Written by Tom O'Brien
Last year, I was able to attend one day of CUPE BC Convention in Victoria, but this year was my first fully attended convention. When I accepted the opportunity to go, I was thinking to myself, “What does CUPE BC do? How can I tell our members what CUPE BC does?”
Those questions settled into my head I packed my bags and headed for Vancouver to the 51st Annual CUPE BC Convention.
Thankfully this year was not an election year, so I did not get bombarded with pins, brochures, pamphlets, and other campaign materials. This year was interactive and was filled with a number of good speakers such as Jim Sinclair and MP Nathan Cullen. Nathan Cullen’s speech was very engaging. He started off with his hilarious election story, and followed with a grave warning of things to come. He likened where we are currently to the second story in a trilogy - like “Lord of the Rings”. Things aren’t really very good right now, it is the dark chapter. But we have the opportunity to move forward with the third story in the trilogy where the good guys come back and save the day. There is hope after the conservatives!
The main theme of the convention this year was “Moving Forward Together”. With this being the first year with Mark Hancock as president, and Paul Faoro as Secretary Treasurer, there was a positive, fresh vibe. Mark Hancock kicked off the convention with a speech which shared both optimism and concern. There are many challenges facing our local, CUPE BC, and the labour movement at large. With a charged speech, Mark laid out the details of how our federal right wing conservatives are fighting harder now against organized labour, more than ever, and even infiltrating down to the municipal level. It was made clear that if we want to win the fight against worker’s rights, it starts at the local level. As we enter into elections this Fall, everyone should be focused on who their progressive candidates are - who will support labour and who will work with our local unions.
With the provincial elections so far away not much attention was focused on that - still a sore point perhaps? John Horgan was there for day two and CUPE BC proudly supports his leadership. Did I mention that Paul Faoro (CUPE BC Secretary-Treasurer) is also a vice-president of the BC NDP?
All things being fair, Hancock concluded with a salute to shared values of CUPE and the entire labour movement and vowed to continue the struggle toward greater equality and respect for working people.
There is a growing sentiment against unions, and CUPE BC is fighting back against it. One key example is that of our pensions. Too often people are saying that union workers have “gold pensions” paid for by the taxpayer. But those pensions are 75% investment returns, 12.5% off our pay cheques and 12.5% from our employer. We pay for our own pensions and that money is invested wisely, so we should all be working to dispel that rumor.
Some of our own union dues go to CUPE BC, so the question you may be thinking is: where does that money go? Largely, CUPE BC is a political organization, but it also serves to support CUPE locals, including our own, in times of need - such as on picket lines, during difficult bargaining challenges, or even to give us advice for better supporting our members.
The CUPE BC Action Plan is a fight for real gains in social and economic justice for our members, all working people, their families and communities. This includes encouraging union solidarity in the BC labour movement - especially with this Fall’s municipal elections coming up. This action plan also fights against privatization of services throughout the public sector, and works to bring contracted work back in-house. CUPE BC is opposed to the negative impacts of shared services, core reviews and the like.
CUPE BC works with our elected leaders on our behalf to make sure that fairness and equity among workers is a priority.
Overall, I found the convention very inspiring and I left feeling like I was part of something much bigger. Although I don’t always agree with everything CUPE BC may do, it is a democratic organization, and one which we go to voice our opinions (some more than others Jared… Harp…). But even if you aren't getting up to the microphones, everyone has a vote and all the resolutions are accepted or rejected based on the members of CUPE BC, including those of us sent by our local.
I hope that we all keep up the fight against any government that looks to keep wages stagnant while our costs (particularly food and gas) keep increasing. That fight starts with municipal elections this fall. Next up is the Federal elections and then our provincial election in 2017. It seems far off, but that time will come. Vote for progressive candidates and support the labour movement!