is if we call it out.
So what I want to do following March 8th is I want to call out some of the things that have been going on while I’ve been in this role. And I’ve got about 6 pages of things that have been said to my face that, I think, anybody in this room would be shocked, but I’m not going to read them all.
I actually had to start writing these down because I couldn’t believe how often and how frequently this was happening while I was in this role. So, I just ask for your attention for a couple of moments while I read some things that have been said to my face and I just want to mention that these were all said by Brothers. Brothers in the movement, brothers in labour.
• “We’ve always done things this way.”
• “Why don’t you just tell your executive how they need to vote, and we’ll tell you how they should vote.”
• “Why don’t you just quit?”
• “You women are all the same.”
• “If you don’t like what’s going on, why don’t you just leave?”
• “Pretty soon, there won’t be a Council with you at the head.”
• “I used to think you could work with us, but you’re just nuts.”
• “Why won’t you just listen to us?”
• “In this position, you’re going to have to do things you don’t like, and you don’t agree with.”
• “I’ve been asked to talk to you because maybe you can understand what’s expected of you if I explain it to you.”
• “You know, your life would be so much easier if you just do what they say. You won’t get as much grief.”
• “Why don’t you just do it our way?”
• “You know, there’s no such thing as democracy here.”
• “If you’re not on our side, then you’re on the wrong side.”
• “A good leader would tell their executive how to vote.”
• “Let me tell you a story about what happened to the last person that didn’t agree with us.”
• “Let us just handle it” (coming from a group of Brothers).
• “We’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive.”
And I’m not going to go much further after this one because it does get worse, but… “Nice tits.”
I’ve had to change the way I dress when I come into this building… yeah, that’s pretty disgusting, isn’t it?
And I’ve got lots more … and I actually can’t believe that this is going on in our four walls, in our movement, and we talked about electing women, electing people of colour. I look at my own executive and I find we’re a pretty pale group. We’re a pretty great group but we don’t have an Indigenous person or a person of colour any longer on our executive. Where are those voices? And when voices like women’s voices get silenced, how can any person that’s marginalized, person of colour, ever want to come forward?
We need to do better. I think this is absolutely disgusting. And I wanted to take this opportunity to open your eyes because maybe folks in this room have been part of these comments and part of these conversations. And it’s tiring, it’s exhausting to be in a position where you have to pretend that everything is fine. And everything is not fine because, as you can hear from these comments, this should not be happening in this movement. This should not be happening anywhere because we are the people in this room that fight against these injustices, and that we fight to do better but we’re not when this is happening, right here in our own walls.
And I urge you to challenge yourselves. If you hear this, call it out. If you see it, say something. I can’t understand in 2019 why we are okay with calling out governments on their actions and what they’re doing, but we are a part of this and we are not stopping it. And we sit on executives and we sit on committees, and I know for a fact that there are people in this room that stay silent when these things happen. Because I know, because I’ve been in the presence of groups of Brothers that laugh when they make these comments to my face, like it’s a joke.
And I see that everybody in the room is shocked. And they should be. And what’s even more shocking is that when I have come forward with complaints to individual union leaders or executives, I’m dismissed. I have put forward complaints to my own union. I have put forward complaints with the CLC and the NDP. The NDP has yet to respond to my complaints since December.
How are we going to be a government when this is what is going on here?
So, I just wanted to announce that, because of all of these degrading and disgusting actions, that I will be taking a leave and I will be stepping down because I don’t believe that I want to be a part of this any longer. This is not what I signed up to do. I don’t believe that I can continue being a part of these injustices and part of this system. The systems need to change and the only way they change is with us in this room. And I have tried to change these systems, I have tried to call these things out, and I just get roadblocked, everywhere.
So I don’t want to be a part of this system any longer. I want to go back to my job as a letter carrier, I want to help in the community, and I want to promote unions to folks that are un-unionized, that are underpaid, under-waged, under-anything, you name it, and tell them all the good things that unions can do for them. And I want to leave these comments in this room, in this building, and I want folks to realize how hurtful these things are, and not only for the people that just suffer from these, but for the people around us. I see you all staring at me like you’re in big shock and you should be.
Why are we allowing these things to happen? How are we actually going to have members join unions when they hear of things like this happening? Nobody’s going to want to join a movement or a union with these things happening. And that’s the saddest thing for me because I’ve been an active union member since I was fifteen years old, I grew up in a union household. And being part of a union is incredibly important for me. But this is not what I see in my union or in the labour movement. This is not what I want from labour movement.
And all the comments of “oh, you still work here,” “oh you still belong here,” or “you’re still on the executive.” People don’t realize what kind of an impact that has, I don’t know how many times because I can’t even count on one hand… if somebody asks “hey, is everything okay?” Is it that hard in the labour movement for people to actually ask “is everything okay, we didn’t see you at the last meeting.” Or, “hey, I heard something that was really terrible… is that okay, is that right?”
I am actually shocked that people from labour wouldn’t even recognize some of these things that I have said. The folks in the community are the folks that have supported me the most and I’m very happy to see some of the community members here today who agree that this is not right. And I want to urge you in making this a better Council because I don’t feel that I can be part of that any longer, the way that things have gone.
And that’s why I am stepping down. It’s not because I want to leave, it’s not because I don’t want to do this. I had a great vision when I came in and, for those of you that started on the initial executive with me, we had great momentum and we had some great work to do. And a lot of that got squashed with some of these comments and the bullying and the harassment that goes on behind the scenes. And the supporting of right-wing-centre, right-wing candidates.
And we have to ask ourselves, where are we going as a Council if we’re bullying union members into supporting candidates and agendas that are centre and right-of-centre? Because that’s how I feel things are going. And when you call that out, and if you’re in my position, you’re not on the right side, you shouldn’t be calling things out. And there’s something seriously wrong here. And I’m not sure how we’re going to fix that if we continue to degrade, humiliate and assault rank-and-file and leadership in our movement.
So, I just wanted to say thanks for the last 2 years. I’ve had some great folks that I’ve been able to work with. But I’m looking forward to the next possibly 2 months of my leave that I can take and hopefully finish up a few things here and still staying connected. And doing good work back in my own union where I’m hopefully going to be more supported than I was here. Because this isn’t the end of my activism. I’ve been challenged a lot but I believe in the labour movement and I believe that we can do better, and I want us to do better. But I just need somebody else to step up while I take time to work on myself. So thank you all for listening and thank you for being here. “