For this month’s issue we sat down with Manny Carvalho to talk about the labour movement and his appointment to Treasurer of SEIU Healthcare.
Tell me a story about your early impressions of labour.
My real impressions of the labour movement, at first was that it was very fragmented. What I mean is that, every union is an island unto itself and that often there were limited ways of communicating. I found that there was no sense of the ‘labour movement’, especially in the public eye. Instead, what we often saw or heard about was union’s feeding off of one another. And so you have union’s competing and raiding and taking members away, but you don’t really hear about union’s progressing the issues of their members. I felt this hurt the labour movement & the members. Unions did a poor job of educating their members of the benefits of the union movement. And so, I saw that there was a real need to not only educate members, but to also progress their issues.
It seems that my first impressions of the labour union was not a good one, but when I began to read and learn more about the history of the labour movement, it transformed me. I was forced to learn & teach others…
How & when did you first get involved with SEIU?
When I was younger my parents were cleaner’s downtown. When I would travel on streetcars, I would overhear conversations other cleaners had about their work. I related to them because my parents were in the same situation.
I got into Organizing early on in my career at SEIU. When I began organizing, I realized our members were just like my parents- working low wage, no benefits, immigrants, struggling to put food on the table. I could identify with them. Being an organizer, I had to inspire people to be a part of the labour movement and had to educate people about the union. This caused me to dig deeper and learn more. I learnt that people were shot & killed for defending worker’s rights. I was forced to learn about my own union, SEIU. And the more I learnt, the more I became proud of this union. For example, if not for SEIU local 204, there would be no such thing as pay equity in Ontario- this has benefitted many women in Ontario.
What’s been your biggest obstacle?
On a personal level, I struggle with not being able to spend enough time with the members. Operational needs pull me away from the members, but they are at the heart of what I do. After all, what got me to this position is the members, and what gets me to the next level is the members. Even though I am pulled into a lot of directions, I challenge myself to do more and be more involved in getting to know our members.
Our biggest obstacle, as a union has been in organizing our members to become in activists & not just members. We need people to be advocates for the labour movement. And so it’s important to increase exposure, educate people within our organization- not just on the outside.
What is your intention as you take on this new role?
I want to continue to build an organization with a viewpoint of 10-15 years in the future; one that withstands the changes in government & economics. My vision is to ensure that as we grow as an organization, our infrastructure can withstand those changes, and that we’re prepared to take on the challenges. What we do today is not for ourselves, it’s for the members, and those who will be leaders 10-15 years from now.