Directors’ Blog: What Labour Education Means to Me

Written by: Stephen von Sychowski, WELLS Director and Chairperson

This blog series is meant to cover general topics related to labour education. It is managed by our WELLS Directors

I first became engaged in activism back in 2000, and especially from 2001 onward. As a high school student, I co-led an anti-privatization campaign and then became involved in organizing a peace coalition in response to the war on Afghanistan and, later, Iraq. I spent the next several years involved in peace, solidarity, and other political activism.

It was 2007 when I got my first union job and became a member of MoveUP (then known as Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378). This was an exciting moment in my life both because I supported unions and knew I wanted to get involved, and because the pay and benefits provided by our collective agreement were literally life changing. But I had no idea just how life changing this moment would ultimately prove to be in so many other ways in the coming years.

If you had told me in 2007 that I would be a member of MoveUP’s Executive Board in a few years, I would have scoffed. If you had told me I would later become a full-time Union Representative responsible for grievances, arbitrations, and bargaining for hundreds of union members across a number of different employers, I would have laughed. If you told me I’d be president of a Labour Council, I probably would have backed away slowly. Then I signed up as a Job Steward, and my world began to change.

I was fortunate, as a young worker and new union activist, to have found myself in an exceptionally supportive and forward-thinking union. MoveUP immediately began to provide me with excellent educational opportunities which quickly developed my understanding of unions, labour laws, organizing, leadership, and much more.

As my labour activism grew and expanded so did the availability of those educational opportunities. I attended the Canadian Labour Congress Winter School, and courses provided by the BC Federation of Labour. I also attended Vancouver and District Labour Council educationals, having begun participating in the Council’s Young Workers Committee as early as 2004.

The practical experience gained through my activism, and the education obtained in courses and workshops fed, informed, and encouraged one another. For me, these have been two sides of the same coin and are totally inseparable. Together they have played a huge part in making me the person I am today and giving me the knowledge, skills, and confidence to do what I do in my current and recent roles.

The best part is there’s always something new. In 2019-2020 I participated in the Cascade Region Labour Leaders Initiative, a three-week intensive leadership development program with amazing participants and facilitators from across British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. I continue to take other courses, and now also facilitate courses as well. There’s always something new to learn, and someone new to pass your knowledge on to.

That’s why Labour Education means so much to me. I know how it has contributed to changing my life for the better and teaching me to help other workers do the same for themselves. I have seen transform unorganized workers into organizers, members into activists, and activists into leaders. It is indispensable to building a bigger, stronger, better labour movement.

That’s why I am so dedicated to the work of our Labour Education Program at the Vancouver and District Labour Council, which was founded in 2012 by then-VDLC President, and my fellow WELLS Director, Joey Hartman. It’s also why I am so excited about what we are setting out to do with WELLS.

By expanding access to labour education to more workers, unionized or not, we help to develop a working class that is conscious of itself, of its interests and its rights, and of its collective power. I invite you to stay tuned as this exciting new project unfolds and support it however you can. Together we can make labour education affordable, inclusive, accessible, high quality, and solidarity-based education for all workers.

Originally published October 6, 2021