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March 22, 2011

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Wisconsin labour activists bring message of inspiration, warning

BURNABY— Speaking to a crowd of more than 100 labour supporters and activists in Burnaby last night, Wisconsin labour activists Betsy Kippers and Marc Norberg shared inspirational stories of the current struggle there to protect collective bargaining rights and the right for public sector workers to join unions.

CUPE BC GVP Paul Faoro with Wisconsin labour activists Betsy Kippers and Marc Norberg.CUPE BC GVP Paul Faoro with Wisconsin labour activists Betsy Kippers and Marc Norberg.Kippers is Vice President of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the union that represents teachers, while Norberg is the Assistant to the General President of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. Both spoke passionately of the solidarity in Wisconsin between public and private sector workers and their unions. (Although the Wisconsin legislation would impact directly only on public sector workers—and would not include firefighters or police—the state’s labour movement rejected the government’s attempts to divide and conquer.)

Norberg said that before the Republican administration of Governor Scott Walker introduced the anti-union measures, private sector unions were told by officials that they should “stay out of it” or “they’d be next” in line for attacks from the government. The response? “We told them to go to hell, and we stuck by our brothers and sisters in the public sector.”

Kippers thanked the audience and the unions represented, including CUPE, for their messages of support and solidarity. And she asked for continued support as their struggle continues. Several audience members had recently traveled to Wisconsin to assist in the enormous rally earlier this month, and spoke of the parallels between Wisconsin today and BC in 2001, when the BC Liberal government was first elected and tore up collective agreements.

Both Kippers and Norberg also warned the audience that what’s happening in Wisconsin shouldn’t be seen in isolation. Many other US states are contemplating or debating similar legislation, they said, and they encouraged greater levels of political involvement by working people to ensure the governments they elect share their values.

The next opportunity for local labour activists and supporters to demonstrate solidarity with Wisconsin working people is April 2, when BC’s labour movement will join forces with activists from Washington and Oregon as we meet at the Peace Arch border crossing for an international demonstration of solidarity. For more information, go to www.cupe.bc.ca.

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