Harm Reduction Workers Union Takes Off in Toronto


12 NOVEMBER 2014

The International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) is pleased to support and show our solidarity with the Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union (THRWU) who went public on 11 November 2014 with the first ever harm reduction workers’ union.  Members of INPUD have been involved in this campaign.

Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union -A template for global change! What are YOU waiting for?!

The Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union  is a city-wide organization, representing over 50 employed, unemployed, and student workers. At the launch workers at two of the city’s largest harm reduction programs went public with their affiliation to the Union which is a part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW is a fighting union for all workers that organizes workers regardless of skill or trade and it is member (not staff) run, with a long history of fighting for the most oppressed and marginalized workers in society

The majority of these workers have been hired for their lived experience of using drugs, incarceration and homelessness and are continuing to organize with the goal of unionizing all of the city’s harm reduction workers.

THRWU speak about the need to organise around many of the issues affecting the industry – of which many harm reduction workers who come from a drug using background, will know a lot about. THRWU point to some of the main areas on their website:

  • Discrepancies in wages, with workers doing similar work taking home vastly different pay.
  • People work for years without raises, and have limited to no access to benefits, vacation and sick days.
  • Management depends on social assistance to provide the basic benefits that workers need (such as emergency dental and drug benefits). This is especially detrimental for those of us hired because we live with HIV and/or Hep C, or use opiode substitution therapy.
  • Workers are discriminated against based on the lived experience they are hired for.
  • Many positions are extremely precarious, with grants and funding threatened by conservative and anti-science ideology, and austerity budgets that endanger public health.

These are very real issues affecting the daily lives of people who’s work is not just a job, but a ’cause’,  a life, based on their lived experience and a way to put their heart and soul back into their communities, funneling years and years of privileged insight into their work, which has gone such a long way towards stemming the HIV epidemic in the drug injecting community. And damn right they deserve paid work or a raise along with everyone else! Damn right their should be the chance of promotion from volunteer to worker, to team leader to manager. Let’s all be clear here, harm reduction would not work saving the lives it does, reducing the harm it does, stemming the tide of infectious diseases that it does, without the world’s harm reduction workers and many of these are our peers. People who use drugs, used drugs, are on prescriptions etc.  The majority of work is unsung, underpaid and under acknowledged for the real impact it has on the community.

So who are we talking about exactly? Well, let’s let THRWU speak for themselves!

We are the workers that make harm reduction work.  We are the kit makers, outreach workers, community workers, and coordinators that reduce the harms associated with bad drug laws, poverty and capitalism.  As working class people, our communities have been hard hit by the War on Drugs, the epidemics of HIV, Hepatitis C and overdose deaths. We are organizing to better our working conditions and improve the services we provide. And we are organizing to fight for a society free of oppression and injustice.”

Below is THRWU’s mandate and definition of harm reduction:

“THRWU is an organization of Harm Reduction Workers who are united together in solidarity, to improve our working conditions and to strengthen equality in the workplace for the betterment of the workers and those who access the services. We are a union of employed and unemployed workers committed to harm reduction with a range of skills, education and lived experience. We have come together in our common concerns to form a non-hierarchical democratic labour union with a commitment to mutual aid, social justice and the principles of harm reduction.”

“Harm reduction is an evidence-based and practical approach to dealing with the harms associated with drug use…Harm reduction also aims to respond to harm experienced on a structural or societal level (such as stigma, discrimination and criminalization). This work should be grounded in the values of respect, non-judgment, and in the promotion of self-determination and self-empowerment for folks involved!

We recognize that many healthcare and social service providers endorse a ‘harm reduction framework’ in name only. Our union will prioritize those workers who are actively engaged in harm reduction work, as defined above!”

INPUD, the International Network of People who use Drugs are positive about the future as more drug users self organise. In a statement of support INPUD said, “In the context of the War on Drugs, in which our fellow workers are the casualties, an organizing campaign of this nature is exciting. The THRWU is setting itself up to be a powerful voice for harm reduction workers in the workplaces as well as in broader political struggles”. Last word to THRWU: “We need to organize ourselves to demand an improvement in wages and in workplace conditions. We love the work we do but we also know we need to be treated more equitably. There are many of us working in harm reduction and we can work in solidarity with each other to improve this.”

