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An Active Retirement

How three former AUPE members keep their activism alive in retirement

Oct 05, 2018

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How three former AUPE members keep their activism alive in retirement
By Celia Shea, Communications Staff

Retirement usually means punching the clock for good, but for many AUPE activists, the work to improve the lives of people within our communities is never over.

To find out what keeps AUPE members invested in their activism after retirement, Direct Impact reached out to three former members who advocated for progressive change in their working years and continued after leaving the workforce.

Charan Khehra is a former member of Local 002, active in the union from 1979 to 1992. Since retiring he has helped the Seniors'' Association of Greater Edmonton and the Millwoods Community Health Council, among many other efforts. Charan is also the co-founder of Daughter''s Day.

Carol and John Wodak were both active in the union''s early years. John is a former Division 8 member and attended AUPE''s inaugural convention in 1976. Carol was a member of Local 002. In the 80s, she ran for union president.

Charan Khehra
Charan Khehra, Life Member

Charan Khehra, Life Member

Why was it important for you to continue your activism into retirement?

Charan Khehra (CK): My activism goes back a number of years and spans my life. With all this background, with all these experiences, I did not want to waste my energy. I became very involved with some non-profit groups. It was a case of passion and asking, "What can be done?"

I''m celebrating my 80th birthday this year. I continue to be passionate about social issues because I believe life has got to go on, and there''s only one life - we''ve got to do our best to support and promote other individuals.

My passion has come from the trade union movement, which gives you a clear vision, makes you more pragmatic, and helps you understand your community''s needs.

How do labour issues overlap with other issues in our communities?

CK: I think our issues as trade union members aren''t any different than what communities face. Again, if we are not united as community members, as union members, as politicians, as political activists, we won''t realize our full potential.

Employers cannot play this ongoing game of dividing - having little groups here and there, and having separate negotiations. We are all interdependent. We have got to work together, otherwise we are going to lag behind, and we will destroy each other rather than move forward.

What''s a good lesson you''ve learned in your years of activism?

CK: The lesson of solidarity. Solidarity not just of trade unions, but solidarity as community members, helping each other grow, realizing everybody''s potential and building stronger communities.

Societies living on divisions and discrimination are just going to stagnate. They are not going to move forward. The time for discrimination and the time for divisions are over.

So that is my take - solidarity throughout your lives - caring, loving and being compassionate towards each other.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger activist self?

CK: My advice would be simple: Get engaged. Become active. Look at the bigger picture. Isolation will not be of any help. Help, mentor, support and work together.

John Wodak
John Wodak, Division 8

John Wodak, Former Division 8 member (CSAA), Delegate at AUPE''s inaugural 1976 convention

Why was it important for you to continue your activism into retirement?

John Wodak (JW): Because the need was there. In the early 90s, this was the first time we were living in a housing co-op with a fair proportion of disabled people. There''s this enormous problem anyone has when you can''t continue working, and you have to apply for benefits. It''s like being dumped in a foreign country, where you don''t know the language, you don''t know the customs, and you don''t know the rules, and you need a guide. So I''m the guide.

How do you think labour issues overlap with other issues in our communities?

JW: The unions owe it to their members - disability [for example] is very definitely a social issue and it affects more people than you really think. If a union wants to be recognized and valued then they have to become part of society.

What''s a good lesson you''ve learned in your years of activism?

JW: Learn to cooperate. And that''s both across the union and outside. I never did like the confrontational approach - doesn''t work. But it takes two to do that.

Can you recall a standout moment or particularly memorable event from your years of activism?

JW: The first time I won a high-level appeal. That was a "whoopee!" moment. You dump a case in front of three judges, and get it right...I can''t say it''s enjoyable because there''s too much misery, but there''s definitely a sense of achievement.

Carol Wodak,
Carol Wodak, Local 002

Carol Wodak, Former Local 002 member, Union presidential candidate (1985)

Why was it important for you to continue your activism into retirement?

Carol Wodak (CW): Well it wasn''t a choice - it happened. My mother had a stroke in 1995, which was the first time I had paid attention to the continuing care system and the health-care system. She didn''t die until 2006, from repeated strokes. The whole thing was a nightmare. It was impossible not to try and change the system. You sort of fall into it.

How do you think labour issues overlap with other issues in our communities?

CW: I can''t separate them. The labour movement is all about social issues. The union''s tie to the community is essential, not only to the whole mission of the union, but also to the union''s success. If we don''t have the support of the community, we''re not going to get very far.

What''s a good lesson you''ve learned in your years of activism?

CW: History matters. For a number of years, I was doing Care Watch. It was a weekly email - sort of a blog, where I tracked what was happening in elder care across the country and sometimes the world, and sent out stories with links. It always astonished me there weren''t more people interested in understanding how context and history affected their concerns about elder care.

We don''t exist in a vacuum. We can learn from what''s happening elsewhere, which will probably affect what''s happening here. What bothers us now about any system didn''t just happen. It happened because of things that happened 40 years ago. And if you don''t understand why it happened and what allowed it to happen, you''re not going to be able to change it.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger, activist self?

CW: The one thing that I really see now is that everything is connected. The reason I can do the volunteer advocacy work I do now is because of the skills that I gained not only in my job, but also in the union. Those are all transferrable skills - learning how to organize, how to bargain, holding meetings, all of that.

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