In successive speeches Thursday, Larry Rosseau (at right), executive vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress, and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, added their voices to calls that have echoed through the 40th International Convention all week: that unions must seize the moment to organize workers and build political power.

Two of North America’s top labor — and labour — leaders took to the convention stage in succession Thursday morning to celebrate the IBEW in the United States and Canada, along with the shared values of working people on both sides of the border.

“It’s not power lines that keep the lights on. And it’s not cables and electronic technology that keep communications flowing,” Larry Rosseau, executive vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress said. “It is the hard work, dedication, devotion, and diligence of the members of the IBEW.”

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, echoing the impassioned calls that have filled the hall all week, said the moment is ripe for union growth.

“When we’re together, there’s nothing – nothing! – we can’t do,” Redmond said. “IBEW, you are members of a great union with a rich history of changing the lives of ordinary people. And you all have a role to play.”

Rosseau said Canadian members are seizing the moment, too, aided by a parliamentary system better designed for legislative compromise.

While workers fight similar battles in both nations, Canada’s political lines aren’t so sharply drawn. Currently, through what Rosseau explained is a rare pact between two parties, pro-worker voices are a majority in the House of Commons.

“The Liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announced a landmark agreement with the New Democratic Party that gives the Liberals the coveted majority of votes that they need to get legislation through,” Rosseau said.

“And I am very happy to say that this agreement will lead to the advancement of many of our key priorities,” he said, listing “childcare, pharmacare, dental care, just transition legislation, anti-scab legislation — both for strikes and for lockouts — affordable housing, and the list goes on.”

The night-and-day difference it makes to have a social safety net and union protections is something Redmond innately understands.

The AFL-CIO’s first Black secretary-treasurer, he told of his parents — the children of sharecroppers — making the journey to South Side Chicago from Mississippi in search of a better life.

“My father took every kind of job he could find. He pumped gas, was a janitor. He stocked shelves at the supermarket. He hauled scrap metal,” Redmond said.

“My mother was a domestic worker. She woke up every day at the crack of dawn and took three buses to the far suburbs to clean folks’ houses and cook their food. Every night she would sit at the foot of her bed and soak her feet and read her Bible.

“No complaints. No excuses,” he said. “We lived on food stamps. We didn’t have health care, so we had to go to the free clinic. But we didn’t know we were poor. The school used to collect money for the local orphanage and one time my brother came home and asked my mother for 25 cents to give to the poor folks. She said, ‘You are the poor kids!’

“And we were,” Redmond said. “But all that changed when my dad caught a break and got a good union job at the Reynolds aluminum mill.

“We had more security. More opportunity. We got off food stamps. We stopped going to the free clinic. Food on the table. Access to health care. My parents were able to save enough to purchase a home and they lived a solid middle-class life.”

In Canada, Rosseau said the relationships that labour has built with the majority government and broad-based public support for its agenda will lead to more and stronger unions — to the betterment of everyone.

“As we grow our movement, our voice gets louder and we take up more space,” he said. “This allows us to push a worker-centered agenda, benefitting all workers and their families from coast to coast.

“That’s not socialism, my friends,” Rosseau said. “It simply [means] that when you pave the way for workers to enter the middle class, that’s when we get policies and services that help ensure we stay in the middle class.”

 As Redmond can attest.

“My story is a story that is not different to many of you in this hall,” he said. “It is a testimony to the power of holding a union card and working under a collective bargaining agreement.

“It is the story of the creation of the black middle class. And the story of European immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island seeking a piece of this thing called the American Dream. The labor movement connects us all.”