Boy oh boy, lets wish them luck with their new unionised labour force and their further organizing efforts!

How do I organize a Harm Reduction Workers Union in my city?

If you are interested in building a Harm Reduction Workers Union in your city, get in touch! thrwunion@gmail.com

For more information don’t miss visiting their website www.thrwu.org or by email  and  – if you are in Toronto – JOIN UP!!

Check out more of their news and events on their FaceBook page herehttps://www.facebook.com/thrwu
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Activists Training – Useful Tips

I think it would be a terrific idea if we added some really useful tips for your journey as an activist -and information about how to conduct oneself and navigate through intense and professional meetings – is one area I’ve always thought we don’t pay enough attention too. So, among other things I’ve decided to collect a small series of useful activist tips I find from around the web -there is some brilliant information out there – the worlds’ most talented activists are virtually sharing all their knowledge with us on websites all over the place! If you see anything you think has been or could be helpful – do let us know, otherwise, stay tuned for this small collection of tips.

This first one comes from Silvia Petrelli, a terrific powerhouse of a UK HIV activist, one of the  movers and shakers behind the UK’s famous organisation for HIV positive women called Positively Women (now renamed Positive UK). I really like her blog and the way she approaches her subjects in a really honest, direct way without all the copycat phrases that get used all to easily sometimes (good as they might be but so often overused they just seem to diminsh the impact). Here is her refreshing take on what she gained from a recent workshop; thanks Silvia! Catch her blog here.

“Once we step up to be activists it is very likely we will be thrown in at the deep end.”

We will have  to attend meetings with people who we perceive to be  much more powerful than ourselves: doctors, scientists, managers, commissioners, policy makers. It can be really hard and scary.

I was really thrilled when Elisabeth Crafer agreed to facilitate a session on how to deal with people in authority at the UKCAB treatment activists training.

Elisabeth used to lead the organisation where I work now, when it was still called Positively Women. She has a long experience in activism from fighting apartheid in the 60s and 70s in her home country South Africa to provide Sexual Health Services  to marginalised women in the UK through a mobile clinic and much more. She has played a huge influence in me as an activist, in developing my skills and confidence, and it was even her idea that I started this blog.

So here are some of the ideas Elisabeth shared with us on how to deal with people in positions of power, I hope you find them useful, and if you have something to add to it, I would love to hear how you deal with people in authority.

1) Think about how you behave in relationships to those close to you: parents, children, friends, colleagues. There may be similarities with how you behave  with people in authority. What is easy, what is difficult?

 2)  Think about how you would like to come across in a meeting, and be aware of it.

 3) Very often in a meeting we enact a ‘dramatic’ triangle in which somebody plays the ‘ victim’ somebody else  the ‘persecutor’ and a third person the ‘rescuer”. Observe which role you are playing. How is this role limiting you?

 4) If something goes out of control, for example somebody plays the victim and has a tantrum. Stand back. Don’t play the game. Do nothing.

What role do you take on in meetings?  Benjamin de Loenen, Bia Labate, Leon Garcia, Amanda Fielding, Joan Obiols and Claudio Naranjo at this years Ayhuasca Conference, click pic for link.

What role do you take on in meetings? Benjamin de Loenen, Bia Labate, Leon Garcia, Amanda Fielding, Joan Obiols and Claudio Naranjo at this years Ayhuasca Conference, click pic for link.

 5) If you find it hard to get a word in and put your point across, as everybody is talking on top of you (believe me I have been there!) watch body language, so that you can tell when somebody finishes a sentence. They have to pause at one time, and you have to come in then.

 6) Don’t breath in before starting to speak because in a heated discussion somebody will speak while you pause to take a breath.  Start taking the breath in while the other person is still talking and then just jump in.

