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Canadian Auto Workers’ (CAW) Perspective on the Political Debate on Industrial Hemp

Posted on May 21, 2000

By Mark C Parent, Canadian Auto Workers

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union represents more than 238,000 members that cover a wide cross-section of trades and professions from coast-to-coast.

In 1995, the CAW spearheaded a massive coast-to-coast campaign to legalize the growing of industrial hemp in Canada. The primary objective of our campaign was to educate and inform Canadians on the seemingly endless virtues of this most versatile crop. We felt that, by providing the facts, we allowed Canadians the opportunity to reach a rational and informed decision on the merits of legalizing industrial hemp, rather than drawing on conclusions based on myth, propaganda or prejudicial information.

Many are surprised that a labour organization like the CAW would pursue such an issue, and often we are asked why we have involved ourselves in the industrial hemp debate.

The CAW is part of a broader social movement committed to job security — not just for its members, but for all Canadians — now and in the future. The move to support an industrial hemp industry in Canada can only serve to make that a reality.

We strongly believe that the preservation of the family farm is key to the survival of Canada as a sovereign nation. The cultivation of hemp as a cash crop would help many family farms to remain solvent, not to mention, the many spin-off green jobs this new “Industrial Hemp Revolution” could create.

In the labour movement we fight every day for safe and healthy working conditions for our members. We see the importance in helping illustrate the link between community concerns and workplace concerns, because the CAW regards the environment outside the workplace as merely an extension of our work environment. For that reason, protecting the environment ultimately protects our jobs and the health of all our families.

If you think about it, what kind of jobs would there be in world of depleted resources, poisoned water and foul toxic air… a world where ozone depletion and greenhouse warming will make it difficult even to survive. Protecting our children’s future and our jobs requires collective bargaining and progressive political action.

We realize that pollution and the destruction of our environment is not simply another issue. It is potentially the fundamental crisis that humanity has ever faced. It is a crisis that primarily affects workers and those living in poverty. And, it is not simply a crisis that is temporary in nature. It is a crisis from which there may be no return.

Controlling workplace and environmental hazards is one part of the solution. We also have a responsibility to establish initiatives to create sustainable livelihoods. Sustainability is based on the idea that if you destroy the ecological base, economic activity will eventually cease because life will cease. The productive base of the Earth will constantly shrink, while the global population, left unchecked, will continue to grow.

The ecological base can be destroyed in two main ways. The first is the front end of the industrial process, in terms of natural resources needed for economic activity — wood, minerals, fuels and raw foods. The second is the back end of the industrial process — pollution, waste, disposables and useless consumer junk.

If economic activity is not firmly based in environmental principles, there will always be a need for specific environmental protection measures to mitigate the damage that unsustainable practices cause. With a change in production and the way we do business, comes the need for different skills in workers. These changes usher in the need for a “Just Transition.”

“Just Transition” is about many things. It is about fairness and environmental justice. It is about quality employment in an economy based on sustainable production and infrastructure. It is about communities as the focus of “Just Transition” programs, communities as centres of diverse, labour-intensive industries, with a strong public sector to support them.

Workers should not bear the brunt of environmental change. There must be a transition program in place as part of the implementation of any environmental program.

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union has a policy supporting transition measures to protect workers in the event of major industrial change and restructuring. The policy deals particularly with change in the name of sustainability and environmental protection. It recognizes and endorses the need to get out of the toxic economy and replace it with a sustainable society.

This is why the CAW continues to persuade industry and government to improve on their environment principles and practices, not only as a way to protect the environment, but as a way of preserving our health and livelihood as well. By taking the lead in developing environmental alternatives we are taking the necessary measures to safeguard our future.

We consider our role to be a catalyst in bringing about progressive change in Canada. We grasp the magnitude of what hemp can mean to the economy in termsof employment, but of equal significance, what it can mean to our environment.

By taking a decisive position in the debate on industrial hemp, we not only help set Canada on the path to self-reliance and strengthened autonomy, but more important, we help to point society on a course toward managing a more sustainable environment.

Although we are pleased with the progress to-date, as we begin the early stages in developing these new industry opportunities here in Canada, we feel we are standing at the crossroads. This is a crucial period as we devise strategies to maximize our growth potential in the global hemp industry. Canada’s true market potential can only be realized when the United States also engages in the hemp debate, to establish their critical role in the growth potential of the industrial hemp market.

Copyright © 2000, Canadian Auto Workers. All rights reserved.

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