Unifor sets out long-term strategy at their convention

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Check out a Storify.com version of this story here. For live updates from convention, follow @rabbleca on Twitter. H.G. Watson is reporting from Toronto for the weekend.

With the business of officially forming the union out of the way, day two of the Unifor convention focused on defining Unifor going forward, with the help of some high profile speakers.

Author and activist Naomi Klein started things off, challenging the national executive board and delegates to make climate change a priority cause. "Climate change is not an 'issue' for you to add to the list of things to worry about it," she told delegates. "It is a civilization wake up call."

Klein pointedly ended her speech by reading Unifor's constitutional goals back to the audience, noting that she would only add one thing. "Don't say it if you don't mean it."

Comedian Mary Walsh also made an appearance in character as Marg Delahunty, roasting outgoing CAW President Ken Lewenza, CEP President Dave Coles and new Unifor president Jerry Dias.

Lastly, MP Olivia Chow made a short surprise appearance in the afternoon. Although she has yet to announce if she plans on running for the mayoral seat in Toronto, Dias made it abundantly clear that he supports her if she does.

The choice of speakers set the tone for an afternoon that saw Unifor leadership official unveil two of their cornerstone campaigns: a massive organizing drive and the introduction of community chapters.

Ten million dollars earmarked to organize new members will go towards initiatives like the creation of a national organizing office with presence in Quebec and specialist organizers. However, presenters continually emphasized that everyone in Unifor is now an organizer, encouraging delegates to promote the benefits of unionization everywhere. Members might only symbolically be organizers, but all their union dues will go towards practical union organizing efforts.

It was clear throughout the weekend that Unifor's organizing efforts are going to be focused primarily on one group: young people. Speeches throughout both days mentioned the frustration of young workers. And with many so called Millenials entering industries that don't have high union concentration, Unifor is eager to make in roads into an untapped demographic.

The community chapters effort appears to be their biggest move in doing so. Unlike the traditionally formed chapters, community chapters can be formed by workers who work in similar fields but who do not have a traditional office workplace. Roxanne Dubois, former president of the Canadian Federation of Students, presented the visioning paper on community chapters and explained that the idea was inspired in part by the Canadian Freelance Union, which organizes freelance writers throughout the country.

Tomorrow, we continue our coverage at the Toronto Labour Day parade!

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