 7) Ask yourself: do I have a point? Do i have something to add to the discussion? Then you can start your sentence with “ I would just like to add something to …”

 8) Ask somebody to clarify and build on their point., sometimes it is good to repeat and amplify a point if it helps what you are trying to put across.

 9) Sometimes the meeting is not the most important thing. It is more important  what happens in the break or  after on the way out, in the ‘interstices’. Who are you going to talk to? How are you going to build your alliances? Are there going to be doughnuts…? It is while eating the doughnuts, in the down time, that some of the most important discussions happen. Pay attention.

10) Remember:  authority is about power. The essential thing about authority is that the power is unequal. Reflect: “ How do I behave when I do not have power?”

 11) Think about unequal relationships in your life:  parent and child, employer employee. Examine in in what role you may have authority/power. For example as patient representative, parent, office manager. Remember also running a home needs to be done from a role of authority. Experience gives authority as well as knowledge. Very often we show authority in the way our parents have shown us authority.

12) Have a strategy, think: “What do I want out of the meeting, how can I achieve it.?”


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Pregnant and No Civil Rights – SHAME USA SHAME!

Donate today to NAPW -possibly one of the most important causes for women today - follow their activities across the web.

Just to let everyone know that this incredibly brave and humane organisation of truly dedicated and amazing women in the USA, NAPW (National Advocates for Pregnant Women) have exploded onto the pages of the New York Times with yet another harrowing article about the state of affairs (and crucially, the state of things to come) in the USA since the recent success of the Republican’s in the mid term elections -stay focused, stay tuned on this topic for it affects all women, everywhere. As long as their is abuse of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, women and girls everywhere are at risk of serious discrimination, marginalization and abuse. Fight back – get knowledgeable – support NAPW. Stay tuned with INPUD as we work alongside NAPW to take the USA to the Human Rights Council next May 2015 over the tragic, inhumane and criminal acts against pregnant women – and in particular, pregnant women who use drugs.

On Saturday, November 7, 2014 The New York Times ran the op-ed, “Pregnant, and No Civil Rights,” by NAPW’s Executive Director Lynn Paltrow and Board President Jeanne Flavin. This commentary describes the shocking realities of the risks that anti-abortion and “personhood” measures pose for allpregnant women in the United States. It highlights just a few narratives of the nearly 800 cases we have documented since 1973 of pregnant women being denied their civil and human rights whether they seek to end their pregnancy or go to term. The op-ed ends with this call to action: “We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights.”We are proud to let you know that, over the weekend, the op-ed was the #1 most emailed, tweeted, and Facebook ‘shared,’ piece in The New York Times. Thank you to everyone who has helped to spread the word, and for those who have not, we hope you will!


Pregnant, and No Civil Rights

By Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin

November 7, 2014

With the success of Republicans in the midterm elections and the passage of Tennessee’s anti-abortion amendment, we can expect ongoing efforts to ban abortion and advance the “personhood” rights of fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.

But it is not just those who support abortion rights who have reason to worry. Anti-abortion measures pose a risk to all pregnant women, including those who want to be pregnant.

Such laws are increasingly being used as the basis for arresting women who have no intention of ending a pregnancy and for preventing women from making their own decisions about how they will give birth.

How does this play out? Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

In Iowa, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs was reported to the police after seeking help at a hospital. She was arrested for “attempted fetal homicide.”

Credit to Johner Images_Alamy

In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.

In Louisiana, a woman who went to the hospital for unexplained vaginal bleeding was locked up for over a year on charges of second-degree murder before medical records revealed she had suffered a miscarriage at 11 to 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Florida has had a number of such cases. In one, a woman was held prisoner at a hospital to prevent her from going home while she appeared to be experiencing a miscarriage. She was forced to undergo a cesarean. Neither the detention nor the surgery prevented the pregnancy loss, but they did keep this mother from caring for her two small children at home. While a state court later found the detention unlawful, the opinion suggested that if the hospital had taken her prisoner later in her pregnancy, its actions might have been permissible.

