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Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-Ibarra

Roque “Rocky” Añonuevo:

Labour activism and breakthroughs

by Levy Abad

              Rocky Anonuevo pic 2 Rocky Anonuevo pic 1

Rocky Añonuevo, the first Filipino labour activist to become Unifor’s National Rep for organizing unions in the Manitoba and Saskatchewan areas messaged me on Facebook on March 18, 2024. He shared “We are at the Legislative Building on Broadway, waiting for an announcement on anti-scab and card-check.” We are hoping it passes and becomes a law. It will be a big help for the workers of Manitoba.

The importance of this legislation cannot be underscored. Anti-scab law will prohibit the management from bringing in scabs or non-unionized workers to operate the company in times of strike. On the other hand, a card-check is a one-time certification to join the union or for which 50 per cent plus one of the membership cards signed will render automatic union status. This policy already existed in Manitoba before until Premier Pallister reversed it in 2016 during the Tories’ reign.

Union journey

Rocky emigrated from Talisay Batangas at the age of 16. He became a Unifor staff member and a member of the Amalgamated Local 3003 - New Flyer Industries. Rocky stressed, “All my labour education has been with Unifor in Port Elgin. “Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union with more than 315,000 members across the country, working in every major sector of the Canadian economy” (Unifor’s website).

Rocky started as a production worker at New Flyer Industry (NFI) in January 2007. By 2012, he was introduced to unionism and started getting involved as a young worker activist for the Prairie Region Council of Unifor. He was also a shop steward and a long-time harassment investigator at NFI.

As a result of his immersion in union struggles, union education and organizing, Rocky ran for a higher position and greater responsibility in 2018 and became the vice-president of Local 3003. In 2020, he ran as full-time co- chairperson at NFI and again got the approval of the membership. It was at this stage that Unifor National noticed his leadership and started sending him to major conventions and training, and also helping out with elections. In 2023, he applied and was hired as a national organizer.

Education and training

Rocky’s union brother Neil Soliven told me about a special place in Port Elgin, Ontario, where Unifor provides theoretical empowerment. Rocky shared that that’s where he got his training on grievance handling and workplace leadership, harassment investigation, bargaining with different companies and whatnot. He added that every year they have three different conferences all over Canada and as a constitution delegate, he attended all three.

Aside from organizing for Unifor, Rocky also volunteered to help homeless people on the streets of Winnipeg during winter, giving out hot soup, winter jackets and blankets, to name a few. From this, one can glean the well-rounded formation of Union activists, who are trained theoretically in labour schools and actual labour and community struggles. No wonder labour cadres are sometimes better than barristers.

Importance of unions

The importance of unionism is having a voice. When workers forge unity, we can make things better for everyone. Unions are organized to stand up for fair wages and good health and safety in the workplace, free of harassment from employers.

I asked Rocky about the union’s struggles that he experienced, and he shared that he didn’t experience a union strike in his local during his stint as vice-president. However, he was actively involved in some big strikes in Unifor, like the Co-op strike in Regina in 2020. He was on the ground at the picket line the whole time.

Trade union politics

Recently, Rocky was elected as a member-at-large for the New Democratic Party – Transcona constituency. This demonstrates his broad understanding of the role that trade union politics play in furtherance of the empowerment of workers in social legislation.

As a parting question, I asked Rocky about his favourite quotation. Rocky explained “Individually, we are just one drop of water, but together we are an ocean!” (anonymous). He believes in “the power of the people” to effect a meaningful change in society. Truly, with working-class organizers like Rocky, the defence and advancement of the historical gains of workers are in safe hands.

Levy Abad authored a book titled Rhythms and Resistance: Narrative of Filipino Musicians and Activists (1972-1994). Levy is also a singer-songwriter, poet, and migrant rights activist who has released four albums centred on the life and struggles of migrants.