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Michael Desautels plays guitar for children attending the week-long camp at Prelude Lake. The youth had fun learning how trade unions form and operate in the workplace. - Dorothy Westerman/NNSL photo

Camping out for unions

Youth attend camp to learn about trade unions

Dorothy Westerman
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 30/03) - They picketed, they protested, they bargained for their rights.

"They" were between eight and 15-years-old.

But far from being a child labour protest, this group of youth was learning how trade unions operate.

The Federation of Labour held its first kids camp at Prelude Lake last week, with about 16 youth and 10 volunteers participating.

Hence, the Prelude Lake Chores Union (PLCU) was formed.

Bob Haywood, president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour said the camp was an opportunity to introduce the concept of unions and to learn how locals are formed.

"We want them to understand it's not just all work, but fun -- and that's what we are trying to do," Haywood said.

Children arrived from the NWT and Nunavut, as well as several western provinces, to attend the camp, held at the Prelude Girl Guide camp.

Haywood said about 33 per cent of workers in the territories are unionized, slightly higher than the 31 per cent average.

"And Yellowknife has a strong union tradition, especially with the mines being present."

The camp means the children become familiar with different aspects of being unionized, including the issue of child labour and sweatshops.

The children performed a skit entitled Swoosh, which discussed the topic of brand name clothing and the unfavourable conditions under which they are made.

A brand-name fashion show was also held, during which time youth and volunteers modelled clothing known for being made in sweatshops across Asia, Canada, America and Latin America.

"And we've had many other activities for the children. We've gone swimming, toured a mine, learned about health and safety, gone boating and canoeing and did archery," he said of the weeks' activities.

Haywood said he hopes this camp is the beginning of an annual event to raise awareness of unions and solidarity.