In another case, a woman who had been in labor at home was picked up by a sheriff, strapped down in the back of an ambulance, taken to a hospital, and forced to have a cesarean she did not want. When this mother later protested what had happened, a court concluded that the woman’s personal constitutional rights “clearly did not outweigh the interests of the State of Florida in preserving the life of the unborn child.”

Anti-abortion reasoning has also provided the justification for arresting pregnant women who experience depression and have attempted suicide. A 22-year-old in South Carolina who was eight months pregnant attempted suicide by jumping out a window. She survived despite suffering severe injuries. Because she lost the pregnancy, she was arrested and jailed for the crime of homicide by child abuse.

Fight Back!

These are not isolated or rare cases. Last year, we published a peer-reviewed studydocumenting 413 arrests or equivalent actions depriving pregnant women of their physical liberty during the 32 years between 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, and 2005. In a majority of these cases, women who had no intention of ending a pregnancy went to term and gave birth to a healthy baby. This includes the many cases where the pregnant woman was alleged to have used some amount of alcohol or a criminalized drug.

Since 2005, we have identified an additional 380 cases, with more arrests occurring every week. This significant increase coincides with what theGuttmacher Institute describes as a “seismic shift” in the number of states with laws hostile to abortion rights.

The principle at the heart of contemporary efforts to end legal abortion is that fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses are persons or at least have separate rights that must be protected by the state. In each of the cases we identified, this same rationale provided the justification for the deprivation of pregnant women’s physical liberty, as well as of the right to medical decision making, medical privacy, bodily integrity and, in one case, the woman’s right to life.

Many of the pregnant women subjected to this mistreatment are themselves profoundly opposed to abortion. Yet it was precisely the legal arguments for recriminalizing abortion that were used to strip them of their rights to dignity and liberty in the context of labor and delivery. These cases, individually and collectively, highlight what is so often missed when the focus is on attacking or defending abortion, namely that all pregnant women are at risk of losing a wide range of fundamental rights that are at the core of constitutional personhood in the United States.

 If we want to end these unjust and inhumane arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women, we need to stop focusing only on the abortion issue and start working to protect the personhood of pregnant women.

We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights.

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/opinion/pregnant-and-no-civil-rights.html

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INPUD’s Exec Director Talks Sense on SKY NEWS

Why oh why do the media always have to put on a drug user activist with a parent who has gone through the tragedy of a child dying? It does little to help the debate – it can be extremely difficult to have to talk to a parent in a few minutes flat, who has lost their child in an overdose situation, just why criminalizing drugs is endangering all our kids even more so; criminalisation isolates, marginalizes, criminalises, discriminates and destroys beautiful lives; Yet try as we might to get away from the emotional and moral arguments so we can discuss these issues on TV rationally, calmly and in a civilised and evidenced based way – every time the media want to wheel out a tragedy of a parent who has lost their child. We all feel very deeply for their plight – for Goddsake their kids are our friends, lovers, mothers etc. We lose them too. Do people really think we just all want to get stoned at the expense of our dear friends and loved ones??

This video however, shows INPUD exec director Eliot Albers on SKY along with DrugFam founder Elizabeth Burton-Phillips who lost her son, talk about the UK governments recent report that they tried to quash, which said conclusively that the war on drugs is not working and this issue must be addressed for the sake of all of our children, loved ones and society – now and in the future. Im glad to say Eliot came out clearly, even the SKY reporter seemed to understand the issue. Elizabeth however, as much as we feel and understand deeply her grief and her position, is not, I’m sad to say, doing much to help the kids of all the other parents out there still using drugs. The evidence is in -its been in for years and years, over and over and over – why oh why is the media still so slow in presenting the issue honestly?

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International Drug Users Day 2014; How Will You Celebrate it?

