Miriam Martin – Union Consulting

Posted by on Jan 7, 2016 in Union Consulting

I organized my first Union when I was 19 years old. I worked in the kitchen of a yuppy west-end Vancouver café. The longest-serving employees were two immigrant single mothers who had been there for 12 and 9 years. They were still making less per hour in the dish pit than I had been offered as a starting wage in the same position. I had more negotiating power as a cocky white teenaged art student than these women, who had built and left professional careers overseas for an opportunity to raise their children here. This horrified me.

So, I started having meetings with co-workers in the walk-in deep freeze. I called up a CAW food-service local, and signed a solid majority worth of cards. We formed a Union. The general manager cried when he got fired. I was manhandled and physically removed from a staff meeting. Shit got real and there was no going back.

“It is not law school that made me an advocate or a fighter; it is being an advocate and a fighter that led me to become a lawyer.”

Since that experience, I have been involved in numerous organizing drives in both professional and volunteer capacity. I’ve sat on bargaining committees, led militant campaigns, and acted as Chief Steward in more than one workplace. It is not law school that made me an advocate or a fighter; it is being an advocate and a fighter that led me to become a lawyer.

The power of the Union is not in its fancy offices or its ability to “pass” as business class. And our power is not in the courts. The power of organized workers has always been in our capacity for effective direct action, and our connections to the community, because we are the community. When it comes to labour struggles, lawyers do not know best. Educated union members and representatives elected from the shop floor almost always represent their members’ interests better than an outsider.

That said, there are narrow areas of work that must be done by lawyers (advising on legal questions and court appearances including judicial review). And there are struggles for which the legal process can be engaged strategically to support one line of attack (or defence) in a broader campaign. This is where you will find me, and Avant Law, practicing “labour law”.

In addition to traditional union-side labour law, we provide a unique union consulting service that approaches legal questions through a unionist lens (rather than the other way around). We can help you to focus your legal work so that it supports your strategic direction, creative actions and campaigns. We provide legal and strategic advice that helps unions fight to win.