The power of organizing as students and the possibility it provides

Union activist and writer Nora Loreto speaks at Concordia about labour organizing and the strength collective power.

Every year the Concordia Student Union (CSU) organizes a speaker series, collaborating with guest speakers from outside the University. This year, they decided to tie the series in with their annual campaign on housing and labour. 

“Things we really want to do with this annual campaign is bringing this conversation up, and have it in public discourse,” said Julianna Smith, external and mobilization coordinator of the CSU. “It’s important to have speakers coming in from different perspectives to help relate to all the different facets of the Concordia population.” 

She notes that during COVID “we’ve had an opportunity where people are reflecting on their housing situations, their employment, and they’re recognizing that things don’t have to be as they are.” She notes the possibility of action that comes from that. 

Smith emphasizes that she “really wants to make sure that the speakers who come in really represent Concordia students and are interested.” 

Writer and activist Nora Loreto came to speak at Concordia on Oct. 18 about her experience as an executive of the Canadian Freelance Union (CFU). The CFU is an organization representing freelance communication, acting like lawyers for people who are not paid for their labour. The work people do within the union is based on skill. 

Loreto co-hosts the Sandy & Nora Talk Politics podcast and has written three books. Her latest book, Spin Doctors: How Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the COVID-19 Pandemic was nominated for the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction in 2022.

Her talk included themes of organization, collective power, and how we build collective power in the context of today and throughout COVID. 

The talk was about the objective of the labour relations regime in Canada and how we can restore power to that balance, or if it is time to completely replace it with something more radical.

Loreto began her talk by stating, “I come at the world through student-organizing eyes, and when you are a student you realize you have almost no power.” 

“You want to have power, you want to shut stuff down, you want to occupy buildings or offices, but you really don’t have much power, and worse than that you’re paying these people to put a boot to your neck.” 

Thus far, the CFU has not lost a single case. “We use the tactics of the labour movement in our union,” said Loreto. Her history as a manager of a unionized office informed her work. 

“Within liberal democracy, the way it is supposed to work is you have different actors that interact for the operation of the state,” she said.

Labour relations were codified in 1946, and in the years that followed that compromise collapsed with “more workers having fewer rights, fewer workers covered by unions, balancing work for profit.” 

“The really cool thing about being part of a student union in Quebec is we have the same legal recognition as a labour union, so it’s interesting to think about our academic labour relations in terms of labour relations,” noted Smith. 

Judging by the success of the event, to the questions asked during the Q&A, it is clear that the talk was much needed by the Concordia student community.

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