Celebrating Filipino Heritage Month at UFCW 401’s Town Hall!

Special guest Dr. Ernie Alama with President Thomas Hesse and Secretary-Treasurer Richelle Stewart of UFCW Local 401.

UFCW Local 401’s Town Hall meeting with the general membership on June 5th, 2024 was a celebration of Filipino Heritage Month. We were delighted to welcome special guest Dr. Ernie Alama in a wide-ranging and enlightening discussion of the meaning of the month and of the Filipino experience in Canada.

Much of that discussion revolved around ideas of home and family, as beautifully expressed in a work by the award-winning Filipina poet Shirley Camia that President Hesse shared:

As You Wish
by Shirley Camia

you are still in the philippines

by a dock inhaling sea salt
enjoying the dance of the palms

your ancestral home

of your nieces and nephews
sisters and brothers
mother and father

above and below the ground

where the taste of milkfish
is clean and pure

where you are full
of mangoes and youth

in a time that eclipses all meaning

you are still in the philippines

but you’re buried in snow
an ocean away

at your request

from Mercy (Turnstone Press, 2019)

The meeting included moments of both levity and more serious discussion. Early on, President Hesse and Dr. Alama joined each other in a rousing rendition of “Danny Boy,” a favourite song from the doctor’s youth and also a favourite of Douglas O’Halloran’s, the former President of Local 401.

Catherine Lelis, a Union Labour Relations Officer at our Local and a Filipina-Canadian, offered greetings in Tagalog. Dr. Alama and President Hesse went on to cover a wide range of topics.

The discussion touched on everything from the sunny smiles that Filipino culture is known for (and how they can sometimes be a coping mechanism), to the struggles and loneliness often faced by immigrants as they work to support extended families back home, to the collectivist Filipino value of bayanihan and how it parallels the values of the labour movement, and much more.

It was a conversation that not only offered plenty of information about Filipino culture and history, but that highlighted how important diversity is to progress in general and the union movement in particular.

President Hesse said: “Joining together in common cause can only happen when we understand each other, and it cannot happen otherwise.”

“How else can we work together if we can’t understand each other?” agreed Dr. Alama. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Secretary-Treasurer Richelle Stewart hosted the meeting and polled our online audience. When asked if they thought that leaving one’s home to learn a new culture and language and build a life for your family would be extremely challenging, 95% of the audience agreed.

When asked if they thought our Union should make a special effort to understand and promote the interests of our Filipino-Canadian members and of new Canadians in general, 87% of our audience agreed.

We thank the members who participated in this extraordinary Town Hall and made it such a valuable experience for everyone involved!

Of course, at this meeting, President Hesse also spoke to the general business of the Union. In his words: “Affordability, affordability, affordability.”

The President identified the complex roots of the affordability crisis that our members are facing. He noted that the Union is focused on getting ready now for tough fights in the future in order to get workers the highest wages possible. And he noted that the Union is preparing for the possibility of our first affordability strike at Cargill Case Ready.

“We’re going to need solidarity from all our members for the workers at Cargill Case Ready,” said Hesse. “These are fights that we can win if we’re strong and united.”