International Drug User Day 2014 - 3 cheers for that activists activist - Theo Van Dam, who came up with the brilliant idea of a day to celebrate our existence!
International Drug User Day 2014 – Let’s hear 3 cheers for that activists activist - Theo Van Dam, the beautiful Dutchman who came up with the brilliant idea of a day in the calendar to celebrate the existence, the achievements, the lives and the work of people who use drugs and their brave and courageous direct actions that change the world.







‘Community. Solidarity. Empowerment.’ 

International Drug Users’ Day is the one day of the year where people who use drugs can celebrate the strength and diversity of our community, our solidarity and our empowerment.

To mark this day, INPUD is launching a statement, which asserts that to end the ‘war on drugs’, we must move away from the ideas that drive prohibition and criminalisation. We are calling for an end to the ‘war on drugs’ on the terms of people who use drugs. And we are affirming and celebrating who we are as a community of people who use drugs.

INPUD Statement
International Drug Users’ Day 2014 – 1st November
‘Community. Solidarity. Empowerment.’

The harms of stigma, discrimination and the ‘war on drugs’
The world over, people who use drugs are demonised and stereotyped. People who use drugs are stigmatised as being sick and dangerous, and are vilified, infantilised, and patronised as being unable to take care of themselves or their loved ones. Stigmatising people who use drugs follows through into discrimination and social exclusion, and has corresponding impacts on health and wellbeing. Stigma and stereotypes are what justify the so-called ‘war on drugs’, which in turn drives gross violations of the human rights of people who use drugs, violations that go, for the most part, unchallenged.

And violations of the human rights of people who use drugs are all too common. People who use drugs are detained and imprisoned. People who use drugs are incarcerated without due legal process in forced labour camps. People who use drugs are subject to torture and execution. People who use drugs are denied access to healthcare, service provision, and harm reduction. People who use drugs are harassed and assaulted by the police. The ‘war on drugs’, a war that drives these violations of the rights of people who use drugs, has been an abject failure (even by its own misguided objectives): it has failed to reduce drug use, and it has caused enormous harm to the lives of people who use drugs and the communities in which they live.

An end to the war on drugs on our terms
The war on drugs must end. But it must end on the terms of people who use drugs. Last International Drug Users’ Day, we asserted the right of consenting adults to use the drugs they choose, whether it be for pleasure, to self-medicate, to enhance performance, to alter consciousness, or to provide some succour and relief from hard lives. We defended the right of adults to use their drugs of choice in their homes without causing harm or nuisance to others, and to carry them in public without fear of police harassment, abuse, and intimidation.

This 2014 International Drug Users’ Day, we assert that to end the war on drugs – the war on people who use drugs – we must move away from the ideas that drive prohibition and criminalisation: we must challenge and reject stigma and drug-userphobia in all of its forms. We reject infantilising, patronising, and demonising preconceptions. We reject blanket pathologisation of people who use drugs, reject the assumption that to use drugs is to be sick or dangerous or immoral. It is time to discard cruel, pejorative, and discriminatory language and labels. It is time, once and for all, to reject crude generalisations and stereotypes of people who use drugs, and to acknowledge the variability and diversity of our community.

And so, on this International Drug Users’ Day, we celebrate and emphasise the diversity and strength of our community. The world over, vast numbers of people from every section of society use illicit drugs. They use drugs for different reasons, in different ways, in different contexts. Though we are too often silenced and side-lined in debate and in the formation of policy and legislation that applies to us, we assert our diversity and our ability and right to exercise self-determination and agency. We demand the right to be respected as experts on our own lives, motivations, and experiences. We will not stand by silently whilst decisions are made about us and not with us. In reasserting ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’, we refer to the inclusion of our diverse community as a whole.

We, the International Network of People who Use Drugs, will fight to defend our human rights, to promote our health, and will fight to end the war on drugs and prohibition together and in solidarity. We recognise the struggles of our peers as our own, in the face of crosscutting stigmatisation, social exclusion, discrimination, silencing, and criminalisation. In 2014, we celebrate the strength of our community, our solidarity and our empowerment.

Resources: Click here for your own poster in different languages plus the statement.

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