At the Good Jobs Summit in Toronto, about 1,000 people from across the country gathered over the weekend to examine that question, hear expert commentary and contribute to the dialogue around the employment challenges affecting millions in our country. They also set forth possible solutions toward establishing a more just society with greater job opportunities for all.

In the spirit of that dialogue, rabble asked a diverse group of five people about the issues raised at the summit and what they meant to them. Here’s what they took away from the three-day gathering.

Amanda Cope, fourth year student majoring in Political Science and Labour Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario:

“I was in a group with a lot of young students which was actually really surprising and nice to see. We ended up talking a lot about needing to be involved in the community and broader than just within the union — kind of coalition building and getting students involved and getting younger adults, younger workers and older workers as well as a lot of racialized minorities, immigrants that are often forgotten or left out and don’t really know how to participate in a union. They don’t know unions exist, they don’t know legislation protects them.”

George Butters, based in Fredericton, N.B., Atlantic representative and member of the board of The Canadian Freelance Union, a community chapter of Unifor:

“The only way that freelancers are going to be successful as a group is by banding together. We need more of us. Four hundred members is great but 4,000 would be better. Forty thousand — now we’re starting to get somewhere. If we had 40,000 members, now politicians are starting to pay attention to us.”

Janet Rodriguez, member of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, at Ryerson University in Toronto, and a disabled woman of colour:

“The major point is the rate of unemployment of persons with disabilities in Ontario is — some people say 45 [per cent] some people say 55. But those are only counting the persons who are actively looking for work and couldn’t find it. A lot of people just gave up. That brings it to an estimated 78 per cent of the people. What I take away from the conference is that we need to be part of the conversation. We need to be identified as a problem so that people can start thinking about the solutions. If we don’t talk about the elephant in the room, it’ll always be there.”

Jackie McIntosh, senior electronic news gathering editor at CTV TV in Toronto, member of Unifor Loc. 79M, and a racialized worker:

“When I saw Van Jones today — they showed the clip of him with the coders (#YesWeCode) and the hoodie situation, where you think about how America or anybody has this perception of young workers not being able to do something very well and they can if given the chance, if they’re given the opportunity to do it. I just thought about how, since the new economy has come about since 2008, and how so many young workers are able to do better, and be able to have a job and do okay in this world that we’re living in now. And they’re not given the opportunity to do that now. It’s not just the one per cent, but it’s the ones that don’t want to take care of what they should be taking care of. Being honest, not being big company jerks and trying to opt out of helping who they can. They have access to do it and they don’t. That just makes you feel like we can make sure that we can do it. We can be able to take care of everybody.”

Emily McFarlane, has a diploma in Child and Youth Care Counselling at Mount Royal University in Calgary toward a degree in Child Studies and works at a coffee shop:

“I think coming into the summit, not being directly connected to a union, the big picture stuff was really hard for me to see. And the stuff that was kind of out of my realm of studying and working blinkers — it was really eye opening. You could see that it’s not just my class or my coffee shop that has this problem. It’s closer to nation(al), possibly worldwide, and to notice how systemic it happens to be. I think that speaks a lot to the isolation that we feel as precarious workers. I don’t think I would have ever labelled myself as such before coming here. I think I would have just said, ‘I’m working at a dead-end job but I’m going to get out of there soon.’ However, being there for six years should tell me differently. I think there needs to be some sort of shift in how that’s addressed and where that’s addressed and what that means for the future.”

Claudio D’Andrea has written for newspapers and magazines in Ontario and B.C. for almost 30 years and is a member of Unifor Local 240 in Windsor, Ontario.