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Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-Ibarra

Mildred Caldo: Organizing and empowerment

by Levy Abad

      Mildred Caldo
Mildred Caldo

Thinking about women trade union leaders, organizing, and empowerment, an activist sister and friend came to mind and her name is Mildred Caldo of Workers United. According to the Workers United Canada Council’s (WUCC) website, “Workers United represents more or less 10,000 workers across Canada, and 100,000 more across the United States.” They have members who speak over 50 languages and who work in a wide range of industries.

During my years as a coordinator for Migrante Manitoba, a Filipino Migrant organization with several chapters here in Canada, I met Mildred Caldo in several meetings about the issues concerning migrants and workers’ rights in Winnipeg.

Mildred arrived in Winnipeg in 2006 from Batangas, a southern Luzon province of the Philippines, and part of an economic enclave called Calabarzon (Calabarzon is a showcase of neoliberal economic policies in the Philippines). Much to my surprise, Mildred confided that she volunteered for the Kilusang Mayo Uno labour centre (KMU) (May First Movement). I was also a member of KMU’s cultural arm, Tambisan sa Sining or Interaction in Arts. Mildred’s first job in Canada was unionized and she became actively involved in helping co-workers with their issues and concerns. After three months, the Union Rep asked her to become a shop steward. Since then, her union sister Abs Diza, a Union Rep, sent her to several trainings and courses related to unionism.

Social relevance of unions

Most people in the community, except for shop stewards and other leaders, are not aware that the workers are the ones creating wealth with their labour power and their organized strength. Mildred explained that the “union is important because it was created to help workers fight for fair wages and safe workplaces, to be treated with dignity and respect by their employers. I truly believe that when workers unite or come together, they can make an impact on everyone’s well-being.” The workers, therefore, through their social practice, shape their relevance in society.

Strike and transformation

On the role of the strike as a tool of change, Mildred explained, “Yes, I have experienced different kinds of strikes and demonstrations. The most memorable were the Tim Hortons strike downtown and the Freed and Freed Garments strike. I witnessed the unity of all the union organizations, including the Manitoba Federation of Labour and the Winnipeg Labour Council. Despite the challenging weather conditions during the Tim Hortons strike, the workers fought for their rights and made their voices heard. During the Freed and Freed Garments strike, I organized and supported the workers in fighting for a better contract. I was inspired by their courage and determination. I have also joined and supported other union strikes, volunteered as an NDP candidate, and served the Filipino community at the Philippine Consulate from 2008 to 2012.”

Trade unionism and consciousness

Mildred noted, “Some of the union courses I have taken include Shop Steward Training, Mel Myers labour conference and training (various courses), Canadian Labour Congress training (Negotiation Cycle), and inside organizing school in Washington. In 2014, I received an Activist Award from Workers United Canada Council, and in 2015, I received the Volunteer Organizer Award from WUCC.”

Inspirations to serve

Since the General Strike of 1919, the labour movement has produced a lot of great working-class leaders worthy of emulation. Through the years, especially in times of crisis, the labour movement has served as a shield in protecting and advancing workers’ rights and welfare. For this, Mildred expressed her admiration for the following people, “Barry Fowlie, our former Canadian Director, who unfortunately passed away before the Canada Goose Company workers were certified as part of Workers United; Vas Gunaratna, a Union Rep, and Canadian Director, also inspired me to help and educate workers about their rights; Norma Rae, a single mother who bravely organized her workplace despite the dangers. Lastly, Mary Kay Henry, the female International President of SEIU, with over two million members in the US and Canada, is a true labour union activist. They all motivate me to fight for workers’ rights and make a positive impact.”

Mildred ended the interview with a quote, “United we stand, divided we fall! Union is Strength! We are Workers United no matter what!” Pretty basic but powerful! This quote says it all!

Levy Abad authored a book titled Rhythms and Resistance: Narrative of Filipino Musicians and Activists (1972-1994). Levy is also a singer-songwriter, poet, and migrant rights activist who has released four albums centred on the life and struggles of migrants.